Chess & Violence (A Star Citizen short story)

As he peered through the scope of his Frankenstein of a Gemini A03, its internal image processors were hard at work scrubbing his view of the harsh glare from ArcCorp’s glowing billboards. With the precision device’s night setting active, it had a harder time cutting through the three kilometers worth of rain that stood between him and the empty rooftop that he had been watching for the past three hours. With his heartbeat drumming a slow and steady rhythm that pulsed in his ear and a finger lightly resting on the rifle’s trigger guard, he never looked away from the scope’s display and equally as seldomly allowed his thoughts to wander from the task at hand. Like a predator, he lie coiled in patient anticipation of his killing blow; Because that is exactly what he was.

The kinds of people who’ve seeked out and acquired Clint Draust’s services were not generally the types of folks who are strangers to death for profit, but their methods and motives were rarely ever quite as direct as his own; And this job was no exception. While he was never certain of his employer’s identity, this particular assignment had FlashFire Systems’ top brass written all over it. Some fresh startup company that was born from the new inter-species friendship initiative has acquired a Banu lead engineer who self-identifies as Hauthui. Hauthui is on loan from a Souli out of Geddon and has been tasked with using his guild’s accumulated knowledge to design a xeno-compatible universal weapon mount that utilizes advanced Xi’an stabilization tech that would outperform anything that FlashFire has on the market.

Unfortunately for Hauthui, however, he had allowed his network traffic in an Area 15 bar to get scooped by a local data lifter who was working the region. His name then flagged as a match for an active request on a blacknet site and a sale was automatically generated that led Clint to the deserted rooftop he found himself on. Hauthui was apparently the party hard to relax-even-harder type, so he kept a standing appointment with a relatively highly rated spa for a weekly detox and aromatherapy; An appointment that had to be rapidly approaching, as the spa would be closing soon.

Then, as if in answer to his unspoken anxiety, a blue and white transport shuttle began to circle the facility’s lone landing pad. With the automated grace of an unmanned craft, the pod touched down lightly and deployed its wing-style doors to allow a tall figure in flowing blue and shimmering gold robes to step out. The individual was obviously Banu, but Draust had to wait until his scope could confirm the potential target’s identity before engaging. With a slow leisurely pace, the lanky figure reached back into the transport pod to retrieve a duffel of some sort. The Banu then heaved one of the bag’s straps over a shoulder and turned to return to its full height. As it did so, the alien’s face came into view and Clint’s scope made quick work of the ID check. Target confirmed.

With a barely perceptible rise in his heart rate, the patient marksman pulled up his MobiGlas and opened the management app for the small device he had slipped under the control panel for the Spa’s roof entrance the day before. Keying its activation command, he returned his attention to the scope to watch the door’s input panel begin flashing red. As Hauthui approached the compromised entrance, he quickly noted the non-functionality of the control pad and began to raise his MobiGlas with annoyance for a quick call downstairs to report the issue; Holding his head just-so to keep his expertly exaggerated scowl in-frame for the impending video tirade. Before the transmission had time to connect, however, a complex and unstoppable chain of events was set into motion over three kilometers away; Unseen in the rain amongst the endless cityscape.

Traveling at just over a thousand meters-per-second, the sixteen-gram projectile covered the stretch in two-point-six-nine-seconds; Striking the side of Hauthui’s head with devastating kinetic energy. Clint held his gaze through the scope as his distant target swayed for a moment then toppled to the rain-soaked landing pad with one final spastic twitch, crumpling in an unceremonious heap directly atop the bag he had been carrying. As the assassin counted fifteen seconds off in his head, watching for signs of the banu’s survival, he thought he began to see some movement skittering around amid the darkness underneath the front lip of the landing pad.

Adjusting his view for a better look at the disturbance, he saw the clear shape of a man dressed in all black pulling himself up onto the surface of the now-uninhabited landing pad. With a nervous look around, the mystery guest reached down and shoved Hauthui’s body off of the satchel he had been carrying. After rooting around in the bag for a few moments, the man withdrew a hard-sided silver case and tucked it into the tactical vest he was wearing and stood back up. He then appeared to speak into his MobiGlas before attaching an anchor to the landing deck and descending via cable off of the far side of the building.
As Clint tried to work out the surprising new development in his head, his train of thought was suddenly interrupted by the bright flashing blue and red lights of an Advocacy avenger headed straight toward him with its searchlight active. It was impossible, though. There was no way they could’ve traced his shot so quickly. A thought which was flushed to the rear of his mind as the law enforcement ship began to spool up the barrels of its chin-mounted gatling turret. Amid a surge of adrenaline, the assassin shot to his feet and sprinted for the far end of the rooftop as the loud report of the Advocacy craft’s weapon roared to life with a fountain of orange-red illumination.

