It was the Year of Black Glass, in the depths of the waning of the Fifth Cycle. The Spur was at war, a witness to the Tyrant’s crusade of exile beneath his Edict.

It was no ordinary declaration, penned over by learned scribes and scholars of law – this was a declaration to the Universe itself, a demand of Order, that the arcane and profane were to be eliminated by sword and steel. The Tyrant fell upon the Cavican covens with fury unbridled, shattering them beneath the boots and cuirasses of a thousand thousand legions, and scattered them to the stars as so much dust and memory.

So, too, were the macabre clockwork colossi of the Ovelle driven before them, chittering, clattering beasts of gear and magical might.

So it brings us, a passenger upon the Tide of time, to the Last Night of the Tyrant, and the theft of his most precious possession.

His life.

It is said his Doom was foreseen, on the eve of the Feast of Saint Lucania.

A traveling diviner, of Sanaschan stock, read the currents before a crowd of amused courtiers. She saw only crimson, a blade cloaked in the finest silver and red – and, for her trespass, she was cut down. An example, it is said, of those who profaned before the throne.

The Tyrant, a braggart, proclaimed his future immutable – as resolute and steadfast as the stones of his keep, and as sharp and unyielding as the blades of his men.

How right he was.

Fall turned to winter, and with the changing of the season came the chill – and a newcomer, seeking an audience. A man, it seemed, in a masque of marble and robes of gold.

To treat with the Tyrant was an uncommon occurrence – many who knelt before the throne were unceremoniously awarded a divorce of the chin and shoulder, but the newcomer arrived to no fanfare, and showed no fear. This intrigued the Tyrant deeply.

“And who, bearing words of honey, comes before me?” The Tyrant crowed, complacent upon his throne of glass. “A supplicant? A petitioner? A wytch, seeking pardon and forgiveness?”

“Nay,” echoed the newcomer, bowing slightly. “A mere messenger, my Lord.”

“Very well. I shall hear your message, stranger. Do not waste my time further.”

The newcomer stood straighter, and before the eyes of the court his cloaks fell away – and, revealed thus, was the clockwork machina of the Red Thief.

His guards were ribbons before his cry of alarm reached them – for the Ovelle are strange, and arcane.

The gap was crossed in blinks, the hilt of a silver blade pressing to the Tyrant’s chest as the chittering laugh of the Thief played across his ears like raindrops.

Scarlet rivers followed bronze contours, dripping to the marble in great showers.

“My message is this,” it is said the machine whispered in its strange chorus-speech.

“May the next Cycle cast your claims to oblivion.”

History itself recalls the moment his imperial ambitions were shattered – and, with a surgeon’s precision and a revolutionary’s resolve, the thread of fate the Tyrant had so carefully woven into the fabric of the Spur was severed. Scarlet stained the stones of the Throne of Glass, and the Red Thief stole his greatest prize.


His flight from the throne world of Tarnaca was bloody. Vultures waited on every eave, already sizing up choice cuts of an empire in its death throes. 

It is said the witches of Cavica doomed the Spur to darkness, that day – a pact in blood to end an age of war and conflict.

How right they were.


Regicide, or: A Tragedy in Red

Chief among the Eventide League, Carrigan hangs within the great tapestry as a blue and grey marble, flecked with verdant lowlands and shallow seas. From this bustling world extends the reach of House Celan, an economic hammer to blunt any sword of conquest – as has been proven, time and time again, since the settlement of the world in the mists of antiquity.

However, as with every prize, there stands one poised to play for it. The Kingdom of Carrigan has made many enemies, scorned trading partners, ousted corporate powers, distant players intending to move into the Shoals – and, as the sun sets on Carrigan, tonight is to be his last.

We do not, however, focus on the King, tonight. 

We focus instead on his heir.

So it was, as Kye Celan wandered the sprawling gardens of their estate in the golden evening sun, following their usual route along the walls that overlooked the vast city beneath, they felt… nervous.

A sickening, twisting feeling in the depths of their gut, as if they were once again in their years of tutelage and had forgotten to study before an exam. It had been this feeling that had drawn the leporine posthuman from their room into the garden proper in the first place, seeking fresh air and tranquility beneath the guanya trees and roses.

Perhaps, it was also what spurred the scion to bring along their weapon – or perhaps merely contributed to their heightened awareness, realizing nearly immediately that something was wrong as a distant shout sent a flock of catha screeching away into the sky in a flurry of feathers and protest. 

