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The Secret Adventures of Glitterthorn: Wreck Of The Nemesis – Chapter 1

The whole world – such as it is – shudders. The nauseating sky catches fire as the white-hot mushroom cloud rises. An empire-to-be dies.

Not my fault, I hasten to add. I hitched a ride with some people who were fighting to save their world from extra-dimensional alien incursions – and it looks like they just succeeded, in quite spectacular fashion. I would have been there to lend a hand for that final battle, but that’s just not my style, or my objective.

Now that I’m here, well clear of the blast radius of the alien central complex, I can now confirm that my readings are correct – I have found something quite remarkable, and if it is intact, and functional, it will change everything for me.

I had expected my “secret adventures” to be more… adventurous, but so far, most of what I’ve been doing is “information mining”; finding sources of information, cultivating them, verifying what I learn – severing ties with those who let me down, sometimes quite aggressively, if betrayal is involved – and one “thread” has been more fruitful than any other so far. Today, I may just be about to demistify a mystery: the fate of the Nemesis.

The Nemesis was a transdimensional ‘submersible’“, my source informed me. “A craft designed to operate mainly in interdimensional space, with only a small portion of its hull – the ‘fin’ – ever emerging into the reality it was visiting. However, the vessel disappeared on launch, and has not been heard from since. My… connection has spent a lot of money in the attempt to locate and recover the Nemesis – too much, it seems, now that he has been forced to sell me all his research in an attempt to at least break even. Research I am now prepared to sell on to you – now, am I going to break even on the deal…?

Money is no problem, as the fellow quickly found out, but I was… cautious in the matter of payment, not wanting word to get around that the mysterious “Agent Red” might be an “easy mark” with money to throw about. The information now seems to have been worth every penny, now that I have had other sources pursue various individual leads separately, and all of them have pointed to this place. A foul, alien wasteland crawling with all manners of bizarre beings, previously desperate to expand into adjacent universes and now just desperate to survive the gradual collapse of their native reality, courtesy of those who just blew their master complex to sub-atomic ruins…

It’s not the most healthy place to be, requiring a sealed environment suit such as my form-fitting multiflex enhanced armour, but if the worst comes to the worst, I can always activate my personal dimension-jump, a technology the victorious humans could only have dreamed… of…

The device is dead. Power is feeding into it, but it’s unable to get a lock on any neighbouring realities. Destroying the alien jump-portal has done more than isolate the aliens in their own realm – it’s disrupted the local spatial fabric, trapping me here, too.

Wonderful“, I sigh against the inside of my armour’s mask. It’s now even more imperative that I locate the Nemesis, access its computers and get its dimension-spanning technology up and running. I had hoped to find and secure the ship, then return with an engineering team to power up the vessel and get it flying again, ideally as a mobile base of operations, but getting home will suit me fine. Failing in my objective may be expensive, if things work out badly, but nothing is worth more than my own hide…

…nothing, except for the one my whole universe has come to orbit around. Now that I’m… mortal again, I have the luxury of being able to feel again, and the feeling that drives me more than any other is love. The love I have for Mane-of-Night, a love I have chosen to earn all over again – she doesn’t need me to be a “god” once more, but she deserves everything I can be, and from my time as an Overlord, I know just what that “everything” is.

More than any mere mortal can ever offer.

I find some high ground, and take some readings. Dust from the mushroom cloud is thick in the air, limiting visibility to only a few feet at best, and so my armour’s instruments will have to be my eyes. Thankfully, those are still working, and show me the way to the energy source that, according to the information I’ve collected, has to be the energetic signature of the Nemesis. The power-core appears to be intact, and cycling normally, which suggests the vessel as a whole is… well, whole. Score one in the Glitterthorn column.

I work my way down into a valley, and skirt around the most dense, and most toxic mists gathered at the bottom, where all manner of mutated creatures dwell, now thrown into utter chaos by the destruction of the central intelligence that motivates them all. Now and again, something rises out of the fog; strange, bony creatures, like a body stripped of flesh and then enclosed in some kind of putrid leathery hide; massive, bulky entities, part living creature, part tank, flailing around in confusion – without their “over-mind”, they are merely puppets with tangled strings, but even they, with only their drastically limited core intellects remaining, must surely know that the end is approaching. Their world is dying, and there is nothing they can do to survive it, let alone prevent it.

This doesn’t, for one moment, mean that they are harmless. If they sense something… I suppose you have to say “alien”, they will pursue, and attack without mercy. Instinct remains, fully intact, and to destroy that which is not of their mutated flesh is all they have left now.

I have got to learn how to dimension-leap by magic, I tell myself. I’m supposed to be Mystalornan now, so it should be fairly straightforward. I’m just too accustomed to just thinking, and stuff happens.

My time as an Overlord has certainly expanded my mind, but it has also “blunted” me, forcing me to relearn the mortal way to compensate for no longer having god-like abilities. That’s what my current activities were supposed to do, but I’m already in the deep end, and I’ve only just started learning to swim. I have, however, come too far to start sinking now.