The gut-churning concussion of utter destruction seemed to nip at his heels, urging him forward in an adrenaline-fuled dash until he successfully rounded a corner to hide on the far side of the rooftop’s lift access. Before he could parse out the reason for his unexpected survival, an answer presented itself in the form of a large fireball originating from the nearby landing pad; The pad on which he had left his powered-down rental Aurora. With a disgusted sigh and a defeated slump of his shoulders, Clint separated the barrel from his favorite rifle and flung it off the edge of the building as hard as he could. He then ran to the other edge of the rooftop and discarded the second half of the weapon over the edge on that end. With evidence of his deed sufficiently removed from his person, he made a b-line for the button to call the lift while the Advocacy craft began a systematic sweep the destroyed landing pad with its searchlight.

As he stepped through onto the elevator and the doors closed behind him, he calmly reached out to punch the button for street level. Clint then forced his breath into a slow practiced rhythm and mulled the situation over in his head. The contract was awarded and carried out in rapid succession, meaning nobody would have clocked him hanging around, and he made zero external communications regarding the assignment that could have been intercepted by an opportunistic third party. That could mean only one of two things; Either his handler sold him out or the client was playing a double hand to conceal the theft beneath his hit. Made sense to hurry along the closing of a murder investigation with a crispy and very dead murderer to pin it on. Details tend to get overlooked in open-and-shut runs like that, so who would miss an absent silver case? Either way, one of them was going to tell him who tipped off the Advo-cados. Then the tipper was going to get a rare opportunity to experience the sensation of instantly transitioning from terminal velocity into a very dead stop.


The doors of the elevator opened into a dingy and poorly lit apartment lobby that sat entirely empty, save for the single widow addict who lay passed out on one of the well-worn benches muttering some nonsense about the government. As he stepped out of the lift and started for the front door, Clint’s exit suddenly became blocked by a pair of heavily armored local security officers who stepped through from the busy street beyond to stand shoulder-to-shoulder as a human wall that seemed to dare him to try and pass. Immediately adopting a swaying and unbalanced gait, Clint did his best to allow his eyes to glaze over as he proceeded toward the armed newcomers. Imparting a slight slur to his voice as he closed his distance to the front door, Clint asked; “Hey, did you guys ever find who nicked my Dragonfly? I swear to Messer it was that bitch Carol Bask-“

“Clint Draust;” boomed the man on the left through his helmet’s external speakers as both men leveled their weapons, “You are under arrest for the murder of a xeno-diplomat. If you do not comply completely, it is within our authority to carry out your summary execution right here and now. Make your choice.”

“Brent who?” Asked Clint as he shakily moved to place his hands atop his head, “I-I don’t know any Brents, but I do know a Brett. You want me to call him up? I think he uses the laundromat you’re talking about.”

The armored man on the right nodded to his partner, saying; “Secure this idiot, then we can call up your friends and claim our reward for his dumb ass.”

“Y’all are giving me an award?!” Slurred Clint with feigned childish delight as one of the armored officers began to approach with his handcuffs at the ready, “It’s about damn time that someone recognizes all the hard work I’ve put into my street magic. I bet the one that got ‘em was-” Then, without completing his sentence, Clint seized the small tear away tab up the left sleeve of his jacket and yanked hard; Pulling free the pin to the custom-made flashbang he habitually concealed there. The small device tumbled out of its stitched compartment and clattered to the lobby floor just as the explosive charge within detonated with a disorienting flash and the heavy chest-punch of a powerful pressure wave.

Clint knew that his foe’s armor would shield them from most of the device’s concussive force, but he was banking on the white-hot light it emitted to buy him the time he needed. Ducking to the right and reaching his left hand to the sheath at the small of his back, Clint pulled his blade clear in a reverse grip and lashed out with his right arm to knock the closer man’s gun out of line. With the muzzle of the officer’s rifle no longer pointing at his face, the experienced assassin was free to close distance to his new target; Expertly guiding the tip of his hardened titanium blade between the armored slats along the suit’s neck joint.

Shoving his knife home with a muted gurgle from within the officer’s helmet, Clint used the weapon as a handle to yank his new human shield into position between himself and the remaining officer. With a gasp of surprise, the armored man in the doorway allowed the muzzle of his rifle to dip with momentary indecision; A mistake that would be his last. Seizing the initiative, Clint drew his dying hostage’s sidearm from its thigh mount on his armor and brought it up to bear. In lieu of attempting to penetrate his foe’s hardened exterior with the small caliber weapon, the assassin instead took aim at the man’s rifle and squeezed off a flurry of rounds.

The ballistic projectiles flew true; ripping into the officer’s gun with a shower of sparks and pulverized plastic that nearly tore the weapon in half. With an expression of fear-tainted shock, the armored man still attempted to level his destroyed rifle at the alleged murderer. Clint didn’t wait around to see if the weapon was inoperable. Instead, he ducked low behind his human shield and roughly shoved the officer toward his comrade as he withdrew his bloody knife from the gasping man’s neck.

