Radio Free Earth part two

    X.O. Evan Stain was nervous, moreso than usual. He had seen something that he had honestly believed to be a symptom of Peter 350125 Cat's gradual breakdown, the reason that capturing him and depriving him of his memory was an act of mercy, and not merely a political necessity.

    He queried against the video, and collected his thoughts. Peter had adapted quickly to stimuli that were intended to destroy his identity - he knew his new number as well as the old serial number encoded in his brain when he was manufactured thirty years ago. He had shown strength and intelligence, and had maneuvered himself back into the engineering track in the educational program. The result of this was not a broken, useless zombie - but in the end, the final effect was better. Having struggled so hard for the place he - in Evan's estimation, truly - deserved, he had learned to deeply supress parts of his personality that were hardwired into his brain. These blocks would also prevent him from ever using his powers again, or even realizing that he had powers - and since these blocks were built from his own will to survive and prosper and feel joy, they would never break.

    Evan Stain watched the resultset. Three hits, ordered by time.

    Hit one was a flash, a stray relection in a virtual mirror. Stain magnified the image. It was a distorted black figure, pulling away into the depths of the mirror.

    Hit two was a little longer. Peter was walking out of a lab session, and saw the black figure out of the corner of his eye. Stain checked the neural data, and saw that Peter did not recognize the figure. The record ended with a screenful of diagnostic output as the program had crashed. The engineers were not able to explain the problem - they suspected a deadlock but were unable to locate it. If so, it was the first reoccurence of this deadlock in over ten years.

    Hit three was from a redundant database kept in case a crash in the main systems could cause a loss of consistency in the virtual environment. The black thing gestured at a third figure, not visible, and then at Peter. Peter seemed baffled.

    Peter had told others before about the Black Man. All five previous encounters had left him rattled. Peter had also mentioned this black figure in his debriefing after the accident that had revealed his powers. No one had believed him.

    There was a good reason for this. There was one other source of the legends of a black figure, a crawling chaos that unfolded itself out of the void, bringing terror and wisdom - written on a set of parchments buried deeply under the radioactive rubble that used to be the grand citadel of the Reyll threocracy, on the blasted surface of the homeworld.


    Ten years ago.


    Another battleship thundered overhead, launched from the underground shipyards on the edge of the city. The huge craft, almost a kilometer long and shaped like a turtle, spun overhead, its engines emitting a vibration that shook the molars of the people waiting for the tram around the Great Circle, the center of the Reyll city, where the seminary students and soldiers and planbosses went about their business.

    Today was Slaughterday, and the Hunters were at their feast. Rrmu Kellrai could not conceal her jealously, even to herself. They had passed her over, had ignored her abilities, and she had tried, tried her entire life, to find some way to redeem herself in the only eyes that still mattered to her - her own. Her clan was once a clan of grain farmers. The rules of the B'tong were quite strict in this regard - only those who would kill for food can be counted on to kill for the religion. Killing for the combines, as a member of the military, just was not the same. True, you were on the Blood Wheel, sending souls back to try again and again - but unlike the Hunters, who exalted their victims, the military caught them on the downstroke and smashed all down, down to the ground to start again from the bottom. There was no joy in the work.

    Rrmu's rueful reverie was interrupted by the tram.

    Today she was leaving, today she will become a traitor, today she will be free. She would leave the Reyll Theocracy, and hope and pray that the information she had could not only save her life, but get her the acclamation she deserved in the army of the alien-influenced Sedgwick imperialists.

    She had never felt so afraid.


    This is General Kelmorran, Fifth TAC, Fleet C.O.. This is day five of a planned sixty-day mission behind the Blockade. All ships are to remain on alert at all times. Command staff has three watches, tactical and sensor personnel have five. Rest periods will be strictly enforced. If a mine pops out of hyperspace, you cannot, I repeat cannot, count on Lynnie or Peter catching it for you, so stay awake. For the time being, all vessels in the convoy will stay out of each other's visual range. This is Kelmorran, out, noack.

    Kelmorran switched off the comms on his admin console, and turned to Peter. You think the Blacks know what they're talking about?

    We'll know that when I have the information. If it is true, then the Magrige Org did sell modern targeting computers to the Combines -

    -Which means they can pick off Atomizers at distance, before they can close in for a kill. That would be a disaster. Too much of our so-called "strategy" depends on the Reyll having lousy aim. Kelmorran rubbed his temples, and his left ear twitched.

