Tal Rethrin.

A backwater even when the megacorps of the Core Realms paid it heed, it had remained stagnant and remote for nearly four centuries by the time the Farsight’s meandering across the stars had brought it there. A haven for pirates, smugglers, and worse, it had seemed like the perfect place to disappear from the Confederacy at large – something Cai, fleeing the retribution of the House Manache, sought greatly.

Now, eight years later, he wasn’t so sure he’d have ever made the same mistake, given another chance.

Tev was a frontier town at best – cobbled together from repurposed starship parts and scrap brought in from offworld. It stood stark against the steppe it sprouted from like a hardy metallic shrub, all pale yellow chemlights and empty warehouses awash with rust and rainwater. A flashstorm had swept in from the steppes a few minutes earlier, bathing the weathered buildings in blinding rain and whipping wind. Luckily, he’d managed to tug his hood up in time – the hard patter of rain against it drowning out the voice in his earpiece he’d been idly chatting with.

It was just as well, really – he’d found not a single trace of the person he’d been after, yet.

Sighing, the rabbit spotted something blinking through the rain – a sign, of some description. While within the Core most signage was either holographic or AR enhanced, out here on the Rim neon signs were cheaper and easier to acquire – and this one was no different. A flickering, barely-working sign for a bar, shining like a beacon through the stormy night.

Pushing the door open, he was surprised to find it was rather nice inside – a wood finish, hardwood floors, and even a clean bartop, a sleepy bartender polishing a glass as thunder roared outside. It was one of those “throwback” taverns – one meant to resemble the early 23rd century, if he had to guess.

A few patrons were seated here and there, asleep at tables or busying themselves with their own matters. Discrete ID scans showed none were even present within the registry – though, curiously, someone here was. Unfortunately, it was impossible to tell exactly who without a direct scan – which he didn’t have time for.

“You’re not from ’round here, huh?”

The rabbit blinked. The bartender had stopped rubbing the glass with the cloth, his augmetic eyes looking him over with an almost appraising glance. “Let me guess. Spacer?”

Cai nodded.

“Bah. Not many new faces in Tev, kid. You get used to the same clientele pretty quickly.”

Shrugging, the rabbit slid onto a barstool. “Just a beer works, for now.”

The bartender busied himself with putting away the glass and fetching a bottle of beer, before wandering back over. “So what brings a spacer to our little slice of rust and dirt?”

“Looking for someone.”

“Oh?” The bartender asked slowly, choosing his words carefully. Interesting. 

“I pursued a starship from Callephon, over in Directorate space. The last buoy ping was here, at Tal Rethrin – and, seeing as Tev’s the only settlement, I’d imagine he came through here.”

The bartender raised an eyebrow.

“Danik Tulley. Former,” The rabbit placed emphasis on the word, “chairman of the now-defunct Teller Hypercomms.”

“Haven’t seen any chairmen come through,” The bartender shrugged, suddenly very focused on the glass he was cleaning again. “Same six clients, day in, day out.” 

“Not chairmen. Chairman.”

“The only chairs I’ve seen are the ones you’re currently sitting in.”

“Well that’s funny.”

The rabbit snapped his fingers, the zero-field projectors in his gloves sparking to life in glittering fractals of AR light.

“Unlike most of your patrons, Tulley has a registered biometric ID – a legacy of living his high life in the Core. And, funnily enough, I’m the only person here who should have a registered ID… yet,”

Twirling his hand slightly, the local infonet was parsed and filtered, the mystery tag in question displaying in fuzzy white.

“This should be clear, but it’s scrambled. Why, on a world so far from the heart of the Confederacy lacking proper biometric scanning and logkeeping, would someone need to scramble their ID?”

The bartender had stopped smiling, staring the rabbit straight in the eyes. Cai, ever cautious, cast a glance over his shoulder.

The bar was empty.

The patrons had long gone, knowing damn well when to get out to avoid any trouble.

“I’ll give you until the count of ten to get the hell out of my bar.”

