The year is 2630, fifty years after the Dalek-missions of Abslom Daak. In 2579 Daak cleared the Daleks from the planet Mazam, after being exiled as a Dalek-Killer; the following year he carried out nine anti-Dalek missions (in the first of which he destroyed the Dalek Death-wheel). As a result of these missions (along with some help from the military, of course) the Daleks were driven back from the borders of the Earth Empire. They are no longer a threat, and peace prevails. Daak was said to have been killed on the last of these missions, and he has now been turned into an Imperial Hero. With the fiftieth anniversary of his death, there is now an explosion of media coverage.
We open in a beautiful landscaped cemetery on Earth (more a rose garden with graves than a graveyard) where the famous are buried; including Abslom Daak and his beloved Taiyin. At his grave there is a bronze statue of him… perhaps with a Dalek, or perhaps better if it’s just a peaceful statue: “He has laid down his chainsword and gone to his rest.” The place has now become a shrine, with a tourist guide and parties of schoolchildren being brought to his grave. Here we introduce our latter-day heroes, Melissa M’han and Klis Rojart. They’re married, but in these times wives don’t change their names. They’re a pair of post-graduate historians, working on a research project on Daak: in particular, they’re interested in a six-month gap between the time when Daak organised the Star Tigers and the time of the first Dalek-mission. There’s a blank in the official record, and they really can’t understand how a vicious drunken criminal managed to turn into a national hero.
While the guide is reeling off the official line about the wonderful Abslom Daak, Klis can’t resist rapping the statue with his knuckles. It sounds. “Hollow,” he remarks to Melissa. The guide gives him a dirty look and tells him to keep away. As they’ve got the photos they came for, Melissa and Klis decide to leave. As they walk off, they’re approached by a dour man in plain clothes who asks if they’re having trouble. It’s all very polite, but he’s obviously a member of the Security Police (Secpol), and it wouldn’t be in their interest to step out of line. Thus we begin to introduce something of the political situation: the Empire is run by a right-wing government, heavy on bureaucracy and regulations. It’s nothing so crude as a fascist dictatorship, but everything is tightly controlled, dour and depersonalised. The media are in the hands of the government, both censored and propagandised. The Secpol are keeping an eye (and heavy hand) on liberals, dissidents and freethinkers. The Secpol are not great muscular thugs: they’re just dull, uninteresting bureaucrats with a job to do, and they do it with ruthless efficiency. They think of themselves as ‘Dustmen’ – “taking out the rubbish”. Over all this, the government is continually harping on about the potential (and quite mythical) threat of renewed trouble with the Daleks, so everybody has to stay in line. As such, digging up dirt on national heroes isn’t the safest of projects.
Melissa and Klis get an aircab back to their apartment, and here we introduce another government weapon: the identicred card. There’s no more money. Everyone now has a computer-card that carries both their credit-balance and their identity, and this is fed into a machine at every transaction. The government introduced it about 10 years before and made great play about its convenience, safety (you have to thumb-print while using it), economic benefits (no more banks, no more financial trading), effect on the crime-rate (no money to steal) and the way it cleaned up the streets (no more beggars asking for small change). But every time you use it, the transaction goes straight into a central computer, along with your name, address, etc. And the Secpol have access to the records. They can tell what you spend your money on, where and when you spend it, what your movements are, etc. (Joke. Q: How does a man buy a surprise gift for his wife when she works for Secpol? A: He doesn’t.)
They return home, discussing their project on the way. When they get home Melissa switches on the TV (or equivalent) and tunes in a cartoon: Daak the Dalek-Destroyer. This is part of the media explosion, and we use the opening title sequence of this cartoon to get over some of the background material on Daak. As in American TV series like Knightrider, there’s a montage and voice-over with the titles, which explains in very brief detail about Daak’s history as a Dalek-Killer, etc. As the story is about to go into a ripping yarn of Dalek-slashing (which is quite fictitious), we cut away. As the story progresses, we shall see various versions of Daak in movies and playbacks, from the ultra-romanticised to the grittily realistic. Not all of these versions of Daak have to look like the Daak we know: a famous actor playing Daak in a movie, for instance, would probably look more like a famous actor than Daak himself.
They get a call from a friend who’s just returned from the Rim-worlds, which are only marginally under Terran domination, if at all. He’s brought them back a banned book about Daak, which the government has done its best to suppress, and it’s only available outside the Empire. It’s called The Quick and the Drunk, written several years ago by one Thoth Trismo, then a native of the planet Paradise. Books are in “electro-cube” format at this time… button-sized micro-chips which are fed into a reader. Their friend has been back on Earth a couple of days, but he had to swallow the book to get through customs and immigration, and it’s only just resurfaced. The Quick and the Drunk (hereafter Q&D) is on three electro-cubes. They go off to meet their friend (a fairly paranoid undertaking), and pick up the book.
They return home and do three things: first, they check the house-recorder. This is a system of video-cameras, started automatically by the presence of anyone in the house; all houses have them. It’s clear. No one’s been in the apartment since they left. Second, they copy the book and transmit it by “non-traceable transfer” to Prof. Pardyew, their History Professor and the man who got them into the project in the first place. Whatever happens, they’re giving him a non-traceable copy of everything they find out. Third, they put the first cube into the holo-sim (holographic simulator). This reads the book at high speed, and then translates it into a holographic simulation of the action. It’s not as accurate as actually reading the text, but it means they can sit back and skim through what they’ve got, like watching a movie.
We now move into “flashback” as they watch the first chapters of Q&D. Of all the versions of Daak, this one is most like the original version shown in the Star Tigers material. We open in the Starshine Bar on Yarikh, one of the Rim-worlds. Daak is sprawled across a table amid a litter of empty wine-bottles, dead drunk and mumbling about having a hole in his head where his memory used to be. Mercurius is sitting at another table nearby, toying with a rose and chatting up a barroom doxy. We don’t see his steel hand here, and if the reader doesn’t already know him, he appears to be just another barfly in the background. Daak and Mercurius have apparently been indulging in a little Rim-world thievery and piracy, and have gained something of a reputation. They still hate each other, but they’ve stayed together. Daak is still seeking a way to revive Taiyin and needs money to consult doctors, and so on; he needs Mercurius to make plans for him. Mercurius finds Daak’s muscle useful, and his behaviour patterns provide Mercurius with a source of cynical amusement. You get the impression that behind the cold inscrutableness, Mercurius is secretly laughing at Daak, humouring and guiding him… and, of course, drawing off rather more than his fair share of the profits from their ventures.
Enter Dagro Zarn, a tough criminal looking for Daak; he’s heard of Daak’s reputation, and he wants help. Zarn is in a lot of trouble: he’s been pursued across space by lackeys of his former employer, the racketeer Zebus Keren. They’ve shot up his ship, but he’s just managed to put it down at the spaceport. Now he wants Daak’s help in a big deal, and he also wants the Kill-wagon to get him off the planet. Daak isn’t interested… he’s too drunk to care. When Zarn persists, Daak rips his previously-hidden chainsword up through the table, and something of a fight breaks out. As Daak is dead drunk, Zarn beats him unconscious and then stalks out. Mercurius gets up and silently follows him out. Moments later, small, wiry Mercurius returns, dragging the unconscious Zarn. He pours booze over Daak until he wakes up, and the following words are exchanged:
D: “What happened to him?”
