Excerpt for Antigravel Omnibus 1 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Antigravel Omnibus 1

Ver 1.0.1

George Saoulidis

Copyright © 2019 George Saoulidis

Cover image credit, Mike Winkelmann, AKA beeple

Published by Mythography Studios

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

What's Antigravel Anyway?

It’s what I call this insane universe of stories, I just like how it sounds, but it is an actual thing in this world. Inspired by the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks, I decided to add a bit of a more human-centric plot and then just took off in various directions.

The Antigravel universe is zany, fun, adventurous. This omnibus contains the entirety of the stories set in Antigravel universe so far, both short novels and short stories.

Hope you like it.

George Saoulidis

January 2019, Athens


Chapter 1

Castor is the fastest driver for about a thousand light years around, and now he has to throw the race for a spoiled fat kid. He revs his antigrav bike and makes some extra dust for the fans to enjoy. There aren’t few of them, every eye in the solar system is fixed on the race broadcast. Not because they’re so anxious to see who wins, but rather to have an extra second or so of warning in case something goes wrong. He drives up a hill and turns back to locate his opponent. He lifts his helmet’s visor and covers his eyes from the scorching sun.

He sees him struggling to get his fat ass past some narrow rocks, but he is soon about to catch up. Castor turns around towards the finish line and accelerates. The fat kid isn’t stupid. Castor has to give him a good challenge, make him sweat for the win. If it’s possible, they had instructed, he should let it get toe-to-toe right before the finish line. They’d given the fat kid the best bike there was, bought from those alien traders that demanded payment in pounds of flesh. They had installed an AI that made it impossible to make a mistake, which was of course banned from racing. Everyone just looked the other way when it came to that particular family.

Castor picks up speed and turns to a rock formation that provides a ramp for a nice jump, but reduces his lap time severely. The rocky, dry moon that this race track is on provides excellent grounds for showmanship. Barely 0.2 g, you can perform the most impressive jumps and spins in the air. The crowd, gathered in a remote part on their bleachers in a strategic part of the track, stands up and roars for him. Castor brakes a little and the fat kid finally catches up to him, whooshing past at enormous speed. The crowd doesn’t hide their disappointment at that.

Castor makes it hard for the fat kid. He overtakes him a couple of times, and cuts him off at a couple of bends, gets millimetres away from touching his bike and causing a crash. The highlight reel shows the near misses to everyone. It’s an excellent show for the fans, but most importantly, for the fat kid. In reality, he is always in complete control and could have him eat his dust at any given time. He gets angry. Who’s he to stroll over in his own sport, in his own domain, and force him to give away his victory? Had the spoiled kid ever worked tirelessly for decades to become the number one champion at something? Maybe it would be good for him if Castor taught him a lesson. Maybe, a slap in the face like that, would show that you can’t just win against Castor, you’d have to work really hard at it. Life lessons and stuff. Wouldn’t he rule over all of them in a standard year anyway, his Royal Highness, Alexander Diairetis?

He shakes his helmeted head. Get serious, Castor. You know that there’s no way to educate that fat kid. Who are you to teach him humility, when others have spent their entire lives teaching him the exact opposite? He decides he’ll give him a good win, an adrenaline rush to remember. He accelerates at the final bend of the track and takes it lousily, the fat kid running in parallel, staring at Castor all the time instead of the road.

That’s how you get yourself killed, asshole.

On the final stretch the bikes rev and glow brilliant blue light, the fans scream at the top of their lungs, the finish line is on the horizon. Faster, foot on the pedal, their places infinitesimally close, the fat kid glares at him angrily, his bike catches up, rocks blast away as they hurtle past, faster, BOOM, they both break the sound barrier, the shockwave sweeps the ground behind them, faster, the bikes vibrate at their endurance limit, the finish line is coming close, one thousand, seven hundred, five hundred metres, the crowd is ecstatic, the commentator stands up to announce the predestined winner and… The fat kid loses control of his bike and crashes on the ground. Castor has fractions of a second for his superhuman reflexes to register what happens. The first snapshot simply allows him to see the fat kid smashing through a rock and slamming into the crowd. The second snapshot allows him to brake hard, but momentum equals mass times fucking speed. It’s physically impossible for him to halt before the finish line. Castor shuts his eyes and comes to a stop. He doesn’t dare open them. Maybe he miscalculated and he’s come to a standstill before the finish line. Maybe the bloody moon moved out of the way. The silence is deafening. Tens of thousands of fans who had been tearing their vocal cords off mere moments ago are holding their breath. The wind rushes through the rocks, picking up dust as it always does. He knows, that he has won the race. Castor gulps and forces one eyelid open.

The fat kid stands up, tosses his helmet on a spectator’s head, steps on a couple more so he can get free of the mass of blood and gore that has absorbed his crash. He looks up at the monitor for the race’s result, sees Castor’s name as winner. Nobody is celebrating about that. For a moment he seems like he’ll accept his loss. Maybe, just maybe, it will be an excellent life-lesson in humility. Then, he starts hammering his fists on his knees like an overgrown baby who dropped his pacifier. He gets even redder than his normal skin tone, then he glows, and then they all die.

The member of the Diairetis royal family who has just lost the race, starts a chain reaction with his rage from a single tiny Higgs field. The boson tunnels from the pseudovacuum into normal vacuum, an asymmetry which starts a catastrophic vacuum decay. The sphere of death spreads out at the speed of light, simplifying all the matter it encounters into simpler and simpler elements, moving down the periodic table step by step till it reaches the most basic one, Hydrogen. It also leaves behind some new unfathomable rules of chemistry.

The black sphere vanishes the moon, Castor, the bikes and the spectators before anything can register in their eyes. In 1.2 seconds, it consumes the gas giant in which they were in orbit of. In four minutes it consumes the next planet, in six, the one after that, and in ten minutes it extinguishes the star, plunging that solar system into darkness.

