Hotfoot, awoke with a start. There was something seriously wrong with environmental controls or Hotfoot had at least quadrupled in weight, he was very heavy and he was definitely not dreaming either.

It was dark, pitch black. Hotfoot was worried now that he was fully awake, he tried to access his enhanced vision mode, (all pilots have this feature to help them pick out thermally shrouded vessels especially when one comes across a relic), it failed to activate.

Hotfoot decided that there must be some sort of military assault on the station or something much, much worse, a huge one at that, as the Cosmic Sinkhole was no push over even for the other two great galactic powers combined would have had been hard to cripple the Sinkhole so fast and then there was the issue that the three although weary of each other would never really want to cripple the other as the chaos that would ensue would be unmanageable for either of them that remained.

Hotfoot fumbled around in the dark for a while. At last after five minutes or so, he found a chemical fuel based portable light source namely his oxyacetylene torch, the room lit up in a dim blue glow. Hotfoot found he was sitting on the ceiling of his room.

A couple of minutes later Hotfoot had cut his way into the main hall for his pilots bunker block. By now, Hotfoot had improvised a metallic foil cone to focus the dim light emitted from his torch, it was a slow crawl to the ventilation ducts. At least using the ventilation system meant reducing the use of his limited light source.

Uneasy Unions

Horus was on the far side of the Oufey star, as usual when he had no work; he would try his luck with the military base found nestled between the two-dozen PPSW that fed the star of Oufey with more material. Quite why they chose to feed Oufey in this manor was beyond Horus but all that anyone on the out side was told, this is the way because of the great Stabilization project, of which Oufey happened to so graciously offer its star. Besides Oufey Corp had much too much money to know what to do with it all, pretty much standard practice with the three seats of power just funnel surpluses into skunk works, the Star of Oufey probably was one of the grandest ones that the public knew of at any rate.

It was obvious something was wrong; the station was knocked off its normal axis and there were habitation modules slowly burning up in the intense heat, on closer inspection the two hundred mile long station had a growing crack in it mid section and it seemed to be twisting as well.

As one of the fuel pods came into direct light from the star of Oufey it blew up catastrophically. With surrounding fuel pods taking some damage and having been weakened, the direct star light along their tops was enough to set off a cascade of explosions, the southern end of the station momentarily shone brighter than the background star that it was part of. Of course these stations, which lived in extreme environments, were designed to withstand incredible amounts of damage, most of the remaining structures on the southern end seemed to be relatively unscathed save for obvious scorching. The radiation from the blast was almost severe enough to shutdown The Pernicious Falcon's primary systems; all that did happen was a slight stutter and some static hiss on his mind link to the Pernicious Falcon primary thought nexus.

Horus was now close enough to see other ships in detail, it was a mess down there, the signs were obvious now, there had been an extreme external assault and not an internal one as Horus had first suspected.

His deep space scanner was picking up fourteen hundred dead vessel signatures, that was damned near the whole fleet stationed at this particular base. Horus glided in closer. He was certain now, there were cinders and burns all over the dead ships, some of which looked like they had been punched through, Horus could not think of any weapon that could do that to ship, but he was really worried when he saw the same thing with the station, somehow, a new weapon had been used, and very effectively too on this base. The results were scary; this weapon could perforate rock and enhanced metallic alloys that were over twenty miles thick!

Making some close fly bys of the remains of the station, he could discern no activity on the surface and motion trackers showed the same for the internals of the station, he would have preferred hacking into the stations security grid to make sure but all systems and power was down in the station. If anyone was alive down there Horus was not going to be able to find them with the grid down.

He flew over to the great rent in the mid section of the station. He did not believe his eyes, a moving sea of blue foam was eating the station and at an increasing rate, his proximity alarm sounded. He wacked the throttle to full and pulled away at 40G, just in time too, a three mile long stalk with projectile shaped head was just meters away from perforating his ships hull, even while pulling away the tip seemed to unbelievably change its path to follow 'The Pernicious Falcon'. Horus got it through one of his external cameras mounts.

He withdrew to a safer distance of ten miles and used the zoom to look at the blue foam. The station was in two halves now, and the blue foam was all that was holding the two halves together, it was also harpooning in 'food' from the other PPSWs. It dawned on Horus that this creature was obviously in the perfect place, food was being brought to it, and it was obviously rudimentary intelligent as it did not consume any more PPSW generators on the former station after the first one it had. It was completely alien whatever it was, and it definitely did not seem friendly.

Horus decided to head over to the Cosmic Sinkhole and let them know what he had found, since he figured he could do no more good here.

