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Starchasers
Origins
諸行無常 Extragalactic Containment Protocol
是生滅法 To Kill a God-Emperor
生滅滅已 Memories of a Bloodless Thrall
寂滅為楽 Destroyer of Universes
桃色髪型の
破壊神
The One with Several No Good Rotten Space Vermin


This article, Extragalactic Containment Protocol, contains the following:

Swearing.

Reader discretion is advised.



“Look at this shithole,” Specimen #4217 rasped, musing over the dark, dusty, desert-like expanse of the planet they had been teleported to. It was more desolation than anything else; there were neither beasts nor vegetation as far as the eye could see.

“Look at all this shit, all this is just a bunch of shit,” mused Specimen #3118. “It’s too hot,” he whined, that lizard-looking fellow with a very long tongue.

“I agree. We should get out of here,” Specimen #4683 complained. “I hate this place; it’s horrible and I want to blow it up.”

Specimen #3118 concurred. “This place is a dump. We could just light it up and–”

“No,” interrupted Specimen #0217, their leader. “That would breach protocol.”

“Whatever. I mean, the runner must have already done that. I’ll wager a sloppy bowl of rat guts he has. Soon as we confront him…”

“Fuck that shit. I don’t know what the fuck you’re on about mate.”

Specimen #0217 was none too pleased by this arrangement, and indeed, he had nothing to add to this meaningless conversation. The four of them stared down upon the canyon below, windsong coursing through the kilometer deep fissure. “I’ve got his scent. He’s there–beyond the canyon in that city. He’s hiding out, most likely.”

“Having himself a right proper time,” Specimen #4683 complained. “I bet he’s breached protocol with at least five of this universe’s females, aheheheh. I’d bet you a chocolate space cucumber, Specimen #3118, how about it?”

“Nah, that’s just a bunch of shit.”

“We have a mission; we must see it through,” Specimen #4217 said. He was a flat-faced man with extra ears and nose-holes that flapped very noisily when he flew.

The others grumbled; thunder beat like a drum in the sky. “This is the first time I’ve ever been to Universe 2. I don’t like it. Horrible universe, this. We should destroy this planet and the runner and fuck off back home, I say.”

“Fuck home,” Specimen #0217 growled impatiently. “Better to be free than well-fed.”

“Maybe for you,” the blue-billed, scaly-looking fellow snapped.

Though night was quickly approaching, this planet was an arid wasteland, barely tolerable. Sweat clung to the back of Specimen #0217’s neck. He took a deep breath, inhaling the wind. “With me,” he told them, picking up the scent again.

Leaping into the sky, the four specimens focused and steeled themselves for the confrontation to come. A runner was a rare foe, though not unheard of. Specimen #1653 had been a runner too, and they had exterminated him with little effort. There had been others too, others even before Specimen #0217 had been promoted to the experimental vanguard. They were all gone now.

Doctor Tau had great faith in these four. They were loyal beasts, each bred to near-perfection. Amongst the specimens, a sort of hierarchical ranking system had developed, based upon genetic fortitude and a healthy, normal appearance. Both Specimens #3118 and #4217 were in the B Tier—solid, able-bodied specimens, but nothing to write home about. Specimen #4683, however, was in the A Tier, and was a striking figure, or so Specimen #0217 was told. That was because he himself was in the D Tier, the lowest of the bearable tiers, stemming mainly from his lack of fur (he had very much a leporine face, so they had told him) and his blindness.

Such a genetic fault could only have appeared in a specimen from the first batch—one of the original 1200. He was one of the few such specimens still around, though not Doctor Tau’s favorite. It had taken him almost his entire life to get to this point, to prove to his master through drills and tests and performance repetition that he was indeed one of the most powerful specimens in the multiverse. This was only his second mission. On the first, he had been instructed to stand back and watch his fellows butcher a traitorous runner. One who breaches containment protocol, especially towards another universe, is undeniably evil. Specimen #0217 knew that was so.

In the city beyond the canyon, ravenous street vendors were selling caramelized pep-pep, shrunken for the customer’s convenience. There weren’t just natives here, though most were. “Orange little bald fuckers,” Specimen #3118 complained. “Got glowy green jewels in their foreheads, but why? Creatures of the second universe are bizarre, no?”

“No. I just want to tear out that one’s throat.”

“We are not to disturb the local community in an event of extragalactic containment protocol,” Specimen #0217 recited. “There he is.”

They stopped in the street. That only made the desperate merchant vermin shout more hoarsely, calling as if to wandering lovers.

