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Copyright ©2004 Lance Shawn McGill. All rights and characters reserved.


Chapter Two: Jamsona


Travel to Jamsona had taken almost a week for Arika and Jason, especially once they had left the mapped streams and had to drop into the slower byways of hyperspace. Jamsona had no charted streams within a few hundred light years, and even at multiples of light speed, those last days had seemed like a crawl.

Fortunately, they had encountered no difficulties, and had emerged into the Jamsona system without fanfare. Arika had commented on the unusual magnetic anomalies of the ice planet, her sensors unable to penetrate even a quarter mile into its magnetosphere. Jason had nodded, telling her that it was that strange field that had made Jamsona unattractive to most corporations, despite the fact such a powerful field could indicate vast iron resources. The cost of mining was just too prohibitive.

And that was what had been so appealing for Jason and the others who had settled Jamsona. No one was interested in the iceball until Jason had found the ruins.

Setting up a meeting with the target was also time consuming, taking nearly a week of planting rumors and letting his information-gathering efforts be seen. Finally he had arranged a meeting in a public place, giving every appearance of trying to protect his own safety. So long as the target thought he was the hunter, he'd never suspect Jason was a predator.

Nightfall on the sixth day found Jason with his heels kicked up on the sill, watching the sunset from a balcony alcove of Icerigger's Rest, an upscale inn for captains to relax in between runs. The population had almost boomed in the last seventy years, artifact hunters and those who lived off them having filtered in after rumors of a lost city had spread, and there was enough traffic between settlements now for shipping to be the biggest industry on the planet. Jason had shaken his head at the irony that Lombardi Enterprises was still the single biggest business on the planet, Darkstarr Industries having never changed the name.

As the sun set, he watched the various buildings switch over to the violet lights that had become common on the planet, illuminating the snowy walkways without being blinding. As the sun finally disappeared beneath the horizon, the window darkened to a black mirror, allowing Jason to watch the activities behind him.

It was a quiet night in Icerigger's, the various patrons relaxing at tables as they watched the floor show, a pair of felino dancers, the twin catgirls a novelty on such a cold planet. Jason smiled as he watched the two in the reflection, noting their skill. It was surprising to see them on such an out of the way planet, as in his estimation they were talented enough to do well on any of the more populous worlds; but they certainly had the rest of the clientele captivated. Which was the entire point of choosing Icerigger’s as a meeting place. The dancers would ensure no one would pay attention to him.

One of the waitresses stopped to refresh his drink, the pretty, pink-maned equuis dressed with a bow around her tail and nothing else, the locals’ notion of imperial fashion. Jason had found it rather amusing, but hadn't bothered to correct them either. Simple nudity was far too plain compared to typical civilian wear in the EOT, but still enjoyable, and a nice contrast to the usual cold environment gear of the customers. He watched the girl saunter off, admiring the sway of her tail as she crossed the floor. Halfway across, she passed near a figure that caught Jason's eye, the tall muscular form of a male felino wearing a captain's coat in the colors of the Darkstarr Legion. Jason noted the torn ear that jutted up through the officers cap, and the scar down the left side of his face, leaving him no doubt that his quarry had arrived. Captain Stravis watched the dancers for a few more seconds before turning and continuing to Jason's table.

"I hearrr you'rrre interrrested in me ship," he said as he took the seat across from Jason, his voice a low rumble. The rolled 'r's, so typical of felinos, added an undertone of unfocused menace to his tone.

"Lot's of people are interested in your ship, Captain Stravis. Like how you've been in port for months, rejecting pilot after pilot. Word is, you're looking for someone special."

"Aye. I need an uncommonly good pilot, which so farrr none of this rrrrabble has been. Be ye a pilot? Ye been nosing arrround the docks forrr a week."

"Yes. I'm a pilot. The best one on Jamsona."

"A bit of a brragarrt, I see. Ye not be claiming much morrre than most. Ye all claim to be the best."

"And none of them have been so. I am. You're going to need me to get where you want to go."

"Oh. And I take it ye've kenned my destination?"

"Of course. It wasn't that hard considering the standards you've set. You're looking for someone to brave the Jaws."

Stravis laughed. "Aye, ye be a smarrt one. Foolhardy, too, seems like, to be so cocky."

