Conversations with Emma

by Brooster

PART I

The sounds of music blared through the room. At first I thought it must be my alarm clock beckoning me to arise and drag 500 units of plutonium from Outpost to Hyperial. I shifted my head to try and drown-out the sound but could not locate my *Official TRI Conflux-Fleece* pillow. Damn. I started to drift into consciousness and became slightly more aware of my surroundings. I was afraid to open my eyes, in fear that I may be stuck in a holding cell at Hyperial. I kept my eyes tightly closed – feigning sleep in case anyone was observing me.

My thoughts raced back to several weeks ago . . . I was a prisoner in cell e44r of Hyperial Station, accused of shooting Lances at the tool shed. I suffered several hours of brutal interrogation – during which I was forced to read the first 34 chapters of “The Intensity Needs AB-4 MOD-X in its Base Configuration” by pilot Innominate. Fortunately for me, my life was spared when the interrogators fell asleep. I was then dragged into holding cell E44r.

Hyperian jail is by far one of the worst places in the galaxy. The stench that pours from the ventilation system is on par to that of the pilots’ restroom on Outpost after the annual “Octavia Light drink-till-you-drop festival. The quarters are cramped, with two 4ft by 4ft slabs of cold steel for bunks. Most cells were crammed with four to six prisoners, but I had only one cellmate. I sat down on one of the bunks and looked across to my cellmate. He was twitching as though he had just downed 15 cups of black market coffee. His uniform was a faux royal-blue, poorly-stitched, piece of synthetic cloth. “Damn,” I thought, “a Solrain.”

Actually, I don’t mind the Solrains — I just hate their tailors. Out of all the wonderful things artifact hunters have collected, nothing is as vile as the UC-6 or “Polyester.” At one time, all factions wore uniforms made from the finest textiles Hyperial had to offer. That all changed three years back when a Solrain pilot discovered UC-6 while on a mining mission in Bronci Rift. (Nobody actually believes this story because everyone knows Solrains don’t mine.) Six weeks later, a faction mission was completed and Solrain could produce unlimited quantities of the material.

Wearing polyester uniforms yields two very distinct results: 1) a bow-legged walk by the wearer due to the abundance of painful pimples the fabric causes in the inner-thigh region and 2) a really bad odor. Pilot Perusa always said that “Solrain Core smells like Conflux skin soaked in a mixture of cat urine, uranium and stale Oct Lite, left in a drain pipe in Evening’s End for a week.” You’ll recognize Perusa as the Quant walking around Sol Core wearing a personal ventilation system.

“Hey, you ever been to unreg? It’s cool. One time, I was flying my ship, in unreg, and I got shot down. It sucked. Yeah, the guy was a griefer . . . you know . . . a griefer? Anyway, I wrote his name here on the wall,” blurted my cellmate. “Yeah, yeah . . . that’s the guy,” he said, pointing at a list of pilot names scrawled on the wall. “The guy on the bottom — he shot me down. . . . And this one time, in unreg, we went Conflux hunting but we didn’t shoot them — it was sooo funny . . .”

“That’s, um . . . nice. My name is Brooster, what’s your name, pilot?”

“Brooster!?!?!” yelped the pilot, his face turning crimson. He quickly turned toward his list and read the names several times, whispering each name with venom in his voice.

“Tesrend . . . Tasker . . . DrKronic . . . Regor . . . ” A wave of relief seemed to wash over him as he could not find my name on the list. “Brooster . . . okay, you’re not a griefer . . . unless you fly under another name?” he said, eyes suddenly widening again.

“I can assure you that I have no aliases.”

“Good . . . very good . . . my name is NovemberTA. I keep track of griefers . . . yeah. There was this one time, in unreg, I was flying a tow full of uranium, and . . .”

NovemberTA cut his sentence short as he heard the door in the main corridor open. The footsteps of several individuals echoed down the hallway, coming ever closer to our cell. I looked over at NovemberTA and noticed that he was clutching a signed copy of Innominate’s book. He rocked slowly back-and-forth, murmuring something about the dawn of nuclear weapons and Cydrone releasing new Conflux into the universe.

The group in the hall stopped short of our cell. A few words were murmured and then one of the individuals stepped in front of the force-field door of our cell.

“Well, Mr. Toolshed-Defacer,” said the man dressed in a Hyperian flight suit. “Enjoying your stay? You won’t be when I’m done with you. You and your filthy Quanti vermin will bow before the might of Hyperial!”

I studied his uniform and his face. The teal and lavender color scheme was bad enough, but the pin-stripes made my stomach turn. Even though Hyperial was famous for its fine textiles, they had obviously stolen the Solrain polyester formula and were using their tailoring technology.

I looked at his face and noticed the scar on his forehead. “Hey,” I blurted. “You’re Nelson! I know you!”