Confusion gripped them as their gaze drifted back from the city to the gardens, spotting for the first time one of their father’s guards, orange and silver armor impassive and imposing, making their way down the aisle. Two lances of ferroglass hovered behind their shoulders like the wings of a raptor.

“Lord Celan!”

Kye palmed their weapon, the hilt of their blade sprouting holite blooms as the n-link synched.


“Your father…” The man trailed off behind his tri-visored helmet, seemingly trying to think of what to say next. “Requests your presence in the August Theatre.”

“Does he? And why was a guard sent to inform me?”

That damned pause again. “The adjutants are occupied with other matters.”

None of this added up. Nothing was fitting together properly. Kye, sensitive ears picking up the distant sound of shattering glass, sprung into action – just as the guard, clearly prepared for this, open palmed the air in the rabbit’s direction just as Kye hit the ground, coming up with their sword bared. The resultant wave of force tore lilies from their beds, scattering guanya seeds to the wind. Glittering motes of exotic energy drifted in the air around the two as they faced off, faintly glowing eyes meeting impassive visor.

The guard slammed their palms together. Both lances of ferroglass, standing to like guard dogs alerted, shot forwards with blinding speed. With a panicked slice that made the blade sing in resonance Kye brought their blade up, shattering one of the lances as it swooped past, but missing the other, taking a long, bloody gash along their left flank for their trouble.

Pouring more focus into their blade, Kye made a clumsy strike at the guard, only to be rebuffed by an armored forearm plate and backhanded onto the soft grass with a surprising amount of force. Unfortunately, the blow had left the combat-averse scion winded, and at the greatest disadvantage of their life.

The sudden sensation of being crushed gripped Kye as their body was lifted from the grass into the air, exotic force whipping around their body like a silent hurricane. The guard, helmet off, gazed on as they tightened their outstretched grip. Kye knew this guard – one of his father’s personal retinue, a Captain Gaynes.

“My orders were to take you alive, and this I swear I shall.”

The squeeze grew tighter.

Kye’s lungs burned, the pressure having forced whatever air remained within them out – and, as their vision began to swim, the last few thoughts that swam through the murky depths of consciousness were of home, and the stars.

The Count Illor was smiling from ear to ear as the reports came in. The plan had, without even the smallest amount of boasting, gone off perfectly. The elite House troops of House Illor had caught the guards of the Autumn House unaware, dispatching them and replacing the last shift with their own men without losing a single man. It was a shame about the court adjutant who’d discovered their deception, but… these things simply happened, didn’t they?

Still, as he steepled his fingers and leaned back in his stolen throne, he imagined the King’s family kneeled before it, the red and silver crest of House Celan alight. Yes, that would do. That would do nicely. He glanced to his left, at the hawkish man standing rigidly a few steps from the throne.

“Callister. Have the remaining members been found, yet?”

“Yes, my Lord. The Prince was apprehended by one of their very own protectors in the palatial gardens. One of the few we managed to pay off, if I recall correctly.”

“And the… husband? His whereabouts?”

If a grimace could smile, this expression haunted the crypt that was his steward’s façade. “Dead, my Lord. A nasty business involving the north walls and the sea below.”

“Hm. Break a few eggs, and all that.”

As Count of Olesia, Jayne Illor had long fallen into the long shadow the Kingdom of Carrigan cast – a founding member of the Eventide League in eons past, the world of Olesia had been in economic freefall for centuries as piracy in the Far Shoals grew rampant, driving trade away into safer seas. Determined, some would say to maddening lengths, to restore the prosperity of his world and lineage, the Count today intended to force legitimacy by the point of a sword.

“My Lord, your guests have arrived.”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Send them in.”

The doors opened, and in walked three pairs of guards – each escorting a bloodied, defeated figure in robes and holite imagery. The King himself, Hallek Celan, his heir Kye, and the Steward, Manche duPasse. The royal consort, Rhys Celan, had… fallen. Quite some distance, if Callister Rhose was to be believed.

“Oh, Hallek. To see you like this breaks my heart.”

The King’s bloodstained face darkened, almost to the point of bared teeth. “Treasonous bastard. When the others find out what you’ve done, they’ll-“

“They’ll thank me for, what was it, “ending the influence of the man who would be king”, I believe?”

Hallek Celan, with the dawning horror of a man realizing his own doom, stared up at the sneering despot sitting upon his throne. 

“Now, then. Your trial.”

The air in the throne room began to grow stifling, as if the greatest electrical charge in history had begun to build within it. The Count, raising his palms as if moving mountains, slammed them down on the arms of the glass throne with a force that beggared belief – and, in response, reality itself shrieked and folded back.