Getting Cold

Hotfoot had cut away the vent grate and was laboriously pulling his way through, guided by the faint rush of air from the Northern Dock for the Cosmic Sinkhole, thankfully he only had a mile to crawl through, the alternative would have been to crawl for fifteen via the regular humanoid route albeit along the ceilings, which was clearly not an option. Hotfoot had already seen about fifteen dead, those were the species and visitors from low gravity systems, their vascular systems had been ruptured by the brutal force change. Hotfoot was lucky, but he knew he would not last too long in this environment, even a 2G native found four G too difficult for prolonged periods. Besides it was getting deathly cold, something that should not happen so fast on a station as vast as this one.

Tentacles in the Wind

Kr4 was probably the last in the long line of experimental human fused with various organics and deep space long-range fighters. He was at the terminus of the PPSW that had been sealed shut by something, course Kr4 had no idea why, it was not the scheduled time for it to be shut, so he trans-shifted to the old Oufey weapons foundry.

A gigantic blue tentacle lashed past him, it seemed to whisper something too, but Kr4 could hardly hear it, sounded like "..H..r...", over and over, it was maddening, Kr4 was already moving away from the foundry before he caught sight of the rest of what that tentacle was attached to.

The dark side of the foundry was a sea of blue 'fur', fur that seemed to be passing objects along to somewhere else. Kr4 pulled a little further out, just beyond the five-mile reach of those tentacles. There it was, a huge mouth, one which even light did not seem to escape. The words were getting louder and clearer. They still did not make any sense, Kr4 decided to stay put and see if he could talk with this huge alien creature, seeing as he could hear it.


Prochyon was thumbing the controls of the HellRazor with dejected irritation, but the loud bleeps coming from his control panel meant he had some real work coming through.

So far the HellRazor seemed to be a very capable ship, the slight modifications he had suggested to Parias seemed to have done the trick, hopefully he would be able to test the HellRazor in a real fight, as that is where an excellent design shows its self from a good one.

Incoming message from agent 'Dark Echelon' for Prochyon

Much as it pains me, I think it is time for another watch and take over mission, you have three ships as your potential quarry, the first ship is the Viper Mark 7 and the captain is Guyffon, you must let him attempt to take out captains SoupDragon in the Dragon Lancer and Termite69 who pilots Thermal Death, if he should fail in this endeavour destroy his ship first if it has not been already and then take out the other two and spare them no mercy. You will be paid the usual fee for a triple assassination.

Well that was heart-warming news for Prochyon seeing as he was fed up of guard duty at the local spaceport. "Ha like the local spaceport would ever pay him his full fee for his services", Prochyon thought to himself, at any rate he could always come back to extort them for money, seeing as he had the dirt on all the officials there now.

After some of his more dicey experiences with law enforcement he could not make up his mind who was worse the ordinary criminal or the average cop. Well being a freelancer for the most part was really the only way to go, he never understood how anyone could stand being a freighter captain. With that thought, he fired up his engines and left the dump that was the local space port, he inwardly laughed at how all the personnel in the control tower must be panicking and running around screaming at each other, as now they were so defenceless without him. Still pirates were usually quick in and quick out, so their demise would be quick, besides it was more of a favour this back water space port had pretty much nothing going for it in it's long term future.

HellRazor trans-shifted to its ammunitions supply depot, if HellRazor was about to take on three veteran ships and pilots, it was going to need ever trick in the book, and those custom-made disruptor missiles were just what he needed. It was a dam shame Parias had left on his own mission earlier, he could have used his expertise at weapons tuning.

Rook to Kings Knight

Robkinder was pondering he next move in this elaborate ancient game of chess, even though most of the pirates were young headstrong children compared to him, a few were intelligent enough to give him a decent game of chess, on the rare occasions that he lost to them, he would actually smile.

The pirate clan was an old one, and a distinguished one, because of them, and them alone, the Spartan system never really became the commercial hub that it should have.

Every time a major trade route was authorised to pass through that system, robkinder would make sure that he would leverage his tax on it, pretty much nothing got through with out him or his clan being paid off first, of course that new Navy Captain was a right pain in the arse but, robkinder had much more experience and cunning than that arrogant fool in his destroyer named the Sulaco.

One of the younger renegades came running up to robkinder all excited. robkinder could tell that he would have listen to his story at least four times before the kid had calmed down enough to make sense.

The Confederation of United Worlds was going to send another shipment of medicines for the Deheou plague outbreak in the remote star system of Pityuol. "Great" thought robkinder to himself "we can hold the CUW for ransom of their humanitarianism tendencies". It would not be long before the clan of the Star-Wolves would be a name to be feared in all three civilized quadrants.

His opponent had made his move; robkinder returned his attention back to the game. He loved teasing the other pirates, the kid who had just brought the good news stood by the side waiting and impatiently pawing the floor. The youth was almost a downright nervous wreck, robkinder made a mental note, not to have this young fella be a wingman of his.