“You know of my greatness? Have I defeated you in battle or does my prowess precede me?”

“Actually, I remember you when you flew with DDZ. Brutus stole your windshield and you got hit in the head by space debris. You wigged out and went to Hyperial.”

“LIES!!!! HOW DARE YOU CALL ME QUANT! FOR THIS, YOU WILL PAY DEARLY.”

Nelson unlatched his sidearm. It was a standard-issue DDZ Laz-stun. He pointed the weapon towards me and screamed “PREPARE TO DIE!”

PART II

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I watched Nelson through the transparent force-field cell door. The veins in his head stood out in an unnatural way, and his eyes bulged to the point that they appeared ready to pop out of their sockets. His look was completely crazed, and the small bit on sanity that he still held on to had yielded to a tidal wave of anger. I have seen him this crazed just one time before: we were in the Pilot’s cafeteria at TriPoint station, and I had taken the last jelly doughnut — a doughnut that Nelson had very much wanted.

Nelson’s eyes were glued to me, his right hand pointing the laser towards my chest, his left hand fumbling beneath his teal and mauve robe, as he tried to enter the unlock code to the cell. I knew that once the door was opened, I would be a dead man. I quickly surveyed my options and found that I had none. I was unarmed and shoeless. During the interrogation process they even went so far as to steal my Quantar loincloth. I nervously shifted my eyes over to my cellmate, NovemberTA. He was in a fetal position on the floor, murmuring statements about griefers and some conflux attack that was supposed to be coming soon. He would be of no help to me. I heard the door beep twice and swung my gaze back towards Nelson, just as my cell door changed from clear to blue and then back to clear. Great — not only did Hyperial steal Sol tailoring technology, they were also using Alpaa shield technology for prison door security.

“You will pay for your insults,” Nelson spewed. “You and everything Quant-related is spawned from Hell.”

Two heavily armed (and poorly-dressed) Hyperian guards walked into the room and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, blocking the doorway. The thought of trying to surprise and overcome Nelson was no longer a possibility. I had to stall him and try to bring him down to some level of sanity. “Nelson,” I asked, “think about what you are doing. If you kill me, TRI will make you a marked man. There will be a bounty on your head, and when you are caught, you will be forced to do community service transport runs in Quant space. Is this really what you want?”

“Killing you will bring me much joy,” he replied, “and besides, they can’t charge me if they can’t find your body.”

“Nelson, get a grip,” I said, my panic beginning to build. “I’m sorry about the doughnut. You need a vacation. Take the wife and kids sightseeing in Dark Crossroads. You need to chill out before you end up like this guy.” I inclined my head towards NovemberTA who was now talking about the great prophet Cydrone.

“Doughnut!? What evilness are you trying to bring forth now? It’s all lies . . . LIES . . . QUANTAR LIES!!!”

I could tell that the doughnut reference was having an effect on him. His left eye began to twitch uncontrollably and a trickle of drool had begun to run down his chin.

“Nelson, don’t you remember the breakfast at TriPoint? The doughnut . . . the broken water carafe . . . the 13 stitches on my neck . . . your arrest . . . the public apology?? Doesn’t any of this ring a bell?

Nelson started convulsing violently. He covered his face with his hands and grunted inaudibly. “no . . . No . . .NO,” he screamed. Then he looked up at me as his face transformed from wide-eyed hysteria to a menacing, forced grin. His maniacal laughter echoed in the small cell, “Muhhhhaahhhaaa . . . you with DIE now . . .”

Nelson quickly lifted his laser pistol and shot an energy bolt at me. His aim was poor and it struck the metal slab I was sitting on, right beside my right hip. The energy from the bolt heated the metal to a very uncomfortable level. I screamed and jumped off. The palm of my right hand was seared and I landed on top of NovemberTA.

“Innominate, is that you?” asked my delusional cellmate.

I quickly jumped off of him and looked at my palm. ‘Well, the kittens will be safe for a couple of weeks,’ I said under my breath.

The two guards rushed forward and grabbed me by the arms. Nelson, who was still cackling, stepped up to me and pressed the laser against my larynx, making breathing difficult. “This time, I will not miss.”

The only chance I had left was to kick Nelson and try and free myself from the two guards. I tried to balance myself against the guards to get leverage. Shifting my weight onto my left foot, I started to swing my right foot back for momentum. I closed my eyes, whispered a prayer to Hamalzah and began my assault.

My leg didn’t move! Something had it pinned. I could feel two arms desperately clutching at my ankle. NovemberTA. “Innom,” he sobbed. “I missed you so much. Where are you and your PowerRangers now? The galaxy needs you. Quant tows run fearlessly throughout space. We need you.”

NovemberTA’s sobbing temporarily distracted Nelson from his task at hand. He looked down at the delusional Sol, and I could see his mouth the words, “What the f . . . .?”