“He’s mine,” declared Specimen #4217, who stood over three meters tall, dwarfing even Specimen #0217.

“We’re meant to work together, come on!”

But he would not wait. The beast, nearing perfection, threw himself into the ghze-yu broth shop, where three patrons sat enjoying meals. It was not hard for them to tell which one was the runner: Specimen #1099. He was a broad-shouldered little fluffball with knives for claws and daggers for teeth. He could move faster than anyone here, including Specimen #0217. They had been taught how to anticipate his speed, however.

Specimen #1099 had run three hours ago, and Doctor Tau had approved his death warrant just before sending off their team. Whoever got the kill would gain the most prestige undoubtedly, but this being only his second mission, the blind man chose to remain in a passive role. He had never been one to suckle at the teat of self-glory.

Three seconds later, Specimen #4217’s head was detached from his neck, and they were three.

“Let’s go together! Screw the plan!” screamed Specimen #3118, whom he thought was a rather dramatic specimen, and who no doubt lacked one or two of the significant genetic components required for grace.

The three of them closed in on the rogue specimen. “Come to bring me home?!” screamed the little fluffball, whose fur was supposedly a deep golden-orange color.

“We’re not taking you that far.”

“Join me, and we can all—”

“Oh fuck off. Fuck me.”

“Oh, excuse me there… fuck me? How about fuck you?!” squealed Specimen #1099.

Combined, three always beat one. But at least two of those three were proper space donuts. The master of agility found an opening in Specimen #3118’s form, cutting a gash so deep in his neck, neither one of them bothered to try to save him. Specimen #4683 fell two seconds later when twin energy beams crashed into his chest, tearing holes straight through, exposing a near-perfect bone structure.

“Come on, man. Right now you could be just like me.”

They had died as insects died, as the space rats that infested Doctor Tau’s research station died, and he felt only the breeze on his neck, reminding him of how humid this world was. A charred red sky was fading of color. It tingled his skin, to know that he knew that. He could feel the eyes of more than one native on his back. The protocol was his guide. A deep and quiet fury was stirring in his shoulders.

“Come on, come on!” Specimen #1099 was breathing very fast. His feet stirred on the stone floor, and Specimen #0217 barely dodged as he came for him that time.

“You’re fast.” he landed with his back to his opponent, which was a very bad move. Had the doctor been watching, he would have criticized Specimen #0217 with that familiar whining tone of his: Keep your focus on your opponent at all times! Turning your back to them is not just disrespect, but utter narcissistic foolishness. He hoped the doctor was right.

“I like your cutters, mate. They’re bigger than mine! Shame doc didn’t give me a whoppin’ jaw like that, eh?”

He took a deep breath, listening, feeling his surroundings. “If you like them, you shall have them.”

His movements always made the quietest of sounds before they reached him. Specimen #0217 jumped aside, teleporting around his foe with blinding speed of his own, enough to make Specimen #1099 pause. “You’re quite unlike the rest.”

“I am Specimen #0217,” the blind bunny said stoically. “If you dare think yourself more than my equal, prove it. I am the shield of Doctor Tau, his champion, come to lay the dishonor of your betrayal to rest. I will protect his legacy from your selfish impudence.”

That made his foe very, very angry. He lunged right at him. It was easy for the larger specimen to parry, easy for him to kick the little furball away, easy for him to split his form into three and surround the beast, confusing it as it rose too eagerly to challenge him again. The power of three superior specimens was enough to batter the runner in seconds. His fur ran sticky with blood as the tri-form pummeled him to a heap of broken bones.

This was quickly leading towards an inevitable result. Specimen #1099, for all his folly, was not the imbecile that Specimen #3118 had been. He tried something unexpected, and violent, and being in tri-form was perhaps all that saved him from being vaporized by the blast. Stumbling back, his forms collapsing in on themselves, Specimen #0217 cleared his thoughts and focused again. He knew any misstep could cost him his life.

The air cracked; a flaming orange aura spread around his body. Shooting hard at his foe, Specimen #0217 crashed into the furry critter with his shoulder, pulling him from the air with his left hand and pinning him to the floor. Then, his right fist raised, a vortex of burning ki swirling around it, he pummeled the little thing over and over and over again. The air exploded, and a smell of burning hair spread through the shop like the reek of death.

Amidst the smoke and dust, Specimen #1099, very much wounded and very much petrified, attempting to flee. That was when Specimen #0217, the blind one, pinned him to the ground by his teeth, gripping the witless little specimen by the back of the neck. One bite was all it took to end that fatuous runner’s sprint.