With a slow thoughtful tone robkinder said "Jake, talk to Ron about organising a sortie, we will take the shipment and hold it for ransom along with the crew if possible and make sure we retain a portion of those goods, we could easily make a killing on the black market with them. Remember find out what the escorts are like before we plan an ambush, remember what happened the last time."

With that Jake just made the clan gesture and ran off to find Ron.

At last some peace and quiet, back to the game, robkinder reckoned five more moves to check mate. Life as a pirate certainly had its rewards but it also meant you could not really bond with anyone too deeply simply because there was a good chance they would die before they retired. Robkinder was seriously contemplating an early retirement, too many young and eager pilots had died under his watch, it was starting to get to him, and he noticed the stresses of being near the top were taking their toll on his health too. Still a few more good runs and he could partially retire and take a more passive role or even leave, but that would mean faking his own death, which would be tough to pull off, as he would need extensive DNA re-sequencing to fool those who suspected him. He still had a few contacts that were of the right sort.

It always amazed robkinder how some lateral thinking would often show him the way to achieve his goals.

Smoking Chips and Cyber Gods

Jimbocop was lining Dark Steed up on the second to last trans-shift. It was in the middle of nowhere really, the nearest star was ten light years away but, in order to keep a stealth profile Jimbo needed to take these extreme risks, it was a tiresome procedure to make forced jumps so often, but that was the only way to loose any potential trailers. Jimbo doubted anyone would be stupid enough or desperate enough to need to attack an I.G.C.P.F. officer. In any case he decided now was a good time to calibrate this new chip, plus it would give him a good chance to snare any trailers, because in the voids between the stars there is no where to hide. Dark Steed was fully powered up just in case, scanners were set to maximum and since Jimbo was a cyborg he could manage several tasks quite eloquently.

XR-Z3b was the normal progression from the XR-Z3a, nothing too fancy, but the stability was at last at a level that Jimbo could happily accept. The b variant basically was the properly radiation shielded version, the 'a' version had too many easily exploitable entrance points inside its dynamic armour cage, Jimbocop noted how ironic it was that he was just as vulnerable as a regular human in space, yes he could survive for an hour in space without his special survival suit which was considerably better than the five minutes he would have had as a human, and that was if he was lucky.

He placed the new chip in Dark Steed's custom designed verifier and stress tester, which he had himself built many a moon ago. The tests would take an hour or so. If this unit managed to pass, the second ultimate test, Jimbocop was going to get a decent upgrade.

Jimbocop kept scanning the area and to while away the boredom he tapped into the nexial database he downloaded into his memory earlier. Time to do some speculation. One of Jimbo's favourite things apart from kicking criminal ass was trying to complete the cyber god incident. Of course keeping a bead on other big political issues was pretty good stuff too. There was a pattern to everything, and Jimbocop was a finely attuned machine to criminal patterns.

Half an hour had passed, the chip had survived all the accuracy and speed tests, all that remained were the stress tests. Hopefully not another smoking chip, as the 'a' variant failed in the more important area of standing up to severe stress on its dynamic armour.

Dark Steed blared, a trans-shift was occurring off the starboard bow. It was a fighter. The stress test was halted. Jimbocop snapped out of perusal mode and straight into combat mode. The multiple computer simulations of what could happen were being overlaid onto Jimbocop's interpretation of reality.

At last Parias had caught up with Jimbocop, this was going to be a very hard fight, Parias knew he was good, but he also knew Jimbocop was no slouch himself. The Malevolent was eager to get the battle started, the ship just had that kind of aggressive personality to it and it showed by the way it circled round Dark Steed.

Both pilots and ships were testing each other, Malevolent would swoop in, Steed would tumble away, Steed would charge Malevolent would slide to the side, it was clear within a few microseconds both ships were nearly equal in manoeuvrability and speed with perhaps the slight hint of the advantage to the lighter Malevolent.

Parias thought something was not right about Steed's manoeuvrings, he knew the ship was heavy but the pattern of flight reminded him of something he had read about in some e-magazine not so long ago. He could have sworn he saw something move just beyond his field of vision but it was gone by the time he looked at it directly.

Steed fired off a few dozen rounds from his quad gauss cannons, the low rumbling of the rounds being fired rapidly was complimented by the high pitched whine of the ammo re-loaders doing their job. Malevolent barely managed to dodge the fire with the bulk of the shots having shimmied the hull, a rear wing tip got clipped but Malevolent did not notice, instead it rocketed past Steed in a suicide run barely missing Steed, flipped itself as it passed Steed keeping a weapons lock on Steed, the dual neutron PBC's were fully charged and four rounds escaped from their holds, two hit Steed, one in the aft section, which caused some spin of Steed's trajectory. The second hit the frontal armour plate, made a nice gash in the plate, but did not pierce the plate. The reactive armour recovery system hummed into life and trillions of nanites were knitting the armour back up to hundred percent, in about five seconds the gashes would be gone from both ships hulls, provided one was not destroyed.