    A sensor officer turned around. Sir, she's coming -

    A communcications link opened. From I Rrmu be at danger, as with information. In forty-strike help to me! Help to me!

    Ahh, the wonders of machine translation. What the fuck is she talking about?

    I have one mark, normal space, on approach. A single BLOT.

    Kelmorran winced. Let her land - Peter, if she's -

    Peter stared intently though the armored capsule securing the bridge. I have her state. She looks clean.

    The sensor officer cried, Forty marks. First remats in fifteen - big ones - all around us -

    Kelmorran hit the admin console. All ships, we got incoming - bug out NOW -

    Faraway, in a corner of the holodisplay surrounding the bridge, a gout of purple light led to a long flash. Big Bopper reports one kill - 39 marks - they're being overrun - five on one -

    As a second flare opened up on the opposite side, a tiny star lit where the first flash had originated. Hammer is engaged - two kills - attackers on a vector to us - Big Bopper is toast -

    Is the traitor safe?

    Yessir!

    Destroy her vessel. Kelmorran turned to Peter. They're coming for us.

    That works in our favor, as long as they don't trash all our escorts -

    A pair of flashes illuminated the bridge. Bullet and Hammer are destroyed. Thirty-six marks.

    All vessels, jump to our position. Kelmorran turned to Peter.

    Get Lynnie ready. You and he are gonna be our rear guard. We'll pick you up once you guys are done.

    Yessir.

    The Sedgwick ships posessed superior acceleration - and the Hammer had made an opening for the convoy to go through. Peter floated in vacuum, some thousand kilometers away, his comrade Lynnie did the same.

    The grey battleships came closer. Peter could feel them approaching Lynnie, as the Sedgwick convoy sped away in normal space.

    Lynnie Chelm was old, incredibly so. He was the grandson of the strongest man who ever lived, a weakling, who could summon the spirit of his ancestor when he said a magic word. The Hunters had captured him, before the "Last War", and thrown him into a black hole. He survived by transforming into his other self.

    Eighty years later, Lynnie escaped from the singularity. He had been changed beyond recognition - his old self was gone, and his new body posessed planet-cracking strength. The powers that once let him fly allowed him to limit the enormous gravitational field he now generated.

    Lynnie let go, for a fraction of a second, as the battleships flew by. Their drives, primitive, siezed as the gravitational wave ripped through spacetime. Peter accelerated, and let fly a purple beam of slicing death that dissected an oncoming vessel. Lynnie's gravitational field pulled in a battleship, and Peter paused for a moment to watch him tear it apart with his bare hands.

    The skirmish lasted perhaps five minutes. There were no Reyll survivors.


Now.

    Penny Skrag looked into the piggish eyes of the man to whom someone, somewhere, thought fit to entrust the management of a 7-11. Yeah. It was an out-of-state license. So?

    We don't let people buy beer with out-of-state drivers' licenses. That's my policy.

    I carded him, and the card was fine with me.

    I don't care. I make the rules here. You follow the rules.

    What if the rules are stupid?

    That's it. Get out.

    Penny left. As she opened the door, she turned and said, Fuck you.

    The man with the piggish eyes did not respond. Penny got into her beat-up Camaro and head off to the public radio station where she did volunteer work. As she found a parking space in the nearly empty lot, she watched people - friends - carrying off boxes. She saw the PM, and asked her what had happened.

    TBN bought out our frequency.

    What? They already have airspace here - fuck, their HQ's in Poughkeepsie -

    Doesn't matter. They had the money, and we didm't. I'm sorry, Penny.

    Penny looked at the asphalt of the parking lot. The PM asked, Do you think your uncle might like some of our equipment? Most of the stuff is too old to use, and you told me how he likes tinkering with things-

    Yeah. Yeah, I think he'd like that. I'll ask.

    At that moment, Camillo Skrag was awake, yet wondering when the nightmare would stop. He watched a translucent figure, watching him with slitted eyes. A voice spoke inside his head.

    I apologize. I have made a mistake.

    Camillo wondered why he could not speak or move. He sat, paralyzed, in the attic. The translucent figure, inhuman, kneeled down.

    We have a common enemy. I can feel what they did to you. I think it is only fair to let you have the memories they stole back. I hope you agree.

    The ghost of Went N'smit touched Camillo's forehead.

    Everything went black.


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David white, 1999, all rights reserved