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Life On The Jupiter Moon

By: Shane Kennedy

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Book One
Argyle Industries
Super Service Call Centre

Chapter One

He fumbled before managing to jam the canister's tip into the fluke of his mask. Once the connection was made, he inhaled the anti-nausea medicine as hard as he could, forcing the last bit deep into his lungs. He hesitated. The overpowering urge to vomit disappeared. He dropped the canister and scooped up the brain stimulant from his console and inhaled it, then finished by emptying the contents of the muscle stimulant canister. As he had been trained to do, he waited. Slowly his mind started to clear and his strength returned. He began reading his vital statistics off the computer screen that was mounted directly in front of his face, its red, yellow, and green lights pulsing in response to his physiological condition. He was down from one hundred and ninety to one hundred and sixty-two pounds, his blood pressure was up, and it was obvious by looking at his arms and legs that most of the muscle mass developed during his training had shrunk. A sudden pain in the front of his head quickly vanished, then he felt as though his thinking had accelerated and that his muscles no longer felt atrophied. He stepped free of his bed.

"Francis, Gary?" he called out, following with, "Peter?"

He heard a noise from down the corridor, and then, "We're here Skipper."

"Peter, you're up here with me; Francis, you and Gary start on the east and west passages. Make sure everything is working or at least workable. Peter, you have the south passage. Let's move, gentlemen; we have less than an hour to make a decision."

Chief Executive Officer Guy Baytan made his way towards the north section of the ship. He and the three others had been drilled mercilessly on how to handle operations once they had arrived at their destination, but he knew that the order to proceed must come from him or, little by little, he would start to lose his authority.

Fifty-two minutes into their one-hour deadline, the four men met at the ship's central control room.

"Let's hear it," said Baytan.

They each delivered a concise report, detailing the condition of various parts and systems of the ship. When they were finished, Baytan concluded that they could proceed as planned.

"So far, so good. Francis, scramble a message to DSL that we are moving into phase two. Peter; prepare the satellite for release and have the back-up ready if it doesn't deploy correctly. Gary, let's set a course for this bird and begin taking surveillance photos of the surface, our current ones are eight months out of date. Gentlemen…" he made eye contact with each of his man, "Argyle Industries is on its way."

They shook hands with each other, as if they were friends, before heading to their assigned tasks.

The heat inside the main meeting chamber was stifling, a condition exacerbated by the fact that two thousand warm bodies had crowded their way inside in order to listen to their leader give his final address before landfall. Baytan stepped up to the microphone.

"I want to keep this very short and state the obvious," he began, "we are behind schedule. During transport, we overstepped our trajectory and ended up doing a fly-by Europa's sister moon Lo, which added another four months to our flight time. Thankfully, Europa and Lo came into sync and we stumbled back on course, or right now we might be trying to figure out how to get here. That having been said, our plans will need to be altered." He pointed a remote at an overhead projector and a map appeared which charted the territories of the various interests that were already on the moon. "Both Europa Corp. and Stellar, Inc. have jumped the gun on us. Together they control the southern regions of the resource field. This wasn't unexpected, but the Socialists have expanded their territory and laid claim to the entire northern region of the field, which we had hoped to develop. Effectively, we don't have any reason to be here."

There were murmurs in the audience and Baytan hesitated in his speech in order to exploit their fears before laying out his plans for them.

"Effectively, we don't have a reason for being here unless we're willing to fight for the mining franchise that is legally ours. Your planning committee considered landing at our designated site. That would put us smack dab in the middle of Socialist territory and leave us at their mercy. We considered landing further north, but then we would be pushed up against the territory of the Cult of Blue. All of this was considered…" he spoke in the muted tones of a salesman, "…but, nether of these options will work. We're landing here." He pointed with his light projector onto a small, insignificant section of land bordering on the River Z. "We considered going out and into the unknown regions in the hope of finding another claim like the resource field. If there's nothing there we'll be bankrupt in six months, so here is where we're going. It's a disputed piece of land between the Cult of Blue and the Righteous. Neither maintains enough military strength to be a threat. We'll establish our first base here" - he stabbed at a spot on the map with his finger" - and then expand the colony westward. We'll keep building bases, strengthening our colony, and then, when we're ready, we're going to push the Socialists out of the resource field and claim it as our own." He looked across the audience, waiting for their response.

"We'll be trapped between the Cult of Blue and the Righteous. What if they joined forces and attack us?"

"We'll be crushed."

"You've also got us jammed next to the Republicans and Monarchists, not to mention the Raiders, who are also along the north part of that land."

Baytan held his smile inside. Concerns had been voiced, but no other options had been offered. There was no other option.

"Listen," he waited before repeating himself, "listen, this is our only option. Your planning committee has gone over all the alternatives. The Cult of Blue and the Righteous are perpetually at war; there will be no pact between them. The River Z separates us from the Republicans and the Monarchists. If we hold fast to this idea, we can make it work."

He listened to them murmur among themselves and waited till they realized there was no other course of action. Then, quietly, he gave the order.

"Everyone is to be taken out of sleep. Prepare to land."

Chapter Two
December 14, 2022

It made no sense. John Stewart was certain that only old men died of pneumonia. His old man, his father, his daddy, had only been fifty-eight. Marvin Stewart had seemed in fair shape for a man approaching sixty, a little overweight, no regular exercise, but no real health problems. Stewart looked about his father's den in the family home. A row of cases stuffed with books in no particular order, cardboard boxes stacked in the corner. A computer perched on a well-worn desk. In his grief, John Stewart tried to burn into his memory all the details of the room he was about to disassemble. This would be the hardest task of all. The house was to be sold and the money from its' sale would be split between him and his sister. Taking apart the room, in which his father had spent so many hours of solitude, working away on his computer, would be the last step in extinguishing his father's presence from this world. Where did God put people when they died, he asked himself? He pulled out the chair from the desk and sat down. He would wait just a little. Hearing the news from his sister had been a shock; dealing with his father's lawyer and accountant over the estate had been mind-numbing; tearing apart the den would be sad; yesterday, at his father's office, had been squalid.

Stewart had gone to the building that housed the Super Service call-centre where his father had worked for over thirty years and met his father's supervisor, a man who wasn't yet in his thirties. Some words of consolation, followed by a question or two about the funeral, and then he was handed a cardboard box that he was to use to clear out the personal contents from his father's desk. A single cardboard box had been enough. The bitterness of his father's stalled business career settled upon him once he found his father's desk. Not inside an office, or in a cubical at the very least, but the last desk farthest from the window in a long row of desks organized into a bull pen on the office floor. The first thing he noticed was a poster he had made for his father when he was in the first grade: TO DAD - BE HAPPY - LOVE JOHNNY. Could anyone be happy in such a stark environment, he asked himself? A few pictures of him and his sister, the standard wedding pictures of his father and mother, nothing much of value. Reflecting back on it, John had been happy to leave his father's office.

He took another look around the den, then snapped on the computer. He decided to start deconstruction of the room by going though all of the computer files created by his father over the years. He considered the possibility he would find out what had happened to the novel his father had been working on for years, that he suspected had never been finished. The sound of the computer's soft buzzing noise as it accessed the information on its hard drive began to dominate the room.

To top of page

Chapter Three

He was barely able to stand. His body ached from the physical exertion he had put it through and his lungs felt hot and raw. He wheezed, trying to suck in oxygen. He had been shocked at the nature of the last challenge, but he had put aside his emotions and concentrated on completing the task successfully. Now, the horror of the challenge came back to hunt him and he had to fight to shut it out of his mind. He struggled to stand upright in front of his company's Vice President in charge of personnel.

"Guy, did you want to see a doctor?"

"Couldn't be better, sir."

"Glad to hear it. The president wants to see you."

Baytan groaned inside. He was exhausted, covered in sweat, and now, for the first time in his career, he was going to meet the man for whom he ultimately worked.

"This way."

He meekly followed the VP into a small conference room. Eric Benhamou, President and CEO of DSL International, Inc., sat on the corner of a table. He rose and extended his hand. Baytan shook hands, painfully aware that his palm was sweaty.

"It's an honor, sir."

"Walk with me Guy."

Benhamou walked out of the room and down a corridor that lead into an outside courtyard. They were alone.

"Do you pronounce your name the French way, or the English?"

"French, sir."

"Guy, I know the testing of the last two weeks has been difficult. I'm sure you're not certain which was harder, the physical or mental tests."

Baytan was about to say the mental testing, but stopped himself. Benhamou was making a speech and didn't want to be interrupted.

"Let me assure you, it's been worth it. You have been chosen for a unique offer."

Baytan held his breath.

"If you accept, you'll the first CEO of Argyle Industries, Inc. our company's new exploration company that will be assigned to Jupiter's Europa moon."

Baytan held on. The rush of being chosen for such an assignment was almost too much, but he waited, wanting to hear the benefits.

"You'll be given forty percent of Argyle's stock, DSL will hold fifty percent, and the remainder will go to the hundred-thousand colonists who will be accompanying you. You'll have to sign a commitment letter for ten years of service, which I'm sure doesn't worry a young man like you. Your authority will fall under the Planetary Governance Act; in essence, your word will be law to the colonists. In addition to resource extraction, you'll be responsible for establishing bases, exploration, territory claims, and technological development. At the end of ten years, the value of Argyle, less its start-up costs, will be assessed, and ten percent of its value will be paid out to you. You could become a very rich man. Later, in ten years, if you don't feel wealthy enough, you have an option to sign on for another tour of duty. I assume you're familiar with the standard commitment letter? And, you're aware that you prohibited from marrying or having children during your period of service?"

Baytan nodded yes. All of what Benhamou was saying was heady stuff. The first survey reports back from Europa indicated that the value of its mineral deposits would be somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-seven trillion dollars. If he could get even a fraction, he would be a billionaire. In ten years time he would be forty-two. Would it be worth it?

"How long do I have to think it over?"

"I'm asking you right now. It's either yes or no."

Baytan thought for a moment. He didn't know how this would end, but he knew that he had to gamble on what he was certain would be the biggest opportunity of his life.

"Where do I sign?"

"Great, Guy I knew that you were the right choice." Benhamou pumped Baytan's hand vigorously, his enthusiasm spreading to Baytan. "You'll leave in thirty days. Stellar, Inc. is launching its colony 1 rocket tomorrow, Europa Corp. is scheduled for next month. You'll have to get established pretty quickly because those two are going after the same prize as us. Our intelligence sources say that Stellar is sending up about one-hundred-and-fifty volunteers, IS speculates Europa maybe eighty. The hunt for resources and territory will make things pretty crowded. Of course, there are already other colonies on that little moon that aren't going to appreciate our quest for resource extraction, so your job won't be easy. Go clean up, have a snack in the cafeteria, and then met our core team in boardroom A at 1400 hours. They'll brief you on everything you need to know. And…"

"Yes, sir?"

"Good luck, Chief Executive Officer Guy Baytan."

The president saluted him and then walked away, leaving him alone with his thoughts in the courtyard.

"From what our Intelligence Sources have been able to confirm…" the man with a lab coat and black glasses droned on about the history and development of Europa, from its discovery in 1610 by the astronomer Galileo, to the terra-forming bombs launched by the Russian republic that had transformed its atmosphere nearly three hundred years ago. The lecture was uninspired, as was the instructor's female assistant. The only way Baytan was able to stay awake for the last three hours without a break, was to picture the two copulating. He had a hunch that if the two ever did mingle, it would be equally uninspired. Just when he thought he could no longer bear more of, "Jupiter is three-hundred-ninety million miles from earth, Europa is four-hundred-thousand miles from Jupiter and is just a little smaller then the planet Mercury…" he heard the words: "…eight groups have launched colony rockets, nine if you count last month's disaster that disintegrated on the launch pad. Stellar will be the first for profit association on Europa, followed by your little concern, Mr. Baytan."

The female assistant gave him a shy look that pleased Baytan. He knew he was already held in awe because of his assignment.

"Those eight associations were funded by various causes or communities and while they may not have the financial resources we have, they none the less could pose a threat to the success of your undertaking. Seven of the eight associations have built bases which, in accordance with their beliefs, they refer to by various terms. The Raiders are nomadic and have no permanent settlements." The man in the lab coat changed the slide in the projector and pointed at a series of portraits. "Here, in no particular order, they are: The Righteous, led by Jennie." A picture of a woman with fire-engine red hair, in her early fifties, stared down at Baytan. "I don't need to give you a history lesson, but the Righteous are composed of the last members of the religious cult of the same name that was outlawed here on Earth at the end of the doctrine war about thirty years ago. As part of the truce, the UN agreed to cover the costs of transporting their members to Europa. There was no agreement in place giving them exclusive domain over Europa, but they consider it theirs by divine right and have acted aggressively towards each successive colony. Remember that because they have blended together over seven different religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism, their belief system is difficult, if not impossible, for an outsider to interpret. They number about three hundred thousand members. They refer to their bases as parishes."

A button clicked and a blonde in her late twenties replaced Jennie, "Queen Europa," the man in the lab coat stifled a laugh, "became ruler, if I may use that word, when her father was assassinated by one of his own people. The Monarchists believe in a class system; unfortunately, every one of them feels that he or she should be next in line to be ruler. They number over fifty thousand and have access to incredible wealth that has allowed them to build very grand bases called towers."

Another click.

"Green-Truce, led by environmental extremist Cory Mead; they landed on Europa six months ago to end, as they put it, the exploitation of Jupiter's moon. They are poorly organized and have been attacked by other groups wanting what little territory they can hold. Maybe twenty-thousand members living in poorly constructed biospheres."

Mead disappeared, replaced by a young man with a heavily scared face. "Billy Truss who, for now, controls the Raiders. The Raiders are mercenaries who broke away from the Republicans, or, depending on whose story you believe, were forced out for being too extremist. They don't maintain bases, living instead in the caves that litter Jonathan's ridge on the northern section of Europa. They can be bought. My suggestion? Buy them off until you can build two or three bases and then tell them to stuff themselves. Possible thirty thousand members."


"The Socialists. Now, they're interesting. No one leader, rather a council. Die-hard Marxists. Not a bad sort, they live in communes which are poorly equipped. The one concern you'll have with them is they are great at propaganda and getting new converts. As soon as you land, they'll be visiting your workers. Pretty smart talkers, so don't discount them. At most, fifty thousand."

Baytan just nodded and continued taking notes on his handheld computer.

