July 31, 2010

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4Sworn, Session Seven.

Previous Session: April 17, 2010 Next Session: October 2, 2010

Perdition, Psion, Shockwave, Starfire, Zap


Contents

Return Engagement

The man looking out over Logan Square from his 8th floor balcony at the Four Seasons hotel looked much like any other visiting businessman at a casual glance. But while he stood at ease, sipping a glass of room service wine, his eyes had a predatory cast, scanning the dark doorways and hedgerows below as if ready to pounce on something.

Wishful thinking, of sorts. His trip so far had been far too heavy on research and far too light on kicking miscreant ass. If he actually had spotted a would-be mugger or rapist, the challenge would have been to respond in some fashion without “breaking cover”. Ironically, had he been a real stranger here, that might have been easier.

And yet he felt like a stranger here. Though he’d left only few months ago, over a decade had passed locally. The non-uniformity of time-flow between universes could be a blessing or a curse. Most commonly, it was a nuisance.

SPIRIT’s briefing had been cryptic, as usual. She’d felt a “tremor” of some sort from here. Nothing so serious or widespread as during the whole Mundelein mess, but enough to warrant a recon under the circumstances. She had warned him about the time differential, which raised the issue of whether there were local superheroes to respond to a problem anymore.

So he’d arrived incognito. Business suit styles seldom changed all that dramatically, and expensive Italian tailoring could smooth over any rough spots. His hotel TV taught him what his own world’s “internet” had mutated into here, and he’d spent more time than he’d planned wallowing in the information overload it offered, while enjoying lavish room service meals.

System 4ce had followed through on the plans it had just started putting into effect when he left, and moved to a seagoing headquarters. Sensible enough for them, it made finding them and making surreptitious contact a lot more difficult. But given the security paranoia of this world – fueled by terrorism both conventional and nuclear, mobilization for a likely war with Iraq, not to mention multiple, at least semi-organized supervillain groups on the rampage, he was clear that he didn’t want to attempt contact through government channels.

Starfire looked back into his room and smirked at Dick Cheney’s grim visage on the TV. In fact, the more he learned about the growth of the “security state” in this place, the more he wondered how long it would be before his mounting, cash-paid hotel bill attracted someone’s attention at “Homeland Security”.

Looking at his SSC watch, Starfire began to form a plan. Perhaps there was still one place superheroes could meet outside of Big Brother’s scrutiny. He looked up, and in spite of the urban glare, there were still some stars to be seen.

Another Trip to the Anomaly

Psion's Personal Log
I need to formalize procedures for carry-on luggage. And options for transporting personnel in some kind of stasis would prove useful, as well. I'll consult with Cestus about applying his bobble technology to each seat on the flight deck.

Perdition tapped a steady tattoo into the arm of his chair on the flight deck of the PsiPlane. He looked over at Psion who faintly nodded in response. They both looked over at Zap who seemed to be straining to act innocent. Psion was used to irrational and perhaps slightly juvenile behavior from Zap, so it was difficult to assume anything was particularly amiss. Such behavior could easily be just an effort to deliberately bait the telepath and Psion knew better than rise to the occasion, so he countered with a question, "What's keeping her?"

"Shockwave? I dunno." His shrug came a little late, like it was calculated.

"She's the fastest person on our team. How can she be the last one here?"

"Makeup? Bathroom? I said I dunno ... look, she's a girl!" As if that explained anything.

A streak of colors flashed across the deck of the Firehawk outside, and an instant later, Shockwave stepped through the hatch. "Sorry, guys!"

Perdition and Psion exchanged glances again after noticing a large package slung over her back. "What is that?"

"This is my lunch." She set the package down on the deck next to her seat with a suspiciously solid clunk.

Zap tensed at the sound and tried to smooth it over. "Mmmmm ... now I'm getting hungry, too."

The telepath swiveled away, ignoring both of them and requested launch clearance from Firehawk's air traffic control. Moments later, the PsiPlane heaved itself from the landing pad and up past the clouds in a rapid ascent to space, then accelerated to eight times the speed of light towards their destination.

That deep in space, the sun had dwindled to a fraction of its normal size and brightness. One could squint at it without much harm, and though it was brighter than any night-time star or planet, it was now 500 times fainter than it appeared from Earth. As Psion began to take fresh readings, Zap asked, "Psion, do you mind if I go outside and have a look around?" Absorbed in his readouts as columns of figures cascaded down his visor, he absently assented to the request. Zap hefted the package Shockwave brought aboard, accidentally clanking it against her chair as he slung it over his shoulder.