The wind was on his neck, and the air conditioners in the shop were doing a poor job at masking the humidity from outside, he thought. Still, the broth did smell very good, he had to admit. He could allow himself to focus on that now. Their eyes were glued upon him when he sat down at one of the vacated seats and finished the steaming bowl of savory broth that had been left behind in one gulp before leaning back in his chair and sighing long. Sometimes he wished he could see. Today was, for some queer reason, not one of those days.


“Pity about your comrades.” The doctor’s stubby feet, wrapped up so warmly in his curly, red-toe boots, were swaying back and forth from the side of the table. He always liked to sit on the desk, rather than behind it, during these post-mission interrogations.

“They were weak, so they died.”

“Even so, they were your brothers. Doesn’t that make you sad, Specimen #0217?”

“I have many brothers and sisters, doctor. My empathy is stretched beyond its limits.”

They were seated in a dim-lit room, the walls looming as drab blue metal, scattered hordes of rust soiling them like pox scars. The desk and two chairs were the only items in the room. Before the doctor had allowed Specimen #0217 inside, he had been ‘detox’d’ in a machine just outside the door.

“You did well killing Specimen #1099. He was amongst the most powerful specimens in my records. That only adds to your own feats, of course,” he said, smiling greedily. Tau was a little man, with a chestnut-color fur coat washing over his face and neck, extending down below his black-and-blue pocketed jumpsuit that covered most of his body, sans his furry wrists up to his furry elbows, which he always left exposed (for some odd reason, being unable to tolerate long sleeves being pulled down over his arms all the way). “There are now none who remain of the original 1200 specimens save for you, my old friend. Do you know that?”

“Now I do.” Anxious energy was building in his spine, permeating his inner focus, and the more he focused upon it, the less it hurt to use the telepathic powers of domination over emotion that he had mastered in order to become the perfect specimen many years ago.

“For your success in quelling the last runner of the original 1200, I name you Vizzer, formerly Specimen #0217—join now my elite vanguard, sir!”

He was at once and without warning overwhelmed with emotions. Falling from his chair to a knee, Vizzer bowed deeply before Doctor Tau. He was thankful he was in the dark. “S-sir… I don’t know what to say. You have presented me with a great honor. I am forever in your debt.”

“Rise, Vizzer. It is long-past time my oldest living specimen be honored so.”

He was flushed with pride. Losing focus, Vizzer stood and found his chair again. “I-I don’t know what to say, doctor… I didn’t expect…”

“Quiet, Vizzer. You are the last of the original 1200. You must act like it. You have elite powers, and the training you have undergone at my behest has proven to be quite beneficial. You significantly outlasted specimens from the third and fourth batches of 1200. Your years of experience are quantifiably placing you in a tier far above them, Vizzer. Do you know that now there are only seventeen specimens remaining from the second batch of 1200? None are as strong as you—I know this truly, having trained them for almost as long as I’ve trained you, my son. And certainly, you have proved yourself far superior to the third and fourth batches… my, my. I think this means you can go on a solo mission for me.”

“I will not fail you, doctor!” he barked pridefully, his head swimming in blank euphoria, spinning and warm and pleasant to bask in.

“Go to Planet Kheriedu in Universe 12. There you will find Specimen #1835. She will have something to give you. Please take it from her and return it to me at once.”

“I will not fail you, Doctor Tau!”

The old man smiled at him warmly. “Well then. Let us get to work. As you know, my old friend, the work goes ever on and on.”

“Don’t let yourself get buried in it, doc.”

He found his way to the portal room by sense of smell. This path had not yet grown familiar enough for him to trust his dirty paws to navigate it by memory. There, two or three specimens were teleporting in and out of various portals—other members of the experimental vanguard performing their sacred duties and tasks for the good doctor.

He immediately felt his chest swell up with pride when he entered the room, for now he was no longer a specimen, but a named son of Doctor Tau. Such an honor put him above even A Tier genetic talents. It was not his place, however, to reveal to the others this glorious turn of events. The doctor, bless his bodkin fingernails, would spill the news casually to one of his lab assistant specimens at some point, and then they would spread the news to other specimens, and within hours everyone would know—all five hundred thirty-four of Doctor Tau’s creations. Of them, only five had ever achieved the glory of getting their own name. Three of those children were now dead. One was missing in Universe 8. Vizzer would be the only one in the research station.

He grinned, his fortunes changing. By the time he returned from this mission, the news would have doubtless spread. He would no longer be looked down upon, even by third and fourth batch specimens. Now he would command all of their respect, not only as their elder, but as their superior.

