A short story set in Corvus Belli’s Infinity universe.
Administrative Principal Shou of the Quan Lai Consortium’s Applied Security Task Force cut a less than impressive figure against the backdrop of a golden crane striding through paddyfields lit with streaming blue neon. Pale and hunched, he pored over the constant ripple of cascading data as it pulsed directly into his brain. Changes upset him, and this was the sort of shift that could hurt the corporation, and by extension, the Emperor himself.
‘Well, Principal Shou?’ The Imperial Liaison Officer prodded from her seat on the opposite side of his desk. ‘Any thoughts?’
Shou didn’t see the slender grey-eyed girl. She remained a dark sliver on the edge of his vision, obscured by a dazzling array of glyphs, charts and numbers that only he could see. Had he paid more attention to her face, he would have noted with displeasure how the officer’s augments had robbed her of one of his favourite features of their race, those dark brown eyes. As much as he championed the use of cybernetics in facilitating daily tasks and therefore bringing greater glory to the Yu Jing Empire, when it collided with his fierce desire for racial purity and his handful of obsessive sexual penchants, he could not help but feel conflicted.
And equivocation was a weakness in a regime that demanded single-minded purpose from every citizen. Especially those who ran security for one of the Big Seven.
Quan Lai, he knew, did not suffer fools. His left thigh, which beneath a mass of cross-hatched scar tissue was a lattice of metal and hollow, synthetic tubes of bone, ached as though to remind him that failure was not an option. His scrutiny of the streaming data intensified.
Shou’s lips pursed.
‘Your man is reckless,’ he said in a cruelly amused voice. ‘A risk-taker.’
‘He has never failed,’ the officer replied, understanding that risk-taker was a pejorative term to a man like Shou. ‘Not in forty-one sanctioned operations. Nobody has seen his face. Nor has anyone survived an encounter with him.’
‘He served with his fellow Japanese on Flamia,’ Shou said, his lip curling. ‘Though their reports speak highly of his lethal ability and mastery of stealth, I notice that they took to nicknaming him kabukimono.‘ Now he did focus on the girl. ‘Because there was something of the hooligan about him.’
‘And yet, his record is exemplary.’
Shou leaned back in his chair. Tiny mechanisms adjusted the material to clasp his body, making him feel as though he was a child in his mother’s arms. He stared up at the ceiling.
‘You place your standing in our society on this Japanese swordsman?’
‘I do, Principal.’
A nerve in the officer’s cheek twitched. Her artificial eyes narrowed.
‘My own record is remarkable,’ she explained. ‘Your superiors have all taken my advice at one time or another. Lao, Sun, Liang…’
‘Sun?’ Shou scoffed. ‘He earned his seat on the board before your parents were born!’
The girl smiled.
‘I remember Sun when he was green,’ she said. ‘A spoilt brat more interested in contraband cartoons than serving the State Empire. Indeed, it was my conditioning sessions that taught him to focus on what truly mattered, rather than simply chasing his own crude desires.’ The officer enjoyed Shou’s moment of confusion. ‘This is not my first body,’ she said. ‘Nor was I always female. It benefits those of us in the Imperial Liaison Office to remain fluid and dynamic. To maintain order one must be willing to step outside of its constraints. For what is within can only be kept enclosed by an outside force.’
‘I had no idea,’ said Shou. ‘I confess, I underestimated you.’
‘Your mistake,’ she said. ‘I guarantee that this field test will be a success. Perhaps after that, our future meetings will be more genial.’
Shou nodded hurriedly.
* * *
The symbol of Quan Lai’s port office was a white crane stepping out of a red circle. As the elevator doors opened with a soft electronic ping, it was the first thing to greet the eye. Three crouched shapes emerged, scattered, moving around the empty offices.
From somewhere below them came the rattle of semi-automatic weapons. The Druze had engaged with the security team protecting the spaceport.
‘Not exactly quiet, eh, Jenny?’ One of the three figures muttered.
‘This is a smash and grab, Sami’ said Jenny Keriloglu. She twisted on her heel and threw her comrade a shrug. ‘We’re robbing a bank vault, not stalking a supermodel.’
‘Shame,’ said Sami, adjusting his headset. ‘Because that shit’s my wheelhouse.’
