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Tales From The Edge: Emergence

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Tales From The Edge: Emergence













  The Maelstrom's Edge Universe





  Edited By

  TOMAS L. Martin


  Copyright (c) 2016 Spiral Arm Studios

  First published in the United Kingdom in 2016.

  All rights reserved.

  Tales from the Edge is a series of short story collections set in the Maelstrom’s Edge universe published by Spiral Arm Studios. Read more about Maelstrom’s Edge at:

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organisations, and events portrayed in these stories are either products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictionally.

  No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express written permission of Spiral Arm Studios.

  To all the members of the Spiral Arm Studios team who helped create such a wonderful universe to play in.

  Other Titles from the Maelstrom's Edge Universe


  Faith: The Battle for Zycanthus, Book One

  Sacrifice: The Battle for Zycanthus, Book Two




  Short Stories

  A Keeper's Duty

  Crisis Point

  Static Prevails






  There came a time when one planet wasn’t enough for mankind. Human civilization reached beyond their sun’s glow and slowly spread out amongst the stars, seeding new worlds in colony ships limited by the speed of light. Millennia passed. Shaped by the glow of different stars and the pull of alien worlds, humanity began to diverge.

  The discovery of the cybel network revolutionised the galaxy. A vast web of dark energy tendrils reaching across the galaxy, the cybel tunnels aggregates to stars, connecting worlds together. Suddenly, journeys that lasted a lifetime could be traversed in weeks and months, and the dark energy in the cybel tunnels could power vast spaceships and the technology to transform worlds.

  Humanity spent tens of thousands of years using the cybel network to colonise the Spiral Arm of the galaxy. Trade vessels set out to connect long forgotten outposts, and new colonies proliferated up and down the Arm. Bizarre new cultures were uncovered, humans long since changed, alongside truly alien beings. Vast corporate entities used the power of cybel energy to terraform new worlds, and technology advanced at a pace never seen before.

  Now, all that progress is under threat. The cybel tunnels, once heralded as the greatest discovery of mankind, could now lead to humanity’s end. The Maelstrom changed everything. The cybel tunnels at the centre of the galaxy ruptured, spilling a tidal wave of destructive energy into realspace. The destruction it wrought was so swift that the inhabitants of hundreds of worlds perished without warning. The Maelstrom fractured planets and sent stars supernova, pulling apart many star systems, and enveloping others in a tsunami of plasma.

  With many of the galaxy’s brightest worlds destroyed, and the Maelstrom’s approach inevitable, those in its path scrabble desperately for the resources to escape. But space travel is difficult, and spaceships are expensive. Not everyone can afford passage offworld before the apocalypse arrives. Societies break down as those who remain decide how to live the remainder of their existence. Do they fight over scraps for the chance to survive, overthrow their rulers, or accept their fate? There are no easy choices for those living on the Maelstrom’s Edge.


  My name is Tomas L. Martin, and together with Stephen Gaskell I am co-lead writer of Maelstrom’s Edge. I hope you will enjoy reading this collection of stories and background from our universe. Our small team at Spiral Arm Studios has spent the last five years creating a new science fiction setting for the Maelstrom’s Edge miniatures game, which saw its initial release as the Battle for Zycanthus box set in 2015 following a successful Kickstarter. As part of our goal to create a living, breathing new universe, we wrote hundreds of thousands of words of background material, as well as a similar volume of fiction set in the universe we’d created, including the novels Faith and Sacrifice, and the short stories included in this collection.

  Maelstrom’s Edge is set in the far future, where a cataclysmic event has torn apart the centre of the galaxy. Where once humanity and alien alike used the dark energy cybel tunnels to travel between stars, now that dark energy is spilling out into real space, in a tidal wave of destruction known as the Maelstrom. As the Maelstrom moves outward from the core of the galaxy, it destroys star and planet alike, forcing the people living on the Edge to fight over the resources they need to survive.

  Tales from the Edge will be a series of short story collections, set in the Maelstrom’s Edge universe. We intend to have regular issues showing off short stories from great writers telling stories of survival and intrigue under the shadow of the Maelstrom’s destructive influence.

  In this first issue, Emergence, we have collected together eight stories that Stephen Gaskell and I wrote whilst we were designing the universe, as well as one by Andrew Everett, a contributor from our community forums on As well as the short stories themselves, I’ve included a short introduction to the key parts of the universe that each story explores.

  Over the course of these pages, we will experience the impact of the Maelstrom, a tidal wave of dark energy consuming the galaxy from the inner core outward. We will encounter the corporate machinations of the Epirian Foundation and their robotic security forces, the secretive behaviour of the religious extremists of the Karist Enclave, and the Broken, a loose organisation of rebellious survivors with nowhere else to turn. When the galaxy is tearing itself apart, every being in the spiral arm is forced to make a choice about how to live the rest of their life - fight to survive, steal the means to escape, or embrace the coming apocalypse.

