The alarm came early in Officer Stan Norris’ shift.
“Code 3 alert. Car 31, proceed to the designated location.”
Code 3 meant someone was intoxicated in public. Stan knew that this could be dangerous because of the arcane abilities of many citizens.
“I read you, headquarters. I’m on my way.”
The engine of Stan’s patrol car growled as he pressed the accelerator to the floor.
Stan activated the siren and emergency lights as he sped along Sunset Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles. He drove a black and white, Crown Victoria sedan. The year was 2650.
Things aren’t the same as they were before the revolution, Stan thought. The street mages changed everything.
Stan saw citizens, in all walks of life, dressed in an avant-garde manner. They strolled along the boulevard in the early afternoon. They turned their heads to the source of Stan’s siren and stood on the sidewalks.
Stan struggled against the “magic ceiling.” This was a slang term for the unfair promotion of workers in the new age that possessed performance-enhancing, magic abilities.
Stan turned a corner and reached the destination marked on his navigation screen, a posh nightclub called Houdini’s. He exited his vehicle and un-strapped his stun gun. The magazine was armed in sets of three charges, one for each of the three primary colors. This enabled Stan to bring down a shielded street mage of any persuasion, red, blue, yellow or any combination thereof.
Dozens of people ran from Houdini’s, screeching in fear. The sound of clattering tables and breaking glass emerged from within. The muscle-bound bouncer at the door gestured for Stan to enter. The bouncer’s nametag said “Mike.”
“We’ve got a real wild one in there today, Officer. We’re glad you got here as soon as you did. Spike is known to be rowdy, but never like this. He drank too many tornados and is summoning pixies and miniature dragons.”
“Thanks for the info, Mike,” Stan replied. “I’ll take care of this.”
Mike patted Stan on the shoulder and pulled back the rope barrier.
Stan held his stun gun with the barrel pointed upward as he entered the main dance floor at Houdini’s. Stan watched in amazement as two winged pixies poured a glass of sherry for a drunken man who sat on one of the tall stools lining the bar. He kept his balance by leaning on the bar with his folded arms.
Mike’s warning was accurate.
Stan spoke just as the leather-jacket-wearing man pressed his filled glass to his lips. “You must be Spike.”
“And what of it?” answered the tough-looking, blond street mage.
“I received a report that someone is disturbing the peace here. Did you summon these pixies and dragons, Spike?”
“Yes,” Spike replied. “They are my friends. I was lonely. Don’t you find them amusing?”
“Yeah, they’re real cute,” said Stan. “I’m afraid they have to go, Spike. Are you going to send them back to their plane of origin or do I have to take you in?”
Stan watched the winged pixies as they formed a rotating halo around their summoner. The petite dragons had discovered a half-full pitcher of beer and took turns dipping their heads in the foamy, alcoholic contents.
Stan looked at the overturned tables and broken glass on the floor.
“What happened to the furniture here, Spike?”
“He got upset and sent them flying when I told him he’d had enough to drink for today,” said the bearded bartender. “My name is Rob.”
“I see, Rob,” answered Stan.
Stan turned his attention back to the inebriated street mage.
“Are you going to pay for this mess, Spike?” asked Stan.
“Sure, why not?” the sorcerer slurred.
Spike pulled a reflective money card from a pocket in his leather jacket and handed it to Rob.
“Thanks, Spike,” said Rob. “You’d better be on your way.”
“Aw, come on, Rob. Let me get one for the road.”
“One for the road … One for the road,” sang the flying pixies.
Stan waved his hand near the dragons. They took no notice of him and continued their process of consuming the beer in the pitcher.
“Sorry, Spike,” answered Rob. “You’ve got to go now.”
“What? I won’t stand for this! I know my rights.”
Spike rose to his feet and backed away from the bar. The frustrated street mage uttered a shielding spell. “Forgex!”
He was covered within a humming, red ethereal force field. He pounded the bar with his fist, “The Sanguine Acolytes will hear of this. I answer to Cthulhu and no one else.”
Stan drew his stun gun and set the magazine to red. He fired a shot at Spike in near point blank range. The red stun bolt penetrated Spike’s makeshift shield and attached its hooks to the blond man’s chest. Spike was overtaken by the forceful electric charge and fell to the floor. The street mage shook in a series of convulsions. His heels beat a staccato rhythm on the beer-stained floor. Stan pressed a button on his stun gun, deactivating the electric charge. The red sphere of energy dissolved.
Stan straddled the incapacitated street mage and handcuffed him.
“All right, let’s go Spike. A couple of days in the cooler should dry you out.”
Stan brought Spike to his feet. The disoriented street mage raised his bound hands to his brow.
“Ouch, my head! How many volts are in that thing?”
“Fifty-five thousand,” answered Stan.
Stan took Spike by the arm and guided him toward the exit.
“Just a moment, Stan,” said Spike.
Spike addressed the pixies and dragons. “So long, my friends! I must go and can’t take you with me.”
The street mage gestured toward the small creatures and incanted a dispersal spell. “Aeros!”
Stan watched as the miniature dragons and pixies passed through a small portal to Primordia, their plane of origin. The portal closed upon their passage, leaving the bar strangely quiet.
Stan escorted Spike to the back seat of the patrol car. The street mage got in and Stan closed and locked the door.
Stan heard the wail of the siren of another police cruiser permeate the air. The lights of the arriving police car flashed on the brick walls of a cross street as it turned onto Sunset Boulevard. The siren was turned off and a helmeted officer stepped out of the vehicle. The officer was female and Stan recognized her.
“Hello, Jocelyn. How have you been?”
“Fine, Stan. I hear you’ve got a disturber of the peace on your hands. Do you want me to sedate him?”
Jocelyn Savage took off her helmet and glanced into the rear section of Stan’s car. She had brown hair and a pretty face. Like Captain Bill Mayweather, their supervisor, Jocelyn was a futurist. She was heavily decorated for pre-crimes she prevented from coming to fruition.
“Thanks. I don’t think sedatives are necessary in this situation. I was just about to take Spike here downtown. You’re welcome to follow us if you so wish.”
“Sure, why not. I’ve been thinking. With your marksmanship and my prescience we’d make a good team. We should bring it up with the Captain.”
“I’ll consider it,” replied Stan. “We should get going. Spike mentioned the Sanguine Acolytes and Cthulhu. This faction of devious street mages is growing. I should mention it to the Captain.”
“Good idea. Let’s go,” said Jocelyn.
The two officers got into their vehicles and headed for their headquarters. They drove beyond Sunset Boulevard and reached the district station.
The crowd before the booking counter was large. It contained a variety of misfits with tattoos and body piercings escorted by Los Angeles Police Department officers.
“Hey, man, how long is this gonna take?” asked Spike.
The street mage had recognized several of the prisoners in the mass of people and chatted with them. After more than an hour of waiting Stan and Spike made it to the front of the counter. The sergeant at the computer entered the street mage’s name and data into the system and gestured toward the holding tank. Stan opened the door of the cell and guided Spike inside. Stan closed and locked the door. Captain Mayweather was standing nearby and approached Stan. The Captain was a tall, gray-haired man who spoke with a Southern accent.
“Hi, Stan. Can I have a word with you?”
“Sure, Bill. What’s on your mind?”
“The Sanguine Acolytes and their so-called leader, Cthulhu. Their numbers are growing at a faster rate than we were previously aware. For some unknown reason this area of LA teems with magic forces of a variety of persuasions. Let’s step into my office. We can use the privacy.”
Stan followed the lead of his supervisor and entered Bill’s office. He was surprised to find Jocelyn sitting in one of the chairs of the captain’s office.
“Hi Stan, long time no see,” said Jocelyn.
“Hello, Jocelyn,” Stan answered.