Jenny wasn’t wrong. Nobody hired the Druze for covert missions but if you wanted a door kicking in, or a message sent, they were capable of providing a more than sufficient display of force.
‘It’s that lieutenant of theirs,’ said the third member of the team, a muscular and bearded veteran in a dark red cap. ‘All I wanted was ten minutes of quiet, keep the security away from this place. Now, those Yu Jing lackeys will be here in force, crawling up our arses while we try to find the server. All because of that Druze sikkafa.’
‘Let’s stop grumbling and get on with the job, eh, Bilal?’ Said Sami, peering into the darkness of the office. ‘According to the schematics, we’re in the right place. The server room is up ahead and to the right. We crack it, we can transfer about a billion before you can say al elmaya taş atan çok olur.‘
Jenny smiled to herself.
A lack of enemies is a sign that fortune has forgotten you.
A proverb of her ancestors, when they were still stuck on Earth.
‘Let’s move,’ said Bilal curtly, charging forward through the darkened office, still in a crouch, the sound of gunfire rattling the lobby downstairs.
A gunshot sounded and a desk drawer shattered next to Bilal’s face. Spitting blood, he whirled behind cover, his boarding shotgun swinging up, barrel poised.
‘I thought they said there’d be no guards?’ Jenny hissed.
‘Maybe it’s the fucking cleaner?’ Bilal grinned at her across the office, his teeth stained red from a shredded lip. ‘Picked the wrong night to do overtime.’
With that, Bilal rose up and emptied a shell into the shadows ahead. A couple of desks disintegrated with a noise that sounded like a passenger jet crashing into a slaughterhouse. A reedy whine emitted from the resultant carnage.
‘What’s Chinese for I give up?‘ Bilal asked the others over his shoulder.
‘Druze scum!’ Came another voice, rasping through a wall of pain. ‘The Empire will crush you beneath its boots!’
A sequence of pistol fire started up, chewing into empty desks and dead monitors.
‘We ain’t Druze, friend,’ said Sami, brandishing his combi-rifle. ‘We’re Bashi Bazouk!’
He darted out, moving swiftly in his ersatz armour, but did not fire immediately. Instead, he waited for the Imperialists to open up on him. As soon as the pistol flashes appeared, he grinned and let rip with the combi-rifle. Ignoring a nick to his leg he adjusted his course, now running straight at the enemy position. His gun made short work of the desks the two men were hiding behind. When he was out of ammunition, he let the gun drop to his side.
‘Get down!’ Bilal hissed, peeping out from around his desk.
‘It’s OK, dost,’ said Sami, laconically reloading his gun as he stood in the open, by a water fountain and a poster warning about the severe reprimand for inefficient use of state-supplied stationery. ‘We’re clear.’
* * *
‘They’re making a mess,’ said Shou, steepling his fingers as he leaned forward on his obsidian desk. Beneath his elbows was a dense matrix of glittering, incessant substrate. There were smart missiles in Pan Oceanian cruisers that had lower processing power than Shou’s desk. ‘I hope we don’t lose any top-tier personnel.’
‘Just guards and a few overtimers,’ said the girl. ‘A necessary expense when running this kind of simulation.’
‘This isn’t exactly a simulation,’ Shou reminded her, gesturing to the bank of monitors displaying the events at the distant port. ‘Those are real bullets. Real bodies.’
The girl shrugged.
‘We are in control of every aspect of this operation,’ she said. ‘The only people who don’t know that this is a simulation are the people involved.’
Shou grumbled something under his breath.
‘Don’t worry, Shou,’ the Liaison Officer chided with a thin smile. ‘The repairs will cost roughly three per-cent of what I’ve been paid to run this test. I’m happy to cover the expense of restoring that office to full functionality.’
‘And the dead?’
‘Sacrifices to the State Empire,’ she said, waving her hand. ‘Motes that pass before the eye of the Emperor. All our souls drift. Some towards fortune, some towards death.’
‘And some towards mercenary machine guns and machetes?’
Now the girl’s smile widened.
‘Indeed.’ She pressed a finger to her ear, activating her personal closed-band communicator. ‘And monofilament.’ She lowered her voice, speaking gravely. ‘Let the test begin.’
