Rhea Hawke and weapons seem inexorably linked. As a Galactic Guardian Enforcer in a large galaxy of alien technology, Rhea Hawke knows her weapons. She’s used and been shot at by many. During her pre-Enforcer days, when she slummed with gangster Zec Zebalion on Ogium 9, Rhea made a dubious living as an arms dealer. She even designed some (like the Pocket and the MEC). Now, as ex-Enforcer, she finds her designs in high demand…
The Q-gun is a shapeshifter’s preferred weapon; the handgun discharges dark energy quintle particles that resonate with matter to dematerialize it. In the first scene of Outer Diverse, Rhea is held at Q-gunpoint by the dust smuggler, V’mer on the rainy planet of Mar Delena. Later in Book 1, Rhea visits her old gangster “friend” Zec in Splendid City on Ogium 9, hoping for some information:
I met his gaze head on, then glanced down with a smirk to where his tight pants bulged and decided to make the first move. Tongue brushing my upper lip in mock seductiveness, I sneered: “Is that a Q-gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
Q-bombs are genetic-specific explosives with nano-bots that can be programmed for a specific frequency wave or genetic signature such as DNA. The Q-bomb (or its cousin Q-gel) is used often by various people, including Rhea, throughout the trilogy. In Inner Diverse, Rhea’s bookseller friend Serge Bastion (outer diverse twin to inner diverse V’ser) is supposedly killed by a Q-bomb, rigged into a book by a Vos terrorist, who had booby-trapped it with a DNA-sensing device linked to an inverse Q-bomb. Later in Inner Diverse, Rhea embarks on an ambitious mission to blow up a Nihilist weapons facility using a set of Q-bombs. But to do that, she must visit her slimy “friend” Zec:
He glared at me with new respect and some fear. “What do you want, Hawke? I know you didn’t bring me my payment.”
“For what?” I challenged him, sauntering closer to him with my MEC still levelled at his crotch. “You’re half right, though. I do have payment. But for a Q-bomb, fifth quintle level with a five hundred charge. And I need it now.”
He threw his head back and laughed. “Whose ship are you blowing up this time?”
I smiled wryly. “Do you want the credits or not?”
I’d never known Zec to say no to a potential deal to make money. “Five thousand,” he said with a sneer.
“That’s…” I began in a flustered tone, feigning affront.
“Particle-stream robbery?” He grinned. “That’s the deal.”
I looked directly at him with a hard gaze. “I pay only on delivery. And only if it’s within the hour. That’s the deal.”
Q-gel was used by the Nihilists in Metaverse to kill Rhea Hawke and Serge Bastion at the Beleus City Med Facility. Like the bomb, the intelligent blue-green slime is driven by nano-bots, and can be programmed to detonate with a specified distance from a specific object.
Then I saw it: a blue-green slime, seeping under the door…
We had seconds. I leapt onto Bastion, seizing him as he yelped, and rolled us off the bed toward the window. We thudded to the floor and I winced at his cry of pain. Calling forth an invisible burst of Badowin strength, I heaved the bed onto its side in front of us and pushed Bastion gruffly down just as the gel ignited with a loud ear-splitting bang.
The blast threw the bed against us and together we collided into the far wall as the windows shattered. Shards of tiny glass rained on us. Bastion squeaked then whimpered.
“You okay?” I asked once I’d gotten my breath back. My voice sounded like I was underwater and my ears were ringing.
He nodded, grimacing tightly with wide eyes. I saw blood trickle out of both his ears and felt a warm flow down my left one. The blast had probably burst our eardrums. We were lucky, I thought, that it hadn’t done more.
“Come on,” I said, pushing the bed off us and scrambling to my feet. “This is our exit call.” I lowered my hand to help him up. He just stared. All around us, embedded in the walls and the far side of the bed were thousands of knife-like spicules. Dozens would have impaled us had we not been shielded behind the bed.