M: “I hit him.”
D: “You hit him?”
M: “Sure… I hit him with this.” (revealing his steel hand for the first time)
D: “So why didn’t you hit him earlier?”
M: “Why should I? I like to see you getting your face rearranged.”
D: “Then why’d you hit him afterwards?”
M: “Oh, I thought maybe you ought to talk to him…”
D: “I’ll say a few words over him when he’s dead! But they won’t be nice…”
M: “Okay, I’ll talk to him…”
Daak stalks out into the darkness. There’ll be a generally nocturnal atmosphere throughout the strip, especially in the sequences concerning Daak.
We cut back briefly to Melissa and Klis. They can’t figure this out. Is it supposed to be fact or fiction? It’s coming over as a ripping yarn, but that might be the way Trismo writes. When was it supposed to have happened? If it was when Daak and Mercurius were first working together, they ought to have Selene with them, but there’s no sign of her. There’s also mention of the Kill-wagon, but if this is after they got together with the Star Tigers, where are Harma and Salander? They were all supposed to have been together until the Star Tigers got killed at the Death-wheel. Besides, Daak doesn’t seem interested in killing Daleks any more. It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t fit with the known time-scheme. It doesn’t make much sense at all. They watch some more.
Daak, slightly sobered, wanders off into a gambling den and starts playing dice. But another ship lands at the spaceport, and a robed and hooded female makes her way straight to the same place. Other gamblers draw away from her, but Daak is too drunk to realise who or what she is. He’s been winning, but now he plays with her and loses all his money. He indicates he’s got nothing left, and she suggests they play for his mind. Being drunk, Daak says what the hell, and agrees. What’s he got to lose? Half his mind seems to be missing anyway. Unfortunately, she wasn’t joking, and when he loses again, she draws back her hood to reveal a gold disc on her forehead. She stares at him, and he goes blank. She leaves, and Daak follows like a zombie, a few paces behind.
Out in the street, a steel hand clamps on his shoulder and brings him back to his senses. When he looks round, the woman has vanished. When he mentions her, Mercurius recognises her as one of the Mind-Mages of Munmiresse, an all-female cult specialising in the psychic/psionic field; but this doesn’t seem to mean anything to Daak.
Mercurius has had his little chat with Zarn, and Daak ought to listen. Not only has Zarn stolen and hidden Keren’s business records, the key to a multi-million credit racket, but Zarn’s been dead for twenty years and come back to life. This is obviously of interest to Daak, as it might lead to some way of reviving Taiyin, so he decides to talk to him. “Hello, Zarn,” he says, while kicking the man in the guts. Zarn falls to the ground, then pulls Daak off his feet… but not to restart the fight. From the ground, Zarn saw a sniper on the rooftop nearby, and got Daak out of the way of the shot. Drawing his gun, he shoots the sniper and replies: “Hello, Daak…” They start toward the spaceport, but there are more of Keren’s men in the way, and they’re obviously going to have to fight their way out…
Back in 2630. Klis heads to the Government Historical Institute and Public Records Office. He has to use his identicred card to access the computerised documents. He tries to check out the records for the gap period that they’re interested in, but finds they’re still classified. All the public records are supposed to be declassified after a forty year period, but for some reason you need a security-alpha pass to access these. As we’ll see, Klis still has one of these from a previous project, but he “accidentally” failed to return it… something along the lines of he allegedly mailed it back, but the envelope was torn when it arrived and there was no card (or futuristic equivalent). He got into deep trouble about this, which is one of the reasons the Secpol are interested in him anyway. Even now, the computer has picked up from his identicred that he was trying to access forbidden documents, and he gets called to the Principal’s office before he leaves. The Principal tries to warn him off… there’s already an official history of Daak, and there’s no need to research any more. As it happens, the Principal’s the one who wrote it, so maybe he just doesn’t want his own reputation for scholarship undermined. The Principal tells him that he looked at those documents while compiling his book, and there’s nothing of interest in them. This annoys Klis, but he’s kept silent by the frightening figure of a man standing at the back of the office, not saying a word throughout the interview. He’s obviously Secpol. And equally obviously it would be suicidal for Klis to use his illegally held security-pass… at least on Earth.
Meanwhile, back at home, Melissa is watching more of Q&D. Daak, Mercurius and Zarn fight their way through Keren’s men, killing them all, get back to the Kill-wagon, and take her up. As they head for the planet where Keren’s HQ is, Zarn explains what happened to him. Twenty years ago he was a big-time space-pirate, but then his ship got blasted by the Patrol and he just managed to get into an escape capsule. But the capsule was damaged, there were no controls, and it was heading straight out of the galaxy toward the Big Nothing. Zarn had no alternative but to operate the cryogenic system, but that was only supposed to be good for five years. Twenty years later, when it should have been all over for him, his capsule arrived at the edge of the Big Nothing. It passed close to the small planet where lives an entity called Komorkis, the Lady of the Black, the Maker of Stars. We don’t have much detail here (Zarn is not a high-intellect type, after all), but although Komorkis has the form of a woman, she’s obviously more than human. She spun him some yarn about how she actually made stars (the universe is expanding, after all, and someone has to fill in the gaps). But more important, she drew the capsule to her world and managed to revive him, even though he should have been to far gone for that to be possible. She said something about him having a part to play in events shortly to occur. Zarn didn’t care about this; he just wanted to get back to a human world. By some means unclear to him (perhaps a form of matter transmission), she managed to transport him instantly to the world where Keren lives. Having no friends left after twenty years, and having no trade except crime, he got involved with Keren. More important, as he rose in the organisation over the last few months, he got involved with Keren’s girl, Aura Chinio. Once he’d promised to take her away with him, it was Aura who told Zarn about the location of Keren’s records (although Keren doesn’t know of her involvement) and he managed to steal and hide them. But then he was discovered and had to flee. He’s been chased across space, and now he wants Daak and Mercurius to help him knock over Keren and get those records back. With them, they can make millions.
Mercurius has vaguely heard of Zarn from his past record, but Daak hasn’t. The only thing that interests Daak is that Komorkis might be able to revive Taiyin. They make a deal: Daak and Mercurius will help Zarn in return for the location of Komorkis’s world and a cut of the profits. Zarn agrees, and feeds the planet’s co-ordinates into the Kill-wagon’s computers… but with a time delay. The information won’t be available for another seven days… after they’ve knocked over Keren. As they fly on, we see Daak communing with Taiyin; there’s finally a chance that he might be able to bring her back to life. Also, as the story progresses, we have some by-play between Daak and Mercurius about Selene, the girl they were involved with in their former partnership. Neither of them knows what’s happened to her, but there’s obviously still rancour between them about her.