He sat next to her.
Captain Mayweather addressed the two police officers. “As you may have guessed by now I want you two to work together on the streets of Los Angeles. Find out what you can about the Sanguine Acolytes and their hierarchy of adherents.
“I want to have you take this project to task. Both of you are adept officers in the field and have unique methods of securing the peace. We need to find new ways to police the district and bring down those who perpetrate or conspire to perpetrate our laws. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes,” replied Jocelyn. “Will you download files of known members of the Acolytes to our car?”
“Certainly,” answered the Captain. “Take some time to familiarize yourselves with the names and faces of your racketeering suspects. Let’s meet here again in a week’s time. Both of you have my thanks. That is all.”
The two officers shook hands with the Captain and exited from his office.
“That went well,” said Jocelyn. “I think we’ll make a great team, Stan. What do you think?”
“I agree. I regret that I don’t have magic abilities like you and the Captain. I’m willing to contribute to our undertakings as much as I am able.”
“That’s all that anyone could ask. Let’s go to our car and study the file on the Sanguine Acolytes. I want to get a closer look at the suspects in question.”
The two friends walked to Car 31. Stan opened the door and sat behind the wheel. As soon as he turned the key in the ignition a digital voice said, “New suspect data successfully downloaded from headquarters.”
Jocelyn looked at the computer screen built in the dashboard of the patrol car. There were photos of over a dozen suspected members of the Sanguine Acolytes. Stan recognized Spike’s picture among the group.
“Ah, there’s a familiar face,” he said. “He’ll be seeing the judge in a few hours. I’m sure Spike will think twice before getting so inebriated again.”
Stan drove Car 31 out of the parking structure and onto the street. He turned onto Sunset Boulevard and again saw the mass of wild-looking people that crowded the sidewalks. Many had fluorescent hair styles raised tall with styling gel and blow-driers.
“Stan, I’m getting a bad feeling,” said Jocelyn. “I haven’t felt like this since the riot last year.”
Jocelyn held her head in her hands and moaned, “I fear something terrible is about to happen. We should get to the Chinese Theater as quickly as possible.”
“What is it, Joce, another riot?”
“I’m not sure, Stan,” she answered. “I detect the presence of a mage transformed by arcane sorcery. He’s become a channeler of magic drawn from a dimension parallel to ours. It could be Cthulhu, the so-called leader of the Sanguine Acolytes.”
Stan activated the police radio frequency and spoke into the microphone.
“Headquarters, this is Car 31. I’m here with Officer Savage. She says she senses a potential disturbance at the Chinese Theater.”
“Thanks, Car 31,” replied the dispatcher. “We’re notifying the other officers in your vicinity. Proceed to the theater. They will meet you there.”
“We read you, headquarters,” said Stan. “Over and out.”
Stan activated the siren and emergency lights. The traffic on the street was a web of bottlenecks and collisions. Drivers did what they could to clear the way for the patrol car. Stan wove his vehicle through the mid-town traffic and soon reached the Chinese Theater.
Stan and Jocelyn watched citizens, many of them tourists, run in several directions from the Chinese Theater. A sphere of purple energy, five yards in diameter, rose above the escaping people. Within the translucent barrier hovered a tall, winged humanoid. His head was like that of an octopus, with triangular irises and a set of eight tentacles protruding over his maw. The mage had a pair of leathery wings extending from his back. These he flapped within his spherical shield to rise over the frightened people.
The police officers and civilians in the vicinity heard a telepathic, mind-voice resonate from the mage.
I am Cthulhu. I have awakened from my slumber. It is wise for you creatures to give me homage.
Stan stopped the police car at the side of the street. Jocelyn stepped out of the vehicle and grabbed the crowd-control gun from its place between the two front seats. She noticed that many of the people in the street held their hands to their ears to stop the voice of the hostile mage. Their efforts were in vain.
I claim this structure for my temple. From this point let it be known as the Temple of Cthulhu.
Some of the street mages attempted to thwart the turbulent mage with magic of their own. They unleashed electric bolts of a variety of colors that clung to the purple sphere. Cthulhu shook them off easily.
Jocelyn aimed her shotgun at the chaotic mage and yelled, “Cthulhu, you must stop your disruptive activity.”
Who are you to disturb my arrival to this new age of magic?
“I am Officer Savage. This is your final warning.”
Stan crouched behind his open door and trained his stun gun at the disruptor. He addressed Cthulhu, “Officer Savage is serious, Cthulhu. Refrain from your hostile actions or face the full force of the LAPD!”
The mollusk-headed wizard turned toward the sound of Stan’s voice. And who might you be, creature?
“I am Officer Norris. Officer Savage speaks the truth. Stop your disruptive conjuring before you are taken down.”
Nonesense! replied Cthulhu. This is the dawning of a new age for my Sanguine Acolytes and I. We are the authorities to be reckoned with in this populous flood basin. Your projectile throwers are useless against us.
Half a dozen patrol cars rolled into the area around the theater. Cthulhu flapped his wings forcefully. His shield of purple energy rose above the rooftops of the bustling metropolis. The anthropomorphic sorcerer gestured downward, sending two red coils of electricity around a pair of tall palm trees. The coils gripped the trunks of the two trees and ripped them from the ground. The trees were launched into the air then plummeted to the street, crushing a pair of patrol cars and the officers inside.
Stan, Jocelyn and the surviving officers opened fire on Cthulhu. The bullets and shot were deflected by Cthulhu’s powerful barrier. Cthulhu used his supernatural reflexes to grab Stan’s stun bolt. The electricity from the charge sparkled as it traveled up the large humanoid’s right arm. It covered his body with arcs.
Cthulhu laughed and extended his tentacles over his maw. He spoke in mind-voice to the humans below.
Ah, how refreshing that is. Since my era of dominance over the Hittites I have not felt such a charge.
Stan looked down at his stun gun. To his dismay its screen indicated that the battery was drained. Stan dropped the obsolete weapon and drew close to Jocelyn. “We should fall back from this offensive. Our weapons have no destructive effect against this monster.”
“I agree, Stan. We should prevent any more casualties in this conflict.”
Jocelyn opened the trunk of their patrol car and withdrew a megaphone. She addressed the crowd of onlookers and street mages.
“Depart immediately from this area, citizens. Your lives are in imminent danger.”
The people that remained in the area turned and ran upon Jocelyn’s order.
Stan’s communicator beeped as it received an incoming call.
“This is Stan,” he said into the microphone.
“Stan, this is Captain Mayweather. I’ve been watching the scenario through the cameras on our cars. I order you to disperse. This sorcerer is the worst yet. Contact me again once you and the other officers have secured a one-mile perimeter around the Chinese Theater. Over and out.”
“Yes, sir,” said Stan. “Did you hear our order, Joce?”
“Yes,” she answered. Jocelyn spoke into her communicator, “All right, people. Please disperse from the area. It is no longer safe. I repeat, disperse from the area.”
Jocelyn grew strangely pale and sat down quickly in the patrol car. Stan and the surviving officers shifted their patrol cars into reverse. They turned and drove to the mile perimeter where they blocked the streets and ignited signal flares at the intersections.
Stan guided the masses of people as they ran from the flaring purple lights that expanded to surround the entire Chinese Theater. Many of the citizens spoke into communicators, describing the events taking place and taking pictures with their micro-cameras.
“Jocelyn, are you okay?” asked Stan.
“I’m all right, I just felt drained for a moment,” she replied.
“Do you think this perpetrator is the same Cthulhu that Spike mentioned?” Stan queried.
“It’s a strong possibility, partner. My prescience is highly active today. This section of Los Angeles is still in danger. I perceive a special focus of malevolence toward us magic users. I have heard mention of borrowers. These are sorcerers that drain the arcane energy of those who would resist their intentions. If Cthulu is such a borrower we are in for a serious conflict.”