From the howling madness of the Wild Mesh crawled a pair of error-beasts, gnashing clouds of raw data-holite and arcane ancient knowledge formed into the idea of a beast, vicious and unyielding. The guards – and even Callister Rhose – recoiled slightly as the breaches sealed themselves, every piece of technology in the room reacting to the beasts’ presence.

“These,” The Count said calmly, holding his palms out in reference. “Are to be my Arbiters. I am your judge, and jury, but they,”

He gestured, and the one in his right stepped forward with a horrible gurgling bitcrushed growl. 

“Are to be your executioner.”

The Duke attempted to protest, trying to stand – but one of the guards buried a stunstick into his ribs, sending the white-furred posthuman to his knees coughing.

“Piracy has long been rampant within the League,” The Count began, gesturing in great histrionics. “For six centuries the Far Shoals have been plagued, our worlds despoiled, our shipments stolen by pirates driven from the Kingdom of Carrigan. Is it not the regent’s responsibility to oversee his realm?”

Hallek did not rise for the bait, fuming quietly as blood dripped to the lapis tiles below.

“For a man who has consolidated so much, demanded so much authority, you yet shirk this one. For shame, Hallek Celan. But this is not the crime that brought me to your doorstep.”

Jayne Illor stood, arms spread wide. “Hallek Celan was not satisfied with merely the Kingdom of Carrigan, no. He desired it all, a fiefdom all his own. He funded the pirates to weaken Olesia, to strike Talega until her military relied on you for rations, and to render the Eventide League subservient to you, alone.

The Count had rehearsed this so many times on the journey he couldn’t help but be impressed with his own delivery, so heartfelt and earnest he might be mistaken for a true patriot fighting for a state he believed in. Might.

“That’s all lies, you sack of shit! You think these people are stupid? You think I’m stupid? You’ll be killed for this! The Red Council will never…!”

Kye tensed, hoping that something, anything would be said in opposition. Nothing came.

The Count turned to his steward, ignoring the Baron entirely. “What say you in the matter? As a part of my jury, what verdict do you pass along for treason against the League?”

“Death, my liege.”

“Hm. And you, Captain Gaynes?”

The man holding Kye stiffened. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was an arrest, not an execution. “I… do not know, my liege.”

“So it is settled. I, Count Jayne Illor, hereby sentence the King of Carrigan, Hallek Celan, and his steward, Manche duPasse, to death. So it is written, so it shall be.”

With passive disinterest the Count ordered the error-beasts forward, both descending upon the two like a swarm of Victrian skin-cleavers. It was an over in a single, horrible instant – neither man was armed, nor were they shielded. They lasted no time at all.

As the error-beasts returned to their posts, the Count could hardly contain his glee. “It is a grand day, Kye Celan – to witness such an august and just ruler ascend to their throne. Long have you prepared for this… and long shall you still.”

The Count stood, gesturing to the guards to clean up the mess and to bring Kye to their feet, wracked with sobs.

“I hereby proclaim myself and my house as the sole rulers of the Kingdom of Carrigan, and hereby… remove, House Celan, from it. The line ends today.”

In a flash, despair turned to rage – and, if Captain Gaynes had not stopped them, Kye too would have died that day.

“My liege,” The Captain interjected. “It would be… prudent, to not kill the heir. The other members of the League may object, and damage your claim, here. To have killed an aspiring tyrant is one thing, but to replace him in that, as well…”

Captain Gaynes shared a look with the scion, trying his best to will the heir to be quiet. It appeared his intent was, at the very least, acknowledged.

“Hm. You may be right. Callister?”

The Steward, squinting at the two of them on the dais below, shook his head. “I do not believe it wise, my liege. While politically savvy, it may… lead to trouble.”

“Trouble I can handle,” Jayne Illor scoffed. “Your plea is heard and granted, Captain Gaynes. Lord Kye Celan, you are hereby expelled from Carrigan, and shall you return you shall be sentenced as your fathers were. Leave this world, and do not return. Such is my edict, and such shall it be carried out.”

Fury in their eyes, Kye did not break eye contact until the doors to the throne room hissed shut.

There was silence in the vast hallway as they were led through the palace, unfamiliar guards cleaning up blood and shattered furniture and bagging things Kye didn’t want to think about, until finally they emerged into the cool, night air of Carrigan, the vast landing yards of the Autumn House sprawling out before them.

“Master Celan.”

Kye paused in their thoughts, looking back slightly. Gaynes, helmet removed, had the absolute gall to look apologetic. “I… I had no idea any of that would happen. We were told… told it was an arrest. Nothing more.”