Chapter 2

Guillermo inspected the damage on the luxury suite of hotel Rafael. Torn curtains, lines of coke on the coffee tables, strings thrown on the couches. Bodies and limps splayed everywhere, some intertwined, tight young breasts peeking in the twilight. He only cared for a specific pair of them. He stepped carefully between the half-asleep youngsters and made his way towards the bedroom. He found a similar situation there, he couldn’t make out who was who in the dim light. He illuminated a couple of faces with his phone, and pulled back some strands of hair, ignoring the mumbled complaints of the sleepy celebriteens. “Zeezy?” he whispered, in an attempt to locate her. A butt moved in reply, but it was hidden under two young men. “Hm,” Guillermo said and had an idea. He loaded Zeezy’s social profile and scrolled through her pictures. He found one that was suitable but Not Safe For Work, and held the phone next to the butt in question. He compared them, and then snatched her legs and pulled her off the bed.

He picked her up in his arms. She stretched and pulled her blonde hair out of her mouth. Guillermo was reminded at that moment of the irony that women around the world were getting plastic surgery to look like this one.

“You missed the party, Guillermo,” she said sleepily.

“You had enough fun for the both of us, judging by all this,” he teased.

“Mmm, you’ve no idea,” she moaned in a sexy way that would rile any man. But Guillermo was unaffected by this. He had seen the ugliness hiding behind all those beautiful faces, and wasn’t seduced by them any more.

He carried her to the next room in the enormous suite and stood her up on her legs outside the bathroom. “You can handle it on your own from this point on, I assume?” He touched her on her back and propped her up.

“Shhuure,” Zeezy slurred and eyed him with a naughty expression.

Guillermo deftly grabbed her hair in a ponytail and secured them with a rubber band. Zeezy kept the sexy pose for a while more, and then she retched and ran to the toiled, where she vomited. He turned his back to give her some privacy and shut the door. He looked out the balcony and took in the lovely view, the Eiffel tower from Champs Elysees. The city, the skyscrapers in the distance, the floating wind generators tethered by the buildings who were lazily turning to the wind like a school of fish.

He was happily miles away in his thoughts when his phone rang. He checked it, it said, ‘Teacher.’ “Alo, Joaquin, how’s the palace?” He swiped the call to the suite’s system, and a middle-aged man appeared on the room’s screen. He radiated authority, with his smart suit and his silver hair.

“Palacio is fine,” Joaquin said with his deep, careful voice. “You know the drill, lawmaking, incest, scandals. The usual.”

Guillermo smiled and nodded in agreement. “I’m sure you’ve got everything under control, profesor.”

“Naturally. But I wouldn’t mind having you back, to be honest. You know, helping me out, like old times. I’m not a young man any more,” he frowned. Then he noticed the condition of the suite, appalled. “Having a bit of fun, are we?”

Guillermo sighed and pointed towards the bathroom. Water could be heard in the shower. “Zeezy is a bit… Tireless.”

“If you’d stuck to the royal circles you wouldn’t have to deal with this crap.” Joaquin rubbed his fine-combed beard. “Okay, fine, who am I kidding? It’s pretty much the same thing. But the status level is higher…”

Profesor, don’t get me wrong, I love talking to you but let’s not repeat the same conversation. It’s done, I’m using the very same things you taught me about royalty handling to the celebrities. It works out fine. I’m not coming back to the royal circles, you got to get on with the times,” he shrugged apologetically.

“I know. But I have a task for you, and this time it’s very important. It is imperative this one is handled properly,” Joaquin said dead-serious.

“What’s it about?”

“Unfortunately it’s top secret. You’d have to accept before you get any details on the matter.”

“Okay,” Guillermo said. It wasn’t uncommon for their speciality, being royalty handlers, or in his case the evolution of it, being a celebrity handler. The people involved were either very important or very wealthy, which made security and discretion a top priority. All the handlers were vetted of course and were expected to follow all safety procedures. Guillermo glanced at the top right corner of the screen, which showed a padlock, indicating an encrypted call. “Is it royalty or celebrity?”

“Both. In their culture it’s one and the same,” Joaquin said, picking out the words carefully.

“You know I don’t do royalty any more!”

“This is a special case. Trust me. The Diairetis family, the proper handling of her visit… It’s a matter of life and death. You know I wouldn’t say that lightly.”

“I haven’t heard of that family. How is that possible?” Guillermo started. There weren’t many royal families in the world, just over twenty countries with constitutional monarchy and a few families kicked out of their countries, like Greece did. Well, those are actually called ex-royals, but don’t call them that to their face. The point was, that Guillermo knew all the family trees by heart, which was required reading when studying under Joaquin.

“Well, you wouldn’t have,” Joaquin said raising his palm to stop him. “They’re an alien royal family.”

Chapter 3

“Alien? Are you sure?” Guillermo whispered at the screen, leaning forward.

“Positive. Look, here’s what I can tell you without you signing the NDA. There’s going to be a royal visit, they asked me to find a suitable handler. And you’re the best I have,” Joaquin said simply.

“What about Francisco? Or Vicente. Vicente is good enough!” Guillermo protested.

“Vicente is a moron. I need you. I cannot state hard enough how important this is,” the teacher spat out.

“Okay. But, Joaquin, you’re still the best royalty handler there is. Why don’t you pick up the task if it’s so important?”

He sighed. “The princess… She doesn’t like old people.”

Guillermo snorted. “Old people? That’s new.” He walked across the room and picked up a towel from the cupboard.

“Laugh all you want. Yes, she says, ‘old people smell funny,’ or something like that.”

“It’s okay profesor, you’re not that old yet,” Guillermo teased.

“Will you come?” Joaquin demanded.

Guillermo squeezed the bath towel. He didn’t like to say no to his teacher, but he didn’t want to go back to handling royalty. It pained him to reject the offer, but he had made up his mind long ago. “No,” he said finally.

Zeezy strolled out of the bathroom at that point, completely naked and dripping all over the thick carpet. She turned towards the screen and saw Joaquin, who frowned at her. She beamed, “Who’s the hot daddy?” and struck a pose.

Joaquin gave an abrupt goodbye and hung up.

Guillermo passed her the towel and averted his eyes to inspect the room’s fine upholstery.

Later that day, Zeezy was huffing and puffing at a restaurant, while her friends were eating and having fun. She put her phones face down on the table.

“What’s bothering you?” Guillermo leaned down and asked.

She pointed at her three smartphones, “It’s the fans, I can’t deal with them today. I have a crazy hangover.” She rubbed her temples in circles.

Guillermo checked his agenda. “Well, that’s too bad, cause you have a meeting with a fan in two hours.”

“What? No, no, no, reschedule it.”