Captain Mayweather arrived at the perimeter and walked over to Stan and Jocelyn. “I overheard your conversation. Your presumptions are accurate. Several of our mage-police have fallen to a draining force emanating from the maverick mage, Cthulhu. This entity possesses a great degree of energy. I advise you to stay here, Jocelyn. Your prescient abilities may be tapped by Cthulhu and used against us.”
“I take your advice seriously, Bill,” she replied. “I will remain here, in the perimeter. Perhaps we can have Stan conduct reconnaissance on our behalf. Are you willing to observe and possibly contend with Cthulhu, Stan? There are several other non-magic-using officers that can form a Special Weapons And Tactics team. What do you think?”
“I’ll do my best, Sir,” Stan answered. “When do we begin?”
“As soon as you officers fill the armored transport vehicle.”
Stan grouped together with a dozen other officers that had not been changed by the magical revolution. They donned dark blue, bulletproof vests and helmets. Stan and the others took high-velocity assault rifles from the gun rack. A pair of the officers sported stinger missile launchers. Stan forced himself to breathe deeply as he and his comrades crowded into the personnel carrier. Jocelyn and Captain Mayweather gave the thumbs-up sign and closed the rear door. The driver stepped on the accelerator and the vehicle headed into the abandoned area cordoned off by the police.
Stan soon saw the purple spheres generated by Cthulhu. They had grown in size and thickness since the initial conflict with the LAPD. The vehicle rolled to a stop about five hundred yards from the Chinese Theater.
Stan saw that a large portion of theatergoers, numbering over a thousand, had become trapped within the building. They now lumbered around the structure with pallid skin and eyes that rolled white under the influence of the evil magic. The captured citizens were directed by iridescent beams of magic exuded from the gesticulating arms of red-cloaked mages.
“Those magic users must be the Sanguine Acolytes,” said Stan.
Stan realized that the people trapped in the Chinese Theater had become zombies from Cthulhu’s magic. They walked aimlessly with their arms extended before them. Stan heard their cries, which were a monotone sound, “Aah.”
Stan and the other SWAT officers exited the personnel carrier and pushed their way through the crowd of zombies. The purple lights of Cthulhu’s magic surrounded the building. The evil, anthropomorphic mage had made his way into the theater.
Stan’s team of officers opened the central doors and carefully deployed their forces into the building. Cthulhu hovered over the center stage with a dozen of his Sanguine Acolytes standing in stasis before him. Violet light ran from each of the foreheads of the mages to the sphere which protected Cthulhu.
“Cthulhu, this is the LAPD,” yelled Stan. “You are ordered to stop your conjuring. Consider yourself under arrest.”
Ha! How amusing! You clearly have no grasp of the magnitude of the power that stands before you. My Acolytes, eliminate these inferior meddlers.
The Sanguine Acolytes turned from the energy beams that coiled to their foreheads. The red-cloaked mages gestured at the mass of zombies in the theater. The enchanted civilians marched toward the group of officers. Before the pallid thralls reached the police the officers fired weighted, metallic nets over the crowd. Stan and his companions activated electric charges from batteries they carried. The shocked zombies fell in a broad swath before the Sanguine Acolytes. This gave Stan and his comrades the opportunity to fire their magic-piercing ammunition at the Cthulhu and his evil mages.
The anthropomorphic mage was unaffected. His acolytes fell to the high-charged projectiles. They shook involuntarily on the floor of the theater, then, laid still. Stan used an electronic device to quickly clamp plastic cuffs around the wrists of the comatose zombies and mages.
Cthulhu tore the electronic leads from his chest and issued a draining beam at Stan. The policeman, who was not a mage, stood unaffected. Stan continued his process of securing the zombies and suspects.
Argh! This is intolerable! Cthulhu yelled. You creatures have no idea who you’re dealing with. I call on you, Father of Darkness, to grant me the power to bring your wishes to fulfillment. Nyarlhothep!
Stan watched in awe as green beams of light emerged from a spiraling portal that opened before the stage of the theater. The gateway continued to unfurl until it was ten yards wide. A pair of gargantuan gnarled hands reached through from the starry space on the other side. They captured Cthulhu in a vice-like grip. The tentacled arch-mage was pulled into the dark dimension despite his struggle to resist.
Ours is the realm of repose and dream, My Son.
A resonating mind-voice boomed in the heads of Stan and the other people present.
You have toyed with these mortals long enough. Join me in the sleep of ages. When our time is near we will know it. Humans we leave you for now. Beware that your magic abilities have grown. The time draws near for the return of Cthulhu and I. We are watching you.
“Likewise, Nyarlhothep,” Stan yelled. “If you attempt to disturb this civilization you will be held to answer for your misdeeds.”
So be it, answered the disembodied mind-voice. Until then, goodbye, Mortal.
The green-rimmed portal shrank and then vanished entirely. Stan’s fellow officers finished arresting the last of the Sanguine Acolytes. They escorted the perpetrators to a gathering of paddy wagons. Stan saw Jocelyn and Captain Mayweather among the reinforcements that hurried to the theater at the disappearance of Cthulhu’s purple spheres.
“Stan, what happened?” asked Jocelyn.
“Cthulhu was unable to stop us from rescuing the zombie civilians and stopping the Sanguine Acolytes. Nevertheless all of us should remain watchful. Cthulhu was taken to a magical dimension by a stronger entity called Nyarlhothep. The magic of Los Angeles is growing day by day. Let’s get some rest. I’ve seen enough action for today.”
“Go ahead, Stan,” chuckled the Captain. “Take the week off, if you want. You and the other officers did a great service to the people of this city. You have our thanks. It seems that not all of us were meant to be magic users.”
The three friends made their way back to the secured perimeter and their patrol cars.
Lava flowed over the surface of Proto-Earth. The sea roiled and crested in massive proportions as it surged against the black, volcanic crags of what would be Pangaea.
Mollusk-kin thrived in the heated waters. The sentient, behemoth beings hunted in the depths. They took care to avoid the deadly, glowing heat of the lava, which cracked and sizzled as it shifted along the ocean floor.
I am concerned for the future of our young, intoned T‘seil, a female mollusk-kin.
She addressed her mate, Chugon.
The sea surges more violently than it has in the memory of the Kin. I fear that our offspring will not find adequate hunting waters or be able to navigate by the light of the stars in the nighttime sky.
The Kin lived in symbiosis with great forests of kelp. Algae and kelp formed in swirling, cooling pools within the near-steaming currents of the planetary ocean of Proto-Earth. The Kin fed on tiny crustaceans, called krill, which in turn fed on the surrounding, submarine forests. The Kin kept the kelp parasite-free and healthy.
This was the known way of life of the Kin before the source of T‘seil‘s concern.
Massive storm clouds now formed on the surface of the heated seas. Strange lightning struck the waves repeatedly. Other gatherings of Kin had reported losses of members of their hunting and foraging groups to the lethal, electric bolts. The turbulent weather additionally made it impossible to follow the planet‘s rotation and guide their travels to fresh kelp pools by starlight.
T‘seil and Chugon led their offspring with other Kin in their tribe. It was time to move on. The kelp forests awaited them beyond the heated currents.
The storm clouds coalesce like never before, T‘seil, intoned Chugon. We must bring our young to safe water before the lightning strikes.
I agree, loved-one, T‘seil answered.We must hurry.
The pair of Kin did what they could to hasten their family along while the clouds seemed to darken and glower with malevolence. Silver and blue bolts of electricity struck the surface of the ocean and thunder boomed in resonating waves across the horizon.
