Return to the Fractured Planet
by Dave Stone
Cover Blurb
Return to the Fractured Planet

'I gazed up at the smoking hole the bomb had made - and then I realised something was wrong. Benny lay beside me, slack and tangled like a discarded rag doll, unnaturally pale, and unbreathing. She was dead.'

Nothing is ever simple, and nothing ever ends. Feed some drugs to laboratory rats and, two hundred generations down the line, the monsters start being born.

The fragile stability of the Dellahan quarantine has been compromised, and something has escaped. Now, a man in the incipient stages of identity-collapse and a dying Bernice Summerfield have to search the byzantine cities of the Proximian Chain for an entity that killed his lover and her friend - an entity that will turn the Chain into its own version of hell.

  • Another book in the new series of The New Adventures featuring Bernice Summerfield
  • Released: August 1999

  • ISBN: 0 426 20534 0

The Artificial Personality Embodiment who helped Benny and her friends to prevent the planet Thanaxos from falling to the Dellahan Gods has returned home to the Proximan Chain, a series of space stations and enclosed habitats interconnected by transmat. There, some days after a bitter argument with his lover Kara Delbane -- one which he is nevertheless sure will soon be resolved -- he is contacted by Benny and Irving Braxiatel, who require his assistance once again. Evidence suggests that one of the Gods has somehow escaped from quarantine and is present within the Proximan Chain, and Benny and Braxiatel have hired a network of APEs to track it down, since the agent's experience has shown that APEs have a natural resistance to the influence of the Gods. They had avoided using the agent himself, since he was known to the Gods and had been exposed to their power once already, but now one of their best operatives has been brutally murdered after stumbling across something apparently unrelated but dangerous, and they need him to help investigate. The agent takes the case immediately upon realizing that the victim was Kara Delbane.

Benny accompanies the agent, partly to ensure that he is not the killer himself, and partly because she can't think of anything better to do; the botched Mary-Sue erasure protocols are still active, slowly erasing her personality, and she's already on borrowed time. Despite their mutual loathing Benny contacts Jason's associate Mira, who agrees to scan Kara's body for latent neural impulses and determine whether she has retained any impressions of the killer. Kara, however, is neurally blank, indicating that before her physical death she triggered a fail-safe protocol within her mind and erased her own personality. Mira also detects the presence of the disease in Benny's brain, and despite her distaste for Benny due to the way she's treated Jason, she warns the agent about it and advises him to treat her with care. Meanwhile, while waiting for Mira and Benny to emerge from the morgue, the agent is confronted by a Proximan security service officer named Roland Forrester who tries to push his way into the investigation; the agent tells him to push off.

Benny and the agent break into Kara's apartment, where they find a ticket stub for the Zoo Kunst nightclub and pick up an apparently innocuous voicemail message from a man named Praetorian who is staying at the Connaught Hotel. Although aware that this is a long shot at best, Benny and the agent go to the hotel and break into Praetorian's room, but in doing so they trigger a booby-trap and barely escape with their lives. The strain of the escape is apparently too much for Benny, who retreats into a psychosomatic coma from which she may never recover. The agent therefore contacts Mira again and takes her as backup to Zoo Kunst, where they find Forrester keeping an eye on the club denizens -- and spot Praetorian at the bar. The agent mentions Kara's name to Praetorian to see what will happen and is forced to knock him out when Praetorian reacts murderously. Claiming that their "friend" has had too much to drink, the agent and Mira carry Praetorian out of the club, load him into their car and drive off, ditching Forrester on the way. However, the agent realizes that they are being followed by a nondescript car of a type which, in the Proximan Chain, often carries large amounts of explosives. The agent tells Mira to ditch him and get Praetorian back to Braxiatel, while he tries to evade the explosive car. His own car runs out of fuel, but the pursuing car turns out to be carrying not explosives but a monstrous mutated assassin. The agent escapes, and, much to his surprise, realizes that he has encountered this type of killer before, on the planet Sharabeth.