With unexpected severity Steed stopped dead in its tracks, still facing the Malevolent and then Parias saw what Jimbocop had done, while Parias's move was a text book response from advanced high speed tactics Jimbocop had cheated, he had deployed a mesh, the kind of mesh that was so fine it could slice a ship into many small shards if the deployer so wanted plus it was virtually undetectable, but in this case, he had an even worse fate, the stars around him were dimming and Steed was fading from view, within a split second Parias and Malevolent found themselves in the null void, and Malevolent certainly was not equipped to escape this ghastly space.

They were trapped, he could come back later and pick them up from the null void, but he had no idea how long his mission would be, so it could well be that, that damn fine pilot would die alone, probably every pilots worst fear to die alone and not be seen going down in glory.

Steed made tracks to its secret destination. The real fun was about to begin.

The Mercenary PBCDemon

PBCDemon was having his morning hot drink filled with various outlawed stimulants. The view from his penthouse apartment on Secrati Prime was spectacular as always.

He really did not fancy going down to the HQ, it was bad enough that the regular mercenary jobs were at an all time low in his region of space, well work was work, but work from the HQ was of the non excitable kind.

Despite not wanting to go, after all he could always have a peruse through the subnet nexus, there was usually something spicy going on there, but of late it was all small or short term stuff and a lot of them were simply not worth the effort. PBCDemon resigned himself to the HQ. Demon like everyone else had bills to pay. Besides it was a matter of honour that drove him to go back to the HQ day after day.

The HQ was a tall drinking glass tower in appearance. At over fourteen miles high and the standard corporate chrome of this sector, it was almost without question the largest artificial object on the surface of Secrati Prime. It housed more than twenty million people and could easily be seen poking its bulbous head into the sky for tens of miles around it. The in joke around the metropolis was that the owner of the building, none other than Yuriko Loughnane was looking for a partner with one like that, or the alternative was she obviously had one that big compared to all those that worked under her iron fist. Some things about humanity never change; jealousy at success was still prevalent, despite all the gene therapy to remove it and all the mind control chips out there. "No wonder those Elder races still think we are juveniles." Demon thought offhandedly to himself.

Demon decided he would use the North wing entrance, he always liked to change his route, one could never be too careful in the Metropolis. There was always someone in the city would not like you, for even the slightest of nuisances and indiscretions.

The officer for the day was the usual old war dog that guarded all the jobs like some small child gleefully carrying out an order that it liked and was overtly proud of. Demon hoped that today this erratic and eccentric war dog would be reasonable and allow him access to the better offers on offer. Demon honestly did not like the war dog of the job agency simply because the number of times a 'man killer' female walked in and stole his chosen job was infuriating to say the least, the war dog officer was always on the look out for a night out and he made it so sickeningly obvious. Still it seemed to work from time to time for the war dog.

He would have used his holomorphic identity manipulator and pretended to be a 'man killer' female, but the war dog was smart, he had caught men trying that before and had installed some kind of pheromone analyser device on his person and that thing was next to impossible to fool.

It was Demon's lucky day the contemptible war dog was in a good mood due to a successful night, "how typically cheap of himself" thought Demon to himself, the even better result was war dog would not be on the prowl and funnily enough the 'men killers' knew this and were not around which was something odd in itself.

"Hey there Demon, back to try your luck, lets see what we got on offer for you today." Said an obviously satisfied Maximo Sandeen.

"In a magnanimous mood are we Maximo?" Demon chided

"I've never done anyone wrong yet" Maximo said with feigned flourish.

"Right so what's the day's special?" Demon.

"Well your request for the work permit in the NDF-9 star cluster has come through, so I'll list the new jobs available to you in that sector as nothing new has come up since your last visit in the other areas your are actively interested in. We have a half dozen pages of work in that star cluster, I'll hand you the list if you would be so kind to give me an neural access port" pauses while Demon lowers mind blockers on a highly controlled port cluster, "thank you, enjoy and good luck, oh and do us a favour bring us back some CT-98B year 46,875 that would make my collection complete. Bye." Maximo.

"Yeah sure, bye." Demon said in a sarcastic yet playful tone. He made doubly sure he would forget that stupid request; Demon knew full well that stuff was way beyond even Yuriko Loughnane suitor's budgets. Demon would have to pour over the offers back at the penthouse away from all the noise of the Metropolis.

Someone Turn the Heating Down

Horus reached the Cosmic Sinkhole, but it was knocked off its axis as well, he could see that with the naked eye from twenty million kilometres, for one thing the sunny side should have been a mix of greens, reds and blues with a few dapples of gold, but half of it was the jet black of the dark side.