Strange orbs fell from the centers of the clouds to pierce the water and dive deep. Each of the metallic spheres was twice the size of Chugon, who measured 60 meters from tentacles to head.
Interesting, hummed the male Kin. Keep the young moving, T‘seil. I will dive to investigate one of these strange objects more closely.
As Chugon drew near to the orb it changed. Mechanical vibrations emanated from the surface of the foreign sphere. Chugon extended a tentacle to probe the device as it continued to drop into the depths. The male mollusk-kin was startled to sense a static charge from the strange object. Rows of lights aligned in spirals along the circumference sparkled as the orb gave the appearance of coming to life.
A voice bellowed in the water speaking, surprisingly, in a dialect that Chugon understood.
We are the Xoids. This is a fluorishing environment. Our collective has chosen to claim it for the Process. You are a superb specimen. It is clear that this planet has potential.
Chugon sensed magnetic force pulling him toward the sizable, electric orb. The energy was much the same as that of gravity which the Kin knew grew stronger when he dove deeper into the sea. He tried to maneuver away from the alien artifact to no avail. It was intent on capturing the scion of the depths.
The Xoid, as it called itself split at the center and each half rotated in opposite directions. Within the opening at it‘s center was a restraining net which glowed green in the fading-light of the dense water. The ethereal net expanded and surrounded Chugon like a bubble. There was enough water for him to respirate but the restrictive tethers gave him virtually no freedom of movement.
Alas, I fear for the safety of T‘seil and our offspring. I wonder what will become of them in the wake of this alien invasion.
The halves of the Xoid rotated back to their original positions and closed in upon the captured Kin. The lights and internal vibrations of the cybernetic entity intensified. The living machine stopped its descent into the darkness and rose toward the surface at an accelerating rate.
T‘seil and many of the other Kin of their hunting and foraging tribe were startled by potent spumes of water as the Xoids and their captured cargo zoomed toward the upper atmosphere of Proto-Earth and beyond.
The motherships await, hummed a disembodied voice.
Chugon and others of his captured kindred moaned in dread.
The Kin traveled beyond space and time. The Xoids were aggressive. They insisted on testing the faculties of survival of the aquatic mollusks. Chugon and his companions were resilient, however, and they endured despite their discomfort. None of the imprisoned Kin had knowledge of the time or location of the hostile motherships. Unbeknownst to them millennia passed on Proto-Earth and other species evolved to sentience.
It was then that the Xoid ships and their dismal menagerie encountered one of their many nemesi, acquired over epochs of intergalactic exploitation and abuse. They were the Galdur, a race of explorers whose territorial contention with the Xoids was bitter and ancient.
An image appeared before Chugon, drawing him from his troubled stasis.
What is this, another test? wondered the melancholic Kin…
The skies over Earth flared purple and red in the light of the setting sun. L-Bot was a mechanically enhanced human cyborg. His modified faculties of perception sensed a whiff of ocean air in the breeze of twilight. It was a weekly ritual for L-Bot to climb the observation tower at the Griffith Observatory and study the stars and constellations as they emerged through the fading marine layer of clouds over Los Angeles.
The sights and sounds of the city below were customary to L-Bot. It was the year 2126. The streets were filled with evening traffic. People drove a variety of eco-friendly vehicles ranging from electricity-powered sedans to natural-gas-burning trucks and scooters.
The traffic was heavy as families made the commute home. The parking lots of the local grocery stores were jam-packed as customers rushed to purchase staples for the evening meal.
L-Bot was quick to spot Orion’s Belt, Venus and Mars. The high-pressure, robotic mines on Venus gave the greenish planet a fluctuating, metallic sheen, visible to L-Bot’s magnesium-fortified retinas.
Mars, on the other hand, was populated by both humans and cyborgs, like L-Bot. The red spheroid was covered with web-like cities that were connected by vacuum transit tubes. This architecture made Mars sparkle and pulsate in the night sky over Earth.
Much of L-Bot’s skeleton was reinforced with magnesium. This metal had been chosen by the scientists at the L.A. lab for its strength and light weight. L-Bot exited the Griffith Observatory and reclined on a grassy hilltop nearby. He enjoyed the time he had to listen to birds sing and crickets chirp. A steady stream of large aircraft and spacecraft made the descent over the LAX airport to land on the variegated tarmac.
As a cyborg L-Bot needed to be constantly on the lookout for Smashers. The Smashers were conglomerations of hostile humans known to attack and dismantle cyborgs in order to sell their electronic and metallic components on the black market.
L-Bot made his way down from the observatory. He enjoyed passing through the lights of the night time city. Many cars and trucks passed him by despite the late hour.
L-Bot’s proximity system activated his optical Heads-Up-Display. Someone bearing heavy, metallic weapons was approaching from a side street.
Before he could react L-Bot was riddled by a hail of bullets.
None of his vital components were damaged and L-Bot turned to face the source of the attack.
A gathering of Smashers straddled jet bikes as they continued to fire their weapons.
L-Bot was jarred and shaken by the ballistic assault but his electric armor held strong. The cyborg’s HUD indicated his armor was functioning at 97%. L-Bot activated his shoulder cannon and fired a controlled barrage of heavy rounds at the jet bikes of his adversaries.
The Smashers swerved in a flurry of random directions in an attempt to avoid L-Bot’s counterattack. They were not quick enough to evade the heavy rounds issued from the cyborg’s digital weapons lock.
A number of the jet bikes were disabled by the returning fire. Their riders turned tail and fled from the battle scene before their vehicles were rendered completely defunct.
The conflict was terminated and L-Bot contacted his mechanical engineer via an encrypted band width.
“Doc, are you there? This is L-Bot. I’ve got a code red situation here.”
“Yes, L-Bot, I’m here,” a tinny voice spoke through the cyborg’s audio communication system. “I can see you on my global positioning screen. Do you want me to pick you up with the rescue copter?”
“Affirmative, Doc. I’m doing fine but should run a diagnostic program on my armor technology. I don’t know if The Smashers plan to return tonight but it’s a good idea to leave this area as soon as possible.”
L-Bot scanned the scene for a suitable hiding place. He opted to rest on the top of the Griffith Observatory dome. L-Bot activated a pair of booster rockets in his legs. They provided the cyborg with enough thrust to leap to the top of the housing of the Griffith telescopes.
The jet bikes of The Smashers did not reappear.
TO BE CONTINUED…
The winter wind billowed over the heath. Seamus MacLeod trotted with his two elk hounds as they scanned the air for the scent of prey. The green hills were damp with the mist that passed perpetually under the gray cover of clouds.
Seamus was in his early twenties and stood just over six feet tall. His dark brown hair and coarse beard were ruffled by the chilling air.
The young man took in the horizon from the crest of a hill north of his home, Cairn MacLeod. He detected the movement of a four-legged creature in the basin of the valley before him.
“Guyver, Caleb, seek!”
The lanky dogs responded to the command of their master and hurled themselves into full speed in search of game. Thunder rumbled in the distance as the hounds found the scent of an elk.
The chase was on and Seamus sprinted into the green valley with his bow and shillelagh in hand. The dogs closed in on their prized target and in a matter of moments nipped and snapped at the elk’s hindquarters.
TO BE CONTINUED…
The thirst beckoned. The night wind blew over Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico.
Nightwing was yet a fledgling vampire. This was hard for the night feeder to believe considering his heightened senses and strength. His mentor, Garibaldi, had warned him of the effects of drinking his aged, undead blood.
Nightwing was gaunt and pale. His silvery hair billowed in the wind of his speeding convertible. The vampire had crimson irises which he kept hidden behind circular sunglasses.
He no longer physically needed a car. The vehicle was necessary to keep up appearances. At times, still, Nightwing longed to shirk his mortal accoutrements and rise above the clouds of the New Orleans night sky.
