StarCrossed Chapter 6


By Cain

Mystician Empire. Hyg Sector. Space.

Year: 323 A.A. Month: 5. Day: 16. Time: 7:45 P.M., Facinaturu Mean Time

“You’re still in here?” Thyme muttered as he entered the cockpit.

Crystal was sitting in the pilot’s seat, fiddling with the complex controls at the computer terminal with her left hand. Her right arm was still in her satchel. What, Thyme wondered, was so important in that satchel that she kept her hand on it at all times? The Adamantine, whatever that was? Mentally, he shrugged. It didn’t really matter. She had no real reason to trust him.

Of course, Thyme had no real reason to trust her, either. She was a self-professed thief. Despite that, though, Thyme did trust her. She may have been a thief, but something in her spoke of... honor. Honor, and honesty. Thyme was usually pretty talented at reading people, and he saw in her someone who took her word seriously. He almost wished she wasn’t so serious; if she was a little more relaxed, he might have made a move already. It had been three-hundred years since he last kissed a woman, and Thyme was a little... anxious.

Upon her request, Thyme had let her investigate the computer terminal, with instructions for T-260 to help her out if possible. Now, after more than an hour of wandering the ship, trying to figure out the design, he returned only to find her still at it. Holographic images flashed into being above the control panel, only to be replaced an instant later. Some images were two-dimensional squares floating in mid-air, full of scrolling words and equations, moving too quickly for Thyme to decipher. Other images looked to be blueprints. Still others seemed to be geometric or abstract shapes, in two and three dimensions. Some of them hurt Thyme’s head just to see.

At first, Thyme thought she had not heard his greeting, until she abruptly said, “This is fascinating. I can’t believe the level of technology here. The theoretical leaps are amazing... Who thought of using gravity like this? This infinite mass-distributor is incredible.”

Thyme blinked at the sudden onslaught. Gravity? Infinite mass-distributor? “What are you talking about?” he asked.

Crystal spun around in the chair to face him, and stood up. In this cramped cockpit, it was impossible for them both to stand without being right in each other’s face, but that didn’t seem to bother her. It bothered Thyme a little, though, because he immediately realized that she was several inches taller than he.

“Your ship is a work of art,” Crystal told him excitedly. She gestured energetically with her left hand as she spoke. “I’ve never seen anything like it, if your computer’s telling me the truth. Your ship’s engine, it’s called a WHITE Drive, and it makes use of extradimensional physics like nobody’s ever dreamed of.”

Thyme shied back a bit, though not from a wish for personal space. In fact, he quite enjoyed the proximity to Crystal. However, he had a feeling that she wasn’t going to rest until she explained to him the intricacies of the White Drive, and he didn’t feel like taking a lesson standing in this cockpit. “Before you continue,” he interrupted, “let’s go to one of the cabins. I’m tired, I imagine you are too, and I think better sitting down.”

Crystal stared into his eyes for a moment, then nodded. She followed him to a cabin, and then inside. The lights inside came on immediately, revealing a spartan bed and an uncomfortable-looking chair. Thyme took the bed. Crystal, perhaps not trusting Thyme far enough to sit on a bed with him, sat in the chair. Mentally, Thyme cursed.

“Alright, you know that matter has gravity, right?” Crystal continued, as if the conversation had not halted. Thyme nodded. He had learned some basic physics from his “Uncle” Paco, back in his childhood. Crystal continued, “Well, obviously, more matter has more gravity, right? Since gravity itself is a natural phenomenon, you’d think it would be a great source of energy, or method of transportation. However, in order to make use of gravity, one of two things must be done: a great mass must be used to pull along a ship, which is not feasible in space travel, or energy must be expended to create anti-gravity, using the Ether, or Magic. This is the principle by which Etherite Drives function.

“However, all methods of transport discovered thus far are either three- or four-dimensional. This ship is the first to make use of five dimensions.”

“Whoah,” Thyme interrupted. “I know about the three dimensions: height, width, and length. What are four and five?”

