Jump Space, Waroo Huntship, Great Bounty
Rrr’graka knew that he wasn’t flying through space in body like the all-powerful gods, but he enjoyed the illusion. He could feel the cold of jump space on his snout and smell the trail almost as he might in real space. Implants—some of his people saw them as unnecessary, others as unworthy of warriors, but he saw them as what they were—tools.
They made operating a huntship easier, practically an extension of his own body, as much a part of him as his own snout and eight furred limbs. No, they were damned useful for a huntship traveling far from Waroo Free Worlds. They’d been low on cash at K’Tepolu, their ship needed repairs, and they had no clan to take them in. The only other waroo on the station had been merchants, none of them with any need for mercenaries.
Without the implant, Rrr’graka would have had to get out the entire crew to search through the work opportunities. With it, he’d gone through everything worth doing in an hour by himself. Not all the jobs had gone well, but enough had that the ship was repaired and they now had thousands of credits of profit as well as a signed contract for next month.
He’d never have managed all of that without the implant.
He knew that his mate would point out that without the implant his crew would never have been in the open market on K’Tepolu, never have taken a job for the Human Ascendancy, never attack those young humans, and never been hurt—very nearly to the point of death. They’d had to rely on the Human Ascendancy agent to find out where the humans were going.
Without the implant, he’d have avoided the blood debt altogether.
No matter. What was it to be waroo without the odd blood debt along the way? Such things made him feel alive, and wasn’t that the point of becoming the crew of a huntship instead of some merchant vessel? He saw no issue with profit, but he’d served on a merchant ship in his younger days. He much preferred a life where he’d get to use tooth and claw in service of profit than to avoid it or risk scaring off the native customers.
No, his crew would settle the debt and then go back to K’Tepolu to fulfill the contract.
The Office of Professor Skatz, Hrrrnna Homeworld Memorial Endowed Chair in Artificer Technology and History, University of the Alliance Worlds, Capital System
It knew they were on the move. It saw the signs even if no one else did. There were signs, small signs that a being less knowledgeable about the Artificers might miss, but Professor Skatz had been researching the Artificers for its entire professional life and it knew the signs even if it couldn’t prove it.
It sat in its office, a room filled with disarmed Artificer artifacts, all of them partially dismantled and suspended within stasis fields throughout the room.
Professor Skatz sat on its couch, licking its fur for comfort. It was certain that the explosions on the Issakass world were not the product of terrorism as the Issakass claimed. It couldn’t name the entities, but it knew they were Artificers. The first explosions started near a building that held an Artificer artifact, one of the artifacts that led to the creation of motivators, resulting in disastrous effects on the societies that they led.
The size of the explosions were consistent with what it suspected was a specific entity. It didn’t know the entity’s name, but it called it the Deceiver. For all of the creature’s power, it always seemed to maneuver more creatures into the effect of its power than expected. It was clearly some sort of master tactician and/or strategist.
Professor Skatz wanted to write an article to that effect but there were signs that unlike many of the Artificers, the Deceiver was still active. It felt sure that the Deceiver was fighting one of its own on the Issakass homeworld and Professor Skatz didn’t want to get their attention.
The fact that Kee Otaki had disappeared from K’Tepolu according to one of its more reliable sources also worried it. Professor Skatz had suspected for years that she was one of the Artificers.
Now it feared that she might either be the Deceiver or his opponent. Her little store continued though, quietly encouraging technologists to re-envision technology. It wondered if she’d taken on a different identity to run the store because it had recognized her as an Artificer.
It seemed unlikely. How would she even know? All it knew was that no one had seen her for weeks.
Castle Rock Compound, Colorado, Earth
Rachel found herself staring up at the stars. The ledge looked out over the compound’s neighborhoods of suburban houses. She wasn’t alone. Tara stood next to her. Taller, blonde, and noticeably muscular, Tara had been training downstairs, something that, in Rachel’s opinion, Tara did excessively.
“They are pretty,” Tara said. “Back where I grew up, you could never be sure which universe’s sky you were looking at, and sometimes they’d overlap. You’d see the Big Dipper except that it was right next to another universe’s Big Dipper and sometimes they’d cross each other and that was pretty weird. Plus there was this one time that the Elder Gods descended from the heavens and a whole universe was destroyed.”
Rachel stopped leaning over the railing to turn and stare at her.
“But it was okay for Infinity City,” Tara continued. “By the next day an alternate version of that universe had filled in the empty spots.”
“I forget how much weird shit you’ve gone through.” Rachel shook her head.
Tara shrugged. “I didn’t know it was weird.”
Rachel nodded. “I get that. It might make you a good person to talk to, though. I’ve been having visions of space lately. There are people flying through it that are somehow me and its got something to do with Nick, but I don’t know what.”
Tara frowned. “That’s weird.”
“Yeah,” Rachel looked out over the suburban houses and yards below. “I came up with that much on my own.”