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Issue #8
"With Friends Like These"
by
David Marshall

 


The Trom Planetoid, Outside the Walled City

“Demon-Mother preserve us!”

Waves of shame crashed against the jagged rocks of Tarakas’ soul as he called out to his deity.  Such words were usually reserved for the moment before the Escort to the Fields of Forever.  He was a Khundian warrior, a Captain of the House of Dragoon, born and trained for the art of war.  He led the Fifth Infantry’s famed Siege of Bala during the Imskian campaign.  Now his finest troops were being manhandled by a group of children whose variety of evolutionary abilities neutralized the First Tenet of Engagement – identify your adversary’s strength and neutralize it.    No wonder the Great Zaryan took such an interest in eradicating the threat of the fledgling “United Planets” movement.   Such diversity was difficult to overcome and a danger to Imperialism. 

But these were no ordinary children.

The red-haired youth wielded the fury of the storm itself.  Lightning erupted from his fingertips with ferocity.  Tarakas was stunned to see Spawn Tanks ripped open like discharged munitions shells.  His Brethren fell like dead men before the young man’s onslaught.

The dark-haired male was obviously Braalian.  Weapons existed to dampen the Braalian ability to control magnetic fields, as well as special non-metallic battle-gear designed for use in the Braalian Invasion.  However, his troops were ill-prepared to deal with a Braalian on NT-306, and certainly not a Terramaster as formidable as this youth.  Two Succubus-class Attack Skiffs collided with a deafening explosion at the youngster's bidding.

A phantom-like female phased her atoms into nothingness only to solidify them once again as her fists, feet, knees and elbows materialized an instant before making contact with the face, ribs, or crotch of her frustrated opponent.  Tarakas never saw a Bgtzlian before and thought the pesky race vanquished once their homeworld phased out of existence.   This girl was teaching his troops a firsthand lesson in how difficult it would have been to conquer her world.   Fear was evident in the young woman’s eyes, but even the Demon-Mother herself would smile upon such skill and bravery.

A cursed Carggite was among the group as well.  Tri-jitsu was wasted on the weak-willed, passive race whose religious beliefs watered down the potentially deadly martial art into a defensive discipline of cunning and guile.  It was evident the chestnut-haired female honed her skill off-world.  Her three selves worked together in perfect tandem.  Sometimes two of her selves attacked while the remaining defended.  Other times, two selves defended while one attacked.  At other times, all three selves attacked or she merged into one being to slip away from an opponent.  If this girl were Grand Sensei, Cargg would never have fallen so easily.  However, even such a savage display failed to elicit respect from Tarakas.  Her people were lower than dogs and he refused to honor her. 

Then there was the fair-haired female with the long blonde ponytail.  She moved through the field of battle with the calm demeanor of a hardened general.

“To the careful warrior goes the spoils.”  

Tarakas learned the twenty-eighth century proverb from his father when he was just a pup.  It was commonly known as the Thirteenth Proverb of the Book of War and its meaning eluded him then, but was clear as the great lakes of the frozen north on this day.  This young human female worried him even more than her War-Klan. 

Retreat wasn’t Tarakas’ style but the unexpected situation required artfulness over military prowess.  His mission was to make sure this roaming band of dogs remained ignorant of the Walled City.  To fail would mean certain death for his Kin. 

“Thank you for opening your mind to me, Khund!  I’ll be sure to put in a good word with the Demon-Mother for you.”

The voice in Tarakas’ head was real as a Warlord barking marching orders.  His eyes locked on those of the blonde-haired girl.  White-hot pain seared his skull, forcing him to his knees, but his training compelled him to fight on.  Despite the agony and confusion in his brain, he crawled toward the accursed human.  For a moment, her face flickered with fear but she steeled herself.  Tarakas cursed.  He was a Son of the Dragoon and would not be defeated by a lowly female pup.  Such failure would earn him a place among the Shunned.

"I’m not sure who the Shunned are Khund, but your place among them is assured."

Tarakas covered his ears and raised to his feet.  “Out of my head, damned witch!”

“I don’t think so,” the girl’s voice replied.

Tarakas shook with uncontrollable fear.  He reassured himself in the knowledge that he’d faced death hundreds of times like a proud warrior.  So why did this girl terrify him so?  It was as if he could feel her crawling around the attic of his brain, uncovering secrets locked safely away from others.

“Ah yes, this is what I was looking for, Khund,” the voice taunted.  “You may lack a heart but your brain is easy to read as a picture on a wall. You will see what I want you to see.  You will feel what I want you to feel.  You will fall.”