"Next, John Wayne Keller of the Republicans." The image of a rough frontiersman flashed on the screen. "Keller and his followers are determined to create a new self-styled, no rules, minimal government society occupying heavily fortified outposts. They hate the Monarchists and Green-Truce; they hunt the Socialists for sport. They've been successful in gathering large chunks of territory. Keep an eye out for all one-hundred thousand of them."

Another flash.

Empiricists, my personal favorite. A triad of three doctors guides them, Dr. James, Dr. Karman, and Dr. Spekar. They were certain they could create a utopian society based on pure logic and science. Two months ago, all of their research was re-directed to use for military applications in an attempt to drive off repeated assaults by the Righteous and the Cult of Blue, both whom view the Empiricists as a threat to their cultures. They started out with about seventy thousand members and are now down to about twenty-five thousand members. IS believes they have been forced to abandon some of their domes or bases. They won't last. You might have a good chance of picking up some of their pieces when they fall."

A couple of quick flashes past the presidents of Europa Corp. and Stellar, Inc. "You know all about them. The Cult of Blue." A woman with strong Indian features appeared on the screen. Baytan looked her over with interest. She was beautiful, but her deep blue hair, eyebrows, and eyes was unnatural.

"Remember, not everyone in the Cult of Blue is a lesbian as some of you spaceboys seem to think, although being a lesbian is not something they frown upon. Lila leads all two hundred thousand of them, mostly woman. They are brilliant at military technology and farming. Rumor has it that their bases, which they call keeps, are visually stunning. They have made it clear they are opposed to the introduction of corporate interests to the moon. They could pose a real problem for you, and of course, for your competitors Europa Corp. and Stellar Inc."

A final click and then the screen went blank before the lights came on in the room. "Any questions?"

Baytan shook his head to indicate no, and was about to stand.

"Your watch is interesting." The lab coat man had surprised him by taking an interest in it. "What is it, about three hundred years old?"

"Three-hundred and twenty."

"Why carry such an old thing?"

"It makes me feel that I have a link to the past. My great-great-great-grandfather bought it new."

"Really? Interesting. One last thing before you go, let us review some last minute updates on some of your equipment. Down this way please."

He led his assistant and Baytan into an adjacent room and stopped next to a robot soldier.

"As you can see, the combots your team will be using stand approximately three feet tall; they have a dual drive belts like a tank, which enables them to hike over extremely rugged territory. Each has a single extendable grappling arm, a full sensor array, and a pulsar gun system mounted on the top part of the unit. The range on the gun is accurate to within one hundred feet. They can be controlled individually or sequenced in groups of twenty-five. Range for the control module is two hundred feet; further than that and you risk losing your signal and control of the combot. Each combot runs on a single energy unit for a week."

He picked up a weapon that looked like a child's squirt gun. "You will be using a model SS7, a single blast pulsar gun that can kill at a range of fifty feet. It carries a rechargeable energy unit that is good for two hundred shots. Be careful not to overload the chamber, if you do, the unit will explode." He walked a couple of feet and placed his hand on top of a small hovercraft, about six meters wide by ten meters long. "We couldn't arrange enough of the new combat hovercrafts so we made some modifications to the model you will be using. It can carry up to seven passengers with a top speed of seventy kilometers an hour and a unit that can last about seventy-two hours before it needs a new set of three energy credits. Finally, here is the energy unit that you will be using; it's a Eternity 3."

The men in the lab coat handed a plastic case the size and thickness of a bubble-gum card to Baytan.

"It's not the latest, but some of the machines being used and developed on Europa wouldn't handle any of our newer energy units. Since there is no central government, there is no central bank, so energy units serve as Europa's unofficial currency. You can trade units with anyone up there. The Eternity 3 is rated at a 055 level, which means…"

"That it can provide enough power for a medium-sized base for one hour." Baytan finished the explanation for his presenter.

"Well, since you're now up to snuff on Europa, I'll let you go. If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to contact me or my assistant."

To top of page

Chapter Four
May 7, 2000

"Sweetheart, it'll only be for a little while. When we get our finances settled you could go back and finish your degree, then apply for architecture school. Just a little while, you'll see."

The words scorched Marvin Stewart's memory as he stood in the cold rain waiting for a bus that should have come fifteen minutes ago. The second anniversary of "just a little while" had come yesterday to gnaw at his ambitions and to remind him how quickly time passed.

It started when Margaret, then his fiancée, now his wife, spotted an ad in the local paper notifying the public that a Super Service Call Centre was opening in New Westminster and that operators were required, no experience necessary. She told him that since she had graduated and had a job lined-up for the fall, he should consider taking a break from school, take a job and pay down some of his debts; then he could return to school, after they were married. He countered by saying that she knew an engineering degree took five years when she met him, and she knew he would have another two years of architecture school after that, couldn't she just wait three more years? Her weeping had forced him to fill out an application.

Today, he had almost had enough. Enough of Fat Boy and Richard, enough of Finn and Johnny, enough of his condescending supervisor, and just plain enough of phone call, after phone call, after phone call. He called his wife on a payphone around the corner from his office outside a small grocery store and was about to tell her he was going back to the office to quit when she said these words over the phone: "We're pregnant." He had put on his biggest happy face smile and returned to work. Now he stood waiting for the bus.


Guy Baytan walked in solitude along the road that the engineers were building. Occasionally, he would glance up and look on in wonder at the planet Jupiter that seemed to engulf the entire sky of Europa.

Has it already been a month, he asked himself? He looked back at Argyle Base 1 and was happy with the progress that was being made on the building of the solid titanium walls around the base. Most of the temporary defense walls were already gone, loaded on to shuttles in preparation for being transported to the proposed site of Argyle Base 2, and only a couple of sections of the temporary walls could be seen.

We have to be ready, must be ready, he insisted to himself. The reports from the scouting parties had not been favorable. Despite reports dismissing them as a harmless mixed religious cult, the Righteous were well organized and highly militarized. Their scientists had developed hairless humanoid soldiers that were completely indoctrinated for battle.

In the last three months, the Righteous had clashed twice with the Cult of Blue and had been victorious in both battles. He felt a chill while remembering the details of a report gasped out by a dying scout. The Righteous used thin tubes of plastic as horns in order to communicate in battle. By blowing into the tubes they could make a whining sound just before they attacked.

The scout had said the Righteous were a people without mercy. Baytan looked down at the green waters of the River Z. Despite some reservations, the site that was chosen for Argyle Base 1 was almost perfect: close to a water supply that would double as a transportation system, undetected by the Socialists, and ignored by the Righteous and the Cult of Blue, who were once again locked into their own conflict.

The land had turned out to be extremely fertile. Baytan reached the river and found a large rock on which to sit, then stared across the water. In forty-eight, hours he would order three colony pods towards their destinations.

Pod A would cross the river and travel thirty miles into the territory disputed by both the Righteous and the Cult of Blue. Once Pod A had established Argyle Base 2, its colony leader was to make contact with the Raiders.

Pod B would travel north and establish Base 3, while Pod C was to travel as far south as possible and establish Base 4.

Baytan considered which group, the Monarchists or the Republicans, would pose the greater threat to Base 4. It made little difference; in three weeks time he would order a direct assault against the Socialists. His troops would either liberate the land they needed next to the resource field, or, they would lose fifty percent of their colony's population in the attempt. Either way, Bases 2, 3, and 4 were on their own.

Stewart was trying to be polite, despite Finn's incessant muttering on socialist doctrine. The lunchroom was crowded and Stewart was trying to work on his novel while appearing to listen to Finn.

"And you know what that means?"

"What?" The question had taken him off guard.

"Aren't you listening?" Finn's sense of indignation was spilling out, infecting those around him.

"You see, that's what your problem is;" he continued to lecture Stewart, though his topic had now changed, "you ask how someone is doing and then you pretend to listen to what someone says while in fact you're ignoring him."

"He doesn't want to listen to your weird talk," interrupted Fat Boy, who was shoveling tuna-fish casserole into his mouth.

"Who asked you?"

"You did, with your loud complaining."

Stewart quietly got up from the table and left, unnoticed by either Finn or Fat Boy. He tried to find an unoccupied corner of the office in which he could hold two thoughts together long enough to get them on to paper, but he was becoming increasingly frustrated in his attempt to write a book. He had struggled away for two years and barely had more then a hundred pages to show for his efforts. He was certain that if he could go somewhere alone - perhaps a cabin in the woods - he would be able to finish his work in six months. The continual noise and interruptions were eroding his commitment and he decided that he need to take a break from writing. He returned to his desk and dropped his manuscript into an envelope, which he placed into his briefcase, unaware that The Spider's Lair would never escape the confines of its manila tomb.


Corporate Log: Guy Baytan, CEO Argyle Industries, Inc.:
The worst has happened. Argyle Base 8 fell to the Righteous today at 0430. There were no longer enough combots to hold the base, so I ordered evacuation of non-management personal at 0300. All research data was transferred by statcom. The farmland just inside the perimeter wall was torched. The management team left by shuttle to Argyle Base 9 shortly before the humanoid soldiers of the Righteous breached the perimeter gate. Jennie has sent a statcom transmission proclaiming that she has renamed the base Righteous Fury and is now advancing towards Argyle Base 9. IS reports that the Righteous are incubating three hundred humanoid soldiers a day, in contrast to our production of fifty combots a day. I fail to understand how she has the resources to maintain such a production rate. The war effort is crippling our economy. IS also indicates there has been troop movement around both Queen's Tower 23 and Keep No. 19. IS believes that the Righteous completed their jihad against the Empiricists about two or three days ago, and possibly exterminated what was left of that colony. There have been no statcom transmissions from the Empiricists in over two weeks. I have tried to contact Jennie, but she is ignoring my statcom transmissions. I have tried to get in touch with the Cult of Blue. If the Monarchists, Cult of Blue, and we are to survive, we must form an alliance against the Righteous. I have devised a plan: I will send a single ship, the Aurora, to New Nirvana in an attempt to blow up their power generators. If successful, this blow should cripple the Righteous long enough for us to rebuild. Queen Europa has demanded I met with her tonight at Queen's Tower 3. Alone.


He was exhausted, but he knew the feeling would pass and he had no intent of missing what was coming next.

"Gary, read the proclamation and have them hoist the pennant."

Gary looked at Baytan, surprised, then delighted.

"But, it's your honor, sir."

"And, as the CEO of Argyle Industries, I pass it on to you."

"Me? Colony leader?"

"You heard me mister. Read the proclamation."

It took Gary a couple of seconds to gain his composure at his battlefield promotion. Once his nerves had steadied, he took to a makeshift podium. He signaled to two soldiers standing at the ready, and, as they raised the flag of Argyle Industries, a Silver Star on a black background, he called out in a loud voice.

"I Thaddeus Elliot Gary, as first colony leader of this commune formerly known as Leningrad II, declare it is now under the operation of Argyle Industries Incorporated and it shall henceforth be known as Argyle Base 5. Furthermore, I have a dispatch informing me that the communes of New Havana and Workers Paradise are now under our company's authority and shall now be known as Argyle Bases 6 and 7. We have extended our territory ninety miles to the east and control the entire north region of the resource field…."

The cheering of the crowd drowned out the rest of Gary's speech. Argyle Industries now had a reason for being on Europa.

The cheering subsided as the crowd listened in anticipation: the presenter waited for her cue before almost yelling the words as she read them from the card she had ripped free from the envelope, "And the award for best actor goes to … Gummy Bear…."

"Oh, he's so good-looking," gushed one of Margaret's friends. Stewart took a long draw on his beer to hide his annoyance. They had held a cookout for six other couples at the house and later, at the instance of his wife and her friends, they were now watching the movie awards. Stewart knew that all the other men in the room secretly wanted to watch the hockey game, but not one of them had the nerve to suggest changing the channel on the television. He thought he would quietly anaesthetize himself by getting drunk and realized too late that even beer wouldn't shut out the continual "oohs and ohhs" of the women in the room as they chattered and gossiped about people they didn't even know. The tone in the room became almost unbearable when Gummy Bear was announced as the new hottest, young male actor. Stewart thought to himself about the twenty million dollars that Gummy had been paid to star in a film so bad that Stewart had struggled to walk out of it, though Margaret stopped him. Then he saw her for the first time.

"Who's that?" He pointed with his bottle at blonde who appeared on the twenty-inch screen.

"Oh her," answered a voice, "she's ugly and I hear she is a real bag."

Stewart ignored the comment staring at what he was certain was the most physically beautiful woman he had ever seen. He noticed his wife's disapproving glance and decided to head into the kitchen under the pretext of refreshing everyone's drinks. As he walked out of the living room he heard a voice say, "poor Gummy, did you hear how he sent a Senator's daughter one thousand red roses and she still wouldn't go out with him…."

"She must be insane."

"Some men really are romantic, not like some slugs I know," said Margaret, clueless at how badly she was wounding her husband.

Stewart remained in the kitchen, suddenly wishing he were alone until he changed his mind and wished that he could be at either his son's violin recital or his daughter's soccer game, or both.

He pulled another beer out of the fridge.

She always remembered the first time she saw him. Anxious to develop allies in order to stave off the on-going aggression of the Republicans, she had made arrangements to meet with John Blackmore of Europa Corp. The journey had been difficult: her party had had to travel to the south end of her territory and enter into the unknown lands to make the trip around Republican territory, since trespassing through it was too dangerous. Once, she and her entourage were forced by a dust storm to come dangerously close within three miles of Republican outpost Freedom. Three days later, they arrived at E-Base, Europa Corp.'s home base, and met with Blackmore. He had been receptive to her, but he explained that he always had to consider his most immediate concerns, and those had forced him into an agreement with his neighbors, the Republicans. She tried to bargain, but she had nothing, he claimed, that interested him. He was cordial enough, and reassured her that he would allow her safe passage back to the south section of his territory so she could make the journey back home though the unknown lands. Blackmore was just about to offer to allow the queen to stay the night when an explosion rocked the compound outside his office. He ran to the outdoor terrace attached to his office, the queen just behind him.

"Damn it, I knew it."

The queen pushed against him, struggling to see past the big man, just in time to see the main gates of the base collapse.

"What is this?" she asked, panicking at the thought that the Republicans had double-crossed her host.

"Baytan," he snarled at her, "I didn't think he had the guts." Then he was running into his room, shouting orders at his aides.

