Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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by J. Eckert Lytle

Coming out of hyperspace had always been rough on me, but Geraldine executed the maneuver commendably without any negative effects on me or the passengers.

"Mikosh?" said the emotionless, female voice of the computer.

"Yes, Geraldine," I replied.

"How was that?"

"Much better. Now display the system."

The area above the console turned milky white, then transformed into a multi-color, three-dimensional visual of the solar system we now occupied. "Perfect," I said upon viewing our location.

"What did you expect?" Geraldine said.

"Maybe a little more humility."

"Computers cannot be humble. We are designed to—"

"Yeah, yeah I know," I interrupted. "How long before we reach Sambia?"

"Twenty-four hours at current velocity . . . but, Mikosh?"

"What is it now, Geraldine?"

"I believe I broke something when we emerged from the wormhole."

Just then Neb's huge eight-foot bulk lumbered by the bridge. He stuck in his massive head.

"Excuse me please," he said in his thick Gonaxian accent, "is the computer to be saying we broke something? What is it to be?"

"I don't know," I replied pleasantly, "I was about to find out. What was it, Geraldine?"

"Still scanning." There was a long eerie silence as we stood and waited for an answer. Then, "it appears that I've damaged a thermal bypass relay on the starboard engine upon our deceleration from the worm hole."

"Now how long to Sambia?" I asked.

"Safely—two weeks."

"Two weeks!?" Neb roared, "I can not to be going another two weeks in this rattle trap."

"I beg your pardon," said Geraldine.

"Now hold on, Neb," I said softly, not wanting to piss him off. "What's our other option, Geraldine?" I asked, still glaring at Neb but not glaring too hard.

"I have taken the liberty of arranging for a repairman from Alutioneyah to intercept us in twenty-four hours. But it will cost us double. Apparently there is some sort of holiday in progress."

"Jeorge Golland Day," Neb clarified, "celebrating the defeat of human invaders from our system many years ago." Neb glanced over at me and said, "sorry."

I shrugged and replied, "No problem. That was 500 years before my time."

Neb looked at me pleadingly and said, "Listen up, Milquetoast, I have got to breathe some fresh air. I have got to be walking on the solid ground or I will be going nuts. You do not want to be seeing me going nuts."

He was right. Even though his English was a little hard to understand, he was right. The last thing I wanted to see was a Gonaxian—with the mass of a small vehicle—go berserk on my ship. "We'll have a meeting in the crew lounge in about five minutes," I said as I looked up at Neb. "Would you spread the word to the other six?"

"Sure thing!" said the giant from Gonax, seventh planet in the system.

I arrived at the largest room on the ship, the five-meter-square crew lounge, and sat in an overstuffed chair across from Neb. He sat in an old threadbare chair at a table full of magazines and other current periodicals.

"This is to be my last contest," said Neb looking at me gloomily.

"What!? How come?"

"I have just finished my fifth undefeated season."

"But you're so good. Think of all the money you'll be throwing away."

Neb had become quite a celebrity on the Interplanetary Sword Fighting circuit. His prize winnings were always quite a bit heftier than the other competitors to induce him to compete in a particular contest. He always won and that drew crowds from all over the system. He was a feared competitor in this prestigious alien sport.

"This last contest is to be leaving me with much more credits than I am needing for my wife and me for the rest of our lives. Besides I am to be promising my wife. We are to be planning to buy a boat and retire to the seas of Sambia."

The prospect sounded idyllic. Retiring to a water planet seemed to be everyone's dream at one time or another. "Are you sure you're gonna be able to quit the contest circuit?"

"You betcha," Neb said enthusiastically, "my wife will be seeing to that." He rubbed the back of his large hand across his hairless chin and asked, "now what about your problem, Milquetoast?"

He'd always called me Milquetoast. At first I thought he couldn't pronounce my name, Mikosh, correctly, but now I think it was for another reason. When an individual as broad as Neb, who never went anywhere without his scimitar-like sword, calls me Milquetoast—I don't argue. As I said before I didn't want to piss him off.

"My problem?" I asked innocently.

"Your fondness for the Sambian woman."

I exhaled loudly. "She doesn't even know I exist."

"You must make her to know," Neb declared, staring down at me.

"She'll laugh at me," I said, gazing at my boots.

"Milquetoast," I heard Neb say under his breath.

"What was that?"

Just then the crew lounge door swished open and the other six passengers strolled in. Five athletes attending school on Remus II, the college planet, and the woman of my dreams, a beautiful female Sambian, Sulie Fifty-one. Sambians never used surnames. Instead they place a sequential number behind their first names.

I switched on the UI (Universal Interpreter) so all of us could understand what was going to be said. Usually I kept it off around Neb so he could practice his English.

"We have encountered a minor problem," I declared cautiously.

"What is the problem?" asked an overweight Remussian I'd nicknamed Piggy, partly because I couldn't pronounce his real name, but mostly due to his chubbiness.

"We've blown a thermal bypass relay on one of our main engines."

After a short silence, Twiggy—also one of my nicknames—the skinniest and most anxious of the five Remusians, spoke. "Are we going to die?"

"Nothing that dramatic," I said. "It'll just take a few hours longer to get to Sambia and Remus II, that's all." I took a deep breath and continued, "Neb has voiced a desire to land on a planet to, for lack of a better phrase, stretch his legs. How do you all feel about that?"

"Sounds good to me," Piggy said resolutely.

"I am not so sure," Twiggy whined.

"What do you think, Sulie?" I asked uneasily, staring at her tiny but sexy figure sitting on a foldout chair in the corner.

The lounge grew silent as everyone looked at the introverted Sambian who up until then had focused her attention on the floor. She looked up into my eyes with her large, black, teardrop-shaped eyes—shrugged her shoulders and said in a soft voice, "I do not care one way or the other." Although the UI falsely mechanized the sound of her voice, it was beautiful. I smiled at her but it went unnoticed, her gaze had returned to the floor.


"What now, Mikosh?"

"Establish the solar system representation in here."

"You got it."

Immediately a color hologram of the 21-planet binary system materialized above the magazine table. With planets in perfect hues and twin suns blazing realistically.

"Now bring up our current position."

Within a nanosecond a small, dim figure of a space vessel appeared between the twentieth and twenty-first planets, making clear our exact location. I grabbed a broom leaning against the drab gray metal wall and used the handle as a pointer. "We can't land on the twenty-first planet—the Hines' penal colony. But if everyone is in agreement, we can request a landing from the powers that be on Ellenoria," I said in my best authoritative, twenty-eight year old voice. Ellenoria was the twentieth and smallest planet in the system.

"I just do not know," moaned Twiggy again.

"Let us do it," George voted. George was originally from the planet Denebola, the fourth planet in the system.

"All right," said Gracie, George's Denebolian homosexual love interest.

"I am in favor of it," said Mort, originating from Alutionayah, the fourth planet in the system.