“Now,” Cai shrugged, taking a sip from his bottle. “That’s no way to treat a customer.”

The next few moments were a blur; the bartender’s hands darted for something under the bar, and Cai whipped the bottle across his face – shattering it in a glittering shower of glass and spilt beer, spinning the man backwards as the handgun he’d been going for loudly clattered to the floor. Vaulting the bar, he sent a clenched fist into the stunned man’s nose, feeling it crunch slightly beneath his blow – broken, at the very least. The man’s eyes rolled back, his arms going limp as he sunk into unconsciousness. Once assured the man wouldn’t be shooting him in the back, Cai pocketed the bartender’s weapon and drew his own sidearm, idly tapping his earpiece twice.

One click came in reply – Rembrandt was now watching from far, far above.

Kicking the door to the back open, Cai swept the small hallway with his sidearm’s flashlight. Two rooms, both closed – and silent. The ever-present sound of rain hammered against the roof, overpowering even his own footsteps as he crept over to the first door, keying the access pad and pressing his back to the wall as the door slowly slid open.

Fortunately, it was merely a storage room – alcohol, various supplies, and a deactivated cleaning droid. Curiously, a small cot was set up in the back, along with an empty plate and a bottle. Someone had been here – and recently. The bartender obviously didn’t live in his business, so that crossed him off… but a bed and food wasn’t enough to go on. He needed a face. The second door slid open much slower – the roar of the storm growing much, much louder as it was revealed to be not a room, but an exit. Beyond the door, a small alleyway ran – bisecting this small block in an expanse of rain-soaked, dingy metal.


“Already on it. Heat sig’s moving down the alley to your right, and fast. Looks like whoever’s running has the Devil on his heels.”

Cai closed the channel without another word, sprinting into the storm. The rain and wind tore at his clothes and his face, but he caught a glimpse of his quarry exiting the alley into the street – the silhouette of a boar, outlined against the ever-present yellow indirect glow of chemlights. Danik Tulley.

“Overlay his route with my fastest intercept, Rembrandt. I’ve chased him far enough already.”


In the upper right corner of his vision, a local map appeared – Tulley’s path outlined in red, and his suggested route in a bright blue. A circle was marked a short distance away, presumably the intercept.

“He’s fast. I’d suggest hurrying.”

Cai nodded, hanging a left and splashing up a waterlogged alleyway.

Tev was a warren of darkened paths – a mess of crisscrossed alleys and streets, haphazard buildings and nonstandard construction. Wires ran overhead, darkening the already grey sky, as rusted gutters overflowed with the pounding rain. Waterfalls of dirty water poured over the rabbit as he sprinted, eyes focused almost entirely on the map, before he shoulder-rammed his way through a chain-link gate and skidded to a stop in the middle of a wider, covered pathway. To his left, rounding the corner, the man he’d been chasing skidded to a stop, eyes darting wildly for another way out – and, finding none, hardened with resolve.

“You’re not the first fucker to hunt me down!” Danik spat, extending both arms as he spread his stance. Strength augments in his wrists lit up a bright yellow as his palms flickered to glowing electrical life, and he brought both fists up. “And you won’t be the last!”

With that, the boar charged – crossing the distance between the two far faster than Cai had thought possible. His sidearm was only barely up when Tulley’s multi-augment amplified fist slammed into his unarmoured stomach, sending the rabbit doubling over as white-hot fire shot through him. Being soaked to the bone was an absolute detriment – amplifying the punch the shock implants packed tenfold. He was knocked backwards, sidearm skidding away into the darkness.

Danik laughed, augments steaming slightly as they vented heat. “You fuckers all think you’re the biggest kid on the block, huh? Don’t look so damn tough to me.”

Gritting his teeth, Cai pulled himself together enough to spit – and rolled away from his assailant, coming up unarmed and at a definite disadvantage.

“Hah! Perhaps I was too hasty,” the boar grinned, lifting his fists a second time.