Raquelle was near. Nightwing detected her aura amid the pulsing heat of sleeping mortals and animals. The night feeder had searched for the female vampire for a week.
Most vampires were not so hard to find within the myriad of mortals that stood out in the darkness. The thumping hearts of the humans and the fresh blood that coursed through their veins were tantalizing beacons in the world of the undead. Vampires appeared as fiery bastions of cold blood within the milieu.
Raquelle had fled from his companionship, seeking the freedom of solitude. Nightwing was not one to end a relationship on a sour note.
[He drove along the street until he found the house. He parked the car under a tree and got out. He looked at the house, and then he started up the walk. When he reached the door, he knocked and waited. After a while a woman opened the door and looked at him. They talked for a while.]
“Hello, Nightwing. You must be thirsty. I can see that you haven’t fed for days. Why did you follow me?”
“I was lonely and needed someone to talk with. I’ve found a killer, Raquelle. I welcome you to share the feast.”
“No thank you, Nightwing. I’ve just fed on some rats. Extend your offer to our creator, Garibaldi. He doesn’t feed enough and could use the fresh blood more than I.”
“Are your sure, Raquelle? The blood of such a wrong-doer is far more virile than that of these puny animals. Come with me.”
“I wish to stay, Nightwing. Please don’t follow me. I will see you and our mentor again soon. Farewell.”
[Then the woman closed the door, and the man walked back to his car. He started the engine and drove away.]
Nightwing thirsted more than ever before. He regretted that Raquelle wasn’t more sociable.
She has much on her mind, he thought. The transition to the world of the vampires can be overwhelming at times.
Nightwing missed Raquelle’s company. She had been friendlier during the nights after their initiation by Garibaldi.
There’s little I can do to cheer her up, Nightwing thought. I must find Garibaldi and bring him to the feast. It is true that he doesn’t feed as much as he should’
The vampire headed his car to the French Quarter and Garibaldi’s mausoleum.
END OF LINE
This place holds unseen power.
Titans battled here and the shadows of their magic remains.
External buttresses hold the ceiling two hundred yards above.
Once these halls were crowded with life.
Now they are empty and hollow.
The sound of my footsteps echoes off the neighboring colonnades.
And I am reminded of the masses of trolls that met here.
That was before the dragons came.
They set fire to the villages of Trollhaven.
Now they’ve come for me.
I lift my gaze to the stained-glass windows.
And think of the green trees and blue sky of the past.
Smoke and ash fill the air, along with the hiss and pop of crackling flame.
I clutch the hilt of my father’s sword, Odin’s Claw.
My time approaches.
I hear the deep, bass pulse of giant wings flapping on the wind.
I am the last of my kindred.
And I go to my fate with a heavy heart.
Odin’s Claw is sharpened and polished.
It will not be lost without putting a scratch or two into the scaled hide of an invading dragon.
I take my leave of this cathedral and go to the chambers of my father.
The wyrms await me.
End of Line
They came from the Moon.
Massive ships were built by the lunar colonies of the United Nations.
Spinning cylinders revolved on axes, providing gravity for the thousands of specialists aboard.
They set forth toward the red planet, Brother of Earth.
Upon their arrival into orbit the spacecrafts would link-up to form the first recon base.
It took two years for the interplanetary galleons to reach the scarred surface of Mars.
Some would return in six years.
Many chose not to return at all.
They would nurture the first generation of Martians.
Unmanned vessels had stockpiled the surface around Olympus Mons.
Crates and boxes held staples ranging from pressurized oxygen to hydroponic gardens and food for livestock.
Independent robots scurried over the ferrous hills and valleys to carve ice at the poles of Mars.
Water and hydrogen could fuel an emergency return voyage.
The quest for knowledge was without end.
Teachers kept the travelers sharp with holographic, educational resources.
Their view of the Earth and Sun grew smaller each day.
The craters of Mars became closer and easily defined.
Giant construction drones and dozers dug caverns and tunnels.
These routes were lined with plastic layers to be peopled by the new arrivals.
The atmosphere was nearly nonexistent.
The underground would provide sanctuary from the Sun’s uninhibited ultra-violet radiation and the bombardment of meteors and asteroids.
It was the dawn of a new age.
People of Earth queued in droves to be on the next wave to the Moon and beyond.
Mars became a target for would-be adventurers and colonists.
The space program was in full effect.
It was the beginning of mankind’s diasporas from Earth to the stars and galaxies beyond.
Eventually, we would no longer be dependent on a single sun for light, warmth and gravitational pull.
It was a race against the unknown.
The need to survive a black hole, a supernova, an extraterrestrial conquest.
The need to survive…regardless of the cost.
The wonders of the ancient and modern world rested on their shoulders and those who were yet to be born.
END OF LINE
The Nile River flowed north to the Mediterranean. It parted the stifling heat and merciless dunes of the Sahara desert.
The river’s abundance of game and arable land attracted the first hunters and gatherers to the fertile banks. Some came from Jericho while the majority migrated from the vast steppes of Central Asia. The names of their tribes are lost to history. Their civilization is forgotten but their legacy remains.
At first the tribes lived as they had beyond memory. They collected grain and game as they grew in the wilderness. After a time they harnessed the water of the Nile through man-made channels and water screws. The women stored seeds for the next year and sowed them in the irrigated soil. They chose only the finest and most hearty wheat plants, creating newer, more resilient strains.
Cattle and wildebeests were taken captive to be slaughtered when needed most. Other herds of beef and goats were allotted for sacrificial tribute to the gods. It was the beginning of man’s adoption of agriculture
The early Egyptians also formed packs of mud, fiber and gravel. The earthen mixtures were left in the sun to dry. The resulting bricks made stronger fortifications against barbarian invasions. They also provided shelter against the elements and storage room for harvested wheat.
It was only a matter of time before the farms and ranches were divided into north and south. Kings rose to manage the vast stores of grain harvested from the irrigated fields. Battles occurred and famines remained. No matter how bountiful the harvest, there were always more mouths to feed and prices to pay.
Priests were anointed and temples built to Amon Re, the sun god and creator of the universe, and Osiris, the falcon king of the netherworld, so that they might maintain the peace of the pharaonic society.
Above all the reign of the pharaohs was influenced by the necessity to be preserved beyond death. Passage from the mortal world marked the opportunity for entrance to the afterlife. There the hearts of pharaohs and commoners alike were weighed by Thoth, the scribe of the gods, in a preternatural scale.
Greater than the tallies of wheat and tributes of temples was the demand for the heart of the deceased to be lighter than one of Maat’s feathers. Maat was the avian, anthropomorphic god of truth and justice. If the test was passed the bearer’s soul would be granted access to the spirit world. To have such a heart required virtue of the owner. If the test failed and the heart proved heavy from misdoing, Ammit, the reptilian devourer of souls, would consume the hearts of the evil people.
From Memphis, in the northern, Lower Egypt to Thebes, in the southern, Upper Egypt, the chariots ran endlessly. They carried news of the latest invasions and rushed to defend the kingdom from marauders originating in Central Asia. The spears and bolt throwers were oiled and kept ready by the pharaoh’s sergeants. Martial law was the norm and no one dared to oppose the strength of the kings.
Amen was but a young man. His older brother, Tuthmose, was the heir to a lineage extending for centuries. Like their father, Amenhotep III, the siblings enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. The princes, both in their twenties, trotted through the reeds and palms that bordered the great river. An entourage of slaves and servants followed the heirs. Their duties were to keep the slings of the princes loaded and their quivers filled with arrows. Other servants used tamed falcons to fly into the brush and cause doves and pigeons to take flight. Their successful expeditions would later be recorded by artisans on ceramic vases and temple walls.