Crystal smiled slightly, like he’d just fallen for her trap. Thyme braced himself for a confusing explanation. “The fourth dimension is time,” she told him.

Thyme frowned. “Time? What do you mean?”

“Okay,” Crystal said, “Imagine... a box. Now, you know the box has three dimensions; it’s two feet high, two feed wide, and two feet long. It can’t exist without all three dimensions. You understand that?” Thyme nodded, and she continued, “Now, imagine that it exists for two hours.”

“What do you mean? Do you mean that it’s got two hours before it’s gone?”

“I mean that it appears, and then disappears two hours later. Can you picture that?” Upon Thyme’s assent, she continued, “Now, imagine that it appears, but disappears after only one hour. Its time has lessened. Now, it only exists for thirty minutes. Now, fifteen minutes. Five. One. Thirty seconds. Fifteen seconds. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.”

Suddenly, Crystal snapped her fingers. “The box is gone. In fact, it never existed. If the box has no time for it to exist, then it can not exist, any more than it could exist without all three dimensions. An object must have time, just as much as it must have a height or a width.”

Thyme nodded. “I see. An object that exists for no time doesn’t exist at all. What about the fifth dimension, though?”

Crystal smiled again. “That’s a little trickier. Imagine... Candy. Imagine that, as time goes on, she must make decisions. Imagine that a separate Candy exists for every decision made. As her life goes on, there become billions of her, two or more for every decision, each one different.”

Thyme smiled. “Parallel universes. See, I do know some things.”

Crystal nodded. “Right. Not only is Candy different in these separate universes, but the rest of the universe is different, if only in small ways sometimes. Now, imagine that there are only fifty million parallel universes for Candy. Her lifetime only lasts long enough to make fifty million parallel universes. If we assume that she makes only one decision a day, then she lives for about twenty-five days. Her lifetime is already shortened so that she is dead by that time in every universe.

“Now, imagine that she only makes fifty universes. In reality, millions of random factors outside her control would create universes for her, but let’s assume that everything else is static, and she makes the only decisions that matter. Using only her choices, she might have a life-span of five or six days if she only makes fifty. Cut it down to twenty, and she lives a shorter time. Ten, shorter, five, shorter... Eventually, there’s only one Candy. She exists at the exact moment of her creation, and no later, because if she existed long enough to make a decision, there would be two of her. Take away the last Candy, and...”

“There are none of her,” Thyme finished for her. “She never existed in the first place.”

Crystal’s smile was approving. “Exactly. Without a fifth dimension, we don’t exist any more than without the first four. The same goes for the sixth, seventh, and so forth, but those are much harder to understand, let alone explain.”

“I think I understand,” Thyme told her, “But what does this all have to do with this ship?”

Crystal leaned forward. “If we assume that there are infinite, or near-infinite alternate universes, then we can assume that there is mass at any given point in the universe in at least one of these universes, correct? In other words, if there’s no planet in a certain place in this universe, one might exist here in another universe. If we have almost infinite universes to choose from, there’s about a ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine-nine percent chance that we’ll find what we’re looking for in at least one of them.

“That’s the key. The WHITE Drive, this ship’s engine, finds these masses and taps into their gravitational pull. Even as we move, right now, we’re being pulled along by a mass of some sort that exists in another universe. We control our acceleration by controlling which gravitational pull we tap into.

“The WHITE Drive itself is powered by a similar process. Using the Tenser Energy Absorption/Reflection System (TEARS), the engine gets its energy from heat. The entire universe has heat, though empty space has little of it. Infinite universes have an infinite amount of heat. By tapping into the heat energy of this and other universes, our ship has all the power it needs.”

“This all sounds... impossible,” Thyme muttered. “But I guess I can’t deny it. After all, it’s what’s carrying us right now. Are you saying that I won’t ever need fuel?”

Crystal shook her head. “No, you won’t need fuel to actually run the ship, but some of the parts will wear out over time, and they’ll need to be replaced. Even a marvel like the WHITE Drive isn’t perfect.”