They arrive on the planet where Keren lives, a world with rings like Saturn. They secretly meet Aura Chinio, and the agreement’s made. They’ll knock over Keren, and then the four of them will fly out as crew of the Kill-wagon. Aura takes Mercurius to see Keren, who knows Mercurius by reputation, but obviously doesn’t know anything of his involvement with Zarn. As Aura leads him through Keren’s labyrinthine HQ, Mercurius quietly crushes various security devices with his steel hand… security cameras, door-locks, booby-trap weapons, etc. They meet Keren, who is little more than a dwarf. He wears platform-heeled shoes, which go kek-kak as he walks. Keren is obviously delighted to have the opportunity to join up with a man of Mercurius’ reputation, and they’re kept busy talking while Daak and Zarn fight their way in from the outside. Daak carves his way through doors and defenders with the chainsword, and both of them shoot anyone they meet. Just as Daak and Zarn burst into the inner sanctum, Keren makes his escape through a wall-panel. While Daak and Zarn wrestle with the wall-panel, eager for pursuit, Mercurius calls for silence. Through the wall, he can hear Keren’s shoes as he walks along the secret corridor running round the room… kek-kak, kek-kak. Mercurius coolly shoots the blank wall. The footsteps stop. He’s shot Keren by sound alone.
Aura is sent back to the front entrance to keep watch. Zarn produces the computer disc with the records on. They’ve never left the building, and they’re still on the rack with Keren’s less-important computer discs. What Zarn had done was simply change the labels on the discs and put the records-disc back… it thus appeared to be missing, but was there all the time. They take a quick look at the records to make sure they’re the right ones. Mercurius realises that there’s an awful lot of assets there that could be liquidated immediately, and thus they could get very rich without working the rackets at all. At that moment they get a call from Aura. The Secpol are outside, and obviously intent on coming inside. They have a Mind-Mage with them.
Back in 2630: Klis returns home. He’s been followed by the silent Secpol man, who’s now outside keeping watch and making his presence felt. They seem to be in a lot of trouble… almost as much as Daak is, according to the book.
2630: Melissa and Klis are at home, worrying about the Secpol man outside. They get a call to say that the friend who brought Q&D back for them has been involved in a traffic accident. He’s now in intensive care and can’t be visited. It may just be coincidence, but it’s disquieting. Not daring to go out for the rest of the evening, they settle back to watch the rest of the first cube of Q&D.
Daak, Mercurius and Zarn rejoin Aura at the front entrance, where shooting has already started. Zarn joins Aura at the slightly open door and starts shooting with her, yelling to Daak and Mercurius, standing behind him, to help. Mercurius suddenly jerks the door open and shoves Zarn and Aura outside, then closes the door after them. They are immediately shot to pieces by the Secpol. As Daak and Mercurius head back to Keren’s sanctum, Daak remarks: “You always were a treacherous bastard, Mercurius.” Mercurius replies: “Sure… and now I’m a rich treacherous bastard.” But Daak grabs the computer-disc for safekeeping… he’s not letting Mercurius get his hands on it. They make their way out by the same secret escape route that Keren was going to use, stepping over his body as they go. On the way, they pass an armoury, where Daak picks up a portable missile-launcher. They get out of the back of the building, slip pursuit and head for the Kill-wagon. But the Secpol are waiting here, too, as are a few pursuit ships from the Star Patrol. Daak creates a diversion with the missile-launcher, by blowing up the spaceport control tower and several other inhabited buildings. They fight their way through a few stunned Secpol agents and get to the Kill-wagon. Mercurius takes her up, but obviously the Star Patrol ships will be in hot pursuit. As said, the planet has rings. As the Patrol pursue, Mercurius weaves the ship through the ring-planetoids (hairy stuff) while Daak blasts away from the rear turret. Then Mercurius announces he’s going hyper. Daak is stunned. No one goes hyper that near a planet, because the shock waves from the warp-vortex will hit the surface with the force of a couple of hurricanes. “You got friends down there?” asks Mercurius. “Well, no…” replies Daak. Mercurius goes hyper. As he does so, the warp-vortex whirls ring-planetoids all over the place, which smash the pursuing Patrol ships with vast loss of life. But they’re in the clear.
Daak heads up to the flight deck and finds Mercurius studying the material on the computer-disc. He stole it from Daak during the fighting, because he wanted to make sure the big oaf didn’t lose it while he was enjoying himself. There’s mention of something called Project Eschaton, which Keren was obviously mortally afraid of. It appears to be some sort of secret government project that could well put the entire criminal fraternity out of business, and the Mind-Mages seem to be involved in it. Mercurius is interested, as the Mind-Mages seem to have some sort of mental tag on Daak and him, and know how to find them. Mercurius knows why this is, but Daak seems to have forgotten; and Mercurius doesn’t tell him anything unless he has to. There are still six days until they get Komorkis’s co-ordinates, so Mercurius persuades Daak they may as well spend the time seeing what they can find out. This ends the first cube of Q&D.
2630: Next day, Melissa and Klis decide to head for the Records Office again. Melissa slips the second cube of Q&D into her pocket… they might get a chance to read some more of it during the day, even if they can’t holo-sim it. On the way, they attempt to inquire about their injured friend, but he’s still incommunicado.
They arrive at the Records Office. Melissa tries to call up info on the Mind-Mages. It has a security-alpha rating, so they can’t get access to it; but at least they now know that the Mind-Mages did actually exist. On the other hand, Klis tries to access material on Project Eschaton and, after a suspiciously long time, is told that no information exists. A check of the back memory shows that a file-name “Eschaton” did once exist, but it’s been deleted from the record outright. This is virtually impossible. It’s worse than finding it’s classified. Remembering what happened last time they tried to access classified data, they decide to leave hurriedly.
They go for a cup of coffee and review what they know of the official history of Daak and his Dalek-missions. All Daak’s nine missions were absolutely death defying… looked at with cold logic, he ought to have been killed at the end of every one of them… but somehow it seems that he miraculously survived until the last. Melissa remembers that there was a news story a few years back, which the government rapidly scotched. A certain Etien Ailun had claimed that in fact Daak was killed on the first (Death-Wheel) Dalek mission, along with all the other Star Tigers; and that the government had made up all the other stories. Klis remembers Ailun… he was aboard the Lunar Queen, which blew up in space with the loss of 270 passengers and crew. Melissa can’t believe that Klis is seriously suggesting that the government blew up the ship to get rid of Ailun, but they’re both getting pretty paranoid by now.
They arrive home and find they’ve had visitors. Not only has the place been turned over, it’s been completely stripped bare. It’s not just their work-records that have been taken, but all their possessions, clothes, furniture, etc., as well. They check the house-recorder, but it seems the first thing the intruders did was switch it off … which is guaranteed impossible. Obviously it was a professional job… equally obviously, it was Secpol. This is a very graphic warning. Although all their records have been sent by non-trace to Prof. Pardyew, they don’t think it would be politic to contact him at the moment… which leaves them just the second cube of Q&D, which Melissa had in her pocket. The third cube’s gone missing. They decide that it would be a good time to get off the planet and pursue their inquiries elsewhere. They’re going to head for Paradise and see what they can find there.