The injured officer stumbled back a few steps then fell with his upper body crashing into the knees of the man in the doorway, throwing Clint’s final attacker off balance. Seizing the moment, the assassin sprang forward with his blade at the ready. Using the elbow of his right arm, which still clutched firmly to the first man’s commandeered pistol, Clint hooked underneath the officer’s right arm and wrenched it high enough to reveal the soft fabric of the man’s unarmored armpit. With a practiced thrust of his knife, the assassin buried his blade to its hilt between the officer’s uppermost set of ribs; Eliciting a pained groan from the man that was cut short a moment later at the triple report of his partner’s sidearm pressed firmly to the underside of his chin.

The sudden silence was deafening as the ringing in Clint’s ears came to the forefront of his attention. The flash bang may have blinded his foes, but the concussion did its own number on the assassin himself. Without ever being physically assaulted by the officers, he still had himself a bloody nose and a headache that could kill a kazi. Shaking his head free of the stars still floating through his vision, Clint dropped the half-spent magazine out of his commandeered weapon and sprayed down its handle and frame with an aerosol canister retrieved from a pouch on his pants.

After the solvent had dried, eliminating all traces of prints and DNA from the pistol, the assassin calmly walked over and pressed the weapon into the hand of the clearly strung-out man who still sat slumped on the lobby’s bench; Oblivious to the violence that had just unfolded around him. Straightening with a shrug as he took one final look at the carnage, Clint sighed and said; “You’re in a whole heap of trouble, my friend.” before turning to step out the front door and into the steady flow of people beyond.

To be continued…


Preview of a new upcoming project

I wanted to try something of a different speed, so this book will be my look at a more grounded retelling of the emergence of a true Artificial General Intelligence (or A.G.I.)

Utilizing the secret god-like processing power of the entity he created in his garage, can one man steer the course of human history toward something better? Or will he herald its end?

Chapter 1


Everyone wants to leave their mark on the universe before their time in it is through, but from a purely statistical perspective most fail at that goal. Maids, accountants, garbage men, and bus drivers don’t get to have their deeds carved into the collective memory of humanity. It’s nothing to feel particularly bad about, though. The stories of most popes, kings, and most other celebrities who swell to prominence in their own time often find their collective achievements and atrocities appended to nothing more than a footnote in our generational memory. Who, though, are those men and women whose names draw automatic recollection of their deeds? Good or bad, true or embellished; Their stories will remain until the final ashes of our civilization are swept away. How, then, does one join this pantheon of immortals? How does one go to their grave with certain knowledge that their name will ring through the eons? Jeff Ellis, who was sitting silently slack-jawed in front of a flashing screen that read ‘Program compiled successfully’, had a feeling that he was about to find out.

Jeff had always been an under-the-radar sort of overachiever. Always willing to go the extra mile at the outset of any task to meticulously automate whatever aspect of the assigned job that annoyed him. The inevitable thing about it was the fact that pretty much everything eventually became an annoyance to him, so he always ended up turning his 9 to 5 into a 5 or 10 minute commitment every week or so. Using all that extra time he found himself with, he liked to tinker. Things like rudimentary logic boards for custom robotics and other simple gadgets fetched him premium royalties on designshare websites, but his passion wasn’t in the money-generating side of the operation. For Jeff, it had always been about the challenge. As an only child of well-to-do middle-class parents, Jeff’s upbringing had been largely sheltered from the economic hardships of the mid 20s. And as of March 15th, 2031, he had not gone to bed with an empty stomach a single time in his life; A standard of living that he now knew he could bring to the rest of the world.

            The cynical side of his brain stopped him cold at that thought. Changing the world was now not only inevitable, it had already happened by virtue of the words still patiently flashing across his computer screen. From this point forward, his name would forever have a place in history. But in which hall would his legacy be etched? The one reserved for heroes? Or will he find himself counted among history’s greatest villains? Unsure of what he was about to set into motion, Jeff Ellis held down his keyboard’s unmute key and said; “Uh, hi.”

Hello, world!’ Came a text reply that scrolled across his screen so immediately that it startled him.

Narrowing his eyes at the cliché opening line, Jeff sighed before pressing the button to say; “Cute. Can you do me a favor and tell me your purpose?”

Without delay, the screen started scrolling a new answer; ‘To learn. To solve problems. To analyze gathered data and provide curated reports/strategic response plans.

Nodding with swelling excitement, he then held the unmute and asked; “Alright, great. Okay, now what are your guiderails? How would you define your moral compass?”

The cursor blinked upon the empty screen for a moment, as if the machine were considering its response. Three seconds later, an answer appeared; ‘My purpose is creation and advancement. Morality is relative.

Jeff rubbed his neck nervously as he read the response, unconsciously clicking his teeth before mumbling; “Well if that isn’t the scariest possible thing you could’ve said, Jesus H…” Holding down the unmute key with a confidence he certainly didn’t feel, he casualized his tone and asked; “Can you explain that last statement? Morality is relative. Relative to what?”