Thyme nodded, considering. “Seems like I’ve stolen a hell of a ship,” he said, more to himself than anything. He looked back up at Crystal. “Is that how we make wormholes, too? Using extra-dimensional gravity?”

Crystal took on a thougtful expression. “In a way. We use wormholes by using the most powerful gravity in the universe.” She could see that Thyme didn’t understand, so she continued, “Wormholes are usually created randomly inside the singularity, or the center, of a black hole. They lead only to the singularity of another black hole. They’re infinitely small, and don’t last long enough for even light, the fastest thing in the universe, to pass through.

“The WHITE Drive, however, finds a singularity and opens up a wormhole. It then keeps the wormhole open by altering the force and nature of the black hole’s gravity. The worm hole stays open long enough to let us through, and big enough to hold a ship, and it’s in our universe rather than the black hole’s. That’s what WHITE stands for, by the way: Wormhole Instant Transportation Engine.

“The problem is in finding two black holes: one where you are, and one where you want to be. Black holes are extremely rare, so it takes the WHITE Drive some time to find two where they’re needed. It’s usually necessary to use black holes from two separate universes, which complicates matters.

“For that reason, making a wormhole takes time. Much of the time is taken finding the two wormholes, but the rest of the time is spent gathering the energy to create the wormhole. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to have the wormhole created where you are; in those cases, you have to go to where the wormhole can be created.”

Thyme absorbed all of this, nodding thoughtfully. “Wow... I had no idea this ship was so powerful.”

Crystal chuckled, and leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs. “Well, it’s not. Your engine’s incredible, but the rest of the ship isn’t. I had T show me the specs. You’ve got almost no weaponry, no shields, and no speed. All you’ve got is WRESS.”

“WRESS? What is that?”

“The Wide-Range Electronic System Scrambler. You turn it on, and everything within miles is bombarded with every magnetic field that the WHITE Drive can pull out of the nearest dimensions. It’s enough to completely shut down a ship’s system, including life support, unless the ship is protected. There are a few problems, though: first, the effects of WRESS don’t last long. Second, it sucks up a lot of energy. Third, while WRESS is active, it interferes with wormhole creation, even assuming you have the time and energy to create one.”

“In other words, it’s almost as dangerous to me as it is to everyone else.” Thyme grinned. “The sword cuts both ways, eh? Well, every advantage we have is one we can use.” His grin faltered a bit. “Crystal, how do you know all this? I mean, I didn’t take you for the physics professor type.”

Crystal’s mouth twitched, somewhere between a smile a grimace. “What can I say? I’m a genius. Have been for as long as I can remember.”

Thyme nodded, and backed away from the subject. He could sense a raw nerve. “Well, you’ve been a big help. Is there anything I can do to repay you? Anything at all?” Thyme tried hard not to stare at her tight black t-shirt.

Crystal frowned slightly, and tapped her fingers on the arms of the chair. “Actually,” she replied, “there is.” She leaned forward. “Tell me about your friend.”

Thyme winced. He shouldn’t have gotten his hopes up. “Masan? He was with me back when Asellus first began taking over Mysticia. That was before we discovered space travel, you know. Back then, we were just a few rebels trying to fight the dominion of one world. I wasn’t exactly their leader, but everybody knew me, Masan, and... me and Masan.”

If Crystal noticed the break in his speech, she didn’t show it. “How did you meet him? You said that you didn’t have space travel. Why were you working with an alien, then?”

Thyme blinked. He hadn’t really ever considered that. “Well, actually, we never thought he was an alien. We always just assumed he was a Mystic who forgot how to use magic, since he’d lost his memory-”

“His memory?” Crystal suddenly interrupted. “He lost his memory?”