The Kappa rifle
The Kappa rifle with its metre-long barrel acts like a chemical weapon discharging kappa particles that slowly eat away flesh. Kappa particles are also used by Fauche shipbuilders as a fuel system for their ships. In Outer Diverse, Rhea first runs across a kappa rifle pointed at her by the bounty hunter Pentas in the Tangent Shipping hanger in Pyramid City on Horus:
Pulse racing, I turned and beheld two large purple Eosians standing at the entranceway. The larger one was in a Great Coat, snarling, and pointing a pocket pistol at me. The other wore a faded ranger and pointed his Kappa rifle with its meter-long barrel at me. I stared at the Kappa rifle. It was a cruel weapon, killing slowly. Mistakenly classified as a Class C weapon, [the Kappa rifle] was released as regulation issue to civilians like this bounty hunter. Guardians and bounty hunters often worked in pairs to find their quarry, usually splitting the reward. I’d done the same on a few occasions.
In Inner Diverse, on the planet Kraal, the terrorist A’ler shoots her brother Serge with a Kappa rifle:
Serge gave his sister a confident smile. “You wouldn’t shoot your own brother—”
The loud report of the kappa rifle made me flinch. Serge’s eyes widened in shocked disbelief then he looked down at the small wound in his chest.
Feeling a sympathetic stab of pain in my tight chest, I stifled a shriek and helplessly watched Serge fall to his knees then lose consciousness and flop over into a heap on the ground.
“NO!” I rushed to Serge’s limp body and knelt over him. I opened his shirt and gaped at the very small but deep wound. It leaked a small bit of blood mixed with kappa-induced fluid. The wound didn’t look like much now but already the flesh surrounding the small hole was reacting. It raged like an angry red boil. Serge’s face was grey with shock. Kappa particles didn’t usually kill right away but they were relentlessly deadly as they ate away the flesh of any creature they entered. It was a painful, long, but usually inevitable death.
“Enough blenoid crap!” A’ler shrilled. “He’ll die for sure if you don’t tell me where you put the bomb. Right now!”
The Concussion rifle
The Concussion rifle, used mostly by Guardians, first makes its appearance in Outer Diverse in the ship hanger in Pyramid City on Horus when two Eosian Guardians emerge from a falcon ship to neutralize Rhea as she attempts to steal a viper. The concussion rifle operates mostly like an old 20th century ballistic firearm.
Flicking my gaze in rapid fire between the console I was trying to un-encrypt and the falcon ship, I eventually caught sight of two Eosians emerging from the falcon, bearing concussion rifles. They were heading in my general direction.
I continued to fiddle with the ID key pad, feeling panic edge in as the Eosians approached. For the love of Creos! I’d opened hundreds of these before. They’d been the easiest ships to steal during my dubious career as arms dealer. And I’d practically taught the vehicle BNE lessons in Stealth 101 at the Guardian academy—
They’d spotted me and were running toward me!
The engine sputtered into a reluctant idling whine. I seized the controls and the viper lurched into the air just as they opened fire.
Chaos! My heart slammed as a few shots pinged across the vehicle’s hull. I carved a tight turn and whipped over my two pursuers, forcing them to instinctively duck, and soared out of the hangar into the sunset.
The Sling rifle
The Sling rifle is a harpoon-like weapon used by hunters, primarily blenoid hunters and meat traders on Upsilon 3—many of whom are smugglers and thieves. The rifle is essentially a harpoon with narcotic discharged with a sling line. in Inner Diverse, Rhea meets up with a gang of nasty meat-traders, who capture her and A’ler:
Lars laughed loudly and spit again, brown spittle landing on A’ler this time. “I do smell myself a barbeque.” Without a second thought, he aimed his sling rifle and shot. The rifle cracked, followed by the whiz of the harpooned sling line. The blenoid yelped then slumped, instantly knocked out by the strong narcotic. I flinched. He’d shot the leader of the pack and I knew what would happen next as the foreman released his sling. The blenoids fell upon their unconscious leader, flaying her alive to shreds…The men shouted with excitement, waving their sling rifles in the air.