He shrugged. “I’m not your PR guy, I’m just here to make sure you get to the meeting. It’s from some popular blog giveaway, you can’t weasel out of it. You’ve got a contract and everything,” he said, as if it was a done deal.

Zeezy complained, “No, come on! It’s probably some boring ugly bitch again, like in New York. I’m not doing it.” She crossed her arms.

“Okay, let’s try to find a solution to this, shall we?” Guillermo said in a patronising tone. He was really worried for a minute. Zeezy was notoriously flaky, which was the precise reason he was hired to handle her. Her friends were laughing, Bobby was goofing around with a milkshake and a straw, making a mess and streaming it online to their fans. They were quasi-celebrities themselves, nowhere near Zeezy of course, but with respectable audiences. Guillermo ground his teeth and checked his watch.

He leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Hey, here’s an idea: Why don’t we move up the meeting, now that your friends are here? We can call it a surprise, she can meet both you and them. Won’t she love that?”

Zeezy mumbled, “I guess… But what good will that do?”

“You can let Bobby entertain her. Instead of having to chat her up for an hour yourself, you’ll just have to talk for a while and snatch a few selfies, then pass her on to the others.”

Zeezy thought about it for a while. “Hmm. Okay. Call up my people.”

Guillermo did nothing.

She turned around to look at him. He simply frowned at her. Then she said, quietly, “Please?”

Guillermo smiled, “Of course,” and called up the PR office.

“Get that freak away from me,” screeched Zeezy as she saw the mega-fan coming over.

Guillermo gripped her arm, “Five minutes. Give me five minutes, that’s all.” The fan ran over to Zeezy, squealing loudly, her mascara running in tears of happiness. She was dressed like Zeezy from some popular video, but she lacked the charisma to support it. It looked awkward on her, trying to be sexy in those bold designer choices.

“Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” the fan yelped and touched Zeezy’s reluctant handshake. “I’m never gonna wash that hand again!” she said, excited.

Guillermo winced. She was a walking cliche. A simple girl who worshipped someone who didn’t deserve it at all. Cameras flashed, the production crew filmed the moment, selfies were snatched and uploaded in extreme efficiency like a manufacturing plant. Zeezy fake-smiled and yelped back at the fan, who seemed ready to pass out.

Bobby saved the day, by swooping in to get to know her and keeping her entertained. He was attractive enough for any girl to get excited, Guillermo admitted. She squealed for the ‘zumongus surprise,’ in her own words, and the party dragged on back to the hotel suite.

Guillermo took the time to rest for a while, he was on the job since early morning, doing some damage-control with the PR firm. He never actually got time-off, so he had to weigh the situation and steal as much time as he could for himself. This particular near-shipwreck seemed under control for now so he went to his room and took a shower. He hit the pillow and was asleep in no time for a blessed hour before his wake-up alarm rang.

He got into his three-piece suit once again, combed his hair and hurried up to check on Zeezy. The celebriteens would have shooed the fan out by now, it was way past the allotted hour. They weren’t going to spend another minute with that mega-fan if a contract didn’t say so. He walked inside the suite saying, “I got to admit, you were very good there Zeezy. And Bobby…” His voice trailed off.

The sight made him stop. The fangirl was in the middle of the room, barefoot and tiptoeing on broken champagne bottles. Zeezy’s friends were around her, filming and laughing at her, having written their names on her thighs and forehead. A profanity was written on her chest. She had left little footprints of blood on the thick carpet. “Come on! You said you love Zeezy. You’d do anything for her! Get across the room, now!” one of Zeezy’s friends said.

“What are you doing?” Guillermo said, barely containing his anger. He ran inside the circle, crushed glass under his shoes and picked up the fangirl.

She fought him back. “No, let me do this! I have to finish it.”

“Shut up you deluded-” Guillermo groaned and sat her down on an expensive couch. He inspected the soles of her feet, they were slashed in ribbons of skin and bleeding profusely. He pushed her back to lie down, despite her protests and pulled her feet on the handrest, above the heart level.

Zeezy rolled on the other couch and slurred, “Come on, don’t be like this. She’s fine, she likes it. We weren’t gonna upload anything anyway…” She was clearly drunk again and it was still noon.

Guillermo grabbed the first aid kit from the bathroom and tended to the girl’s feet. “This was too much,” he pointed.

“She’s fiiine…” Zeezy waved away.

“No she’s not fine. Look at me, stand up straight.” He waited for Zeezy to comply. “Good. Listen, this was too much. You went too far. It was nasty, and dangerous. I can’t work with you any more,” he said with finality, and picked up the fangirl again on his arms and walked out.

“Guilly, come on. Don’t go! Guillermo.” Zeezy’s voice faded. She screamed, “Fine then, go away you fucker! You’re fired. You hear me?”

Chapter 4

“I’m so glad you changed your mind,” Joaquin said and greeted him warmly.

“Yes, profesor. You could say I had an epiphany.”

“Excellent. Now, this requires verbal confirmation, so we can move forward. Do you accept the job?”

Guillermo hesitated, only for a second. He trusted Joaquin. And now that his previous contract had been dissolved… “Yes, I accept,” he declared to the mediating e-person standing next to them and placed his palm on the surface it presented, effectively signing his contract.

Joaquin exhaled and sank in his chair. “Thank God for that. I was running out of options. One more hour, and I’d have accepted to go through a de-ageing process the Ekrignontes had offered.”

“Wait, is that so bad? Looking younger with alien technology?”

“Of course it is!” Joaquin spat out. “I’ve spent years perfecting this intimidating frown, young man! I’ve told you, age equals gravitas. How would I establish authority with a baby’s forehead?”

Guillermo laughed. “Okay, Joaquin, I never thought about it that way!”

“There wasn’t enough time anyway. Even these aliens with their exotic technologies can’t do these things in so little time.”

“Wait, what did you call them?”

“Ekrignontes. And the royal family is Diairetis. The one visiting us, is the princess Kyveli Diairetis,” Joaquin said in his familiar teacher’s tone.

Guillermo sat across his teacher, taking it in. “Profesor, I don’t know anything about these people, their customs, their protocols…”

“Don’t worry, Lorenzo and Pollux will fill you in. Lorenzo is Earth-human, a xenobiologist and physicist, who will tell you what we know about these aliens, and Pollux is their liaison, who will inform you about the princess’s ever-changing protocols.” Joaquin stood up and pressed on his shoulder. “It’s nothing you can’t handle.”