Lumbering up to the Universe 12 portal, Vizzer’s ear twitched. His jaw shot forward, laden with rows of flesh-shredding teeth, and caught a bold space rat who had been climbing on the portal’s stage, sniffing for scraps of something edible. Without hesitating, he bit down, feeling the crunch of its ribcage fracturing as all the warm, beating goodness within spilled lasciviously down his throat. The life-warm, feral taste of the beast’s blood drove him through to the other side.


A legion of hovering news monitors were buzzing emphatically, their text and backgrounds strobing deep red, as if to the tune of a heartbeat, with information about the dangerous Kiper-Vauku pirates who had recently overrun several nearby planets, butchering them lifeless and plundering each world dry in the process. Hit’s mug remained untouched. As a miniscule golden bird came cheerfully flying in, Hit’s eye settled on the fact that its movements were wholly artificial, and in that, he drew comfort.

The twinkling, delicate thing dismounted from the sky, landing softly on the counter. The alien sitting next to him glanced over fearfully, and when the hologram spread out over the bird, he shuddered and slipped away, finding a new seat a few paces down the counter.

“Dead or alive?” Hit asked.

“Dead. Tau’s head is the bounty here.”

“Understood.”

“You are also required to kill his specimens to receive full payment. If they are not wiped out, we can only pay you thirty-three percent of the bounty reward, even with Tau’s head. Do you understand?”

“Who are the specimens?”

“Creatures… monsters—horrible, vulgar things. Beast of nightmares; grotesque monstrosities created as if only to mock—and crudely so—what life should be. Ugh! They are utterly repugnant. Whenever I behold them, my senses are grossly overwhelmed. I hope you may fare better in that regard, Hit. You must wipe them out. They are more powerful than the doctor, but nothing you cannot handle. There are five hundred thirty-eight of them, by our last count, but that number is always changing.”

“I’ll be collecting my reward tomorrow. Have it ready.”

He took the sparkling golden aquelo bird, shaped in the form of the colorful aerial pack predators (not unlike flying space piranhas, one could say) who roam the wild forests of Angenyi’Talamesh, and crushed it softly between the fingertips of his forefinger and thumb. Its head twisted up towards him in its last act as a tangible force when he grabbed it, but he looked away just then, his eyes finding the glowing screen of the floating news monitor again, and being comforted by the deep red pulses flashing in warning.


Planet Kheriedu was, for the most part, an overgrown, unkempt swamp, with black-bubbling pools of toxic sludge and mossy, bony trees sprouting up from amidst festering bogs like broken fingers. In the middle of all this, in the northern hemisphere, a clearing had been made where a magnificent stone complex had been erected, wrought of milky white stone that almost looked like polished marble. So striking was it in comparison to the dull green, grey, brown, and black decay found nearly everywhere else on the planet, that Vizzer was shocked to learn from the first archeologist he ran into that this complex was over three hundred thousand years old, if not older.

Such time was too much for Vizzer to comprehend. After a certain point, it was all infinity, washing away into nothingness.

Climbing the steps of the pyramid temple, sensing his sister at the top, inside the stone-carved building, bejeweled by emeralds and melted white gold in the doorway patterning, Vizzer, son of Tau, felt a sudden spike of energy descend upon the temple. There were forty-five archeologists or other people in the temple—including his sister, Specimen #1835. That forty-sixth person was a sudden and unwelcome intruder, like when you purchase your pet intestinal gueliworm in good faith and it comes with a healthy twin free of charge.

He materialized before Vizzer like a picture fading into reality, fracturing immediately to life like bits of glass. Before him now stood, on the steps leading up to the mighty temple ruins of a long-vanished empire, a thin, slender, graceful boy. He was not as tall as Vizzer—not even half as tall, perhaps. He wore no shirt, showing off his lean muscles and abs. He had unnaturally long arms, light blue skin, a pair of dark wings, curled around his naked back, and a curved horn above his forehead. His hair was bushy and black, and his eyes and mouth exuded a heat that informed Vizzer that this beast’s aforementioned eyes and mouth were glowing with the heat of his hot-blooded energy.

“You’ll get me out of here, no? No? Heeheehee! Oh no, won’t you please? You promised me you would, I know I heard you say! I know you promised me… love, please don’t make me beg…!” the boy sang innocently in a rather girlish voice, almost making it seem like this beast should be female. But no, surely not—it was due to how he could sense it, feel it, stand in its presence, that made him know this thing was male… but that was not all.