Neb looked over at George and Gracie and gave an almost inaudible growl and with a look of utter disgust hissed, "You know what I want."

Although homosexuality had been accepted for centuries on Earth, it was a novel (and many considered a repulsive) practice in this section of the galaxy.

"Then it's all settled," I said with a sigh of relief. "I'll get on the transmitter and obtain the clearance we need."

Everyone rose at once and filed out of the room except for Neb and me. He looked at me and gruffly whispered, "Why did you not converse more with the Sambian?" The translator was still activated so it was easier to understand him.

"I'm just a bus driver," I answered, "she's a champion swordsman. What chance would I have?"

"A better chance than if you say nothing. You have got to realize a goal and pursue it if you ever wish to attain it." (I'd heard him say that before). "Besides she is not a champion yet."

He bent toward me in his chair and whispered, "I need more music, I need Clapton."

Neb and I stood up. With some difficulty I put my arm around his enormous back, my hand coming to rest just below his massive trapezius and said, "I lent you my last Clapton a week ago. Now I want to introduce you to Lynyrd Skynyrd."

"Does he play guitar?" Neb asked innocently.


It's hard to believe, but Neb had never heard music before he met me. He loved Clapton and, although I wasn't there at the time, I was told that he was humming "Layla" as he fought his last bout on Tootoonie.

Back in my quarters I rummaged through some storage boxes where I kept my antique CDs and found the Lynyrd Skynyrd disc "Free Bird." I left and walked the wide passageway to Neb's room to give him the disc.

"Thank you," he said in his thick Gonaxian accent. "Did you to be making arrangements on the planet to be landing the ship?"

"No, not yet," I said as I turned and walked down the corridor toward the bridge.

When I passed George's quarters Gracie emerged carrying his sword. I activated the translator to say hello. He asked, "Have you made arrangements for landing?"

"No, not yet," I repeated.

"Geraldine!" I shouted.

"What!" she shouted back.

"I'm on my way to the bridge. Contact somebody of importance on Ellenoria and hook me up."

"Yes, my Liege," Geraldine replied mockingly.

"Sarcasm is not in your programming."

"I am incapable of scorn or mockery—"

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before," I interrupted, "just get me whoever's in charge down there and put him on the bridge."

Geraldine complied and soon a holographic image was standing on the bridge waiting to talk to me. Upon entering the bridge I saw a tall, thin creature that, except for his sallow complexion and the three vertical slits where a nose should have been, looked remarkably human. His bountiful, gray and black beard was thickly braided with gold and silver ringlets and was intertwined with his long, braided, crimson hair.

Geraldine introduced him as Lord Pungies. His mouth began moving, but all I heard was gibberish. "Geraldine!" I bellowed.

"What now, Mikosh," Geraldine replied edgily.

"You forgot the UI."

"You did not ask for the UI, Mikosh. I am not a mind reader."

"Please turn on the Universal Interpreter," I requested.

"-so to what do we owe this honor?" Was all I made out as his voice crackled on.

"I am Mikosh Brennavich from the Earth vessel Geraldine. I am taxiing seven athletes back from the Bethanian sword championships on Tootoonie. Our vessel has unfortunately encountered a minor problem that will be cleared up in a few hours, but we are weary of space travel and request permission to land on your planet for rest and relaxation."

Lord Pungies replied, "We are very much aware of your well-publicized success at the Bethanian championships and would be honored to have you as guests on our humble little world. Although I must insist you observe our primary rule while on our planet. We are aware of your capabilities and know that, should you desire, you could destroy our modest little planet with the mighty arsenal that you posses."

He was incorrect about our "mighty arsenal." The only weapon Geraldine "possessed"—a converted gadolinium barge—was a small laser cannon to ward off space pirates, but I wasn't going to give up my advantage. If he thought we had a mighty arsenal then so be it. "Lord Pungies, you have my word we will obey your rules and regulations, and I hope we can exchange cultural viewpoints and agendas."

"That would be pleasant," said Lord Pungies. "I will have the landing coordinates transmitted to your ship upon the conclusion of this conversation."

"Thank-you, your Lordship. Out. Geraldine! Prepare for landing on the coordinates being supplied to you and notify our passengers of the new developments."

"Aye-aye Mon Capitan," said Geraldine cynically.

"I've got to get you repaired," I mumbled.


It was evening as Geraldine began landing on Ellenoria guided by the coordinates transmitted to her from one of Lord Pungies' minions. A severe storm was in progress and the brilliant flashes of lightning illuminated the bridge like a Las Vegas night. With each flash I could see the little village that we were setting down behind, as well as a great, dark wall surrounding it.

"Geraldine," I said suddenly.

"WHAT?!" she replied sharply.

"What do you mean, 'what!?' "

"In case you haven't noticed, I'm in the process of landing."

"Sorry," I said sheepishly. "What's the air like out there?"

"Oxygen/nitrogen, about the same as Earth's—you'll live."

When the main hatch swooshed open, muggy air flooded the primary deck. It was pouring outside but it wasn't anything we couldn't handle—in fact it felt kinda nice.

I asked Geraldine to notify the passengers of our landing, and I left the ship to meet with His Highness, Lord Pungies. I was met by two muscle-bound sentries carrying long poles (seven or eight foot long) with glowing blue ends. They escorted me to a large, well-lit building made of stone where I had been granted an audience with His Lordship.

The throne room spread out before me like some vast sports arena. About thirty-five meters in diameter, the room had great polished stone columns which were adorned with intricate carvings of leaves, trees, and bizarre- looking animals. The walls were covered in an unfamiliar russet-toned wood planking. About a half-dozen guards with the long poles, glowing blue at one end, stood to the left of the throne and a group of Ellenorians, combing their fingers through their long, distinguished looking, ringlet-interlaced beards milled about in the middle and to the right. In the center, on a gilded throne, supported by a number of carved animal legs, sat His Highness, Lord Pungies.

Aware of feeling very much out-of-place, I turned on the portable UI and spoke first (which I found out later was incorrect protocol). "Greetings from the Earth vessel, Geraldine," my voice, in Ellenorian, echoed from the UI. "My passengers and I thank you for your hospitality."

Lord Pungies looked around the room casually and said, "We welcome you and your colleagues to our modest little planet. My aides will direct you to your sleeping accommodations. And if there is anything you should need, do not hesitate to ask."

"Sleeping accommodations will not be necessary, my Lord. We have plenty of room on Geraldine."

"Oh but I insist. If you are to truly experience the culture and traditions on our planet you must rest on it as well."

Odd, I thought at the time, but maybe a custom. "Your Highness," I said, "I'm curious about the list of rules that you requested we comply with."

"There is but one main rule that we ask your compliance and that rule applies to every citizen in our village as well. We insist that before nightfall, for your own protection, all of your party be back inside these protective rock walls."

"Our protection?" I said, "protection from what?"