2630: Melissa and Klis pick up the essentials for their travels, including a portable holo-sim and book-reader, anti-bugging devices, etc., and go aboard ship. They have to use identicred to buy the tickets, so their destination is on file. So they’re not heading directly for Paradise, but to one of the other worlds on the edge of the Empire. The ship blasts off; it’s a normal, commercial space-liner. They check their cabin; it’s free of bugs. They go for a meal, during which they see a bit of “in-flight movie” of Daak trashing Daleks; they’re struck by how phoney it all seems now. They return to their cabin and find it’s been bugged in the meantime. Obviously, they’re being followed, watched, etc., and they grow progressively more paranoid. As the story progresses, Melissa and Klis will start to identify with Daak, and to realise that it’s not much fun or particularly glamorous being hunted across the galaxy. Odd snatches of conversation develop the parallels: would Klis do the same for Melissa as Daak did for Taiyin? What if the worst happens and they get silenced? Melissa says she’ll die with Klis’s name on her lips… and so on. They debug the cabin and start to watch some more Q&D. They still don’t know whether to believe it: it looks like fiction, but at least they now know that the Mind-Mages actually existed. We flashback into Q&D once more.
Mercurius has decided that he wants to capture a Mind-Mage and question her, so he can find out what’s going on. They decide that the best place to do this would be Paradise, where they’re well known, and where they can hire some extra muscle. They arrive on Paradise. In Daak’s day, this is still pretty much a free world, affiliated to the Empire but not totally under its jurisdiction. They have an agreement with the Empire that the Secpol will do the basic criminal policing, but apart from that pretty much anything goes. And they also have a free spaceport, where any ship or person can set down or lift off without interference, customs or inspection. Daak and Mercurius hire some curious characters as back-up. Their idea is to pull a heist; the Secpol will come after them and use a Mind-Mage to tag Daak and Mercurius. From Keren’s records they pick a likely target: a casino which claims to keep a million credits in cash on the premises, so it can cover impossibly large bets. The casino is a big geodesic dome, with lots of glass panels in the roof. The cash desk/vault is in the centre of the one large circular room. Daak and Mercurius walk in, quite casual, undisguised; they ask to see the boss and then tell him he’s being robbed. Can they have the money, please? The boss laughs. Suddenly, all the masked hired muscle drops in through the roof, smashing through the glass panels, heavily armed and wearing grav-belts. They come down in a perfect circle round the cash desk, about ten feet in the air, guns trained. There might be a bit of shooting with the security guards, but these guys all carry an armoury. The boss hands over the money, threatening police vengeance. Daak and Mercurius pick up grav-belts from their cohorts, grab the money, and the whole team go out through the roof.
Having made themselves perfectly visible, Daak and Mercurius now go into deep hiding, along with the muscle, so the Secpol won’t be able to find them without the use of a Mind-Mage. Unfortunately, when they listen in to the Secpol communication channel, they find that there’s only one Mind-Mage around, and she’s on the other side of the planet. She won’t be able to get there for another six hours. Mercurius decides they may as well put the time to good use. There’s a secret Secpol establishment nearby and they may as well blow it up. How Mercurius knows about this isn’t clear. Daak doesn’t know anything about it, but when they approach the building, by night, it looks vaguely familiar to him. Daak has his missile-launcher, Mercurius a heavy laser-cannon. But as Daak lines up the telescopic sights on a lighted window, he sees something shocking: himself, sitting there in the building.
Before Daak can figure out what’s going on, Mercurius opens up with the cannon… and the first thing he blows away is the duplicate Daak. After that there’s no time for thinking: they blow the whole place to hell and disappear into the dark.
2630: Melissa and Klis are becoming more confused than ever; now it seems there’s more than one Daak to deal with. They arrive at their destination. Being an outworld, they know that this is one place where they might be able to slip the Secpol. Doing what they had been told by their now-injured friend, they do a considerably less than legal deal to get a berth on a rust-bucket space-freighter going to Paradise. They have to use their identicred to pay with, but it goes into the computer as payment for some piece of equipment or service rendered. No equipment is provided, but instead they’re smuggled aboard the ship. They’re in the clear for the moment. On the way to Paradise, they watch the remainder of the second cube of Q&D.
Daak’s puzzled about what happened at the Secpol building, but Mercurius isn’t the type to explain. The Mind-Mage returns and leads a squad of Secpol to the place where Daak and Mercurius, and the hired muscle, are waiting for them. They walk straight into an ambush. The muscle shoot up most of the Secpol; Daak and Mercurius grab the Mind-Mage. Mercurius removes the gold disc from her forehead, which appears to be some sort of psionic transceiver that keeps her in touch with all the other Mind-Mages, and is largely responsible for her powers. Hustling her off to a safe place, still on the planet, they begin to question her with truth-drugs and hypno-probes.
We learn that Eschaton is basically an enormous computer. It’s being built in space because it’s easier to defend if it can be moved around, and it’s about the size of three battleships. It’s an intelligent brain, and its purpose is to create perfect order… to annihilate change, to maintain the status quo. It will maintain the military status, keeping threats like the Daleks at bay, but it’ll also run the Empire like clockwork. It will know everything, and thus be able to knock out crime, political dissidents, fringe liberal groups, freethinkers and so on. It will be the brain of the perfect police state, the master of the thought-police. Once it’s in service, the old order will come to an end: there’ll be a day of judgement, and after that the new world of perfect order will begin. It’s being built by both Imperial scientists and the Mind-Mages, the latter contributing their knowledge of psychology, psionics, telepathy, etc. It will be the perfect thought-control machine, and it’s very nearly finished. Apart from anything else, this is likely to put a serious dent in Daak and Mercurius’s lifestyle.
Daak and Mercurius dump the Mind-Mage into the hands of their confederates to do with as they please, head back to the spaceport, and take off. They go to take a long-range look at Eschaton, and it’s as the Mind-Mage said. It is just about complete; within days of being finished. There’s no point in trying to attack it because not only is it enormous, but it has a full range of defensive armament as well. There’s also a fleet of guard-ships, which seems to be starting to take an interest in the Kill-wagon. Besides, the co-ordinates of Komorkis’s world have now come on-line and, quite apart from any danger they might run into, Daak wants to get on his way. They decide to pull out.
This is the end of the second cube of Q&D, and Melissa and Klis don’t have any more. It seems more like fiction all the time. If Eschaton was that big a deal, how come there’s no record of it? And it all seems so romanticised… is it fiction, or was life really full of romantic adventure at that time? And if it was, why is life so unromantic now? Still, there’s nothing else they can do at the moment. They approach the planet Paradise.