Before Vizzer could react, the the shorter alien moved with blinding speed and bit him cravenly on the elbow. Staggering back, the hairless bunny fired a short burst of tiny, clustered orange ki balls up at him, but the energy just seemed to sail right through him. He laughed boyishly, and now Vizzer was certain his foe was male, but with a gentle breath of wind, the young demon vanished into blue—or, as Specimen #3118 had termed it, nothingness. Of all the colors Vizzer wanted to see most, blue was the most precious, more so than even his own body and blood.

“What the…? Hey, did anybody see that?!” he shouted, feeling his elbow. There was tremendous pain radiating out from there, almost as if he had broken a bone, but it didn’t feel quite like that either. There were no marks left by the bite, but his arm tingled nonetheless.

None of the bystanders said anything—whether or not they had seen this sudden attack or not didn’t seem to be particularly important information for them to share. He climbed the remaining temple steps silently, chilling his anger by remembering the protocol: Do not interfere. Do not make a spectacle. Do not indulge. Do not steal. Do not betray. Blood is blood. Do not touch, nor change anything that you must not. Be like gossamer on the wind, and do not pollute their universes with your desires towards destruction.

At the top of the pyramid, he found Specimen #1835 waiting for him at the door. She had evidently sensed him coming. “Hey, what took you so long, brother? I sensed you jump in-system over half an hour ago.”

“I was admiring the scenery,” he replied in a dry tone.

“I expect the doctor is doing well?”

“He is. He sent me to receive your sample.”

“My sample? Hah! All I have is a bit of rock and a bit of a bullshit hypothesis collected on these tapes,” she said, handing him a bundle with several disks placed precariously on top. “Hey, you know, if the doc’s already letting you go out on solo missions like this, it won’t be long before you can get a permanent gig out in one of the other universes, you know. He’ll let you do any type of research you want! How cool is that?”

“I know. It’s what I want, most surely. I’d even take living out here for a year if it meant getting away from the research facility. That place is so cramped, so small…”

“Well, you are abnormally tall, Specimen #0217.”

It happened. He saw it happen. He felt it happen. But he did not believe it happened.

Specimen #1835 was wrapped up in a veil of smoke, and then she exploded into a meaty pile of blood and bones, falling before him. He took several moments to catch his breath. Having focused on her, releasing his hate… I committed an unforgivable act, he thought solemnly. When Doctor Tau finds out, he will have me sentenced to death. And thus will the feats and follies of the first batch come to their end. My sister…

He could no longer sense her. It startled him when he realized he was trying to force himself to cry; in truth, he felt very little. It wasn’t nothing, but it wasn’t enough. What choked out all of that was guilt and shame and anticipating the wrath of Doctor Tau, whose retribution in such cases as these, was often as painful as it was elaborate. He would die for this, and he knew it would be while screaming.

“Vizzer!” the comm in his ear crackled, startling him. He nearly screamed, but falling to his knees, wrapping his claws around his hairless throat, he muffled it to a few indecisive coughs. “Vizzer, answer me!”

Doctor Tau’s voice was like from a nightmare. He knows. He knows everything.

He wished that strange demon would appear again and end it this time. “S-sir…?” was all he could stammer out a few moments later.

“To me!!” His voice was grave and full of terror, resigned somewhat, but more passionate than not. “To me, Vizzer! Return to me!”

A cold dread fell over the alien formerly known as Specimen #0217. He knows. I must accept my punishment. I broke the protocol. I must not give into emotion. I must not betray my own family. I must not be evil. He was, and he would pay.

The others could not sense energy, so they did not know. He would not be the one to tell them. Shame was his cloak, and he felt as if he were the worst of his father’s sons. Yes, three of them had been runners. Named though they had been, mere teams of specimens had hunted them down and restored balance to the universe. But more than them, Vizzer had shamed his name, the name of his father, and the honor of the first batch. The protocol was broken; he was not an idealist—people could sympathize with a runner, not so much a coward. Even he could understand that, base as he was.

He would not die with fear in his heart. Vizzer focused his mind, cooled his emotions, and quelled his anxiety. What is done is done. I cannot change what has already come to pass. I must accept my fate. He jumped into the grey, wind-beaten sky, the sample clutched firmly to his chest like a prized kukai fruit.

“To me!!” the doctor shouted once again into his comm, and this time, Vizzer understood the urgency in his tone.