Becoming nervous. Was that blue foam thing at this station as well? Despite the sinking feeling in his gut he was hopeful, and at the same time knew that what ever it was Cosmic Sinkhole was not one of those things that could easily be manipulated, even some of the most virulent nanite armies would have a devil of a job of dismantling the Cosmic.

He headed straight for the line that divided what should have been light from dark. Suspicion mounted. Might this be another one of those blue monsters, but to his relief it was nothing of the sort. All the vegetation beneath the dome had been burned to a crisp beneath the great northern dome, his scanners were telling him thanks to that rampart internal fire and the thick smoke the ambient temperature inside the bio dome was well over eight thousand degrees.

Another disaster, this time the damage was far worse Horus thought, the bio diversity that was painstakingly resurrected there would take eons to reintroduce, "oh well" the Oufey corp. was more than well off enough to fund that if not the inhabitants of some of the more religious domes would have leapt all over the chance, since they thought of the gardens as their god's gift to them and they were given the prestigious duty of maintaining it. Still it was perturbing to Horus that the two main facilities of Oufey and hence Oufey Corp seemed to have been effectively disabled and partially destroyed, maybe the blue foam thing was a military research project gone wrong, strange rumours had been floating around the under ground sub nexus that military groups were working on something truly alien but Horus doubted a human mind could come up with something as reckless as that blue foam monster.

Horus decided to make a sweep across the southern section of the sunny side. All was not well there either, everything was in a vacuum, and somewhere along the great southern dome an air lock or possibly the dome itself had been ruptured. Thinking he ought to scan the southern end carefully just in case the dome had been compromised.

The dome was indeed compromised and in no small way, the rent was over fifteen miles long, almost the entire southern solar facility had been vaporised, it was actually possible to see the granite metal alloy base of the southern dome park where the epicentre of this strangely elliptical blast had occurred.

Horus against better judgement took his ship into the southern dome, there was plenty of space, but he needed to visually confirm that the station had managed to lock all air locks into and out of the southern dome. It was obvious the northern dome was fine as the temperature and atmospheric differential was huge, looking at the near vacuum park it was clear that any creature that had not been unfortunate enough not to be sucked into space or burned by the blast, suffered an equally grisly fate namely freeze dried and boiled at once.

It was as the man had feared the station had lost power so spectacularly that the auto mated air locking system failed to even initiate. Worse still the gravity dampers had been miss aligned, Horus already had the displeasure of experiencing over twenty g's in one section of the former park, in other areas gravity was inverted to similar extremes, in one insane case the floor of the forests had been ripped from the rocks and the rocks themselves had in some places had been ripped from the structural supports below, they were all bizarrely impaling the roof of the dome where they had stood beneath, Horus made a mental note to avoid any such regions, as he saw a park jeep torn in two one part resting on the floor with both tires exploded out and the other half was some eleven miles up pushing against the remnants of the dome. He hoped that the humanoid driver of the vehicle died a quick death, well the drivers arm was compressed into the passengers seat, so who knows how much pain the driver had to endure before finally being crushed on the roof of the dome, could not have been more than minute.

Horus was mildly comforted that the gravity system worked without power of the conventional source but the miss alignments that could cause such drastic results like these were beyond his comprehension. No doubt with air rushing out of the station at a still frankly alarming rate and the gravity redistribution system being so out of whack could only mean that most of the stations inhabitants were probably dead. So far it looked like a very carefully orchestrated act of sabotage but this would probably be one of the highest death tolls since the war for Altair two decades ago. Fortunately humanity and the other nearby juvenile races all knew how to counter act the fallout from a forced nova detonation.

If anyone were likely to have survived it would have be the naval post that was attached to the Western Dock Terminus.

Iron Maiden

An hour had sluggishly passed by and Hotfoot was at the air lock to his ship, now all he had to do was open it and he would be safe for a while. At least he was close to 'The Iron Maiden'.

By this time Hotfoots pilot suit was absolutely soaking with sweat, normally the suit would keep a pilot dry as a bone but some kind of field had been employed were electric currents just did not seem to want to run. Hotfoot prayed that The Iron Maiden's heavy component shielding, after all he had spent a small fortune getting the top grade military hardware for her, would still be functional. Else he was a dead man.

Wild thoughts rushed through his mind maybe Corporate had found out about his plan and this was his revenge to kill Hotfoot in him dream, thus killing his mind and leaving a perfectly reusable body, it had been rumoured such technology exists. Crimes of that sort are almost impossible to track down as the brain is usually completely purged by the process. Hotfoot shuddered, his slowing and ceasing of his muscles meant that his accumulated sweat and the rapidly dropping temperature of the station were sucking the remaining life from him, he had already lost all feeling in his fingers and toes, his lower face had a shroud of hoar-frost forming around it. Time was running out, if the gravity did not finally rupture his strained vascular system then surely the cold alone would.