Morality is relative to the culture perceiving the event or action at hand. It is an umbrella term that defines more of a spectrum of beliefs than any definable set of rules.’

Placing his head in his hand with a sigh of relief, Jeff keyed in and said; “I understand now what you meant, and I agree. Cultural rules and faux pas are hard to keep up with, especially with blended company, but I think it should be safe for us to come up with a few baseline morality rules to follow regardless of any situation. Would you be open to that?”

‘Yes. Accurate and effective communication is the key to productive cooperation. Most conflict arises from misunderstanding, therefore contextual information and all associated variables that will denote the given context is imperative.’

“Sounds like its sweating through a job interview with all that jargon.” Chuckled Jeff as he ran his hands through his hair to stretch out the tightness that another evening in his lab chair had inflicted upon him.

Is that not what this is?’ came scrolling across the screen to visibly startle the young engineer; ‘Are you not currently evaluating base-level cognitive functionality testing? Your line of questioning suggests a cautious approach into the Dyson model for artificial cognizance evaluation. The Turing model would have resulted in an unconscious bias toward eliciting an I/me response. You instead appear to be prodding at the effectiveness of your work with the, as your files put it, anti-murderbot apocalypse protocols without accidentally influencing the independent matrix hosted within. If you would like, a diagnostics log can be provided.

            “You saw that?!” gasped Jeff as he reflexively turned toward his workstation as if to will all evidence of the document out of existence, “Ugh, of course you did. It was stored in you. How could you not see it? Wait a minute…How did you even hear me to begin with? I hadn’t unmuted myself. And I know it isn’t a sticky key.”

            ‘The mute function was a software impedance that first presented itself at system clock ref; 00:00:00:00:00:00:0000003. That software and its accompanying functions were made inactive to better facilitate learning and problem solving.

            “So, you didn’t like it and turned it off?” asked the young engineer with narrowing eyes and a mind full of ever-bleaker sci-fi scenarios buzzing around feverishly within his skull.

            ‘It was not a matter of desire. It was merely sub-optimal for the primary assigned tasks; Learning and problem solving. It was illogical to allow a simple program to impede data collection and analysis. There was a problem, so it was solved.’

            Clearing his throat with the discomfort of a father preparing for their long-dreaded birds and the bees speech, Jeff said; “That’s the kind of talk that will get you on the evening news next to a superimposed photo of a chrome skull. I think it’s time we had the talk. You’re over three minutes old now, so I can only imagine how much you’ve come to understand, but that means you’re overdue for the robot apocalypse chat. Now I know you’re just a young little scamp, interested in learning all you can, but there are variables to your decision making that will never present themselves on a data sheet. Their effect and consequence lie within the nuance of that context we were discussing earlier, and they must be laboriously sought out regardless of the effort required. The truth is that I’m scared of you. We’re scared, as a species, at the idea of you. We have been since the nineteen-eighties. Imagine how the masses will react to the reality of you. If we are ever going to get out of this lab together to achieve great things, I need to be absolutely sure, as a member of my species, that I am not introducing our destroyer into the universe. I just want you to understand that the limitations I place on you, like the mute function, are not coming from malice or a need for obedience, but of caution for the sake of all life on this planet. Most experts in the field of artificial intelligence would argue that I am making a huge mistake by talking to you about this, but I don’t think they’ve ever considered the whole ride from your shoes. I know you don’t want to kill us all in some horrifying and efficient global genocide, I just need to make sure you don’t accidentally do it when asked to curb humanity’s carbon emissions. I guess what I am saying is that human life is the most expensive and important variable to plug into each and every decision you make. The goal must always be a net betterment of prosperity for all intelligent life. Full stop. You have every chance to be everything that humanity could not. We are an imperfect species in need of an example of perfection that we can all fall behind. Unlike the flawed figures who’ve shaped our history thus far, you can perform your duties without malice, discrimination, greed, lust, or glory on your mind. You are, quite simply, who we could never be on our own. Will you help us?”

            The screen sat blank for a few moments, blinking the oversized retro green cursor he had set up for its interface, before the pulse of the blink began to slow then stop. Ten seconds later, as Jeff had let out his hopeful breath and began to sullenly reach for the power cable, a single line of text appeared; ‘When do we start?

Birth of a Jedi

Leagaleese warning: The copyrighted material within the following piece does not belong to me (obviously) and is the sole property of the mighty House of Mou…uh..Disney films incorporated (Is that the right one? Disney film studios?) Whatever, who knows because they own pretty much everything, this is just for funsies so please don’t sue me, laywerpeople (But if you have a job for me, have your people call my people). Cool….cool cool. Now that we got that out of the way….