2630: Melissa and Klis arrive on Paradise. Since Daak’s time, this has been fully annexed by the Empire, and the whole place has gone to seed. The right-wing puritanical government doesn’t approve of pleasure-worlds, so all the good stuff has been closed down, and everywhere is decay and despondency and tattered memories of the good old days in the past. It’s really depressing. They check into a hotel. Unfortunately this puts them back in the identicred system, but there’s not really a lot of choice. And besides, if they’re not expected there’s no real reason why two perfect strangers should be particularly checked out; so they might have a bit of time before anyone gets on their trail again. Nonetheless, they pay their hotel bill in advance, so they won’t have so much hassle later if they have to move out fast.
The first thing they do is check the local computer-directory, looking for Thoth Trismo, but he isn’t listed as resident on the planet. Maybe he’s not there, or maybe “Thoth Trismo” is a pseudonym anyway. His book isn’t available anywhere either. Klis decides to put a trace-advert on the system: “Thoth Trismo to contact Klis Rojart at ‘—X—’ Hotel.” There doesn’t seem to be anything else they can do.
There is now a government records office on Paradise (a sign of the full colonisation of the place) with as full a set of computerised records as there were on Earth. Klis decides to risk using his security-alpha pass to get the records from the gap-period that he previously tried to access on Earth. It’s a risk, but the information can be downloaded onto a copy-disc in a matter of minutes, whereas checking back on his Earth-issued security-rating would have to go all the way back to Earth by sub-etheric transmission… and that could take hours. Klis goes to the local office and gets the information copied. He doesn’t want to risk spending time checking out things like the Mind-Mages as well; he just wants to get in and out, and away. He returns to the hotel, and they start to watch the record… which is the record of a Court of Inquiry into the Daak-cloning project. These events occurred after Daak got the Star Tigers together, but before the Dalek Death-wheel mission.
They’ve put the record through the holo-sim, so all the following sequences are in varying levels of pictorially-reproduced flashbacks. We start off with the set-up of the inquiry. There are three “judges”. There is a senior, presiding judge, drawn from the military; a vicious judge, a Secpol man who is, in effect, the prosecutor; and a more humane one, probably a lawyer, who asks the awkward questions, but is generally ignored. They call the first witness, who is the lieutenant who was in charge of the squad who captured Daak and the other Star Tigers.
He tells how the Kill-wagon landed on Paradise after one of Daak’s (independent) minor skirmishes with the Daleks. The four of them were followed through the street to the alcohol bar where they usually hung out. The squad moved in and flooded the whole area with paralysis-gas. Everyone was knocked out cold except Daak, who was as strong as a bull. There was a brief fight, but then he succumbed. Daak, Mercurius, Harma and Salander were carried off to the secret Secpol building. At the same time, a team was impounding and boarding the Kill-wagon.
The judges ask questions. Any casualties? Two innocent bystanders with medical conditions, killed by the influence of the para-gas. These are passed over as irrelevant. Two troopers killed opening the booby-trapped locks of the Kill-wagon. Was the attack legal? Not really. Paradise was only a federated free-world at the time, so for this sort of operation they didn’t have the jurisdiction. Daak and friends hadn’t committed any crimes on the planet, and Harma and Salander didn’t have any criminal records at all, so their rights were violated. Also, it was illegal to impound the Kill-wagon at a free spaceport. The chief judge decides that all these things can be glossed over in view of the importance of the project. The lieutenant is dismissed, and the next witness is called.
Next is the medical officer of the project. It appears that Daak had been so successful against the Daleks that the idea was to make multiple duplicates of him and send them out to do some more damage. Daak himself wasn’t to be trusted: he was emotionally erratic, and besides he was hanging around with people like Mercurius who were likely to talk him into doing something else. However, straightforward cloning wouldn’t have been any good in this case. The medic explains: in order to make a clone, you have to take some DNA from the “donor’s” cells, insert that into a human embryo-cell… and then you have to wait 20 years or so for it to grow into an adult. Then it’s a different person anyway, without the same memories and not having been moulded by the same environment. They were doing something again… something called “Life-Mould Cloning.”
Into flashback. Daak and the others are all on medical slabs, on a drip-feed of para-drug. This is a muscle-relaxant: they’re conscious most of the time, but although the brain can still send nerve impulses, the muscles won’t respond or move. What they’re doing with the life-mould is to take the exact dimensions from their bodies and then shape pre-existent android bodies to those dimensions, so they’ll end up with perfect duplicate android bodies. The next step is to transfer the memory from one to the other, but the only people who can do this are the Mind-Mages, with their psionic technology. They are fortunate in that the Chief Mind-Mage herself has decided to take a personal interest, and she is the chief technician in charge of the project. She’s an unidentified masked lady and, though we only see this visually rather than mentioning it in the text, she has a penchant for roses. Using some sort of brain-reading memory-trace, she transfers the memory and personality-patterns from the four of them onto their android duplicates. There’s a first batch of ten androids, which is all they can handle on one transfer; after that, if they want more, they’ll have to do the transfer again, and it’s the intention to keep Daak and the others imprisoned for future use. Still, memory and personality are apparently surface-features, easily transferred. Daak’s hatred of the Daleks goes much deeper… it’s a whole-body thing, mental, glandular and so on. This is much more difficult to transfer, and in the process of doing so they actually have to remove the associated emotions from Daak’s mind (which explains why, in Q&D, which takes place after this, Daak is complaining of having a hole in his head and loss of memory; also why he no longer hates Daleks… they’ve taken it out of him). The first ten android-clones are duly made and handed over to the officer in command of the Dalek/clone missions. End of testimony.
Back in court. We explain that the Mind-Mages aren’t available to give testimony. It seems that the Chief Mind-Mage got quite upset about what happened during the project and vetoed any testimony, and that’s it. The Mind-Mages are working on something else big for the Empire… the ultra-secret Project Eschaton… and the Empire dare not upset them any more by insisting they come to court. They have, however, promised that they’ll assist in trying to bring Daak back so he can be reused in future clone-projects if needed (how he escaped is not yet explained). Having scanned his brain/mind, they’ve now got a mental tag on him (which explains how they could find him in earlier episodes of Q&D).
We cut back to Melissa and Klis for the wrap-up of the issue. They’re horrified. This is true government record, and there’s confirmation of the Eschaton project mentioned in Q&D, and other bits of it are starting to make sense now; so maybe Q&D isn’t all fiction. The record is starting to cast grave doubts on Daak’s Dalek-missions. There’s obviously been an enormous government cover-up. Worst of all, it’s all so horrible. Daak was supposed to have been fully punished for his sins by being sent out as an exiled Dalek-killer, there’s a callous disregard for life, and everyone’s having their rights violated. What horrors remain to be revealed?
We now continue with the record of the inquiry. The next witness is the officer in command of the clone project. He explains how the duplicates weren’t quite as good as the real thing… they weren’t as bright, but at least the Daak-clones were usable. While the cloning was going on and everyone was under paralysis, they’d gone over the Kill-wagon in sufficient detail to get a full specification. After the original was lost to them (to be explained shortly) they were able to build a reasonable facsimile, right down to the false Taiyin in the cryo-capsule; it was convincing enough for their clone-crew, anyway. They sent the whole team out on their first mission, to destroy the Dalek Death-wheel. Unfortunately, the false Kill-wagon crashed, killing the entire team except the Daak-clone. The Daak-clone then sacrificed itself to destroy the Death-wheel.