This distracted the pilot. "Where are you going with Shockwave's lunch?"

"In the back to heat it in the oven."

"The PsiPlane doesn't have an oven."

"Right, that's why I'm going outside to heat it in the rocket exhaust.”

"The PsiPlane doesn't have any rockets."

"Right. I'll be right back." And he phased himself and the package out through the wall.

"Shockwave," Psion asked. "What was in that package?"

Shockwave returned a faint grin and shrugged her shoulders.

Cameras deployed from panels under the skin of the vehicle and swiveled to track Zap. Telephoto lenses rotated into place and the monitor showed him ripping away the wrapping, revealing a familiar object. Psion's eyes widened under his visor and he leaned towards the display in outrage. "You brought the Boomarooka out here?! Are you two out of your minds?"

"Calm down, Psion," Shockwave said. "We've had that thing for years now and no one has taken the time to figure out how it works. We figured we'd give it a try."

Zap chimed in over an open radio channel, "Right! This is a ... scientific experiment! We're going to see what it does."

"For the record, we have not failed to study of 'that thing' out of neglect. Rather, we have postponed our study for the sake of caution. Which raises the question of why you would choose to play with it in proximity to the anomaly." This was deliberately misleading; they were still thousands of kilometers from the gravity distortions of the anomaly and not likely to interact with it, but it was still a stupidly dangerous thing to do.

"Why not," was all Zap could come up with in reply.

Conceding that it was pointless to talk his companions out of their "experiment", Psion maneuvered the PsiPlane back to a respectful distance on the far side of the anomaly. He launched a probe, however, in the interest of recording the results, whatever their cost might be.

"I can hardly see anything," said Shockwave, squinting at the windscreen. "Where do you keep the spacesuits?"

"Pressure suits are items of personal equipment," advised Psion. "The PsiPlane carries no spares. If you feel you must leave the ship, you may utilize an Emergency Pressure Envelope from one of the emergency equipment lockers"

Shockwave scanned the instructions in horror. "You want me to float around in a bag? Like some kind of deep space hamster ball?"

"I didn't want you to do anything but observe the anomaly. You and Zap independently came up with your 'experiment' idea... for which it would seem you planned inadequately, if at..."

"Okay. I turned it on. Ready for me to fire?" interrupted Zap over the switchboard.

“Sure,” replied Shockwave. Psion’s eye-roll did not register on the switchboard.

Zap pressed the indigo button and a writhing, blue-white beam coursed from a point somewhere amid the spasmodically whirling boomerang shapes at the business end of the Boomerooka. Psion watched intently as the beam stretched five meters… ten… fifteen… twenty… much longer than he remembered it ever having stretched when the Bug had fired…

BOOM!

The arc burst abruptly along its entire length, and for an instant the cabin of the PsiPlane was purged of all shadow. There was silence as the glare ebbed, but for a faint, eerie creaking and crackling – probably thermal stresses on the hull, Psion thought, before becoming distracted by the probe’s data feed. A trans-rainbow stream of EM radiation in lethal quantities had been dumped by the blast. There was also an impressive spray of energized particles, some yet to be conceived of or given cute names by earthly physicists.

“Jeez!” sputtered Shockwave, rubbing her eyes. “Is Zap okay?”

“Yeah,” answered Zap unexpectedly from the back of the cabin. “One of me, anyway. Gimme a minute to recover my lesser half.” He phased out through the hull to recover the Boomerooka and reabsorb his unconscious twin.

No sooner had he returned than the team was startled and Psion roused from his data-induced reverie by a pattern of tones over an SSC channel.

“Is that a distress call?” asked Zap?

“No… Just a hello…” Psion murmured over the switchboard as he worked to fix the source. “It’s the general hailing tone. Generally used to anonymously fix the sender’s location and request reply from anyone receiving it.”

“We don’t use it much, since the reply is usually an attack of some kind,” clarified Shockwave.

“Only if you’re the recipient,” clarified Psion further. “The unidentified source appears to be in the vicinity of the Earth-Moon L5 point. Shall we investigate?”

“Sure. I’ll get my reply ready,” answered Shockwave.