“Cydrone,” whimpered NovemberTA, “He is the great prophet. He speaks of conflux — bigger, meaner conflux . . . they are coming. They will be attacking . . . soon . . . when the month of July arrives, the conflux will rain from the skies and the seas will boil. Pilots will seek refuge in pagan houses which they will build throughout space. So says the Book of Cydrone, chapter two.”

The room was silent with disbelief. I glanced at Nelson’s face and could see that he was baffled by the fact that he was dealing with someone even farther gone than himself. Nelson methodically turned towards me and insinuated his laser painfully against my left temple. The guards tightened their grips on my arms and turned their heads away, as if they had been through this before and knew it would be very messy. I struggled for a second, but my arms were held too tightly by the guards and my legs were pinned by NovemberTA. I relaxed my body and prepared to meet Roh, wondering if I would be allowed into his paradise without my Quantar loincloth.

“NELSON,” a voice bellowed. “STAND DOWN!”

I felt the pistol removed from my temple. I cracked open my right eye and saw Hyperial Prince Fablemi in the doorway. He turned sideways and pointed to another prisoner being accosted behind him. It was a Quantar Delegate.

“Leave him for now,” commanded Fablemi. “We will deal with him after this one.”

PART III

Nelson holstered his laser and walked silently out of the cell. The two guards holding onto my arms forced me down to my knees, secured my hands behind my back and prodded the muzzled of their rifles painfully into my ribs. Two additional guards entered the room and subjected NovemberTA to the same treatment. I was slightly relieved that someone had found a way to keep him from talking. The guard to my right spoke up, “Sire, prisoners secured. You are safe to enter.”

Prince Fablemi took three steps into the room and stopped. He stood with his feet at shoulder’s-width apart with his hands on his hips. He wore a bright orange uniform with strips of teal and mauve at his shoulders, knees, elbows and waist. His flowing robe was white, adorned with the Hyperial flag, with a high collar secured with a bronze chain. I did a double-take when I saw the boots he was wearing: they were standard-issue -DSA- footwear. Prince Fablemi rubbed his hands together eagerly. He was wearing white gloves with the fingers cut off and had a disingenuous smile fixed on his face.

Prince Fablemi, as he called himself, was once a respected Sol pilot named DF. He had gained fame by performing such selfless acts as sacrificing himself at Pulsar to save a group of inexperienced Octavian pilots who decided that mining there would be fun. He also escorted damaged Quant tows through Zealot’s Refuge, convincing the pilot Frogman not only to help with the escort, but to donate credits to help repair the damaged ships. Even the infamous Rollio would cease in his actions when DF was in the same sector, purely out of respect. The change from humble Sol to Hyperian prince was a topic of debate at pubs throughout the galaxy. There had been many rumors about alpha particles, failed love affairs and missing cockpit windows.

“Brooster, I wanted you to witness this firsthand,” he said. He motioned with his right hand and the Quantar delegate was dragged into the room. I tried to determine which ambassador this was, but since all Quantar delegates go through “cleansing” it was impossible. (Cleansing is a Quantar procedure in which all delegates are made to appear the same. A light green permanent dye is injected under the third layer of skin, all body hair is permanently removed, and plastic surgery is performed to ensure a permanent smile.)

The delegate slowly lifted up his bloodied face. I could see fear and desperation in his eyes. His fate was sealed and everyone in the room knew it. “This spy here has been posing as a peaceful ambassador, but we caught him trying to smuggle this!” Fablemi spat as he threw a square white bag on the floor.

I glanced down and read the bright orange lettering: ‘S U G A R.’

I studied the bag for a few moments and then looked up at Fablemi, waiting for the punch line, while the delegate whimpered in fear.

“The espionage that you Quants practice is futile and insulting. Sending spies here under the guise of peace talks. . . . We knew what was happening all along and have put up with it, as we found it rather amusing. Playtime is now over. It’s time for Hyperial to begin its resurgence, rightfully claiming its place as the greatest empire in the galaxy!”, lectured Fablemi. He turned his head and looked over his right shoulder, hands placed proudly on his hips.

“Um . . . sir . . . what about the sugar?” I asked.

The guard to my left retorted with the stock of his rifle to the side of my face. I nearly passed out from the pain.

“SILENCE!” screamed Fablemi. “Your condescending tone and actions will no longer be tolerated. You mock Hyperial and desecrate all that is sacred to us. While all of you have been fighting each other, we have been assembling the most extensive library of pre-collapse data in the galaxy. All of those ‘worthless data disks’ that you sell to junk dealers at the depot stations have been acquired by Hyperial agents. We have located pre-collapse technology that allows us to read data from these disks. Because of this we are years ahead of the technology of the Sols, Oct and your pitiful Quants! Today we begin unleashing a small sample of our technological prowess. Your spy, here, will be the witness to it. . . . Captain! Bring in the device!”