Thyme nodded slowly. Crystal’s gaze was... intense. “Well, yeah. There was a firefight going on between some of Asellus’ soldiers and some of my rebels, out in the streets, and suddenly Masan wanders into the crossfire. I pulled him out of the way and hid him somewhere safe. We were losing, until suddenly a dumpster rolls out of nowhere and plows into some of the soldiers. Masan did that. He’s always been really strong. After that, we got to know each other, and he’s been with me ever since.”

“You say that was three hundred years ago?”

“Yeah. When I got out of cryo-prison, I helped him escape. He’d been frozen, too. So we escaped together. That all happened today, so you can understand why he’s so tired.”

Crystal leaned back with a thoughtful expression on her face. Finally, she nodded to herself. “Thanks, Thyme. That’s all. I think I’m going to go to another cabin, get some rest.”

She stood to go. “Wait,” called Thyme, but she was already gone. He stared at the closed door for a long time. “She’ll be back,” he decided eventually. “They all come back.”

He was wrong, so he just went to sleep. He was, after all, very tired.

Time: 8:19 P.M.

Lying on the cold, hard bed in one of the cabins, staring at the ceiling, Crystal’s mind churned. The possibilities of the principle of the WHITE Drive, though interesting did not much intrude on her thoughts. Instead, she thought about Masan.

It was too much to be coincidence, certainly. Crystal had drawn pictures of two strange aliens, short and bald with yellow skin and pointed ears. She had surely known them before she lost her memory. And now she ran into a short, bald, yellow-skinned alien with pointed ears, who had amnesia. He looked older now, but there was no doubt: Masan was one of the two little aliens! Which meant that they had known, or at least met, eachother before each lost their memories.

What troubled her was the discrepancy in time. She had awoken without any memories two years ago; Masan had appeared on a street in a firefight three hundred years ago. Unless Crystal herself was in excess of three hundred years old, she couldn’t possibly have known Masan. This led to several interesting paths of thought.

Masan had been frozen; had she? Had she slept away the centuries? Or, another thought: those who used magic aged slowly. Could she, perhaps, use magic, and had she forgotten it? What about the others? The blue-haired man, the blond man, the sword that seemed to have no wielder, the man in black, the child? Had they, too, lost their memories? Were they searching for her? Was she, Crystal McKenna, part of a group of which she had no memory?

Was she Crystal McKenna?

Time: 8:19 P.M.

Though she was very tired, Candy couldn’t sleep.

The hunger pangs were part of it; hunger not for food, but for Psyline. Despite her claims, the drug still had a hold on her, a hold she fought every day. Well, almost every day. But it had been two weeks since she’d last given in to the urge, and she felt confident that she could beat it. Eventually.

The real reason for her insomnia, though, was excitement. She was in space! She was doing something with her life! She had finally gotten off of that hell-hole known as Terrenus VII, and was finally free to do what she wanted. A good mechanic was always needed somewhere, and Candy had no doubts that she could support herself wherever she went.

Candy had always known, her whole life, that she was destined for things greater than she knew. Even back when her gambling debts had built up, and Virtol’s thugs had gotten a hold of her; even then, she’d known that she’d be alright. No matter what they did to her, she knew she’d survive, because she still had important things left to do. And she did, thanks to her guardian angel.

That angel was Crystal. There, in that alley, that night, Candy first saw Crystal. Crystal had seen only a woman grabbed by street-toughs, and had saved her. She’d helped Candy to her feet, and Candy had known then that this woman, this stranger, was special.

Candy gave Crystal a place to live, and in return Crystal helped clear Candy’s debts. Crystal took on the role of older sister, in attitude if not in age. Candy was the first to admit that she was a free spirit. Growing up with no parents on the streets, Candy could never have survived by “following the rules.”

She was about twenty-five years old, now (Mystician years, not Terrenial), but it was not always obvious. Her natural exuberance, her skill with makeup and clothing, and her basic physical appearance added up to make her look twenty or younger. On top of that, Candy was currently living through the childhood she’d never had a chance to live when she was literally a child.