Reunited

To Shockwave and Zap’s annoyance, if not to their surprise, the Earth-Moon L5 point was just as dazzling to the naked eye as the Anomaly had been, though at least the Earth and Moon were brightly visible at the edges of the windscreen if you twisted your neck just right. Psion crept the PsiPlane slowly toward the source of the signal, which by now he had identified as SubStar-3 – a subspace telecommunications relay satellite. The signal didn’t seem to be originating from the satellite’s own systems, however.

Shockwave smirked as the data displayed on her monitor. “Has to be a trap.”

“Perhaps,” conceded Psion, who had already begun to sweep the PsiPlane’s sensors over the area, incidentally confirming a concentration of dust and larger particles in the so-called “Kordylewski cloud”. A few larger bodies, a few meters in size, soon came to light scattered over a thousand kilometer radius. From one of these, a relative whopper at four meters length, the sensors detected an unusual heat signature.

“Hmmm… I think we have our anonymous caller,” announced Psion. “Huddled back behind that small chondritic planetoid

[SF: "Huddled?" Kiss my ass, brain boy. I sucked you guys right in, as planned, and was checking out the situation...weighing my options.]

“I’ll investigate the chronic,” offered Zap, splitting into good cop/expendable cop. “Cover me”

In minutes the intruder was identified as Starfire, who, after a few minutes of apprehension was soon satisfied that these members of System 4ce were no more menacing than those he had left behind.

“What did these guys do to the donut I ate?”

"Well, he's kind of a pussy anyway."

[SF: "He", meaning Galax, is in fact kind of a pussy. A "glass joe", a "paper tiger", if you will. All this stuff going on and the main "muscle" of 4ce is hiding out in a sub-atomic state in a crystal skull? Man... no wonder you guys are in a bind. IF i do get re-vampified, i guess where i'm going first?]

After Starfire related SPIRIT’s concerns, and his mission, the group discussed their options, with discussion before long returning to the possibility of a visit to Algol…

"You're the poster boy for this mission, I'm not talking to you!"

[SF: Then again...hello, Zap.]

“That is literally a planet of horror.”

“Then let's go there!”

System 4ce + Starfire returned to the Firehawk to regroup and prepare. In preparation, messages were posted on the System 4ce website referencing Algol, Cynthia Varney, and Tsiolkovsky Crater, in hopes that any Earth-bound “space vampires” might arrange some sort of contact.

(SF: We need to talk to these... er... people.)

Breakfast with David Lynch

Early morning hours of July 13th, David Lynch e-mailed Shockwave. He wants to meet with her. She went with Psion in the Psiplane.

"Glad you could make it. Would you like some coffee? I asked around for information about your subject. He seems to match the description of a young man named Arthur Frame. Went to film school in London and LA in the 1970s, but dropped out both times." He returned to the sofa with coffee and a manila folder that he presented to Shockwave.

He looked older in the ‘70s photos than Shockwave expected. Perhaps a bit old for film school, but more importantly he hadn’t looked a day older in London last week.

"He didn't really fit in with the film school crowd at the time. This was the time of what they called “New Hollywood” understand… Lots of creativity and opportunity, but Frame apparently felt that a lot of it was just aimless flailing around. Directors making very personal creative statements that audiences interpreted in their own personal ways… or mis-interpreted as Frame would have it.

Shockwave leafed through the file. Nothing of importance leaped out at her, but on a visit to David Lynch’s house that was probably fortunate.

“Frame apparently felt that it was important to fully engage the audience,” Lynch continued, “logically and emotionally... even spiritually. Simply eliciting an emotional response was ‘a mere parlor trick’ in his opinion. He talked about drawing the audience into a work in a way that felt ‘seamless and inevitable, so that the work feels as if it emerges from their own hearts and senses’”

Shockwave raised an eyebrow.

“Whatever that means, exactly,” Lynch continued. “Nobody else at the time seemed to know either. He tended to micromanage his actors, and most of them hated him. He did get along with a couple of actors who were adherents of “The Method”, but all the performance intensity he was going for seems to have been bad medicine for them psychologically, and they ended up breaking down and derailing his productions. Anyway, after dropping out of UCLA in ‘78, he started a couple of film projects that fell apart, and by that time he’d apparently formalized the theory that there was a ‘Universal Imagistic Language’… and he always capitalized that term… through which an audience could be engaged. He apparently did some research on that, and was still doing it in Germany in the early ‘80s, which is the last anyone seems to have heard from him. I assume he was trying to track down expressionist works that might have survived the Nazi era, but nobody’s quite sure.”