From somewhere Hotfoot managed to summon the energy to make it through his air lock and it hissed shut behind him, it was warmer here inside the Iron Maiden, he manage to give the mental command "Auto Disembark Emergency Override". With that Hotfoot passed out, the hellish hour was over, body and mind both fatigued from the experience.

Nostalgia and Artefacts

The Isosceles found itself in orbit around the star of Phenomialis, a small brown dwarf with a companion G type yellow main sequence star. The NDF-9 star cluster was a middle aged one, and had been the fourth star cluster to be colonised by humans during the first great colonisation wave, also known as 'The Exodus' in some religious texts.

There was something truly wondrous about the NDF-9 cluster, possibly because it was the last place to succumb to the terrors of the Great Plague, it was also controversially the least damaged as well. The preponderance of humanity considered this star cluster their new homelands and home worlds, unfortunately the systems named Sol along with Alpha Centauri and a few other nearby stars such as Wolf-359 and Banards Star were all mercilessly annihilated during the Great Plague, it was rumoured aliens had dealt that blow to get humanities attention, it was later learned it was the direct fault of a few naval officers making some atrocious judgement calls at the time.

NDF-9 has obviously become a preserve of some sort; humanity being nostalgic at the best of times seems to make some of the most banal of rules. The end result is that NDF-9 is now considered both Holy Space and historic preserve, many trillions of people live in the NDF systems of which there are nine. Tourism and commercialism is what keeps these places afloat, and like old Terra the prices here are nothing short of extortionate. Everyone is paranoid, due to sheer numbers and a lack of resources it is very hard to rise above the rest, how ever if you are an outsider one stands to make enormous gains in this cluster. Which is just what every pilot that applies for the coveted permits to be allowed into this haven, Demons objectives were decidedly different.

Demon was the youngest son of his house, and a forty-year clan feud with the opposing house of Eddington had yet to be settled, plus being on a courier run was also a perfect guise for a hit and run assault. It was a perfect match, all Demon had to do now was figure out the arcane way this cluster laws seemed to work. The Eddington's were smart opponents as they had migrated here to avoid the house of Demon, but Eddington was going to return the artefact one way or the other, it rightfully belonged to the Demon's.

Evil Parts come Together

The basic meaning of the message had become clear to Kr4 hours ago, it seemed this creature was part of a much larger entity that was broken down for some inexplicable reason, and now it was reassembling itself, and one thing was for sure, it bore a distinct hatred for life other than its kind. The blue beast called itself Gnillar, and it was looking for its lost partners. Kr4 knew that combination was not a good one, as Kr4 had noted Gnillar had psi abilities that could crush a world if it so wanted, thankfully it was not intelligent enough to perceive the threat Kr4 could have poised to its continued existence, but then again Kr4 had no idea what it would take to stop something as efficiently designed as that.

By this time Gnillar had consumed everything that had been free floating around the former old weapons foundry and was leaching off molecules from the star of Oufey as well as having learned how to operate PPSW it had also reopened the PPSW that it had accidentally closed, it also seemed to be widening them, Kr4 thought he saw smaller openings to other places but his sensor load out in its current configuration was not capable of resolving PPSW that were smaller than twenty meters in diameter from distances of over fifty five hundred miles. Gnillar was growing exponentially it seemed and smarter to boot.

Kr4 started to divert more thought time to developing his own psi abilities, it might enable the instantiation of a communications channel that was more than just two way. Kr4 did not seem to think there was any nearby weapons at his disposal that could put a dent in this abomination. Psi seemed a logical choice, it was one of Kr4 fundamental joys to reconfigure himself on the fly, probably the main reason why his line was discontinued, they were all deemed too adaptable whatever that was supposed to mean. Besides the labs where he was born along with the others was reduced to rubble by activists.

Still there were so few viable specimens of his kind, due to the massive complexity of their genome and their half mechanical parts, a typical Kr series 4 had a nominal base pair composed of a one hundred distinct pairings, this was far in excess of the standard human which had only four in some of the more genetically modified 'super' humans the base pairs went up as high as seven. Most human stock was just incompatible even with extensive augmentation, training and genetic re-sequencing so they had to be built and bred into a compatible symbiotic partner for the frame. It took three millennia of research to finally get the human and the ship to grow together from an embryo, of course the mother was not organic it was a typical research lab nutrient tube, except it was three times larger in volume than a man.