“Come on, bounty hunter! Make my god-damned day!”

The rabbit’s gaze darted right and left, trying to find anything he could use to his advantage. Unfortunately, this pathway seemed to be a disused industrial corridor – clear, and empty. There was no way he’d be able to take the boar in a fistfight, but…

A flash of gold caught his attention – Rembrandt had overlayed his sidearm with a marker. He’d have to thank him later.

Unfortunately, the weapon had slid backwards, resting much closer to Tulley than was comfortable. He might be able to just barely make it, though…

Figuring he’d be dead either way, the rabbit pushed off with his right foot, footfalls echoing down the corridor as he propelled himself with reckless abandon towards the discarded sidearm, barely registering the boar’s surprise at being charged. The momentary pause was all that saved him – he hit the ground just as a blow that would’ve cut him in half sailed past his nose, skidding across the bumpy and broken duracrete. He madly grabbed at his pistol as he slid by it, bringing it up as Danik’s face twisted into a mask of fury, a roar of hatred tearing at his ears.

The shot rang out like a clap of thunder, Cai’s trusty Ikolos plasma/ballistic handgun propelling an infused round into the boar’s shoulder – but he just kept coming, screaming obscenities even with a hole through him.

“I’m gonna rip you limb from limb, you little bastard! You hear me?!” The boar’s supercharged punch slammed into the ground just as Cai rolled out of the way, sending spiderweb cracks spiraling off from the impact and flecks of duracrete flying into the air.

“I’m gonna shove that gun so far up your-“

In his panic, Cai squeezed the trigger a second time, this time punching right through the boar’s stomach – staggering him backwards and halting his second blow, even as he panted, breath heavy with anger and pain.

“You… motherfucker…” Tulley rasped, dropping to a knee as both hands cupped his stomach, blood pooling around his feet.

Cai, for once, had no reply – the pistol rattling in his grasp as he pulled the trigger a final time.

The round caught the boar just above his right eyebrow – and, as he faltered, Cai for a moment thought the monster might keep coming. This wasn’t to be however, as his eyes rolled back and he fell to the ground, face-first.


Cai allowed himself to exhale, the adrenaline rush he was in starting to abate as the pain from his likely-broken ribs began to make itself known, his whole midsection sore.

“Fuck! Motherfucking augmetic!”

He pushed himself to his feet, giving the corpse a kick for good measure, before tapping his earpiece. “He’s history.”

“You killed him?” Rembrandt asked, shocked. “The bounty said alive!”

“No choice!” Cai replied, gritting his teeth as he fumbled with his first aid tool, injecting a cocktail of biorepair nanites and painkillers to stop the worst of his injuries from being disturbed on the way back to the ship. “You neglected to mention Danik Tulley having military grade augmetics, Rembrandt! I wouldn’t have brought just a pistol if I knew he could punch a hole in a starship hull!”

“That… was not part of his record.”

“No shit!”

“Where did a man like Danik Tulley get those…?”

“Where do these bastards get ANY of their stuff?” The rabbit grunted, idly glancing at the map of Tev. Long walk back.

“Well, bring him back as best you’re able. An autopsy might tell us more.”

Cai glanced over his shoulder at the mountain of a boar, before frowning.

“…I’m gonna need a drone to help.”

Starlight Ballet

“Hold still.”

The rabbit fussed, fidgeting slightly as their suit jacket was adjusted, ever so slightly. They felt trapped, imprisoned by stuffy clothing and dressed to the nines. “Do I really have to wear this? Why can’t I just wear my normal clothes?”

“Because,” The tailor tutted, tapping the end of the rabbit’s nose with a finger. “The Starlight Ballet is one of the most prestigious events in the Republic. Nobility from across the stars will be visiting, tonight – including, I might remind you, those from your own Capellan League. So please be on your best behavior?”