“Good coffee,” said Shockwave, nodding.

The Undersea World of Starfire

Starfire investigated the sunken bug spaceship.

(SF: Investigated it? Brought a whole bunch of stuff up from it too! Hmm... an awful lot of tech sitting on that thing... why haven't the "brains" of this outfit seen fit to do a more thorough investigation? Oh... and what about all the life pods that ejected... maybe someone should be looking into that? No? Spirit, remind me to kick you in the computer nads when i get back.)

Specifically, Starfire recovered wrenches and pry-bars configured for the unusual 4-finger, two-thumb grip of Species 2001a, 4 plasma torches based on a technetium isomer power source, and several medical kits containing an assortment of ampoules and injectors, as well as packets of a polymer compound suitable for patching exoskeletons.

Axis Biographical Research

After drying off, Starfire used that new-fangled internet thing to obtain information on Generalleutnant Wolfgang von Ditfurth, whose full name had been blurted to Victorine by biker-chick Darla in their library confrontation weeks earlier.

After a series of staff postings during the First World War, von Ditfurth had continued to serve in the Weimar-era army, retiring as a Colonel in 1932. He reactivated in 1934, after the Nazis came to power, serving in the quartermaster corps before retiring again in early 1939. Just before the invasion of Poland in September of that year, von Ditfurth again reactivated to serve as a “Scientific Assistant in the War Historical Research Institute”. After the fall of Poland, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and assumed command of an infantry division guarding the Russian border, which was apparently redesignated a “security division” shortly before the invasion of Russia.in June 1941.

Placed on reserve status in May, 1942, von Ditfurth again retired a few months later, returning to a civilian post with the War Historical Research Institute where he remained until near the end of the war. The record then cryptically lists that he was “abducted by the Russians” in February 1945, and a year later “Sentenced to Death by a Russian Tribunal in Riga for Alleged Atrocities… and hanged the same day (03 Feb 1946)”.


The Grand Tour

The team assembles on the deck of the Firehawk at 1000hrs local time, July 14th 2005, dressed in custom space suits constructed after the “hamster ball” dispute during the last mission. Attempts to contact prospective Algolian allies on Earth have come to naught. To Psion’s horror, Shockwave’s suit is constructed in part from the chitinous exoskeleton of the specimen of Sapient Species_2001a she recovered in Pakistan. Planned itinerary: A trip to Tau Ceti, followed by Algol. Mission cargo includes the reassembled 20kt hafnium isomer bomb recovered from the LOOP off New Orleans – fitted to be released from the PsiPlane’s stern in the face of a pursuer, and equipped with a fifteen minute delay fuse.

[SF: Best idea, ever. Must... make... more...] [Dwayne:You mean exoskeleton space suits?]


Tau Ceti

Arrived at Tau Ceti. Core shattered. Mostly nickle-iron with uranium at the center. Temporal playback showed the arrival of the wasps through an anomaly similar to that seen in the Solar System. A giant, spheroidal or egg-shaped vessel moved from the gravitational center of the planetary system quite quickly and attacked the fourth planet.


The Planet of Horrors

Approached Algol obliquely. Despite fears they may already have been conquered, their extensive civilization was intact. Unimaginably huge rings were built around the system's primary, apparently intended to harvest solar power. The surface of the second planet was covered in a single, sprawling city. Support craft scurried from point to point and lightsail starships entered and left the system on majestic, subluminal courses, implying missions that must last centuries, if not millennia.

"Psion," Starfire suggested, "See if you can estimate the courses of those sailships. Find out where they are coming from or where they are going."

Psion nodded and began working at his console. Telltales flickered into existence on the windscreen, bracketing each space ship and identifying the vessel's trajectory. Paths then traced out from each based on this data until they intersected a star, some of which were so far away they couldn't be seen. Eight of the ships were arriving from distant stars, and four just beginning their interstellar voyage.

Starfire pointed one of the arriving craft. "Let's go see where this one came from."

The Planet of Snakes

The PsiPlane arrived at a deep-orange star orbited by a number of planets, the second of which had an atmosphere. No immediate signs of technology. Second planet had large ice caps and 70% water. Planet has primitive life. Forested in broad-leafed ferns and other plant life with darker foliage. Marshy. Similar to Earth in the Pennsylvanian. Stepped pyramids with ramps at the corners. Ornate carvings depicting snakelike creatures.