"Not really. I've sailed them before."

Stravis stopped laughing abruptly. "No one's sailed the jaws… save one."

"Yep. Did you finally figure out that the ruins had to be somewhere inside the Dragon's Head? It's the only spot no one can get to easily. Between the cliffs surrounding it, the polar magnetic storms and the geothermal activity, it's certain suicide. And you have to take a ship, because an attempt on foot is impossible. You'd freeze inside of an hour regardless of what gear you take. So you have to have a pilot who's just reckless enough to try, and good enough to survive. And that, my friend, is me."

"Lombarrrdi died seventy yearrrs ago."

Jason dropped his heels from the window sill and turned, sitting forward to bring his face into the light.

"As a matter of fact, I didn't. I just wasn't about to bow down to the pressure you were putting on me to tell you the location of the ruins. It's going to be on my terms… or none."

Stravis leaned back. "So, what prrroof ye have ye be who ye say ye be?"

Jason smiled. "The Sasha is my prototype. There's a joint on the left support wing where it joins the hull. My initials are carved there. It's a JL that looks like an arrow separated down the middle."

Stravis blinked. "I'll have to verrrify that."

Jason nodded. "Among other things, I suppose. Tell your boss I want no less than forty percent of all royalties, and discovery rights. I'll take you to the ruins, and go back to having a life again. Tell her if she says no, I'll just slip away again. She hasn't found me in seventy years, and she not going to."

Stravis' eyes hardened. "I'll tell her, lad. But I assurrre you, she'll not be liking it."

Jason smiled. "She's not required to."

Stravis nodded. "Tomorrrrrow morrrrning. Meet me aboard the Sasha.

Jason nodded. "Don't try any tricks, Stravis. You should know from my past how dangerous that is."

Stravis's eyes narrowed. "I rrrrrecall quite well yourrrr rrrrreputation, Lombarrrrdi." He stood. "Tomorrrrrrow, ten o'clock."

Jason watched him leave, his tail twitching agitatedly. As Stravis hit the door, Jason reached up to touch his ear.

"He's on his way out now."

"I have him, master. I'll report when he reaches his destination."

Jason nodded as he stood, tapping his credstick to the pay node on the table before leaving the booth. He walked towards the door, but paused, noting that one of the patrons was eyeing him. He returned the gaze, looking over the tall, raven-haired beauty. She smiled as their eyes met, and raised her glass in a small toast.

Jason stepped over, inserting himself into the seat next to her at the bar. "A toast? For what occasion?"

The girl laughed, a warm contralto. "For our first meeting of course. I've been watching you all night."

"Oh? Any particular reason?"

"Boredom? Mischievousness? Or maybe it's because you've been so mysterious all night. Perhaps that's what seems so exciting about you."

Jason laughed. "Nothing mysterious about me. Just waiting for a friend."

The girl smiled, vibrant red lips parting to reveal a hint of white teeth. "Alas, I am not so fortunate. My friend has neglected to show, leaving me bereft and alone."

Jason relaxed slightly. "How horrible. Leaving a beautiful woman such as yourself without a friend."

The woman gave Jason an appraising look. "I suppose I should count myself lucky to have been rescued from such a fate by you."

Jason laughed. "Any other night, I would agree; but I fear I still have errands to run yet tonight. Another night perhaps?"

The girl gave a pretty pout. "A pity. I suppose we shall just have to make a date. Is tomorrow too soon?"

Jason laughed again. "Direct aren't you? Very well, tomorrow it is. For now, I fear I must be going."

The girl smiled again. "Do take care. I'd be ever so upset to be stood up again."

Jason nodded as she lifted her glass to him once more. As he stepped out of Icerigger's, he shook his head. Paranoia was getting to him. All she'd wanted was a playmate, nothing nefarious. Whistling softly to himself, he headed back towards his ship.


The next morning had come far too quickly. He'd listened to Arika's reports until he'd confirmed Stravis's activities were only what he had expected, then called her back to the ship. Arika was nervous because Jamsona's magnetic fields limited her sensors immensely, and her comm barely carried the length of Sharon's Bay, the planet's sole spaceport. She felt nearly useless restricted to normal senses. Jason finally relented on allowing her to accompany him once she had revealed that her horns could be laid back and colored to match her hair. Dressed in thermals, she looked completely human.