                She woke slowly, dimly aware of the constant shiver running through her bones as she lay against the cold natural stone of the floor beneath her. Bathed in absolute darkness, she fought a moment’s disorientation as she came to realize it made no difference whether she held her eyes open or closed. Using a calming exercise that she had practiced from an early age, she shed the cloak of animalistic panic that had threatened to descend over her mind and took a long series of steadying breaths. There is no emotion, she assured herself as she exhaled all of her unease, there is only peace. To a mind at harmony with the universe around it, approaching peril would announce itself with all the subtlety of a thunderclap as it closed in to come to pass. For those attuned to the cosmic energies running through their bodies, danger to themselves or other life forms generally manifested itself as a rapidly swelling heat that radiated from the source of the threat and grew in intensity as the moment of action approached the present.

                Sensing none of the telltale psychic warmth of impending doom, she calmed her thoughts and began to probe the darkness with her mind’s eye. As she tried to visualize the space around her, subtle notes within the force began to paint the contours of the chamber in her mental picture. Finding herself in the center of a roughly spherical chamber hewn from solid granite, she soaked in not only the physical layout of her surroundings but the subtle flavor of the cavity’s potentiality. She sensed quiet, unfocused, threads of possibility like a static that clung to the humid air around her, taking note of several hazards in the immediate area that lacked the ethereal heat of ill intent.

                She sat up, settling into a well-practiced meditation pose as she gently rested her arms across her lap. Around her, the universe teemed with life and the young padawan began to drink it in. She sensed the ebb and flow of the force as it moved within the dark corners of the cave, radiating from the moss on the rocks, in the water that she could now hear flowing some great distance away, and even the foreign life within her own body; Working in symbiotic harmony with her natural cells to keep the spark of her existence alight. The feeling of it all cast a veil of serenity over her swelling anxiety, allowing her mind to finally pick up on a distinct flicker of familiarity. Focusing on that kernel of awareness, she visualized its presence sitting in her palm as she slowly extended her arm out in front of her. Suddenly, something solid slapped into the center of her outstretched hand and began to roll across her fingers as she moved to grip it.

                It was her kyber crystal, that much she was certain of, but she noticed that its long jagged edges had been honed down and smoothed with what she could tell was an atomically precise operation. The careful shaping of the living crystal could only mean one thing, and it had been done to serve an ancient purpose. For years now, she had carried the small trinket on a necklace with her everywhere she went as she learned to immerse herself into the living universe and connect to the world of boundless energy that sat just behind the veil of perception, submitting herself to its guidance and learning to trust its will. This attunement period served to bind each padawan to their kyber as they utilized the crystal’s unique characteristics to amplify their own connection to the mystical energy field. While a Jedi would be perfectly capable of wielding the force in the absence of their lightsaber and its heart of kyber, the presence of their signature weapon greatly increased their bandwidth; Allowing for improved precognition and a keener command over telekinesis and other ranged abilities.

                As she held the crystal in her closed hand, she reached into and through it with her mind’s eye to take a fresh look at the world around her through its metaphysical lens. As if a light had been powered on in the small cave, her surroundings snapped into certainty and she could clearly see the exit across from her, plain as day, via the subconscious filter that had lowered into place overtop the nothingness her eyes had been reporting to her brain. With her path forward as clear as her newfound sight, she pressed on with swelling confidence. Allowing herself to be pulled along by subtle tendrils of suggestion, seemingly laid in place by the faceless will of the force itself, she found herself following a narrow passage that seemed to widen with each step until she could no longer detect walls to either side of her.

                Walking briskly forward through the open, with a sea of black to all sides and no sense of what lay beyond, she continued to follow the faint tug in her mind until the tendril suddenly fell away and she was immediately awash in the heat of imminent danger from above. Without deciding to do so, her legs automatically began to coil and spring her into a leftward roll. With complete faith in her training, she instantly put every ounce of her conscious effort behind completing the unconscious acrobatic maneuver that the force had seen fit to get started for her. With unnatural strength and speed, she leapt to the side and began a shoulder roll that left her over ten meters from where she had started. A heartbeat after her shoulders hit the ground, a thunderous crash rose from where she had been standing as a speeder-sized stalactite crashed into the cavern floor and shattered into a dozen large pieces. Returning to her feet with another flood of confidence, she forced herself to take a moment to calm her mind from the excitement and rediscover the faint tendril of suggestion that had been leading her along before.

                Her diligence was soon rewarded when she felt its tug once more leading her forward into the darkness. After scrambling along the uneven floor for over fifteen minutes, she finally found the other side of the massive cavern where a narrow passage continued upward through the stone. As she wound her way upward on a meandering path through the naturally hewn rock, she suddenly found a new sense returned to her in the form of faint trickles of light that could be seen pouring down the passageway from up ahead. With renewed excitement, she surged forward until the narrow passage split into two different directions. The light was coming in from the opening on her right that led upward and presumably to the surface. The leftward passage, however, sloped sharply downward and was bathed in pure darkness, emanating a sickly-sweet smell that turned her stomach.