She looked down on the main compound, at the combots over-running Europa Corp.'s guards. A combat hovercraft buzzed past her. It was the first time she saw him. Baytan stood in the prow of the craft, a laser gun in one hand, a fighting ax in the other, clad in black combat pants and boots, heavy gloves on his hands. He wore only a mesh leather shirt that allowed her to see his upper torso with its heavy muscles and the scars that ran down his arms. His hair was cropped short and his face had a look of animal cunning. He yelled orders to his men and their combots. She thought he had crazy eyes. She watched as he landed on the ground just in front of Blackmore's office. One of his men scooped the black flag of Argyle Industries off the front of the hovercraft and fell in line behind Baytan as he led his troops towards one of the guards' barracks. The queen took a final glance.

"We have to leave here," she said to one of her retainers.

Today had been a great day for Marvin Stewart. Clutching two bags filled with toys for his son and daughter, he couldn't keep an idiotic smile off his face. He was still having a hard time believing his luck in finding a hundred-dollar bill on the ground while waiting for the bus. He knew Margaret would be cross with him for blowing the entire amount on toys for the kids, but he didn't care. For the first time in a long time, he actually had something to smile about on his trip home from work.

They arrived home at Queen's Tower 3 four days later, without incident, despite having been spotted by Republican frontiersmen. When she was finally able to raise Europa Corp. on their statcom frequency, she learned the reason why her party had been unmolested while passing by Republican territory.

Blackmore's next in command had answered her query.

"Where is John Blackmore?"

"Dead," came the answer from the second-in-command, who hesitated before mumbling, "Argyle Industries has snatched half our lands, we've been shut out of the resource field. Baytan has gained control of two of our bases; we destroyed a third while it was under siege. I have asked the Republicans to honor our agreement with them and help us gain back our lands and bases. They have agreed with one provision."

"What is all this to me and my subjects?"

"I want you to agree not to attack the Republicans' western border while we unite for an assault against Argyle Industries."

She was stunned. The offer would have to have enormous potential.

"What do you offer in return for my favor?"

"You only need to name it, your majesty."

The queen weighed her options.

"I will contact you tomorrow at the same time with my decision."

Blackmore's second started to protest, but was cut short when the queen terminated her transmission. She asked herself if contacting Guy Baytan were with the risk. A plan began to form in her mind. If she could get Argyle Industries to support her, and if, she could make a deal with Truss of the Raiders, she would be able to secure her colony against the Republicans and begin her war against the Empiricists. She made her decision, then clicked a switch on her command console.

"Centurion, move our satellite forward by six degrees, we need to monitor some of the newer band width transmissions. I want to make contact with Argyle Industries … and put together a scout party, I want to send an envoy to the Raiders." She flicked off the switch, very pleased with herself.

"Who is Guy Baytan?"

Stewart looked at his six-year old son staring up at him with his soft blue eyes and wondered how to answer the question.

"Someone who works like a dog every day to get ahead, which is what you should be doing with your homework there." Stewart was pleased with the answer he had given.

"Is he a success? Is that why you say I should try hard like him? If you work hard are you always a success?"

Stewart sighed inwardly. "Yeah, he's a success alright. You have to work hard to be successful, but you also need to get a lucky break at times too. Enough about him though, it's time to settle down and do your homework."

To top of page

Chapter Five

Stewart placed the receiver of the telephone back in its cradle. It was five o'clock on a Friday morning, and his wife and children were still asleep. He would wake them in two hours just as he was leaving for work and would smile and hug them and pretend that everything was right in his world even though he had just been turned down for his federal government business development loan. Without the loan, the bank would never agree to advance him the additional funds needed for his business, and he and his partners just did not have access to enough capital to start their project. He went over and over his proposal to the FGBD agency in his mind, and could not understand why they had agreed to the proposal all the way, until the point where they had to actually cut a cheque for the funds. He had been certain that he was going to start buying equipment for the business this weekend. He did not know what to do with himself. Two years of research and development wasted, his money and his partners' money, the five o'clock starts every morning so that he would have quiet time to work on the business plan. Wasted, all wasted. He knew he would talk to the partners about appealing the decision, while at the same time he realized that none of them would have the will to continue. He had to continue alone if necessary, since there was no way he could continue to endure work at the call centre. He asked himself, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?

Anger raged inside John Wayne Keller as he stood behind a row of mortars and watched as they discharged blast after blast of electronic charge into the air above Argyle Industries' combots. It was useless, he concluded, taking another drag of cranberry rum from his silver flask. The Monarchists and their slut queen had breached his western border at 0200 this morning, coordinating their attack with support from the Raiders. He cursed himself again for not flushing his breakaway rivals from their cave dwellings when he had the opportunity, but he had been sentimental and weak. He gazed up at the sun: it was almost noon, and Baytan and his forces had crossed over the River Z two hours ago and were preparing to link up with the Monarchists and the Raiders. How quickly the tide of war changes he reminded himself. For two days his frontiersmen, with support from what was left of the Europa Corp. guards, had advanced unchallenged into Argyle Industries territory, secure in the knowledge that Queen Europa had agreed to set aside their differences temporarily. Everything had changed this morning.

Another volley sounded, and Keller decided he would wait another hour before pulling back and conceding land.

"Come-on, put your hearts into it," he roared at his men, furious that he had been blind to such a trap.

"Five-hundred combots and a homeland," demanded Billy Truss of the Raiders.

The queen listened on the sidelines to the debate raging between Truss and Baytan. She felt very smug and had to focus herself to keep a smile from her face as the three of them spoke on their statcom links.

"Two-hundred and fifty combots and a homeland," Baytan thundered back at Truss.

"How about, how about I forget our little deal and forge a new one with our Republican friends?"

Baytan forced a laugh.

"They'll never take you back now. The Queen has you out of her territories, I've reinforced my position on the resource field, and the only one holding the bag is you. You have to hold your newly acquired territory. I've finished mining my section of the River Z so I don't have to worry about you, only about what's left of Europa Corp. Go ahead, make a deal with the Republicans."

"Three-hundred combots."


The queen turned her face away from the video camera so that Truss would not see her expression. I'm so very glad I contacted Baytan first, she thought. Brilliant for him to suggest that we offer the Raiders their own territory carved out of the northern section of Republican land. Like greedy little pigs they had abandoned their cave outposts in Jonathan's ridge in Monarchist territory. When the last of the Raiders had left, she had ordered her borders closed. Now, it was just as Baytan had told her it would be: the Republicans had been greatly weakened and the Raiders were fenced in, forced to concentrate on defending the only place they could now call home, a territory they could barely protect. She looked back at the images on her console and enjoyed looking at Baytan. I want to meet this man in the flesh, she told herself.

The applause in the room was loud and enthusasitc. Stewart watched as his son stepped back from the music board and bowed to the audience and then scanned the room and bowed specifically at him. A special bow, a bow that let Stewart know that his son was thanking him for getting him where he was today. Stewart put his hand over his heart and made a motion as though he were throwing his heart at his son. People might despise and look down on him, but he knew that no one could say anything against his son, the only triple gold medal winner in his class; or against Stewart's daughter, who had been voted MVP for the fifth consecutive time by her soccer association. All the time, effort, and expense had paid off. His son would enter university on a partial scholarship in September and his sister would follow him in two years, if everything kept going according to plan. He was just a little worried about the rumored tuition fee increases, but he put the thought aside and basked silently in his son's glory. He realized for the briefest of moments that he might not have achieved much in his own life, but he was helping his children achieve their dreams and while he watched his son's fingers move across the fingerboard of his instrument, he realized that his son's dream of playing lead with a symphony did not seem so ridiculous.

Baytan held up his field glasses and surveyed the carnage. Four months of fighting to gain twenty miles of territory and one base. He was not sure it had been worth it. He scanned the field and watched as his combots slaughtered the last of the Righteous humanoid warriors. A noise distracted him; he dropped his glasses and looked down to see a half-dead humanoid with no legs crawling towards him. No wonder Francis calls them freaks, he thought: black eyes, albino skin, retarded mentally, possessed by the single impulse to kill anyone or anything that was not either humanoid or had its hair dyed red like every member of the Righteous. Baytan, repulsed, watched it drag itself along the ground. He gave it a few seconds, then lifted his pulsar gun and shot it in the face, killing it for sport. He raised his glasses again. He would have the Righteous base Celeste renamed Argyle Base 8 and would have Argyle Base 9 built twenty-five miles northwest of it. Base 9 would have to be heavily fortified; he knew the Righteous would be back once they had grown more humanoids.

The room was very quiet as Baytan and his management team listened to the report from IS. Transmissions stolen from the Cult of Blue confirmed that the one time enemy of the Righteous had agreed to a truce with them.

"In conclusion, we are certain that Base 9, in its current situation will only be able to hold out for another three weeks at most." The IS officer finished his report and looked about the room. "I'm sorry I don't have better news."

"It's okay," Baytan answered for the group. "Set-backs are to be expected." He smiled. "Send a dispatch to Base 9's colony leader; tell her to transmit all data, remove all energy units, and start evacuation."

"We're just going to give them the base?" someone asked.

"Give it away? No. We're just going to loan it to them for a little while."

"They'll use it as a jump-off point to go after Base 8. We should order Base 9 destroyed."

"No, bases cost too much money to just write them off like that. It's more cost efficient to abandon it and then take it back later. The real problem is their truce with the Cult of Blue; while both groups were at each other's throats, we didn't have a problem. Now, well, I'm certain we're going to have a problem holding our northeast sector unless we find a way to break that truce. Any suggestions?"

The room was silent.

"The Queen's envoy desires an audience!"

It was a meaningless ritual, but Baytan knew decorum demanded the pronouncement.

"Have the envoy enter."

He stood up and moved away from his desk and brushed some lint away from his shirtsleeve before looking-up, mortified. He had heard they existed, but he had never believed, it wasn't sensible to think of their being real.

"You're an angel," he blurted out the words.

The strange figure before him smiled an odd half-moon smile.

"Your eyes do not deceive you CEO. Her Royal Highness, Queen Europa, has sent me. She requests your presence."

"For what reason?"

"Her reasons are her majesty's."

"I see. Where and when does she request my presence?"

"Queen's Tower 3. You alone."

Baytan laughed. It was too obvious a ploy. "And why should I go alone?"

"As a sign of good faith, she offers my services in perpetuity."

"No? Really? How can she offer the labour of someone forever - no wonder the Republicans hate her."

"She is my queen. I honor her by serving her and recognizing her wishes."

Baytan thought the proposal over. Having an angel for an adviser would be invaluable. Who would the Queen plot with anyway? We're the only territory that touches her borders that she is not in conflict with.

"If I agree to go, do you promise to stay here and not use your…" he was about to say powers, but changed his mind, "…abilities to leave without my permission or the permission of my second-in-command?"

"I've told you, I am your servant. I promise to stay until you or your second releases me."

Baytan rubbed a spot on his chin where the razor had missed. So strange looking, everyone talks about them, but so few have seen them."

"Do you come from God? If so, why not serve the Righteous, they claim to being doing the Lord's work?"

"I came as a servant of the Queen. What is your answer?"

Baytan noticed the angel had grown in size.

"What name do they call you by?"

"You may call me Quid. Yes or no?"

Baytan guessed Quid had grown from being about five-foot-five when he first entered the room, to now being close to seven feet.


Quid slowly shrank back to six feet.

March 15, 2008

Stewart rolled his chair back from his desk. He was not too sure if he would continue playing the game on-line. He had loaded the on-line option yesterday and gone to the game's web-site, but no one had joined him; then today, out of nowhere, a player showed up and wanted to serve as his guide. Did not ask, just jumped into Stewart's game. Stewart was not particularly comfortable with this new on-line friend, this Quid, who appeared as an angel icon on his screen. Stewart touched his pause button, wondering if maybe Quid was out to steal some of his energy units or territory and was leading him astray. He used his mouse to move into a different area of Deluxe Game's website and began checking to see if Quid had properly registered.

"Hmm, a cop. Didn't expect that," Stewart said out-loud to the empty room. I think I'll still have a talk with him. He pressed the resume key and then clicked on the Send a message icon on the screen.

"Would like a private word with you in chatroom E-3, please advise," he typed.

The screen then flashed an answer.

"Sure old girl."

The pair emailed each other back and forth for the better part of half an hour, Stewart taking an instant liking to his new long-distance friend. He heard Margaret call from down the hall, "Come to bed Marv," and typed in a final message.

"Play again tomorrow?"

"I play every day, talk to you tomorrow."

As he passed the last peak of Jonathan's Ridge, Baytan again contemplated the idea of sending a couple of units to hide out in the deserted caves that had been used by the Raiders. He looked at the grey landscape of the sand desert that ran parallel to the West Side of the ridge. In another fifteen minutes he would be across the desert and Queen's Tower 3 would be visible. He passed the time by listening to selections of Mozart and Brahms whom he, and everyone else born after the year 2190, believed was one and the same composer on the radio and punching the landing code into his assault hovercraft's computer. He had been directed to land inside the inner gate, a rare distinction for anyone other then royalty. When he finished programming, he checked the charge of his pulsar gun. He would hold it in his hand as he landed. He increased his speed.

"Why are you so mean?"

The words awoke Baytan from his half-sleep, his eyes flickering open to see the queen tracing patterns on the muscle in his left biceps. He looked her over while he thought about a response. Her hair was blonde in both places and her eyes were green. She was very slender, which he did not like since it made her breasts too small.

"I was eightyears old when the barcode virus destroyed a quarter of the North American economy, a year later the boricellious hit. Boricillious was the grain plague…"

"Yes, I know what borcillious is…"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to say you were ignorant."

"No, it's alright. Continue your story."

"Well, between no one's having any money and all grain-based food products becoming uneatable, everyone was starving, including my family. My mother died of starvation. See, she was pregnant at the time, there just wasn't enough food for her and the baby. My dad tried to save her; he didn't eat for two months once, made sure me and my brother and my mother ate, but it wasn't enough. When she died, he buried her in our backyard; he didn't want to risk taking her to a morgue and having someone steal her corpse for food."

"That is so sick."

"It happened though, people deny it now, but it happened."

"Please change the topic … tell me about you and your brother and father."

"When I was twelve and my brother was fourteen, my dad was killed when he tried to stop some men from stealing food from our greenhouse. From then on, I was raised by my older brother and our robot."

"You had a robot? Why didn't your father sell it?"

"He refused, he always maintained we needed it for security. It went on a rampage when it discovered my dad had been killed by the thieves and killed two of the men, the others just barely managed to get away."

"So you're saying the reason why you're so cold is because you were raised by a robot and your brother?"

"No, that's not all it. The robot kept breaking down, I had to fix it all the time."

"So is that why you're a whiz at mechanics?"

