Penelope Skrag stood on the tarmac and practiced with her knife. She had gotten to the point where the unaccustomed reflexes no longer shocked her; like a word repeated aloud a hundred times, the movements lost their complexity, became simple instinct. She watched as the blade flashed in a short arc, over and around the space between thumb and forefinger, dropped a fraction of a second, then, with a barely visible movement of her hand, a gentle twitch against the handle, flipped back into her palm.
The excercise, having lost its novelty, also lost its power to distract her from what she had to do. She was frightened. She knew her mind knew ways of moving and striking that her body was simply incapable of, for now. She knew that the job she had volunteered for, had wanted to do, may well get her killed. She glanced briefly at the Huey, then the hangar off in the distance.
Her uncle, Camillo - looking like an extra from Starship Troopers - approached in the heat-distorted distance. Beside him walked their new, alien friends, Peter and Jinx. They came closer, and Peter spoke.
Penny, you realize what you're getting into here, right?
Keep out of Demonslayer's way. She is seriously dangerous - Jinx showed you what a telepathic scan feels like, right?
Jinx spoke. If you feel it, use the coin. I'll teleport Peter and me in - just get the hell out of there -
Peter injected, And if that prick Victor shows up, Demonslayer will probably detonate the bombs. Use the coin. We can take care of them.
I'll get those bombs defused. Then you guys come in to kick ass and take names. This'll work-
Camillo looked at Penny, afraid. Be careful, Penny. Come back alive.
You watch your ass too, Uncle.
They looked at each other for a moment as the engine started on the Huey. Penny turned and jumped into the rear of the chopper. Soon it would take her to Los Angeles, where twelve antimatter bombs awaited a coded command from Demonslayer's battlesuit.
As the engine revved up, Penny watched the ground pull away and thought, How the Hell did I get into this mess?
A hundred years ago, a few decades after the "Last War", the worlds colonized by Reyll missionaries began to mobilize their considerable resources. Sedgwick Station was vastly overextended; the time was right. The colonists took the hulls of their still-intact colony ships, and assembled the first of what would become a fleet of nearly indestructible battleships.
Their enemies on Sedgwick Station had begun using the natural particle beam from the Origin Pulsar - Lo Mrrn in the old language - to manufacture antimatter in industrial quantities. The first series of miilitary engagements carried the name of their first, for Sedgwick most unfortunate, victory.
The Lo Mrrn offensive stretched out for some fifty years. In that time, the Reyll Theocracy, badly outnumbered and outgunned, managed to establish an effective blockade inside the spherical cluster containing the colonized worlds. Their chief weapon were mines, equipped with miniature jump drives and antimatter warheads, networked with each other to form a slow but reliable and secure communications and defense network. Only small strike forces could run the blockade; these were either torn apart by the battleships or driven to ground, where the Hunters, monastic devotees and masters of the ancient mystical martial arts, ferreted them out and slew them.
In time, the Sedgwick Corporation managed to tame the economic chaos caused by the effective loss of several prime colony worlds, including Magrige - which had the potential to become, in time, a rival state. The Reyll fleet provided cover for criminals and pirates, and the combination of sudden, catastrophic economic contraction and rampant piracy threatened to overwhelm many of the poorer colony worlds. For a time, the war was little more than a tense stalemate, punctuated by bloody, pointless skirmishes.
Things began to change twenty years ago. The Sedgwick Corporation had a nearly limitless source of cheap skilled labor with the rapid development of the technology required to force-grow and rapidly educate clone workers. The Reyll Theocracy gradually suffered under the increasingly complicated barter economy between the combines on their five wealthy worlds. Eventually, Sedgwick was able to develop weapons that could, sometimes, crack the advanced force screens and heavy armor of the Reyll battleships. Corporate forces started winning skirmish after skirmish.
The last ten years of the century-long war were the bloodiest, most brutal conflict ever seen. The most powerful and deadly of the Sedgwick Corporation's paranormals were drafted, put together into bands of four or six, backed with a battalion of troopers in powered armor. Escorted by wings of Atomizer-class destroyers, they punched holes in the Reyll defenses, took back Lo Mrrn, and subjugated the almost independent worlds on the other side of the blockade.
Peter Cat, Jinx Bubastis, and Lynnie Chelm were the most successful of the paranormal strike forces. Shortly after they entered the battlefield, a Reyll traitor, Rrmu Kellrai joined them. They were the Fifth Tactical Assault Corps - and easily the most militarily effective team of paranormals ever fielded. Peter wielded nearly infinite firepower. Jinx was an almost unstoppable infiltrator and saboteur. Lynnie, effectively a walking gravitational singularity, brought with him some serious logistical problems, but could crack tectonic plates with his bare hands. Rrmu, capable of manipulating electromagnetic fields, was able to black out a city with a thought. All served a single five year term before the final push to take the Reyll "homeworlds". Their most famous engagement, adapted and merchandised as a commercially successful movie, was the subjugation of Magrige.
Jinx was unaccustomed to starliners, and even less accustomed to wearing a uniform. She was grateful for the uniform, at least - the last time she had run the Blockade and came to Magrige, she was not merely pirate scum, she was poor pirate scum - now the stewards on the ship seemed not to recognize her.
She watched the landing from the front observation deck. The huge vessel dropped slowly in a majestic powered descent, circling over the planet's largest city, Centrum. She watched the towers of downtown circle beneath them as the other tourists overcame their fear of reentry and joined her to play spot-the-landmark. There was the enormous hologram of a man holding a spinning planet on his shoulders atop the Sentinel building, realized with an interference technique that allowed for dramatic blacks, the spires of the air defense grid, and the imposing cylindrical Black Tower, the signature building the Sedgwick Corporation built on all of their colony worlds. Jinx was booked for a suite at the penthouse hotel.
The starliner circled in for a landing, and everyone ignored the suggestion to return to their seats. Jinx head off to the starliner's disembarkation lounge for a stiff drink. Shortly after landing, the first security forces manned the exit to the starship as robots started hauling luggage from the hold. They were MOD troopers - the military adjunct to Magrige's supertream, the Magrige Org Defence. She also saw several troopers approach in the characteristing orange-flake and purple battlesuits and set up outside the exit. Jinx smiled to herself.
The MOD lanceman examined Jinx's papers carefully, trying unsuccessfully to hide the disbelief in his eyes.
Jnnqae Mrrlo B'bstoz?
That's 3rd Commander Jnnqae Mrrlo B'bstoz - yes.
We know who you are. Purpose of visit?
Length of stay?
The lanceman scowled. What happened to your rap sheet?
They deleted it. You know how the army builds character.
The lanceman said nothing, and Jinx disembarked. A semicircle of orange-and purple troopers in heavy battlesuits leveled 80mm mass drivers at Jinx. Standing before them was a huge man in blur skintights, red cape and boots, black leather jockstrap, and the best known insignia of any superhero - a golden circle with a simple sans serfic "C" centered in the middle.
Hey, Bobby - uh - Champion! How's it hanging?
Champion - a/k/a Bobby Prown - looked grim and determined. You're not welcome here, Arcana.
Watch your language. We're on live.
No fucking way. Where's that cocksucker Louis? Jinx turned to face a slight man with a slicked-back black mane.
Louis Lame, usually happy to be seen on camera, tried to hide. Leave him alone, Arcana!
No problem. I'm on shore leave. I'm going to my hotel.
Champion scowled. Jinx proceeded to the rail terminal, then stopped, and turned around. Hey, Champion -
When you come, does Louis swallow? I mean, that's gotta hurt -
She could hear invulnerable teeth grinding twenty meters away.
David White, 1998, all rights reserved