Cai sighed, allowing the suit to be properly fitted and tailored. Honestly, they preferred… literally anything other than this, truth be told. When they’d signed up for the Duke Manache’s security detail they’d been expecting… well, security. Action. Instead they’d been shunted off into the care of one of the Duke’s many underlings, a small-time noble from the world of Olesia – the Countess Marie Lagonne. She was nice enough, he supposed, but… 

“There. This is as nice as I can make you.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You can only do so much,” The tailor tutted again, starting to re-pack her things. “The Countess expects you to look the part, and I managed. Barely.”

With that, she left – leaving the rabbit slightly bewildered, staring after her. 

And so it went. 

New London, the crown jewel of the Centauri Republic, glittered and sparkled beneath the early Autumn night sky. Dazzling arrays of colored ferroglass, glinting in ever-changing sparkling patterns, shifted above the great hall’s yawning entrance as they slowly made his way through the shifting, gossipping crowd. Nobility from across the Confederacy mingled, here – and some from beyond, a quiet trade magnate discussing his holdings in the Shoals sliding by the rabbit as gracefully as he could manage. It was dizzying, and they almost felt like a ship on a storm-tossed sea.

“Out of your element?” A voice crackled in their ear, full of mirth.

“A bit,” The rabbit sighed, sliding by a pair of Centauri men idly surveying the crowd. “I’m not a fan of crowds.”

“It’s usually less,” The voice shrugged. “This is by far the busiest I’ve seen this place in years.”

Cai scoffed. “Lucky me.”

“Look, just get to the atrium, okay? The Countess is due any minute.”


They tapped their earpiece once – the little click it made the “agree” signal they and the other member of the security detail, a tall, lithe puma by the name of Janos Locke, had agreed on.

The atrium – formally called the “Star Gallery” – was packed full of people, the floor having been cleared for the ball days prior. The First Citizen, a short, stern man by the name of Gallas Quinelle, sat on the far side of the room in his rose-adorned throne, watching the mingling crowds with a detached disinterest. A number of scions drifted around him, vying for conversation with the single most powerful man in the Republic.

The Marquis deLande, strutting onto the central stage with the flair of a self-assured rooster, cleared his throat loudly into a microphone until the room quieted down. The few remaining conversations Cai could hear as they slid into their assigned guard spot regarded the Marquis himself, about some ridiculous rumor that deLande was of Terran birth.

Petty idiots.

“The world of Taion bids you all welcome, on this night of the Starlight Ballet,” deLande rumbled, his deep, bassy voice accentuating the quiet violins being played by the omnipresent holographic orchestra as the lights dimmed, the domed ceiling of the great atrium becoming speckled with holographic starlight. “At the behest of our august First Citizen, the Republic holds this event on the Decennial – a tradition as old as the Centauri Republic. For four hundred years our Republic has seen peace, prosperity, and ascension without end – a credit to both the people of the Republic, and the steady hand of House Quinelle. And so, as the twin moons of Taion rise in the star-studded sky above, I formally declare the fortieth Starlight Ballet… begun.”

He bowed as applause filled the room, swiftly exiting the stage as a pair of familiar faces slid through the crowd, ignoring their courtiers that drifted after them like lost ducklings. The pale, well-kept features of the Count and Countess Lagonne, dressed in matching, immaculately tailored outfits, traded a nod with both Cai and Janos as they glanced from left to right. The Count and Countess shared a quick, whispered conversation, before deciding to part ways from each other – and their small crowd of courtiers, suddenly forced to choose between the two as the Count crossed the floor to the Centauri nobility that gathered around the First Citizen.

Still, Cai couldn’t help but be surprised as the Countess detached from her small crowd of courtiers, drifting over to where the rabbit stood watching the rest of the room as the first dances began.

“Ah, Kellen. Your first Starlight Ballet, is it?”

The rabbit nodded. “Yes, milady.”

“What do you think?”

“It’s…” They searched for a word. “…intriguing.”

“It’s okay to say you don’t like it,” She chuckled, looking him over. “It’s clear you’d rather be in battle dress than fancy dress.”