Another poorly-dressed Hyperian entered the cell. There were already ten people in the cramped quarters. The Hyperian captain squeezed himself so that he was standing between Fablemi and the delegate. He bowed as best he could and held up an embroidered orange pillow, on top if which was a box labeled Hyperian Technology Group. Fablemi reached in and pulled out what appeared to be a modified DSS.

“This disc contains expert information on prisoner interrogation,” he said giddily. The Hyperian prince held up the DSS as if it were a holy relic, so that everyone could see it. All the Hyperians simultaneously gasped.

There was a label affixed to it that read: H.T.S. Disc 105a – Scarface.

Fablemi put the disc pack into the box and pulled out a strange-looking piece of technology. It had a handle on the rear of it, with what appeared to be a fusion energy case in the middle with a second handle extending out laterally and a long, flat piece of metal protruding from the front — this latter protrusion also had a wicket-looking chain of sorts, with sharp bits of metal embedded, that ran around its perimeter.

“Captain, is it ready for use?”

“Sire, yes it is. We had trouble reproducing the original fuel source, so we use a mini-fusion energy cell.”

“Excellent! Good work, Captain.”

Fablemi held the device over his head in triumphant fashion. The Hyperians ‘oohed’ in reverence. Feeling the moment, Fablemi started laughing and bouncing slightly. The Hyperian guards cheered him on, chanting: “Hy-pe-ri-al . . . hy-pe-ri-al . . . HY-PE-RI-AL . . .”

In a frenzy, Fablemi jumped high into the air, but as he extended the device upwards, the crown jewel of Hyperian technology smashed against the ceiling of the small cell, breaking into three pieces. The fusion cell bounced off the Quantar delegate’s head; the long, flat steel ‘blade’ fell to the floor in front of me; and the handle remained in the price’s hand.

An awkward silence blanketed the room. I was too bewildered to do anything but stare at the piece on the floor, reading the label: H.T.S. Replica 1 – Chainsaw. I struggled to think what this device was and what it was used for. I desperately wanted to get my hands on that Scarface disc to see if it had any clues.

“Uhhhmm, Sire?” asked the Captain of the Guard. “We have another, sir.”

“Good . . . yes, Captain, very good. . . . Excellent, um . . . work.”

The captain collected the pieces of the ‘chainsaw’ while several more seconds of confused silence passed by.

“Captain, this is the plan: the Quants want their spy, err, delegate back. Bring the other chainsaw and we will interrogate him. When we are finished, we will send him back to Quantar stuffed into the bag he tried to steal.”

I looked at the sack of sugar on the floor and shuddered.

“Yes, Sire!” said the Captain.

“. . . and when you’re done with the delegate, see what Brooster, here, has to say.”

Here we go again,‘ I thought. I saw the stock of a laser rifle out of the corner of my eye — just before everything went black.

Part IV

Escaping from jail usually invokes some tale of bravery, mastermind planning and skillful execution of a plan designed to exploit even the smallest lapse in prison security. In my case, none of these events came into play.

As I regained my facilities after the Hyperian-guard-rifle-stock-to-the-head-induced nap, I began wondering what kind of breakthroughs the Hyperian scientists were on the verge of. They had no ships (Nelson still flew Quant vessels and DF flew Sol) and they did not even have a BCU capable of tuning beacons to a Hyperian frequency. The display of artifact technology that I had been privy to ended up in embarrassment, leading me to believe that their claim to scientific gains was merely bravado.

On the other hand, Hyperial had developed some great pieces of technology.

– The Nova emitted plasma blasts that were shockingly similar to the weaponry of Conflux Eels.
– The Deepol capacitor was made to handle this weaponry, and though it was expensive, it was a marvel of engineering.
– The Barrak ammo cannon was widely accepted as the premier ammo weapon of its size.
– Morningstar missiles, consider by some to be an invention of the Devil, were by far the most dreaded missiles in the galaxy — and if four screwdrivers chasing you around was not enough, the MS had another terrifying feature: firing several of them caused a target ship’s computer to malfunction. Pilots have reported that their HUDs would blackout or report incorrect information. There have even been several pilots — the most famous of all being NatGun — who described some sort of warping effect that occurs when several Morningstars are tracking a Phoenix. It is as though something had been covertly manufactured into Octavian ships to make their lives a living hell.
– Rush engines are the most powerful in their class. Add in the fact that no artifact class IV engines had ever been found led to the sobering reality of just how much TRI pilots depended on Hyperial.