Tuthmose was lithe and athletic, the clear heir to the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt. Amen, on the other hand, bore the features of Marfan syndrome. His face was elongated and his body oddly rotund. Both of the brothers were excellent marksmen, however, and they competed to see who brought down the greater amount of game before twilight.
At nightfall the servants of the princes ignited torches on the sides of the number of chariots of the hunting expedition. One chariot was piled high with waterfowl shot with arrows and speared peccaries.
“Beware of the crocodiles, my brother,” declared Tuthmose. “They hunt aggressively in the night. We don’t want to provide them with an unsuspecting snack.”
“I agree, Tuthmose,” replied Amen. “The beasts can be voracious. It is time for us to travel inland to our father’s temple.”
The brothers signaled the captain at the head of the convoy to start moving. The lighted chariots headed along a heavily used road into the overlooking dunes. The trail was etched from the passage of the horse-driven vehicles. The soldiers who accompanied the princes rode in pairs. One rider held the reins while the other a sharpened bronze spear. They were willing to give their lives to protect Tuthmose and Amen. It was understood by all who traveled in the group that if they returned to the temple without the siblings they would pay for it with their lives.
Amen and Tuthmose rode through the night. The temple of Amenhotep III stood at the center of Memphis, the city of the living. The streets were alight with oil lamps and torches. Servants of the Pharaoh carried coffers of fuel oil to keep the hanging sconces burning.
Although the booths and tents of the marketplace were closed the city teemed with life. The air was thick with the odor of incense and cooking food. The chariots of the young nobles passed gatherings of plebeians. The citizens recognized the rippling flags and banners bearing the symbols of the rod and staff. These indicated the military and religious power of the pharaoh. The onlookers bowed their heads in a gesture of reverence.
Memphis was filled with cats. They were treated as bastions of the netherworld. A group of the prowling animals looked up from a plate of food left by a scrupulous shopkeeper. The retinas of their feline eyes reflected the light of the torches, giving them an eerie countenance.
At last the convoy reached the temple of Amenhotep III. Artemis, the head priest and teacher of the young men, hurried down the steps of the pillared structure and embraced the brothers as they disembarked from their chariots.
“Welcome home, my princes. Your father is away. Amenhotep III is conducting negotiations with the Nubians in Upper Egypt. I see that you two had a successful hunt. Amon Re smiles on you. We shall prepare a proper sacrifice to the gods this night.”
Artemis gestured for a group of acolytes to approach. Their number represented the farthest reaches of the kingdom of the father of the princes. Some were Nubian, from beyond the desert of Upper Egypt. Their skin was dark and their hair tightly curled. Others represented the tribes of Central Asia and nomadic hunters from the north.
One acolyte bore the features of the Hyksos. His eyes were dark and his gaze penetrating. His face was aquiline and angular. Much like Tuthmose, the young Hyksos man was taller than average and carried himself with a posture that exuded self-confidence and contemplation.
“Please, students, take the game brought by our princes to the altar of sacrifice.”
The acolytes did as the head priest asked and began to unload the nearly full chariot of its bounty. Tuthmose and Amen accompanied Artemis into the inner sanctum of the Memphan temple. Upon their entrance assistant priests and priestesses added swatches of incense to the flaming sconces that lined the colonnades of the structure. At the center of the pillared building stood gold-embossed representations of the members of the Egyptian pantheon. These statues, chiseled by the finest sculptors in the kingdom stood in a semicircle before the great, sacrificial sconce at the center of the sanctuary.
Amon Re stood at the center of the group of likenesses. To his left was Osiris. Thoth’s statue was placed to Amon Re’s right.
Artemis addressed the ad hoc manifestations of deities in the temple.
“We offer this game to you, immortal gods, so that we may continue to receive abundant harvests and peace in our kingdom. You have our gratitude, Amon.”
The head priest of Egypt gestured to the acolytes to begin stoking the fire and tossing the game into the flames. The princes and acolytes watched as the day’s catch was consumed by the pyre. The smoke rose slowly to the ceiling of the temple. It followed channels in the angled stone to roll out the sides of the structure and dissipate.
As was commonly seen by the Egyptians, the ruby and sapphire eyes of the god statues ignited with preternatural light. Amon Re, Thoth, Osiris and over a dozen other gods gazed around the Memphis temple. The light from their jeweled eyes generated intersecting beams in the sacrificial smoke.
The group meditated in the soothing emanations of the incense.
Amen and Tuthmose heard the sound of footsteps walking through the central hall of the edifice. They turned and saw their mother, Tiye, and their six sisters as they approached the sanctuary of the immortals.
“You have done well this night, my sons,” said the Queen of Egypt. “You set a good example for your sisters.”
She embraced her sons then addressed Artemis.
“You have my thanks, once more, head priest. The gods are satisfied by your well-conducted, ritual sacrifice.”
“I am flattered, my Queen. All of us await the return of the Pharaoh. He is due to arrive at any time. I understand that his negotiations with the Nubian Kings to the south were fruitful.
“That is what I’ve also heard, Artemis,” replied Tiye. “My sons and daughters will retire to their quarters for the night. I expect our family will be reunited by morning. I take my leave of this temple, now, head priest. We will meet again soon. The time draws near for Amenhotep III and I to procure wives for our sons and husbands for our daughters.”
“That is the truth, Tiye,” answered Artemis. “I will help you both with this nearing task to the best of my ability.”
The head priest noticed the eldest daughter, Kiya, exchanging stares with the Hyksos acolyte.
“What is your name, Hyksos acolyte?” Kiya asked.
“I am Moses,” the servant of the temple answered.
“Is it true that the Hyksos worship one god? It isn’t very much, don’t you think?”
“Yes, princess, my people believe in one, all-encompassing god,” Moses answered. “We call him Yahweh.”
“That is interesting,” replied Kiya. “I’ve been told that the Hyksos tribes of old aided the ancient pharaohs in the construction of the great pyramids. Do you believe this is the case, Moses?”
“I don’t know, princess. My people have traveled in groups over much of the desert in varying waves and directions. There was clearly a diaspora that took place somewhere in Central Asia ages ago. It is possible that a portion of the ancestors of my tribe arrived at the Nile in search of fertile soil and secure domiciles.”
“I concur with your assessment, Moses,” Artemis interjected.
The head priest of the temple used his walking staff to position himself between the two, young adults.
“That’s enough, you two. Both of you have business to attend to. Let us meet here again once that the Pharaoh has returned. Get some rest so that you may be at your fullest faculties on the morn. None of us know what tasks Amenhotep III may place before us.”
The young adults did as Artemis asked and exited from the great temple at Memphis. They retired to separate lodgings and prepared for the return of the Pharaoh.
Tuthmose and Amen were awakened by servants at the dawn.
“Arise, princes,” declared a middle-aged servant. “Your father is in Memphis and requests your presence.”
The brothers were clothed in fine robes and fed a wholesome breakfast. They hurried from their living quarters to the temple of Amon Re.
Amenhotep III stood chatting with Artemis. The Pharaoh wore a tall crown, called a peshent, indicating his command of the two Egypts. This, along with his kohl-darkened eyes and majestic beard gave him a regal appearance. The features of the Pharaoh were much the same as those of Tuthmose, although older. He turned to face his approaching sons and hugged them.
“Greetings, my sons. My trek to Upper Egypt was effective. The Nubian King agreed to support the endeavors of my kingdom in return for a contract of mutual, military support. They also sent a number of their citizens to aid in the daily affairs of this land.”
The Pharaoh gestured to the side of the temple where a gathering of Nubians stood.
Like the Central African acolytes that Tuthmose and Amen had seen previously the Nubian courtesans were tall and muscular. Their dark complexions made their athletic physiques appear statuesque.