I bowed, excused myself, and immediately contacted the ship. "Geraldine, did you get that?"

"I sure did, Mikosh."

There was a long silence, so I vehemently whispered, "Well what the hell does it mean?"

"Unknown. Except for the dictionary definition."

"And what would that be?" I asked impatiently.

"A small demon."

"A small demon?" I repeated a little too loud.

"That is correct," Lord Pungies exclaimed. "A small demon it is, but there are many of them, and they travel in packs."

"What do they look like?"

"We have captured one and it is in a cage in back of the palace. You can view it at the end of this meeting."

With my curiosity piqued, I replied, "I would appreciate that very much." I picked up my link to Geraldine and spoke, "Geraldine, please inform everyone on board of the recent developments and invite them to the palace to be assigned their sleeping accommodations. Oh, and don't forget to send a message informing the repairman of our new location."

"Shall I cook supper while I'm at it?"

"What!?" I said incredulously.

"Nothing. Complying."

Turning back to Lord Pungies, I said with a grin, "By your leave, Your Highness."

Lord Pungies held up his thin gray hand and said, "Before you depart, I would like to introduce my son, Ahpi, also a fine swordsman." He said this as if I had some kind of influence. He motioned to a tall youth with stubbles on his chin and wearing a copper breastplate. He stepped forward.

"I am deeply honored, Prince," I said eyeing him intensely.

"I am likewise pleased," he said returning my stare.


Neb and I walked the perimeter of the compound on the next glorious sunny morning, but it was much too hot for him. Gonax is considerably cooler and poor Neb was not used to the heat. He wore his competition attire which consisted of nothing more than a pair of skin-tight briefs and his sword. His hair was pulled back into a ponytail.

As we strolled the Ellenorian complex I got a clear look at his physique. Scars, either from competition or battle, covered the majority of his body, and dozens of lumps, resembling three and four inch diameter smooth river rocks, were sprinkled randomly beneath his sea-green skin. His arms and legs were as smooth as a human's, only much larger. His arms were bigger around than my waist. His enormous chest was like that of a Greek god's with six areolas—three down each side.

As we walked, crimson and blue amyons (a butterfly-like creature as large as a seagull) swooped down at us while they gathered nectar from the numerous colorful plants that decorated the magnificent stone walls and immaculate grounds, greatly annoying Neb. He would swipe at the insects with a huge hand but would always miss (purposely I suspect).

The morning was humid, so saturated with moisture that you could actually see minute water droplets, like fine dust particles, floating in it.

The Ellenorians who passed us would gawk at the huge creature walking on my right as if he were from a circus sideshow. George and Gracie passed us holding hands and said a cheerful good morning, but Neb just snorted through his broad nostrils and clutched the hilt of his sword.

Finishing our first lap of the compound, I noted the fine job Geraldine had done landing the ship during a storm behind a group of buildings in the midst of some antique farm machinery and other worn-out paraphernalia. There was very little room to work with, literally inches to spare.

I activated my link and said, "Geraldine."

"Yes, Mikosh."

"Good job landing last night, especially during a thunder storm."


As we passed the numerous stone residences of the village, it occurred to me how remarkable an achievement it was to have constructed such a massive barrier as the wall. The height of it alone ranged from five to eight meters, with a few meters beneath the ground. Its thickness was at least five meters. But I was curious who could have built this enormous structure and with what kind of tools?

I spotted an approaching, Ellenorian, so I turned on the UI and said, "Sir," but he scurried off. "SIR," I reiterated more forcefully but to no avail. He was gone.

While the UI was on I warily asked Neb again, "What's your reason for quitting the contest circuit?"

Without a pause he replied, "I am getting too old and I can feel my reflexes slowing down. I have decided to get out while I am still a winner and before there is a fatal accident."

Rational as usual, I thought. I quickly changed the subject. I told Neb about my meeting last night with Lord Pungies and the little creature they'd showed me called an imp. "It only stood about a meter tall, but it had a mouthful of gruesome looking teeth similar to a Great White shark on Earth." As I spoke I observed Neb. I could see by his expression he had no idea what I was talking about. I placed the edge of my hand just above his knee and said, "this is about a meter, and a Great White closely resembles a Gonaxian lumber rat." With a slight nod of his head, and an O formed on his lips I knew then that he understood me.

"That is not so bad," he said.

"Yeah but the Ellenorians told me they hunt in packs. I also found out about the poles the guards carry. You know, the ones that glow blue at the end?"

Neb nodded distantly.

"It seems," I continued, "those poles are prods and when they glow blue they can give you a nasty shock if you're touched by it. If they glow red they can kill you."

"What about all the rings that decorate their beards?" Neb asked.

"Well," I said, "from what I can gather, they represent their rank in the royal pyramid of this society."

Just then Sulie walked around a corner of the stone wall and I tried hard to think of something to say. I said, "Hi Sulie, out for your morning walk?" Why did I ask that? I thought. I already knew the answer.

"Yes," she said bareley giving me a glance. "Neb, when can I see you for my next lesson?"

"After I walk this evening I will be free. . . . Milquetoast, would you like to join us?" he asked motioning toward Sulie with his head, raising his eyebrows, and sporting a toothy grin.

That surprised me. "Well . . . y-yes, yes I would," I replied with an arid throat. I looked over at Sulie, but she appeared to be contemplating the ground.

"Have either one of you noticed a lake, a pond or a stream?" Sulie asked. "I have got to go for a swim."

I'd forgotten that Sulie was from a water planet and loved to swim.

"There's a small lake towards the back of the village," I said apprehensively. "I can take you there if you like."

"That will not be necessary. I should have no trouble locating it."

"Just follow the wall past the triberry crop," I said, pointing toward a row of small bushes at the rear of the compound.

Ignoring my last statement Sulie asked, "Have either of you seen any indigenous females on your walk?"

I looked at Neb and he wore a puzzled look on his mug so I said, "Come to think of it I haven't seen another female since we landed."

Suddenly a tall, lean Ellenorian with a bushy golden beard (but no ringlets) and shaggy eyebrows strolled around the rock corner. Neb sidestepped to intercept him. "We need to talk to you," he said clutching the grip of his sword.

The Ellenorian tried to escape, but I quickly blocked

his path. He stepped backwards and bumped into Sulie. He fell to his knees and began weeping. "It was not my idea," he whimpered, "please do not harm me."

His statement was suspicious to me, almost to the point of alarm. I was ready to address the subject further but Neb intervened.

"We are not going to hurt you," Neb assured. "We want to ask you a few questions." Neb grabbed the front of the man's pale yellow tunic, yanked him high into the air, and set him on his feet.

"I know nothing," the Ellenorian blubbered rubbing his eyes with his fists.

"Who built this massive stone wall?" I asked patiently.

"I do not know," the Ellenorian wailed.

"Settle down," I soothed. "Did your people construct the wall?"

He took a deep breath and said more composed, "It was built by ancients."