So the Hyperians had engines, capacitors, guns and missiles. What they lacked were ships, shields and power plants. Or did they? The pounding headache I was enduring added to my conspiracy theory. Maybe they have ships already — or maybe they are modifying Typhoons and Intensities for their own use. . . . Or even worse, what if they were changing Morningstars so that they have the dreaded “warping effect” on all ships?

The Hyperians liberally “borrowed” technology — one obvious example of that being the Alpaa shield technology used in my cell force-field/door. What other pieces of technology were they borrowing? The answer had to lie with Amananth. The Octs had been neutralized by the Morningstar warping effect. The Sol provided shield technology that Hyperial had engineered into a much smaller footprint. The Quants . . . what did they provide? Mining technology? No . . . it had to be the ship. The Typhoon was the answer. It was the fastest fighter around and had more gun slots than the Intensity. Put a modified Alpaa into the ‘Phoon and all it would need is more power — that’s where Amananth figured in. The Hyperians needed an enhanced Instigator power plant. Had Amananth been working of a more powerful class IV power plant? One that would fit into the Intensity? What if Hyperial had been able to steal that technology and engineer it down to fit into a ‘Phoon? The, if they were able to do that with the power plant and the Alpaa shield, they would probably be able to do the same with engines . It would be a nightmare: a ‘Phoon with Rushes, power to burn, Alpaa shields, Novas, Barraks and a Deepol capacitor. Such a ship would cruise around 590v — even Rangers would be easy prey. All it would take to bring this together would be the defection of a few key Quantar scientists . . . naaaah. . . .

I leaned back against the cold plasticrete wall of my cell and took a deep breath. There had to be a way out of this. I knew that there would be no way to survive another encounter with the Hyperian Hospitality Committee. I strained my ears to try and pick up any clues that would help lead to an escape attempt — possibly an approaching guard, who might yield to the right bribe. . . . My rescue fantasies, however, kept getting drowned out by the murmuring of my sleeping cellmate, NovemberTA. This guy even talked in his sleep! As his semi-incoherent ramblings droned on, his body started to twitch violently. As I stared at his bizarre “dance” he suddenly (an amazingly) sprung into an upright-sitting position and began talking:

“This one time . . . in unreg . . .DrKronic . . .” he began.

SHUT UP,” I screamed. “I can’t take another story!”

The blessed silence lasted all of about five seconds.

“Anyway, DrKronic told me to ‘stop my engines or . . .’”

There was a huge explosion and the whole station/asteroid seemed to shudder. The lights flickered for a second and the emergency claxons wailed. The cell force field/door cycled from clear to blue and then back to clear — it was open!

I jumped to my feet and started moving towards the door, but in my rush, I tripped and fell face-first on the floor. As I started to pick myself up I saw two boots about one-half meter from my face. I cringed, awaiting some sort of blow, but when I brought myself to look up I saw a vaguely-familiar face and an Octavian flight suit. The Octavian was unshaven and he had a slightly-crazed, manic smirk on this face. It was Brutus.

“You . . . you’re . . . Brutus, right?” I stammered.

Brutus looked at me intently as I got up from the floor. He lit a cigar and nodded, “Yep. Bunny-killer extraordinaire.”

“What the hell just happened? Did you set off that explosion?”

“Hahahaha . . . silly pilot. No humanoid could have caused that. It could only have been one thing . . . JOJO.”

I remembered that Brutus frequently talked about JOJO on the public com channels. JOJO was the conflux — the granddaddy of all that was pink, and nothing in TRI’s arsenal could stand against him.

“Right . . . umm, can you help me get out of here?” I asked pensively?

Brutus narrowed his eyes and studied my face. He threw his cigar down the hallway and scratched his chin with his right hand. His eyes slowly rolled back into his head so that only the whites were visible. His nostrils flared several times and he spoke in a low grumble: “Bunnies! . . . I can smell them . . . must . . . be . . . destroyed.”

A voice boomed from Brutus’ com-link, “Brutus, I’ve got Grim. Heading towards your location. . . . Over.”

I knew this voice. It was Aewl! They must have finally located GrimFalcon, who had been missing on-and-off for the better part of a month.

The com-link crackled again: “Just got word from DDZ headquarters and I have confirmation on the explosion. The subspace transciever blew up. Looks like the Quantar escort boys did it after all. . . . Over.”

Brutus remained in his trance and made no reply. I heard footsteps approaching rapidly. I grabbed Brutus and started to drag him down the hall. He refused to move his feet so I had to drag him by his arms.

“Damn it, Brutus, wake up!” I yelled.

Brutus remained catatonic and my progress was slow. I noticed that the cells were now empty and I figured that a mass exodus was taking place. I tried to hurry my pace, but knew there was no way to outrun the approaching party. I looked around to survey my options. The exit from the bending hallway was still 70 meters away. I figured the group behind me was 30 meters off and closing fast. Even if I left Brutus here, I couldn’t outrun them. I thought about making a stand in one of the cells; then though that the powerc ould come back online along with those Alpaa cell-door-force-fields. I nixed the idea.