* * *
‘The server room’s this way,’ said Sami, motioning down a long corridor. A small security camera fixed to the ceiling made an incremental movement, focusing on the Bashi Bazouk. Sami saw it, gave a comical bow and then trust his fist in its direction, his thumb between his index and middle finger. A traditional obscene gesture. ‘Look, they’re watching us.’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ said Bilal, stomping past his comrade, his boarding shotgun a reassuring weight in his powerful arms. ‘We’ll have dusted off long before anybody watches the footage. Besides, you’re buried under about a hundred aliases already.’
This was true. Though most of the action they saw was as part of a largely covert force, they were sometimes involved in less secretive operations. Raiding transports, blowing up power stations, sending a message to small bands of space pirates preying on Silk suppliers. It had got to the point where their real identities had not only been erased from most databanks, but had been replaced by an endless spam of fake names and backgrounds. Even the names they used for one another had no real meaning and the only way employers could hire them was via intricate, aggressively-firewalled and extremely obtuse communication networks.
Such was the life of a mercenary in humanity’s glittering future.
Bilal had reached the door, glancing up at the camera as he probed the lock.
‘Here we go,’ he said, sliding a card through the lock. A red light blinked back at him. He frowned and tried again. ‘Damn it.’
‘What?’ Sami said, joining the other Bashi Bazouk by the door.
‘The card’s no good. Bloody Druze. Their entire intelligence network is donkey balls.’
Sami cursed under his breath and gestured to Jenny, who was keeping watch on the elevator from a nest of ruined desks and computers. She saw him and dashed over.
‘They said you were some sort of specialist,’ Sami said, eyebrow raised. ‘That right?’
Jenny Keriloglu shrugged.
‘Can you open this?’
She looked at the lock and chewed her lip.
‘I might have something.’
The two men stepped aside as Jenny crouched on the carpet by the lock. She removed her pack and splayed it on the floor next to her, fishing out what looked like a half-chewed circuitboard in bubblewrap. She removed the protective wrapping and fixed a cable onto the board before running the other end into a card holder. Biting her lip now, she waved her hand at Bilal who handed the card over. She slid it into the reader, fiddled with the switches on the circuit board, and then slid the card through the lock.
The door opened.
‘Nice work,’ said Sami. ‘How about that, eh, Bilal?’
Bilal grunted and stepped into the server room. He paused on the threshold, the hairs on the back of his thick neck bristling.
‘You hear that?’
‘I hear nothing,’ said Sami blankly.
‘The gunfire,’ said Jenny. ‘It’s stopped.’
The elevator door pinged. Sami and Bilal exchanged a glance. Some silent understanding passed between them and Sami nodded, rushing into the office where he slid to one knee and raised his combi-rifle, pointing it at the elevator. The door slid open. Inside, the light was stark, almost garish. Nobody stepped out. Sami swallowed, mopped sweat from his brow and flexed his finger on the trigger of his firearm.
Bilal stepped aside for Jenny, jerking his head towards the servers inside the room. Holding his shotgun in his left hand, he fished a datastick out of the breast pocket of his dull ochre flak jacket. He tossed it down to her and then clasped his gun in both hands, setting his feet apart like he was on the deck of a ship in the middle of a storm.
‘Jack that in,’ he said. ‘The virus loaded onto it will get you access, and start the download. All you have to do is pull it out when it’s ready.’
‘Alright,’ Jenny said, slipping into the server room. Even though it was the dead of night, the room was humid as hell, the air dry. She found the central server and hunted for the input jack.
Outside, Sami blinked as a bead of sweat dropped from his eyelid. He took his hand away from the underside of the combi-rifle, reaching down to a pack on his belt. He flicked a switch, heard a faint and reassuring hum, the pack vibrating gently. Then his finger slipped across to a dial. He turned, feeling it click like a bank vault tumbler. Holograms blinked into existence either side of him, faint at first but quickly developing an apparent solidity. As he turned the dial, they moved further away from his position. When they were about three metres either side of him he grunted with satisfaction and replaced his hand on the underside of the gun, supporting its weight.
As soon as he did, something moved to his immediate right. Cursing, he twisted his body around and squeezed the trigger but the gun did not obey his command. Wide-eyed, he saw his hands – and the gun, sliced in two – spin away from him on crimson plumes. Before he could open his mouth to scream a shower of sparks consumed the desk beside him and the computer system beneath it. He felt his body split, a hot pain that was gone in an instant. When his top half toppled backwards onto the carpet a metre from his waist, Bilal’s boarding shotgun was already roaring down the corridor.