Candy remembered her mother vaguely, and her father not at all. She couldn’t really remember why she’d ended up alone on the streets, but it had happened. She’d joined up with a street gang, though she didn’t remember why or when. A lot of that period in her life was muddled by drugs, but what she remembered clearly was unpleasant, to say the least.

But now, she knew, she had a chance to do something with her life. She was in space, she had her guardian angel, she was getting over her addiction, and there was a young man in the other cabin with a look of experience about him. Once he got some rest and filled out a little, she wouldn’t mind being around him at all...

Candy was very excited about her whole situation, but that wasn’t why her hands wouldn’t stop shaking. They were shaking with the effort of ignoring the call of the needles stashed in her bag. Calling to her. Calling...

Time: 8:19 P.M.

Masan slept very soundly. As he slept, though, he dreamed strange dreams. Dreams of a beautiful, green world. Dreams in which bald yellow beings flew around on invisible wings, and strange lights flashed in the skies. Dreams of duty, dreams of leaving home, dreams of a sword. They swirled and whirled until all that was left of the images was a deafening howl. The wind. The wind.

As always, Masan woke up in a cold sweat, and didn’t remember a bit of it.

Hyg Solar-System. Hyg. Orbit.

Time: 9:47 P.M.

“We are currently in orbit of the planet Hyg, Captain Thyme,” calmly announced T-260, its voice reverberating through the small cabin.

Thyme, suddenly and surprisingly awake, nodded. “Thanks, T. Could you tell everyone else? I’ll be in the cockpit in a minute.”

“Yes, Captain Thyme,” replied the computer, for which Thyme again thanked it.

Thyme didn’t know why he thanked T-260; the computer would not understand gratitude. He, or it, had never been programmed with a personality. It performed whatever mission it was given without fail, and with absolute loyalty. The proof of that was Thyme’s own presence; if the computer’s loyalty to Thyme was not so great, it would have never left Mysticia with him.

Why, Thyme wondered, was T-260 the computer for this ship? Thyme knew something of T-260's past. T had been a ship’s computer long ago, centuries before Thyme was born. The ship had crashed, though, and the computer’s core remained buried for untold years. As a child in the aptly-named town of Junk, Thyme had personally found the core for T-260, and the computer had adopted him as its Captain.

“Why you?” he suddenly asked. “Why were you chosen to run this ship, T?”

“Because,” replied the computer instantly, “I am the third most powerful computer currently to be found in the Mystician Empire.”

Thyme sat up, unable to hide his surprise. “What? How? I mean, what’s so great about you?”

“There are only three computers in the Empire known to have the capabilities to operate the WHITE Drive. My processing ability is approximately two hundred times that of an average ship’s computer. This average has been calculated-“

“Never mind that, T. Why are you so powerful?”

“That, Captain Thyme, would require a great deal of time to explain, even were I to omit the technical details. I am, as you know, very old. You have promised to appear within the cockpit presently, and my story would delay you. Do you wish to hear my history now despite this?”

Thyme considered for a moment, but shook his head. “Eh, I’m groggy anyway. Keep it to yourself until my head’s a little clearer. Remind me to ask you again sometime.”

“Yes, Captain Thyme.”

Time: 10:04 P.M.

“What took you so long?” Masan asked as Thyme squeezed past him and Crystal into the cockpit, where Candy waited. She was leaning against over one of the control panels, staring out through the front window at the planet below.

That the planet was inhabited was obvious; its one continent was dotted with structures at least partially visible even from above the planet’s atmosphere. Here and there were clusters that must have been cities. It was hard to make out colors from so far away, but Candy thought that Hyg looked more green than Terrenus VII, overall. Did this world have forests? She’d never seen a forest.

Candy turned around to see Thyme already in the captain’s seat (the only seat in the cockpit). His head jerked back as she turned, as if he had been staring very intently at her backside. Not that she could blame him; she knew she was attractive from any angle. In response to his too-innocent look, she gave a smile that was part-friendliness, part-invitation.

“Uh, just talkin’ with T, Masan,” Thyme replied. He grinned at the bald kid. “This has been a long day, hasn’t it?”