The Planet of Lichen

Destination system: Yellow-dwarf, similar to Sol. 230 ly from Earth. Fourth planet is intact with an atmosphere. Spotty life, closer to Devonian. Barren land, with patches of lichen and mosses. Some amphibians. No signs of sentience. Cleaned PsiPlane off in corona, then left for Epsilon Eridani.


Epsilon Eridani

Epsilon Eridani. Gas giant. 2 debris belts. Outer belt may have been a planet at one time, but no core fragments. May have been earthlike mass. Broken up between 100 to 500 million years ago.


Planet of the One-eyed Apes

Delta Pavonis III Earthlike with evidence of a collapsed technological society. Sing us your songs of days long past.

Moons are both airless and took direct beatings with large impact craters. A star-shaped base survived. Three anti-missile missiles survived with a calculated yield of 10 kt and shrapnel collars. A tracked vehicle with x-ray lasers emitters. Zap explored base and found a hard drive and slate displays. Samples of battery and solar technology. Starfire put the tank into our airlock.

(SF: Conveniently omitted is Psion's preoccupation with the possible mating opportunities with the local lifeforms. Ahem.)

Return to the Planet of Horrors

At thousands of times the speed of light, the PsiPlane crossed the gulf between Delta Pavonis III and Algol in minutes. As the craft slowed and approached the second planet, the heroes aboard the tiny vehicle eyed the immense constructions in orbit around the world with wary concern.

Psion activated the hafnium isomer explosive with a programmed countdown for detonation of fifteen minutes. Zap worried and questioned reasons.

Psion set about the task of communicating with the Algolians. His favorite opening gambit, a series of prime numbers flashed with the vehicle's powerful search and landing lights was met with an immediate reply. A beacon on the planet's surface near it's northern pole flashed out the same sequence. Over the next several minutes, Psion and the beacon exchanged a series of mathematical exchanges, although the beacon did little more than echo Psion's missives. Oddly the beacon slowly dimmed throughout the exchange, becoming progressively harder to see. Suspicious, the telepath viewed the beacon through the PsiPlane's powerful telescopes, but nothing seemed to be obstructing the tower. It simply signaled with less and less intensity, as though bidding the pilot and crew to come closer. Indeed, Starfire found himself leaning towards the lightsource.

(SF: Were we already "enraptured" at this point? I wonder.)

Soon, a lightsail craft rose from the surface, undistinguished from any of the other such starships the heroes had watched earlier, its trajectory was no apparent threat to the mission. But after a few minutes, a section of the ship separated and drifted free, no longer accelerating with the main craft. The timing seemed curious. Another lure set out by the denizens of the planet of horror below. But the crew of the PsiPlane had not come this distance to shy from contact, nor were they unaccustomed to risk, and Psion reluctantly nudged his starship closer to the object.

As they drew near, it appeared to be a freight container about 100 feet long. Within, sensors revealed hibernating humanoids roughly similar in build to the Grays of UFO folklore. Was this a gesture of goodwill? An offering of food? Or was it a demonstration of the Vampires' dominion and an attempt to elicit fear with the recognition of the contents of such a casually discarded shipping container? Nothing was to be learned here, so Psion pushed the PsiPlane past and headed toward the polar beacon on the planet below.

As they approached, the beacon resolved itself as a large orb atop a tall, slender tower which itself was skirted in a wide landing area, large enough to accommodate a vehicle as large as the PsiPlane. Psion approached, but did not land, preferring to attempt to communicate at a distance with his telepathy.

“We come in peace. Not as food, but as potential allies.”

A thought echoed back. The tone, androgynous and lilting… almost playful… “Potential allies.”

“Yes. There is a force among the stars that threatens both of our kind and we wish to…”

“You seek security. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit.”

Starfire interjected over the switchboard. “The force… the race we’re speaking of, has destroyed whole worlds and civilizations. We’ve seen it.”

“We have no reason to fear.”

Starfire raised an eyebrow. “You’re serious? Have you encountered them before?”

“We have no reason to fear here. Here we are secure. You seek security. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit.” The voice had become a bit more smug, and perhaps a little creepily suggestive.