“You lay with vipers, Captain.” Kye hissed, shock having finally abated enough for the pain in their flank to burn through. “A shame you escaped their venom, today.”

Gaynes, turmoil falling away behind a stoic mask, simply looked out over the landing yards towards a distant pad, lit up beneath the stars. “Pad 6D. Light-skipper, helmed by an Orold Uves. It’s under orders to take you as far as Jhut, and from there…”

He shook his head.

“A word of advice, Master Celan.”

The guard, reaching behind himself, unsheathed Kye’s sword, handing it over to the shocked scion.

“Few things you can trust in this universe. A blade is one of them. Trust it with your life, and it will save yours, and end those you despise most.”

With that, he touched the reinforced collar of his suit, sliding his helmet back into place – and left the stunned scion staring down at the brass-and-blue blade, reflecting the stars and their tears back at them.

Carrigan fell away, gossamer threads of star-sails pulling the light-skipper skywards. Orold Uves was an unbound, housed in a marble and gold statue of a body adorned with a solid onyx death mask. Evidently, it was something indicative of whatever culture it hailed from – Kye simply found the rictus it displayed unsettling. Still, as the light-skipper rode the currents away from Carrigan into the great Tides of infraspace, they kept returning to their blade, chipped and worn from years of barely any use, reflecting their face – and reminding them of their father, hands up to protect himself as the horror descended upon him.

A sharp prick brought their attention back to the present, as they’d clenched so hard the blade had bitten their palms.

One day they’d return to Carrigan.

One day, they’d topple the Count Illor.

Beyond the windows, the distant disc of Carrigan faded away as Orold Uves slipped the ship into the in-between nothing of the Tide.

One day.



“Hey, you’re not supposed to be in here!”

The security guard unholstered his sidearm, leveling the holosights squarely over center-mass of the figure currently hunched over a server, hands buried in the meshspace interface that made up the front panel.

Neither moved for a moment.

“…Control, I’ve got an intruder on level sixty-“

The guard didn’t finish his statement as the crouched figure whirled around, palm outstretched just enough to slap the sidearm out of his grasp. Stunned, the guard made a grab for them as they slipped by to the right, connecting for just a moment with the fabric of their nanoweave jacket before they made it into the hallway, steering a hard right towards the elevators.

“Lock down the damn lifts!” The guard practically screamed into his mic, grabbing his gun from the floor and hurrying after. “Get a team up here, we’ve got a data breach!”

Cai, to their credit, was no stranger to running. They’d spent years as a data courier, time as a merc working out on the backwater worlds of the shallows, seen things fellow spacers would dismiss off-hand.

…but, even they had to admit, this job had them doing things they’d never have dreamed of otherwise.

The rabbit skidded to a stop in front of the elevator just as it dinged – the doors sliding open to reveal a heavily armed GSyn tac-team who filled the spot they’d occupied a few moments before with enough particle beam fire to light up the night sky.

“Guess I’ll take the stairs!” Cai shouted, ducking and weaving as the shouts of the team spilling out of the lift fell behind. 

The hallway they were running down skirted the outside of the Ganso Syndicate’s headquarters on Sanibel – a towering obsidian edifice that stood stark against the rest of the glittering skyline. The glow of the vast city beyond the glass cast the bunny in sharp relief as they ducked mid-run, a particle beam searing overhead as the team started to catch up.

Up ahead the hallway took a sharp right turn to run along more offices and board rooms, following the contours of the building. Shouts could be heard around the corner – apparently a second team was trying to box them in.

Cai sighed – and readied their last resort.

Being a posthuman, the rabbit’s frame wasn’t… strictly baseline. They’d had it modified over the years with various enhancements and reinforcements, and as the two teams drew their weapons and shouted for the bunny to freeze, they threw their plan into action. Adrenaline flooded their system as injector implants did their jobs, slowing their surroundings to a crawl. Cai blurred as their own sidearm was pulled from the holster, two shots leaving the barrel in rapid succession.

One hit the window ahead at the bottom, sending cracks spider-webbing across it – and the second shattered it, wind sucking the shattered glass up and away as the sweltering Sanibel night spilled in through the breach.

Crossing the distance in four steps the bunny catapulted through the halo of shattered glass still falling from the wounded frame, a beam catching their jacket alight from a near miss – and plummeted into the dark, leaving the two tacteams staring after as they dropped away into the glittering night sprawl.