"To keep out the imps, we suspect."

"Where are your women?" asked an aggravated Sulie.

"At home where they belong."

"What?!" Sulie responded heatedly. The expressions on Sambians are generally difficult to read when they get emotional, but I could tell that Sulie was fuming and so could the Ellenorian. He fell to his knees once more, put his fists over his eyes, and resumed crying.

"It is not my ruling," he wept, "I just obey it."

This time Sulie helped him to his feet (by his beard I think). She put her face inches from his and said, "We will see about this." Letting go of him, she stormed off.

The Elenorian looked at me and I shrugged. We both looked over at Neb, but an amyon had landed on his head and he was cursing and swatting at the huge bug.


Dusk was a welcome relief as I strolled over to the main entrance. Of the three gates leading into the compound, the main entry was double gated, and the largest, most frequently used because of the major road which led from that gate far into a lush green valley below.

Elongated shadows from the purple, boulder-strewn mountains stretched across the valley to the adjacent hills. I'd been thinking how peaceful and serene it all was when a loud, high-pitched alarm sounded, scaring the hell out of me.

Then I heard groaning hinges as two guards began closing the enormous metal gates. I switched on the UI and asked one of them, "What was the siren for?"

"To let all citizens know the gates are being closed," said the first guard, a short Ellenorian with thick auburn eyebrows and braided brown beard (minus ringlets). They secured the heavy gates.

To the left of the gates was an especially narrow stone stairway leading to the top of the wall. I asked the guards, "Would you fellows mind if I climbed those stairs to the top of the wall to get a better view?"

The diminutive guard glanced at his companion, a larger fellow with a full, black mustache. He shrugged. They both looked at me and said concurrently, "Go ahead."

I switched off the UI to conserve the battery and ascended the stairway. The air got progressively cooler as I approached the top and it was a relief.

The pinks, scarlets, and gingers interlaced visually in the western sky with the setting of the secondary sun and brought out the intensity of the three orange moons. The largest of these moons filled a whole quarter of the cerulean sky.

I strained my eyes in the waning light to see out over the peculiar alien landscape. In the valley I could barely make out tall, gray, stone statues among lofty, bizarre glowing trees which resembled luminescent feather dusters.

About ten meters in front of and to the right of the main gates was a rocky crag which gradually rose above the height of the stone wall I was on. The crag was backlit by the increasing intensity of the largest of the carroty moons. The two smaller moons weren't as bright, but they did add a symmetry any amateur astronomer would appreciate.

One would only have to look around to see why so much stone was used in the construction of the buildings and walls of the village, as it was a major part of the landscape.

I walked along a wide, paved trail on the apex between the exterior and interior walls that rose a meter or so above the path until I was directly over the main gates. After being cooped up all day in the heat of that oven they called a village, the night air was blissful.

Suddenly I heard a disturbance from the courtyard and turned on the UI. It was Neb approaching the two guards—pony tail dancing as he walked. He looked furious. "I have got to get out," he growled.

"It is not permitted," squeaked the undersized guard, slowly stepping behind his larger companion.

Neb put an enormous hand on his scimitar and repeated his plea, "I have got to get some fresh air, now. This heat is killing me."

Pointing to the limited staircase at the side of the gates, the larger sentinel asked, "Why not use that stairway like your fellow traveler did and climb to the top of the wall?"

Neb looked at the stairway then back at the guard and with a sardonic grin said, "I would not be able to get a fraction of my body up that tiny set of steps."

"What if we get you a ladder to scale the wall?" replied the bulky guard.

"If you think you can find one strong enough," said Neb. The guard eyed Neb's mass and realized that that could pose a problem.

Neb pulled his sword partly out of its scabbard and growled, "Open or closed I am going through the gates."

I whispered down, "I wouldn't piss him off if I were you."

The larger sentry looked up at me and then back to his cohort and said with a shrug, "He's right, after all it is only a job. No sense loosing our heads over it."

They laid their spears down, unlocked the gates, and yanked them open. Neb sauntered through the opening like a schoolboy playing hooky, and I could feel his relief as he walked to the other side of the wall and let out a big sigh. The gate closed immediately behind him, but he didn't seem to mind. He was out of that blistering heat.

While the towering wall did the job of keeping out the imps, it also prevented any breeze from blowing through the compound to cool it off. Our group, especially Neb, wasn't use to the elevated temperature and humidity.

He casually strolled over to a temporary stream from last night's rainstorm flowing adjacent to the road just before the crag. Bending down with a large cupped hand, he scooped up some water.

As he eyed his surroundings he brought his hand to his mouth and sipped the cool liquid he'd captured.

I stood on the wall and watched him for a long time as he squatted and touched his toes to stretch out his legs. Then he strolled over to the crag and looked out over the valley. I could hear him breathing heavily through his wide nostrils, and I could sense the peace that was in his heart. He was like a great caged beast that had just been given its freedom.

Suddenly he stopped and straightened. Even in the subdued moonlight I could see his broad nostrils sniffing the quiet night air. I neither saw nor heard anything, but Neb sensed something was out there.

He spun his massive body around on one heel and looked directly into my eyes. Through the dim, amber illumination I could see his brown eyes peering at me. Then it felt like somebody grabbed me by the back of the neck and pulled me forward. In my brain I heard Neb's thick Gonaxian voice say, "Listen to me, Milquetoast, make sure my wife is to be getting my credits that are in my locker on the ship!"

What the hell was that about? I had no idea that Neb was telepathic. Of all the planets I've visited, I had never encountered a telepath—until now. I was accustomed to a verbal society.

Then I saw and heard it. It appeared to be a large, black wave rapidly descending the mountainside, but it was made up of numerous little imps charging at incredible speed. They made a rustling sound like a mouse on newspaper, only a thousand times louder.

The Ellenorians said these creatures traveled in packs, but I think that that was an understatement. This was more of a swarm. There were literally thousands of these little guys and they were all headed for Neb. The gray scales on their tiny bodies glistened in the soft moonlight and their gigantic eyes reflected red in that same light. A black, saw-toothed fin went down their back from the top of their small head to the tip of their stubby tail, and it stood erect as they rushed toward Neb.

Neb pulled the restraint from his ponytail letting his hair drop to his shoulders, then he calculatingly grasped the handle of his scimitar and unsheathed it with one mighty, horizontal movement—decapitating in that motion four imps far in advance of the others. A fifth imp lost most of an ear and scurried off screaming.

I immediately turned toward the village and screamed the universal call for help, "AUXILIO!" Then I turned back toward the disturbance.

The dark mass grew closer and, with an ear shattering squeal, they covered Neb like an ocean wave and cut him off from the fortress. He held his own—for a while. One imp broke through Neb's defense and dove for his right leg, sinking his razor-sharp teeth into his calf. At that instant I felt an excruciating pain in my right calf. I looked down at my calf but saw nothing.

