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400,000 Years Ago...

The Atlanteans, with their crystal cities under the seas, had been on the wane since peak star formation 40 million years before. Now, the last had slipped into the night. Not many things troubled the Halfling Wyvern pilot, but this was one of them. The Halflings were slightly taller than the other two of the three carbon-based bipeds from which the Elves, Dwarves, Zombies, Lycanthropes, Gnomes and Giants had evolved. They could not tolerate gravity equivalent to Earth and for this reason the starship had no artificial g's. They may be among the rarest forms of intelligent life in the universe but they actually did things. Useful, scientific things. To sum up:

Human: If They (another group of humans) don't know this, we can use it to hurt them.

Vampire: If we don't know, we don't mind a great deal.

Halfling: We could wait another decade. Just to ensure that they are ready for it.

Vampires. Halflings were not immortal yet (eight centuries on average), for they could easily study the effects it had on those who were. And now, he shared a cruiser with four of them.

"Halfling, did you know that the Gizans had devolved?"

"Really? They had such lovely pyramids."

"Sphinxes now."

"Well Moloch, they don't tell me this."

"They should. You are on the potential hologram list."

"Yes Ba'al, but all that means is that I can stand in a swamp after my death and stare at reptiles evolving. Where's the fun?"

"Somewhere."

The Vampires laughed.

Wyvern was supposedly impartial, but it really didn't matter. Immortality? You could keep it, along with the hedonism.

"Anyway, how long are you lot around for?"

"I thought that you got eight centuries these days if you were at this level. Put me through to the system lord, Candiru."

A dragon, comprised of what appeared to be liquid fire, materialised. Every species joined the Halflings in the end. It was this unity which had kept them voyaging long after the aloof Atlanteans and Gizans had disappeared. The Dragons were different though. They had kept their own parts of space and their own Imperial hierarchy. Not all of us had the luxury of going to another universe to prevent societal collapse.

"The Celestial Intelligencer bids you welcome to his Great Wall."

"Praisch, vehr praisch."

"Your name?"

He glanced at the board of notes above the screen: never give a Dragon your real name. Well, he was a Wyvern (In another age, they would be known as Hydras.) pilot, and the last three components of the ship serial number were REX, so Wyvern Rex.

"Wyvern Rex."

"Ah, a king of pestilence. Our problem is that humans have been breeding ape-men around Sol, in an attempt to engineer some 'grunts' for their fleet. Some appear to be developing warm-blooded intelligence."

"Brilliant initiative! That's the sort of thing we encourage."

"We do not.", said the translator coldly. "Destroy all intelligent life on that planet."

"Well, we can't use an EMP devolver because that would affect humans and my Vampire associates..."

"Vampires! We find their mockery of our forms extremely distasteful. Disable it before entering."

"You have no right to demand this."

"In that case, you have no right to enter our territory."

The classic diplomatic incident had started. The now-Wyvern turned to the crew.

"I think that we should dicuss this for while."

A Planet In An Arm Of The Galaxy Known To Some As Thule...

Mr "Lizst" had got there first. They were so responsive! They were Dwarves, but they understood the foul and twisted nature of non-human life. They knew that no Vampire could ever love a human, and that no glorified lizard could ever set up a empire. At this point he was speaking to the population from the Great Square. His artificial eye, slashed into the metal and plastic of the right side of his face, continually stared at the audience.

"Let me tell. There was an Orc, Neptune division I believe, with a great sense of morality. He cared for his opponents after battle, he never harmed women and children, even if they attacked him, and he was gracious if ever defeated."

He held up his ragged claws.

"I killed that orc with my black metal hands."

Two laser points appeared on his chest. He leant casually against a wall.

"This time?"

"Three counts of inciting to riot and two, now four, of interspecies hate crimes."

"Shoot."

They did. He didn't flinch.

"Xenos."

With inhuman speed he had those talons around the neck of the taller trooper. This gave the soldier an excellent view of the blood adhered to its metal teeth. It drew one hand back, and hesitated to feel the fear of its prey.

"One of us?"

Central Government...

This had gone rather better than Spencer had hoped. The Protector was now heating some caffeine granules.

"Milk?"

"Er, yes."

"Bonnacon or cow?"

Spencer didn't know what a bonnacon was, but while he was with another human...

"Just testing. Cows went extinct in 27304."

OK.

"They say I'm the reincarnation of a member of the Circle of Protection."

Spencer nearly spat out his caffeine. Well, he did remind him of the picture in Vampireology, just without the beard and with that blue LED stitched in.

"Yes."

"Drink the caffeine."

He didn't refuse.

"So Spencer, I really thought I was the last outside of the vats. I'm afraid the Lycanthropes and the Vampires ultimately allied against us in the fall. One of my predecessors was a little over-zealous."

Spencer declined to comment.

"So I've had the job since approximately the year 60,000. It's a lonely life, and I don't think that I have that many mornings left."

"It's always morning somewhere though, isn't it?"

"Very right Spencer. That just makes it come quicker."

He had been comparatively civil, though he did descend into a lengthy and unrepeated string of expletives when he noticed Klystrom's empty armour.

"They say that it's much better than it really is. I've got my own starship, The Sword of Angels, and I've got my faith in Sieg, but that really is all."

H-853...

Hanna dressed again in her normal clothes, trying to hum in antiphase with the Cockatrice.

"The very day after the warranty expires, you lose both sets of armour and a crewmember. How, Klystrom, how?"

"It is just an instinct. You sense a professional Cockatrice hunter-"

"We weren't stupid enough to make specific enemies."

"-and you have to run. That's it."

"And the Flame kit as well!"

Central Government...

"Can I just ask you something?"

"Yes."

"Tell me if you were involved in an attack on something called The Sapiens. A friend of mine, an Alderbaranian was killed in that attack."

"I was."

"It took me years to get the DNA for my successor."

"Ah, it was your successor."

He hadn't known the name of the flamer. All he knew was that he burned to death in the void.

"He was silicon, but he truly believed in Sieg."

"He did. I bet he had a prayer on his lips as well as a smile. That's how he had looked when he died."

"Yes. A fine companion."

He had talked to him in the Shieldship. Just about the mission. Only about the mission now.

"And then I hear who murdered him."

He pushed Spencer against the wall. The cup shattered. A silver knife was at his throat.

"Are you a gambler? I can see you looking around. But I am holding the blade so close that flinching would do my job for me. Tell me Spencer, what do you believe in."

"I believe that you will let me go."

"Right answer! I could hardly kill the only other uncorrupted being in the universe. Remember me, as I have just saved your life."

He turned and walked for the hangar. Spencer stepped out into the deepening cold.

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