The World’s Collective (Space UN, essentially) has formally dissolved after being eroded for a decade. Cerril, a bright interpreter, has not taken this well. After a week of drinking and grappling with all this, he swallows his pride and hires Peter, a pirate, to retrieve some personal mementos from his office.
Basilisk, a Boltzmann Brain with a fatal visage, is enjoying an ascendant career of despotism. The established players in the despotism game can’t stand them, least of all Litany– a parliament of souls in one body, and the oldest Tyrant of them all. After some deliberation (as always), Litany delays swift action against Basilisk but isn’t so kind to their spies.
Cerril and Peter don’t find much there, but they head to a nearby space station for food and exploration. As it turns out, the Yima Cartel is hiring a privatized pirate army, and Peter takes this very poorly.
The Boys get arrested for disturbing the peace, and taken to a prison ship. They have some time to reflect on their fates, and wind up on Basilisk’s territory rather than a conventional prison colony. An enigmatic figure offers answers.
The enigmatic figure- a pair of bureaucrats named Elias and V- begins explaining. The Yima Cartel pays a toll of slave labor, skilled or not, for their continued operations in Tyrant space. Basilisk is pursuing a weaponizable mineral on a world that matches the description of Peter’s home.
Elias and V have no particular fondness for Basilisk, and let The Boys escape through maintenance tunnels. They make their way through the city, discussing their relationship, and arrive at a spaceport. They steal a small vessel through social engineering. They weigh their options and head for a nearby moon with a relatively-neutral settlement, and destroy their tracking beacon/nav computer.
Nikolai, a horrifically smug information broker, accuses a worker of stealing an immensely valuable forsite crystal, showing part of the universe in remarkably clear detail. After retrieving it, they discover a stack of urgent unread messages.
Flashing back a few weeks, Vinna and Kroyzdt enjoy their last day together before Vinna has to go manage an outpost in the middle of nowhere. The transit-Boltzmann is missing, but that doesn’t put a damper on their plans.
They have a splendid time at an exhibition of exotic plants, doing their best to savor it all. The time comes to head out, though, and after a loving goodbye Vinna is on her way. The trip is uneventful, and at the outpost she finds a box of her favorite pastries.
The Boys make a rocky landing on a settlement of Nyphs, self-replicating creatures devoted to an extreme brand of altruism. Peter finds this deeply creepy, but Cerril advises him not to be rude to such helpful hosts.
The only transport the Nyphs can offer is far too slow. When asked for alternatives, they suggest Bercna Daaz station, owned by Basilisk and filled to the brim with pirates. The Nyphs repair The Boys’ ship and send them on their way. Cerril is frustrated with Peter’s outbursts, and advises him to play it safe in increasingly dangerous territory.
Terry, the transit-Boltzmann from earlier, was broken out by Zipporah, a zealous fighter for Boltzmann liberation. They grapple with the notions of freedom and life beyond a constrained cage, but guards are afoot. Zipporah hijacks their bodies with extreme prejudice. Terry is horrified, but Zipporah explains herself. She once worked for a warlord, cast out as a scapegoat before finding a new purpose in creating a Boltzmann haven. Terry tentatively accepts the offer to join, and the two make an escape.
At Bercna Daaz station, The Boys are greeted by Ilzo and 49, an affable hitchhiker sharing a body with a Boltzmann. She says they don’t have much time, and explains over a meal. The station’s been on edge with rumors of war, and Basilisk announced full conscription a few hours ago. It dawns on The Boys that them stealing a ship could have been the inciting incident.
Ilzo and 49 advise them to join a pirate crew long enough to make an escape, and that doesn’t work out. One pirate leader gets quite suspicious of The Boys snooping around. A cop clocks them for disobedience, and The Boys sneak out in the ensuing cop/pirate brawl.
Lemnus, a former member of the Yima Cartel Family, is enjoying an early retirement in isolation. It ends abruptly when their cousin Isaac arrives and demands they come to an all-hands Family meeting. Lemnus tentatively agrees, and learns the reason: the Tyrants are at war, confirmed by Nikolai’s report.
At the meeting, Lemnus swiftly refuses to deal with an overbearing family, and demands some privacy with Isaac. Lemnus talks about their grievances, and Isaac confesses that he would also like to break free from the Family to spend time with his partners. Lemnus offers support.
The warp coil took The Boys to an unknown, uninhabited planet. Peter is suicidally inconsolable. It’s fairly habitable, and they set up camp in a relative oasis. As night falls, Cerril wonders if they’ve really sparked a war, and if that stains their mission to save Peter’s home. Peter brushes the question aside, but he doesn’t know.
The next morning, in a fit of manic grief, Peter declares this planet to be a new pirate homeland. He is interrupted by some striding plant-creatures– the planet is inhabited in some capacity, and he sheepishly retracts his plan. Despite Cerril’s worry, Peter takes a meandering walk to clear his head. After some more despair, Cerril calls him. There’s a ship coming for them- New Sequa, arresting them for trespassing on an undeveloped planet.
Continuing on from Interlude 5, Litany has made a first strike against Basilisk. Inkling watches from the sidelines, before Basilisk calls and demands that she carry out the terms of their treaty. Inkling complies, but has no respect for anyone involved. However, she is curious about whatever’s making Basilisk this aggressive…
After the huge windfall from their report on Tyrant politics, Nikolai checks into a fancy resort and goes on an ill-fated bender, revealing what they really shouldn’t. Before long, they’re chained up in a supply closet. A Cartel goon gives them a new punishment/assignment: personally spy on the brewing Tyrant war. As Nikolai leaves, the Cartel goon embezzles their vacation money. Nikolai’s liaison in the war zone is none other than Elias and V, from back in Part 3, and they hit it off nicely.
For their trespassing, The Boys have been arrested by New Sequa, the successor to the doomed Collective. Anisa Gwako, a stressed-out prosecutor, isn’t thrilled about this. The Boys unwind in their dorm/cell, preparing for the deposition and trial.
The next morning, they meet their lawyer, the Boltzmann celebrity Obshchak Delirium. It goes alright. The Boys are hesitant to give any details on their case, and Anisa fears the worst. The Boys realize they’re in over their heads, and take their chances on going public and leaning on Obshchak’s charisma.
Once it’s public, the media starts speculating on whether their government is doomed. The Boys get sick of it fast, and wonder if they’re well and truly fucked.
The next day, the trial begins. Cerril doesn’t react very well to questioning, and Ob pulls The Boys aside for a strategy meeting. He wonders just what, exactly, they’re dancing around, and Peter finally lays it out. Ob does his best to defend them anyway, and afterwards The Boys are trying to unwind back in their room.
A few years ago, back home on Kiefer-161, Peter is trying to get onboard a pirate crew with Sawtooth. He negotiates in, and spends a while on the domestic grind. Before long, the crew is called to action, and Peter is ordered to investigate a potential mark. The spacewalk is generally stressful.
We join Cerril at the founding of the World’s Collective, where his dreams are quickly punctured. His coworkers begin to lose faith, but he stays true. Our old friend Zipporah pays him a visit, with a dire aphorism.
Ten years in, the Collective formally collapses. He receives the Secondary Prime Director’s tunic, as an unofficial award for distinguished service. The former employees are shuttled out to a nearby spaceport, where Cerril gets wasted ASAP.
The bartender, Sial, is concerned and tries to pry an explanation, wherein a drunk Cerril lays out his full torrid psychodrama. Sial offers a coping mechanism– retrieve the best parts of this time in your life and move on. He also offers a pirate who can make that happen. At long last, Cerril calls the number, and makes his request of Peter. He agrees.