An uncharted world near Imskian space
Salu Digby opened her eyes, or at least her right
eye anyway. The left one felt like a Khundian warrior used her
face for a war-club in the Courts of Challenge. She winced as
she touched the swollen, puffy flesh. "Wasn't quite the make-over
I had in mind."
She shook out the cobwebs and stood. She remembered
being on a garbage freighter with two young men roughly her own
age. Judging by his verdant complexion, the one who introduced
himself as Dox was Coluan. Like most Coluans she had seen in holo-vids
at school, he seemed arrogant and wore his intellect like a badge
of honor. Dox called the other young man Lyle. Salu wasn't sure
where he was from, but it was obviously a colonized world given
his human appearance. He seemed to be the leader of their failed
The disk! Salu fumbled with a black compartmentalized
belt that hugged her tiny waist. Lifting a flap on the left side,
she found the disk tucked safely away inside its shrunken Inertron
container. She didn't realize she was holding her breath until
then, but she managed to exhale. The disk contained enough information
on Imskian quark drives to cripple half the Khundian fleet.
Behind her, the two young men stirred.
"Where are we?" Lyle asked as rose to his feet
and brushed himself off.
Salu shook her head. "I'm not sure. Maybe D-D-Dox
has some idea."
Dox struggled to sit up. "It worked!" he beamed.
"What worked? Dox are you... okay?" Lyle offered
him a hand.
The Coluan took Lyle's hand and stood to his
feet. "Of course I am! It works!"
Salu leaned over and half-whispered in Lyle's
ear. "I think h-he may have landed harder than we did."
"I heard that!" said Dox. "I"m fine! We're all
fine! Thanks to my force-shield belt!"
Lyle straightened his clothing. "Kudos to your
belt then, but we'd better make ourselves scarce. The Khunds will
be coming soon to investigate the crash site. Can everyone travel?"
The three nodded to one another and set out north
into the desolate wasteland.
"My lord, a Sanitation Vessel has been shot down
Warlord Karkul leered at the holographic underling
cowering before him. "NT-306? You had better pray to the Demon-Mother
that our enemies did not learn of its existence!!"
The Khundian captain dropped his head. "Yes,
my lord. I'm sure the crew were vaporized in the atmosphere. Even
if they reached the planetoid, the crash would have killed them."
"And what of the disk?"
"It was destroyed along with the rest of the
cargo," the captain answered.
The Khundian Warlord smiled gleefully. "You'd
better be right pup, or I'll see that your twitching carcass is
fed to the Briton Beasts on Tralak IV and your family shunned!"
"Deal with me most severely should I fail," the
captain answered. "For the glory of the Empire and the Demon Mother!"
Karkul pushed the comm button and the captain
disappeared from his sight. "Yes, for the glory of the Empire."
"Water!" Lyle Norg cried. After wandering for
hoursacross the rugged wasteland, the stranded castaway spotted
Lyle prayed the generous swath winding through
the burning sands wasn't a mirage. Crystalline vegetation sprouted
along its north bank.. He ran to the muddy basin and fell to his
knees in a drab olive and brown goo. Though the landscape was
indeed peculiar, his thirst overpowered his geological curiosity.
He cupped his hands, plunged them into the cool liquid, and brought
them to his lips to drink.
"Lyle, stop!" Salu rushed forward and kicked
his hands away from his mouth. The cool liquid splattered to the
Had the heat finally gotten to her? "What's the
matter with you?" Lyle asked.
"This stream is polluted with toxins."
Lyle couldn't believe his ears. "Toxins? Are
you crazy? This water is pure as...."
Dox retrieved a small omnicom from his belt and
scanned the river. "She's right. These waters are contaminated
by an unknown radioactive element. Very intriguing."
Lyle shook the excess water from his hands. "Salu?
How did you...."
Salu shrunk several inches in height and replied
in a barely audible voice. "I've... seen it before," she stuttered.
"Those flower crystals on the other side of the bank,S-S-Spawn
Lyle was confused. "Spawn Flowers? Never heard
Dox looked up from his omnicom. "Imskian colloquial
for several unrelated varieties of crystalline wildflower which
have recently evolved on their world. Nothing more. The Imskians
are known for coloring their folklore with Khundian imagery, as
well as for blaming the Khunds with that which they cannot understand."