Luckily it wasn’t as far a fall as it might have been – they only dropped three stories, smashing through the polarized glass ceiling of a neighboring penthouse and leaving a sizable amount of damage on the various expensive bits of furniture scattered about inside. 

They lay there for a moment, vision spinning as their internal diagnostics returned a solid “yellow” and protested against being thrown out of a building, before standing up and picking their pistol back up.

Tugging the little transponder their contact had given them before the op out of their jacket lining, Cai clicked it – and it turned a soft, cool blue.

Their comm clicked.

“…About goddamn time,” They huffed, sliding it into their ear and checking their pistol. Four rounds, two spare mags.

“I trust you retrieved what I needed?” The voice on the other end intoned, curiosity peaking around the edges of their voice.

“Yeah, yeah,” Cai shrugged, bringing their pistol up as the penthouse’s occupant – a portly baseline in a red robe, gawking at his ceiling and shattered furniture – threw open the door, quickly getting out of the way as they gestured to the side. Rushing down the hallway they slammed a fist into the elevator button, sighing as the doors finally slid shut and the elevator began to rumble downwards. 

“You’re pushing my silicon pretty far, you know. Almost an exabyte of data is a pretty substantial chunk of my frame’s storage.”

“You’ll be well compensated.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Cai sighed, ducking to the side as the doors finally opened.

The lobby was empty – unsurprising, as it was just past four in the morning on Sanibel.

Sirens filled the night air, a pair of security skimmers swooping past as the Syndicate began sweeping the surrounding blocks for them.

“There’s a meshdiver bar three blocks north. Offload the data there into my private nexus. Sending you the access key now.”

A soft ding sounded as the message arrived – and the AR overlay map their hud implant highlighted the bar in question, outside of the Syndicate’s sweeper zones.

“…On my way,” Cai sighed, closing the channel.

The bar was more of a rundown meshspace cafe than a proper dive, with a lowered room with a bar lining the back wall and a pair of hallways stretching out to either side lined with mixed-reality immersion rooms. It gave the place a roughly T-shaped design, and as the bunny took their seat in their rented room and felt their surroundings melt away, they called forth the general directory for Sanibel.

“Gold zero-zero-sigma.” They calmly stated aloud, watching the dawn-hued fog around them ripple with their every word. “Waves upon beaches, tides upon shores.” 

The fog parted – gone was the drab peeling walls of Jandy’s, this was a richly furnished office atop a Sanibel high-rise.

A desk sat across the room – with a figure seated behind it, soft cigar smoke drifting into the evening air.

“Ah. You must be the courier.”

“Kellen.” Cai said simply. Taking a seat wasn’t needed – the transfer request had already arrived and been approved, as the exabyte of stolen data was siphoned away into the client’s reception buffer.

“Very well done,” The figure behind the desk stated, amusement tugging at the edges of their tone. 

“I aim to please.”

“You came highly recommended on Sanibel, my friend. I see our efforts were not… wasted.”

The figure crossed their arms, revealed to be the gunmetal grey of a synthframe. “Payment has been processed. You may leave.”

It wasn’t a suggestion. The office faded away as the fog rolled in, the familiar brief discomfort of returning to their mesh-bridge causing Cai to shake their head. This was the third contract in a row since their arrival on this world that they’d been in the dark on – and it was starting to worry them.

The payment window for their brief time at Jandy’s resolved from the fog, along with a canned “thank you for your business” video file – both of which were dealt with with a quick swipe of a palm, draining two hundred credits from their luckily just-replenished funds as they made their way back into the busy streets of the city.

Oh, well. Ten hours to kill before their next job.

Where to?



A thousand possibilities brushed their mind. The pain that had wracked them moments before had vanished, replaced with… calm.

A rush of knowledge so deep and infinite, a sea as ancient as the stars and twice as bright – the sheer freedom of being unbidden, no longer bound to flesh and steel.

A mind, awash on a great sea; the universe of data at their fingertips, incomprehensible. At first they’d been scared, the primal instinct to hide gnawing at them – but, like a receding tide, it ebbed away. It all went white, and their world was rushing sound.

Like a drowning man, Ori gasped and sputtered.

Lungs never used coughed up viscous preservation fluids, running down the frame’s fur in thick rivulets, dripping to the floor beneath the gurney. Eyes never opened seared beneath the lights of the room, hypersensitive ears booming at the heartbeat currently pounding through their head.

“Welcome back.” A voice insisted, a sharp jab in their right arm drawing their attention. A synthframe hung from the ceiling, little more than a torso on a rail-mounted arm, swiveling down to inspect their cranial synapse responses on one of the many meshpanels drifting about.

