Jepper's World (from When the Stormbringer Comes, 1993)

Jepper's World is a place of tech-everwar. A playground for the galactic powers wishing to pay homage to Mars, and flex their strength on a tiny scale, using an inexhaustible supply of machines, arnament, and men.

Ollevarius Sin originated from 1991-92, intially intended as a side character. A bit of a star-loser, Rim-dweller, unlucky at cards but always getting the girl, if he survived the pursuit of the angry mob. Then, like other characters in the series, something about him appealed. Before long, he had his own back-story, and became part of the mythos of the Multiverse.

Comanche, referred to here but not appearing, very much as Aslan-type figure in the stories, is also one of the longest-lasting of the characters, dating all the way back to one day in November 1979 when she who is now the Painted Wolf came up to one who is now Ice Wolf in a schoolyard and asked  "What are you writing?" Over the course of that day, she told me all about her dreams ... and Comanche came to be.

 

 

The troopers had only just taken Hill 17. It took around two weeks, and five hundred casualties, not to mention an entire mechex graveyard's worth of valuable equipment and robots converted to fused and melted scrap, all lying in twisted disarray. He'd rigged one up to march in front of him, to take most of the assault fire, but now even that had died on him. The tronics were fried. There was no way he'd ever get a dice worth out of the heap now.

Sin straightened, feeling clammy inside the battle suit, watching the readouts across his visor with only half-an-eye's worth of attention. He was on Hill 19, waiting for the successful troop on 17 to start bombarding the enemy positions so he and the rest of the fools who'd cleared a bloodied path up this particular slope could get a move on and take the frigging bastard.

This used to be Jepper's World, a terra-formed masterpiece created by Franoc Corporation around four hundred years ago, for the purpose of space tourism. Only one tiny catch. Fruitcake Jepper built the jarkin' thing right next to the Korse Empire. Okay while there's still a Fed fleet to sweep away the undesirables, but, hell! First the Free Imps have a partytime here, then the Serangians when that lot came up out of the ooze. And now, the Serangians are in retreat, the Feds are feeling their muscle, and it's war. 

Good place to be if you've got nowhere else to go.

He reached down and hefted the tarv blaster, swinging it to rest somewhere near his leg, listening for squelching where he knew damn well none of his troop should be. It was down to mud, digging 'bots out of the mud, pulling yourself out of the mud, spitting out mud when you ate, and sleeping in mud when you felt 1ucky. Or suicidal.

Tomorrow, 19 should be all theirs, and he could grab some leave. Get stoned down at the Ionikkers, find Tygcer again, have a night of meaningless pleasure which he could never recall., and watch her get up, dress, and go about her duties as if he never existed. Then, once he'd proven to himself thus that he was just a tad more man than frigging machine, he'd head on out with the next troop draw-up, and look at yet more mud for another six months.

Dangerous thoughts came into his head. He'd forced them back on other occasions, but now, he let them in. Just once, he'd like someone to hold him in the dead of night, say he was loved. Say his name. Tygcer never said his name, not even in his first times with her when he was craziest and begged her to do it, even offered money. She took the money off a drunken fool, but never said his name.

Sartaya would say his name.

Dangerous thought. Stop it.

No. Let it happen.

Sartaya would say his name, and call him her takhaar.  Dead of night with Tanufalla waves beside them. Even that day, she'd said, "Go with aakaarana? You crazy, takhaar? That's commitment, forever. Enforced by Secaru code. You wouldn't want that, neither would I. Why not 1eave things as they are?"

He couldn't make her see how lonely you could feel in paradise. How lonely he was, and how scared that something would happen to take it all away.

And, he was right. A coin for the prophet, cold solace for the predictor. Lousy at cards, but real good at knowing when the bad would rise back up and pour acid on his life.

It was Ollevarius inside him who had him storming off, and 1eaving paradise behind, finding a war Antollicus had mentioned in passing one bright desert day, and suiting up as a gladiator looking for his own personal lion to come find him one day and rip him apart.

Dangerous thoughts, but he remembered going to Nonaginta, and trying to find Comanche. Cochero said Comanche wsrr't there. When Sin asked where he was., the Usera replied that he couldn't tell Sin. Camanche had forbidden that the knowledge be passed onto him.

In other, human words Comanche was totally pissed off with him. Fine. That night., Sin left via Tyngail., and wiped the desert sand off his boots.

There was an air-whack of explosion, as someone fired a tarv. Sin whirled, saw one of his troop go down, and swore. He hadn't been paying attention. The dangerous thoughts had finally grown claws, and were about to drag him under. Then, he felt flash-heat through his chest, and the battle suit started to destabilise, red warning signals scrawling like bugs across his visor, across his reddened vision..

Another bolt., in the back this time, and still he didn't go down. He was watching the Serangian brigade appear, knew in the back of his mind that they'd pulled a fast one, and that his troop, and probably even Hill 17's were either all dead or on the immediate list to be so. He watched the camouflage unit in the suit flicker to all sorts of bizarre patterns as the computeq failed, but the theme was blood. His blood.

Someone thrust the butt of a tarv hard against the point where his neck met his back, and he went down to his knees. Hands losing feeling, he saw his tarv sink in the oozing mud, and shrugged with almost stoic disinterest. Surrounded by heavily armed and yelling Serangians, he calmly took off his visor, and felt the chill air against the sweat-soaked locks of his hair. All this time, and here it would end. He then fell forward, and welcomed the chance to sink in the mud that made up his entire life, and now his death.

Faint thought.. Not dangerous. Sartaya's beautiful., smiling face. The closest he'd come to actually being what? Special? Wanted? Needed?

"I' m sorry, 'Taya," he mumbled, before letting the mud fill his mouth and his chest, obliterating the stench of Imperial laughter.

He didn't hear the heartrending anguish in the roar that cracked overhead, the churning dark clouds out of nowhere that made the Serangians jerk in surprise, raising their weapons reflexedly, before screaming as they were ripped apart like paper before punitive, grieving rage. A horse appeared, all four legs deep in the mud, standing fully over Sin's body, head raised and making that roaring sound again, as the darkness spread, turning the dismal landscape to an early frost, freezing men and robots and teqs in place, grabbing life forces and creating a ball of energy that, above the snows, glowed like a sun, before lowering and enveloping both black horse and the man.

"Sin," came a gentler, agonised voice, "please don't die. Don't die."

The horse lay down over the man, absorbing him, particle and spirit, and slipped in silence, amidst the life fire from the 3-dim, and the mud of Hill 19.