Okay, to wrap things up a little better before starting the next. Sorry about that.

Addendum: Terms of Surrender

Elsewhere: the broken shell of a gutted space station-

The sounds… thumpings, bangs and scrapes… had grown closer. The entire craft, perhaps locked onto by something else, had begun to oscillate.

He rattled between supply rack and hatch more violently now, finally putting forth a split and bleeding hand to catch hold of a shelf. There was, his fading vision noted, a label beside the hatch… but it looked wrong, somehow; something about the letters.

No idea how he'd gotten here… where here even was… or how to extricate himself.

Something happened with his wrist comm while he hung there, weightless; a brief flickering. Then, transmitted through the hatch came an urgent message in ringing bangs and taps. Not Morse code, though. Or, not quite.

'Stay calm, son- conserve air- will get you out.'

He wasn't sure that was possible. Had sustained massive physical damage… but, you know… thought that counts, etc. And the cavalry was trying very hard to arrive.

Only, something else happened, first.

The bulkhead beside him began to glow and to warp, absorbing and melting the storage rack almost before he'd moved his hand. There should have been fire, or an explosion. Instead, the energy produced was transformed at once into writhing, shifting mass. Seconds later, something almost invisible had formed there; a light-warping, metallic arthropod as large as he was.

It struck before the dying young man could act to warn his rescuers.

Leaping from the scarred bulkhead, the probe changed form in midair, descending as a ferro-fluid shroud that snapped around its victim chokingly tight. A combination feeding and respiration tube was next forced between the captured lifeform's jaws and into its throat, then nano-scale wires threaded throughout its primitive nervous system.

1.532 vibrations later, data retrieval had been initiated. Threatened interruption became serious enough to warrant attention 2.1 vibrations thereafter. 5 inadequately shielded organics were (averaged distance) 3.5 radio waves beyond the physical portal, attempting entry. Sterilizing the area would waste energy and alert the targeted world's AI. Needless, at this time.

Reabsorbing its extensions, the probe created and compressed mass enough to tear a planck-duration wormhole. Then it jumped; farther away than small carbon neural assemblies could hope to conceptualize... bearing its prisoner to the nexus.


Tracy Island, a bare and windy plateau-

Scott's flashlight beam illuminated blond hair, a black tee-shirt, jeans, white sneakers and a look of near total confusion.

"John!" He snapped, sick with relief. "Didn't you hear me calling you? Why didn't you answer me?"

His brother blinked, looking almost as lost as he had at their mother's funeral.

"I don't know…Scott. I…"

The fighter pilot sighed, tucked his flashlight under one arm, and then waved an impatient hand before John's face.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" he demanded.

"One, jackass... Not funny."

Scott snorted.

"Neither is how many times I almost fell, trying to come to your damn rescue! Been up here hitting the bottle all night, or something?"

Coming a little closer, Scott sniffed for alcohol fumes, but there weren't any. In fact, there weren't any smells at all, and considering that John had climbed a mountain to get here, that was quite a feat. No smells of laundry soap, sweat, after-shave, toothpaste… hell, not even that caffeinated gum he always chewed to stay up at night. John had as few scents as though he'd just been taken out of the box.

Scott frowned. Something felt wrong. Holding up the blue wrist comm, he tried another question.

"Where'd you find this? Some kind of alien crash site?"

John took it from him, staring quietly, hopelessly down at the thing. As if sleepwalking, he tried putting the strange wrist comm on, but it was too large for his wrist. Looking up once more at Scott, he shook his head.

"I don't know. Is it mine?"

"Okay, that's it. Fun's over. You and I are headed home, mister, and you're going straight to bed. Tomorrow, it's back to the infirmary. Because, obviously, you're pretty shaken up, still."

…And in no shape for a nighttime descent.

"Uh… you wouldn't happen to have a cell phone, would you, John? I screwed up my wrist comm trying to repair that beacon of yours, and I need something to call Virgil with."

John appeared to consider a moment. Then he said,

"Yeah. In the backpack. It's a PDA… but it works to call with."

Scott hesitated before going after his brother's zippered, pen-diagrammed gear bag. Damn that wind!

"Listen, John, why don't you sit down for a minute. And, uh… we don't have to mention any of this to… wow."

Turning to cross the telescope site, he'd nearly tripped over John's laptop… or the charred remains thereof. Scott nudged the thing with his foot, playing the flashlight slowly over it. The screen's display membrane had melted entirely away, while the keyboard was now a mass of hardened slag.

"Damn, buddy. How fast were you typing?" Scott joked, while inside himself thinking:

'Lightning strike. Great. Only John…'

He reached the backpack a moment later, locating John's PDA with the aid of his flashlight. His brother seemed pretty dazed, but king-sized electrical discharges could do that to you.

"Seriously… sit down and relax, John. Virge'll be up here before you know it, so happy for the chance to test-fly one of those air sleds, he'll probably kiss you."

Scott punched in Virgil's comm code, meanwhile keeping up a stream of light chatter to hide his concern. He'd feel a whole lot better when his brother was safe at home, and everything returned to normal.


Catastrophic failure-

The Braman-Alien Intelligence had seized John Tracy.

Fatal Error-

Attempts to acquire new genetic data blocked.

System corrupted-

There were no allowable options remaining… except capitulation.