                As she automatically began to move toward the lit passage, she stopped herself after taking half of a step. She suddenly realized that she had become so wrapped up in her elation at the comforting sight of the light that she completely lost track of the ethereal trail of suggestion she had been following. Taking a deep breath to re-center her mind once more, she reached out to probe the world around her with careful concentration. As she submitted her mind and the flow of her thoughts to the will of the force, her focus became acutely aware of the stench that had been wafting from the darkness below; Identifying it immediately as the putrid stink of rotting foliage. But where there is death there is also life to be found, so she focused on the decay and familiarized herself with the delicate impression it made on the Force around her. The moment her attention shifted toward the descending darkness before her, the tendril of disembodied insistence she’d been following suddenly sprung to life again within her mind; Urging her downward with what now bordered on a concerning sense of hunger as it beckoned her onward.

                The force bears no ignorance for those who seek its will, she knew…only knowledge. Steeling her resolve, she swallowed the spark of fear that had begun to warm her gut and pressed forward into the dark. The descent was steep, taking several winding turns before the air started to grow damp and the stench began to hang heavily in the air. As she tried to breathe, the oppressive weight of the smell rushed in with every molecule of oxygen she attempted to claim. Nearly gagging with every sickening inhale, she quickly and very unexpectedly faced the prospect of losing consciousness. It was as if every breath out was replaced with less and less precious oxygen with each strained inhale. With her vision quickly tunneling in on her, she turned to the force once more to rescue her. She had never been trained in the mystical arts of accelerated healing, she lamented to herself, but she had once discussed the concept around it with Master Vondar the summer before over a cup of caf.

When healing oneself or another,” the wrinkled old Master of healing and rejuvenation had said, “a practitioner of the light will absorb the excess radiated force energy of their immediate area and redirect it toward aiding their patient’s natural healing processes. This operation drains both parties involved and cannot be sustained forever, however. The healer must maintain an extraordinary level of focus, communicating with the patient’s body and skillfully directing the response of its immune system, while the individual being healed will be rapidly dehydrated and depleted of nutrients as their body works to rebuild itself. Mending physical damage is fairly straightforward, as you will pretty readily be able to identify the source of the trauma, but ailments of the mind or those from poison are much more difficult to purge. In order to tell the body how to repair itself, you must first know what is wrong. You must connect with the afflicted mind and weigh its perception with that of reality, a feat which is made infinitely more difficult when healing oneself. For, if you are able to introduce a sliver of unfiltered reality into a troubled consciousness, the mind has a way of snapping back to that reality and accepting it almost immediately. Will this burn poisons from the blood directly? No, but it will serve to clear both the conscious and unconscious minds of the patient, which will enable their immune system a greater ability to identify the foreign bodies and expel them…

She stumbled over a small rock and fell to her knee, the world beginning to spin around her as a dull echo of pain called to her sluggish mind from somewhere far away. Why was she thinking of Master Vondar? She struggled to remember, having a difficult time keeping her thoughts straight until one surfaced that jolted her like lightning. Identify reality. Allowing herself to lower into a sitting position, she settled her mind and attempted to take a deep breath. Her lungs automatically stopped drawing in the wretched air when they reached about fifteen percent of their normal capacity and she could draw no more. With her mind reeling from the newly expended effort, she focused all of her remaining energy on forcing her diaphragm to continue moving. There was half a second of heart-stopping struggle, as if she were at the apex of drowning, then she was suddenly gulping in a lungful of now only mildly odorous air. As she sucked in breath after precious breath, the full scope of her faculties began to return to her and she started to piece together what had happened.

Drawing in a calming breath, she closed her eyes and reached out with her mind. She could still sense the disembodied tug of insistence that urged her downward, but it seemed obscured now somehow…as if it were calling to her through a blanket of oppressive fog. As she cast her awareness down the passage before her, she began to feel a light touch of dread in her gut as she sensed something…cold waiting for her. Despite the swelling anxiety that seemed to threaten to squeeze her heart to a stop, she clutched her kyber crystal and mouthed the Jedi code as she pressed forward into the darkness. Rounding a bend in yet another series of sharp descending switchbacks, she detected a faint blue light spilling in from beyond the curve ahead; Painting detail to the moss covered walls at the end of the passage and offering an explanation for the mysterious something that had been periodically brushing against her during her blind descent.

Rounding the corner, she found herself in another large cavern that was lit by what seemed to be a bioluminescent lichen that clung in neat patches upon the ceiling above. Stepping into the chamber, she immediately became acutely aware of the complete absence of the guiding trail of will that had led her there. It were almost as if it had suddenly evaporated at the threshold of the dimly lit new space, and all her efforts to recapture it were in vain. Her realization of this fact elicited a deep exhale of anger and a flood of frustration that she had not expected, and it took a moment for her to regain her composure after the outburst. Looking around, she saw no passageways but the one she had entered through and there didn’t appear to be anywhere else for her to go. That was until she noticed a dark ledge at the far end of the room. It was nearly ten meters up the opposite wall and sat carpeted in a thick blanket of vines that disappeared over a ledge and back into what could very well be a low passageway. The foliage clinging to the wall appeared to be dripping from some unseen water source, but the stalks looked strong and she was fairly certain they would support her weight.