They arrived at the Sasha a few minutes early, and Jason took a few minutes to verify no unusual activity was going on. Arika had reported that she'd been unable to penetrate the ships hull with her sensors acting up, so he couldn't confirm that Stravis didn't have a strike team on board, but he was confident between Arika and himself, he could handle whatever might happen.

As he stepped up to the boarding dock, he called out to the ship and asked for permission to board. The crewman who answered advised him the commander was on the bridge and to go on in. Jason's hand was on the panel when he realized the crewman had said "commander", not captain. The door slid open revealing the bridge, but it appeared empty. Guard up, he stepped inside, Arika following.

As the door closed, Arika stiffened, and turned towards the back of the bridge, her hands starting to glow. Before she could finish reacting, a bright glow of sparkling light surrounded her and she collapsed. Jason's pistol was out and pointed at the shadowy form, but it wouldn't fire. He pulled the trigger uselessly before trying to throw the pistol down and draw his sword.

"Do calm down, Jason. If I wanted you dead, I'd have killed you last night," a warm contralto said. The lights came up, revealing the girl Jason had talked to the night before, her hair no longer raven black but a lustrous red with a white streak down the middle. Her intensely green eyes sparkled as she smiled, revealing canines nearly an inch long.

Jason's eyes narrowed. "Damn it. I should trust my paranoia." He slid the sword back into his sheath. "So who the hell are you? My briefing didn't show D.I. had any mages on Jamsona. And I don't appreciate Stravis siccing you on me. If he wants to play games, my price is going to go up. Now let my companion go, and get Stravis out here."

The redhead laughed. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised you don't recognize me. I really haven't been in the news much lately, and you never did meet me before, fortunately for you."

Jason's spine tingled as dread started to creep along it. "Who are you?" he asked, far too certain he knew the answer. It was a trap… it had to be a trap… somehow, she'd known he was coming….

"You know who I am Jason. You'd be better off asking why."

Jason's eyes narrowed. "Okay. First though, release her," he said, nodding at Arika.

Ruby shook her head. "I can't just yet, Jason. She'll never harm you, ever, but she's hardwired and her governing AI will even go so far as to destroy her brain and assume complete control in order to attack me. I'm not worried she'll hurt me, Jason, but I'd rather not kill her if I don't have to."

Jason shook his head. "There's nothing like that in her programming."

Displays around the room came up with readouts identical to the one's Jason had studied, detailing every system Arika had. Ruby nodded at them. "No. I have her readouts too. And it's not anywhere in her software. It's hardwired here." A small item came up along Arika's spine, a segment of what looked like reinforcement material. "That's where her Master AI resides. It's dormant whenever her systems are scanned, so it will never appear in her printouts. It's Akara's last defense against rebellion by the Draconians. Arika doesn't even know about it. No Draconian does."

"And why should I believe anything you say, Ruby? You stole my company, my livelihood, and forced me into hiding. Why should I trust you? I should walk out of here and never look back."

Ruby nodded. "You could… and I won't stop you. But I'd like you to listen to me first. I'm sorry for what happened to you, Jason. I… was not the nicest of people seventy years ago. I'd like to make what amends I can."

Jason laughed. "Right. And just how do you propose to do that?"

The screens flickered again, changing to readouts of corporate holdings. Jason blinked when he realized they were the entirety of Lombardi Enterprises.

"It's all there, including every credit of profit made in the last seventy years. Every ship, every asset, every employee. Over a three thousand percent increase on the company purchased out from under you. And it's been signed over to you since forty years ago. Stravis is your local factor, but you're free to release him if you want your own person there, or if you care to assume personal control. You're the sole owner."

Jason blinked. "What the hell?"

"I'm not who I was seventy years ago anymore, Jason, but I hate who I was as much as you do. I would have given this all back to you years ago, but I only found out your alter ego a few weeks ago. My spies are pretty good, and when Akara tracked you down, we had the info as well. I waited to see how you jumped."

"So… this has been a setup from the start."