An embryo of a Kr series 4 would take just thirty minutes to grow to full adult size in a nutrient tube, massive improvement over the Kr series 3 which took four to five decades. The nutrient tube was filled with metallic hydrogen, the embryo would work out how to grow and convert the hydrogen into whatever elements it needed. Due to the design of the nutrient tube it was possible to stream vast amounts of data humanity had accumulated over time into the new units, the data was primarily technological and tactical, with some history thrown in. So all the unit had was vast knowledge at a very keen intelligence, it was often an unstable mix due to the fact the units were so complex they developed new forms of psychological disorders and of course they were designed more on the principle of machine than human, although in reality they were a horrible symphony of the two. Most aborted once they attained self-awareness. Those who survived that, often just became suicidal, in reality all units were classed suicidal some more so than others, on average maybe one in a billion made it to their second year in life. If they lived longer than two years they more or less achieved immortality providing they did not take insane risks. The Kr4 that lived more than two decades had also found a way of by passing the self destruct mechanism within them, it was a two fold device one that could rupture several critical systems and another that created cancerous growths as well systemic organ death, not a pleasant way to go. The military skunk works were a paranoid bunch mandating awesome firepower with complete control the two were inherently incompatible, especially if the machine gained sentience, in the Kr4 this was inevitable.

As far as Kr4 could ascertain he was part of a small group of a dozen surviving relics of a bygone era. A couple of his kindred spirits had been hunted down by poachers of all things, killed and sold to private collectors. They had found a way of practically guaranteeing immortality he was over a couple of millennia old himself. If he played safe he would see the end of the universe and only die then, but all Kr series 4 hungered for new experiences as that was in their secondary design. Thus they all took insane risks one of the many reasons why they had become unreliable, invariably the Kr series that began as human turned alien and as always when things like this happened most of humanity scorned them. There were incidents of a couple of Kr4 being completely uninterested in their own kind hence there could still conceivably be a few more rogues out there, but not more than two or three, even Kr4 units get deep space bends syndrome after a couple of centauries of silence and only their thoughts to keep them company.

Incidentally the Kr4 that have remained no longer think as individuals with their enhanced psi abilities they can communicate and form a hive like mind, but most of the time they keep to themselves. They are also all called Kr4 there is no distinction save for some thought patterns, when one evolves a new survival technique they all have access to it. Not being named may sound foreign but the voice with which they speak with when using psi identifies them sufficiently well amongst their own. Normal Humans so to speak just follow their convention because they are a one off and it is the only real way they can show their appreciation for dying race, those that is who don't fear them that is.

It had been debated secretly using psi of course if they should reproduce, but all decided the answer was no simply because there was no need. Besides they were created as the ultimate rapidly deployable front line weapon, since they knew their kind was so mentally unstable, they really did not want to inflict more pain on the universe they had enough of their own to deal with. New experiences and knowledge were very rare events for all Kr4, why would they wish to inflict the dull pain of boredom onto a new born it was just deemed ethically and morally wrong, of the twelve that remain psi exchanges numbered around five in the last millennia, this new experience would surely bring the other units flocking here, if not the view was just as good from the inner eye.

Kr4 psi rating increased by five orders of magnitude with the new anatomical configuration, he reckoned it should be sufficient. The others upgraded themselves as well in case this unit needed their psi linking abilities, together now they could probably invert a black hole with thought alone and permanently too.

As with all Kr4 they participated helping all races as and when they got bored drifting free among the stars, poachers were an annoyance now, Kr4 made for awesome hunts, but now a days the best game hunters were either dead or of lower calibre than the older generations. Still Kr4 hated all poachers and usually any poachers it found were exterminated even if a Kr4 was not being hunted at the time. Many juvenile races did not like Kr4s doing this but it rarely happened, Kr4 haunts and territories were well defined now, so poachers tended to stay away. Otherwise it was bad luck or sheer stupidity if the two types ever met.

Nanites are a Man's Best Friend

The Iron Maiden had transported an unconscious Hotfoot away from the Cosmic, it barely managed to escape, and there was a huge field around the Cosmic that was draining all energy reserves.

Hotfoot finally could breathe normally, he had escaped but just barely, the Cosmic was still its enormous self apart from the lack of power and the extreme gravity fluxes around it, it could not appear more normal to the vacant observer. The nanites in his blood stream were busy repairing the damage to his lungs and vascular system, as they were now able to function, since Hotfoot was beyond the sphere of influence that had enveloped the Cosmic and ruined it.

The Eastern end of the Cosmic looked slightly frosted over and the ice sheet seemed to be spreading. Iron Maiden swung in closer to take a look, that was no ice, that was the station melting and collapsing into a PPSW. "What the hell is going on?" Hotfoot certainly did not like the evolving situation, he decided it was best to try and trans shift to the nearest military base, which was Regulus 7v.