"I guess so." He slid his hand down the curve of her side. "He, I mean the robot, knew that time was against him so he kept scanning the Internet when we went to bed at night, he would stay up, burning out his batteries searching, always searching. Philip and I could never figure out what he was searching for, then this one day a Jesuit showed up at our house."

The queen pulled away from him, "I thought you were going to be honest with me and here you are weaving make believe stories."

"No, I am not joking. This guy really was a Jesuit."

"They're a myth, they haven't existed for two-hundred years, if they existed at all."

"Well, this guy said he was one. He took my brother and me to a monastery and raised us there until we were old enough to apply for positions at DSL International. My brother was killed during one of the core extraction attempts in Siberia."

"That's a very sad story. Doesn't really answer my question. Why do you act the way you do? You're so cold, very cold; everything you do is calculated."

"Try not eating for weeks on end when you're a kid."

She raised her eyebrows at him.

"I have to leave soon, and you're going to want to barter a deal, so before that happens, did you want to go for another round?" he asked.

"You talk like you're asking me if I want to play another round of tennis?"

"Cut the crap. We both had fun last night. Yes or no?"

She started to kiss him, a little angry with herself and a little angry at him.

He was making excellent time on his hovercraft and had almost reached Jonathan's Ridge when the music on the radio shut off and an alarm sounded from the proximity device. He clicked a button to shut off the device and started to scan the horizon using his field glasses. Three hovercrafts appeared on the horizon to his left, coming in fast to intercept him. He increased his speed and raised his glasses to get a look at their occupants. All three were manned by humanoids. He was about to swerve to put distance between himself and the approaching craft when he felt as if he had been slapped backwards. There was a horrible crunching noise and he fell forward onto his controls. He just had time to see that the rear, right corner of his craft had been torn apart, before he started to go into an unintentional dive-bomb. He tried in vain to right his craft and was rewarded by being blinded by the smoke that poured from its engine. Baytan just had time to correct the pitch of his craft when everything went black.

He awoke to find himself lying on the sand staring up at a man about the same age as himself with flaming red hair.

"Well CEO, I'm glad you survived."

Baytan tried to stand, but was pushed back down by one of the three humanoids that surrounded him.

"No, no, no. Must be patient. You have to ask permission, can't just do things on your own, now that you're our prisoner."

"Can I get up?"

"I don't know, can you?"

"May I get up then?"


The struggle to stand was difficult; both his legs were numb and his back was very stiff. He looked over at his hovercraft and was surprised to see another craft about twenty feet away that had similar damage. It took a moment for the reality of what had happened to sink in.

"Did you know we've been following you since you left Queen's Tower 3?"

"You rammed me with your own hovercraft? Are you stupid or just nuts?"

"No, no, no. I had to catch you CEO; Jennie would have had my head if I made the mistake of letting you get away. I knew that a couple of cannon shots might not do the trick, so I aimed right at you and then jumped out. Pretty tricky don't you think?"

"Pretty idiotic if you ask me. Who are you anyway?"

"I'm Meadford. You can call me Sir or Master, now that you're our prisoner."

"Like hell I will."

"You will once you meet with Jennie."

"I'm sure it won't change a thing. My people will soon be out looking for me."

"So we'd best get going."

Baytan felt an electric charge in his shoulder. He pulled away from the pain and saw one of the humanoid laughing stupidly at him while holding a metal rod.

"This way," Meadford gestured towards one of the hovercraft. Baytan hesitated. "Don't make me make them kill you. Not yet, at least. "

"You have something of mine."

Jennie paced back and forth in front of Baytan. Her agitation seemed to be increasing, leaving Baytan uncertain as to how he should respond. He sat upon an ottoman, his arms bound behind him, his legs bound in front of him.

"What is it you claim I have of yours? The resource fields are rightfully ours."

"I'm not talking about the resource fields," she screamed at him, "I want that thing!"

"That thing? You're not getting all sexual on me now, are you Jennie?"

"Your humor is not funny and I find it offensive. I don't think you realize the precariousness of your situation."

"Then stop talking in riddles."

"I want that thing the Queen gave you."

"That thing?" Baytan wasn't trying to be antagonistic, but he couldn't figure out what Jennie wanted.

"The angel," she roared at him.


"Yes, Quid." She gained her composure now that her demand was understood.

"Why? He doesn't do anything, he doesn't fly around, and he gives crappy advise and cheats at chess."

Jennie stopped pacing in front of Baytan. "He has an intrinsic value that you, with your love of money and loose morals would never understand."

"What? That he cheats at chess?"

"Give him to me!"

Baytan was quiet. He knew the time for bargaining had come.

"Destroy all your humanoids, all the equipment you use for making them. Hand over your science research team to me - they'll be well looked after. Sign a pact of non-aggression with me."

"Is that all you want?"

"No. I also want the parishes of Godhead and Rapture."

"So you can later over-run me and take my lands. No deal."

"I'm not interested in your lands, I'm interested in the resource field and security. If I know that you have no way of being a threat, then I have my security and you can have your angel."

"I'll sign a pact of non-aggression in exchange for Quid, but nothing else."

"Do you think I'm dumb enough to trust you over a little paper?"

"Funny how you demand that I trust you. I need my humanoids."

"Why? Are they easier to convert to your goofy red religion?" Baytan regretted the words when the tone in Jennie's voice changed.

"Blasphemy. I knew it would be useless trying to bargain with you. You don't like my little pets…" she placed her hand on the shoulder of a humanoid guard. "Meadford, show him first hand how we turn a blasphemer into a humanoid."

A humanoid dropped a leather leash around Baytan's neck, and pulled it tight before he could protest. He was half-dragged and half-carried out of the room before he could make a counter-offer to Jennie.

To top of page

Chapter 6

"Is this the best we can do?" Margaret looked around the fifty-year old house that easily fell within the category of "fixer-upper."

"Sorry dear, $350,000 doesn't buy much nowadays."

"It's just, you're not much of a handy-man. Won't we spend tons of money just fixing it up?"

"It's either this or something similar. That, or move out of the city."

"I suppose."

Stewart could read the disappointment in her voice, but how could he comfort her if he wasn't any happier than she was about the type of house that they could afford to buy.

"It'll be okay dear."

"If you think so."

"Wake-up, wake-up."

Baytan felt a hand thump him on the chest.

"The treatments are going to start again soon."

Baytan shook himself awake. After being thrown into a communal jail cell last night, he decided to take some sleep because it appeared that nothing further would happen to him until the morning. The warning from one of his fellow inmates awoke him instantly, with all of his senses on edge.

"Treatments, old man? What are you talking about?"

"The treatments to turn you into a humanoid. It's horrible, a fright."

Baytan looked at the man more closely and realized that he had red eyes and his hair was turning white.

"Who are you old man?"

"Banovich, I'm, or I mean I was, with the Empiricists. They captured me three months ago while I was on the sand desert checking the orbit of Jupiter out. Who are you?"

"Never mind. Has anyone ever not been turned into a humanoid by their treatments?"

"I don't know, after a certain point they never return you to this cell. One of my friends, who was captured with me, became more and more like one of them. Then one day he never returned."

"Where do they get the rest of the warm bodies for treatment? Volunteers?"

"All from prisoners. But, they kill all the female members of the Cult of Blue and only convert the males. The females don't convert well."

"Really?" Baytan was already ignoring the rest of the man's blathering. He thought at first that Jennie was trying to frighten him into giving up Quid; now he wasn't so sure, and he decided it was time to find an exit.

"Old man, do you know the way out of this place? Can you lead me to the outside walls?"

"Yes, but there's no way past the humanoids. Oh god, here they come."

"Stick to me, we're getting out."

Baytan undid the fly in his combat pants and tore into the lining just below his left buttock toward the inside of his leg. In the years that he had witnessed prisoners patted down for contraband, he noticed that the guards were typically lazy and usually missed that particular spot on a prisoner. Meadford had taken away his shoelaces and belt, but he hadn't made him remove his pants, so the hidden kit had gone unnoticed. In short order, Baytan had pried open the kit, replaced his shoelaces with bits of string so that his boots would stay tight on his feet, and assembled a small pulsar gun with only one charge. In his hand he held two thimble-sized grenades. He started munching on the protein bar included in the kit.

"Can I have a bit? I'm awfully hungry."


Baytan finished the bar and began calculating his moves. Two of the humanoid jailers appeared at the gate, one standing back with a pulsar gun while the other started to unlock the gate to the jail cell. As soon as the gate was unlocked, Baytan threw a grenade under the gate blasting apart the humanoids and making the ground shake.

"Come-on, let's go," he ordered Banovich. He paused to check the pulsar guns of the dead jailers, one was destroyed, but he picked up the other, along with a fighting axe and one of the plastic tubes.

"Which way?" He fell in behind Banovich, who rushed down a maze of hallways, thirty prisoners following them. A sentry tried to stop them and was stopped when Baytan shot him between the eyes. Banovich pushed against a door.

"This is the way to the outside, but it's locked."

"Stand back." Baytan used the last of his grenades to open the door. The prisoners started to flood out into the daylight.

"Wait," Baytan grabbed Banovich by the arm, "take this tube, you use it as a horn. Lead the men around the corner and blow into it. It'll fool the humanoids and scare them away."

In too much of a hurry to think, Banovich grabbed the tube and began blowing into it while running in the direction indicated by Baytan. The rest of the prisoners stepped into line like sheep and followed. Baytan held back then ran in the opposite direction. He looked over his shoulder only once, and saw the humanoids swarming towards the sound of the horn, ready to clash with the weaponless prisoners. He jumped aboard an unguarded hovercraft, managed to start and then accelerated thirty feet straight up into the air. He checked his direction then sped away at the craft's top speed.

Stewart clicked on the Send a message icon on the screen and asked Quid to meet him in chatroom B-9.

"You seem to know an awful lot about God. You list your occupation as being a police officer, were you a minister at one time?"


The abrupt answer was disconcerting to Stewart. He responded.

"If you were never a minister or something similar, how is it you seem to know so much about philosophy?"

"It interests me. You didn't pause the game just to ask - what is on your mind?"

"I wish I knew more about religion. For example, here is a question that has bothered me for some time: if God knows everything and everything that is going to happen, how can there be free will?"

"You live in a linear experience within time: A leads to B, which leads to C; God doesn't," was the typed response.

"What does that all mean? I guess I am just dumb, but I don't get what you are saying."

"You want an explanation about the powers of God. I think the best way to describe it is like this: you walk into a room and there is an old grand-master chess champion sitting in front of a chessboard. You have seen the game, but you don't know how it's played. You tell the master you want to learn to play the game. He tells you the best way to learn is to play; he'll play against you and will tell you when you aren't following the rules. Naturally he goes first. Now, you see him move the pieces, so you know you can move the pieces that it's part of the game, but you don't know how they move. Every time you move a piece incorrectly, the old guy lets you know. The problem comes in that the old guy knows all the rules and has been playing it for so long, he can foresee any move you're going to make. It looks like he can tell what you're going to do next because he has anticipated the moves you will make."

Stewart thought about it. The explanation made sense to him, but he was unconformable with it. He typed, "How does that even come close to explaining God."

"Think about it. Time travel, free will, an all-powerful knowledge, it's all because God knows the rules and you don't. Even if you did figure out the rules, you'll never be as good as player."

"Forget it. What you're saying doesn't make any sense."

Stewart waited for a response. Letters started to appear on his screen.

"Want me to explain why, if you sign a truce with the Republicans, it will never hold?"

It should have been a happy meeting, a Christmas bonus, a warm handshake and a hearty "Well done," but as soon as Stewart entered his supervisor's office he knew that this was not to be.

"Come in Marv, and have a seat."

Following routine, he closed the door and sat across from his supervisor feeling like a little kid in Kindergarten. The supervisor picked up Stewart's personal file, thick as a phone book, and placed it on his desk.

"Marv, I have some bad news about your application for lead-hand. I'm afraid we want someone who is a bit more a of a team player; you, unfortunately, are more of a lone wolf."

Stewart felt anger push blood into his cheeks, insulted by the lame excuse his supervisor was concocting. Six month earlier, Stewart had applied for another promotion to a different job within the call centre and had been told by the same supervisor that he wasn't independent enough, that the position required a lone-wolf and that he was more of a team player. Don't they even bother to keep track of their goofy stories? he asked himself as his supervisor rattled through a list of Stewart's shortcomings.

The numbers on the electric clock flipped over to read 2:00am. Stewart knew he should go to bed, knew that he wouldn't be able to function properly at work on less then four hours sleep, but he no longer cared. He watched the silver dots that represented his troops slowly replace the red dots on the section of the map past the white line that represented the River Z. Five minutes went by, and then another five minutes, and then another. Finally, the red dots withdraw and a dotted grey line moved forward from its old position to its new position to indicate that Argyle industries had gained territory from the Righteous. Stewart clicked on the "save game" option before slowly and carefully shutting down the computer. He was tired, but still exhilarated by his huge victory at the expense of the Righteous. Why, he asked himself, couldn't his real life be like this? He turned off the light and started the long journey down the hall to his bedroom where his wife would be sleeping. Just before he entered his bedroom he checked in on the babies, Johnny and Cindy. He smiled to himself. While he was in bed, he kept playing the battle between Argyle Industries and the Righteous over and over in his mind.

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Book Two

Chapter 7
December 25, 2000

"Open it sweetheart, open it," Margaret implored her husband. He had seemed down lately, and she was certain that her buying him a computer game for Christmas would give him a boost. He picked up the package with blue recycled wrapping paper and tore it away from a box that read Jupiter Moon by Deluxe Games. On the cover, an orange moon floated around an enormous Jupiter. He checked the side of the box to ensure that his computer had the necessary memory to operate the game before reading the back cover, which promised the player a gaming experience unlike any other, with the opportunity to conquer not just a city, not just country, but an entire globe in pursuit of wealth, power, and sex as the head of a galactic resource company. Stewart gave the description a cursory glance, thinking to himself, "who is she kidding," before saying aloud, "Thank you honey, it's nice."

The compliment disappointed Margaret and she responded with, "Maybe you can play it with Johnny when he's older."