“That obvious, huh?”

She nodded, sipping from the crystal decanter she held. “Some men are made for this, some are not. There’s no shame in admitting you’re out of your element.”

“I… suppose so, milady.”

“Bah. Supposition is a weak man’s game, Kellen. You know so. I myself inspected you upon your assignment to my security detail, you are not a weak man.”

Cai nodded.

“And as such… you may call me Marie, if you so wish.”

The rabbit stood a little straighter, processing the statement. A noble’s first name was a right few were given – and being on a first name basis was… unheard of. They supposed their job as her protector made it less rigidly stratified, but still…

“I’ll keep it in mind, milady.”

The Countess chuckled, finally deeming her time spent with the obviously uncomfortable rabbit as drawing to an end. “Do enjoy yourself, Mr. Kellen. Have a drink. I sincerely doubt security is needed, tonight.”

She tapped her earpiece. “The same applies to you, Mr. Locke.”

The channel crackled. “Yes, milady.” 

With that, she vanished into the crowd, leaving the bemused rabbit to wonder how to spend the rest of their evening. 

The rest of the Ballet passed with relative ease, though at the tail end of the night a courtier needed to be calmed down as their alcohol got the better of them. They’d tried being nice, but once a fist slammed into their chin for telling the man he’d had enough the poor courtier had seen just how it felt to be thrown out on one’s head.

Now, with the last of the guests filing out of the Star Gallery, Cai finished their last glass of imported Capellan whiskey, sitting it neatly on the catering cart as the drone slowly whirred it away.

“Told you it’d be easy.”

“You didn’t say that.” 

Janos chuckled. “Well, I thought it would be. These nobles are all the same – though being relieved for the night was new.”

“I wonder why she did that.”

“Who knows?” The puma cast a quick glance around, before lighting a cigarette. “Maybe she was tired of acting? Bored? Curious how you’d react? It’s hard to tell with the Countess, easier to just go with it.”

“I guess.”

Janos took a long, drawn-out drag of his cigarette, exhaling smoke into the crisp air of the atrium, before seemingly remembering there was someone else there and offering a second.


“Suit yourself.”

“I should probably head back, anyway,” Cai yawned, checking the time on their holopad. Nearly midnight Taion standard, meaning their shift had truthfully ended an hour ago. Oh, well. Overtime, right?

“Catch you next time.”

Cai nodded, before starting the long walk out of the Gallery into the bustling metropolitan nightscape that was New London.

They had the feeling tonight was the beginning of something, but… 

They weren’t sure what, just yet.

Data Courier

Hand over hand.

Peg, pipe, crevice – they shimmied and climbed and grabbed at every possible handhold, working their way across the endless terraces and promenades of Tierdra’s Whitestone districts. The sun actually shone, here – plants of wild variety sprouting from rooftop gardens, tended by glittering automata and underpaid, tired gardeners. Rooftop pools, glittering glass faces – they even stopped to adjust their hair in a window, once.

Running was their job. Ever since they’d been hired by a syndicate in the underlevels a year ago, they’d been a data courier – sometimes legitimate, sometimes… not.

Their routes changed regularly, and as they vaulted over yet another railing they plummeted just a bit further than they would’ve liked – despite looking down, they still missed a step.

They landed, hard – dazed, head spinning. The rabbit had tripped and knocked the wind out of themself, but as they gazed skyward… they noticed for the first time how pretty the sky was.

Beneath the towering spires and glittering edifices of the city, the sky was a luxury – only the well-off saw the clouds, the birds, the remnants of New Lisbon’s past. The Old City lay beneath, covered up, buried by six hundred years of constant regrowth and construction.

Up here, though…

The sky was a beautiful mix of blues, reds, and pinks – the first tinges of Capella’s setting staining the white clouds shades they couldn’t describe. White, fluffy seabirds flitted about in the evening sky, intersparsed with the occasional aircar or transport ferrying someone elsewhere in the city.