A man walked in at that moment, and introduced himself as Lorenzo. He was short and geeky, wearing glasses and had a friendly face.

“Well,” Joaquin said, walking towards the door. “I’ll leave you to it. Remember the lessons, Guillermo?”

The pupil spoke by heart, “Clear boundaries, clear commands, clear hands.”

The teacher nodded and walked out.

Lorenzo rubbed his hands together. “So, you’re the famous royalty handler?”

“Hardly famous,” Guillermo shook his head.

“Humility. Nice, I like you already. Okay, we’ve got a lot to talk about, tell me how much you know about what’s out there, and AC?”


“After Contact. You know, when the world changed and the foundations of our society were uprooted.”

“Uprooted? We still have kings and princes. And from what I hear, so do the guys out there,” Guillermo said, gesturing at the heavens with his glass of scotch. “Nope, I hardly know anything about them. Too much stuff going on down here already,” he shrugged. “I kinda missed the whole thing.”

Lorenzo was speechless. “Seriously? Aren’t you curious? Wait, you can’t have missed the First Contact?”

“Well, of course not. The frickin world halted. It was all everybody talked about. I did watch the news, got drunk, partied with the neighbours. But, you know, it happened in America. Generals and scientists were handling it. After three days, my only concern was that I couldn’t fill up my car with gas or buy groceries. But, finally, people came to their senses and realised that the Earth was still spinning and that they had to go back to work and buy milk for the cat. It didn’t really affect us, in the end.”

Lorenzo started, “Didn’t affect us? It changed our understanding of the universe! Okay, okay, I get what you’re saying. You’re a more, down to earth kinda guy. So, you don’t know anything about the aliens we’ve contacted?”

“Not really, no. Oh wait, I remember a news segment, I liked those granite guys.”

“Everybody likes the granite guys. They’re so cool. Anyway, let’s focus. The race we’re about to meet are the Ekrignontes. They’re of panhuman race, which means they look pretty much like us, same average height and weight, two sexes, organs in the same places. The only difference is their skin.”

“What about it?”

“It’s red. Not like Indian-red. We’re talking, bright red. It’s actually very pretty.”

Guillermo raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, here’s the juicy part: A few millennia ago, their race was subjugated by another planet. That race was very powerful and despite their ingenuity, the Ekrignontes couldn’t revolt successfully for 400 years. Every revolution was crushed and the payback was bloody. Then, at a desperate point, they found an animal’s unique gene and spliced it into their population, with CRISPR gene editing.”

“Right… What did the animal do?”

“It exploded, when killed. Kaboom.”

“What the… Seriously?”

“They were desperate. But, and here’s a part I love, it was stupid to splice everybody in the population with that gene.” Lorenzo flailed his hands around excited. “Imagine a gathering, a single shot could make a chain reaction! So, they only put the gene into 1% of the population, randomly, with no pattern at all.”

“Huh. Clever indeed. That way the oppressors could have no idea which of them was dangerous to contain.”

“Precisely. So, with a lot of bluffing and desperate suicide attacks they managed to make their planet too high-maintenance for the oppressing aliens. So they pushed them back to their planet.”

“Making it too much of a bother for the bad guys. Nice. I assume they went on to forge an empire, judging by how they can include Earth in their vacation calendars.”

“Yes, an empire that reaches far and wide, because of a side-effect of that desperate genofixing.”

“They kept blowing up?”

Lorenzo winced and struggled for the right words. “It’s not how you imagine it, not like a keg of dynamite. It’s stable and random. Because all of the Ekrignontes have the gene, it’s impossible to know who can explode and who cannot. Also, the force of the explosion varies. It can be a soft bang that barely injures the next person, or powerful enough to take out a spaceship.”

“Holy shit! And they’re coming over? Are we worried they’re gonna blow?”

“I haven’t gotten to the worst part yet. Let’s see, imagine a society where murder is avoided. And because people will be people no matter which planet they shit on, whoever exploded the biggest was considered higher class.”

Guillermo’s face turned white.

“Yes. I can tell by your reaction, you see where I’m going with this. The royal family has the genes for the biggest motherfucking explosions in the whole race.” Lorenzo’s forehead gleamed with sweat, but he kept on, excited. “And there’s even worse news than that.”

“What could be worse than a ‘biggest motherfucking explosion?’”

Lorenzo laughed like a crazy person. “Oh, the universe is full of surprises. You know what they say, evolution’s a bitch. Okay, pay attention cause this one is hard to grasp. So, you have the most powerful members of the race, who explode big when killed. You could just snipe them from kilometres away, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Guillermo croaked. His throat had become dry. He couldn’t imagine what the surprise was.

“Wrong. Okay, it worked the first couple of times, the royal family was pretty much wiped out. But then, they evolved into a universe-destroying walking bomb.”

“I’m sorry, I thought for a moment you said ‘universe’ and ‘destroying’ in the same sentence.”

“Yes. There’s a process in physics, it used to be theoretical but the Ekgrignontes confirmed it for us. Listen, everything in the universe is moving towards a rested state. A ball on top of a hill has kinetic energy, and wants to roll down the hill and come to a stop, releasing that energy. All particles are like that, they are always trying to sit still, cool down. That’s entropy. Now, a Higgs field is a particle that holds matter together, you can’t get more fundamental than that, right? Are you with me?”

“I guess. Go on…”

“The Higgs field has an innate asymmetry. The difference with other particles in the universe, is that when it rolls down the hill, it cheats. It lies still, for all intents and purposes with no more energy to expend, but it still has a little bit of way to go. We call that, being in the pseudovacuum. And there’s an infinitesimal chance that it tunnels through and goes to rest at the true vacuum, where it will expend its energy, for real this time. If that happens, it starts a chain reaction of a catastrophic vacuum decay. It’s the dissolution of matter back into its core elements, a wave going out at all directions at the speed of light, that breaks down everything it encounters, with no way to prevent it.”

Guillermo mouthed some silent words. “You’re telling me that can happen at some point?”

“Oh, it has happened. Many times, actually,” Lorenzo nodded.

“What? Why aren’t we dead then?”