The sling rifles discharged, cracking the air like whips, followed by their singing lines. As each blenoid tumbled under the deep penetrating harpoon hook, the men reeled them up as the remaining blenoids charged and dragged down their unconscious mates. It was a cruel game of cat and mouse and the sling rifle was luridly suited to it. A primitive weapon, the sling’s sharp harpooned projectile seldom killed. Killing wasn’t its objective; maiming, injuring and demobilizing was the intent. The sling was popular with hunters and gamers looking to satisfy their brutal sport of tormenting lesser beings. And torment they did. I watched in sick disgust as the men screamed with malicious amusement and reeled in the harpooned blenoids like fish in a writhing sea.
The Stun stick
The Stun stick is a high-energy weapon that resembles a staff. It is used by the Orichalkon, an Eosian elite guard of Mon Seigneur Martinez assigned to guard his Gnostic order in their various outposts in the universe. The weapon is wielded like a staff in Tai Chi movements and discharges an energy wave that stuns all in it contacts. In Inner Diverse, Rhea is rescued by them when she is thrown by the traders into the blenoid pit to die:
The blenoids never reached me. They yelped and wailed and flew in all directions. Two large Eosians, garbed in jet black had dropped from the crane arm to the pit. They wielded stun sticks in swift fluid motion like acrobats, flinging stunned blenoids away from the platform. The Eosians’ choreographed dance reminded me of my Tai Chi form as they knocked every blenoid unconscious.
The Nokerig Pistol
In Metaverse, Nokerig pistols were deployed by Nihilists in an attempt to immobilize Rhea during her rescue of Serge Bastion from the Beleus Med Facility.
The guard at the exit was expecting me but not my MEC. I burst out shooting and caught him as he raised his weapon. He fell with a thud. I raced down the hall to the exit on the far end and bolted down the stairs to the third floor, hearing my pursuers clattering behind me. More shots zinged past me from the stairwell and I felt a sharp sting on my left arm.
I hissed out a curse and threw open a door into a narrow corridor with my good arm. I looked down at my bleeding arm. They were using Class D nokerig pistols, ancient ballistic weapons with projectiles that festered in your body wherever they embedded. Although it hurt like chaos and bled copiously, the bullet had only grazed my arm, I noticed with relief.
Rhea designed her own weapons with great success. One currently used exclusively by the Guardians is the Pocket (PulsOniC Kinetic Energy Tracker)—a small lightweight pulse pistol that can track a target once the gun has identified their signature.
Rhea’s MEC (Magnetic-Electro Concussion) Pistol
Before she joined the Guardians, Rhea had hung out with the gangster Zec on Ogium 9, dealing illegal drugs and weapons. But Rhea’s claim to fame in the galaxy of criminals and enforcers is her MEC, a coveted weapon of her own design and, in some ways, the ultimate weapon.
“I’ve got you, creon,” I whispered smugly, slowing to a walk and raising my MEC pistol.
Unfortunately, everyone and their tappin wants her MEC and its design. In the opening scene to Outer Diverse, Rhea is ambushed by the dust smuggler and shapeshifter V’mer:
He dropped the Q-gun and scooped up my MEC then squatted gleefully down beside me, keeping my arms pinned.
“Ah, the MEC.” He ran the thick gun barrel through my wet hair and leaned closer. “Operates like a sophisticated Q-gun.”
He couldn’t have been more wrong. The Magnetic-Electro Concussion pistol was the best—and worst—thing I’d ever made. The image of Officer Asphalios’s face melting in front of me came back to haunt me. Out of hubristic genius, I’d tailored the MEC to behave uniquely by species, based on their DNA structure. I could sweep my MEC in a crowded room and melt all the shapeshifters, only knock out Eosians and leave humans totally unscathed. But Asphalios hadn’t been what I’d thought he was. He wasn’t what anyone thought he was. And I was still paying for that.
After Rhea is fired from the Precinct for her last blunder (killing the only lead to a spiritual sect massacre), she meets the attractive stranger Serge, who asks her rather unusual questions:
He broke the silence with a question: “So, this MEC of yours … did you design it all by yourself?”
I raised my head and eyed him warily. “Why do you ask?”
“I just thought it was an interesting sideline for a Guardian Enforcer, that’s all. So, are they complicated and do you do it in your head or on some holo design program?”
