Infinity Afterglow / Episode 25: Sidereal Delusions

Arrogant subversives labor under sidereal delusions as they view for power with the rest of interstellar civilization.

An epic space opera By mark Laporta

Light years apart, two scheming aliens share sidereal delusions of grandeur. First, an avian grifter sends the secret activation codes for a dormant fleet of battle cruisers to a vindictive shape-shifter. Then she’s off to further her own nefarious ends with a mysterious device of extraordinary power. In this episode of Infinity Afterglow, the stage is being set for a deadly confrontation. Read Infinity Afterglow from the beginning.

In the dark recesses of a cramped passenger ship, a sullen figure wallowed in self-pity.

Should’ve heard by now, he thought.

The secret he most wanted to know, the ancient protocol that would enable him to command the long-hidden fleet of Skryntali warships, still eluded him.

At least he could take comfort in one thought. Eldrinaj had been good to her word and brought him a working sucherch. It had enabled him to locate the artificial asteroid where the ships had been hangered for the last few millennia. To Nevruleth, Eldrinaj’s supremely self-centered Skryntali client, the ships were more than the promise of overwhelming tactical advantage. They were one of the few surviving remnants of the time before … before everything that mattered had collapsed into the endless tedium of mere existence. 

The dyspeptic Skryntali’s breath came up short. A fantasy image of that vanished era hovered in his mind. Its setting was a universe unspoiled by the Quishiks’ corrosive manipulation of Probability. Soon enough, however, his daydream faded. How pointless, he realized, to focus on what might have been. He needed the Skryntali Flight Shape protocols now. Especially now, when the sucherch had recently projected the high probability that the asteroid hangar had already been discovered.

Nevruleth gnashed his shape-shifted teeth.

Found it by accident, I’ll wager, he thought. 

And though he was well past the age to expect Fairness from the universe, the thought of it still galled him. Now, should Eldrinaj betray him and sell the protocols to the humans, his dream of glory would be dashed. 

“Wouldn’t dare,” he whispered into his silent, automated cruiser. 

Considering the twenty-some members of the Interstellar Council that he owned outright, he could easily ensnare Eldrinaj in a list of charges too well-documented for any Sector Court judge to dismiss. The case against her would be airtight, with his own active involvement carefully expunged. Be that as it may, weeks after their last meeting, Nevruleth still didn’t have what he needed to start calling the shots. When he did, his one non-negotiable demand would revolve around how to handle the Quishiks. 

The humans and the Grashardi actually want to destroy them! his thoughts railed. 

With an ounce of ingenuity, Nevruleth was convinced, the Quishiks could be cured — and put to good use. Chief among their uses? The Quishiks could ensure that the arrogant Ootray never polluted his universe again. But, he realized, now that the mutants had started their most ferocious rampage in centuries, time was precious. 

If they were unchecked until they consumed most of the sentient mental energy in the known universe, there was no future worth contemplating. Any space-faring economy that emerged thereafter might be a million years in the making. That’s what had led him to abandon his lifelong habit and chase his operative down in person. In this grim frame of mind, Nevruleth entered the Zyffer system, stopped his engines and reached out to Eldrinaj on a secure channel. His message? Nothing more than his coordinates. All things considered, she couldn’t fail to know his demands, or the consequences for ignoring them.

Yet if his terse message, weighted with menace, had given him a surge of maniacal adrenaline, he had precious little time to enjoy it. Within half an hour, a clear envelope materialized on his lap with an alacrity that might have given a human a heart attack. Inside the envelope rested a blood-red data cylinder, labeled “Flight Shape,” which, when he placed it on his worktable, flared up with a flurry of bold holographic letters, reading

WE’RE EVEN, YOU DISGUSTING BALL OF FILTH

accompanied by peals of shrieking Olfdranyi laughter.

Ungrateful wretch, Nevruleth fumed, until he was fairly choking on his own bile. Fearing the worst, the curmudgeon finally got the better of his rage. He breathed deep and felt his blood pressure edge down closer to normal. Then, after a quick meal in his ship’s compact mess hall, he was off again, not stopping to consider the implications of the gift he’d received.

How, he might have asked, had his easily distracted operative accomplished what generations of the Skryntali diaspora had failed to achieve? The answer lay in the simple line of questioning Eldrinaj had engaged in with the unfathomably brilliant AI that was embedded in the Kadervax prototype. Once the device located the appropriate data cylinders, which had been archived five thousand years earlier, Eldrinaj simply retrieved them, made a copy for herself and ordered the prototype to send the original cylinders to Nevruleth’s coordinates. 

Let him have his toys, she told herself. 

Imagine! If she were able to accomplish this much with the prototype, what feats of power would be hers to command with the Kadervax itself? For now, she was forced to wait for Harlan’s next move. Unfortunately, time was not on her side. Irritating questions had begun to circulate about Caligreth’s sudden disappearance. Eldrinaj was, apparently, the last one seen with him, the night before his first unexcused absence from the Skryntali Archive. Worse, local authorities had started asking questions. Had Caligreth seemed ill, or confided any fears for his safety? Equally disturbing, more questions arose about the police complaint filed by government security guard Doldrameth later that same day.

 Little minds doing what they do best, thought the murderous Olfdranyi.

Soon, she realized, their tidy brains would dig up enough nuggets of truth to put her under suspicion. Her position on Zyffer 3 had become a liability.

“Ready ship,” she whispered into her personal scanner. With the unhurried manner of an office worker calling it quits for the day, she packed up her satchel as usual and included a data cylinder containing Alkader Vaxioleth’s seminal article about the first interdimensional frame-shift device, as well as her copy of the Flight Shape protocols.

Time to vanish, she realized.

This concludes Episode 25: Sidereal Delusions. A new episode of Infinity Afterglow appears every Saturday. Read Episode 26 now.

Read Ungent Draaf’s earlier adventures in Mark Laporta’s novels Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. Mark Laporta is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.

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