“Because, the speed of light is not that fast in the cosmic scale of things. If you can outrun it, like all the Involved races can, you can simply go far away from the vacuum decay and die of old age.”

Guillermo rubbed his temples. “Okay, let me get this straight. The royal family, when killed, blows up and takes everything with them in an unstoppable explosion. But if you’re far away enough, that explosion can’t hurt you.”

“Yes, if you’re a light year away, it will take one year to reach you. Etcetera.”

“So how many royals are there?” Guillermo gulped.

“Four surviving members. Only princess Cybele is female, the rest are male. There’s big societal pressure for her to procreate soon, because the Diairesis genes are prevailing ones.”

“They’re passed on from the mother. Wait, the people actually want her to have children? Are they mad?”

“You could call them mad, but we’re not part of that society so we couldn’t know how it really is. When the members of your royal family wield the power to destroy star systems, I guess it’s too much. It’s awe-inspiring, you simply… Well, you just worship them, I guess. Think of a country’s president who has a nuclear arsenal, when he speaks, you sit down and listen. Crank that feeling up to eleven. But the Diairesis gene has a weird effect: It can trigger when the person is upset. Yes, if they get angry, they explode. The Ekrignontes race saw their royalty evolve into cosmos-busting petulant brats, and so they: A) Offered them whatever their hearts’ desired to keep them happy, and B) They invented FTL and spread their colonies as far and wide as possible. This fact has shaped one of the most powerful and far-reaching races in the galaxy.”

“Pamper them or they explode. Okay, I kinda get it. I think.”

“There’s more.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, man!”

“Princess Cybele is the most spoiled person in the known galaxy. We have to do everything she says, anything she demands must be given without delay. And she’s coming over, tomorrow.”

Chapter 5

Castor’s brother watched the readings on the monitors. A new division. A black ball of death expanding at the speed of light. Starting right where his brother had died.

At least it was quick.

“Will this work?” he asked.

“Just make sure you get to the access under the throne,” the other man said and passed a device along.

“How am I supposed to do that? Just rip out a throne and hope nobody notices? Are you crazy?”

The other man shrugged. “That’s what it takes. Figure it out. If you are a truly devoted Catastrophist, figure it out.”

Castor’s brother took the device and then punched the man, dropping him on the floor.

“Never doubt my thirst for revenge.”

The fallen man touched his jaw. “A born winner, like your twin. You might just accomplish something here.”

Chapter 6

“Put these on,” the liaison said. It was hard not to stare at his red skin, but Guillermo was a professional so he controlled himself.

They were in a large fitting room that could easily dress up every theatre in France. An excess of frills, Guillermo laughed at his own thoughts.

“What’s wrong with my suit?” he asked.

Pollux opened his palms and frowned. “It doesn’t shift colour,” he said, as if to a child.

“Of course,” Guillermo said and put on the jacket. The fabric wasn’t tailored to his body, but he could make it work. Class wasn’t a problem for him.

Then the jacket squeezed around his body and became a perfect fit.

Guillermo choked a terrified scream, and composed himself. Aliens. Right.

Pollux tapped his wrist and both their jackets turned yellow with greenish stripes. He must have seen the questions in Guillermo’s face, so he explained, “It’s our national colours.”

“Fine colours indeed.”

The alien liaison raised a device, that looked medical. “Now for the translator microbes.”

Guillermo politely stopped the man. “I’ve already been injected. It became useful for the international circles my work takes me.” He snorted at that. Useful doesn’t even begin to cover it. It was the single benefit he had personally seen from First Contact, and the single most cost-effective expense in his life, trading years of learning languages with instant understanding of everything.

Pollux moved in to inject him. “No, those are the old ones, these are a newer breed that includes-”

Guillermo pulled his arm away. “Please. I understand the necessity, but I’ll ask our human expert if there is a need to inject again.” He was firm. He was in no mood to let aliens inject him with unnecessary stuff.

Pollux seemed annoyed by that. Then again, it might be a different expression in their culture. But he backed down. “Of course, you should consult your experts.”

“Thank you.”

“Oh, the translator microbes seem to work just fine, my words are in our language.”

“They are? Yes, I hardly noticed the shift.”

Pollux clapped his reddish hands together. “Excellent! Now let’s go over the protocols, shall we?”

This was the important bit. Guillermo had a sudden flashback of his teacher, teaching him royal protocols again and again until they were drilled into his brain. The alien had his full attention.

“When the Princess enters a room, you need to stand up and be as photogenic as possible. Chin up, gut sucked in, lips smiling.”

Guillermo raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, I’m serious. The Princess is holographed continuously, and she likes to have her surroundings presentable at all times. Her beauty and presence outshines all of us of course, so no matter how much we try to look good, she will always look better.”

“Of course.” Guillermo studied the man’s eyes. There was something underneath his words. He felt something powerful emanating from the man, but it wasn’t just devotion. Surely it wasn’t something lost in translation, this was his gut feeling talking.

Or was it just the unease that the man carried the Ekrignontes gene and could take him with him to the grave?


Pollux’s sleeve chirped. “Oh, Her Brightness has posted a picture of herself. We must see it at once.” He fished out a comm from his pocket and angled it to Guillermo.

She was stunning.

A perfect button nose. Juicy lips that barely smirked. Powerful eyes. Bright red skin. Hair like a white star.

And her body…

Pollux bit his lip, then quickly typed a comment, ‘Your beauty and presence outshines this nearby star.’

Guillermo saw the adoration count rise. His eyes glazed. That number couldn’t be real, could it? “Simply astronomical,” he whispered.

Pollux let the image of the princess float around them in augmented reality. He quickly explained, “It is by royal decree that we must all witness Her Brightness’ for at least ten minutes.”

“Uh-huh. Excuse my straightforwardness, but we don’t have time for anything else. Am I to understand that when the Princess posts a selfie, all her subjects are expected to stop what they’re doing and adore her for at least ten minutes?”

“Yes,” the alien man said, clasping his hands together. “All four trillion of us.”

Chapter 7

Kyveli sighed and rested her head on her delicate fingers. The trip was long, far too long. Visiting these foreigners had been a rash decision at best. She was caught in the moment of wanting to see those felines everybody on that planet was so obsessed about.

“I’m bored. Take us back,” she instructed the Teddy Bear beside her.

“At once, your Brightness,” it nodded and gestured an instruction.