Amen was taken by the beauty of a young woman in the group. She was picturesque and had long limbs and a slender neck. The younger of the two princes approached her.
“What is your name, if you please, Nubian princess?”
“I am Nefertiti. My father, Zudan, the king of Nubia, sent me across the great desert as a token of his goodwill toward your northern realms.”
The African princess bowed in a gesture of friendship.
Amen bowed in turn, took her hand in his and kissed it.
“Egypt is honored by your presence, Nefertiti.”
“Thank you, courteous prince,” answered the young lady.
“Let us begin the ceremony welcoming the sun, my friends,” Artemis declared.
Amenhotep III took his place on an ornate dais at the center of the statues of the gods. Tiye, his wife, sat on the right side of the Pharaoh. They signaled Artemis to begin the ceremony dedicated to Re. The head priest of the Memphan temple put incense into the central sconce and addressed the sun god.
“Amon Re, we thank you for this day. Let your will bring us peace.”
Artemis bowed to the likeness of Amon Re as did the Pharaoh and Queen. The eyes of the gods remained dormant. This, also, was usual for the dawn ceremony.
The head priest spoke to the members of the royal family in attendance.
“The ceremony is finished. You may conduct your business for the day, your majesties.”
“Thank you, Artemis,” answered Amenhotep III.
He addressed his two sons.
“Tuthmose and Amen, your mother and I understand that you had a successful hunt yesterday.”
“That is correct, father,” answered the elder of the two brothers. “The banks of the Nile continue to prove plentiful.”
“That pleases us,” said Tiye. “Your father has expressed his desire to accompany you on a hunting expedition today.”
“Excellent, mother,” replied Amen. “Let us be on our way.”
The captain of the royal guard approached the two thrones from his station within the colonnades of the great temple.
“The charioteers are ready, your majesties.”
“Thank you, captain,” replied the Pharaoh.
“We will return this evening, Tiye. Perhaps I will catch a hippopotamus.”
“Be careful, my brave men. As you know, the river can be both plentiful and dangerous.”
Tiye gave her husband and sons a farewell embrace.
The chariots of the nobles were ready and harnessed with the finest horses.
“We must be on our way, my people,” said Amenhotep III. “There is a barge waiting for us upstream so that we may focus on acquiring more than the game on the shoreline.”
The Pharaoh and his sons climbed aboard their respective vehicles. The charioteers lashed their horses into full gallop. Amen marveled at the craftsmanship of the wheeled vehicles. They carried the hunters at a fast pace along the etched trail in the packed sand. In a matter of hours they reached an ideal bend in the Nile that was known to be a haven for fish, birds and hippopotami. The royal barge was ready and the riders guided their vehicles expeditiously up a ramp bridging the shore and the deck of the oared ship.
Servants tethered the horses and chariots in a queue at the center of the watercraft. They then took seats along the sides of the barge and hoisted long oars, ready to row. The captain of the guard signaled to the pilot to draw anchor and head for the shallows at the center of the Nile.
The hunting expedition had cruised for less than an hour when they spotted a cluster of hippopotami feeding on vegetation below the murky surface of the river. The Pharaoh directed the pilot to draw closer to the shallow section where the large herbivores scooped at roots and foliage. Amenhotep III held a sharp javelin and hurled it at an unsuspecting hippo. It was a large male and the glancing wound caused it to leap out of the water, knocking Tuthmose into the river. Almost instantaneously crocodiles that had been lying in wait underwater rushed to the flailing prince.
“Tuthmose!” cried Amen “Swim to shore. Let us help you.”
The younger brother moved to dive into the Nile and attempt to free the entangled prince. The Pharaoh and his servants on the barge were quick to restrain the wailing prince and would not let him near the snapping reptiles.
The elder brother struggled with the voracious crocodiles but was unable to swim free of their vice-like jaws. Tuthmose was pulled under the surface by the massive reptiles. The cloudy water roiled with the frenzy of the animals. Blood and torn clothing rose around the hunting boat but the prince of Egypt did not emerge again.
“Alas, my son is gone!” cried Amenhotep III.
The pilot addressed the Pharaoh.
“Your majesty, I recommend that we head for the shore. We must preserve the life of Amen lest the crocodiles make another attempt on the passengers of this vessel.”
“Yes, you are right, my friend,” answered the king. “Amen is now the heir apparent. We must return to the safety of Memphis while we are able.”
The Pharaoh clung to his rotund son in a protective manner. He directed the young man to stand in the middle chariot at the center of the royal barge.
The men at the oars hastened the craft beyond the hippopotami and returned to the launching place. As soon as the bank was within range Amenhotep III directed the servants to lower the bridge. He lashed his team of horses fiercely as he drove his chariot. The other soldiers were quick to follow their king and they left a trail of dust along the road as they sped toward the city.
Word spread quickly of the death of the Pharaoh’s eldest son. Fishermen and hunters who witnessed the series of events from the shore of the Nile had raced ahead of Amenhotep III to deliver the tragic news to the citizens of Memphis. The streets, which were crowded with merchants and customers on good days, were jam-packed with people anxious to see the returning king.
Soldiers surrounded the royal entourage and formed a wedge within the seething mass of Egyptians. Despite the attempt of the militia to clear a path for the Pharaoh the mob made the journey agonizing.
At last the chariots reached the Memphan temple. Artemis rushed to the entrance of the structure, knowing that the king would not return to the city so soon unless some mishap had occurred.
“My king, what has happened?” asked the head priest.
The Pharaoh wept and his tears caused his kohl-darkened eyes to produce streams of black down his face.
“Tuthmose is dead. He was knocked into the Nile by a hippopotamus and devoured by crocodiles.”
“That is terrible news,” said Artemis. “The kingdom has suffered a great loss this day. You must bring Amen inside. There is bound to be turmoil in the city as the news of this accident spreads throughout the districts.”
As the Pharaoh spoke with Tiye, his wife, her sobs of loss were muffled by the cries of the crowd outside the effigy-filled temple.
“Artemis, I want to hold a coronation ceremony tomorrow,” said Amenhotep III. “Amen will be a co-ruler with Tiye and I. We must demonstrate the lasting continuity of this family.”
“As you wish, my Pharaoh,” replied the head priest. “I will make the necessary preparations immediately. I understand that this is a trying moment, your majesty, but I advise you to rest today. Your grief may make you ill.”
“Thank you, Artemis,” answered the Pharaoh. “I will do as you suggest.”
The head priest bowed toward the king and called for his acolyte, Moses.
“Moses, please escort Amen to his quarters.”
The Hyksos acolyte emerged from the shadows of the pillared building and put his arm around his prince’s shoulders.
“The Lord tries us in mysterious ways, at times, my prince. Like your father you must rest for tomorrow you shall be made co-ruler of Egypt. This is both a great honor and a heavy responsibility.”
“I agree, Moses. You are a heartening support. Tell me of your Lord. Have you met him?”
“Yes, my prince. He appeared before me as a burning bush. It was only a demonstration of his zeal for the people of the world. Yahweh is everywhere and within all things. This does not mitigate the events that result from free will which all of us possess, of course.”
“That is interesting, Moses. We must talk about this Yahweh again. I think I will follow your recommendation and rest. The throne of Egypt was rightfully Tuthmose’s. Now that he is gone he would have wanted me to fill his expected role.”
The royal family retired from their administrative duties for the day. Artemis and his acolytes made the necessary preparations for the coronation ceremony. The guards of the temple continued to restrain the citizens who clambered to gain a view of the bereft king.
Dusk fell and soon turned to night. The moon and stars shone brightly over the city. This did not stop the lamentation of the residents of Memphis. Throughout the two Egypts citizens of the realm held a night-long vigil in memory of the fallen prince.