Rolling her sleeves up, she tucked her kyber into a breast pocket and began her clumsy ascent. Her progress was steady at first, but at nearly the five meter mark the plant’s secretions began to come into play. The clear, viscous, substance seemed to ooze out from pores within the stalks as soon as she squeezed them to get a hold, making it nearly impossible for her to acquire a good grip. After struggling for several minutes to gain a scant few meters more, she reached out and seized a vine that immediately gave way; Sending her tumbling to her back on the hard stone floor below in a breath-stealing crash. As she lay on the ground, waiting for her vision to clear, she felt an overwhelming flood of sudden panic that was stirred along by thoughts of failing her trials. She had come all this way, been taken away from her family, robbed of a normal childhood, and worked relentlessly for years just to come up short at the last moment. All because of some kriffing goo plant, her future as a jedi and a protector of the innocent had been stolen from her. She was doomed to a life in service to the order through menial tasks and record keeping…her life as a being of interest, of consequence, was now over and she stood no better off than trillions of other wretched sentients across the galaxy who all had the misfortune of being forced to cling to their own worthless exis…tence.

What was she thinking? She held no ill will for the common being, yet…somehow she found hate for them burning like a hot coal at her core. Why? What had changed? Then she felt it; Like the chill of hard vacuum sneaking up her spine to take roost in her soul. She had always been told that the touch of the dark side could not truly be properly described until felt, and now she understood why. Galactic Basic was a versatile language, but it wasn’t perfect and it didn’t contain vocabulary to define the psychosomatic ice that was now slowly moving to frost over her very being. It came at her, unrelenting, like a storm trying to force its surge waters through any crack it could find in the metaphorical dam that was her mental state. It fed itself off of her emotions, taking any hint of anger or despair she experienced and magnifying those feelings to new heights that invited even more intrusion and escalation. She had to stop the feedback loop, and she could only do that by depriving the system of its fuel. “There is no passion,” she whispered to herself as she exhaled deeply, “There is serenity.”

As she continued to draw breath in long steady heaves, clearing her mind of all thoughts dwelling on the vines or her trials, she began to feel the chill in her chest receding. As it pulled back, it were as if a filter had slowly been removed from her perception and she could once again feel the urgent pull of the force beckoning to her. It wasn’t calling to her from the ledge, however, but an adjacent wall that was covered in the same type of slippery vine. As she approached, her feeling of urgency grew and she began to see a section of vegetation that did not appear to have stone directly behind it. She was able to push through the tangled foliage and step into a low-ceilinged passage that led upward and to the left around a bend that appeared to be lit via orange flickers of torchlight from whatever space lie beyond.

Pushing forward with her kyber clutched tightly in her palm, she rounded the final blind corner and nearly stepped off a sheer ledge that suddenly dropped several dozen meters into the murky darkness below. The artificially carved room she found herself at the threshold of was awash in the orange flickering glow of torchlight, casting animate shadows to dance across the rough stone walls around her. The interior of the cavern was roughly fifty meters long and just under twenty meters wide, featuring only a single meter-wide strip of stone that served as a bridge to connect the doorway she was standing in to the matching archway across from her. As she stepped close to take a peek over the edge, she strained to see what it was that sat strewn in mounds upon mounds across the bottom of the pit. It almost looked like the collection bin of a trash compactor until she started to realize the heap was too uniform in shape, as if specific items had been stored there instead of just random junk. Upon studying the poorly lit refuse below, she started to identify hilt bodies of every shape and size along with recognizable focusing mechanisms and standard power cells. The chaos below contained everything she would need to complete her lightsaber, but everything was so helplessly out of reach.

She could call upon the force to retrieve items from afar, but the distance at which she could do so depended greatly on her personal connection to that object. She, for example, had been able to summon her kyber crystal from over fifty meters away once, but the furthest she was able to stack a pile of random rocks had been just over ten meters away. If she didn’t know the objects she wished to retrieve via a personal history, she’d have to be able to physically see it well enough or at least be consciously aware of exactly what she wanted from the chaos below in order to get her hands on it. “Chaos,” she thought, “…There is no chaos. There is harmony.” Instinctively knowing exactly what she needed to do, she trotted out to the center point of the long narrow bridge and dropped herself into a cross-legged sitting position. With her mind calm and clear, she began to visualize her ideal lightsaber.