Cursing profusely, muscular Bashi Bazouk stepped forward, seeking a target.
‘What was that?’ Jenny called from the server room, her eyes wide.
‘Just get the data,’ Bilal spat back at her. ‘I’ll cover you.’
Inching forward, he squinted down at Sami’s dissected body. His stomach lurched but he suppressed the instinct to vomit. With a grimace, he raised the boarding shotgun, pumping three shots left, centre and right, demolishing most of the dark, empty office.
There then fell a silence that was almost absolute. He could hear his own heart, and Jenny chewing her lip as she waited for the virus to do its job. The leather of his fingerless gloves creaked as he flexed his grip on the gun, running through the options in his head. Four shots left. I could reload. Pistol at my hip. I’m a quick draw…
A noise made him start. The slow tapping of steel against the wall of a glass cubicle. The glass had been shattered by Sami’s gunfire, but the frame of the cubicle was intact. Bilal pointed his gun in the direction of the cubicle and narrowed his eyes. He couldn’t see anything.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
He moved forward as though stalking a wild animal, trying to discern what was making the sound. As he got closer, he saw what looked like a strange flickering on the frame of the cubicle. With every tap, there was an iridescent blur, about two inches long, that came and went. Swallowing, he licked his dry lips and planted his feet, preparing to fire.
The tapping stopped.
He let rip with the boarding shotgun, annihilating what was left of the cubicle as well as the desks either side of it. Chunks of wall and carpet were kicked away by the fusillade. A large monitor, its screen pockmarked with punched holes, span through the air as though weightless.
One slug left.
Bilal let his left hand drop from the gun. It flashed to his belt, scrambling for ammunition.
He heard his hand hit the carpet before he felt the pain or heard the whooshing noise of the blade. Falling to one knee, he fired the remaining shotgun round into the ceiling. Plaster rained down, bouncing off his gritted, blood-flecked teeth. He saw particles of the stuff bounce off a humanoid shape in the air above him. Invisible.
‘Ninja!’ This guttural bellow of warning was the last thing Bilal managed before the blade skewered his heart. Glassy-eyed, he slid back from the blade with the aid of the contemptuous boot in his chest. By the time his body hit the carpet, the boot had vanished. The blade swung twice in the air, scattering globules of blood against the surrounding walls and partitions of the office before vanishing into a sheath no unaugmented eye could see.
Jenny heard the warning. Still crouching by the server, she reached for her submachine gun, clasping it against her stomach. The virus on the datastick was still tasking, shoving its way through the system’s defences while the aggressive defensive processes railed against it. A tiny screen next to the jack showed her the Druze symbol, plastered mockingly above a progress bar that was almost full. She wondered whether the mercenaries had got the virus from the same sikkafa who had supplied them with the useless passcard.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Her whole body went rigid. She could feel the hand of death closing around the whole building. Jenny could picture the pile of dead Druze in the lobby, their silent guns lying inches from their twitching fingers. In her mind’s eye, Sami’s face – placid in morbid repose – stared up at the ceiling. Of Bilal, all she could think about was his final roared warning.
The progress bar was around eighty per-cent full. She chewed her lip, tasting blood.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Closer now. Death was halfway up the corridor, proximity closing with each tap.
How would she defend herself? The door was the only way in or out, which meant that she would have to pass the ninja in order to escape. Even then, she would need to get back to the dropship alone. Who knew what barrier the Yu Jing had placed between her and the small vessel? The idea had been for the mercenary force to assault the port office, a vulnerable spot on the fringe of the Yu Jing’s glittering Empire, grab the data and then fight its way back to the dropship before boosting clear of whatever the defence forces had been able to muster during the fracas. Instead, the mercenary team had been wiped out, and she was now the only one left.
Maybe I can trick it into thinking that I am not alone, she thought, reaching for the holoprojector controls at her belt. Maybe I could even bully him back down the corridor with the threat of superior firepower?
The holoprojector would display her image. A short, stocky, bedraggled merc with a ponytail poking from the back of a black mesh cap, armed only with a submachine gun, pistol and knife. It would replicate this twice, at varying distances from her current position. She could set it to display something more fearsome, a Janissary perhaps. Her mouth curled up at the corner slightly at the thought of the ninja turning tail when faced with a trio of venerable Yeniçeri elites, clad in hulking plates of armour and brandishing heavy machine guns.