"I'll install it later." The game was put aside back under the Christmas tree where it was forgotten during the rest of the day's festivities.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry, can I just …ma'am, I don't use language like that while I'm speaking to you, could you please not …my supervisor? Fine, I'll transfer you." As required under company policy, though against the personal policy of his supervisor, Stewart transferred the irate caller to the local number of his supervisor. He knew there would be grief for it later, but he was too tired to care. He had already handled fifty-two calls that morning and he had another four hours left of his shift. Yesterday, there had been a staff meeting regarding the low stats of the company's employees. The average teleworker or "telemonkey" as the supervisors jokingly referred to them, handled seventy-eight calls a shift. Management felt that with some team spirit, each employee should be able to increase his or her numbers to ninety calls a day. The second topic of discussion was the high level of staff absenteeism. Management wanted to know if there were anything that could be done to help workers better manage their stress levels. Stewart wondered if management really understood what his job was like.

"Marv, the light is flashing." A supervisor pointed to a reader board with numbers flashing that indicated that customers were waiting on hold to speak to a teleworker.

"Not to worry, I'll clear the queue."

Stewart punched a button on his phone and began speaking to a customer. While he spoke, he thought to himself that there was no way that he could possibly stay at this job another week. It was just too horrible a job. He had been working for the Super Service Call Centre for eight months.

"Daddy, your game!"

Cindy Stewart pointed towards the box with the bright orange dot on it. She wasn't really sure how her father played the game on the computer, but she was certain he liked playing the game as much as she enjoyed dressing up her dolls. She watched as her father hesitated in front of the display with the words Jupiter Moon written on it, before picking up the box. He glanced over the box before putting it back down and selecting a smaller box decorated in the same fashion.

"Don't you already have that game daddy?"

"Yes, I do have it, but the newest version of the game lets you play on-line with other players."


"Yes. Daddy can dial up a web-site on the Internet which will allow me to play with other players from all around the world."

"Why would you want to do that? Isn't the computer good enough at playing against you?"

"Well, yes and no. The computer is good, but daddy would like a bit of a challenge."

"Why did you buy the smaller box instead of the big one?"

"This box contains only the additional software daddy needs to make the game hook up to the Internet; the big box is the entire game. Daddy doesn't need the entire game since he already has it. Do you want to look for a game to colour on the computer?"

"That would be lots of fun."

"Let's go look."

The wind plucked at the hovercraft, making it difficult to maneuver, but Baytan was unfazed, since he had piloted hovercrafts in worse conditions. He wanted to return to Argyle Base 1 as quickly as possible, knowing that the Righteous must be searching for him by now. He could have traveled west for twenty minutes to ensure that he crossed directly from Righteous Territory into his own company's lands. Instead, he chose to risk cutting across a small section of Cult of Blue territory that formed in a bend in the boundary line in order to shave off some travel time. Besides, he reasoned, they would not risk another confrontation with the Cult of Blue over me. He ran south for fifteen minutes, moving closer and closer to the River Z when his craft began to lose power. He started to decline in altitude.

"What's going on?" Baytan slammed his palm against the console, then started checking the craft's systems. Finding nothing wrong, he searched for a spot to do a controlled landing in order to avoid a crash.

The sun had been merciless during the hour-long walk in which he had followed the River Z downstream. He was contemplating taking a swim to cool off when he heard a whirring sound in the sky just ahead of him. He glanced about for a place to hide when two scout hovercraft slowed down and stopped above him. He sighed before raising his arms to indicate he would offer no resistance.

Baytan was still calculating why his captors were treating him in such a haphazard fashion. They had taken away his fighting axe and gun, but had taken no other precautions; he had not been placed in restraints and they allowed him an unrestricted view of their territory and developments as they flew towards the Cult of Blue's capital, the Blue Keep. He studied his captors, four young females, each wearing blue uniforms with blue hair and blue eyes.

"So, am I to see Lila?"

"You are to be taken to the detention centre at our capital. From there, I don't know what is to become of you," answered one of his captors.

"You do know who I am?"

"I do. I'm disappointed, I was expecting more."

She turned her back to him indicating the conversation was over.

They landed in the central courtyard of Blue Keep when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. The city seemed to be coloured in only blue and silver and the manner in which the sun's rays bounced off the colours hurt Baytan's eyes. He was escorted to a sentry post where his guards and an officer at the post spoke in hushed tones. When they were finished talking, the guard who had spoken to Baytan earlier handed him his axe and gun before saying, "follow me please." She walked on alone. Baytan hesitated then ran to catch up to her. His eyes continually scanned the city. It was architecturally beautiful, with wide pedestrian walkways and many water fountains spraying water into the air, causing a cooling effect. He noticed there were no children and few men in the crowds that bustled along the walkways. The guard stopped at a winding staircase.

"I'll leave you now. Take the staircase to the top, then turn left and walk to the end of the corridor."

"What's going on? Why am I being left alone? Do you treat all your prisoners this way?"

"You're not our prisoner, you're our guest and Lila would like to see you now."

"Is this a joke?" Baytan tightened the grip on his axe for the first time since it had been returned to him.

"Certainly not. Enjoy your visit with Lila." The guard walked away, leaving Baytan at the base of the staircase.

"You know Lila, I'm not trying to be rude or anything, but you and your whole crew, you're just a little too strange for me."

Lila stretched out on the pillows that were piled around the low slung dinning table at which they were seated and smiled at Baytan. He would be perfect and she was certain he would have men that would serve the same function.

"Did you know that we've been on this moon the longest?"

"No, I had been told the Righteous were here first."

"We were here two years before them. We co-existed for five years without a problem until other groups started arriving, pushing both of us further and further into the northern sphere of Europa. Now that there's so little elbowroom, we've even started fighting. It was a cursed day when the resource field was found; it's made matters worse ever since.

"But, aren't your theories and philosophies in direct conflict with those of the Righteous?"

"Yes, but who cared when there was lots of territory on this floating ball of dust."

"Well, I guess. I understand the Righteous have made a mess of every major religion by combining them and garbling their message, but what about you - why blue? Everywhere blue?"

Lila paused, took a sip of her blue cranberry wine, then began her lecture; "our order was founded one-hundred and seventy years ago. Blue was chosen since it was the last colour that humanity was able to synthesize and create. You must admit it's the most pleasing of all the colours of the rainbow."

Baytan looked around the room and thought to himself how pleasing blue was when it was not used to overload the senses.

"We're certain we are developing into the last stage of human evolution. You can see for yourself our scientific research is divided between agriculture and warfare. That's because each member of our society carries out her own bioresearch. We've evolved in physical and emotional ways that you would find hard to understand." She stopped talking, disturbed by the way she had been aroused by the emotions she had sensed from the man. He was so basic, yet calculating, and very animal. He was dangerous, but there was something else there, something else hidden. She was certain she could bend him to her will for the needs of her society. In the meantime, some fun would be acceptable.

He looked at her. Can you read my thoughts he asked himself? What is your game? He felt his head start to ache. The effects of the silver and blue were starting to irritate Baytan. After a time, the blue walls, the blue furniture, the blue clothing, and even the blue eyes of the residents was overpowering. He tried to focus on the food placed before him. Thankfully, it was natural. The chicken breast was white, the gravy was brown, and the peas were green. He almost felt his headache melt away when Lila spoke.

"And my dear friend, here is what we consider one of our most stunning culinary achievements." She gestured at a servant who removed the silver cover from a plate. Standing in bowls of crystal and covered with dollops of blue whipping cream were blue strawberries. Baytan clinched his jawbones so as to keep his expression blank. He realized he had to say something.

"Lila, your farmers have outdone themselves."

"Why, thank you."

He managed to eat most of his portion of strawberries, then carefully moved his plate away. He finished another glass of the blue cranberry wine and realized he need to watch his drinking, because he was starting to feel lightheaded. Lila rang a bell and the servants retired, leaving the room to the two of them. Baytan slipped his hand to his side and took hold of his gun without drawing it from its holster.

"You know Guy, with your wealth and my military, we could become rulers of this moon if we wanted."

Baytan was only half listening. "And who would be the head of such an alliance? Why not expand your agreement with the Righteous, since you've made a truce with them?"

"I signed a truce because we needed a breather from war, but the Righteous don't want peace. No sooner was an agreement in place, then they began to violate it. I sent them a statcom message three days ago, notifying them that the agreement was void."

Baytan nodded. Even on small a landmass like Europa it was impossible for IS to be current, he concluded. Then he thought some more about what she had said. Is she lying to me? She must be up to something and I don't trust her, he said to himself.

The last of the servants left the room and slammed and bolted the main door. Baytan knocked his chair over as he bolted upright while at the same time yanking his gun free and aiming it directly at Lila. "You'll die first."

Lila laughed. "Why should I die?"

"Tell them to open the door."

"I'm afraid not. I think you're going to be spending the night talking about creating a little agreement between us. Oh please, relax. I'm unarmed and we're completely alone."

"Hands on the table," he yelled, feeling unsteady on his feet.

"I am completely unarmed. Let me prove it." She rose and walked towards him.

"Close enough."

She dropped her blue robe exposing herself to him. He looked at her for a moment before placing his gun back in its holster. The blue eyes, the rinsed blue hair and matching blue body hair. His head started to pound. Her physique was very feminine, but the blue color was off-putting.

"No. I don't think I'm interested."

"I'm interested so it really doesn't matter if you're not. You're locked in here with me, so you really don't have a choice. Besides, I know all about the Queen. That was a filthy deed."

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Chapter 8

"Don't even think about it!" Margaret had said the words very loudly and Marvin was embarrassed and afraid that she might make enough of a fuss to wake the children. John and Cindy were getting to an age where they were starting to understand. He meekly removed his hand from her knee before removing himself from the couch where they had been sitting. Frustrated and unhappy, he announced, "I'm going to go do some work on the computer."

"You're always doing work on the computer."

"What do you care?" He went into the den and closed the door.

He awoke feeling nauseated, taking a few seconds of thought before realizing he was lying naked in Lila's large blue bed.

"Lila," he started to yell, but his throat was sore and felt acidic from the cranberry wine he had drunk. He crawled out from under the covers and searched for his clothing, which he was unable to find. He began rubbing his eyes.

"Good morning."

He jumped before turning to see Lila sitting in a chair behind him, unencumbered by any clothes. Baytan yanked the cover off the bed and covered himself. He walked over to Lila, self-conscious.

"I want to leave. Now."

"The party is just starting."

"It's past my curfew, Quid will be searching for me."

"Quid, Quid, Quid, that nasty, ugly man. Is he all you think about, when you could be thinking of me?"

"And how do you know about Quid?"

"Everyone knows about Quid. He was the first one on this moon; he was here when we first arrived twenty years ago. I was only a little girl then."

"I still have to go. Sorry, it comes with the job. Everyone panics when the big boss goes missing in action. You know how it is. You said Quid was here when you landed; was he a guest of yours?"

"No, no. He lived out in the caves on Jonathan's Ridge. He wouldn't tell anyone how he got here. He stayed for a while with your good friend Jennie until she became angry that he contradicted what she was preaching. She said he was a fake, so he retaliated by turning her chief commander into sand. That's the reason why Meadford is now her second. Later Quid crowned one of the Righteous' wise men, Golaihem, as King and helped him establish the Monarchists. A Righteous supporter assassinated Golaihem or King Europa after about a quarter of Jennie's followers' left to form the Monarchists. His daughter became…"

"Queen Europa."

"Now you're thinking, big boy. I bet you didn't know her real name is Elisianna."

"She never told me."

"Of course she didn't."

"Why would she give up Quid?"

"Elisianna, opps, sorry, Queen Europa, is very practical. She must have wanted to be your friend very badly. Wonder if it's just for your love?"

"Be quiet."

"I can't tell you anything else, then." She said the words in a very clear and pleasing tone.

"Tell me more about Quid."

"There's not much more to tell. He stayed with us as a guest for a while when I was very young, for a couple of days, but he didn't like what we were doing here so he left. We respect one another, but he thinks we're tampering with God's rules."

"I guess that takes us back to me. What is it you want from me?"

Lila smiled. She rose from her chair and dressed. When she was almost clothed she spoke. "I want us to be good friends and I want you to make the Queen my friend as well. The three of us together could destroy the Righteous."

"I can't make the Queen be my friend let alone yours."

She ignored the comment and continued, "I need 700,000 energy units, I know you have more than enough reserves. Finally, we need new breeding stock. Our research here has reduced the colony's DNA pool; if we keep breeding with a smaller and smaller stock, we risk causing genetic mutations for our people. I have several female volunteers who are ready to serve, I need male volunteers from your colony to expand our gene pool…." She stopped talking, mad at Baytan's childish laughter, "Stop it, this isn't funny."

"Yes it is. You want volunteers. Look, I've got men working for me that would volunteer every day of the week."

"I'm not offering an erotic vacation for your workers; this is serious and you'll have to tell them it would be a very clinical experience."

Baytan laughed one last time before answering, "Alright then, I'll speak to my board of directors. I'm sure that we can make a deal, except I can only give you 200,000 energy units, but I'll throw in an almost-new energy converter. Your scientists should be able to double your colony's energy output."

"I need the entire 700,000 units."

No deal then."

"Okay, okay, fine, but the converter better not be a pile of junk."

"It wouldn't be. Now, I want the following."

"You what?"

"Sure, this is a business, besides, all I want is for your scientists to review our agricultural practices and see if there is any room for improvement. Nothing military, you would just be helping my people eat decently."

"That's fine."

Baytan was quiet. The deal would work to his advantage and he looked forward to punishing Jennie. He concocted a mental image of Jennie being dragged through the streets of Base 1 in chains while Meadford's head followed behind her on a spike. A thought cut through his daydreaming then the beginning of anger gripped him.

"Are you a volunteer?" he asked Lila curtly.

"I missed what you said."

"Am I part of the drive to increase your colony's gene pool?" He felt rage over the possibility that he might have involuntarily violated his contract of employment by becoming a father, an act that would have led to his employment being terminated.

"Calm yourself. After my husband, you're the only man I've ever respected."

"You pig - you're married?"

"He died on earth, that's why I joined the Cult of Blue and came here. I'm thirty years old, you're my last chance to be a mother."

Baytan's rage subsided and was replaced by shame, but he hid his feelings perfectly. "No one's lucky the first time, but you had no right to try to make me a father without my consent. Besides, you say you respect me, but you don't even know me."

"Did you know we have the same aura? Our chakra points are almost identical."

Baytan stared at her blankly for a moment. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"You wouldn't understand; the best way I can explain it is that we are emotionally linked."

"You're right. I don't understand." He felt sad looking at her. She was beautiful and pathetic at the same time.

"Listen, Lila, you're in the wrong. Next time just ask. Alright?"

She nodded her agreement.

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Chapter 9

"This way, quick now."

He shoved Lila down the stairs in the access tube, certain now that this was not a nightmare.