When the agent was first woken, and was still trying to come to terms with the fact that his memories were copies of a dead man inside an artificially grown body with enhanced strength and synaptic backup, he and Kara Delbane were sent to Sharabeth, a planet in a state of fractured time. All contact had been lost with the planet due to the disaster which had changed its temporal state, and important business interests needed to know what was happening on the planet's surface. Kara and the agent, however, were shot down while trying to land, and were taken by hideously mutated humanoids to the headquarters of Sleed Incorporated, a company in the business of genocide. There, they were horribly tortured for days, but managed to escape and summon help by smashing open the agent's skull and zapping the implanted tracer in a coded pattern. After spending fourteen straight hours in a regen tank, the agent and Kara convinced the ARVID unit in charge of their mercenary group to send in a beach-head as a distraction while they returned to Sleed's headquarters and tried to find its records division. Having fought their way through the building's mutated defenders, they soon located the Executive Boardroom -- and the offices of Sleed himself, a grotesquely mutated monstrosity whom the agent shot and killed without a second thought. In the aftermath, it became clear that Sleed showed up when Sharabeth was cut off from the rest of the Universe, and flooded the consumer marketplace with products which turned out to be lethal. Once the population had been winnowed down to manageable levels, Sleed began mutating the survivors and sending them out to slaughter their fellows. But no reason for his genocidally insane actions has ever been determined...

The agent returns home to ponder his next move, and while wading through junk transmissions from the home shopping network ZipCo, he finds an encrypted message from Kara sent to him before her death. While copying it he learns that someone has placed an open contract on his life, but before he can flee to a place of safety he is captured by Roland Forrester -- who reveals that his real name is Chris Cwej, and that he's working for Benny and Braxiatel. While the agent tells Braxiatel what he's learned so far, Cwej decodes the message from Kara and discovers that she had stumbled across a plan to flood the Proximan Chain with lethal consumer products, just as was done on Sharabeth. The agent concludes that the apparent attempts on his life -- the bomb, the car monster, and now the open contract -- were in fact attempts to keep him so occupied that he didn't have time to put the pieces together.

Hoping to provoke the enemy into revealing himself, the agent deliberately returns home where he knows he will be found -- and he is immediately captured and brought to Sleed, who survived the death of his old body and has finally woken from dormancy. Sleed confirms that he is preparing to recreate the conditions of Sharabeth in the Proximan Chain; like all his kind, he seeks total control of his environment and the people therein. To ensure that the agent will not continue to interfere with his plan, Sleed brainwashes him and sends him back to Braxiatel's to kill Benny. Praetorian has woken from his self-induced coma, knocked out Cwej and deactivated the security cameras so the agent can work without interruption. Praetorian would have killed Benny himself, but he prefers his victims to be awake and aware; he is disappointed that Kara erased her own mind rather than give in to him, after he'd gone to all the trouble of slipping her information on Sleed's activities so Sleed would decide she had to be taken out of the picture. The agent attacks Benny, waking her from her coma -- and then reactivates his own mind, which he had been storing in his synaptic backup systems. He explains the situation to Benny, kills Praetorian, and takes Benny to the headquarters of ZipCo, the only company capable of flooding the Proximan Chain with Sleed's lethal products.

Upon arriving at the ZipCo headquarters, Benny and the agent discover that the building is a hollow facade built around a mutagenic transmat bomb. When the bomb goes off, the compounds will spray out into the transmat network, and the entire Proximan Chain will be infected. Their only hope now is to find Sleed, and as Sleed has always acted like a typical megalomaniac villain in the past, the agent and Benny climb down the shaft in the centre of the building to his underground lair -- where they find a giant crystalline entity, the real body of Sleed. Sleed is one of the Gods, who stumbled across an alien time machine on Dellah and was accidentally catapulted into the Vortex, where he collided with Sharabeth and fractured its temporal time frame. Sleed attempts to possess the agent's mind but is unable to do so, and therefore attempts to possess Benny -- but his telepathic tendrils contact the Mary-Sue erasure protocols in Benny's brain and cause them to go overt, erasing Sleed's influence from Benny's mind and passing through into his own. As Sleed tries to fight off the protocols' attempts to erase his personality, Benny smashes the crystal, killing him.

Benny and the agent escape from the building and are picked up by Mira, Braxiatel and Cwej, who have put together the pieces on their own. As it happens, an error in programming means that the trigger codes on the bomb were set on an eternal loop, and it never would have exploded in the first place. Benny concludes that since the Gods are shaped by belief, Sleed became the stereotypical mad villain that everyone believed him to be, which is why his great master plan had one fatal flaw. The agent sets off to try to come to terms with Kara's death, while Benny is left with a dilemma. All signs of the fatal protocols have been removed from her mind, giving her a new lease on life, but large chunks of her memory have already been erased. Should she read her old diaries and try to remember who she was, or should she forget her past, go out into the world and get on with her life to come?

Source: Cameron Dixon

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