Reaching down, I removed Brutus’ sidearm. I planned on using him as a shield . . . or perhaps as a hostage if that meant I’d have a chance for freedom. I held Brutus as upright as possible and tried to conceal myself behind him as much as possible. I was sweating bullets, cringing as I heard the sounds of several people rounding the last bend.

A wave of relief swept over me as I recognized the faces coming around the corner. Aewl was leading the party, followed by Love and Dubious (who were carrying an unconscious GrimFalcon), a Sol named JumpDemon and two unknown Octs.

“Aewl! Damn am I glad to see you!” I shouted.

Aewl cracked a smile as he nodded to me and recognized Brutus’ state. Love and Dubious dropped GrimFalcon heavily to the floor, both of them looking near exhaustion from carrying him.

“Good to see you, Brooster. Want to help us with this guy?” inquired Love.

I lightly shoot Brutus. “No thanks, got my own. I exchanged nods with the other pilots.

Dubious gently prodded GrimFalcon with his foot. “Tubby, here, ought to take advantage of the workout rooms at the stations.”

GrimFalcon seemed to respond to Dubious’ foot and started to stir. Aewl quickly pulled a hypodermic needle from the black case he was carrying and injected Grim with an unknown concoction. Grim fell back into unconsciousness.

“That ought to keep him quiet for the next couple of hours”, chuckled Aewl.

“Guys . . . um . . . what’s the plan now?” I asked impatiently.

“Brutus is the leader here, ask him,” responded Aewl.

“Aewl, he’s in another world right now. How long does this last?”

“Sometimes a few minutes . . . sometimes a few days. It’s only really a problem when he’s flying. He’s lost a lot of ships that way.

I shook my head in disbelief. The last few days had been a living nightmare and reality seemed to be a fleeting idea at best. I started to lose my temper and began to violently shake Brutus, screaming: “GET ME OUT OF HERE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

Brutus broke free of my grasp and spun to face me. He grabbed his sidearm from my hand and holstered it in one fluid motion. He turned around, looked at the other pilots and scratched his chin.

“TO THE SHIPS!!! TIME TO KILL FLUFFY WHITE BUNNIES!” he yelled.

I helped to carry GrimFalcon and we started towards the exit.

Part V

Brutus led the multi-factional cadre of pilots through the security checkpoint. Several Hyperian guards lay strewn about the hallway. Their nauseas-looking uniforms were torn and disheveled from being on the losing end of a struggle. From the looks of it, there had been quite a force that passed through here — and it had not been kind to the host Hyperians.

“Come on, boys, there are bunnies to kill!” yelled the eccentric Octavian.

Dubious, Love, JumpDemon and I each had an arm or leg of Grimfalcon as we lugged his unconscious body through the endless catacombs that were Hyperial Station. Every once in a while, Grim would let out a moan (especially when Love would let go of his arm and his head would bounce off the floor, making a sound not unlike that of two coconut shells being clapped together) and Aewl would have to administer another 50ccs of what he called “Grimsbane” into Grim’s bloodstream. The stairs had been terribly cruel, leaving Grim with numerous scrapes, cuts and contusions on his head and face. We would have a lot of explaining to do.

“I’m a friggin’ Optimus, why do I have to drag this load around?” asked JumpDemon.

“The only reason I’m doing this is because he’s my squaddie,” retorted Love.

“Let’s see . . . five Quants, three Octs and one Sol. Guess what, you’re carrying!” snapped Dubious.

“JumpDemon, you have a choice: either help me with Grim or go back down and help NovemberTA escape. I’m sure he’ll have a couple of things to tell you along the way,” I said.

JumpDemon looked crossly at me. He started to say something and then stopped to ponder the moment. He lightly nodded as his eye looked towards the hallway ceiling. A slight smile appeared on his face. He reached down and grabbed a leg.

“Glad to help,” he said cheerfully.

“Hey, where are those two Octs anyway?” asked Dubious.

“And does anyone know who they are?” inquired Love.

JumpDemon let Grim’s leg fall to the floor and wiped the sweat from his brow. “ Those two? That’s Aslan and Tyke. Part of the SH squad.”

Aewl walked over and looked down at Grim. “They found the artifact research room about an hour ago. Don’t expect them to be of much help. They don’t, um, play well with others. . . . By the way, guys, if you remove Grim’s titanium body armor, he’ll be a lot lighter.”

The four of us glared at Aewl. If it wasn’t for the state of near-exhaustion we were in, we may have beaten him senseless. JumpDemon was growing increasingly frustrated. He mumbled a few profanities under his breath, slumped down against the wall and buried his head in his hands. We spent the next several minutes freeing Grim from his armor while Brutus conducted a thorough search for space rats.