They had set out for Argyle Base 8 so that he could arrange the transfer of energy units and the scientists from the Cult of Blue could begin their assessment of Argyle Industries' farming techniques. To his surprise, Lila had asked to go with him. Six hovercraft had started the journey towards Base 8 and during the trip he had the opportunity to sit quietly and talk with Lila. It was odd; she seemed to mimic his thoughts and ideas, leaving him with the impression that she was somehow reading his mind.

"Are any of your members empaths?" he asked.

"It is possible; we have been able to develop many of our cerebral abilities, but for a telepathic link to exist, there would have to be an identical aura between the two participants."

Suddenly, he had an image of her kissing him.

"How did you do that?"

"I told you, we have almost identical chakra points."

Before she could finish speaking, the sound of an electric blast sounded. Baytan looked towards the source of the blast and saw a line of twenty Righteous hovercrafts blocking their route.

The battle had been over before it had a chance to start, with Baytan and Lila being the only ones allowed to survive. He was completely amazed that he was being led down the same corridors that he had escaped from only ten days before. Just as they were being loaded onto an elevator, Baytan saw his chance. He punched a humanoid in the face and grabbed its gun from its hand. Lila snatched a gun from the belt of another humanoid after having driven her knee into its groin. She felt Baytan's hand on her arm, dragging her away from their captors. They lost the guards in the maze of hallways, but Baytan knew they wouldn't be able to get past them to the outside. Befuddled for a moment, he saw water tubes taking sewage out to the drainage system.

"This way," he started to climb up a tube.

"You have to be joking."

"There's no other ride available. Give me your hand."

Sliding down the tube in the dark, pushed along by fouled water, he held tight to her and struggled not to be overwhelmed by the stench. They landed in a cess tank and crawled out.



"I hate to tell you this, but you stink." She laughed at her own joke.

Wouldn't be the first time I heard it."

He looked across the horizon. "This way."

They ran into the woods surrounding the parish, unaware of how close their pursuers were to them or that they were heading towards a cliff.

"Any suggestions?"

"I'm working on it." Baytan looked at their situation and concluded it was hopeless. They were backed-up as far as they could go on the cliff, Lila's gun was empty and his weapon held two shots. Fifty humanoids approached them. He decided he would kill her rather then let her be raped by the Humanoids, then he would overload the chamber of his weapon. The exposition would kill possibly three or four humanoids along with him.

"Guy, I want to say I love you."

"And you just met me, but I know, we have identical auras."

"Remember how I told you that some of us had reached a very high level of physical control."

"Lila, this is hardly the time."

"Stay down." She took him by surprise, kicking him in the side of the knee causing him to fall on his back. She stepped forward and raised her arms to the sky. Baytan was about to shoot her in the head when he realized her copper-brown skin was turning red as if it had been sunburned. Lila groaned and then a ring of fire burst out from around her waist. The heat blast consumed her and then fanned out in all directions in a level path above the ground, increasing in intensity. It ripped through the legion of humanoids killing them all and passed over Baytan, mildly scorching him. He was stunned for a moment, before rising to survey his surroundings. Globes of melted flesh and blood glistened in the sunlight. Everything dead. He searched the centre of the blast and only found a clump of blue hair, all that remained of his lover. He scooped up the hair and held it in his hand, sickened by the thought that she had sacrificed herself to save him. There was a deafening quiet on the cliff. A chickadee began to sing.

A chickadee was singing from somewhere amidst one of the brick facades of the buildings that lined the city's streets. Stewart was so exhausted from the day's work that he was not sure if he had the strength to drag himself home. Thankfully, the bus was only five minutes late and he was able to climb aboard and find a seat. He pulled out a new paperback book, thought about his own novel for a brief moment, then started to read. He glanced up occasionally and noticed an aboriginal girl seated across him wearing shorts and a cropped T-shirt. She wasn't a great beauty, but she had a cute face and a nice body that he looked over until she noticed him staring and smiled at him. He buried his head in his book.

"Slide over, tubes."

A drunk slammed into the seat next to him and proceeded to push up against him.

"Hey tubes, you can't take up the whole seat."

Stewart tried to slide away from him and would have moved away, but there were no other seats on the crowded bus and he was tired of being pushed around.

"Look pal, I don't need a hassle. I'm just trying to read my book."

"Give-me," the drunk snapped the book out of Stewart's hands. The act proved too much for the office worker. He grabbed the book back and was rewarded by a sucker punch in the face from the drunk. He rose to flee and saw other passengers laughing at him in amusement. A fist struck him in the back and he heard voices call out, "Yeah man," "Kick fatso's ass," then a group murmur. He expected another blow to his body. When the expected punch failed to land, he turned to see the aboriginal girl standing between him and his assailant.

"Sit down," she ordered the drunk, and to Stewart, "you, go to the front and settle down."

He endured catcalls and insults from the drunk, who finally left the bus twenty stops later. Waiting till his tormentor was out of the bus and its doors had closed, he made an obscene gesture, resulting in the drunk's banging on the side of the bus as it drove away. Tomorrow Stewart would take a different, less convenient, way home. He pushed his way towards the back of the bus and found the girl who had intervened.

"Hi handsome, getting your last digs in at Mr. Sociable?"

"I just wanted to say thank you."

"For what?"

"No one… " he strained to remember if what he was about to say was true; sadly it was, and he continued, "no one has ever stood up for me before."

"That can't be true."

"No, it is. Thank you."

"Any time, handsome. Here's my stop." She brushed past him, making contact for the briefest of seconds, before leaving the bus. Stewart looked out the window and watched her walk through one of the seedier parts of town. The bus pulled away and she was gone. He thought about her for the rest of the ride home.

He had held the lock of blue hair in his hand the entire way as he walked towards Argyle Base 9. Lila's death had started him thinking about his own mortality. Children? He asked himself, would he ever be a father some day? Would he mean something to someone? Had he had an identical aura with Lila? He enjoyed the company of the queen, but there had been something about this woman, something he couldn't comprehend. He thought about her for a little while longer before placing the hair inside a jacket pocket. Once the hair was hidden away, he started to calculate how he would strike a deal with the next ruler of the Cult of Blue. He would try to trim down the original agreement he made with Lila. He was continuing to scheme when a noise distracted him and he was suddenly alert. He heard a rustle from behind a clump of bushes and before he had time to run, Meadford and three humanoids came out of hiding to block his path.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Home. Stand clear."

"What are you going to do about it, goof?"

Stewart stared back vacantly at the teenager who was a foot taller than him and solid muscle. Three of the teenager's friends gathered around him and

Stewart smelt the pimply monster's smelly breath on his cheek. A few heads turned in the mall, but no one was coming to his rescue. He realized he was out-numbered, sighed, and picked up Cindy and grabbed John by the hand, then brushed past one of the teenagers and began walking rapidly towards an exit.

"Daddy I wanted a hamburger," whined John.

"Sorry, not there. We'll go somewhere else."

Cindy started to cry. Behind him he heard a voice yell, "You run, you fruit. You chicken."

And you're really a he-man, Stewart thought to himself, butting ahead of a thirty-five-year old man and his two kids, then threatening to beat him up when he protested.

"Make your move," mocked his opponent.

Baytan only had a single charge left in his gun. Still, he was determined not to be taken prisoner a third time. Meadford and his three humanoids began circling him. Baytan swung his fighting axe and caught one of the humanoids in the head, then pointed his gun and fired at Meadford who ducked. The charge struck Meadford in the shoulder. The two remaining humanoids jumped at Baytan, but he managed to drive his elbow into the chest of one, then slammed the other in the face with the palm of his hand.

"Kill him," screamed Medford as he fled from the melee.

Baytan yanked his axe free from the dying humanoid and clubbed another one over the head before stabbing his last adversary in the throat. He staggered backward and was barely able to stand on his feet. He saw that Meadford was almost at his hovercraft.

"You run," he screamed, "run and get help, because my combots and I are going to be all over you when they arrive."

He pulled his axe out of the humanoid's throat then turned and ran.

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Chapter 10

The face of John Wayne Keller loomed large on the screen of Baytan's statcom. Whenever Keller launched into one of his typical diatribes, he would inevitably take twenty minutes or more before reaching the point of his communication. Baytan's mind begin to drift when the words "… they have agreed to merge and be under our authority; any further act of aggression against the former territories or citizens of Europa Corp. will be considered an act of aggression against the Republicans…"

Baytan rose in his chair. Now that Europa Corp. had finally given in to the demands of Keller, the borders of Republican territory would touch Stellar lands. It was a ploy - Europa wanted the Republicans to use their military strength to punch a corridor through Stellar territory so that they would once again have access to the resource field.

"And any acts of aggression against Stellar, Inc. would be considered an act of aggression against us. We shall defend ourselves accordingly," warned Baytan.

"It's survival of the fittest on this moon, Guy; if Stellar gets in our way…"

"I'm warning you."

"Then let's have at it." Keller's image disappeared from the screen. Baytan sat wondering in his chair. A deal must be arranged with Stellar very quickly, he thought.

"I wouldn't panic, if that's what you're asking me."

Baytan didn't like Quid's response. The Righteous had expanded their territory to Z Lake and the River Z; they had not crossed over for fear of the water-mines, but their bold action had gained them a large concession of land from Argyle and a small portion from the Cult of Blue. Meanwhile, the Republicans had taken land from the Monarchists and half of Stellar's territory.

"I'm not in a panic. I'm just trying to gage the right response," he answered.


He had locked himself inside one of the small, single-stall bathrooms and was trying to gain his composure. The job was proving to be too much. It had been ten years, he told himself, ten years at a useless job that was only supposed to last till he could go back to school. Now he was stuck, he had to stick with the job since he had a wife and two children to support and a mortgage that ate most of his paycheck. He wanted five minutes to himself after having suffered through a morning that was almost impossible.

"I'll go back in a couple of minutes," muttered to himself. He had said the words too loud. A second passed, then he heard a knock on the door and his supervisor said, "Marv, are you almost done in there? The lights on the boards are flashing, which means calls are waiting."

"What are you doing Roxanne?"

It was late and she had asked him to walk her to the parking lot. He liked her as a person and complied with her request to escort her to her vehicle that was parked in the bottom row of the building's underground parking lot. Thinking back over his actions, he realized that his first mistake had been complimenting her on the van she drove, his second was to agree to come inside just to see how nice the interior really was; now he sat in the last row of seats with his back pressed against the seat as far as possible with her kneeling in front of him and each of her hands on each of his knees.

"You don't know what it's like."

"What do you mean?"

"He ignores me, I'm nothing to him anymore. I'm human, I have needs."

"He ignores you? You've got to be joking."

"Look at me, am I ugly?"

Marvin moved his head from side to side to indicate no.

"Then why won't he touch me?" Her eyes started to tear and she seemed desperate.

"We can't do this."

"But I like you."

"We're both married, we both have kids; not to mention we'll both end up in hell." He tried to pass the issue of damnation off as a joke although he was certain they both believed adultery was a sin.

"Will we be together?" She had started to pull her shirt out of her skirt and was pulling at the buttons.

"Why are you doing this? What is this really about?"

She was almost angry when she tore open her shirt and pulled down her bra, exposing herself to him. "I can't stand my life anymore … I can't stand being the little housewife with the three kids and the awful part-time job and the husband who doesn't care anymore … I want love."

She attacked him.

She screamed into his ear as her body rocked from the second orgasm he gave her. Her violent lovemaking took him back to a time before he had met his wife, when women were still creatures to be chased and inventoried. He was trying to decide if he should hold back from releasing and satisfy her a third time or if he should just be selfish when she dragged her nails across his back and yelped out his name.

"Roxanne, no," he made his demand too late and was frightened by the thought that she had left a telltale sign on his back for his wife to discover. Now careless, he was about to finish when they were both startled by a noise from outside the van.

"Oh my god, is someone outside?"

"Shush," he hushed her and craned his neck, but the windows to the van were steamed-up so he turned his gaze back to her horrified face. "Just be quiet," he whispered. The sound of footsteps carried across the parking lot's concrete floor coming closer and closer. A pause, then the sound of a car door opening and slamming shut, an engine turning over and then the long delay before a car could be heard driving away. They both exhaled. Marvin rolled off of Roxanne then pulled her close and cradled her head.

"When can I see you again?"

"You said to wait; now look at the situation. IS is ninety percent certain the Republicans have taken over all of the Empiricists' lands. What do you say to that?"

Quid looked at his friend and was a little sad. So much potential, but his rage gets to him every time.

"Make a deal with Stellar."

"What deal?"

"Tell them, that they have to merge with you or you'll withdraw your military support from them. Remind them that any day now, the Republicans and the Raiders will sign a peace treaty and merge.

"They won't buy it."

"They'll have to."

Three weeks later, the merger between Argyle and Stellar was complete.

Yellow clouds floated by the blue sky. Baytan rubbed his eyes; sleep had not alleviated his exhaustion. He pulled on a robe and walked to the kitchen where he turned on his coffee machine. He waited a minute, then decided that he would do some work while waiting for the coffee to brew. He turned on the statcom. There was nothing but a few standard transmissions from during the night. He decided to review the standings and brought up the latest surveillance reports. A spreadsheet popped up on his screen. Since the only communications available on Europa were dependent on eight satellites, which were in orbit above the moon, it had been increasingly easy for the IS units from each group to steal transmissions from rival groups. As a result, the status of each group's population, material wealth, and to some degree, its military strength, could be calculated. The results pleased him; if IS calculations were even half right, Argyle Industries was rapidly becoming the wealthiest entity on the planet, this being his primary objective, but his company continually lagged behind the Righteous, Cult of Blue, and the Monarchists in military strength. Baytan knew well enough that wealth was easy to achieve, but difficult to hold. He knew that he must find a way to reach an agreement between himself and his rivals, other than the Righteous. He knew that while Jennie lead the cult there would be no agreement reached.

Stewart sat dumbfounded staring at the email message on the screen of his computer. He had seen similar message about employees before, but this one shook him emotionally. He took another glance at the words that started with "Effective today" and ended with "we wish Roxanne and her family the best of luck in their new city and their new careers" and felt as if someone had struck his chest with a sledgehammer. No goodbye. Nothing. He asked himself what he should have expected. He suddenly felt alone.