Salu met Dox's challenge by slowly reverting
to her normal height. "T-T-There's more to it than that," she
answered. "Our scientists believe the Spawn Flowers are mutates.
They are found near the factories where the quark drives are cooled.
The Demonium runoff crystalizes the surrounding plants somehow."
"Demonium?" Lyle asked.
Salu nodded. "Named for the Khundian D-D-Demon-Mother.
We've been... unable to reproduce it in a lab. It's too unstable."
Dox crossed his arms defiantly. "Nonsense! I
am unaware ofsuch an element."
"The Khunds import it from an unknown source,"
Lyle looked upstream. "Miss Digby, perhaps we've
found your unknown source. If so, we can throw a monkey wrench
into the Khundian war machine."
Dox punched the controls of the omnicom. "Perhaps.
I'm reading a massive energy source approximately two miles north
of this location."
Lyle nodded. "Then let's move out."
The three cosmic castaways ventured forth upstream.
Deep Space: Aboard a Legion Cruiser
Tinya Wazzo wanted to go home. She didn't want
to be aboard a Blackhawk-class Legion Cruiser searching deep space
for a missing garbage freighter. She liked being a Legionnaire,
but her heart was with her family on Bgtzl. Wherever it was. Still,
she knew home was impossible to reach and the Khunds were responsible
for it being out-of-phase with the rest of the known galaxy. According
to Brande, her world's only hope of returning from it's self-imposed
exile lay with a young genius who was supposed to be aboard the
garbage freighter. She would find it.
Tinya watched the monitor before her carefully.
She couldn't afford to miss anything. Unfortunately, it showed
no unusual activity in the immediate parasector.
Wait! What was that blip? There it was again!
"Um...I've found something."
Rokk and Garth rushed to Tinya's station.
"Where?" Rokk asked.
Tinya made a few adjustments to the scanning
signal. "It's coming from outside an asteroid belt beyond the
Imskian system. It's an emergency beacon."
Garth stepped back from Tinya's console and waved
off her concern as he returned to his position at the navigation
console. "It's probably just a leftover from an old wreck! We're
looking for a garbage freighter, not space junk."
Tinya bit her lip. Of all the nerve! Who did
Garth Ranzz think he was?
Rokk showed more interest. "Good job Tinya! Imra,
I'm sending you the coordinates! Plot a course."
Imra nodded at the helm and entered the data
into the console. "I got them! We should arrive within the hour."
Garth stood with his fists balled into tight
lightning-enhanced knots. "What the...? Who made you leader, Krinn?
I don't remember casting my vote!"
Uneasiness settled across the bridge like a poisonous
vapor. Tinya took refuge in adjusting the enviromental controls.
It was a menial chore, but it allowed her to avoid eye contact
with either of the boys. She cast a nervous glance at Lu, who
shied away and buried her face in a similar mundane task at the
Comm station. Imra left the bridge.
Rokk composed himself and spoke calmly. "No one
made me leader, Garth. We have to take an emergency beacon seriously,
whether it's from the missing freighter or not. If you have a
problem with that then you and I can discuss it later, man-to-man."
Garth scowled. "Damn right we will!"
The bridge fell silent as Garth sat back down
at his station. Rokk joined Lu at the Comm panel.
The Command Chair sat dubiously empty the rest
of the trip.
"Gods! What is it and where did it come from?"
Dox checked his Omnicom. "I'm sure you'll find
your native pantheon deaf on the matter, but it appears to be
a small city. I'm reading at least one manufacturing-grade facility
within its walls. There is a large concentration of the element
we encountered earlier being refined inside the perimeter. It
seems Miss Digby was correct in her prior observation."
Salu enjoyed being right. Lyle and Dox made her
feel so ... stupid, like a little girl. She almost wished she
was a little girl again at the moment. At least she would
be safe at home rather than on some unknown mudball plotting her
inevitable demise. The city was like a fortress, surrounded by
a high wall topped with turrets and laser cannons. Khundian guards
navigated its thick walls with meticulous discipline, peering
out at the barren landscape. Large turbines forced water through
a gated aqueduct in the southern wall and into the river.