Tarakas was bombarded with intense heat and then bitter cold. Did his heart stop?  Or were his lungs ready to explode?  Was he really standing before the Demon-Mother in the Fields of Forever?  Was it possible she denied him Glorification and damned him to the Eternal Shunning?  No! It was the girl!  Next, he saw himself through the eyes of the countless victims he played for sport throughout the years.  He was an overworked Bismollian waitress earning her way through college.  Her life destroyed in one night by a brutal rape at the hands of Tarakas and a watch of his Guard.  He was a Sklarian wench skinned alive because she refused his advances.  A lone Carggite, her other selves brutalized while she was forced to watch.  Or was he a…..?    What was this witch doing to him?  Then he glimpsed his own daughter, twelve cycles old and scavenging the remains of a Heroshian Cat outside an encampment for the Shunned on the border of his ancestral hometown, Leol.  Gone were her courtesan gowns and her Veils of Virginity.  She was barefoot and dressed in tatters.  “No!” Tarakas cried before he slumped again to the desert sand.  He looked up to see a satisfied smile on the girl’s face as his head hit the rocky tarmac.  It was the last image he saw before he was claimed by unconsciousness. 

The Trom Planetoid, Chamber of His Eminence

“But father, why must I defend the intruders?”  Jan Arrah asked.

His Eminence smiled.  His son felt such deep respect for the Way and took his responsibilities as Eminence-Elect very seriously.  He was a pious young man who seemed more at ease with his nose buried in the Ancient Texts than with a group of peers.  “Because Your Eminence commands it, son.  It is the Way.”

Jan nodded.  “I will obey the will of His Eminence, but I request the public records note that I defended the off-worlders against my wishes.”

“It will be noted.  However, I think it is a notation you will live to regret,” His Eminence answered.

“I don’t understand.”  Jan’s eyes pleaded with his father to let the bitter cup pass from him.     "They are infidels!  They oppose our friends, the Khunds!  Surely they have come to undermine the Way!”

His Eminence frowned at the mention of the Khunds and dropped his head.  He sat silent for a moment and then sighed.  When he at last spoke, his words were a slow, deliberate whisper.  “The Khunds are not our friends. They are protectors sent by the Way to guard our quality of life.  To call them allies, let alone friends, is an insult to those whose friendships we truly treasure.  Our relationship with them is symbiotic, nothing more.  Don’t confuse such an arrangement with friendship, son.”

His Eminence was careful not to dismiss Jan's concerns. It was good that his son was so mindful of the Way.  However, he did worry that the hardliners at the University were influencing Jan’s judgement rather than outlining the basic tenets of their faith.  Jan would have to learn that the Way was not a rigid set of rules chiseled in stone, but rather a living, breathing dogma that embraced the ever-changing universe.  “The Way is a winding road, my son.  Dare to explore its twists and turns. You seek the path of least resistance, but in the end it is a hollow doctrine.  Change is the heart of the Way! Consider the very catacombs our intruders are accused of violating.”

“Yes father, the walls are a study in change,” Jan answered.

“They are more son.  Look deeper.  Yes there is change, but also order.  Embrace the order of change and it will free you.  Reject it and it will rule you.”

Jan still didn’t look convinced.  “What if their ideals taint the teachings of the Way?  Their beliefs…”

“You fail to sample wisdom of the Way if you silence their voices.  The Way has brought them here. Is your learning at the University so short-sighted that you believe the Way is confined to Trom?  The Way is universal, my son. Other worlds know it by other names, but there are nuggets of wisdom we have yet to pan in the streams of their beliefs.”  His Eminence was pleased with his own words and hoped his son was convinced as well.

Jan nodded. “I will respect your wishes, Your Eminence.”

World Credit Center, Skyline City, Zoon

Tarisa Noblis shut down her station.  She was hungry and glad that her lunch hour finally arrived.  She needed to pick up a few items for her upcoming wedding and planned on doing some shopping.  The wedding was less than a cycle away and there was much to be done.  She and her fiancée set the date to coincide with the Day of Tranquility, when Zoon’s three moons aligned like a necklace of silver pearls in the night sky.  The details were coming together slowly but she knew the final result would be well worth the effort.  Soon she would be Mrs. Beel Stil IV and never again worry about her lunch hour. 

BAM!!!!!!