"No. Akara has no idea I knew what she planned. Arika was programmed to serve you in the hopes you would be captured, and brought to me, at which time her AI would activate and attempt to assassinate me. She's in stasis right now, and I can destroy her Master AI without destroying her. She'll be the same Arika you've grown used to, but unless you allow me to, I won't. I'm not a villain, Jason, regardless of what you might believe from my past actions."

"Then why did you set up this trap?" Jason asked, taking the navigators chair.

Ruby sighed. "You turned me down last night, so I had to get your complete attention. This was simply to allow me a chance to speak to you undisturbed. I doubt very much you would have accepted a normal invitation."

"You're right. Why should I listen to you now?"

"You don't have to. If you want, just tell me to go and I'll leave. This is your ship; I'm just your guest. But if you do, you'll have to spend the rest of you life looking over your shoulder wondering when Akara is going to send the next assassin, or if maybe she'll activate Arika's Master AI and have her kill you."

Jason laughed. "Akara, or you? You don't have a reputation for letting things you want go, Ruby."

Ruby nodded. "I know." She leaned forward and sighed. "Look, if I explain this all, will you keep it to yourself? Not go running to the media? I have enough problems with scandal seekers as it is, if they knew this, it could cause a lot of chaos and quite possibly a war."

Jason blinked at the seriousness of Ruby's tone. He looked at her for a long moment, remembering everything this woman had taken from him so long ago, and wondering why despite it all, he found himself wanting to trust her. Something about her just didn't jib with the ruthless corporate tyrant he'd expected. Some sense that she felt vulnerable, that she needed help. He looked over at Arika, laying on the floor surrounded blue sparkles.

"Alright, you want my promise to keep what you tell me to myself, release her."

"I cannot do that unless I remove her Master AI, Jason."

"Will it cripple her?"

"No. It won't affect any of her systems; just remove the threat that she won't obey you if you ask her not to attack me."

"Then do it. You can make your case to both of us."

Ruby nodded, and looked at Arika. The Draconian rose from the floor and hovered just above it as her clothing separated and revealed her abdomen. Jason stared as the skin on her stomach parted, the various layers of skin, dermal armor and reinforcement lattice sliding to the sides and revealing the various components of her internal systems. Those also separated, components floating outward until finally her spine was revealed. Jason looked over at Ruby, noting the intense concentration on her face and swallowed hard. He'd expected her to have Arika taken to a lab, not this. It was a potent reminder of exactly how powerful an archmage was. He'd never seen telekenetics this precise.

As the device Ruby had indicated was separated from the other systems, Jason could see how it had been connected to Arika's primary nervous system. As Arika's parts continued to float, he watched the severed connections reroute and reconnect, the nerve pathways restructuring to bypass the interruptions. Finally Arika's components began to replace themselves and the tissue layers sealed. As Ruby sighed and relaxed, Jason could see that Arika's skin was completely unmarked. The component she had removed hovered just in front of him.

"A souvenir. Feel free to have it analyzed to verify its contents. Just make sure the AI is isolated from a computer net when you do." Ruby took a deep breath. "I'm going to release her now; please ask her not to attack."

Jason took the item and nodded. Arika's feet touched the floor and the sparkles disappeared. In a flash, Arika's heavy cannon appeared, aimed at Ruby.

"Stop," Jason said quickly. "Do not attack."

Arika's eyes did not waver, but the cannon didn't fire. "Are you certain, Master? My databanks identify her as Ruby Darkstarr."

"Yes. You have been in a stasis field for a few minutes now, Arika. Ruby and I have agreed to speak peacefully and I requested you be allowed to hear what she had to say. There is a truce for the moment."

Arika nodded. "Understood, Master. I will honor the truce." The massive cannon lifted as Arika shifted it to rest on the blade, holding it like a staff, and indicating she was ready to use it if need be.

Ruby smiled. "I apologize for placing you in stasis, Arika. I did not seek to harm you, but to prevent you from coming to harm. You bore a device that could have overridden your systems, and possibly have resulted in your death in an attempt to kill me. You were not aware of the device, and it was carefully hidden to escape detection. I do not seek to cause your master harm. I bear no weapons save those I cannot lay aside."

Arika nodded. "Confirmed. My sensors do not detect any external weapons. Internal scans reveal anomalous readings. Cannot confirm due to interference of local planetary fields."