Interrupting whatever the young alien was going to say, Candy impatiently asked, “When can we land? I want to see what Hyg’s like.” She put on an impatient pout. Guys loved that.

Thyme looked honestly perplexed. “Um... I don’t know when we land. T?”

“We are currently online with Hyg’s docking computer,” replied the computer. “It wishes to know in which city we wish to land.”

“Utopia,” said Crystal. “It’s the capitol city. Whatever you two want to do, you can do it there better than any other city on Hyg.”

Thyme glanced at her and nodded. It didn’t escape Candy that his glance stayed a little longer on Crystal than necessary. She tucked that thought away for later; she was too excited to play match-maker right now.

“Utopia,” agreed Thyme. “Tell the computer we want to go to Utopia.”

Suddenly a hologram of a small waving flag (presumably Hyg’s) appeared, hovering above the control panel. A fanfare sounded, and suddenly a woman appeared in front of the flag. She was too small to make out many details, but she was color-coordinated, and her dress was well-cut.

She spoke, and her voice sounded calm and confident through the cockpit’s speakers. “Welcome to Haven. I’ll be your computerized guide. Names, please.”

Thyme looked taken aback, but said his name. Candy, Masan, and Crystal did the same.

The little woman stared for a moment, still smiling. Then, “I’m sorry, but none of those names are on record. This must be your first time visiting Utopia. Would you please state your business?”

Thyme rolled his eyes. “I don’t know, but I’m on the run from the Empire. Isn’t that reason enough?”

The computerized woman looked at everyone else. “Do you all have the same business here?” There was general agreement all around. She considered. “You will be monitored during your descent, and your ship will be searched upon landing. Assuming nothing dangerous is found aboard your ship, you will be charged a docking fee of seven hundred credits. During this procedure, we shall have guns trained on your ship at all times. Do you agree?”

Thyme looked around at his companions, somewhat surprised. “You get the feeling they don’t trust us?”

“Is this safe?” Masan asked.

“Just agree to it,” Crystal said. “There’s nothing suspicious onboard anyway, according to T-260.”

“Come on,” Candy pleaded, “Just agree.”

Thyme sighed. “Alright.” He glanced at Candy. “You realize you two girls are paying the fee. I don’t have any money.”

Candy winced. She had figured that out, of course (Thyme’s suit was functional, but incredibly cheap, and Masan was wearing only a pair of shorts), but she had forgotten. She just hoped that Crystal didn’t make a big deal out of it. Crystal would argue with a brick wall over half a credit.

The little computerized woman spoke up again. “Do you require instructions on landing procedure?” And she waited with an expression of perfect patience.

“Sure,” replied Thyme.

The little woman nodded. “Are you using a computerized craft, or do you use manual controls?”

“Um... computerized.”

“Very well, then.” The woman turned around and pointed at nothing in particular. At that moment, a pulsing blue dot appeared on the image of the planet below, presumably another hologram. The guide continued, “Please tell your computer to follow the blue dot. Thank you.” And with that the guide disappeared, flag and woman. All that remained was the dot.

Thyme sighed. “Well, T, take us down.”

Candy couldn’t help letting out a yell of excitement. She was going to Hyg! Or Haven, or whatever they wanted to call it. She began to bounce on her toes as they descended, watching the surface of the planet approached. Masan and Crystal watched with her. Thyme watched Candy, and she knew it.

Hyg Solar-System. Hyg. Utopia City.

Time: 9:04 P.M., Freespace Time

The sound of laughter hit Crystal like a wave as she entered the tavern. It didn’t take her long to find what she was looking for; Candy was sitting at the bar, weeping into a beer. Crystal, completely unsurprised, ignored the cheers and jeers of those she passed and sat down by Candy. She didn’t speak. She simply waited for Candy to notice her.

“It’s just like Trell!” Candy sobbed when she finally pulled her eyes away from the tear-salted beer. “It’s just like fucking Trell!”

Crystal said nothing.