Neb was losing, and I could feel the pain of every bite and claw that pierced his body. He was covered in imps, like maggots on carrion.

For an individual as large as Neb, he was remarkably agile and very proficient at his craft. Heads, lopped off by his sword, rolled to and fro, and other body parts flew as Neb attempted to defend himself. Neb was silhouetted against the bright, orange moon, and I could see the full arcing swings levied against his foes. Left then right Neb would extend his arm out fully and swing ferociously, like a pendulum, disemboweling and decapitating as he did. When the sword stopped at the crest of each swing I could see, silhouetted against the moon, blood and other gory matter flying from its tip. With every imp struck with his sword, a nauseating thwack was heard like the sound of a melon falling onto concrete. A small crimson stream snaked down from the crag and mixed with the watercourse where Neb had drunk only minutes earlier.

The pain was all over me now and I realized that when Neb had telepathically communicated with me, in his moment of desperation, he'd failed to disconnect and, whether by accident or design, I was feeling his pain. I looked back towards the village and screamed again, "AUXILIO! AUXILIO!" Finally, the pain became so unbearable that I screamed, "HELP! HELP!" I yelled so loud and violently that I could taste blood in my throat. The intense pain caused me to sink to my knees and either from the sight of all the carnage or from the extreme pain, I vomited.

I heard the sound of running footsteps behind me in the courtyard and I mustered enough strength to peer over the inner wall toward the village. All six of the remaining warriors from our ship were running toward the gate. Mort was in the lead followed by Sulie and then the rest: Piggy, Twiggy, George, and Gracie.

I switched on the UI and said weekly, "Guys, up here." I was glad to see they'd brought their swords.

"What's the trouble?" shouted Mort, unsheathing his sword.

"Neb . . . needs help. Outside."

The rest of the warriors drew their swords and Sulie barked at the two sentries, "OPEN THESE GATES NOW OR I WILL FILLET YOU!"

I was impressed, and so were the two guards. The gates were thrown open.

I looked back at the battle and Neb was completely covered in imps. They had stopped him from swinging his powerful sword by their sheer number and the many corpse's that had piled up around him. The scene was appalling.

I saw a mighty hand emerge from the top of the pile of imps in the moonlight, and I could make out the muscles and striations in the bulging forearm. It was Neb's arm. The hand grabbed the head of one of his numerous assailants and began squeezing. The imp commenced screaming until blood flowed from his ears and his head exploded. Neb's arm slowly descended into the horrific pile and my pain ceased.

The six warriors charged into the fracas. A finer display of swordsmanship I've never seen. George and Gracie showed cunning and prowess as they hacked and lunged in perfect unison. Their claymores sliced precisely and extremely close to one another's heads, missing only by inches, as they fought an endless opponent to the death.

The rest of the warriors fought with equally impressive valor—Mort with his katzbalger, and Sulie with her flamberge. The band cut a swath through the conflict, but still the imps came.

As the endless mêlée continued I was still on my knees, sicker than a virgin sailor, until I momentarily passed out. Upon my revival I was vaguely aware of Lord Pungies' legs standing next to me with five of his muscular bodyguards. "The big one is finished," his voice boomed above the racket, "get inside the gates and close them."

As if prompted, the little band of fighting warriors back stepped through the large main portal to safety. The massive gates were slammed shut and bolted.

Two Ellenorians dragged me back to my quarters in the palace and threw me on my bunk where my head continued to swim.

After my escort left, I received a message from Geraldine. "The repairman just left, sir. He repaired the thermal bypass relay and my circuits, so I have been disconnected for a while. Did anything happen while I was down?"

I was in no condition for explanations, so I shook my head to clear it, lowered it, and said, "No. Everything is just fine."


It was tough sleeping that night, my mind kept repeating the events that took place. When sleep finally came I had the most gruesome of nightmares. One nightmare in particular that reoccurred regularly involved the swarm of imps on Neb, and when I approached them, the leading imp removed a mask from his face and revealed the face of Lord Pungies. I had no idea what that meant.

While I was dreaming, I heard the distant sound of thunder and figured a storm was approaching. The noise grew louder and more frequent and I realized that someone was banging on my door.

I finally woke and looked at my watch, it was 10:30am. I opened the door and found my five warriors standing in the hall. I immediately picked up the UI and turned it on.

"What's up?" I asked stretching my aching back.

"We can not get into the ship. Why is this?" Gracie asked staring at me with his four intense, protruding, crab like eyes and his hand placed effeminately on his hip.

"I don't know," I replied as I rubbed my chin with the UI. I glanced at Sulie and smiled but it went unnoticed. "Let me find out." I pulled the link from under my pillow and said, "Geraldine."

"Yes, Captain," she replied uncharacteristically pleasant.

"Did you lock the main hatch?"

"No, sir, I did not."

"Then why can't we get in?"

"There seems to be an electronic bolt on the latch."

"Who did that?" I inquired most annoyed.

"I could not say."

"Why not?"

"It happened while I was shut down for repair."

"Who then do you speculate did it?" I asked getting a little irate.

"If I were to guess—"

"Oh please do."

"—I would guess it was Lord Pungies, sir."

"Why would you guess him, Geraldine?"

"He would have the most to gain with my detention. And, Captain."

"YES," I replied foully.

"The laser cannon is missing."


After I dressed, the six warriors and I marched to the throne room but were halted by the palace guards with their long, blue tipped prods.

Lord Pungies, surrounded by his regal court, stood and motioned to his palace guards with an outstretched hand to let us through.

I switched on the UI. "What the hell is going on here?"

"I know not of what you speak," His Lordship replied.

"Why has our spacecraft been impounded?"

"You led us to believe you had a large arsenal, it was a lie. Plus a member of your party broke our primary law and paid with his life. By our directives, the same directives that you swore to adhere to, we can now confiscate your vessel."

"Why you unconscionable douche bag."

Instantly the UI began sounding off, "There is no word in the Ellenorian vocabulary for douche bag. Please rephrase your last statement."

By that time I'd cooled down a bit and was assessing how fortunate I was that the word was unavailable. I looked up to see Lord Pungies giving me an impatient look as I fumbled around in my mind for something clever to say. He knew he was holding all the aces and no matter what I could say, he still had my ship and my laser cannon.

Finally I asked, "What do you want with my ship?"

"Reverse engineering."

"What do you mean?"

"Are you unfamiliar with the term?"

"I'm familiar with the term, but how does it apply to us?"

"Due to the presence of the imps, we have been unable to open up vast areas of our planet to agriculture, mining, and other ventures. Consequently our world has not developed to its full potential, as our sister planets have. As a result, all commerce has been directed around our world. You see we are a poor planet. We had all but given up hope until your vessel stumbled into our quadrant and landed on our doorstep. And thanks to your comrade's fatal blunder and the science of reverse engineering, we will become an economic force in a very short time."