Ruby looked over at Jason. "Eventually, she will learn to speak in less… precise language."

Jason shrugged. "Okay, I'm willing to listen… for the moment. Tell me why I should trust you."

"And if you decide to not accept my offer?"

"I will keep the information confidential, per guild policy." He lifted his wrist to show his guild badge. "By Guild law, I am recording this meeting, and all information shared from this point is for my eyes only, amended in this case to include my aide, Arika Draco. By the terms of the Imperial Mercenaries Guild, I am a free agent, and may reject your request for any reason. Are you familiar with the pertinent laws, or do you need them to examine?"

Ruby smiled. "I am a member in good standing of the Guild as well. I am familiar with Guild law. You are free to reject my request upon full disclosure of the details."

Jason tapped his wristband. "Very well, let's hear it."

Ruby sat back in her chair. "First, let me inform you that I'm not Ruby Darkstarr."

Jason lifted an eyebrow. "Okay, explain."

"The woman you know as Ruby Darkstarr died about fifty years ago. I am her in body, but I have no memories of being her. I don't recall any of my life before I woke up following an almost successful assassination attempt. I have good reason to be cautious of Draconians, Jason. Three of them almost succeeding in killing me."

Jason's eyes were appraising. "And just how have you been able to conceal this? I would have thought that would have been the story of the millennium."

Ruby nodded. "My medtech helped me conceal it originally, claiming I was too weak to be seen while I ransacked my personal files trying to rebuild who I had been." She hung her head. "What I discovered was that I seemed to have been an ice-hearted bitch who viewed the entire universe as pawns in a game. I learned I really couldn't stand myself, or the company I'd built. I've been spending the last fifty years quietly cleaning house."

Jason leaned back. "Okay, so if I buy that you have amnesia, then I suppose the person I have a gripe with no longer exists. Fine. It's far too strange a story for anyone to believe, so I guess I have to accept that you're not insulting my intelligence, and are telling the truth. Now, why is that such a big deal? You mentioned a war?"

Ruby nodded. "Yes." She nodded at Arika. "Akara Murin, the Shadowmage, is a mage taught by my previous self. Sometime about a century ago, they had a falling out, which resulted in Akara getting removed from the Mages Guild and exiled. She killed a former Magister and took his place in the Andromedan hierarchy. With her Draconian army, she's made herself High Magister, and it's only her fear of me that keeps her from attempting to launch a war of conquest against the Empire. If she becomes aware of my condition, she'll no longer hesitate, and while I believe the EOT will win, it will be a long and very bloody war."

Jason looked at Arika, and imagined waves of her mounted on the backs of dragons. He shuddered. "Okay. I see your point. Where do I come in?"

Ruby smiled. "I've been restructuring Darkstarr Industries and the Darkstarr Legion. I've more or less set up the business to run itself, and I've got the best talent the Mercenaries Guild has to offer. We're not the Black Legion anymore, either. That's why I want to hire you. You're one of those 'best'."

Jason laughed. "You want me to join the Legion?"

"More, I want you to come, study them, and tell me why they are not as effective as they should be. Next to Andre, you're the best qualified to do that. You retired rather than face Andre for the position of Guildmaster."

Jason stopped laughing. "I see you've done your research."

"Yes."

"And why do you need to make the Legion so effective? What's your plan?"

Ruby stood and walked to the windows, Arika's eyes tracking her. "Because I keep finding hints in my personal files that Akara is simply a front for someone else, someone more dangerous. Take Arika here. Akara doesn't have the knowledge to create a Draconian. Someone else designed them. Akara just makes them."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? I'll admit Arika is the most sophisticated cyborg I've ever seen, but…"

Ruby waved at the screen next to her, and Arika's readouts shifted. "It's not her electronics, Jason. It's the nanomechanics"

Jason stared at the items the screen had focused on. "What the hell?"

"Atomic-level engineering, Jason. From the lowest level to the highest system, Arika is completely artificial. Only her brain is natural, transplanted from her original body. Remind you of anything?"

Jason nodded. "Some Original Empire artifacts. Are you saying the Draconians are artifacts?"

Arika had actually stopped watching Ruby, and was examining the screens. "None of this is in my databanks."