The spaceship turned around instantaneously, not that the passengers noticed anything, and plotted a course back for Ekrignontes space.

A red face popped up on screen. “Kyveli, what do you think you’re doing?”

Kyveli sighed, audibly this time. What a bore. “Father, how lovely to see you. Not.”

“Listen to me, you have to carry on with your journey. It was your decision to visit those savages in the first place!” Her father was in a meeting room full of his courtiers. He preferred it like that, but Kyveli liked a modicum of quiet. No more than fifty people around her at any given time, any more was simply too taxing.

“I changed my mind,” she shrugged and spun around on her throne. It was a lovely carving of jade, tweaked at a microscopic level to make it easy on the bum.

But they had missed a spot and her sensitive skin could feel the imperfection. She moved around on her throne.

“No, you changed your mind the first time, when I told you to visit your cousin. Suddenly you decided to visit Erp or whatever it’s called. You need to learn to appreciate things.” Father brought up his fists before him. “Well now, you have started something by announcing your visit, and you have to go through with it.”

“I don’t have to do anything,” she said and crossed her arms.

Her father got angry. “You will listen to me,” he spat out.

“Or what?”

The advisers behind her father cowered in fear.

“Do you forget who you’re speaking to, young lady?” He was furious now. The courtiers cried out loud now and updated their wills. He turned around. “Shut up!”

And of course, they did.

“Seems you’re busy. I’ll do what I want, anyway, don’t bother. Bye, daddy…”

She hung up.

Her own court, just twenty people, kept checking their comms. She turned to them and waved away with her delicate hand. “Oh, come on, Daddy’s not gonna divide over something this small. Relax.”

“Of course, your Brightness.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“As you say, daughter of the stars.”

She took in the adoration for a moment. Then she was bored again. “Teddy?”

“Yes?” the Teddy Bear next to her asked.

“Take us back to Earth. I decided I do want to see those felines after all.”

“Setting course, your Brightness.” And the spaceship turned back towards Earth.

Chapter 8

Lorenzo babbled on about important things. Things Guillermo should probably pay attention to, things he needed to absorb in order to handle this monumental task.

But his mind was elsewhere.

Sweating profusely in that alien costume, he loosened the collar that was choking him.

“Got all that?” Lorenzo asked, studying his expression.

“Not really,” Guillermo sighed.

Lorenzo turned around to the army of advisers that huddled in the room. His eyes met with Joaquin, the master royalty handler. The older man squinted and then clapped once.

“Let’s give the man some room to breathe, shall we?”

The advisers hesitated for a moment but then shuffled out of the room. Joaquin shut the double doors behind them with a loud thud.

Guillermo breathed. “Thank you.”

“Is there no drink in this place?” Lorenzo asked and looked around but came up empty.

“No, it’s fine. I need my mind sharp,” Guillermo said. He turned outside to the view from the window.

Joaquin puffed his chest. “I taught you well.”

Guillermo stared at the press outside. They waited in siege, their vans and cameras and microphones on hand, ambushing every official-looking person they could find for a scrap of new information.

But there was no real news at the moment, other than the simple fact that we were getting visited by royalty in a couple of hours.

The alien delegation had arranged nothing. Normally, a princess’ tour would be an orchestrated thing, decided in advance, everything planned and proper. Guillermo knew about those, he had done a few of those before with Infanta Sofía of Spain, the second daughter in line of succession for the Spanish throne.

“Come on, Guillermo, it’s nothing you’ve never done before. She can’t be harder to deal with than Her Royal Highness Infanta Sofía,” Joaquin tried to comfort him.

Guillermo bit his lip. “Don’t remind me.”

Joaquin laughed.

“What?” Lorenzo perked up. “Is there something juicy about the princess?”

“Excuse us, but a significant part of our role is to be discreet about these things,” the older man apologised.

“Don’t let your imagination run wild. It was nothing, just a young spoiled girl acting out. If it happened in an average family you wouldn’t even bat an eyelid,” Guillermo waved away.

“But her handler took the fall for that, as he should,” Joaquin said proudly.

“You guys have such a weird job.” Lorenzo looked from one man to the other.

“We do,” Guillermo said firmly. “That’s why I need you to get me up to speed. What else do I need to know?” He pulled his sleeves to straighten the wrinkles. They were yellow and blue.

“Wait, wasn’t this yellow and green just now?”

“Yeah… They must have changed the national colours again,” Lorenzo said and sat down. He preferred a specific sofa that had intricate patterns on it. Guillermo was certain that the scientist found them fascinating. The man found everything fascinating.

“Come on! She can’t be that fickle, can she?”

Lorenzo nodded. “She sure can. To say that the princess’ fickleness is legendary would be an understatement.”

Guillermo turned to his mentor. “What have you gotten me into, profesor?”

“It’s nothing you can’t handle.” Joaquin sliced the air with his hand.

“Right. Okay, Lorenzo, let’s cram.” He pulled the sofa across him and sat down. “Hit me with everything I need to know.”

Chapter 9

The spaceship landed in Paris. Well, it didn’t quite land, it hovered at quite a height and reflected the city below.

“The ships are all reflective to counter laser attacks,” Lorenzo explained, giddy like a child.

Guillermo grunted in agreement. He didn’t really care for that. His worry was about the big meeting. Joaquin had taught him that the first time you meet your charge is very important. But in this case, it was an alien.

Sure, she was pretty and young and… Well, she was red. But she was just a rich girl, just like the rest. That was Joaquin’s advice. Guillermo had the nagging feeling that his mentor was as befuddled about this as anyone.

He couldn’t blame the man. What can you possibly teach someone about this scenario?

The spaceship came down slowly on the helipad.

“Well, it isn’t that intimidating from this angle.” Guillermo breathed in the cool air. “No offence, Pollux.”

Lorenzo chuckled.

Pollux bowed, “I’m sorry, you misunderstood, this is just the passenger pod of the ‘Touch Her and You’re Dead.’ The Princess wouldn’t dare come to anything but a royal land on her first visit.”

Guillermo turned to him. “What? Where is she?”

“In…” he checked his wrist. “The United Kingdom, I believe. Is that where your Earth Queen is?”

“Fuck!” Guillermo mumbled under his breath.

Guillermo sat down across Pollux. Lorenzo called him a ‘lucky bastard’ and waved from below.