A loud crash shook the Credit Center, knocking Tarisa to the ground.  A gaping hole appeared in the north wall of the building.  Was this a bank robbery?  Who would dare in the 31st century?  Credit thievery was unheard of in these days of sophisticated crime prevention.  Still, each station was equipped with an alarm and the tellers were trained to use them.  Tarisa lunged for her alarm and hit the button underneath the station.  A shrill noise blared to life announcing the presence of intruders.   Small, concealed doors in the floor slid open.  Each door housed an army of tiny insect-like devices that flitted about the room recording every detail of the place.  Many patrons shooed the pesky little robots away from their faces like flies, but it was a futile effort.  The drones were imported from Colu and proved valuable in assisting the police in assessing a crime scene.  No one could enter or leave the Credit Center without being recorded on holovid. 

Tarisa looked up.  Two figures entered the building through the hole the explosion created in the wall.  She hoped they were Science Police but her instincts told her better.

A male who appeared to be in his late twenties took the lead.  His face was cold and hard like the snow-capped Great Northern Mountains.  He was a menacing-looking man whose most striking feature were his curly locks of ashen-white hair.  A considerably younger looking female followed him through the hole.  Though obviously a teen, she was stunningly attractive with a petite body and striking red hair that framed the soft feminine curves of her face.  The woman-child seemed more apprehensive than the man.

“Bow before your master, dogs!” The man bellowed.  “Pay homage to the Lightning Lord.”

“Mekt, can we just do this and get out of here?” the girl asked. 

A burst of electricity shot from the man’s hand and knocked his unsuspecting partner to the ground.  “Sister dear, in public you use my proper title…. Lightning Lord.”

The blast appeared to merely stun the girl and she regained her footing.  She said nothing but glared at Lightning Lord coldly.

The hover-drones recognized the surge of electrical power as a threat to the sentients in the building and buzzed toward Lightning Lord like a swarm of angry bees.  In moments, the smoking fragments of the drones fell at his feet. “A pity you send machines to do the work of men!  Such is the arrogance of your technology!”

A barrage of blaster fire erupted through the hole in which the two criminals entered and soared over their heads.  “Attention intruders! We have you surrounded!  You will lay down your weapons and surrender.!”

“Maybe we should consider their offer Mekt. This has gone too far,” the girl pleaded.  “You told me if I helped you that you would leave Garth alone.  You didn’t say anything about harming innocents.”
                Once again the girl was bathed in a storm of lightning bolts.  This time she fought back.  Lightning leaped from her hands too, and struck the man.  The two stood deadlocked for several long minutes with electricity dancing between them before the girl fell at the man’s feet.  “Unfortunately, little sister you are too much like your pathetic twin!  You lack the courage to embrace what you have become."

A squadron of Science Police rushed through the pile of rubble at the opening made by the intruders and surrounded the man.  “Ok Squaj! The game is over!  Put your hands where we can see them!” 

Lightning Lord raised his arms and smiled.  “Oh… I’ll gladly raise them, officer.”  Once his arms were raised, the Credit Center was filled with an angry storm.  Lightning bathed each person in turn as Lightning Lord cackled like a maniac.  Tarisa Nobis slumped to the cold, granite floor.  She tried desperately to watch the events unfolding before her. 

As his laughter subsided, Lightning Lord stood over the woman he called his sister.  “I should have listened to you when you told me you didn’t have the heart to do this.”  Lightning Lord bent over and took the girl’s head in his hands and kissed her mouth forcefully.  His tongue parted his sister’s lips.  It repulsed Tarisa to see such an incestuous act.  At last Lightning Lord broke the kiss and ran his fingers through the girl’s red hair.  “Goodbye little sister.” 

Lightning Lord assaulted his sister with his awesome power.  Her limbs flopped like a fish in a net as lightning flowed through her body.  At last, she mercifully stopped moving.  Lightning Lord dropped her head and left her lying.  He then exited through the same opening he made to enter the Center. 

Tarisa Nobis closed her eyes and let her pain end.

The Trom Planetoid, The Walled City, Chambers of Jan Arrah

"And I should trust you, why?" Jan Arrah asked the three youths gathered with him in his private chambers. 

"Because we tell the truth," Dox answered.

"And how do I know that?" Jan asked.

"Because it saddens me to say that you are our only hope on this God-forsaken cesspool of a world," Lyle Norg responded angrily.  "The only chance we have of getting out of this thing alive is to tell you the truth about Khundia and what they're doing with the element your people provide them."

"Trommium.   It is called Trommium," Jan answered.

Salu Digby sat on a small table in the center of the room.  "Demonium is what my world calls it.  Please, you have to believe us!  I don't want this!  It scares me.  I want to be home on Imsk with my friends.  I'm not a freedom fighter or a hero.   I’m just a regular, teenage girl. Please consider the possibility that we're telling the truth." 

"I refuse to believe my father would take part in the enslavement of an entire galaxy!  The Khunds are a proud people who use the Trommium as a power source for their great cities," Jan argued. 