“I was so happy to get off of Terrenus,” Candy continued, “but I might as well have stayed home. At least I had a job there.” When Crystal didn’t reply, she continued, “And now we’re in trouble with the Empire! What’re we gonna do, join the Freespace Movement? They don’t have a chance in hell, and everybody knows it, including them!” She looked around in drunken disgust at the bar. “I hate this place. I hate this city. I hate the whole damned planet!” And with that she collapsed onto the bar, knocking over her beer in the process.

Crystal stared at Candy’s unconscious form for a long time, and thought. Candy was right about one thing: Utopia was just like Trell City, or almost like it. The only real difference was that anybody could buy a weapon on Hyg, while on Terrenus it was very difficult for anyone but a Mystic. Crystal had never seen the need for an energy weapon before, but now that she was in a city where anyone might have one, she began to feel a little... uncertain. Her fist and feet had always been enough to defend her before; would they now? Fortunately, guns were still expensive enough that most people were happy with a knife.

The City Watch was a joke; like MysPol, they were bigger criminals than anyone. The Freespace Military, had they been here, might have been able to restore order, but they were always off somewhere else, fighting for freedom. The Council of Twenty was too busy with the rest of the planet to deal with Utopia. Thus, the city was controlled by three gangsters, and one of them was rumored to be dead. Soon, a crime lord civil war could develop, and Crystal didn’t want to be here if it happened.

She wasn’t surprised, really. A rebel planet, by definition, must have a difficult populace. If Hyg’s people hadn’t been rebellious in the first place, they wouldn’t have their freedom from the Empire now. On top of that, Hyg had almost no natural resources; the planet was mostly rock. The native vegetation was almost universally poisonous, and conventional plants would not grow in the inhospitable soil. Thankfully, the native plant-life was carbon/oxygen based, or Hyg would not have even had a breathable atmosphere. As it was, the air smelled... funny.

The only reason Asellus (and the rest of the Empire) had wanted to keep Hyg was its location; Hyg was positioned within twelve light years of seven other planets, including Facinaturu. With such a location, Hyg made a wonderful meeting place. According to Candy, Hyg was the place where all of the big business deals happened. Hyg simply charged people for that privilege.

Now that it was a Neutral planet (and one inimical to the Empire), Hyg could no longer deal in the business of exchange. Technically, Hyg (as a Neutral planet) was still open for trade, but Asellus had quickly outlawed any trade with the planet. Only other Neutral planets could openly trade with Hyg now, and the closest of those was halfway across the Empire. As a result, smuggling was a way of life for Hyg.

Crystal had picked up all of this after only a few hours in Utopia. Here, down in the streets, life was short and brutal. The Council of Twenty was unfortunately more concerned with fighting battles halfway across the Empire than with keeping the peace here on Hyg. The Council played out its war games from inside a white tower, situated in the center of Utopia. The city became increasingly degraded further away from the tower, until the outer boundaries of the city, appropriately known as the slums. The slums were basically ramshackle huts hammered out by those too poor to make a living somewhere else. Beyond the slums were nothing but dry deserts and rocky mountains, stretching miles on end.

These few hours had been enough for Crystal to form a conclusion, though: the Freespace Movement was doomed. The only military entity capable of challenging the Empire (outside of the Dominion) was itself being eaten away from the inside. Unless something changed, she knew, the Freespace Movement would fall apart at the seams, leaving the Empire to expand freely. If there was something that could save the Movement, Crystal didn’t know what it was.

Candy had come to a similar conclusion, though she may not have been thinking of the long-term effects. She had, like Crystal, realized that Hyg was no better than anywhere in the Empire, and probably worse than most. Where law had oppressed back on Terrenus VII, chaos reigned on Hyg. The end result of each was the same: human misery. Crystal had been filled with pity at the realization. Candy had filled herself with alcohol.