Stewart clicked on the small box on his screen that read standings. He saw that he stilled held most of the moon's wealth, due to his complete domination of the resource field, but he was still behind in technological development and military capability. He noticed that the unemployed pizza delivery driver on the East Coast who was leading the Socialists was almost broke and that the Green-truce wasn't faring any better. He considered the abilities of the vacuum salesman in the Midwest who lead the Green-Truce and concluded that the salesman just did not spend enough time on building alliances or working on strategy. He thought about this for a bit, and thought it odd how just as in real life, those individuals in society who based their existence on a higher moral plateau were always at the mercy of those who engaged in more mercenary pursuits. In this case, the only difference was the Righteous. He wondered about the retired woman in London who had managed time and time again to pull victory out of defeat and emerge as the leader of the strongest of the groups.

He suddenly felt like talking with Quid, but it was past midnight and he knew that he had to get some sleep because five o'clock came early. He shut down the game and then his computer.

"'Tis not your mother's love," Quid said the words blandly before sweeping the dish of chocolateen onto the floor with his arm. Baytan's face flushed red with a blood rage as he yanked his gun free from its holster and pointed it at Quid's face.

"Let's see if you have the guts to repeat yourself."

Quid smiled his horrible half-moon smile and clapped his hands together. Baytan's weapons crumbled to bits in his hand.

"You don't have as much control over me as you think."

"You claim you're here to help me…but all you do is insult me."

"That isn't food you're eating, it isn't home, or a mother's love. It's a drug designed to numb you to the realities of your situation. The more you eat, the less real food you'll desire."

"I'll eat what I please."

"No. You'll not eat that."

"Then leave me be, I have no more of it."

"Stay away from the chocolateen." Quid left while Baytan watched him go. When Quid had gone, Baytan looked down at the gooey, coco-brown mess on the floor. He ran his finger through it and then licked the chocolateen off his fingers. He didn't care what Quid said; the chocolateen was the only thing that cheered him up. He couldn't explain it to himself, but somehow Lila's death had turned him bitter. Identical chakras - he laughed at such a ridicules notion. He ran his fingers through the chocolateen again.

Cory Mead had been best friends with Nicholas Bodco and Andy Dalton since the three of them had been little boys, drawn together by their love of nature and concern about the environment. During their college days, they had joined Green-Truce, unsuccessfully lobbying to save the last of earth's organic farms. When the opportunity to work towards preserving the fragile eco-system that was developing on Europa had arisen, there had been no discussion, no debate; the three friends had volunteered together. Now, looking down at Dalton's dead body, he felt his sorrow slowly turning to thoughts of revenge. One of the field officers from Argyle Industries was trying to claim it was suicide. A young, muscular man followed by an angel and an older, well-preserved fifty-year-old listened as the officer extrapolated that Dalton had shot himself just as the biosphere was being over-run by Steller's troops and Argyle's combots.

"You'll all die by choking on stall air some day."

Mead's words gained the attention of the three men. Lead by the fifty-year-old, they walked over to Mead and stopped in front of him.

"Your mistakes are waiting down the road for you, Danby," Mead said to the fifty-year-old, "once you've run out of air, what are you going to breathe?"

"I'll find something. You're a liar. When we first arrived, you told me that your gang were all pacifists."

"I remember, it was right after you demanded we give up a portion of our territories to you. You said that you would leave the Socialists and us alone. We'd be left alone if we just gave up a small bit of land. Is that how Stellar Corp runs its business?"

"It's how I run Stellar Corp. And we left you alone, right up to the point when you and your gang detonated that bomb at the resource field. It damaged a lot of equipment owned by us and Argyle Industries."

"That was punishment for Argyle and the Cult of Blue's stealing and dividing up the Socialist lands."

The man with the angel interjected. "The Socialists were bad for business, always causing problems. You, on the other hand, would have been left alone that was, till you pulled this goofy stunt."

"You're Baytan," said Mead.

"That's the name that they gave me," came the answer.

Danby stepped back from Mead.

"Well, Guy, what do you suggest?

"As I said, let us use your Tantonic drill till ours is up and running and you may have all of the lands and biosphere formerly controlled by Green-Truce."

"I mean about him," Danby motioned towards Mead.

"Take him out and shoot him. Have your troops shoot Bodco when they find him. The rest," he paused to think, "force them out into the unknown lands, let them pioneer them."

Now that Mead knew his fate, he was calm. As a final show of defiance he yelled, "Danby, you're making a pact with the devil by joining with Baytan and his scum!"

His words were wasted. Danby, Baytan, the officer, and the angel, had already walked out of range of hearing.

"Dad, why don't you go out?"

Stewart looked up from the TV to his son. "Your mother's going to be late tonight."

"No, I mean, why don't you call one of your friends and go see a movie or something?"

Stewart shrugged. What should he tell his son? The last of his friends deserted him after he and Margaret had been married for five years. He had had a hard time making friends in the first place, and now he never seemed to find anyone with whom he shared a common interest. His life was work, paying the bills, Margaret, and the kids. He had accepted it years ago, and was now comfortable with his circumstances.

"It's different when you're older than it is when you're twenty, sport."

"Okay dad. Don't wait up."

"Then don't stay out too late." Stewart listened to his son leave through the kitchen door. He would finish watching the news then unwind by playing some Jupiter Moon. He took another sip of his beer and scowled at the news anchor.

"You're a pig, a pig. Do you hear me Quid?"

"Can I do what I want with him?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"Watch now, you might never see this done again."

Meadford tired to wiggle away from his captors, but his hands and feet were bound tightly and he could only crawl a short distance before giving up. He started to cry.

"What a wimp."

"Please, let me go. I'll help you against Jennie."

"Watch now."

Meadford's body started to crystallize and morph into brown particles. At first Baytan thought that he was turning into brown sugar, but as parts of Meadford started to break off and disintegrate into the wind, he realized that Quid was turning him into sand. When the last bit of Meadford drifted away, Baytan turned to Quid and spoke.

"I am ordering you never, ever, to do that to anyone again. It really is disgusting."

"As you wish."

Quid watched his master walk away, knowing that a tiny clip of blue hair was hidden inside one of his pockets and that the former owner of the clip of blue hair had been revenged.

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Book Three
Return To Earth

Chapter 11

The cashier wasn't his type, surely Margaret must know that, he thought, but her fawning was going to cause him grief. He glanced at his wife and saw her fuming at the thought that another woman might, just might, find him attractive.

"Wow, so many customer points; 650,000 points, that's the most points I've ever seen. What you going to use them for?"

"I'm not sure," Stewart answered meekly, praying he could just make his purchase and get out of the store. He felt his wife press up against him.


"Wow, so many energy units; 650,000 units, that must make you the richest man on Europa."

Baytan smiled to himself. If she really knew his holdings she would die. A lousy 650,000 units represented a slow month. He would let her be impressed without bragging. She wasn't his type, but she would count towards his tally. One thousand women before he was forty. There were times when he thought it would be an impossible goal except on Earth, but the women on this moon had surprised him. Including her tonight, he would be halfway towards his goal.

"I'm used to getting my way."

"And what is it you want now?" she purred.

"My sleeping chamber is though there," he pointed towards the hall, "go inside, take your clothing off and get into bed. I'll join you in a moment."

His bluntness had shocked her. The smile fell from her face. "I'm not like that," she answered.

"Then leave!" he shouted as he slammed his fist against his desk.

She looked at him for a moment and he could see that she was considering her options. Without a word she turned and started down the hallway towards his sleeping chamber.

The Aurora slipped from its berth at five o'clock in the afternoon. There were no cheering crowds, only a few members of Argyle Industries' management team and its Chief Executive Officer. The warship's thermo-powered jet engines began to spray water from its guts into the water, forcing the ship forward.

It had been a difficult two weeks, first, the bloody onslaught of pushing towards and recapturing Base 8, then slowly expanding outward until all of their former territories past the River Z had been reclaimed. Baytan watched the Aurora move up river. It would, with any luck, reach Lake Z, where it would start bombarding the power generators outside of New Nirvana, the capital parish of the Righteous. He felt good to be able to take the battle directly to his competition. He looked down south, and then over to the Dura and the Ava as they rested in their berths. In two days, they would set out towards Republican Base Freedom, which, with any luck, would be flattened by the guns of the Dura and Ava. With any luck. Baytan asked himself, was he lucky? He had been very lucky so far. Would his luck last? That was an entirely different question.

December 1, 2022

"Dad, are you alright?" Cindy Stewart looked at her father and for the first time saw him a different light. He seemed weak and sluggish in contradiction to her image of his being healthy and involved.

"My chest hurts," whimpered Stewart. He hated complaining to either of his children, but ever since an old man on the bus had sneezed on him, he had started to feel ill. First, a head cold; now, he felt as if every breath were a struggle.

"I think we should get you to a doctor."

"But, I want to see my grandchildren."

"The girls will come and visit you later," she took him by the arm, "let's get your coat. Are you still with Doctor Peterson?"

"No. He retired."

"Do you have an new doctor?"

"No." Stewart said the words with embarrassment. He had not been to the doctors for a long while.

"We'll just go to the clinic then."

"Wait. Can I just shut off the computer?"

"Oh, Dad."


"Hurry, then."

Stewart walked down the hall to his den where he had been finishing a deal for peace with the barber in a small Texas town, who played the role of John Wayne Keller, while waiting for his daughter to pick him up to visit her family. The barber had finally agreed to a truce. Stewart clicked on a button on the screen that read truce before clicking on another button that read agrees. He typed a brief message to Quid: "Not feeling well, am going to see the doctor with my daughter. Will email you for a chat tomorrow." Then, for some reason he couldn't explain to himself, he typed, "you're a good friend," before clicking on the send button. He shut down his computer. Suddenly, he was gripped by a hacking cough and covered his mouth with his hand. When the cough had passed, he pulled his hand away from his mouth and noticed speaks of blood on his hand.

"Cindy, Cindy," he started to shout.


"Let's have at it, then."

The day was becoming longer, not shorter, and Baytan had wished it over hours ago. His eyes scanned the signature page of the three-hundred-and-seventy-page treaty that Keller had shoved in front of him. He felt an urge to tear the document up in the other man's face to remove the annoying smirk that hung on it, but he knew that the terms had been settled upon were too good to pass over. When Baytan had arrived on Europa twenty years ago, almost twenty years, Argyle Industries had had no access to the resource field and he had been forced into bloody conflict after bloody conflict. His signature on the bit of paper in front of him would guarantee his company access to seventy-five percent of the resource field (Keller had been satisfied with twenty-five percent) and peace in the southern region of Argyle's territory. It would mean no more border wars with the Raider-Republicans, a settlement for the Monarchists, a pact with the Cult of Blue. Only the Righteous would remain as a threat. Always the Righteous. Once this treaty was signed, he would make a deal in due time with Keller to exterminate the religious fanatics once and for all time.

Baytan's pen scratched as he wrote his signature across the page. He thought about Lila. He was certain that she would have never agreed to make a truce with Keller, but her successor Jillian had wanted peace, as did the Queen, so he signed.

"Good. Good stuff. This is going to mean big things for us Guy." Keller held out one of his enormous hands to shake with Baytan.

"Big things for us," Baytan echoed, his mind elsewhere, on two matters: how much would he be able to increase his resource extraction quota, and how soon he could have another liaison with the Queen?

"It's not like we'll never go."

He had tried to sound convincing, but both he and Margaret knew that their next chance at going to Europe would not be till they retired.

"This is so typical with us, we never get a break." She was struggling to hold back her disappointment, unable to blame Marvin for the government's raising tuition fees by fifty percent while at the same time still feeling bitter that the cancelled fourteen countries in five weeks was the result of her husband's inadequate salary. If he had just tried to apply himself, be friendlier, but his poor salary went hand in hand with his stalled career.

"Well," his voice started to rise, joining her in her frustration, "do you want the kids working at a gas station to pay for their schooling like I had to?"

"You liked working at the gas station."

"I liked working at the gas station…? "

"You could have done something else."

"I struggled in school, I didn't have time to go searching. We're paying for the kids schooling and that's it. You promised."

December 27, 2000

Stewart watched as the game loaded on to the hard drive of his computer. He picked up the box that held the manual and the four, three-and-a-half-inch game disks and read the description of the game. Jupiter moon, it will be a lark, he thought, something to do in between my writing and my deal making, should blow off some steam. The program paused and asked him to enter the name he wished to play under. Stewart kept trying to think up different cool-sounding names for his alter ego. His eyes spied a book on birds of the northwest that had found its way onto his bookcase. The book's author was William Guy Baytan. Why not? he thought, and typed in the name Guy Baytan. A screen appeared telling him that the game was set in the year 2500 and asked what day and month he wanted as his start date. He punched in the day's date and watched as the numeric date of 12272500 appeared. He finished loading the game and decided he would play later. Right at the moment, he felt a need to work on his deal, the desire for the first million before thirty thrilling him.



"Why did you give that bum some change?"

"Buddy, it's not nice to call someone a bum just because he's a bit down on his luck."

"Oh." Eight-year old John Stewart was listening to every word his dad said and was trying to make sense of it. He still didn't understand why his dad should give his hard-earned money to someone that he thought was lazy.



"But why did you give him the money?"

"Listen John, sometimes things happen to people that they have no control over, so they need a little help."


Stewart walked a few more feet, content to be shopping with his son, holding his little hand tight in his own.


"Yes, buddy."

"Does giving money to poor people make Jesus happy?"

"Yes, yes I'm sure it does."

John Stewart walked on with his father; happy he finally had an answer to the question that had bothered him.

Thaddeus Elliot Gary watched as Baytan, alone in his hovercraft, pulled forward to lead his troops and combots into battle. Too much bravado, thought Gary who had tried to persuade Baytan to let someone else lead Argyle to war and hold back in a command position. Why will he listen to me? Gary thought. I am his only real friend on this dustball, or am I a friend? Do you have any friends CEO? Maybe we are all just your employees. Or is it because you shoot adrenaline before every battle?

Gary turned to his operations manager, the only other person on his hovercraft, and said "Initiate the combots." Gary looked down and saw twenty-five combots start moving forward. He felt safe, some thirty feet in the air above where the real fighting would take place, but he knew it was a false sense of security.

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Chapter 12


"You'll not die today."

Baytan could only watch in amazement as Quid held up his hands causing a tower of sand to form between him and the on-coming horde of frontiersmen.

The battle between Argyle and the new Raider-Republican federation had been raging for over three hours, with victory assured to the frontiersmen within the first of hour of the conflict. Baytan had continued wasting combots for another two hours in an attempt to keep his opponents from reaching the resource field. The war had not been of his making. The original dispute had arisen between the Monarchists and the Raider-Republicans when Queen Europa had erected King's Dam across the River Z, effectively cutting off the watershed of the federation. When Baytan declined John Wayne Keller's demand to support him in a war against the Monarchists, the Raider-Republicans had launched a daring two-prong raid against both Argyle and the Monarchists by breaching Argyle's border before advancing towards the Monarchist's through the section of unguarded border that they shared with Argyle.