“Aewl, how the hell does he move in this stuff?” asked Love.

“Slowly. We convinced him to wear it so he can’t go running off. He has a bad habit of that recently. So we told him that it would help protect him against anomalies if he wanders too close.”

Grim started to moan again, as if he realized that his body armor was gone. Aewl tried to hide his smile as he broke out the needle one more time.

Brutus concluded his search and informed us that the corridor was “rat-free.” Dubious picked up Grim and threw him over his shoulder. A major feeling of resentment towards Aewl was written all over Dubious’ face. I shot Dubious a pleading look and quietly asked him not to exact revenge until we were back in Quant space. Dubious reluctantly agreed.

With the weight problem resolved we were able to move at a fast clip. After a few wrong turns, w found the path to the main hallway a couple hours later. We passed several official-looking offices (Teal and Mauve lettering means “official business” in Hyperial), with creative titles such as Ministry of Quanti EradicationRegistry of Annoying Solrains, and Department of Genocide – Octavian Division. The next door had a familiar look to it.

“Son of a . . .” yelled JumpDemon as he pointed to the door — which was labeled Hyperial Services – Artifact Research. “Damn it, Brutus,” he went on, “we were here four hours ago!”

Brutus remained unfazed by the comments.

“I’ve been lugging around a couple hundred pounds of titanium for hours when the exit was right in front of our faces!” raged JumpDemon.

Brutus scratched his chin and pondered the situation. JumpDemon began to flail his arms up and down as if he were a four-year-old in the beginning states of a drawn-out temper tantrum. Aewl silently approached JumpDemon from behind. The rage on JumpDemon’s face turned to a smile as he slowly slumped to the floor. Aewl chuckled as he held the recently-used needle in his hand. “Lugging titanium for hours . . . that’s funny. . . . MACK tow pilots.”

The door to the artifact office swung open and Aslan and Tyke — each carrying an overstuffed box full of unknown treasures — hurried into the hallway. They seemed unfazed by our presence.

“Find anything good?” asked Dubious.

Aslan and Tyke stopped and surveyed the party. They scornfully looked at the Quants. The sight of the unconscious Sol made them both chuckle. Addressing Brutus exclusively, Aslan said, “Brutus, loyal Octavian, we have retrieved some marvels of technology that will help bring Octavia back to its glory! These DSSs will be analyzed and their secrets revealed — yes that is exciting. But these official documents we have recovered are the key to our ascendancy.”

Brutus remained in his normal near-catatonic state as Aslan reached into the box and took out a book titled The Road Ahead and held it in front of Brutus’ face.

“I empathize with this great author — he and I are truly brethren. This document mirrors my life. Perhaps this Gates was just a great, misunderstood prophet who foresaw my conquests. . . . Tyke, tell him about the other document!”

Tyke placed his box on the floor and rummaged through its contents until he pulled out a book at which he gazed lovingly for several seconds. His face showed pure elation as he carefully displayed the book to an indifferent Brutus.

“Brutus, I have the key to solving the Evenings’ End stalemate. We have tried peace and we have tried war. Our demonstrations were boring and ineffective, and our battles costly. This book, however, has shown me the way. Diplomacy will now give way to the art of propaganda! Do you not hear what I tell you, Brutus? Soon I will have all of Octavia putting a stranglehold on the vileness that is the EEA. Today EEA . . . tomorrow all of TRI!”

Brutus seemed to come back to reality as he acknowledged the presence of both Tyke and the book that was inches from his nose.

“Ohhh, a book! Does it have pictures?” asked Brutus excitedly.

Tyke, encouraged by Brutus’ acknowledgement, resumed: “Yes, there are some pictures. But the real treasure of this document is its ideas; the wonderful story that it tells. Written by a man who led his people for generations in the face of tyranny, withstanding the vile infestation just beyond his own borders. A man who overcame overwhelming odds and ruled his universe!”

Brutus grabbed the book from Tyke and paged through, stopping to study the pictures. Tyke tried to pull the book from Brutus’ hand several times, but was unsuccessful.

“Give it back!” yelled an infuriated Tyke.

Brutus flung the book against the wall and entered the office that Aslan and Tyke had just exited.

Those of us still conscious all looked at the book that now lay open face-down on the floor: My Life in My Words by Fidel Castro.

“Hey, Dubious,” said Love. “Who the hell is Castro?”

“I think he’s a Sol,” responded Dubious.

Part VI

Love, Dubious, Aewl and myself followed Brutus into the room. We carried Grim and JumpDemon into the doorway so that we could keep an eye on them. I would really hate to have to explain to MACK that somebody stole their Optimus. I watched Aslan and Tyke head toward the exit, hoping that they would not come back and accuse us “War Crimes” against Octavia. Impromptu Octavian justice had a way of getting very ugly fast. To my relief, the carried their boxes down the hall and ignored us.