“Well, even if you are safe here, what about your… colonies? The ships you send out…”

“We cast our seeds upon the wind. Some will take root and flourish. Some will not. We will prevail. Here we are secure. You seek security. Mutual exchange…”

Panic welled up in Psion and the PsiPlane suddenly shot away from the structure, curving upwards as it fled towards the stars. Once free of the atmosphere, the ship vanished from Algolian skies as it fled at hyperluminal velocity. He plunged the craft into the searing photosphere of a white dwarf, boiling the outer hull in a harsh bath of exotic particles, x-rays, and ultraviolet light strong enough to sear flesh to ash in an instant. Cleansed of any possible stowaway clinging to the exterior, Psion still felt uneasy.

(SF: Or was it here? It would be interesting to see at what range these vamps can conduct their glamors. Unfortunately, that means at least one of us needs to stay lucid. Maybe there's a way to block the vamp intrusion? Or maybe, just maybe, Psion's skittishness from the outset (pussy) was fueling the Algolian mind games.)

He swiveled in his chair, surveying the flight deck and ignored the babble as Shockwave, Starfire, and Zap questioned his actions. Something wasn't right. Through psionium interfaces, his mind lingered over telltales and sensor readings from around the ship. He triggered secondary and tertiary releases of selenium in the airlocks and cargo spaces. The vampires couldn't possibly survive this!

He looked at his comrades. Three of them continued to harangue him. "How do you possibly expect them to respect us now," Starfire asked. "You've shown them fear. You've proven that we're afraid of them. Now they'll use that against us in negotiations."

Shockwave and Zap were similarly on their feet. "What happened? Why did you do that? What's wrong?"

Zap became demanding, "Alright, well at least turn off that damned bomb now!" Starfire and Shockwave agreed.

Psion slowly turned back to his console and physically reached for the icon. He moved slowly, still worried by something. Millimeters from the control he froze and found a name for his doubt, "Perdition!"

Everyone whirled to look at the American Patrol hero who sat restfully calm in his seat, apparently asleep. "No way did he sleep through all that," Zap exclaimed. He rose from his seat and approached the man slowly as his worries deepened. Asleep? At best, Psion thought to himself. Zap sparked him with a light charge to wake him up.

Perdition convulsed from the charge, the spasms continuing as Zap recoiled in shock. “What the hell? I barely stung him! What’s wrong?”

The convulsions, all too abruptly, stopped.

The telepath shouted, "He isn't breathing! Starfire, get that suit off him and start CPR! I'll do the breathing."

"Wait! what about the selenium?" asked Zap.

"The least of his worries. Besides most of it has settled."

Starfire gripped Perdition's suit in his hands and wrenched, ripping the dense weave of synthetic polymers like tissue paper. He positioned his palms to begin chest compressions, but his hands fell into the chest cavity as Perdition's ribcage parted into a gaping, toothy maw that snapped shut on Starfire’s forearms.

The others fell backwards, shoved with terror by the sight of Starfire's arms held in that monstrous oriface. Psion started scooping up handfuls of selenium powder from the floor, heaping it over Perdition's carnivorous torso without regard for the poison's effects ... he'd already written Perdition off as dead. Shockwave backpedaled fast enough to scorch the flooring and slid back until the wall prevented her from going any farther. For his part, Starfire tried to remain calm as he fired repeated power blasts into the horrific orifice, but the effort was in vain. He watched as rows of tiny teeth sawed back and forth, grinding their way into his flesh, spraying blood and cutting away at bone.

The PsiPlane sensed Psion's distress and klaxons sounded. "Intruder Alert. Intruder Alert."

Psion leaped back to the console and ordered another dump of selenium on the flight deck, but as he glanced back, he saw Perdition's eyes snap open and focus on him with unexpected clarity. "PSION! DROP THE GOD DAMNED SWITCHBOARD!"

Dumbfounded, Psion complied and instantly the horrific scene altered. Starfire still stood over Perdition, but the latter lay on the deck in the remains of a shattered chair and blasted space suit, clutching his own battered chest. Psion turned apprehensively, to see the crystal spire and its beacon, like a great, piercing, predatory eye, filling his ship’s windscreen.

The PsiPlane bolted from the Algol system at the speed of terrified thought, traveling at least a light year before it could roll to face its direction of flight. It took all the self-discipline Psion could muster to alter course before leaving the Milky Way galaxy entirely.

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