"I could give Geraldine an order to notify the ISP." (The Interplanetary Security Police.)

"By the time they arrived you would all be dead," Lord Pungies said with a chuckle.

The more I heard, the angrier I became. Finally, as I tried to control my temper, I asked "What can we do to rectify the situation?"

He studied me intently and responded snidely, "I think we can work something out."

"He is up to something," whispered Mort.

"Better watch your back," commented Piggy.

"Do not trust him," murmured Gracie.

"WHAT CHOICE do I have?" I hollered trailing off to a whisper.

I stepped forward. "What do you have in mind, Lord Pungies?"

He stared at me for a second and spouted, "A contest."

"What sort of contest?"

"A sword battle in which you and my son would fight-victor takes all. Should my son win, we will keep your vessel and your laser cannon and my son will get the recognition in the contest circuit that he so richly deserves. There would also be wagering on the outcome. Our world thrives on gambling."

I think all he really wanted was for his son to have a little supervised conflict. For some strange reason this clown thought I was a master swordsman. I answered with all the diplomacy I could muster, "I am a taxi driver. I have never even picked up a sword. It would be a poor contest."

Lord Pungies studied me long and hard and finally said, "We will allow one of your companions to resolve our dispute."

My comrades all spoke up at once, "I will fight in your stead."

Looking back at them I said, "I can't ask any of you to fight my battles for me."

Sulie pushed her way to the front of our group and looked up at me with her big, black eyes. Putting the dainty fingers of her left hand on my lips, she reached down with her right hand and turned off the UI. Then she spoke in perfect English, "Please allow me to champion this battle. I wish to do it . . . no, I need to do it, for my master, Neb."

What could I say? She had my vote. Those eyes convinced me.

"Ooo-k-kay." I stammered. That was the first time I'd ever heard her speak English without the UI. I wasn't aware she even knew the language.

I turned the UI on again and spoke, "Lord Pungies, I believe we have a deal."

He grinned evilly at me and said, "In five of your hours the contest will begin."

Our little band exited the massive main door of the palace.


In order for me to rest my brain I chose to walk the compound and try to forget the forthcoming competition. At great length I came upon the main gate the other side of which Neb had lost his final battle. Since it was still morning and the imps only hunted at night, the gates were wide open. I strolled out and across the now dried streambed to the crag where the bloodbath had taken place the night before.

The twin suns were quickly heating up the surrounding area, and I was beginning to feel woozy as I came upon the revolting aftermath of last night's atrocious battle. The crag was covered in dried blood and the surrounding area was littered with the gory debris of bone and various pieces of innards. Apparently the imps were cannibalistic and had scavenged the remains of their friends and relatives.

When I reached the last place I'd seen Neb alive, I noticed something large glistening in the dual suns. I warily approached it—slipping on viscera and other unknown muck. It was Neb's sword resting on a flaking crimson patch. I gingerly squatted down to examine the massive weapon. I turned it over. It was heavy. Carved into the handle was the name, Rose—a human nickname he'd bestowed on his wife. I took the grip of the large blade with both hands and carefully heaved it up. A warm breeze wafted my hair as it rustled through the odd trees and I thought I heard a voice murmur, "Milquetoast." I spun around half expecting to see Neb—but it was just the wind in the trees.

The time had come to realize Neb was gone. I was going to miss that old Gonaxian: miss his pranks, miss his jokes, miss his sage advice.

I said an emotional farewell, and with both hands I pulled the sword up to the front of my nose and saluted; a final tribute to my fallen friend.

I hoisted the hefty weapon over my shoulder and walked back to the compound. I'd present the sword to his widow if I was ever permitted to leave this planet.


The temperature in my palace room was stifling as I prepared for the pending match. I began to wonder, why did these people want space technology when they didn't even have air-conditioning?

I opened a window and stared out at the many varied vehicles and animal-drawn carts parked in the parking lot at the palace rear. Many were relics from a distant past. I turned and reached into my top dresser drawer for a Hershey bar and discovered a mass of melted chocolate. I licked the thick, brown goo from my fingers and put on my coolest silk shirt.

Knock! Knock! Someone tapped at the door. I knew it must be time. Knock! Knock! They repeated the tap.

I yelled, "Yeah, yeah, I heard ya the first time," but I didn't have the UI turned on. I grabbed it and attached it to my belt, turned it on, and yelled, "Come on in."

The door swung open and in walked the five warriors. My attention was immediately centered on Sulie and her fighting attire. Her outfit consisted of a series of two inch black fabric straps that ran both horizontally and vertically in a kind of webbing over her petite body, covering all her "important parts." The two inch straps did little to hide her voluptuous breasts—which were not petite. My heart soared seeing her in that outfit. Sulie stood a good five feet in height, which was tall for a Sambian, and strode with a confidence that I'd never perceived in her before. Her greenish-blonde hair recoiled with every step. On her left butt cheek was a tiny tattoo of some kind of lizard.

She looked beautiful, but I had a job to do and I couldn't let my twenty-eight year old hormones get in the way. Although I couldn't help wonder—what would a half human and half Sambian baby look like?

"Are you ready?" asked Twiggy.

Gracie put his arm around Sulie and said, "What do you think of our girl?" giving her a little shake.

I managed to spit out, "N-n-nice."

Sulie smiled and looked at the floor.

"Let us go," George said.

I opened and held the door for everyone and watched Sulie as she jiggled through. I had to keep my mind on the problem that was at hand. I slammed the door securely and we walked down the long, winding, stone hallway to the sports arena.

Sulie walked ahead of the rest of us down the long corridor and I brought up the rear. I was able to observe the others from the back, especially Sulie. Her gyrating buttocks with the lizard tattoo, created quite an erotic stir in my loins. Her derrière muscles gave the illusion the lizard tattoo was walking. My head began pounding, and I decided I'd better sit down for a few minutes.

The stadium was beginning to fill upon our arrival and the crowd was unruly. The betting, drinking and fist fighting were all a part of the tradition. The air was thick with the smell of body odor and smoke, and at the apex of the vaulted ceiling fluttered a few amyons.

I quickly found an empty chair and sat down for fear of making a spectacle of myself. A mature Ellenorian, with ringless gray whiskers down to his waist, kneeled on the floor next to me and asked if I wanted to bet with him on the outcome of the contest. I told him I wasn't interested. He began taunting me about not having any faith in my fighter and that I was afraid to wager on him.

"That's not it," I said bitterly. "I simply don't have any credits—no money on me. If I would be permitted to get back into my ship I'd have an abundance of cash."

"Maybe you could stake something of value that is in your possession," smiled the old man.

"What do you have in mind?"

He pointed to the link and exclaimed, "I will spot you two-hundred credits for that."

I looked at him and responded, "I couldn't part with this for less than three hundred."

As his fingers scratched his unkempt head, debating my offer with himself, I heard Geraldine on the link. "Captain."

"What?" I whispered turning away from the deliberating old man.