“How long till we reach the United Kingd-”

The air popped around them and he could suddenly see Buckingham palace.

“Right,” he sighed. “Blink and you miss it.”

Pollux smiled diplomatically.

A monitor showed their surroundings. They rose up to a larger shiny blob in the sky. Guillermo gulped. Okay, now that was bigger. Blobbier, with the same shiny surface that didn’t let you gauge distances and volumes. But it certainly was big, and it certainly was alien.

They docked.

“Now remember,” Pollux said leaning forward, “you mustn’t touch the princess for any reason whatsoever.”

Chapter 10

The princess ate a grape. It was supposed to be an Earthen delicacy of some sort, but it was too squishy, so she had a servant squeeze it first to let the juice out.

She snacked on a green one.

Hm. Tasty.

Maybe this planet had something to offer, after all.

“I like this. Bring me the tree that bore this fruit, I wish to speak with it.”

“As you-” Avatar Teddy communed with the ship and conducted a thorough investigation in an eye-blink. First, it snatched up the entire vineyard who sent this harvest. Then, it ran a DNA test on the juice left on the plate and compared it to all the trees. He was surprised to see that humans ran clones of it, but the ship would detect other small variances that allowed it to pinpoint the exact one.

Then it brought the tree along with a two-meter-wide circle of dirt in the middle of the throne room.

“-wish, Princess.”

Kyveli raised her chin. “I wanted to thank you, tree of grapes, for this delicacy.”

The tree remained silent.

“Well? You may speak, now!”

A shoving match took place next to her, and the smallest and most unfortunate of her courtiers was pushed forward. “Your Brightness, I’ve been informed that trees on this planet do not, in fact, speak.”

“They do not?” Kyveli was furious. “I demand to speak to it, now!”

“It’s not possible, your Brightness.” The courtier squirmed and practically knelt on the floor.

“What is this savagery?” She puffed loudly and sat back down on her jade throne. “Trees that don’t speak. What’s next?”

“I’m terribly sorry, your Brightness,” the courtier said, kissing the floor beneath her feet.

The flaw in the gemthrone pricked her skin. “Ow!” She stood up and kicked the tray to the floor. Grapes rolled all over the place and the servant crouched on the spot. “And now you’ve got dirt all over my throne room!” the princess screamed. “Stupid tree! Clean it up.”

The courtiers scurried and fell on all fours. They wiped the dirt from the floor with their sleeves, spat on their fingers and rubbed the shiny surfaces.

Kyveli gritted her teeth. Anger. Fury. All sparked by an imperfection on a chair. She screamed like a madwoman and complained about everything. “Why am I still seeing your stupid face, servant? Didn’t I order you get a facelift? Why is my floor still full of dirt? Why am I surrounded by idiots? ARGHH!”

The room doors slid open and an alien appeared, next to Pollux. They both wore the Ekrignontes proper clothes. But the man was weird. Pinkish. Tall.

“What the hell is it now?” she screamed at the top of her lungs.

Reality boiled around her. Her white hair seemed like it was glowing. Servants and courtiers cowered around her, some crying on the spot, others updating their wills to a remote storage a few light-minutes away.

She started to divide. Anger, manifested. Atoms, divided. Spacetime, collapsing.

And then the alien hurried close to her in deliberate, long steps and stood before her and slapped her on the face.

Chapter 11

The courtiers went pale, and that was a mean feat for people with red faces.

Reality stopped boiling around Guillermo, and he felt the world’s largest lump in his throat. The princess had stopped screaming and she was touching her cheek with her delicate hand.

It was pretty apparent that nobody, and I do mean nobody, had done that before.

Guillermo knew from his profesor that he had to speak at that moment. “Compose yourself, princess.” He straightened his own jacket.

Pollux recovered much faster than all the others, and cleared his throat. “Announcing Guillermo Reysolo, your assigned handler from the humans, your Brightness.” He bowed deeply with a flourish of his hand.

Kyveli still had her palm on her cheek. She whispered, “Who is this man?”

“Your Brightness, this is Guill-”

“I heard that,” she whispered again.

Guillermo bowed deeply then straightened up, quicker than protocol demanded of him in front of royalty. “I’m here to assist you during your visit to Earth, your Brightness.”

She opened her mouth and stayed there.

“It is unladylike to have one’s mouth open, your Brightness,” Guillermo said without a hint of derision.

She shut it instantly. “Huh.” She turned to her courtiers and waved her hand, “Make sure the Earth liaison is accommodated properly.”

“Of course, your Brightness,” a senior courtier said and bowed down to his knees. The others helped him back up.

“I’m at your service from this moment on,” Guillermo said. “What would you like to see first on our lovely little planet?”

“Everything,” she said, excited. “I heard you have some fluffy predators. Cats, I believe you call them.” Her eyes twinkled.

Guillermo had to will his lungs to fill with oxygen.

“We can arrange that, I believe.”

“But first, I want to see what your princess wears.”

Chapter 12

The Tower of London seemed busy, even though it was empty. A gleaming spaceship hovering above, thousands of people outside, press storming the place and being kept out, and actual tanks forming a perimeter.

Teddy the ship’s Avatar scoffed at all that. “Bah! This is what you call security? A waste of matter, you guys are.”

Guillermo scratched his nose and thought what to say. “Excuse me, but who are you exactly? I’m afraid my briefing was very last-minute.”

Teddy looked up from Guillermo’s knee. “I’m the ship’s avatar.” It pointed up, towards the spaceship.

“Right,” Guillermo said, clicking his tongue. “So you fly the ship?”

“No, stupid, the Mind flies the ship. I am the Mind inside this android body.”

“So you’re not the Mind?”

“I am the Mind. And I am the Avatar you see. My memory is holographic, I’m both a backup and the exact same as the ship Mind.”

“And you chose to present yourself as a Teddy Bear?”

“I’ve looked after Kyveli since she was a baby.”

“I like Teddy like that,” she said and patted it on the head.

A black bird descended down on the group and flew close to Kyveli. It was a raven.

“Danger!” Teddy said and pointed it’s stubby hand at the bird. A laser beam shone from the ship above.

“Please don’t hurt it!” Guillermo said, trying to stop the avatar.

The raven squawked something that looked insulting and flew away.