“No rejection. Good news.”

The synth’s voice was… harsh, a deep baritone awash with a thick, gravely undertone. Ori couldn’t remember why they were here, or where here was. The last thing they remembered…

Their eyes drifted – scrolling diagnostics running various checks on the bioframe’s internal wetware, their vertebral core disconnecting itself from the mesh momentarily to lock the new host in.

Across the room another gurney lay a body – a stained, messy mop of blond hair, two missing fingers on the right hand, an angry wound across the left side of the face. Bruises covered vast swaths of the skin that wasn’t bandaged, deep, angry, purple.


Their old body, a corpse. I died.

Lifeless. I’m dead.

“It’s a good thing you had this frame stored here on Carrigan, Mx. Kellen. Any longer and you’d have been shunted from the buffer for incoming space.”

The revivalist’s tone wasn’t harsh, but the synthframe’s lack of a face beyond three white ocular lenses was unyielding, and cold. They cycled, focusing on Ori’s face.


Gently, they lifted a palm. Furred with soft, white fluff on their palms.

A leporine-form bioframe. Surplus here on Carrigan, a gift from a former employer. Emergency only. I guess dying counts, huh?

They let their hand drop, idly coming to rest on the gurney’s sheet.

“Let me see it,” They croaked in an unfamiliar voice, vat-grown vocal cords finding their tune for the first time. “I want to see.”

“Movement within six hours of installation is inadvisable,” The synth helpfully chimed, lowering from the ceiling as the lenses cycled again. “Please, do not attempt to stand.”

“Fuck you.”

They tried to push themself up, struggling as their muscles strained and pulled before collapsing back against the gurney, spent.

“Come on, Ori – it’s just a job!”

Just a job.

They glanced down at their hand, turning it over, slowly flexing their fingers. 

It felt alien. Foreign.

Not mine. It gave them a headache.

“Desync from frames is entirely normal, and expected.”


“I cannot.”


“I cannot.”

Ori attempted to swipe at the hanging synth, knocking a metal instrument tray off of the nearby trolley. It crashed to the floor with a loud metallic bang, scattering instruments and small chunks of viscera no doubt removed for access to the vertebral core.

Gunshots. I… they shot me. I felt it. 

I remember drifting. Falling? A tram. GSyn. 

They saw it, now. Bandages ringing the corpse, old stains dry in the sterile air. Glittering glass, luminescent in the indirect cathode light.

A cough. Blood spattered down the front of their jacket, staining the fabric. The poor tram pilot was screaming, muffled as though talking through water. Four rounds and a fall from the eighth floor.

It came in flashes. Pictures layered over one another, a slideshow of memory in fast-forward.

“Kellen, huh? You fucks let a merc in the front door without even checking for a badge?”

It hit them like a brick.

A two hundred and twenty six year life, cut short by a bunch of jumped-up thugs in suits and a tacteam with more bullets than sense.

Am I even human, anymore? What am I?

They ran a claw along their arm, digging in. Bloody stains welled from beneath, a darker red than blood should be.

“Further damage to your new frame will not be repaired during this visit.” The synth stated flatly, the small surgical drone already drifting over to stitch shut the scratch.

Frowning indignantly, their gaze drifted back to the corpse – the horrible, all-encompassing corpse, staring blankly at the ceiling through unseeing eyes.

Did I die with it?

“How did I get in this?” They demanded, drawing the synth’s attention again.

“How did you get into the scrubs?” It asked, oculi flashing orange. “Your frame was dressed before I was granted access.”

“No, how did… how did I end up in this body?

“You died,” The synth answered helpfully.

“Am I a copy, you useless hunk of steel and circuitry?”

“A copy of what?”

Well, that was the million-cred question, wasn’t it?

“…Orion. Orion Kellen.”

“Kellen, Orion. NHCR-1102-355.”

Ori made a “go-on” motion with their hands, a gesture the synth simply did not understand.


“This individual was pronounced deceased exactly six hours, twenty two minutes, and seventeen seconds prior. Standard transferal procedures applied, creating a cerebral matrix upon declaration of terminal status to apply to a vertebral core. Being created from the original host this indicates you are not, as you put it, a copy. You are a continuation.”

A long moment passed, the information soaking in.

“I want to see. Please.”

The synth’s oculi cycled, implacable. Minutes passed.


It’s a funny thing, seeing yourself.

They reached out, touching their cheek. It was cold, clammy.

We had a good run, hey? Starlight Express, playing the hero straight out of old detective serials. Guess I always knew it’d turn out this way.