"I think this to be an unwise decision, sir. How will I communicate with you should Sulie lose?"

"Should Sulie lose you won't be mine to communicate with."

"Logical as usual, sir," replied Geraldine pleasantly.

I was beginning to miss the wisecracks of the old smart-ass Geraldine. First I lost my friend Neb, and now perhaps my ever faithful Geraldine. I hung my head, shook it, and exhaled.

Looking back into the old man's azure eyes I said, "What do you say?"

"I say yes."

An authoritative voice announced, "Will the leader of this group of nonconformists please approach Lord Pungies!" Thankfully I was no longer sexually hampered, so I said goodbye to the elderly gentleman, jumped up, and ran to the front of the group of combatants. "I am here, Lord Pungies."

"Where is your fighter for the main match?" asked His Highness. Sulie stepped forward. There was a sudden eruption of laughter from the spectators that echoed throughout the stadium and she glared at the crowd with a furious defiance.

When Lord Pungies stopped laughing he put his hand up to quell the throng. "We asked for your fighter, not an inferior housekeeper," chuckled Lord Pungies.

I felt a surge of anger as if I had to protect Sulie. I took a step forward but was restrained by five tiny hands. Those hands were correct. It was Sulie's ball game now.

I wondered what she was thinking about. Her many private lessons with Neb, her elaborate training regimen on her home planet of Sambia, or the contest she had just lost on Tootoonie. There was definitely something stirring in that pretty little head of hers.

* * *

A few hours before we'd entered the wormhole, I had been relaxing with a book in the crew lounge. Geraldine had been instructed to notify me when she detected the space-time tunnel. In the two chairs behind me sat Neb and Sulie. They were discussing fighting techniques and strategies. Although I didn't find their conversation all that interesting, I kept the UI on and half-way tuned in, if for nothing else, to listen to Sulie.

"What did I do wrong at the Bethanian Sword Championship, Master?" Sulie asked.

"You fought with no heart," Neb answered dryly.

"What do you mean?"

"If you go to battle without a cause you might as well leave your sword at home for all the good it will do you."

"Oh." She lowered her head and hesitated a few seconds then asked, "may I inquire what cause you fought for, Master?"

"You may inquire," Neb chuckled. Sulie did not laugh. Neb cleared his throat and continued, "In every one of us it is a personal thing. The cause that I do battle for might not work for you. It should arise from deep within you. You simply must win for your cause. There can be no alternative. Do you understand?"

"I think so. Then, Master, all of my training was for naught?"

"I did not say that. You are not lacking in either technique or physical skills, but you must supplement your psychological portion with hunger—an almost unbearable need to be victorious. Your opponent in that contest merely had more heart."

"I . . . see," Sulie said slowly.

* * *

Sulie stood silent, staring at the stone floor as the crowd roared with laughter. I felt sorry for the poor little Sambian, but at the same time I waited anxiously for her next move which came soon. She leisurely looked up at Lord Pungies and asked, "What am I fighting for?" The whole arena stopped laughing at once, as if on cue, and looked at Lord Pungies.

"Why, your space ship, of course."

"That is not my ship."

I thought, now what? If she's not careful she'll blow this whole deal.

"What would you like, a new outfit or purse?" said Lord Pungies cruelly. The crowd erupted with malicious laughter again and although I wanted to say something—I let Sulie have the floor.

"Your oath," replied Sulie her hand on her hip still eyeing the ruler.

The crowds echoing laughter changed into a murmur. Lord Pungies cut his laughter short by clearing his throat. I swallowed hard and thought, this is it.

Lord Pungies looked at her intently and asked, "What would you have me promise, my empire?" Again the room filled with more laughter as if to appease his Lordship.

After the arena silenced she spoke again, "I want you to promise that when I win, your female population will be granted the same freedoms as the males. In addition to the agreed prize."

The murmuring grew louder as Lord Pungies stared unwaveringly at Sulie and shouted "ABSOLUTLEY NOT! Why should I risk anything more on this contest? The ship is ours and the challenge is to win it back."

Sulie did not waver. "Are you afraid I will win?"

"Against Ahpi? Certainly not! You lost your last competition. My son practices all day, every day. He has beaten all challengers."

"Then what is the problem? It would make for a good contest—a lot more betting," she said coyly eyeing Lord Pungies in a most seductive way. I was noticing how brazen this shy, little Sambian had become.

The crowd was silent as it waited for his response.

"But you will not win."

"Should I win."

"Should you win," said Lord Pungies with a slight groan as if he were in pain, "I will promise. But you should note, no female has ever beaten any male in anything on this planet, except maybe sewing." The stadium once again exploded into an appeasing laughter. Lord Pungies waited for the hilarity to subside before speaking again. "And we will keep the laser cannon regardless of the outcome."

Sulie looked back at me sheepishly and I closed my eyes and gave a slight confirmatory nod. I figured, what the hell, if she wins I'll have more than enough credits with my winnings to purchase a newer model.

She looked back at Lord Pungies and said, "Agreed."

"It matters not," said his Lordship, "because my son cannot be defeated by a woman." His final word was spat out.

Sulie looked down at the floor again and a smile crossed her lips as she said, "How is your son going to feel," she looked back up at Lord Pungies, "having his ass kicked by an inferior housekeeper?" She stepped away from Lord Pungies, unsheathed her weapon, and assumed the opening stance, her sword horizontal over her head. Ahpi, who was standing in back of Lord Pungies, let go with an ear shattering yell, leapt out over the Lord and his minions, and touched down in front of them with his sword also drawn.

I thought, this dude looks tough. But he didn't seem to intimidate Sulie.

The competition was fierce for its duration, which lasted only a few minutes. Ahpi charged, awkwardly hacking and stabbing like a man possessed. Sulie elegantly blocked and parried every thrust beautifully. I don't know whether Sulie wore her revealing outfit to distract her opponent or for freedom of movement, but either way it seemed to work. She was clearly the victor from the start. Her movements were quick and precisely calculated, like those of a mountain cat.

I thought for a second, this is going to be a cake walk. But then an amyon fluttered down around Sulie's head. She instinctively swung her flamberge at it, dismembering its wings. Ahpi reacted by means of a chopping movement with his sword. He caught Sulie's blade flat on its side shattering the valuable antique weapon like a piece of glass and deflecting his blade. The tip of his blade caught Sulie's waist and sliced a horizontal strap of her outfit, as well as putting a thin cut on her tiny waist. The only remaining piece on her sword was a twelve inch shard projecting from the hilt.

"Watch your control," Sulie said. Then, as if rehearsed, she kicked her right leg up and caught Ahpi under his chin with her foot. He went down like a sack of rocks. She jumped on his chest with her shard at his throat.

"That is enough," Lord Pungies yelled. "You win," he growled.

Sulie removed her sword shard from Ahpi's throat, put it in her scabbard, and hopped from his chest.