But again, she paused for thought. Would the ninja not just hide, invisible, and wait for her to pass? The corridor was narrow; the foe could easily cut down three heavy infantry troopers in so tight a space, perhaps with just one swing of his sword.
I’m dead, she thought, a cold dread gripping her heart. I just haven’t come to terms with it yet.
The progress bar was at ninety-nine per-cent. It seemed to freeze there, beneath the glowering Druze skull. She reached out and plucked it from the port.
A heartbeat later the server stack was exploding in a shower of sparks and shredded cable. With a shriek, Jenny tumbled back, hands coming up to shield her face. She felt hot fragments of plastic and metal stinging her palms, even through the fingerless leather gloves. The boarding shotgun blast had demolished most of the hardware in the server room in one sudden salvo, the data stick arcing through the air, away from Jenny’s hand. She hit the ground, rolling instinctively to the left and then scampering towards the door, pressing her back against the wall. Sweat running down her face, mouth open in a desperate gasp, she drew her pistol – her submachine gun buried somewhere under the remains of the server – and fought to regain her composure.
‘It is time to accept your fate, thief,’ said the invisible killer in the corridor outside, his disembodied voice ethereal and detached. ‘You are already dead. Your life ended when I arrived at this place.’
Jenny cursed under her breath, the pistol suddenly feeling like a toy in her hands, useless against such a foe. She could see the data stick, lying on the other side of the server room, and thought about making a grab for it.
In desperation she fiddled with the holoprojector controls. Perhaps she could slow the ninja down by presenting him with too many targets. That might give her long enough to grab the data stick.
No; still not a good enough plan. He’d still be able to put himself between her position and the only way out. She would have to overcome him.
‘Time to die, mercenary,’ the ninja said. Closer, this time.
Jenny Keriloglu closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. Activated her holoprojector. She had one chance at this. The ninja would not provide her with any margin of error.
Think of the money. Picture it. Feel the heft of the gilt.
Either side of her, holoechoes blinked into life. She set the range and position, dropping one on the other side of the door, the other behind the shattered central server. All mimicked her posture, their backs to the enemy, head craned round, pistol held close.
Come and get it, swordsman.
The ninja stepped into the doorway, silent and invisible. His gauntleted hand went to the grip of his katana, ready to draw.
The mercenary was visible as he stalked forward, a frightened woman hunched with her back to the wall, breathing heavily, gun held against her chin as if in prayer. Behind his mask, the ninja smiled thinly. This would be another clean, efficient kill.
But something made him pause. The woman’s hand was tampering with a device at her hip. Narrowing his eyes, the ninja turned to scan the room, seeing two other figures identical to the first. All three women holding the exact same posture. His smile was now one of amusement.
Holoechoes, he thought. Ah, this pathetic gaijin thinks she can outwit me?
Still completely invisible, still utterly silent, he entered the room, quickly inspecting the three carbon-copies of the woman he was hunting. They were all staring fixedly into space, at empty patches of carpet. Staring at nothing at all, like mindless dolls.
All save one.
Following the gaze of the echo on the left-hand side of the doorway, he could see a data stick lying on the carpet in the midst of scattered sections of hard drive and burnt wiring. He shook his head.
No matter the technology with which these mercenaries swaddle themselves, they always give themselves away. The unhoned flesh of the mercenary is always weak.
He drew the sword without a sound and then slid it through the woman, the tip entering at her neck, down through her heart.
There was no blood. She did not even flinch. Her eyes remained fixed on the data stick.
It was at that moment that he realised that he had been tricked.
Tearing her eyes from the empty patch of carpet, Jenny rose from her position on the opposite side of the doorway and swung her pistol around, the nozzle an inch or two from the ninja’s upper back.
‘Arrogant budala!‘ She spat, emptying the clip as the ninja twisted away under the onslaught, blood flecking the walls. The swordsman was gone in an instant, leaving a crimson trail across the server room. Dashing forward, Jenny scooped up the data stick and then bolted for the door.