Ruby shook her head. "No, and I'm not surprised. Nobody we know of has recreated the First Empire's ability to build on the atomic level short of very simple items made by high level telekenetics. The cost in energy and computing power is enormous, and there are much easier ways to build things. The Mages Guild has enormous files on every nanotechnology device ever found, and nothing like Draconians match. That means whoever has supplied the means to create them has access to knowledge beyond anything Akara could know."

Jason nodded. "Which brings us to the question of why you need such a good army of your own."

Ruby smiled. "Because I have to have my own match for the Draconians. And once I do, we will have to carry out a surgical strike against Akara, and eliminate her, hopefully finding a way to track down whoever is behind her."

Jason shook his head. "Madness. You have to have something to go on besides that?"

Ruby bit her lip. "Yes… but I doubt you'll believe me."

Jason smiled. "I'm not a hundred percent sure I believe you now. Try me."

Ruby stared out the window. "How old do you think I am, Jason?"

Jason shrugged. "Officially, around seven and a half thousand. You should still have a couple of thousand left in you."

Ruby shook her head. "According to my personal files, I'm well over a hundred thousand… possibly far more."

Jason's eyes widened. "Impossible."

Ruby gave him a sad smile. "I would have thought so too, except for some rather telling points my records made." She turned to look at him directly. "I'm famous for discovering the City of the Rings, right? Only I didn't discover them. I have my logs and journals from back then, and I never went looking for it. I just announced the discovery and took an expedition straight to them. My previous self knew where it was, exactly." She shrugged. "There's other stuff too. Like notes on the development of various planets, references to how little the war had left, manipulating the Mages Guild to restart civilization. I could give you the exhaustive list, but we'd be here for a month. I'm far older than I look, and my previous self had an agenda, rebuilding the civilization that fell when the First Empire was destroyed. I still have that agenda, but I'm no longer of the opinion that the end justifies the means I was using." She looked Jason straight in the eyes. "But there was one thing my previous self was absolutely convinced of. That the force behind the destruction of the First Empire was just as alive as she was. As I am. And that I am the only thing standing between him and the absolute power he desires."

Jason tilted his head. "He?"

Ruby nodded. "He. His name is Daemon. And according to my previous self, he's my twin brother."

Jason rolled his eyes. "Okay, so taken to its logical end, that makes you at least four hundred thousand years old, and if he single-handedly wiped out the First Empire, he's a god. Right?"

Ruby nodded. "Jason, you have absolutely no idea exactly how powerful I am. If Daemon is my match, I can fully believe it."

"No one is that strong!"

Ruby turned to look out the window again. "If I prove to you how strong I am, will you accept that my fear is justified?"

"And how do you propose to do that?"

Ruby closed her eyes as Arika stepped back. "I'm reading a massive power spike from her, Master."

Jason held up his hand. "It's okay; let's see what she's doing."

Arika nodded. "Yes, Master. Power levels have exceeded my sensors ability to measure."

The air around them seemed to grow heavy as a charge developed in the air. A low subliminal hum began to manifest that grew louder and louder, yet never actually reached audibility. The very air around Ruby seemed to waver…

Then, loud cracks from outside drew his attention. He stepped up to the windows and stared in amazement.

The cloud cover had rolled back, the sky crystal-clear from horizon to horizon, and the snow was melting before his eyes. The Sasha groaned as she settled, the ice under her melting away. In minutes, as the sound of the hum continued to rise, the ground was completely ice-free as far as he could see. People all along the docks stared in wonder at the water now lapping against docks. Many began pulling off their thermalwear as the air temperature continued to rise.

Jason called up his ship, linking to his onboard uplink to the weather satellites. The screens across the Sasha's bridge switched to planetary views as it became obvious the entire planet had shifted free from the ice. Warnings flashed across the screens as an orbital shift was recorded by the satellite network. The spaceports comlines were jammed with calls. A babble of voices as dozens of distress calls came in from cities across the planet, many built as much into and under the ice as above, started flooding.