Baytan had refused to withdraw from the situation even when it became obvious that it was impossible to win, demanding that more and more combots be sent forward into battle until the moment when he saw Thaddeus Gary's hovercraft struck by an electron blast and start to spiral down into a area held by the frontiersmen. Baytan knew that his long-time associate was dead or would be dead in seconds, but he was so sickened by his own misery at the loss around him, that he drove his hovercraft forward determined to fall in battle.

He shook as he was led away from his wife's gravesite, feeling his son and daughter's arms around him. He was certain he would leave her as a widow, but a routine check at the doctor's and six months of fighting with everything modern medicine had available, and his wife was gone. He had cried at first, but then he felt as if he were sleepwalking, that everything was unreal. Someone had spoken to him about post-traumatic shock. He could not remember whom, and he was not certain if he were suffering from it. He just felt numb. His daughter was determined that he would stay that night at her house and he fought her and his son-in-law and the rest of the family on it, but there was something he had to do, something he could not tell them about, so he bartered an agreement. If they would let him stay at his home for a couple of hours then he would drive over later. They would not accept that, not in the state he was in, but they agreed he could work on his computer for a couple of hours, which was all he needed.

Stewart watched as his game of Jupiter Moon loaded on the computer. He felt his anger mount; he had promised Margaret so much and delivered so little and now he was certain it was because he had wasted so much of his time on a stupid game. You are going to die, Guy Baytan; I am going to send you into the void he vowed. How to destroy someone like Baytan he asked himself? The answer was easy. He had been in a standoff in a battle against the miserable barber who served as John Wayne Keller the leader of the Raider-Republican group, and he would simply fly his character on a battle hovercraft into the middle of the opposing army. A message flashed on the screen: Quid wishes to speak to you immediately. He ignored the message tired of being second guessed by another player all the time, even if he were an ally and moved the hovercraft over a section of the map that was coloured brown to indicate it was held by the Raider-Republicans and lowered the craft to the moon's surface. He moved his figure out of the craft and was about to fight another player icon when Quid's angel icon appeared in front of his icon and stopped him from moving forward. Stewart used his joystick to try to go around Quid, but his figure did not respond. A warning message flashed Danger - dust storm forming, chances of survival minimal. Stewart tired to shoot Quid and continually pressed the fire button on his joystick, which did not respond.

"We'll all die in the dust storm and that will be the end of that," he muttered to himself. It didn't happen. The storm passed over the sections of land held by the Raider-Republicans. Stewart watched as the lands turned from brown to clear, then the Quid icon slowly pushed his icon back into the hovercraft. Stewart pressed the J key on his keyboard to jump; yet there was no effect. He saw the hovercraft move across his screen and land at Argyle Base 11. The computer screen once again flashed: Quid wishes to speak to you immediately.

"Dad, are you okay?" A voice that he barely recognized as his son's called down from the hall. "Yeah, I'll be out in a moment." He typed in the message:

"Will speak to you later, today is not good."

"You'll not die today," was the response.

Insulted, Stewart shut-off the computer and walked out of his den.

December 16, 2002

The last of his father's personal items were loaded into boxes and stacked in the rental truck. His sister and her husband would come by the house tomorrow to pick up the furniture. John Stewart took a last look around the family home, unable to throw off the sorrow that enveloped him. The last thought that entered his mind, as he locked the back door of his father's house, was that it would be a very reserved Christmas this year, with an empty seat at his dinner table.

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Chapter 13

The lights from the heat lamps were beginning to burn the parts of his skin that were exposed. He knew that if he looked up at them he would be blinded, so he kept his eyes on the concrete floor. It was only the two of them now, him and another applicant he knew only as Foxman, who seemed to be a good sort, but was of no consequence to Baytan. He knew that Foxman was the last person who stood between him and the promotion. They were both shaky on their feet after being forced to run five miles on stomachs that hadn't been feed in three days and with brains that hadn't been allowed sleep in twenty-four hours.

"Gentlemen," a voice seemed to boom from the four walls that surrounded them, "this is your final test. Whichever of you is successful will have made the final cut. In three seconds, weapons will be supplied to each of you. The objective of the excise is for one opponent to kill the other. If one of you injures the other to the point where he can no longer fight, but refuses to kill him, both of you will be terminated. Good luck."

Foxman made the mistake of looking up to voice his protest. "Kill each other? Is this…"

Fighting axes dropped from the ceiling to clatter on the floor. Baytan reached his weapon first.

As Foxman lay wounded on the floor, having never reached his weapon, a pulsar gun dropped from the ceiling. Baytan removed his foot from Foxman's axe and kicked it into a corner.

"Finish him off," the voice from the walls commanded.

Baytan scooped the gun from the ground and walked over towards his opponent. He used his imagination to turn him into one of the men that had killed his father and fired a single, clean shot into Foxman's head.

"Thank you again constable," Cindy escorted the policeman to the door. He was an odd man, too thin really to be a cop, his hair too white blond, and with an odd demeanor, but he had been kind. Kind at a time when she and her brother needed it, so she dismissed his oddness, believing that most of those on-line fantasy game player types were different, not bad people, just socially inept. Had her father really been one of those types? she wondered. She opened the front door for him.

"If there is anything else I can do for you or your brother John, let me know." He smiled a half-moon smile and handed her a business card with the inscription Constable Quid, New York Police Department with a single phone number. "Your daddy will be missed." With those words he was out the door, moving quickly along the steps towards the sidewalk. Cindy closed the door to her father's house, looking over Quid's card. Only then, did she begin to wonder how it was the man had learned of her father's death. The thought passed quickly and her mind went to other matters.

She thought about the horrible call from the hospital's doctor at noon on a Saturday telling her to come quickly because her father had taken a turn for the worse. She had tried calling her brother, but the recording on the answering machine was the only response she received. She arrived at the hospital alone, rushing into his room, where she held his hand and listened to him wheeze out the words, "Don't be sad. You and your brother made me have a great life, I love you both." His eyes closed and a few minutes late he was gone. She tried phoning her brother again afterwards, and eventually made contact, forced to tell him the bad news over the phone. The funeral was sparsely attended; she, along with her husband Matt and their three girls, her brother and his wife and son, a few co-workers, Quid, and their family priest, watched as her father was laid to rest in the double plot next to their mother. The funeral made her thoughts return to Quid. He had come up to her to offer his condolences after the service, so she invited him back to the house along with the rest of the mourners for coffee and sandwiches. Later he explained to her how he and her father were on-line gaming partners. A vague memory returned to her.

"Which game did you two play together?"

"Jupiter Moon."

"The one about the colony on the moon?"

"That would be the one."

"Really? When did you last play with my father?" She had never heard her father mention the man and she wondered why he was putting so much emphasis on something her father had done in his younger days.

"Three weeks ago, before he became ill."

Cindy gapped while she stared at the man.

"You're saying he was still playing that game three weeks ago? He must have been playing it for twenty years."

"Possibly. I've only been playing it with him for the last fourteen years. We hooked-up together when the game was updated so that it could be played on-line with other players."

"You and my father played a computer game for fourteen years?"

"Only in our spare time. It's a very involved game." Quid looked over towards her father's tomb. "It's funny. The small things that will give a man hope when hope should have long passed. You're a doctor and your brother's an architect?"

"Yes. That's correct."

"Was that your father's doing?"

"Yes. I wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a little girl. He made sure it happened."

"You happy?"

Ordinarily, Cindy would have been annoyed by such a personal question, but from this man it didn't seem offensive. "Except for losing my parents, I am happy."

"That's what he wanted for you and your brother. I'll see you at your house."

Later, while still at the house, Quid entertained the grandchildren of Marv Stewart by doing coin tricks, before offering his final condolences to the family and passing his card to Cindy.

John tired desperately to shake off his melancholy as he sat arranging the boxes that held all of his father's possessions. His sister would come over to his house in a couple of days and they would sort through their father's belongings, deciding who would receive which item, until they were evenly divided and fully converted from personal effects to family heirlooms. He began pulling the lids off boxes and peeked inside at the contents, hoping to find something as one last memory of his father. He saw a box with the words Jupiter Moon and remembered what Cindy had told him about the cop and his father. What would make a game so interesting that his father would play it for over two decades? He opened the box and pulled the manual for the game free, deciding to read it in the hopes of an explanation. Suddenly, he was tired of being alone in the basement of his house and decided to move upstairs to the kitchen. Walking up the stairs he read the game's description on the back cover of the manual, "a gaming experience unlike any other. Why conquer a city or a country, when you can take control of an entire globe. Experience life on the Jupiter moon of Europa as head of a galactic resource company." He flipped through the four hundred and fifty-page book and concluded the game must be fairly complicated. He would install it on his own computer later, to get a better idea of what the game was really like, certain its written description did it no justice. He walked into the kitchen. He still found it hard to believe that a man well into his late fifties would be interested in a game that appeared to be marketed to adolescent boys. Maybe it was like chess, playing chess; when you were old had an air of respectability to it. He was halted in his tracks, tears ready to escape from his eyes again over a man who appeared to have achieved so little in his life because he had sacrificed so much of it for his children's success.

In retrospect, it would have been easy to sneer at his father's pathetic life if he had not taken the time to unravel it and examine all the pieces. His father had gone in to work for the Super Service Call Centre five days a week for thirty years and he certainly hadn't been doing it for himself. He considered how hard his father had tried in life, the college degree that was never finished, the abandoned hundred-page novel, the business that never got off the ground, the trip to Europe that had been cancelled so there would be enough money for him and his sister to go to college. His father's sacrifices, that had been heroic in proportion, were going unacknowledged, because he was the only one who knew of them. His father's death had not sparked any protest or out-pouring of emotion from the public, few of his co-workers had attended his funeral and his father no longer had any friends. It was a horrible way to die. Father Connelly had repeatedly called him a "great father" at the service; what could he do now to be a great son?

"If only I could get him some recognition," he said out loud. Was there something he had done, something he was, without question, the best at? A thought came to him.

Stewart picked through the game manual and found a toll-fee number for Deluxe Games. He thought for a moment, then picked up the phone and dialed the number.

"Hello, I was wondering if there was someone I could speak to in public relations? Ms. Packard? Can I speak to her please? Oh, do you know when she'll be back? Okay, may I leave a message for her? Tell her I think I have a story for her about her company's game Jupiter Moon. I know for a fact I've found that game's number one fan. Yes, I'll leave my name and number."

After he completed the call he hung up the phone and sat staring at the manual, wondering about the software engineers who had all taken turns working on the game over the years.

"Daddy," said a soft voice.

His train of thought broken, Stewart dropped the manual on to the kitchen table and sweep his son into his arms.

"Hi sweetie, what do you want?"

"What's that you're looking at?"

"It belonged to your grandpa, it was something important to him. I'll show it to you some day."



"We were told in school that God says he has many rooms in his house.'

"That's right."

"Which room do you think grandpa is in right now? Is he with grandma?"

Stewart sighed, not sure what answer to give his son. He thought for a moment, then answered with, "I think that, wherever he is, he's happy. Are you sad about grandpa?"

"Yes daddy, a little."

"Do you want to go play catch outside?"

"Yes, can we?" came the enthusiastic reply.

"Ok, go get your shoes and ball and we'll go outside. Hurry."

He dropped his son to the floor and watched him scamper down the hall to his room. Where were his parents? If only I knew, he said to himself.

If Stewart and his son had been outside a few minutes earlier, they might have spotted a cloud drifting by that carried with it a universe.

Marvin Stewart awoke. He remembered being very sick, but now he stood inside the control room of Argyle Base 1. He was dressed as Guy Baytan. This made no sense. He wasn't playing the game; he was somehow part of it. The statcom screen flashed a message: Queen Europa wishes to communicate with you. Stewart clicked the response button on his console. His wife Margaret dressed, as the queen, appeared on the screen.

"Greetings my beautiful Guy Baytan. Keller the grasper has breached my border at the southeast corner; he appears bent on taking over Queen's Tower 14. I demand that you honor our agreement and send your combots to assist me in repelling him."

Why he said what he said he didn't know, but Stewart answered with "What do you offer me in return?"

His wife smiled. "I will arrange for us to be together for one night. Alone." She beamed, full of confidence that her offer would be accepted. "I will transmit the battle-plans for my assault against Keller and the shuttle code words for landing at Queen's Tower 3. The shuttle codes will only be valid for twenty-four hours starting tomorrow at 1800." Her transmission ended. The statcom screen flashed a message: Keller wishes to communicate with you. Stewart once again clicked the response button on his console. Keller dressed in formal battle gear appeared on the screen.

"Baytan, you look older, my once upon-a-time alley. Have you gained some weight? You need to take better care of yourself if you intend on double-crossing me with that repulsive slut, Queen Europa. Word has it that you intend to send some of your combots to assist her while she encroaches on my land. What say you?"

"The lands under Queen's Tower 14 now belong to the Monarchists, what do I have to do with it?" asked Stewart.

"Very well, Baytan, by staying on the sidelines you leave me no choice. I shall war against you and your despot friend. Kiss Argyle Base 23 goodbye." Keller laughed. "Let's have at it." His transmission ended.

Stewart didn't know what to do. He kept looking at his clothing and the room around him. On the console, the information scene showed that he controlled thirty-seven bases and was the wealthiest of the groups. How could this all be happening? he asked himself. A pause, then, "Have five units of combots sent to Base 22 so that we can assist Queen's Tower 14. Have my hovercraft prepared." He barked his orders and jumped with surprise when he heard Quid respond with "Yes, CEO, preparations are under way."

Stewart looked at Quid. Instead of appearing as a generic angle icon, he had taken on the appearance of a man. His face looked like his picture from the player inventory list at Deluxe Games' website. Stewart did not know what to say to his advisor so he just stared at him. Finally, Quid broke the silence.

"Did I not tell you the pact with Keller would fail? Do you know that Jennie herself is leading a pack of humanoids towards our border at this very moment?"

All Stewart could do was shrug.

"And now, with so much to worry about, you're making a solo visit to the Queen? CEO, you know I don't like it when you engage in such risks. Perhaps it comes from being the wealthiest and most powerful man on the moon. I suppose if I were in your position I would take such a chance just to spend a night with the Queen. You really are a successful man."

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