My eyes narrowed with distrust. “Everything’s up here.” I tapped my head with my finger. “I make it a point not to keep records.”
Later in Outer Diverse, Rhea makes a daring gambit to flush out where the fugitive Serge has gone from his terrorist sister A’ler by disguising herself as an arms dealer for the MEC design and travelling to the Ulysses, an Eclipse space station:
I held up my MEC. “You were after this, weren’t you?” Among other things. I let my smile turn into a smirk. “Well, here it is. But you’re going to have to pay for it, fair and square, like anyone else.” I had the satisfaction of seeing A’ler’s eyes light up with self-absorbed interest. “It’s called a MEC, which stands for Magnetic-Electro Concussion pistol,” I continued, making my pitch. “It uses electro-magnetic wave energy to focus subatomic quintle particles to resonate with specific DNA, rather than randomly concentrating energy on tissue like your Q-gun does.”
“Ah, very clever,” A’ler said, eying the weapon. She held out her hand to inspect it. I hesitated, then reluctantly handed it over and watched, tight-lipped and fidgeting, as A’ler casually played with the controls.
“It’s lighter than I’d thought,” she shared.
“The MEC has three possible settings, based on three unique DNA signatures,” I explained, nervously watching A’ler play with it as though it was a toy. “The first is to kill by essentially melting the tissue that its electromagnetic wave resonates with. The second setting acts as a concussion wave and knocks out the target with matching DNA. The third setting does nothing except scan. One can, of course, choose any combination of the three settings. For instance you could choose to scan three different species or kill three different species.”
“So, it can have these three settings on three different DNA types at the same time?”
I nodded. “With one single sweep of the MEC in a crowd, you could kill all of one genetic type, knock out another, and leave the third intact but scanned and targeted. I’ve catalogued over 200 DNA types.”
“Impressive,” A’ler said, nodding. “Does it have a universal setting?”
“Of course,” I said, a little impatient. “You can choose to scan every DNA type on the MEC’s database—”
“Or kill every DNA type?”
I frowned and curled up my lip in a snarl of confused disgust. “That defeats the purpose of the MEC. You could just as soon use a Q-gun for that,” I said. “The MEC’s advantage lies in its ability to discriminate.”
A’ler stunned me with her next question: “Can you set the MEC to recognize and alert you of a specific DNA type?”
It was a question no one had ever thought to ask and a feature I tended to keep to myself. “Yes,” I admitted with some discomfort at revealing this ultimate property of the MEC. “But only from a limited proximity.”
“How close?” A’ler seemed hardly able to contain a glowing smile of glee.
“The subject has to be within five meters of the MEC.”
“Really!” Her eyes flashed. “And?” she prompted.
“It alerts you by vibrating against your body with a silent Beta frequency.”
A’ler nodded, forcing on a pensive frown. “A Beta frequency, eh?” She looked like she was pretending to know what I was talking about but didn’t. “So, how do you do that?” She turned the MEC over in her hand several times.
“You have to set it on permanent scan.”
“Show me,” she said…
Rhea discovers too late why A’ler asked her to demonstrate these MEC qualities. When she meets the remaining Schiss priest, a Gness named Rashomon, to warn him of his planned assassination by terrorists, it is her own weapon that kills him. When A’ler had briefly handled her MEC, she had surreptitiously set it to recognize the presence of a Gness. Rashomon—known for his obsession with weaponry—had expectedly wanted to handle her unique weapon. A’ler had set the bomb and Rhea had delivered it right into his hands.
I recognized the effects of a Q-bomb. What a fool I’d been. Tricked into playing the role of a weapon again. I’d set out to save this alien and ended up killing him instead. A’ler had obviously planted a Beta-frequency detonator on the MEC. She’d planted the tiny but lethal Q-bomb after she’d tricked me into setting the MEC to scan and alert me with a Beta-frequency in the presence of a Gness. Then all A’ler needed to do was lead me to Rashomon, by cleverly providing me with the one thing I so obviously desired: Serge.