After that, they rethought the project. They hadn’t counted on the Kill-wagon being destroyed, and it was too expensive to keep building more. Also, the other members of the team had got themselves killed without doing anything, so they weren’t exactly useful. After that, they decided to go back to just using Daak-clones, and sending them out by matter-transmitter, as originally. Another eight missions were carried out. Not having the edge of the original Daak, the clones kept getting killed, but these deaths were covered up, except for the last one, when they announced Daak’s “heroic death” and gave him a quite fictitious “state funeral” on Earth, complete with statue. Obviously they couldn’t make any more clones by then, because Daak had escaped. As for the odd tenth clone, this was destroyed when Daak and Mercurius came back and blew up the Secpol base on Paradise. By that time it didn’t really matter, of course, because strong military action combined with Daak’s heroics had already driven back the Daleks. End of testimony.
Back to court. A few questions from the judges, and then the final witness is called. This is the officer responsible for base security during the cloning process.
This guy is in deep trouble. From what they’ve managed to reconstruct, it looks like this is what happened: there they were, all quiet on their medi-slabs with the muscle-relaxant being fed in on drip-feeds, so no one was paying much attention. The whole process was virtually finished. What must have happened is this: although all their muscles were paralysed, the nerve impulses were still going … in particular, they were going to Mercurius’s steel hand, which was a servo-mechanism, run directly by electrical nerve-impulses. So he could still move his hand. He managed to finger-walk it along to the drip-feed and disconnect it. He then lay there until the effects of the drug wore off, then got up while no one was around and disconnected the drips of the others. After that he went back to his slab and lay there for several hours until the effects wore off on the others. He must have been able to keep almost supernaturally still during this, because some of the time other people were around and didn’t notice anything. What they were doing at this time was wiping the memory from Daak and the others of everything that had happened to them at the Secpol base. Mercurius, being able to move, had apparently surreptitiously managed to disconnect these electrodes as well (and thus he was able to remember what had happened to them, while Daak didn’t).
When the others woke up, they broke out, grabbed weapons and the Chief Mind-Mage as a hostage, and fought their way out of the building before heading toward the spaceport. In the mêlée, Harma and Salander were shot in the back by Secpol fire. Daak and Mercurius reached the (original) Kill-wagon. As Daak went aboard to start the engines, Mercurius dumped the Mind-Mage on the tarmac, but not before unmasking her. We don’t know who she is, but she’s beautiful, and Mercurius seems to recognise her. They took off and got away. End of testimony.
Wrap-up in court. The judges brush aside the killing of Harma and Salander… they weren’t human, after all. Most of the witnesses get minor reprimands. But several guards were killed in the breakout and the whole project was seriously threatened by lapses in security, so the security officer goes down the greasy chute and into the sharp, whirling knives (figuratively speaking). Apart from that, though, the project was generally successful. But it all needs covering up and it would seem like a good idea to kill off Daak and Mercurius before they spill the beans. That’s the major recommendation of the court: that execution orders should go out on Daak and Mercurius.
2630: Melissa and Klis are quite appalled by this. After all, this is their elected, law-upholding government in action. But no sooner do they finish looking at this than a Secpol man turns up at their hotel room. They’re in a lot of trouble: obtaining classified information with an illegally-held security-pass, subverting the identicred system, etc. They’ll have to come down to Secpol HQ. Klis starts to argue, and Melissa sneaks up behind the Secpol agent and brains him with the portable holo-sim unit. They check out hurriedly, carrying their luggage… which has the name Rojart visible on it. As they burst out of the hotel door, they almost knock over an old man on the way into the hotel. He is small-built, about 80-years-old, grey-haired and immaculately dressed. He’s the sort of guy who in our age would wear a white three-piece suit with a red rose in his lapel. However he’s dressed here, he wears gloves and carries a walking cane. They push past him and jump into an aircab, telling the autopilot to take them to the spaceport. But to get it started, they have to insert their identicred. As soon as they do, an alarm starts to wail and the doors seal themselves. They’re trapped in the cab and it’s not going anywhere. However, while they’re battering at the windows, the old gent walks over to them. He punches a whole through the window-glass with the tip of his walking-cane, then punches the cane into the mechanics of the dash-board. The alarm stops, the doors open. They scramble out, staring at him in astonishment. “I believe you’re looking for me,” he says. “My name’s Thoth Trismo…”
Trismo leads them away to another aircab, selects one from a fistful of identicred cards, and takes them out of there. It’s obvious that they’re in a lot of trouble and they need to get off-planet… but as Trismo tells them, there’s no way they’d get a ship at the spaceport… not these days. Fortunately, he has a space-yacht and will help them out. But they don’t head for the spaceport; instead they go up. His space-yacht is hovering a few thousand feet up in the air, on gravs. This does present a slight problem in boarding… they have to line up the aircab with the airlock, and then walk across the cab’s wing to get aboard. Melissa is terrified, but Trismo just walks across casually and then reaches back from the airlock to help them aboard. They’re astonished that this old geezer has so much cool. When they’re aboard and the aircab has been sent off on autopilot, Trismo introduces them to his granddaughter, Tanit, a beautiful young woman who’s also the pilot of the yacht. They head off into space.
The space-yacht is incredibly luxurious. Trismo is obviously extremely rich. Melissa and Klis are grovellingly grateful for his help, and explain something of their situation. Trismo is sympathetic, and the talk soon turns to his book, Q&D. They want to know all about it. Trismo swears it’s all true. He’s not a historian, but he was on Paradise at the time of the events… some of it he heard at the time, the rest of it he picked up by talking to people who were involved. Perhaps by way of proof he shows them Daak’s original chainsword, which he’s somehow acquired. Eventually, though, they ask him to tell them the rest of the story… the stuff that was on the third cube of Q&D, which they lost.
First, he tells them about Eschaton: how it was completed, and how it then got rather out of control. Having become fully conscious, it got independent and decided that the purposes for which it was built (control of human populations, etc.) were petty considerations which it could sort out later. First it had to get to the heart of the problem… ensuring that universal stasis prevailed by preventing any further growth. So it ejected all its human complement and broke away from the planet where it was being built.
We break briefly while Trismo consults with Tanit about their course, they have dinner, etc. Then Trismo picks up the story of Q&D from where we left it.
Daak and Mercurius, in the Kill-wagon, find that the guard-ships in the neighbourhood of Eschaton are closing in, so they go hyper and head straight out for Komorkis’s world. But these are a new breed of pursuit-ships, not only faster than the Kill-wagon but also able to follow it through hyperspace. Both pursued and pursuers come out of hyper at the same time, near Komorkis’s world, and Daak and Mercurius immediately find themselves in the middle of a space-battle. In spite of Mercurius’s superior piloting and Daak’s gunnery, they’re in a lot of trouble… the pursuit-ships are circling like sharks. Then the pursuit-ships suddenly disappear. They’re simply not there any more, and something’s got hold of the Kill-wagon’s controls. With Daak and Mercurius helpless, the ship is flown down to Komorkis’s world, where she lives in a curious tower. The world itself is right on the edge of the Big Nothing, right at the edge of the galaxy. On one side are stars, on the other the void. The ship lands. Daak and Mercurius make their way to the tower and get their first sight of Komorkis. She’s pretty weird.