Then exclamations of surprise as the water stopped, and was pushed out of the cities by invisible walls of force. Jason listened in awe as the babble of voices reported the bedrock pushing up around the cities, raising them above the higher sea level. The satellites started going wild reporting new weather systems developing as the atmosphere warmed to above freezing, finally reporting that the entire atmosphere had developed typical patterns for a normal temperate planet. Jason stared at the screens, barely registering the lowering hum, which finally faded as Ruby reopened her eyes.

"Thank you for turning on the comm." Ruby said, startling Jason. "I had forgotten many of the cities here were below sea level. Could have been messy."

Jason stared at her. "You moved the planet?"

"And thawed it out. If I had just moved it, the next few centuries of warming would have been hell for storms, earthquakes and floods. I just put it into an orbit at the median habitual range and warmed it to the appropriate temperatures. I can't do any thing about the magnetic fields without ripping the planet totally apart and rebuilding it."

Jason shook his head. "That's impossible! No mage I've ever heard of could do that! Not singlehandedly!"

Ruby gave him a half smile, but said nothing.

Jason looked back at the screens, mute witness to the impossible, and heard the rising babble of astonished voices on the comm, and from outside.

"A smart businessman would see this as a perfect opportunity to invest heavily in terraforming supplies. The algae will bloom heavily for the next year, but this planet has no real biosphere. Without the cold limiting their growth, the algae are likely to kill themselves off by overgrowth. You need a diversified ecology set up here fast if you want to keep this world from becoming a hot desert rather than a cold one. Lombardi Enterprises is ideally situated to make this world a paradise. Could keep you busy for centuries, if you don't want to come with me."

Jason couldn't stop staring at the screens. "You can't even remember your past, but you can do this… And if you can do this… and your brother is your equal." He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. "All you want is advice on improving the Legion?"

"Yes."

"Are you willing to accept criticism without blasting me into atoms?"

"I want someone who's willing to be honest, Jason. Nothing less. My Captains will respect you for your past record, and accept your advice as well."

Jason didn't look up. "Let me think about it."

Ruby nodded. "Very well. I will be aboard my ship at the starport. The Shadowhawk."

Jason nodded as Ruby turned, already fading from view as she teleported.

Arika came over to stand by him as he continued to sit with his eyes closed. "Master? Are you okay?"

Jason laughed. "Okay? I just had everything I thought I knew about the universe turned on its ear. I'm fine… just need a little time to adjust."

"If it is any consolation, Master, I am unsettled as well. Not even the entire Council of Magisters could have done what she just accomplished in the time she did. It took them a thousand years to make the Crown Worlds and make them stable enough to begin terraforming."

Jason nodded, recalling the Magisters attempt to outshine the City of the Rings by creating a system of six worlds sharing the same orbit. It had been a laughingstock for centuries as the Magisters had attempted to stabilize the orbits, failing so often their final success had been more or less anticlimactic.

And there had been no fewer than a hundred archmages working on that at any given time.

He sighed. What does one do when asked for help by a god?


Ruby shifted into the common area of her ship and sigh. It had gone better than expected, but less than she had hoped. She undid the fastenings on her thermals and tossed them aside, opening up the comm channel with a thought as she fell onto the couch.

"Shadowhawk to Nova, come in."

"Nova here, Commander. Commodore Silverleaf."

"Being formal again, Kyren? I thought I told you to lay off that?"

"I'm on the bridge, Commander. I do try to keep some modicum of formality here."

"All right, it's your command. Were you monitoring?"

"It was a bit hard to miss, Commander. We had to adjust orbit."

"Sorry. Keep a watch for incoming ships. Anyone looking for my signature could probably read that across the entire local group."

"Affirmative. Angel says she'll be down in a few moments."

Ruby laid her head back on the couch. "Good. Tell her I have a headache."

The comm emitted what sounded like a laugh before closing. Ruby lay back rubbing her temples and enjoying the silence. While moving the planet hadn't even come close to pushing her limits, using that much psionic energy was a strain since she'd lost her memory.

At least all her recent memories… she hadn't lied to Jason that she had no recollection of being Ruby Darkstarr the Corporate Ice Queen, but she could recall small flashes of memories, disjointed pieces of a life she could not make sense of. Indeed, the only part of her life she could recall most of was her earliest days, and she doubted anyone would believe her if she revealed how old she truly was. Even she barely believed them.