"No, they use it to power the quantum drive engines of their warships.  I have proof," Salu whispered.

"What kind of proof?" Jan asked.

"No Salu, don't," Dox pleaded.

"And why not, Dox?" Lyle asked.  "After all, if we die here the disk will have no value anyway.  As it stands, the disk not only contains the potential to free us but this world as well.  These people have no idea how the Khunds have used them."

"No one uses Trom!" Jan shouted.

"Khundia has," Lyle argued,  "while your people sit here in their pious glory, blissfully ignorant of the suffering said piety brings the rest of the galaxy!  Surely you do your deity proud!”

"This proof..." Jan asked, turning toward Salu.  "What is this 'disk' you speak of?"

Dox didn't wait for Salu to answer.  "It shows how the Khunds convert the raw... Trommium... to power their war-machine.  Do you have a lab?"

"No." Jan answered.  "The only technology on Trom is Khudian, but it is off-limits."

"And such good company you keep too," Lyle answered sourly as he stepped toward Jan.

Salu blocked Lyle's advance.  "Please, Lyle.  Menacing our attorney isn't going to help us at all." 

"She's right," Dox agreed.  "We should..."

The door to the chambers opened and His Eminence stepped inside followed by a group of teenagers clad in black and purple uniforms.  "Perhaps this second group of off-worlders may shed some light on our guest's claims," said His Eminence.

"Who are they?" Dox whispered to Lyle.

"My guess is that they're the group we were supposed to meet once we arrived on Earth," Lyle answered.

Dox looked confused.  "But they're just kids.”

"We're not exactly old timers ourselves Doxie-boy," Lyle answered.

"Son, this group of off-worlders is willing to stand witness to the accusations against the Khunds made by those you defend," said His Eminence.  "I think it behooves us all to give them a chance to prove their claims."

"Do you have a ship?" Dox asked the Legionnaires.

The young man with the fiery hair nodded.  "Of course we do! Brande makes sure we have the best. She’s a Blackhawk-class Galactic Cruiser with a modified Twinstar Triplite drive.  She’ll do warp ten and still have muscle to spare for environmental controls and the weapons array.  She’s a sweet piece of work!"
                "The testosterone producing specs of the power grid are of little concern to me.  What class tech is this ship equipped with?" Dox asked.

"Brande Industries?" Lyle asked the young man.

"Yes," he replied.  "Why?"
                Lyle turned to Dox and smiled. "Coluan class."

Dox looked skeptical.  "I'll be the judge of that.   If our attorney will accompany us to the ship, I can validate our claims in a timely fashion."

Jan Arrah looked to his father. 

"Go," His Eminence ordered.

Aboard Khundian Battlewagon, Somewhere In Deep Space

Tarakas steeled himself for punishment.  He failed to capture the disk and suffered disgrace at the hands of inferior races, pups no less.  His family would be Shunned and his head shaved. 

The torture chamber guards snapped to attention as General Karkul entered.  "Ah.. Captain Tarakas! I held such high hopes for your career.  I fancied you a great warrior.  Now your failure has cost the Empire and brought shame upon the House of Your Fathers!"

"General Karkul, I..." Tarakas begged.

Karkul punched the bound warrior's face.   The sound of his fracturing jawbone filled the cell.  "You are Shunned! You have no right to speak unless spoken to, dog!  To have the disk fall into the hands of our enemies would have been shame enough, but your inability to perform your duties has led to the discovery of NT-306, Trom as its pathetic natives refer to it.  Because of your failure, Lord Zaryan has ordered Trom destroyed and we will have to find a new source for Demonium.  What do you have to say for yourself, dog?"

"May the Demon-Mother deal harshly with this dog, sir," Tarakas answered.  "But please don't Shun my family."

Karkul smiled.  "Perhaps we can make a deal."

"Anything," Tarakas answered.  "Just let my family be."

An evil smile formed on Karkul's face.  "Our scientists have developed a program to create a biologically-enhanced warrior.  You will gain many advantages over the average warrior, super-strength, near-invulnerability, increased speed and agility, and a hunter's sense on par with the most sensitive animal instincts.  You will become a one-man battallion."

"I am not worthy of such an honor, sir," Tarakas answered.

"Who said anything about honor, dog?  You will be little more than an animal controlled by the whims of the Imperial Lords.  You will be listed as deceased in battle and will be stripped of your memories.  In short, you will become a killing machine," Karkul answered.  "There will be no honor in being chosen for WarDog."

Tarakas nodded his head.

Karkul grinned.  "The Empire thanks you for your soul, dog!"

 

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