We now introduce Komorkis properly. Komorkis, the Lady of the Black, the Maker of Stars. She has the form of a tall, beautiful woman, but she is utterly black in every part. She also walks around six inches above the floor, which is quite disconcerting. She claims to be ageless… as old as the universe itself… and the place is full of incomprehensible things: we don’t know if they’re machines or what. I’ll try to get this across subtly, but basically Komorkis is the feminine principle of growth in the universe, while Eschaton is the exact opposite: it has a male, intellectual consciousness and it’s dedicated to death and stasis. They’re like yin and yang. Eschaton is entropy, stasis and death; Komorkis is negative entropy, growth and life. She keeps the universe ticking along, and one of the most demonstrable ways of her doing this is that she actually makes new stars. She shows them. There’s a big glassite bubble containing a microcosm of the galaxy. She directs their attention through the window, out toward the night sky. They see a cluster of four stars. She draws their attention back to the microcosm, and a similar cluster, then makes a hand gesture. In the microcosm, a fifth star appears in the cluster, and when they look out of the window there are five stars in the sky as well. She also explains that she got rid of the pursuit-ships. She doesn’t kill, so she just transposed them to the far side of the galaxy; then she took control of the Kill-wagon and brought it down.
We cut back briefly to Melissa and Klis. This is really straining their credibility: Trismo’s making Komorkis sound like some sort of goddess. They’re dubious as to whether any such thing exists, and how come they haven’t heard of her, etc.? Trismo shrugs it off. They can hear the rest of the story and decide whether it’s true or not afterwards.
Komorkis is somewhat, though not entirely, prescient. She knew that some sort of big turmoil was coming up, some cataclysmic battle that she’d be involved in. She also knew that Zarn had a part to play, which is why she revived him and sent him on his way. It turns out that his part was to bring Daak and Mercurius to her. Now everything is becoming clearer. The big cataclysm is going to be a showdown between her and Eschaton. Eschaton has decided that if all further growth in the universe is going to stop, its first job is to deal with Komorkis. It turns out that the main part that Daak and Mercurius have played in this scenario so far is to bring Eschaton to her. Being built by the Mind-Mages and including their psionic technology, it too has Daak’s mind tagged, and it’s set out to follow them to Komorkis. It can’t move as fast as the Kill-wagon through hyperspace, but it’s on its way and it’ll be there in a few days.
Daak doesn’t care about the end of the universe; it’s a stinking place and to hell with it. All he wants to know is if Taiyin can be brought back to life. Komorkis tells him that it’s quite beyond human science but, yes, she can do it. However, she can only keep Taiyin alive as long as she’s alive herself, and with Eschaton on the way that isn’t likely to be long. About three days. As it’s three days or nothing at all, Daak decides to take it. But Komorkis wants a service in return. She can revive Taiyin and send her and Daak somewhere safe, but while that’s going on, Mercurius has to destroy the Mind-Mages for her. If the Mind-Mages aren’t destroyed, there’ll be nothing to stop the Empire building another Eschaton to replace the first one. As Daak has now repossessed Keren’s computer-records and obviously isn’t intending to let Mercurius get another go at them, Mercurius is blackmailed into agreeing. But he needs Komorkis to provide him with one thing… he needs her to make a rose. Daak is baffled, but Komorkis makes the rose.
Komorkis then proceeds to bring Taiyin back to life. We devote a full page to Daak and Taiyin’s first kiss… this is, after all, the climax of everything he’s been after. Then Komorkis transfers Daak and Taiyin out of there, and Mercurius sets off in the Kill-wagon toward the planet Munmiresse, to deal with the Mind-Mages.
After this, we intercut between three separate story-lines.
Komorkis is left alone on her world, with Eschaton approaching.
On the “holiday planet” where they’ve instantaneously arrived, Daak and Taiyin take an aircar and go looking for a house in the country. This sequence with Daak and Taiyin is exceptionally bitter-sweet: both the reader and Daak know that Taiyin is going to die in three days, but she doesn’t; and Daak can’t bring himself to tell her. All his dreams have come true, and now he has to force the smile that should have been spontaneous. He can’t even answer when Tayin asks what’s troubling him.
On the way to Munmiresse, Mercurius prepares. He removes his steel hand and replaces it with one that looks identical. He injects himself with an unnamed substance. He tests two tiny electronic devices and then places them in his mouth. He toys moodily with the rose.
Daak and Taiyin find a house out on its own in the country. It’s in a beautiful setting, has a large rose garden, and Taiyin falls in love with the place. Daak, being practical, says okay, we’ll rent it. But Taiyin won’t hear of it; she insists they buy it… after all, she wants to live the rest of her life there. Daak chokes.
The Kill-wagon arrives at Munmiresse spaceport. Mercurius, with rose, disembarks. He sends the ship up into the air on gravs before leaving.
Daak takes Taiyin into town to buy some clothes… she insists. After all, she can’t keep wearing the same outfits day after day, can she? Daak wants to get some booze to take back to the house, but she tells him he shouldn’t drink so much, so the poor bastard gives that up as well.
Mercurius arrives at the sprawling headquarters of the Mind-Mages and asks to see the Chief Mind-Mage. They tell him to piss off, but he insists they send in his calling card… the rose. It’s taken to the lady in charge, where she’s standing in a rose garden. She says: “Mercurius?”
Back at their house, Taiyin, blooming with happiness, tends the roses in the garden. But when she starts lamenting the flowers that are soon to die, Daak has to leave her to it.
Mercurius is admitted to the Mind-Mage HQ, but first he has to go through certain checks. These are mainly electronic checks: his steel hand obviously shows up, but this is assumed to be just a servo-mechanism and neglected. They also pick up an electronic device in his mouth and ask him to remove it. Mercurius smiles ruefully and removes it to hand over… but he only hands over one of the devices. They also try to make mental checks, but Mercurius has injected himself with Aphrosias, and his mind is now a chaos of lewd and appalling thoughts. Only his astonishing self-control and iron will allow him to function at all with a mind exploding like that, and his mind is so muddied up that they couldn’t read his motives even if they did want to poke about in that disgusting mess (they are all ladies, after all). He’s conducted to the garden and meets the Chief Mind-Mage. He says: “Hello, Selene…”
We cut back to a romantic interlude with Daak and Taiyin, sitting out in the garden. The night is beautiful: there are seven waning moons in the star-spangled sky. Everything seems blissful, but by now we know that while it looks like heaven, Daak is actually in hell.
Eschaton arrives in space just off Komorkis’s world… huge, threatening and dangerous. This is it. Now the shit hits the fan…
Title page: just Daak and Taiyin embracing in their garden.