She had been born, as best as she could recall, far before the First Empire was ever even built, before the City of the Rings, before psionics had developed to the point most just called it magic, before even her homeworld had advanced out into space to build its first colonies. She'd even visited the place she remembered as her hometown. It had been strange to look up from a virgin hilltop and see the City of the Rings in the sky she had recalled once only holding the moon. Angel had held her hand as she had sat and told her about the small town that had once been there, back before everyone had forgotten the planet had once been called Earth.

At best guess, she had passed her millionth birthday already, but had no idea of when it had actually been. She couldn't even recall what her original name had been. Only vague memories of a childhood during the very dawn of mankind's migration from his home world into the larger universe.

And not a single memory of her brother, just a nagging foreboding whenever she tried.

"Dwelling on the lack of memories isn't going to help, Ruby."

She looked up to see Angelica Sarel, her chief medical officer, and for a second, lost in old memories, she noted that the woman would almost seem a parody of what had once been the human female norm. She was extremely large-breasted, almost cartoonishly so, her arms almost disappearing under their mass as she crossed them with a frown. Her hips were exceptionally rounded as well, giving her an exaggerated hourglass form, and she was totally hairless from the hairline down, even her eyebrows a tattoo design rather than hair. Her strawberry blonde hair was short, a cute pixie-puff surrounding a heartstoppingly pretty face with wide green eyes and pouty lips, her pointed ears bearing enormously oversized hoops that matched the pair that dangled from her nipples, and the small one that peeked from between her legs. Ruby blinked away the cartoon impression as she recalled how different the human race had become in the intervening millennia since her last dependable memories. Genetic Engineering, mutation, whatever it was that had happened, modern humans lived nearly a hundred thousand years, and suffered few of the problems that plagued the humans she had been born among. These days, Angel's figure was the outcome of her sweet tooth, her body accommodating the sugar overload in far more appealing ways than of old.

She sighed as Angel sauntered over and sat on the couch next to her. "I know, but you know I can't help it, love."

Angel laughed. "I know, dear. But neither of us has been able to unlock that wall you built yet. It will happen in its own time, just like Jason."

"So you think he'll accept?"

"He's in shock right now. Like most of the rest of the planet. You really should warn me before pulling these stunts. I've managed to calm the worst of the confusion, but even an Alpha Class Empath can only do so much."

Ruby sighed again; she should have known Angel had been busy trying to settle down the populace. As a Hetaera, she was oath bound to aid those in emotional trauma, and as an Alpha Class, she was one of the few hundred who could do that on a planetary scale.

"I'm sorry. It was an impulse. I needed to impress Jason with exactly how powerful Daemon could be, and I figured a comparison was the easiest way to do that."

"Well you certainly overawed him… along with the rest of the planet."

Ruby grinned sheepishly. "You always did say I have a tendency to go overboard."

Angel laughed. "Yes, I certainly do. Why do you want him so bad anyway?"

Ruby leaned back to crack her neck. "Because no matter how skilled my current officers are, most of them are still a bit young, and untried, and they don't have any sense of overall coherence. I have five specialized divisions, not one Legion. I've rebuilt it from the ground up since relieving the old commander, but I still don't have it back to the effectiveness it had before. Jason's my best shot at trying to figure out what's wrong. There's a reason he was once known as the Jack of All Trades. If you composed a list of the top fifty mercenaries in any combat specialty, he'd be on it."

"Ah. So you want him to tell you what you're doing wrong. Finally listening to me."

Ruby gave Angel an evil eye. "I'm an amnesiac, not an idiot. I need help, and regardless of how skilled I once was at managing people, I'm in over my head as I currently am. Jason's my last best hope to save the universe."

"Quite a bit to put on one of us poor mortals."

Ruby threw a pillow at her. "Like you're not nearly at my power level as an empath — something that I suck at, I might add."

"You repress far too many feelings to use your empathy effectively." Angel smiled. She rolled over and pinned Ruby to the couch. She looked down at the redhead and grinned. "I, on the other hand, believe in expressing my feelings whenever possible. And, after having to settle down an entire planet, I need to work off the tension. Now, I was up on the Nova, so I didn't get to feel the earth move. You are going to correct that."

Ruby laughed. "Yes, dear."

 

To be continued.

Chapter 3
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