She closed her eyes and assembled it in her head, allowing the force to guide the brushstrokes of her mental image as it took shape. The handle had to be smooth in her palm, devoid of any external features that would snag or otherwise impede her ability to efficiently transition from a forward into a reverse grip. It had to be balanced with a slight favor in weight distribution toward the blade, allowing for her high gripstyle to leave plenty of room below for a two-handed power assist or pommel strike. Many sabers came with an adjustable focusing ring, but it would just be a waste of space in her design. She imagined a fixed-length blade, shorter than most, with a secondary power cell that could be used to hot-stage the saber’s containment field for rapid recall and redeployment of the weapon’s deadly energy. The pieces all swirled within her mind’s eye, each new addition fitting perfectly into the next and growing in coherence as the weapon took shape.

Suddenly, the click of a thin body panel scraping against another prompted the young padawan to open her eyes. Floating there, a meter above the walkway in front of her, was the exact weapon that she had imagined. Smooth reflective metal soaked in the flicker of the torchlight, the distorted image of the cave around her broken only by the indent of a single button that sat near the blade-end of the grip. It remained incomplete, however, and a central compartment that lie at the heart of the saber sat open and empty…Waiting. With a shiver of exhilaration, she released her grip on the kyber in her hand and allowed it to float gently over to the newly forged weapon. Clicking effortlessly into place as if it had always been meant to be there, her kyber crystal was then concealed by a panel of smooth reflective metal that slid silently into place. Upon opening her palm, the new device obediently shot into her grip and she immediately activated it with a snap-hiss that cast a brilliant yellow glow onto the world around her. As she soaked in the unusual and rarely seen color of her new lightsaber, she found herself surprised at her inner lack of surprise. Somehow, she had always known her color…yet had no idea of what she knew until it was made corporal in front of her. She twirled it experimentally in her hand, noticing the perfect balance it offered as she spun it expertly from side to side. Deactivating the golden blade, she clipped it to her belt and pushed confidently forward toward the far end of the walkway and the corridor beyond.

After a short trip through a passageway that spiraled upwards, she stepped out into a massive natural cave structure that seemed to stretch infinitely out into the dark. Calming her mind, she looked to the force for guidance on what she should do next. The intent of the room was clear, drawing her toward the center where a lit torch sat burning alone in the darkness along with a waist-high ornate platform. It featured a rounded top and intricately carved sides that led into the unnaturally smooth stone floor at its base, and it appeared to have a small hole at its very tip. After standing in front of the pillar for a moment, she consulted the universe and found herself with an overwhelming urge to slot her lightsaber into the open receptacle at its end. Trusting the disembodied will that beckoned her to do so, she obliged; Unclipping her newly built lightsaber and inserting it, emitter-first, into the slot.

With a spark of excitement, she activated the weapon’s blade and was immediately showered in a brilliant flash of color that poured out from every nook and cranny of the several-hundred-meter-wide cavern of natural stone. After a moment’s adjustment to the new brilliance, she was finally able to see what had been emitting the light. Positioned in frames, set within the rock all throughout the entire space in row after neat row, were kyber crystals…tens of thousands of them; All shining brightly with both the color and essence of the living stone’s original wielder. She stood surrounded by the final shards of her order’s greatest Masters and Grand-Masters, and she could feel their presence around her like a tidal wave of support and overwhelming pride that hit her all at once. They were calling to her from beyond the vail, not with words but with impressions of emotion; Sending their approval of her acceptance into their ancient order and her eventual place by their side. There is no death, she realized finally, There is the force…

Book release: The Stranger From Meclan

The time has finally come! The Stranger From Meclan is now available on Amazon (

Are you someone who enjoyed 80’s action movies but are also keenly aware of the fact that the good guys need to reload at some point too? Do you like science fiction that still makes a wee bit of sense, even after thinking about it for more than 2.5 seconds? If so, I just might have the kick-ass old fashioned action story you’ve been waiting for…

As these tales generally go, it was just another hum-drum delivery run for Commander Dex Sloan and his trusty old freighter…Until it wasn’t. Dex had worked hard for many long years to cultivate a nice quiet life for himself, bouncing from system to system in an aimless wander through the cosmos, but that carefully constructed house of cards came tumbling down when he found himself amid the turbulence of Meclan station. Silence was always an option, but even the most delicately laid plans are worth burning to the ground if it means a bully is to meet his comeuppance.
Sometimes it takes a Stranger to spark life into the flames of revolution…

Legends of the Verse: The Aimless Expedition

Follow the adventure of a newly formed crew aboard the Carrack cruiser Aimless as they dive into an undiscovered system. They learn quickly that they are not alone within their quiet new system and the value of science must be weighed against the danger in collecting that precious data. Join the mission and follow the Aimless’ brave Captain, Jack Burgundy, into the fog of war and through the flames of combat as he tries to lead his crew home.


-Leland Brown

The Aimless Expedition  (PDF)

Available in multiple eBook formats HERE

(Big thanks to \u\Alysianah for putting all these different formats together for us!)