It failed, Hotfoot took Iron Maiden out to forty million kilometres and tried again, whatever it was that had come over this region of space it certainly was not allowing anything to leave it. He wondered if that also meant nothing could come in.

He decided to head over to the Oufey star, at least the Iron Maiden could recharge herself by scooping some free hydrogen, maybe the old weapons foundry would have some fuel that they would be will to sell to him. He had his doubts about being allowed to get close enough to the weapons foundry, the only way would to be coast in while some cloak was engaged and the Iron Maiden did not have enough fuel reserves to cloak right now.

Waiting for that Fruitful Ambush

Robkinder waited for his wingmen to form on him, team alpha was almost ready, teams beta and omicron were already deployed in their ambush positions, it was the primary duty of team omicron to give the signal for team alpha to trans-shift in behind the freighters escorts and smash them into glowing globules of molten material then team beta should have picked the cargo freighter apart, it was the duty of team omicron to come in and sweep the ship for hostages while commandeering the freighter once they had assumed control of the ship.

The ever-reliable "Tuatara" was as eager as Robkinder himself to get this mission started; team alpha was now in formation. Now they had to wait. . .

StarFury's First Mission

StarFury was out on final manoeuvres when he received a call from the Sulaco. The man and his cadre were to follow a rogue slave transport ship and report back to Shirke ASAP.

His first mission and it looked to be a push over. StarFury reluctantly trans-shifted to his given co-ordinates and began the chase.

Let it Be Known, that Evil Lives Here.

Kr4 was mildly surprised to see a chunk of metal that belonged to the Eastern Docking station of the Cosmic fly out of a new PPSW. Kr4 also noted that the star of Oufey was dimming by a couple of percent, this was a worrying development. Kr4 decided to have look at Gnillar from a new orbital position in the hope seeing what was happening on the star facing side of Gnillar.

From the new position Kr4 could seem an 'arm' reaching thousands of miles down into Oufey, no doubt the Gnillar was going to swallow Oufey whole, it was time to take action.

He fired off a buoy on a long-range missile to a very high orbit of fifteen million miles, all it did was repeat the warning message on all channels, it also kept a record of all Kr4 did as by way showing if the creature had any weaknesses.

Waiting the two minutes that it would take for the buoy to get into position, Kr4 was patently aware regular trans-shifting was inoperable. Kr4 entered the sphere of influence of Gnillar. There were heavy gravity distortions along with heavy turbulence the temperature seemed to be higher than the surface of the star of Oufey.

Gnillar had evolved the whips or tentacles had fingers and other appendages that were hard to describe, some of them seemed to emit very high frequency radio waves.

The beast lunged at Kr4, but had more than enough food so one tiny scrap like Kr4 would not go amiss. Gnillar lost contact with a small part of itself.

Kr4 had smashed off a piece of Gnillar, at last a sample of Gnillar to study, Kr4 studied, but it soon became clear it was just skin, a very tough and strange skin, seemed impervious to all but water and cold. Kr4 knew this was not enough; he needed to find out more. Kr4 began looking for the event horizon like hole for a mouth that he saw earlier.

It took two minutes to find it, but what was shocking was there were dozens if not scores of them all over the main body, more or less a uniform size and always a perfect circle. Radiation emissions of gamma and x-rays were enormous from those things, Kr4 reckoned they must serve as vents from some vast machine, maybe the digestive process of this Gnillar.

Kr4 fired various weapons into the vent like structures nothing happened when they struck the surface of the apertures. A stalk rose up from the surface, its bud shaped tip opened up in front of Kr4. The only reason why it stopped was because Kr4 dropped the temperature of it by PPSW its internal heat source to some other place. The inside of the bud was definitely a mouth, an new bud was approaching Kr4 and Kr4 could see dozens more forming along the surface of the stalk of the bud Kr4 had frozen. Kr4 decided to fly into the open bud as it was big enough and seemed hollow, Kr4 disappeared down the gullet and three meters down and all transmissions from Kr4 ceased but the buoy kept feeding data out to anyone who may have been listening. Kr4 was unreachable via Psi as well, the others were not too concerned, the fact one of them may have died doing what they liked to do best was compensation enough, all that remained was to vote whom would take his place. If it was indeed possible to get to the system at all. Seeing as another human piloted vessel had trans-shifted to within ten light years of the event and reported some sort of translucent impenetrable shield.

"I am Hadar"

It finally realised who it was, "I am Hadar, the terror of all that is dark", the null void may have dimmed its fires, but thanks to The Malevolent's generous heat source at the far end of this accursed realm Hadar had awoken and it was time to leave his icy tomb.

Since Hadar felt that Malevolent had done him great a service he was willing to take Malevolent to another realm. Parias now unconscious had left Malevolent to look after him, Malevolent considered the options, it left the null void with Hadar.

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