Five of the portals were smoking or bleeding sparks when he returned. Signs of battle no doubt checkered the room. He could taste the burnt hopelessness in the air. Sensing around, his heart sank when he felt only thirty others… then twenty-nine, then twenty-eight and twenty-seven, then twenty-six.

The doctor was yet among those living. He would be relieved to know Vizzer was here. The assassin was moving so quickly, he could hardly sense him long enough to get a whiff of his power. But it was extensive, Vizzer could tell. They were all dead, or dying—now seventeen, now sixteen.

To me!! Vizzer stood in silence, pathetic as the day he had come into the world, pathetic as those first years he had refused to participate in Doctor Tau’s training regime—those years he had merely sat in his cage and cried because he could not see like the rest. He was a C Tier genetic talent at best. The blows still hurt. With or without a name, he knew he would never see.

Specimen #2067 came running down the hall, being chased by the monster. In that stretch of hallway, Vizzer sensed an elongated frame, energy stretching out beyond the assassin above and below in distortion like experiencing one’s shadow from far away. His sister was screaming. The ultimate depths of power in that shadow were unfathomable; shivering, his focus broke to pieces.

The protocol was to be obeyed and followed. He had always done so, and would always continue to do so. Those who obeyed the protocol got bigger portions for dinner. Those who obeyed the protocol were taken care of, one way or another. That’s how the old motto went.

Having broken it, in his grief and guilt, Vizzer’s emotions started to overwhelm him. He was becoming soft, losing the first way the doctor had taught him to avoid. When you become emotional in a fight, your opponent has already won.

It was not courage that came to Vizzer when he sensed his sister’s life’s energy be consumed in a single blast of light that obliterated her. The doctor and eleven of his brothers and sisters were still alive. But the assassin was not going for them. It was coming for him. It had already vanished from the hallway. Fear drenched Vizzer so rapidly that he wanted nothing more than to fall to his knees shouting mercy so that the assassin would take him prisoner for a bounty instead. Seeing as how over five hundred of his brothers and sisters were dead, Vizzer scarcely believed in such a possibility.

The assassin was gone. Blood was in the air. The walls were rusting, so very slowly. In the corner, a bunch of boxes were stacked up neatly and off to the side—very convenient. Vizzer had a strange feeling that the assassin was lurking behind those boxes.

He jumped, but the assassin did not spring forth like a hunter onto prey. Moving laterally, Vizzer landed cautiously farther back in the room from the hallway that Specimen #2067 had painted with her life’s blood. The perfect specimen possesses no fear, Doctor Tau had whispered in his ear that very first night his consciousness had been aware of itself. The perfect specimen is not a slave to their emotions. The perfect specimen moves and acts with force and determination: concisely, efficiently, ruthlessly. They are at their most effective—to put it in your terms, in their most clutch state—when it matters the most.

He felt the air stir to the left of him, away from the boxes. He could stay and fight for Doctor Tau’s honor. But then he would die. Vizzer, slayer of traitors, had just gotten his name—he knew he was not ready to die. He could not be.

It wasn’t a matter of courage or cowardice in the end. The feeling he surrendered to was nothing Vizzer had ever felt before. Doctor Tau was his father, but to feel anything for him now would be imperfect.

Nimbly, a shadow was gliding through the air, barely upsetting it, sprinting too fast to be seen (and barely could Vizzer sense the assassin coming in). He had teleported so quickly, coming in from the side that did not have cover, that Vizzer was caught off-guard. Stumbling back, he knew the portal behind him was the one leading to Universe 7. He didn’t have enough energy to dodge to Universe 5—his ideal universe. This assassin is just too damn fast.

Pushing off from the metal grate floor, Vizzer jumped into the portal, leaving a fat orange glob of energy behind him. It was a pity Vizzer was blind after all. He would have really liked to have seen that explosion coat the portal in blossoming fire, destroying the only tether between that research station and Universe 7.

The assassin and the doctor were left behind in Universe 6. Vizzer now stood on the banks of a shore on a planet he did not know the name of in Universe 7.

Falling to his knees, he steadied his breathing and focused his energy; in an instant, he felt them—ten and twenty and then two thousand and fifty thousand, and then more beyond count. He could not tell how close they were yet, but they were near. Perhaps they had settled in a self-made city beyond the lake.

He inhaled deeply, tasting the alien, crisp, minty scent clinging so strongly to seemingly everything around him. Then Vizzer filled his lungs up until he thought they’d burst—and only because he was so intoxicated on the possibility of this new realm, it almost seemed as if his shame and guilt began in that instant to melt away, like the dew of flowers caught in the morning’s light.

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