I get clear of the valley, and in the shelter of some rocks, I scan for more readings. Again, the power-core of the Nemesis sings out loud and strong; I have to hope that the aliens have not attempted to strip the ship down, or reverse-engineer its technology – but then, why would they? Their world is built according to bio-mechanical principles, every device an organism, every organism potentially a device, so a purely mechanical construct may not even count as technology to them. The Nemesis may just be a foreign body to them, an insignificant speck of grit in the organic machine…

“Grit in an oyster produces a pearl”, I recall. “Gods, that would be a worst-case scenario…”

Pressing onward, I find a flat-topped mountain looming out of the thinning dust-clouds; possibly an extinct volcano – it’s hard to believe such a thing could exist in a world where the only rivers run searing hot with lava – and the closer I get to the Nemesis power signature, the greater its elevation becomes. The vessel is somewhere on, or in, that mountain, and a climb would be in order, were my suit not equipped with flight systems, but I’d prefer to keep that for an emergency, for the few locals that are able to fly are sure to count an unfamiliar flyer as an outsider, and I want to avoid a fight for now.

The area around the mountain is devoid of what this universe counts as life, I find, but I still exercise ample caution. It doesn’t hurt to save energy wherever you can, especially when your situation isn’t entirely under your control.

Despite all my training, and all I have experienced, a trickle of dread still runs through me as I begin my climb. It was as a place much like this that my whole world changed forever – a rite of passage on my home-world, a climb to retrieve some rare eggs that went wrong… fatally, or so it should have been, but for the intervention of Vaarla, agent of Overlord Sinn; Vaarla got herself an apprentice, and I got my life back…

My existence seems to be going in circles: here I am again, climbing as though my life depended on it, and my future is dominated by a strong-willed woman with a love for black vinyl and high heels…

I’m better equipped this time, better physically, and more confident, but I proceed with care. I haven’t got too far to go – there’s a crack in the mountainside someway above me, and from that protrudes the slender forward hull of something not native to this reality; the Nemesis, apparently intact.

Cross Item 1 off the list: Locate the Nemesis. Now, let’s ascertain what condition she’s in.

With suns constantly overhead, shining weakly through ever-present heavy cloud, it’s very hard to measure the passage of time without constantly referring to my suit’s internal chronometer, but within what I’m guessing is about an hour, I’m at the foot of the crevice. Looking up at the underside of the Nemesis, I can see that she’s come to rest at a steep slope, tail up, her horizontal rear “fins” stopping her from plunging to the desert floor below. Not an ideal situation, but better than it could have been. I’ll take what I’m given, and be thankful.

Next on the agenda: find out whether all this research has been worth the price I paid.

I open a comm-channel to the Nemesis. I send the access codes I’ve purchased…

“Please input voice-code for final verification…”

Excellent. The ship is still “awake”. “Override Authorisation Lemon-Eight-Five Stockholm-Six-One Amethyst-Two-Two”, I respond. “User Code Volgograd.”

There are a string of soft beeps, indicating that the vessel’s systems are processing the data. Processing, and making ready to acknowledge me as their new master…

“Codes verified. Good afternoon, User Volgograd – how can I help you today?”

I’m in. “Scan for life-form presence near the forward section, and open the nearest available access port. I’m coming aboard.”

A section of hull above my head changes colour, and retracts into the body of the ship. I don’t enter immediately, in case there is something unpleasant in residence, something that doesn’t show up on normal sensors. To make sure I won’t be stumbling into a menagerie of madness, I check beforehand, with the enquiry “Nemesis, is any movement being registered on board, apart from necessary equipment in operation?”

“Negative – no unauthorised activity detected”, the computers report. Oh well – no sense on postponing the inevitable…

I step underneath the opening, and a narrow loop of metal tube descends, wide enough to stand on, which is exactly what I do. The loop then retracts back inside the ship, stopping when the bottom of the loop reaches the same level as the floor of the passage within, and continuing all the way up into the ceiling once I am standing clear of the conveyance. The interior is as dark and ominous as the outside world, with only hip-height strip-lights providing the barest minimum of illumination, but my suit’s visual enhancement systems can more than make up for the shortfall, boosting what light there is, and expanding my vision to include a variety of wavelengths the unaided eye simply cannot see. Once my mask has adjusted to compensate, I can see what the state of play is…

The vessel’s interior shows no sign of damage, either from onboard technical catastrophe or hostile incursion, but there is an unusual amount of dust that I stir up as I venture deeper into the ship’s interior. I have a very bad feeling I know what this material is, but it will be important to know for certain, so I ask the uncomfortable question. “Nemesis, what is the nature of this dust I’m encountering?”

“Organic material, dissociated by exposure to interspatial energies not anticipated in the original design of this vessel”, the ship replies. “Origin of residue: original crew of this vessel.”

The crew burned, in simpler terms. Just as I’d expected. “Can this shortcoming be eliminated?”, I ask. “Is it possible to prepare this vessel for safe operation by an organic crew?”

“Adjustments have been made”, the computers inform me. “Full protection can only be confirmed by way of full exposure to interdimensional space. System advisory: user Volgograd to continue using protective equipment until full test sequence is completed.”

I can live with that – if I can’t, then… I won’t be doing much more living anyway. “Is the vessel ready for launch?”

“Negative. Structural integrity is at one hundred per cent. Please note: integral systems are insufficient to bring vessels to flight readiness. Assistance from User Volgograd will be required.”

Sounds like good news. “Only one person will be required?”

“Affirmative.”

My greatest fear was that any maintenance would need more than one pair of hands, but that nightmare scenario has thankfully not become reality. I can get out of here, and salvage the Nemesis – a “win-win” situation for which I am most definitely grateful.

And so, to work…

To be continued…

TSAG101-1 (2/100)
For Gerry…