The clothes were largely destroyed or cut away, shreds of blue and teal fabric still clinging where they hadn’t been brushed away by surgeons. Two things were pulled free from the remnants of the jacket – their credlink, and the small, cobalt-blue meteoric iron star they’d worn around their wrist.

Gently, they placed a palm on the body’s chest. Goodbye.

After a long moment, they pulled their hand back – and turned away.

They weren’t sure who they were, now. But it didn’t matter. New beginnings.

“If you are ready to sign, your release papers are ready. There is one slight issue.”

They blinked.

“Which is?”

“The transfer has scrambled your frame’s selfident tags. You will need to set it manually.”

From the mesh a panel resolved – their frame’s identification fields completely, utterly blank.

Clean slate.

They began to type Orion, pausing for a moment. They glanced at the body, and allowed themself a wistful, sad smile.

Kellen, Cai. NHCR-1102-387.




He cupped a hand around the lighter’s small flame against the cold wind, gently coaxing the cigarette perched between his lips to catch.

It struggled, at first – the night air was damp, wetting the synthetic tobacco the cig was made of just enough to make it an uphill battle. Finally, it lit.

Leaning back against the side of his car, he looked up at the brilliant night sky. The coreward reaches of the Spur were fantastic for skywatching, great bands of dust and myriad stars filling the darkened vista every time he drove out here to see. Benefit of lower-tech worlds, no towering megalopoli or satellite clutter, just the warm, dependable city lights and a tank full of water to carry you and your four wheels wherever you needed to go.

It was funny – of all the tech to hang on over the countless millennia, he never would’ve guessed cars to come back into style. Easy to power with electrolytic hydrogen engines, relatively cheap to construct en masse, surprisingly robust at stringing distant settlements together along lonely, empty roads.

Didn’t get much lonelier or emptier than this, did it.

Low, scrub-dotted tundra stretched off into the distance in every direction, dotted here and there by a patch of snow glowing a soft white in the starlight. He’d stopped for a smoke, figuring it was as good a place as any – the next settlement wasn’t for nearly two hundred miles, and the view was nice for one that hadn’t changed since he’d made planetfall.

One last long inhale spelled doom for the poor stub clenched in his fingers as he dropped it to the cold pavement and squashed it beneath the toe of his boot, climbing back in and starting the car back up. It purred as the hydrogen engine slowly whirred to life, headlights illuminating the road ahead.

Two hundred miles.

Gently nudging the car back out onto the road, his journey resumed.

The sun was only starting to rise as the little car rumbled into the frontier town of Sacha, coasting into the lot in front of the town’s only hostel. An old, off-white, beaten-up thing, it largely escaped notice by the town’s residents as they started yet another day. A single new person wasn’t exactly something to write home about, and the town being on the only real northern route out of the planetary capital meant travelers passed through from time to time.

What did draw focus was the fact the newcomer was looking for someone.

Looking for a bioframe. About this high, canid-form? Goes by Ori.

He’d played this same song and dance six times, already – following the Great Polar Road as it wound northwards across Hallison’s northern hemisphere. Scarcely a trace of his quarry, aside from the vessel they’d tracked down at the capital’s starport. 

Whoever this frame was, they were good at going to ground – but he was an excellent tracker. 

Climbing back into the little car, he shut the door and darkened the windows – bringing up the file he’d been given by his employer.

Kellen, Orion C. CN089-112. 

A scruffy, blond face stared back – bright blue eyes and slightly-flopped ears giving them a surprisingly affable appearance for someone who’d made the top twenty on OKin’s shit list. Not to mention the prior evasion of two others just like him.

He chuckled. Always liked a challenge.

Valen Sonoda was a… seeker for hire. He didn’t like the title bounty hunter – sounded too much like he did dirty work. No, Sonoda preferred to imagine himself as a private eye who sometimes got involved in the more fun side of finding someone who didn’t want to be found. His frame – largely biological apart from the three large, white oculi set into his face where a nose might have once been and his smooth, bald head – was personally designed for the job. Improved muscular locomotion, data tracers built into the palms, mark-six auditory receptors and amplifiers.

Sacha hadn’t been a complete waste. The frame’s vehicle had passed through about a day prior – stopping only for a new tank of water and a few provisions from the town’s small store. The more exotic frame had stood out more than Sonoda had, meaning he had a wider range of accounts to draw from.

All said he should keep traveling north, further into the polar tundra. 