“I wasn’t going to hurt it!” Teddy complained. “I just scared it away. Why the hell do you have-” Slight pause, “-ravens flying all over the place?”

“It’s an old legend. It’s said that six ravens must watch over the Tower of London, or the Crown will fall. Simple superstition, really,” Guillermo explained to them both. “These people with the fancy hats, they’re the seven Ravenmasters that protect the Tower ravens from harm.”

“A protector. I can respect that,” Teddy said and took a hat from one of the Ravenmasters standing at attention, and put it on.

Kyveli shivered.

“What’s the matter, your Brightness?” Guillermo asked.

She was quiet. “We have a similar saying. When the daughters that divide are gone, the universe will cease carrying on.”

Guillermo saw that this was a touchy subject so he didn’t ask for more. He simply nodded, trying to comfort her, and made sure to ask Lorenzo about it later on. He opened the doors to the main exhibition and presented the Crown Jewels.

They were showcased on top of red velvet that contrasted with the gold nicely. “Saint Edward’s Crown, the orb, the sceptres and the ring. The only complete regalia on Earth, worn by all British kings and queens at their coronations.”

Kyveli seemed pleased. Smiling, even. She touched her nose and palm on the display case glass.

The alarm went off, and Guillermo started. Then the alarm turned off.

“Does the princess enjoy her visit?” Guillermo asked hopefully.

Kyveli turned her big eyes up to him. Her expression was the mother of all puppy dog eyes.

“I want to take a selfie with the Crown,” she said.

Teddy complied instantly and began lifting the display case. An actual royal guard rushed inside and gripped arms, hesitating.

Guillermo stopped them. “Fuck,” he mumbled under his breath.

Chapter 13

“I don’t like you,” the ship’s avatar said. It still wore the Ravenmaster hat it had previously stolen.

Guillermo got shivers from the place. The Tower of London’s dungeons didn’t exactly have the best ambiance. Centuries-old stone, damp floors, mold growing in the cracks and the terrible feeling that so many people died in there.

“Touch Her And You’re Dead, we need to sort things out. Actually, let’s start with your name, can’t I call you something else?”

“No,” the Teddy Bear crossed his fluffy arms.

Guillermo touched the bridge of his nose. This was getting ridiculous.

The avatar Teddy floated at his level and poked him on the chest. “I don’t like you.”

It was hard to take the intimidation of a Teddy Bear seriously. It must have sensed amusement in his microexpressions because it got really angry and then tore out Guillermo’s arms from his sockets, blood gushing everywhere.

Guillermo gasped and grabbed his arms. They were still in their place. “What did you do to me?”

“I merely showed you a sim of one way I can kill you. Wanna see another?” the Teddy avatar smiled and tilted its head. It wasn’t silly now.


Guillermo got drowned in a floating bubble of water, that defied all rules of gravity and stayed attached around his head like a reverse diver apparatus. He flailed and thrashed, gasping for air and taking in water but the bubble remained around his head.

Then it was gone. Not a drop to be seen anywhere, except his sweat and his agony.

“What are you doing, please stop this!” he pleaded.

“I have come up with 147.000 different ways to kill you, and I rerun the sims for my entertainment.” The Teddy avatar was now creepy beyond measure.

“Please… Stop. I’m no threat, I would never…”

“Say. My. Name.”

Guillermo gulped. “Touch Her And You’re Dead.”

Teddy raised an eyebrow.

“And I’m dead.”

“And what did you do the very first second you’ve met her?”

“Touched her.”


“I’m dead.”

Avatar Teddy patted his head. “Not yet, cause she seems to like you. But there won’t be a second time.” It walked away, towards the stone steps.

“Yes, Mind. I see now that your name serves as a reminder. You have chosen well.”

Avatar Teddy turned back to look at him. “Ooh. I see you’re not as stupid as you look.”

Chapter 14

“I do not enjoy giving away my things,” The Queen said with cold words.

Guillermo bowed before Her. “Your Majesty, I don’t think we have a choice.”

It was an urgent audience with The Queen. Prime ministers, foreign Chancellors and dignitaries had met The Queen in this room at Buckingham Palace. And now, Guillermo had to ask Her to give up Her precious Crown Jewels.

“The answer is no, I’m afraid.”

“Your Majesty, forgive my insistence on this matter. You see, if we don’t do our best to please the Princess, the whole Earth blows up. Along with the Crown Jewels, I might add.”

She scoffed. “Now that’s a fine way to extort everyone!” She seemed old. The deageing miracles from the aliens had benefited her dearly, much to the dismay of her next-in-line. She was still sharp and strong, going close to a hundred years old.

“It is, Your Majesty. That’s exactly why the Dieretis Empire is feared and respected.” Guillermo was offered to sit, but even Churchill himself stood when briefing the Queen so he did the same. Joaquin’s lesson gnawed at the back of his mind.

The Queen seemed to consider it. But he knew that it was an act.

This is why he didn’t like working with royalty any longer.

She was about to decline and there was nothing he could do.

“I don’t like to repeat myself, mister Reysolo. The answer is still no.” She rang the bell.

The audience was over.

“Your grandchildren, Your Majesty.”

“What about them?”

“They won’t be safe.”

The doors behind him opened. The man there glowered, waiting for him to leave. But he had Her attention.

“Tell me.”

“My impossible task is to do whatever might please the foreign princess, or else our entire planet blows up. Please, I beg of you, try to comprehend that. The entire planet.”

“So this is a terrorist threat, you say?” She stood up and shook her finger. The Queen actually knew quite a bit about war and threats on her life. Scarred and weary, but she still kept soldiering on.

“In essence, yes. Your Majesty should think of it as a polite visit from a princess strapped with all the nuclear arsenal in the world, and even that’s not enough to compare.”

She straightened her dress.

“Fine. She can have my Crown Jewels. Make sure they are personally returned to me afterwards. The Crown is too heavy for me to wear these days but I’m quite attached to it.” She smiled.

Guillermo sighed in relief. “Of course, Your Majesty.” He turned to leave, thinking he had outstayed his welcome.

“I have heard of you, mister Reysolo,” She added. “Should you survive this royal tour, consider sending a letter with your curriculum vitae at Buckingham.”

Guillermo bowed deeply. “I’m honoured, Your Majesty.”

Then he stormed out of there to go borrow the Crown.

Chapter 15

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