Lord Pungies looked down at his son lying in the dirt and said, "Ahpi, you have brought great shame to your people." Ahpi turned his head to the side and his chin quivered as though he were about to cry.

"Not at all," said Sulie looking up at his Lordship, "he will make a fine warrior some day."

Ahpi looked up at her, "Do you really think so?" he said, propping up on one elbow.

"Positively," she said looking back at him. "And as soon as I get back to Sambia, I will have one of my training bots shipped to you on loan so you can continue your training."

"Great," Ahpi said smiling.

"I will also arrange to have you picked up for next years contest."

Lord Pungies grinned evilly and said, "How will you accomplish this without a ship? Did you think we would give up our prize so easily?"

Suddenly there were a dozen blue spears pointed at us from all around.

I gnashed my teeth and barked, "You had no intention of honoring your agreement, did you?"

Lord Pungies grinned malevolently and said, "It is not often a prize such as this is obtained so easily. We will dismantle and reverse-engineer this prize, and become formidable space travelers ourselves."

"But, father," Ahpi said, "that is unfair. She earned the agreement."

"Shut up, Ahpi," Lord Pungies shouted. "She earned nothing, you simply lost to an inferior."

I heard a tiny whisper from one of our group say, "Let us fight, we can take them."

Lord Pungies said, "Round them up and place them in detention."

On the heels of this duplicitous move, I turned to my comrades. "Are you sure we can win this fight," I said looking from face to face at them.

Sulie stepped forward and said, "Of course we are not 'sure', but I will not be held captive ever again."

I felt the sting of an electric prod spread across my back and a gruff guard voice say, "Move along, imp dung. To the dungeons with you."

"Well," I said apprehensively, "if you think it's our only chance."

"Don't worry," Sulie said with a smile, "I will take care of you."

She grabbed my hand (I thought for a tender moment) and with the strength of a large man yanked me to the middle of the small group.

One of our group let go with a rebel yell that stirred even my passive soul. Then all hell broke loose. Every creature in our little cluster had drawn their sword and proceeded to hack, parry, and hew the onslaught of electric prods (now with red tips).

Lord Pungies ordered Ahpi to draw his sword and fight us, but he laid his sword down and shook his head.

We were forced back into an alcove off the main arena. Our little group did very well fending off the advancing guards with the hoard of Ellenorians pushing at their rear.

Suddenly a prod got through and down went Gracie. George yelled out, "Nooo!" and fought on audaciously.

I don't know what came over me, but I grabbed Gracie's sword and amateurishly hacked at the onslaught of thrusting prods.

Through the UI I heard Pungies yell to a group of citizens, "Get the laser cannon."

Oh boy, I thought, this could get messy.

After a few more minutes of skirmishing, a group of citizens rolled out the laser cannon on a makeshift cart and set it up behind the battling guards. Lord Pungies shouted to his guards to lower their weapons and withdraw to the rear of the cannon. They did so.

"Attention wicked law-breakers," Lord Pungies bellowed. "Give up now or I will instruct my cannoneers to open fire. What say you?"

Looking down the throat of our own laser cannon was intimidating to say the least. I swallowed hard and looked at the rest of our team. George was on his knees next to his dead lover. He looked up at me, tears flowing from all four eyes, and said, "I will not go peacefully".

I glanced over at Sulie and she stepped forward. "We would rather die than be held against our will."

Although that was not what I wanted to hear, I tightened my jaw and gave my head a quick nod. The rest of our crew stood resolute.

"Then die you shall," said Lord Pungies smiling snidely. He nodded his head at the cannoneers.

One man next to the cannon held up his forefinger dramatically and slowly let it descend to a crude firing button on top of the weapon. I saw my life passing. I wished I could have had a life with Sulie before the end, and again I wondered what a half Sambian/half Human baby would look like.

Sulie placed her arm through mine. I felt her breast press against my arm and had I not been preoccupied with our situation I probably would have been aroused again.

The finger pressed the firing button. I closed my eyes and lowered my head.



I looked back up at the finger. It pushed the button several more times. We could hear the Dink! each time.

"Nothing is happening, My Liege," said the frustrated trigger man.

Suddenly the unmistakable sound of a pulse rifle blast filled the arena. I almost soiled my pants.

"Cease hostilities and drop all weapons in the center of the arena," came a commanding voice over the UI. I looked to the opposite wall of the stadium and saw a whole army of Interplanetary Police pushing in and firing pulse blasts over the Ellenorian heads.

As the Ellenorians threw their weapons on one big pile, the Squad Leader came over to find out if we were alright.

"How'd you know we needed help?" I asked perplexed.

"Someone called it in on a Code One frequency."

"Who could that have been, and why'd the cannon not fire?"

"Got me," said the officer. "You must have a secret protector."

"Yeah, but who?"

"Did you think you were going to take all the glory, Mikosh?" Geraldine said over the two-way."

"Geraldine! I thought you'd been repaired; I didn't think you could act on your own anymore. How'd you prevent the cannon from firing?"

"The cannon was easy. When the Ellenorians removed it, the idiots failed to realize it still had a transceiver in it, so communications with it were still active. The hard part was tricking the tech into thinking I was 'fixed'."

"Why'd you wait so long? We were at our wits end."

"Well, Mikosh, you know how I like to make an appearance. Besides, getting you to keep a secret is almost impossible, and I couldn't risk exposure. Now I think it's time for you to take Neb's advice and talk to the Sambian woman."

I thought, she's right. I looked over at Sulie who'd walked over and was helping the police round up weapons. Now's as good a time as any, I reasoned. I summoned up my courage and strolled over to her.

As I approached her my mouth got dry and my legs turned to rubber. "Sulie," I said, "may I have a word with you?"

"Yes you may." She dropped an armload of weapons on the pile and walked up to me. Beautiful, I thought.

"What do you want?"

"I . . . I'd like to ask you a q-question," I said, my courage waning.

"I am listening."

"It w-will be an hour before the ship is r-released, would you like to take a w-walk with me?" Sweat poured from my brow.

She looked up at me and said, "No."

My heart fell at her feet. I lowered my head, turned around, and started walking despondently back the way I'd come.

I heard footfalls behind me and suddenly an arm hooked into mine and a soft breast pushed into my elbow. "You did not let me finish. I am much too tired to go walking, but I would not mind going back to the ship, when it is released, to sit and talk with you in the lounge."

I was ecstatic. I looked down at her and smiled as I patted her webbed hand resting on my arm.

Then she said, "I wonder what a half Sambian/half Human baby would look like."

Now, that surprised me.


© 2015 J. Eckert Lytle

Bio: John has worked in mills, in sales, and his own businesses. He's toured Europe by different means (bicycle, hiking, and an old VW). He's been in a garage band, been a gold miner, and a scuba diver. He's been writing for eleven years and has well over 300 rejection slips.

E-mail: J. Eckert Lytle

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