The room was a makeshift storage area with several portable shelves, four folding tables and a couple of file cabinets. The shelves were empty, the file cabinet drawers and their contents were poured onto the floor amongst piles of paper, DSS’s and empty boxes. We dug through the mess looking for anything of value. Several strange looking DSS’s had were labeled and we tried to decipher their titles.

“Hmm. The women of cell Block H” I called out

“I found the adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” said Love “I think I’ll keep it.”

Dubious located a document called “The Thief of Time by Terry Prachett.”

“Star wars?” cried Aewl “What kind of crap is this” as he threw the DSS against the wall, shattering it.

Our searching came to an abrupt stop when we heard Brutus making lewd noises as he lustfully paged through a book that he located under one of the file cabinets.

“What ya got there Brutus” Inquired Aewl

“Ooooh. Hehehe. “ A long strand of saliva ran from Brutus’ chin to toward the floor.

Aewl walked in front of Brutus and bent down to read the book title. “The Vel-ve-teen…Rabbit?..What’s it about?”

“Bunnies!” exclaimed Brutus “Evil Space bunnies! Fluffy white evil bunnies! TO THE SHIPS”

We piled out of the room and tried to keep up with our crazed leader. Love carried Grim and I was carrying JumpDemon. When we finally reached the pilot staging area and were greeted by total chaos. Pilots of every faction were looting lockers, offices and shops. Fistfights broke out amongst several groups and furniture was being liberally used as weaponry. I felt much better, relieved that this was business as usual for Hyperial.

Dubious and Love headed towards the bar, declaring that they needed a drink. Brutus lovingly zipped the book into the breast pocket of his jumpsuit and pulled out what appeared to be a cockpit window tool. He quickly made his way towards the hangar. Aewl and I placed our passengers on the floor and surveyed the madness.

“We’ve got 30 minutes to get our affairs in order and then get to our ships” said Aewl.

“That long? I really want to get the hell out of here now” I pleaded.

Aewl chuckled and placed his hand on my forehead. “Hmm, looks like you may be coming down with a mild case of Wynars’ Syndrome.”

“I do have a headache. What is wine, err whatever syndrome.”

“Nothing to worry about” Aewl said plainly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out several pill containers. “Ah..here you go Brooster. Take 4, no 6 of these every hour. Make that every half-hour.”

I shrugged my shoulders and downed a handful of pills.

“Oh look” said Aewl “It’s MACK”. He waved over several concerned looking pilots. I recognized BfloEagle and JonBoy from the revolving bar at Wake station.

“There he is” cried BfloEagle as his party scooped up the still catatonic JumpDemon. “What happened to him Aewl?”

“Well, he was doing okay, then he became unruly and delusional so I had to sedate him” said Aewl

“Let me guess,” responded BfloEagle “He was on his ‘I’m an Optimus’ kick again”

“You got it. He’ll be back to normal in about 2 hours, maybe longer” grinned Aewl.

“Thanks Aewl. See you around”

The MACK pilots carried away their beloved Optimus through a wave of insanity.

Aewl and I retrieved Love and Dubious from the bar. Compared to the rest of Hyperial Station, this dimly lit watering hole was tame. A few pilots had taken over the bar and doling out free drinks all the patrons. Tending the bar was Rix, who would only serve a drink comprised of 180 proof grain alcohol, Solrain peach schnapps and pineapple juice, no matter what the patron wanted. This mind-numbing concoction was lovingly named “STFU” by the creator/bartender.

Drakken, who was celebrating his successful razing of the Hyperian Sub-space transceiver, ordered an Oct lite.

“Sorry, don’t have that. How about a nice warm cup of STFU” smiled Rix.
Tesrend was yelling at the EOR pilots that were getting increasingly drunk. The professional leader was losing his cool as he pleaded with his pilots to stop drinking get back to their ships.

“Come on Tez, just one more!” slurred Ashillion as he passed out on the bar.

“Ha ha. Kids” laughed Rix.

Tesrend leaned on the bar and pleaded, “Rix, we are losing control here. Could you please get out from behind that bar and help me get the men to their ships? As long as you are here, they won’t leave.”

Rix nodded his head and looked stoically at the Quantar Leader. “Tez”, he said as he slid a freshly mixed drink towards his counterpart, “STFU”

Ten rather uneventful minutes later I was sitting in my ship. The pills from Aewl had successfully dissolved my headache and I noticed that reality began to slip away. I took another handful and requested launch clearance. A very drunk voice responded, “Request ..granted…we hope you enjoyed your stay at Hyperial”.

My ship was launched into space. I was finally free.

 

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