  We hope that the stories in this issue excite and entertain you, and bring across the diverse background of the Maelstrom’s Edge universe. In the future we aim to bring you more short fiction, not just from Stephen, Andrew and myself, but from many other great science fiction writers.

  You can read more about Maelstrom’s Edge at

  Thanks for reading, and welcome to the Edge!


  The Maelstrom is a vast tidal wave of dark energy expanding across the spiral arm, devouring star systems and planets in its path. The Maelstrom's origins are clouded in mystery, having emerged close to the centre of the galaxy over a millennium ago, destroying not only the literal core of the galaxy, but also the scientific, political and economic core of human civilization. The Maelstrom has slowed as it moves further away from the dense regions of space, but its inexorable expansion cont
inues, encroaching on the remainder of the galaxy.

  The Maelstrom travels slowly as it expands through empty space, but accelerates as it reacts with the matter inside a star system. As the Maelstrom expands, it disrupts the flow of the cybel tunnels nearby, making them impassable to ships. Star systems with functioning cybel routes become choke points and armed factions fight for control of these vital transport hubs. Many seek their fortune on resource-rich worlds close to the Maelstrom, but if they stay too long, they can find themselves stuck, with no interstellar route left for them to escape. The Maelstrom can also disrupt the energy of stars, causing supernovae for those unlucky enough to still be there when it happens.

  The Maelstrom is a form of highly energetic, disordered cybel energy, and it is drawn both to real matter and to the cybel energy in the tunnel network. If a cybel gate between worlds is still open when the Maelstrom engulfs it, a chain reaction can spread through the cybel network, spreading thEmergencee Maelstrom’s destruction to the star system at the other end of the cybel tunnel. The unpredictable way the Maelstrom can emerge in systems away from the Edge creates paranoia about opening gates to threatened worlds. Powerful organisations even send commando teams to destroy cybel gates that threaten other star systems - even if the inhabitants of that star system have yet to escape.

  In the story ‘Transit’, Stephen Gaskell tells us of one such world in the Maelstrom’s path, where some of the younger inhabitants remain blissfully unaware of the approach of the end of all things...

  Kelvin slowed up, breathing hard, his pack heavy on his shoulders.

  He dropped to a crouch, snatching a glance at the calming purple-red aurora in the darkening eastern sky. His heart thudded against his chest. Tumbleweed blew across the top of the ridge above, disappearing from sight.

  Am I really doing this?

  He'd broken into places before--the breakers yard for old mechs on the edge of town, the fancy restaurant with the real piano that had closed up a year back, even Madam Crescent's clairvoyant shack--but he'd always been with others, always acting on the spur of the moment for the rush or to impress.

  This was different.

  This time he was alone.

  This time he'd been thinking about it for weeks.

  Most important of all, this time the place belonged to his father.

  He edged forward, loose stone crunching underfoot, careful not to kick any bigger pieces onto the trail below. Cresting the top of the ridge he came into sight of his target. He crouched down among the brush.

  Lost in shadow, his father's workshop cut a strange sight among the rocky landscape, a rectangular box sat in the middle of nowhere. It was an old shipping container, the paint of the transportation company's logo long since scoured to a few flecks by the harsh sandstorms that battered the area every year.

  What brings you out here every day, Father?

  The question haunted him.

  He wondered if it had anything to do with the whispered arguments between his mother and father, whether it had anything to do with the stony silences that would often greet him if he approached any adults in town. Only yesterday a few of his neighbours had been huddled together in the tower passageway, but when he'd got closer they went quiet, white-haired Mr King shoving some ancient, grimy-lit tablet into his coat pocket.

  His eyes drank in the workshop.

  Kelvin still remembered the day six years ago when the container had been airlifted in as a favour by one of his father's friends in the Epirian Foundation who flew starhaulers. The force of the transport's jets had lashed the ground, whipping Kelvin's hair, spraying grit into his eyes, and when the container hit the ground it did so with a tremendous boom.

  His father had shouted at him for almost getting himself crushed, but the whole day had been exhilarating, and his father's stern words had only added to his excitement. They'd only been on Craster for a few months at the time, and everything about the place had been exciting then. The giant crimson sun so unlike the pale orb they'd left behind on Echida, the feeling of lightness on the low-gee world which made Kelvin's younger self think he could jump and reach the stars--even Levan's Crossing had seemed mysterious and full of potential, instead of the spiky backwater it had gradually become as he grew into adolescence.

  He'd been eleven years old. Now he was seventeen.