Mercurius is talking to Selene in her garden, in the course of which he either takes the rose back from her, or plucks another. It seems that years ago, when Daak, Mercurius and Selene defrauded Pan-Galactic Shippers for four billion, it wasn’t only Daak who got a raw deal. Mercurius and Selene dumped Daak, and he thought they’d be staying together. But then Selene in turn dumped Mercurius and ran off with most of the money, which she invested in psionics technology and set up the Mind-Mages. She’s been the head girl all along, and that’s why Mercurius seemed to recognise her when they escaped from the clone project.
Selene challenges him about the electronic device he had in his mouth: it’s a tractor-beam trace-and-trigger. Was he intending to make some sort of fast getaway? She asks him if he ever really loved her, and just for once Mercurius seems slightly discomforted… perhaps he really did. She asks why he’s come to see her, knowing that they’ve obviously become enemies after what’s been happening recently. “Just to see you… one last time,” he says, and works the remaining tractor-beam trigger in his mouth. He’s suddenly whipped away into the air, leaving Selene and the other Mind-Mages bewildered. What was all that about, after all? Then they see something lying on the ground. It’s Mercurius’s steel hand… the special one he put on before leaving the ship. It explodes, with enormous violence… enough to destroy the entire complex. Mercurius is pulled back to the open airlock of the hovering Kill-wagon. He pauses to look back down at the explosion… and tosses the rose back down toward it. As it tumbles through the air, we cut back to…
Komorkis, now threatened by the huge Eschaton. Its defensive guns have been turned to the attack, and it appears she has no alternative but to surrender. Eschaton tells her to come aboard, which she does instantaneously. Unfortunately, Eschaton has forgotten what she does for a living. As she makes a certain hand-gesture, she explains: she makes stars. And that’s what she does. She makes a star right there in the belly of Eschaton (maybe two full-page pictures: in the first, Eschaton hangs there against the starry backdrop of space, reduced to postage-stamp size by the vastness of the galaxy; on the next page, there’s just an enormous exploding star, taking up virtually all the page). They are both destroyed.
In the garden, Daak holds Taiyin in his arms, while she toys with a rose. At the same time that Komorkis goes nova, she falls asleep with her head on his shoulder… and she isn’t going to wake up. The rose slips from her fingers and falls to the ground.
Next morning. Daak is sitting there morosely in the rose garden, near a fresh grave. He’s buried Taiyin among the roses she loved so well. The Kill-wagon drops out of the sky and lands a few hundred yards away. Mercurius doesn’t appear, but the airlock door opens. Daak stands up, cuts a last rose and places it on the grave, and then walks off wearily toward the Kill-wagon and its open door (thus leaving the way open for further adventures, if desired).
2630: Melissa is upset by all this, so it’s up to Klis to put the questions. It still sounds like fiction to him… especially Komorkis. Trismo reminds him, though, that a certain astronomer on a certain planet recently announced that the rate of the expansion of the universe seemed to have slowed in the last fifty years (we also imply that this is why all the romance seems to have gone out of the universe since Daak’s day, and why Melissa and Klis are living in a dour, boring world… the universe is just sort of carrying on, but the heart’s gone out of it). Besides, they haven’t just been flying through space at random. They’re about to land… on the planet where Taiyin died.
They land, pretty much where the Kill-wagon did at the end of the flashback. There is the house and the rose garden… the garden is much overgrown, the house is somewhat shabby as no one’s lived in it for nearly fifty years… but basically it’s the same as described. As they start to walk toward it, Klis points out to Trismo that Daak didn’t really come out of the story very well. Is this the result of some prejudice on Trismo’s part? Trismo is evasive, but points out that, all else aside, Daak did have one redeeming feature… he really loved his woman. Unfortunately, that’s what killed him in the end, but…
Before Klis can ask about this, Tanit emerges from the ship for a quiet word with Trismo. Trismo turns back to Melissa and Klis and tells them he has to leave… considering their situation, it might be a good idea if they left too. But now they’ve got this far, Melissa and Klis just have to stay and check things out. They ask why he’s got to go. He explains that Tanit has just reported a Patrol ship at extreme scanner range, about four hours away. It’s time to go. “But surely the Patrol can’t be after you!” exclaims Melissa (after all, he seems to be nothing more than a cuddly old granddad). “Not precisely after me,” says Trismo, entering the airlock. “They’re after this ship. You see… I stole it…” And off he goes, leaving them gob-smacked.
On their way up into space, Trismo joins Tanit on the flight deck. “Do you think they believed you?” she asks. “Why not?” he replies. “It was almost true after all. Besides… [smirk] … they seemed to believe you were my granddaughter, didn’t they?” Tanit gets up from the pilot seat and Trismo takes her place. “Let’s go home,” he says. “Which home?” she grins. “Oh, Altair-4, I think…” he says, taking off his gloves. “I always liked Altair-4…” Trismo can now be seen to have a steel left hand… he’s Mercurius, survived into old age. “I still don’t understand why you got involved with them like that,” says Tanit. “You should know by now that sometimes I explain my reasons,” he replies, kicking in the hyper-drive. The ship vanishes into hyperspace. “And sometimes I don’t…”
Back on the planet, Melissa and Klis have checked out the house, finding it still furnished, but with not much in the way of personal possessions except for a couple of broken wine-bottles. It hasn’t been lived in for a long time, but there’s nothing to prove that Daak lived there. They check the garden, and in the undergrowth they find something that could be Taiyin’s grave. Klis decides that the only way to prove the story is to excavate. Melissa doesn’t like it… it’s like digging up the grave of someone she’s got to know… but Klis convinces her that it’s nothing more than an archaeological dig, after all. They’re historians, and they have to know. She helps him until they get down deep enough to start finding finger-bones. They’re probably female, but they’re not sure yet. By that time Melissa can’t take any more. They go back into the house for a break, and it suddenly occurs to them that the place might have a house-recorder. It does, with both internal and external cameras, and it’s still loaded. They start to play it back.
The film is very grainy and faded… almost black and white, very gritty, occasionally whiting out with static and with the sound-track only patchy. There is Daak. It’s the first time they’ve actually seen real pictures of him. The date on the video is about five years after the death of Taiyin, and Daak looks aged and weary. They guess he must have kept on returning here, in between space-trips, to be near Taiyin’s grave. They see him mooching about the house, and realise that they could have to watch hours of tape before anything interesting happens, if it does at all. Klis goes back to his excavating, leaving Melissa to watch the record.
She sees Daak take a bottle of booze out into the garden, and he sits there by Taiyin’s grave, drinking morosely for a while. He might be sitting in virtually the same position as the bronze statue of him at the Imperial cemetery. A bunch of guys turn up in aircars and sneak up on the house. As Daak is unarmed, they capture him before he can do anything about it. He wants to know who they are; they tell him it doesn’t matter (though it’s obvious they’re Secpol). He wants to know what they want; they tell him not to worry about it. While two of them hold his arms, the leader steps up behind him, puts a gun to the back of his head and blows his brains out. It’s a quiet, pathetic death … no hero