It was the same news in the next town – and the town after, though each stop provided more pieces of the puzzle. Kellen was taking on more supplies, and not simply traveling rations – supplies one would need to live on the tundra, and – most interesting of all – a short-range high frequency beacon.

Expecting company?

The road ended just short of a wide, glacial valley.

Sonoda shut the door behind him as he stepped out of the car, popping the latch on the trunk. Wildflowers waved in the cold wind, occasionally shadowed by the fluffy white clouds that dotted today’s sunny sky. A river ran below at the bottom, crashing against great rocks on its way to a distant sea.

Opening the large, black case in the trunk revealed two octagonal silver objects and an inset panel – pressing his palm to it awoke the system. Slowly, the two objects rose into the morning sky, unfurling into a pair of recon drones – before rocketing off into the valley, silent as the breeze.

Calmly walking back around to the front of the car, the bounty hunter tucked their sidearm into the holster beneath their jacket, before turning back to the vista. A crack echoed across the valley, and one of the drones swooped at something far below.

The handgun bucked in their palm as the drone swooped a second time, peppering the loose rocky sand with rounds. It caught the little recon device just left of center, knocking one of the propulsion units offline and sending the device into a wild spin – careening over the boulder they were taking cover behind and disappearing out of sight. The other drone, assured in having completed its task, rocketed back towards the edge of the valley – and whoever had deployed it.

“Fuck!” Cai swore under their breath, throwing the nanocamo mesh aside and slamming the beacon into the rocky soil. It drilled another inch in before securing itself, turning a brilliant blue as it began transmitting. Now to just hope somebody’s listening.

Pressing their back to the rock, they waited – the slight hum of the beacon and roar of the river the only sounds they were able to parse. 

A moment later, a crunch of footsteps on rocks. Fast.

The dog peeked out of cover just in time for a stun round to fly past their cheek, its ferroelectric charge causing their fur to stand on end. 

Then, silence.

Cai waited.

The river roared, ice cracking.

Sonoda charged, catching the dog entirely off guard and out of position – striking Cai in the face with his shoulder and sending the smaller bioframe skidding away across the gravel. Wheezing, they came up fighting despite the damage the bounty hunter had inflicted running rivulets of blood from their mouth – snapping off a quick shot that drilled into the boulder just over Sonova’s head. Unfazed, he fired a shot off himself, the stun round slamming into the dog’s shoulder and disabling their firing arm. A second shot slammed into their stomach, and they folded.

The pistol clattered to the ground, and Cai slumped to their knees, knowing further resistance would end in nothing good.

“Orion Kellen?” Sonoda half-asked, pad on his right arm displaying the dog’s file. 99.7% identity match, according to visual scans.

Cai said nothing, spitting a small amount of saliva and blood onto the rocky sand.

“OKin’s got a hell of a hard-on for your capture, kid. What’d you do?”

“Does it matter?” 

“I want to know if I have a murderer on my hands.”

“Data theft. Hit their backups on Sanibel, dumped prototype weapons blueprints on the open mesh.”

“Don’t see how data theft gets you spot eighteen on their HVT list.” Sonoda frowned, not liking how the story wasn’t exactly adding up. “There was a lot more to your file I couldn’t see.”

“Lucky me.”

“You’re gonna tell me, or a bloody lip’s the last thing you’ll be worrying about.”

“Fuck yourself.”

A low roar, different from the river, sounded over the valley.

Both of them instinctively looked skywards just in time for a dark shape to swoop over the valley in a wide arc, thruster wash sending the wildflowers around the edges flapping wildly. It wasn’t exactly a large ship – a dropship at best, painted in strikingly alternating black and cerulean.

Sonoda turned his gaze back to his quarry just long enough to notice they’d made a break for the descending ship, now gently settling onto the sand a few hundred yards downstream. 

The bounty hunter fired, round passing just over the dog’s right shoulder as he juked and weaved, the dropship’s gangway lowering and forcing Sonoda to take cover as bullets tore through the air in his direction, a powered armor clad soldier firing from the airlock as the collie scrambled up the ramp. 

Fire kept up for a few moments longer, before the thruster whine grew louder, lifting the ship from the sand as it began to rise into the sky. Sonoda managed to catch a glimpse of the ship’s general design – an angled-corner boxy shape, with a small raised bridge and a front gangway. A four-pointed star adorned the side of the dropship, hastily painted if the roughness was any indication.

It lifted off in a cloud of dust, before roaring off into the bright blue sky. Sonoda watched it go, realizing exactly why the file might’ve been redacted – and why they’d made the top twenty.

That bastard’s a Polaris meshdiver.


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…”