  He shuffled his feet, eyes slowly adjusting to the contours of the shadowed workshop. Long ago, using a blowtorch, his father had cut four small windows into the corrugated steel sides of the container, horizontal slits high on each of the four walls. Near the hinged metal door that was half of one of the container's short ends, his father's battered skimmer slouched in the dirt, the small trailer behind it full of junk.

  Kelvin had only been inside once.

  It had been on the day the container had arrived. His footsteps had echoed through the empty structure, and the place had seemed dark and lonely. He wondered what changes his father had made inside, wondered what brought his old man here every day without fail.

  Tonight I will find out, he thought.

  With no sign that his father was finishing up yet, Kelvin twisted round and made himself comfortable, his forearms resting on his knees. He plucked a shoot of spinifex and chewed it at the side of his mouth as his father was wont to do. Nobody had followed him. He'd been worried his little brother, Billy, might've snuck out after him, but only tumbleweed moved on the slope. Better to be alone if he was going to break into his father's workshop; he didn't want anybody else getting into trouble if he were caught. He cast his gaze further, his eyes sliding over the scattering of structures that composed Levan's Crossing.

  First, near the south end of the linear town, the prefab towers; three enormous hollowed-out cylinders of stacked housing ten stories high where all the low-grade workers' families lived--including Kelvin's. Many families had upped sticks and left town over the last few months, but even from this distance he could hear the urban buzz emanating from the structures as if they were tuning forks--a medley of groaning pipes, strains of music, kids at play in the maze of stairwells. Beneath the towers, the small commercial district sprawled downhill, a wide dusty road lined with chop-shops, repair shacks, a single chemist that never had the drugs you needed, an auto-laundry, and a dozen other tinpot businesses servicing the town's small population. The sprawl ended abruptly where the road met the maglev lines that cut the town in a very lopsided two. On the other side of the tracks there were only a smattering of buildings, most prominently the soulless U-Hotel where out-of-towners stayed, and next door, the Copper Lady cantina where his mother worked.

  Outsiders rarely crossed those tracks to come into town.

  The rails, shining in the light of the aurora that had grown steadily in strength as the last of the daylight had fled the sky, lanced arrow-straight towards the Cowslip Hills where vast mining structures straddled the landscape. Even in the darkness, Kelvin could see the geometric-shaped gouges carved out of the land, the hallmark of surface mining operations that had sifted the ground for the precious copper and minerals buried under the sandstone. Levan's Crossing was serviced by a small terminus on a spur off the mainline, but trains rarely stopped here, instead barrelling straight for the heart of the mining complex where they would load up on valuable ores that ended up where Kelvin could only imagine.

  "What a shithole."

  He spat out the grass, lay back on the dirt, and stared at the only part of his surroundings that didn't depress him: the sky. The aurora sparkled over a vast swathe of the night, a purple-red glow that obliterated the stars, and he loved to lose himself in its lustrous folds. Around its ragged edges the light had a hard glow like a sun's corona, but the aurora had been a nightly fixture of his life, and he found its presence soothing. Back on Echida, the light had grown in intensity as the months passed, but he'd never seen it as bright and chaotic as he did over the last year on Craster. Astronomers seemed in short supply in Levan's Crossing though, and whenever he asked anybody how
the magical light was created he usually got met with a gruff "I don't know, kid." Whatever the reason, the aurora was a small piece of beauty in an ugly place.

  The scrape of metal against stone yanked Kelvin out of his thoughts, and he instinctively twisted, crawling up the slope for a look. His father was locking up. He tightened the chains, gave them a firm tug, then let them clang heavily onto the metal. He gave a brief wistful look at the sky, shook his head, and hobbled over to his skimmer.

  The accident had happened three years back.

  A small digger bot under his father's control had malfunctioned and sent a superheated iron blade through his kneecap. The plant was closed for two days, but his father never recovered from the injury. The company never accepted that the bot had been faulty, and his father had been in legal dispute with them ever since. The lack of a regular paycheck had meant Kelvin's mother had needed to find a job; none of the mining companies wanted to employ a cripple. After the accident his father had spent more and more time pottering around in his workshop, working on odd jobs for other townsfolk, but from overhearing the blistering arguments between his mother and father, Kelvin knew his father didn't bring in much money.

  The skimmer rumbled to life with a long ragged growl, and shortly Kelvin only had the breeze for company. He wasted no time, zig-zagging down the steep embankment and hustling for the container. Clambering onto the roof, he lay himself flat on the warm metal, and peered over the edges to try and get a glimpse through the high windows. As expected, the view was blocked. He jumped back down, landing in the sand with a soft thud. Sweat tickled his neck as he delved into his backpack and pulled out the bolt cutters.

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