Chapter 01 Aboard the Devil's Delight
Galactic Year 12820, Planet Zavijava, Geostationary Orbit
2. Myth Tech
Athos emerged from the closet into passageway. All was dark except for the small red dots of emergency lamps now beginning to blink above each door. In the distance, alarms were ringing.
He stiffened in fear, but only for a moment. These were proximity alarms, which meant that a returning spaceboat was maneuvering alongside, waiting for crewmen with tractor beams to jockey it into the landing bay. He had timed it well, hoping for this: the crew would be occupied.
As in all Intrepid-class light warships, the axial passages running prow to stern were long and straight. Athos avoided those. He preferred the short, sharply curving passageways running along the ship's circumference, parallel to the outer hull.
In these curving passageways, with the lights out, the circles of light flickering along the deck from hand torches of approaching crewmen were visible even before their feet came into view. When he saw such lights gleaming, he moved swiftly and lightly away. He flitted silently from one passage to the next, making his way forward, approaching Officer’s Country, where the bridge, the officer’s quarters, the navigation tower and the captain’s cabin were situated.
The passage approaching the Officer’s Country was also dark. Unfortunately, it was straight and long, with no openings to either side. Athos had dirk in hand, since, on a naval ship, there would be marine guards posted here. But he saw no one.
He was halfway down the passage when he saw lights behind glinting off the bulkhead.
The men behind him were not visible yet, but their bootfalls echoed down the passages as they approached the turn.
At the same moment, ahead of him, he saw the dogs on the door before him turning. It was a large, heavy, oval doorway, and it took a moment, with the power off, to crank open.
Athos realized he was trapped.
Boots clanged against the deck. There were three or four crew about to turn the corner and come into the straight passage. Meanwhile the door before him was swinging open. It was a heavy pressure door. The hinge motors must have been on the same circuit as the lights, since they were not working: someone was cranking the big door open. As the crack widened, Athos heard the hum of blaster weapons on standby. There were guards here after all, on the far side of the door, and armed.
He threw back the hood of his spacecloak. From a secret, inner pocket Athos lifted up an antique treasure. A relic.
It shimmered and bloomed under his fingers, and unfolded into the shape of a Nemean mask. The metal face bore the features of some long-dead patriarch of the race of lion-people who ruled the stars a thousand years before the ascent of man: a snow-white lion with a scar above one eye.
But the technology itself was older than the Nemeans. It came from one of the extinct races of the core stars, the inner core, where the oldest civilizations of Andromeda were found. It was a psycho-reactive technology, a technology that overcame the distinction between energy and matter, between robotic programming and living thoughts.
From a secret, inner pocket he lifted up an antique treasure. A relic.
What kind of technology was it? It was Myth-Tech.
To him, it was magic.
Sometimes, Athos wondered if it were black magic. His father, after all, had fought a war and overthrew an Empire without any such thing.
Usually, he had to brace himself before putting the thing on his face. Now there was no time. The pirates would spot him once they stepped into the passageway.
Articulated clamps, jointed like the legs of a crab, slid out from the mask rim and circled his head. He felt the inside of the mask come to life. It clung to the flesh of his face, entering his nose and mouth, touching his eyeballs. An invisible and multilayered energy field of unknown composition seeped into him, warm, tingling and tickling. It penetrated his skull and sank down through his spine to his bones, to generate a clinging, skintight aura his thoughts could control, or partly control.
Athos was stronger and faster when he donned the myth-tech mask, but at a frightening price. Internal electro-stimulation increased the muscle pressure of his limbs, subcutaneous force fields rendered his bones unbreakable, neurochemical enhancement shortened the lag time of reflexes. Painful muscle cramps, internal bruising, and periods of weakness after each use was the least of his worries.
The thing had not been built with someone with his physiognomy in mind.
A force-woven holo-image formed around and over him of an antique costume from the ages of legends, complete with the wide brimmed hat, meant to shield the night-friendly eyes of lion-men from the harsh lights of daytime races, and long red coat with hems and cuffs of gold, meant to show the wealth of the lions to the poorer races.
It was the traditional garb of the pirate hunter guild, but woven, not of fabric, but of solidified force, palpable lightwaves.
His eyes adjusted to the gloom. Wavelengths above and below the human spectrum were visible to him. Hearing sharpened. Scents only a bloodhound could detect were somehow amplified in his nostrils.
Closer came the pirates from behind. The door before him began to swing open. In the crack of the widening door, he saw a glimpse of a pair of guards, one young and one old. The first was stepping over the shin-high threshold. At the same time, four figures, two hominid and two aliens, were approaching down the straight passage, their lights sweeping the deck before them.
But by then, Athos was not in sight. Up he leaped with catlike grace.
Next Installment: Black Tech