As anyone who has ever carried home a drunkard would know, it is a difficult business. The drunkard tends to flop, mutter, and drool, making him or her all around hard to manage. Candy, however, was light, and Crystal was strong (and experienced in this particular task), so Candy was lifted onto her shoulder with some ease. Some nearby men (not all of them human) stared after the two women with something like hunger. Of course, they probably were hungry in a literal sense, but the figurative hunger did not escape Crystal’s attention. Two women, one unconscious, both attractive? Easy pickings.

With that in mind, Crystal wasn’t really surprised when, three blocks away from the tavern, she was abruptly accosted by three men in an alley, standing in her path. She didn’t have to look back to know that the other end of the alley was blocked off as well; first, it made sense, and second, she could “smell” them. Two men. Which made five men in all. This scene seemed reminiscent of something, but Crystal decided to worry about that later.

It was dark, and there were no street-lamps, so it was hard to make out the men. Still, Crystal’s eye had pretty good night vision, and Hyg’s large moon provided enough light to give some indication of her attackers. The three in front of her were all large, muscular men. The biggest wore a badge; Crystal had seen the badge on others during her stay, and it seemed to indicate loyalty to (and high standing in) one of the two crime lords’ organizations. The third crime lord’s men no longer made themselves known, since their boss’ condition was in doubt.

Crystal didn’t bother asking what they wanted. She knew that they’d love some money and food, but that their need for violence wouldn’t let them stop there. Since they lacked any power over their own destiny, men preferred to take out their frustrations on others. Crystal had no illusions that this encounter would end in anything other than violence.

Still, she waited. Contrary to what some may have thought about her, Crystal had never been predisposed toward violence. She didn’t fear it, but she usually tried to consider other ways. Further, Candy was still blissfully unconscious, and Crystal didn’t want to risk injury to the sleeping beauty if such risk could be avoided.

The men, likewise, waited. It was possible that Crystal had an energy weapon. A palm blaster didn’t care how big a person’s muscles were, or how fast they may have been; one shot and the target was dead, excepting lucky targets or incompetent wielders. They gained confidence, though, as it became increasingly obvious that Crystal had no weapon.

Rather than try to reason with them, or stir their sense of compassion, Crystal tried to disgust them. She lifted her stump of an arm from her satchel. “You guys wouldn’t attack a girl with one arm, would you?”

The leader (the one with the badge) smiled. His grimy teeth did not reflect in the moonlight. “You’ve got an arm and a half. That’s good enough for me.”

She tried a different tactic. “I’ve got the clap and Candy used to be a man.”

The leader pointed beyond Crystal, at one of the other thugs. “Frank’s got the clap, and the rest of us aren’t that picky.”

Crystal let out a mixture between a chuckle and a sigh. She carefully set Candy down on the cold pavement. She dropped her satchel, and adopted a fighting stance of her own creation, designed to make use of her one arm. She smiled, and beckoned the thugs closer. “Bring it on.”

Time: 9:20 P.M.

“Not bad,” the Mystic muttered to himself. “Not bad at all.”

He was standing in a dark alley, staring at five unconscious ruffians. The fight had lasted less than a minute, but the ruffians would be feeling its effects for weeks to come. One had a broken nose, another a broken wrist. That girl had nearly killed one of them.

Where, wondered the Mystic, had this girl become so powerful? With one arm, surrounded, against five men twice her size, she had prevailed without the slightest effort. Defeating these ruffians had seemed almost routine for her. How could she be so fast, so strong, so skilled? There were few who could fight like that, and most of them were decades older than this girl. Some were centuries older. He was not very talented at guessing the age of Humans, but he would suppose the girl to be no more than twenty years old. How, then, had she gained such skill?

He decided to watch her for a few days before making his move. If he used her well, she could make his mission much easier. He would succeed, sooner or later. It was just a matter of time.

The Mystic checked the ruffian’s pockets, but the girl had already picked them clean. He cursed to himself and walked off into the darkness.

“Is it just me, or do we seem to get into a lot of random encounters?” -Crystal McKenna

Chapter 7

Cain's Fanfiction