"We're in over our heads," Salu whispered. "We'd
better wait until someone comes for us."
Lyle shook his head. "No cavalry is stupid enough
to ride in here and rescue us. We're it. I'd like to make my death
count for something."
Fight Khunds? If the Imskian army couldn't derail
the Khunds what hope did three teenagers have? Salu agreed to
help her homeworld by smuggling the disk to Earthgov, but no one
mentioned anything about fighting Khunds.
"Contrary to my Coluan instincts, I agree with
Norg," said Dox. "Our odds of survival are almost nil, but our
deaths should not be wasted."
"Contrary to your Coluan instincts? What does
that supposed to mean?" Lyle asked.
Dox pushed a clump of vegetation aside, surveying
the walls ashe spoke. "No insult intended, Norg. We Coluans have
a strong sense of self-preservation. It is our duty to the universe
to ensure our intellect survives at all cost."
"Of all the narcissistic..."
Salu shushed the two young men. It was bad enough
she was going to die soon, but she didn't want the last thing
she heard to be two hotheads feuding over something so stupid.
She was going to die. Here. Salu's stomach knotted up at the thought.
"Now's not the t-time to argue."
"She's right," said Dox. "We've got to get inside
and shut down that facility."
How?" Salu asked. "We can't exactly w-walk up
Lyle rubbed his chin thoughtfully then turned
to his companions and smiled. "Maybe my native pantheon can be
of some use after all. One of our religious texts contains a story
of a king who accessed a walled city through its aqueduct."
Dox sighed. "It seems to be the only way inside."
Lyle made himself invisible. "I'll cover Dox
with my invisibility. Salu, shrink to microscopic size and we'll
carry you in."
Salu was surprised Lyle possessed such an ability.
She would have to remember to ask what world he was from if they
survived. As soon as she was small enough Dox placed her on his
left shoulder. She went subatomic to hang onto the threads of
It took several minutes to reach the aqueduct.
Its iron bars were child's play to walk through. However, the
ledge along its walls proved tricky. Dox nearly slipped into the
radioactive stream once, but Lyle's quick reflexes saved him.
The aqueduct was rather long, but eventually the three stranded
teens began to climb uphill and soon discovered a cavern.
"Fascinating!" Dox whispered as he squeezed through
an especially tight section of cavern wall after the others.
Feeling they were at a safe distance inside,
Lyle dropped his invisibility. "It's a cave Dox! Do you not have
them on Colu? "
"Of course we do, but not like this. I assure
you these caverns are most unique."
Lyle whispered his reply as if Dox were a priest
who had justsanctified a house of worship. "Come on, Dox. Stay
focused. We're not here for spelunking."
"In case you haven't noticed..."
Lyle was impatient. "The walls? Yes, I have.
They're a geological crazy quilt. I've never seen so many varieties
of rock in one place. Still, I don't see..."
"Not a crazy quilt, Norg. There's method to the
Salu grew large enough for Dox to pick her up
and set her onsolid ground and then resumed her natural stature.
"Are you saying someone designed this cavern?"
Dox nodded. "The odds against these formations
being natural are astronomical. Notice how the substances seem
to flow in sections. Each gives way to the next in the order in
which they appear on the periodic table. All the stable elements
Lyle shushed his companions. "I hate to break
up the chemistry lesson, but there's a light up ahead."
The few hundred meters toward the source of light
were grueling, almost straight uphill. Mercifully, the cavern
leveled off near an opening. Green light illuminated thecavern
walls in a shower of emerald. Dox, Lyle, and Salu huddled by a
"I can't see past that light," Lyle whispered.
Salu pressed against him. "I do hear something
though. It's almost....musical."
"I hear it too," Lyle answered. "It sounds like
"I thought we'd find Khunds," Salu replied.
"What you've found is something sacred!"
The teens were surrounded by several large men.
They weren't Khunds, but instead appeared to be human in every
way. They wore long, flowing robes of white fastened by a long,
full-length row of purple and gold buttons in the front. They
appeared to beunarmed...and very angry.