High, high above, starships made orbit – lit by the setting sun, glittering against the sky like shooting stars.

Cai had spent much of their life up to now looking down – at their work, at the data they was supposed to scurry across the rooftops with, at the world beneath their feet. For the first time, their gaze was drawn upwards – at the worlds beyond their sky, and the stars.

“Hey, kid!”

Cai blinked, gaze drawn back from their thoughts to the here and now. A raven was leaning over him, concern written across their face. “You okay? That was some fall.”

“O-Oh! Uh. Yeah,” They replied sheepishly, pushing themself up and dusting themself off as much as they really could. The ghost of a headache panged at the back of their mind, but…

“Well, good!” The raven replied, crossing his arms. “Mind telling me what the hell you’re doing on the campus of Tyne Industries?”

“…Just dropping in?” Cai replied hastily, already looking around for a way out of this – but, luckily, the bird chuckled.

“Just get the hell outta here, okay? I don’t want to have to call security.”

The rabbit flashed a quick, cheeky salute, before hurrying off.

By now, the sun was setting properly – vanishing beneath the waters of the distant sea to the east, staining the world a myriad of dark reds and purples. Their destination, as it were, sat in one of the highest spires of the district – the offices of one Ingrid Walhafen. Openly, she was the marketing director of one of the Capellan League’s largest corporations, Concord Astroengineering.

To Cai, she provided one of the most stable sources of courier jobs in the city – and tonight was no different.

Pulling themself up over the edge of the office’s landing pad, the bunny trotted the short distance to the office’s executive entrance and entered their personal code – stepping back as the door slid open a moment later. The interior of Walhafen’s offices were pristine, something that they always felt they clashed with, scuffed and dirty from their scrabbling across rooftops and up chutes.

Still, as they made their way through the offices, her office was less imposing. A simple real wooden door, metal knob standing out starkly with the digital locks many of the doors in this building held. They supposed it fit her character – real wood was beyond expensive these days, and a knob? It creaked slightly when turned, allowing the occupants to know someone was coming.

And know, she did.

“You’re early.”

Cai blinked. The marten behind the desk steepled her fingers, but gestured to the seat in front of her with a slight nod. “I trust the data I asked for made it safely?”

Cai nodded, keying the small datacarrier on their hip and holding out the crystal it ejected.

The marten gently took it from them, inserting it into her terminal and beginning to look over the contents.


As she perused their ill-gotten gains, the rabbit’s gaze began to wander around her office. Potted plants, paintings… and a picture.

The picture wasn’t particularly special – a family outing, perhaps. Walhafen, and another person leaning against a railing.

It was where it was taken that astounded them.

Beyond the window they stood in front of lay the beautiful rings of some exotic, far-off world – icy rocks and glittering stone in gravity’s eternal ballet, the gold and tan hues of the planet’s atmosphere making the image almost surreal.

“All seems to be in order. I’ll have the usual amount sent…”

She seemed to have noticed their preoccupation, business facade cracking slightly as she followed their gaze to the image.

“I see you’ve noticed my newest addition.”

“I… er, I have, ma’am.”

“It’s from a recent trip to Sol,” She replied, smiling for what possibly might be the first time he could remember. “Concord sent me as a product ambassador, and I took my sister along. This was at Galileo, around Saturn.”

Cai didn’t know where any of these places were – or what they even were, but they nodded along.

“They tout themselves as the finest dining in the Sol system! Pah. I’ve had nicer food at street vendors here in Tierdra,” She chuckled, noting for the first time the confusion scribbled across the hare’s face.

“…You don’t know much about the Confederacy at large, I take it.”

Cai shook their head. “No, ma’am. Just the dirt beneath my feet and the stars.”

A wistful expression crossed her face.

“I’ve been all over, it seems. Would you like me to show you?”

Cai… nodded, slowly.

“I would.”

“Well!” She clapped her hands together, the desk’s holographic displays flickering to life – with maps, and stars.

“As a girl, I hailed from the world of Olesia…”