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A short story by

Alex Irvine

Ottmar Drenthe was watching reviews of his latest project and fuming at the idiocy of the Dominion's reviewing elites when his agent pinged him and suggested that maybe what they needed was something different.

"Different how?" Drenthe snapped. "I am Drenthe. I make the holovids that Drenthe makes."

"Sure, absolutely," his agent said. "But I've got an offer here that you might want to listen to. Two weeks' work, tops. And take a look at the credits."

An amount flashed on the screen below his agent's fat and avaricious face. It was indeed sufficient to make Drenthe ask the next question. "What is it this client wants from Drenthe?"

"It's an industrial, but don't hang up. You're going to stage a battle for Axiom Ordnance. They've built a new combat walker, and they want something great to pitch it to the Dominion purchasing authorities. They're huge fans of your work, Drenthe."

That set them apart from most holo reviewers. "An industrial," he sneered. "This is below Drenthe."

"Well, here's the other thing," his agent said. "There's a bit of a sticky problem with financing Heroes of the Periphery." This was the next holo Drenthe wanted to make, a grand war epic about an embittered ghost and her unlikely love for a protoss templar in the face of a new zerg invasion. He had been working on it for years.

"A problem?"

"As in, the credit's not coming together. But if you do this job for Axiom, you'd be a lot closer to shooting Heroes. See what I'm saying?"

Drenthe sighed. This was ever the plight of the auteur. "Drenthe will shoot this industrial if you swear that Heroes of the Periphery will then be the next project," he said, not bothering to hide his disdain.

"Great. I'll get the contract to you, but you need to leave for Bukari V tomorrow morning. The shooting schedule's tight. AxO wants to pitch this unit in two weeks."

"Bukari V?" Drenthe did not even know where that planet might be.

"Don't worry about it," his agent said. "Just get to the spaceport."

* * *

The transport liner was less than eight hours out from Korhal when Drenthe, seated at the bar with a glass of Brontesian brandy, was approached by a stranger. "Ottmar Drenthe," the stranger said. "An unusual honor to meet such a prominent artist on a trip to the Bukari system. Not much art out there."

"That, Drenthe fears, will continue," Drenthe said. "Drenthe is abased, reduced to making holos for corporations. Advertisements." He was a little drunk, and a lot morose.

"Is that so? For Axiom?"

"Regrettably so."

The stranger extended his hand. Drenthe shook it. "You can call me Eli," he said. "I've got a little proposal for you."

Drenthe had long since grown wary of proposals offered by strangers in bars, but what else did he have to do but listen? "What proposal?"

"You're going to make a pitch piece for Axiom's new heavy walker, the Warhound." Eli said this as if he were reciting it from memory.

Warhound, Drenthe thought. It was the first time he had heard the machine named. "How do you know this?"

"I work for Axiom. But also for other people. I hear things. I know things."

Drenthe found this suspicious.

"Here's the thing," Eli said. "There are some people who want the Warhound to go into production, and some people who don't. You've been offered a certain amount of credit to help Axiom. What if I offered you twice that to make a much more interesting project?"

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