Throughout the trilogy, Rhea must finally come to terms with one of the largest blunders of her ill-fated career as an Enforcer: her slaughter of seventy-seven Rills on Omicron-12.
The Rill possessed two very different arms. His right arm was particularly large and clawed and resembled a weapon. It was tailored no doubt for digging in the bogs of Omicron 12. It had been my undoing, that weapon-like arm.
Just before she’s fired by her boss, Ennos in Outer Diverse, he lets her know what he thinks of her mass-execution:
“I say monitor a native uprising on Omicron 12 and you exterminate a whole insurgent army singlehandedly with that genocidal weapon of yours.”
Not even Ennos believed me about mistakenly setting my MEC to kill instead of stun those Rills; my reputation for anti-alienism had preceded me. Despite repeatedly telling myself that they were just vulgar Rills and murdering terrorists, I suffered guilty nightmares of the incident and had secretly wondered why the Guardians hadn’t thrown me into Sekmet for it. Finally, I’d rightfully come to the conclusion that the insane cruelty of the incident had not bothered Ennos, so long as I hadn’t embarrassed him in front of the Legess with whom the Guardians had a relationship; Ennos didn’t care about the Rills anymore than the rest of the Galaxy did.
In Inner Diverse, Ka challenges Rhea to the core of her prejudiced mind:
Isn’t that really why you made the MEC? To rid the galaxy of those unsavoury races? Isn’t that what you were doing on Omicron 12?”
I swallowed convulsively and tightened my hold on the MEC. It was slipping in my clammy hands. “I’m not a fascist.”
“Aren’t you?” Ka challenged. “Admit it, Rhea, you mercilessly killed all those Rills without the slightest remorse—”
“It was a mistake. My MEC was—I wasn’t used to its settings and—”
“There are no mistakes, Rhea,” Ka cut in. “There is only duende. And for every action a reason, and a consequence, even if unclear to the doer.” Then he leaned forward. “You’ve long harboured anti-alien sentiments. And you particularly despise baldies.”
Even in Hades on Sekmet, the prison planet, the mevlani (prisoner in charge) Barbariccia berates Rhea for her treachery:
“When you were an Enforcer you self-righteously and viciously dispensed your version of law and order,” he said in a voice of open contempt. “Death was your calling card and your answer for everything. Over a standard galactic year ago, on Omicron 12, you went way beyond your mandate with the Legess and intruded on a revolutionary meeting of key insurgents. You crushed a whole race with ruthless precision, killing seventy-seven unarmed Rills with that menacing weapon of yours.”
I bit back a retort and felt saliva collect in my mouth. I’d convinced myself that they were armed, but they weren’t. It was a lot easier to justify why I kept shooting even after I realized that my MEC was spitting out fatal waves rather than debilitating ones. My tormented mind had repeatedly gone over that lurid scene, trying to sort out what had triggered my tragic blunder of insanity. I couldn’t help my panicked reflex of misguided self-defence; it was the rationale that I’d fed myself later that shamed me now. They were only Rills, I’d thought. Only Rills…. I had wondered briefly at the time why Ennos hadn’t sent me to Sekmet for my overly ambitious deed. The non-native Legess were clearly the aggressors, enslaving the obsequious Rill, and for decades had exploited their labour for keen profit…with the full support of the Guardians—perhaps the real reason I hadn’t been sent to Sekmet for my act of treachery. Although it looked bad, I’d done exactly what both the Legess and the Guardians quietly wanted: I’d crushed their revolution.
As the trilogy progresses, Rhea’s MEC design plays a pivotal role in the war brewing in the galaxy. Her MEC technology is coveted by Guardians, Eclipse criminals and Vos Nihilist terrorists alike as a weapon of genocide. Rhea finally realizes that she cannot distinguish ally from foe in the chess game to seize her weapon of destruction. Once she trades the MEC design to a Nihilist for the life of a colleague—setting in motion a treacherous escalation toward galactic war—Rhea must fight to save the galaxy and ultimately reconcile what she started with the Rill uprising on Omicron-12.
In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.
You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible. Read The Splintered Universe reviews on Goodreads.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.