A boarding shotgun blast slammed into her, the slugs passing through the wreckage of the servers and into her back. Though the intervening hardware soaked up some of the force, she was still propelled forward, legs whirling. With a grunt, she hauled herself to her feet, emerging from the corridor into the office. Her breathing loud, ragged and hoarse, she turned towards one of the walls, reloading her pistol as she went. Putting five rounds into the glass, she flicked the holoprojector back on, threw her hands over her face and, with a final, desperate shout, flung herself through the thick glass.
Three forms tumbled towards the bay below, the black water rising to meet them. Sniper rounds from a dark, nearby tower had time to neatly dissect two of the forms before they hit the water.
* * *
Shou growled under his breath, one hand wrapped around a tightly-wound fist, his chin resting on knuckles. Staring up through his brows, he observed the blank expression of the Liaison Officer with a dark and furious gaze.
‘As field tests go,’ he said, struggling to maintain his decorum, ‘that was a disappointing display by your ninja. Perhaps this is what we get by putting our faith in Rìběnguó?’
The Liaison Officer bristled slightly at this, which surprised Shou. Why should she care if he defamed their less illustrious allies? The Japanese were second-class citizens, after all. Mere passengers on the Empire’s grand road to glory, who paid for their tickets with obedience and hard graft.
‘Actually, it was more successful than you think, Principal,’ said the officer with a sly smile. She stood up, smoothing her skirt, giving the monitors a sideways glance as she did so. She took in the shot of dead Druze soldiers in the Quan Lai port office lobby, the sizzling wreckage of the server room and an outside view of the smashed upper storey windows with barely a flicker of recognition. ‘I must thank you for your cooperation in this matter.’
‘Your ninja not only let one of those mercenary dogs escape,’ Shou seethed, ‘he let her escape with the data! This could cost us billions!’ He writhed in his chair, uncertain of what to do, his face contorted with frustrated wrath. ‘Never trust the damn Japanese, that’s the real lesson here!’
The face of the Liaison Officer hardened. Behind it, Shou saw the ghost of someone older, tougher and stranger. Her body language changed too, shoulders rolling back and chin rising. Her grey eyes pierced Shou to his soul.
‘Careful, bakayarou,‘ she said. ‘I was going to kill you quickly.’
‘My mother tongue,’ the girl said. Her finger went to her ear again. ‘Ah, the transfer has been made. Corporal Keriloglu had more talent than we expected. Shame, because I intended for our ninja to kill all of the Bashi Bazouk, as well as their Druze paymasters, to cover our tracks. Perhaps even bring the data stick to me, if necessary. But as you say, he disappointed us in the end.’
Now her hand dropped to her thigh, where the dress was cut exquisitely. To Shou’s surprise, the flesh parted with a crisp movement and a chrome tube ejected into the girl’s palm. She raised it, pointing the end at Shou.
‘You… you… you’re Kempeitai!’
‘Very rich Kempeitai,’ said the girl, correcting him. ‘Both the Druze, and the ninja you allowed us to send against them, were acting on our orders. If one side did not get the data, the other would succeed. The best way to ensure victory in a conflict is to command both sides.’
‘But your service to the Empire… al those years of duty…’
The girl emitted a high chuckle.
‘It wasn’t hard to replace someone who changes their body every few years,’ she admitted. ‘I didn’t even need to learn their deportment, or mimic their voice. Losing the eyes was an annoyance, but these synthetic ones work so much better. For instance, I can see that you’ve had an armour plate fitted over your heart, and there’s nano-mesh around your brain. That’s smart. But it won’t help you now.’
She depressed a button on the device in her hand and a beam of heat traced a neat arc around Shou’s heart, circumscribing the edge of the armoured panel and neatly severing the pulmaneries, both superior and inferior vena cava and all other veins and arteries. Then, as he sat there agape, she fired another beam laterally across his throat.
When she left the office of the Administrative Principal of the Quan Lai Consortium’s Applied Security Task Force, the Kempeitai agent did so with his bloodstained cube wrapped in a napkin in her handbag.
Thanks for reading. Click here to visit the short story archive, where you’ll find a few other examples of fiction set in Corvus Belli’s Infinity universe.
Also, if you’ve enjoyed these stories it would be great if you checked out my novel, Healer’s Ruin. If you have Amazon Prime you can read it on your kindle for free. It’s also available in paperback.
Thanks again, and do let me know what you think about these stories by giving them a facebook like, or leaving a comment. I love Infinity, and intend to write lots more of these, so feedback is always a good way to work out what I should focus on next.