As dawn began the acolytes dressed Amenhotep III and his family in their finest robes. The sconces were refueled and the preparations made for the coronation.
“We are gathered here today to remember our lost prince,” declared Artemis, “but also to celebrate the establishment of a new king. Amen, son of Amenhotep III, have you chosen a name to reflect the honor of your new office?”
“Yes, I have, Artemis,” said Amen. “I wish to be called Akhenaton. I emphasize my following of Amon Re, the creator of the universe and controller of the sun. My brother would not have wanted the kingdom to wallow in loss and regret. I do this with the permission of my father and mother.”
“Very well, Akhenaton,” replied Amenhotep III. “Keep in mind that Osiris, Thoth and the other gods will continue their observance of our affairs.”
“We will be here to help you, my son, whatever name you choose,” offered Tiye. “The duties of the rulers of the two Egypts are weighty burdens, indeed. We will have your throne placed before us so that you will become accustomed to the decision-making process that is our responsibility.”
The Queen of Egypt continued to mourn her lost son as a group of acolytes brought a new throne in front of the two at the center of the gods.
Akhenaton forced a smile as Artemis placed a peshent, similar to the one worn by his father, on his head. Artisans nearby began immediately to chisel likenesses of the new Pharaoh out of stone.
END OF LINE
CHAPTER ONE: GRAYLION’S REPORT
Each phase of our evolution is marked with the actions of particular, serendipitous male and female anthromorphs who happen to be in the right place at the right time. This is the essence of scientific discovery and species development.
You may grind lenses to look into the microscopic universe or giant, extraterrestrial telescopes to peer deep into space but you may be surprised at what you find looking back.
Over a thousand years ago, our history was affected by the anthromorph named Graylion. He was a humanoid who started his career as a Balancer and eventually became something greater.
Here is his story, told in his own words, as he intended for the world to remember.
–Felix Leibert (lynx anthromorph), Chief Historian at Andromeda Database A.D. 4576
* * * * *
My name is Balancer Graylion. I must tell my story now before the Network puts its spin on what happened on Skorsis. I am posting these words on the Hypernet so that colonies throughout the galaxy, including the sad remnants of the Lunar Settlements, will know the truth about the skorites…and why I did what I did.
About six months ago I was ordered by my commanding officer, Captain Iguana, to attend a top secret, top brass meeting of the Hydrodyne Network, our employer. I am indentured as a Balancer for the Network.
Hydrodyne is the provider of the majority of the hydrogen and related technology that is used to oxygenate and hydrate barren planets. The Network is in the business of mining any place found to be rich in fossil fuels and precious metals like gold, zinc and copper. Skorsis was such a planet.
We Balancers spent most our time hunting down the outlaws who interfered with the mining operations. These were mostly the Section 21’s and their ilk. It usually turned out to be a burned-out drill operator who got drunk and killed somebody or trashed a Network excavation site somewhere in the Outer Colonies.
We’d do the basic, no-brainer Acquisition, Tranquilization and Arrest bit. I was good at it and the Network paid me well when I helped them clean up their messes.
Ever since the Synthesis Wars in 4199 most of us Network Balancers were on ATA detail. Before the Interspecial Treaty of the Scutum Arm all of us were Phalanx Leaders in the war.
Network Balancers’ contracts provided that we be brought out of cryosleep only during Mission Assignments. Otherwise, Network time and training would be wasted on the seven-month journey from cold storage in the Terran District to the Skorsis system in the Frontier District. It was a distance of one thousand light years from the Network home world in the Orion Spiral Arm, closer to the center of the Milky Way to where Hydrodyne and other interstellar oligarchies pursued their mining interests.
The Network had projects in several planetary systems in the Scutum Arm, including the Skorsis system and a few more in the Three Kiloparsec Arm. These were what anthromorphs called the Outer Colonies of the Frontier District. The Outer Colonies were the theater for the Synthesis Wars not so long ago.
The Network sought to make mineral-rich planets devoid of life more accessible to releasing their natural wealth. Minimally trained skeleton crews guided monolithic Network galleons, loaded with cargoes of gargantuan oxygenation and hydrolyzation machines.
These machines were set by Network engineers to undertake the arduous, centuries-long process of making airless planets habitable by carbon-based life. Of all the Outer Colonies, the oldest and most developed were the copper mines on Skorsis.
For the last three hundred years the atmosphere generators gave Skorsis air, precipitation, glacial erosion, rivers and oceans where previously there was only desolate, arid desert.
I didn’t learn about the trouble with Balancer Sunwolf until Captain Iguana pulled me out of cold storage for an emergency meeting.
There were four of us in the briefing forum at the Hydrodyne Security Headquarters orbiting Skorsis. I had just revived from cryosleep an hour earlier and I felt like my head was being used as a pile driver at a Hydrodyne mine.
“Thank you for coming, Graylion.”
Captain Iguana offered me a seat at the table. Dressed in Network Security uniform, the Captain was a tall, reptile anthromorph with a looming forbearance. He had a blue tinge to his skin and yellow, ovoid irises. For the last eight years he had been monitoring Skorsis.
“This is Doctor Anaximander, our chief geneticist.”
The Captain gestured to a middle-aged mutant. Instead of limbs, several muscular, red-veined coils extended from his torso where his arms and legs would be.
Dr. Anaximander stretched a prehensile coil holding the remote control for the briefing forum computer. The imaging display was activated and everyone saw a three-dimensional, holographic depiction of the Skorsis system.
Dr. Anaximander nodded to his colleague, a lion anthromorph like me.
“According to Dr. Mbabwe’s research, Woden and Loki failed to establish orbits around their sun during their initial formation. They were ultimately reconstituted by the star, a young, mid-sized, yellow cache of superheated hydrogen. That left Skorsis and a trio of auxiliary moons.”
“Why don’t you continue, Ibis?” offered Dr. Anaximander.
“Ibis Mbabwe is our resident geo-physicist.”
Dr. Mbabwe was a beautiful woman in her late twenties. She took the remote control from her mutant companion.
“Skorsis was the only entity of investigable size in this system. The potential yield and subsequent profit from copper capital was deemed worth colonization by the Network.”
The holographic image changed to a close-up of the surface of Skorsis.
“This is what the planet looked like three hundred years ago.”
I was surprised at the similarity between the untouched planet’s meteor-scarred surface and archival photographs I had seen of the Network home world’s moon before the Lunar Settlements were built.
The outer crust of Skorsis was riddled with gaping fissures several miles long. These great rifts were an indication of millennia of parched stagnation. The planet had some terrain composed of mountains and valleys but they were the result of the constant bombardment of cosmic debris rather than seismic activity or continental plate shifting.
Dr. Mbabwe shook her fur as she continued.
“Along with the atmosphere and precipitation the Network also had a bio-tech team release amino acids in key aquatic locations as oceans and continents became defined. Network research has enabled us to execute the same genetic process in three centuries that takes natural selection six hundred million years to accomplish.
“This has resulted in the rapid emergence of thousands of new Skorian species, predominately ocean flora. The gravity of Skorsis is slightly less than that of our Network home world. Due to this, there have evolved many large vertebrates, some with endoskeletons, others with exoskeletons.”
The briefing forum computer generated a now blue Skorsis with several, vast continents. Superimposed over this image was the limited bio-data and anatomy of a handful of the known xenomorphs indigenous to the awakening planet.
Dr. Mbabwe handed the remote back to Dr. Anaximander.
“You should cover this, Doctor, since natural observation is more down your alley than mine.”
I couldn’t help but marvel at the poise and moxy of this intelligent lion woman.
Dr. Anaximander stretched most of his appendages and cleared his throat.
“Skorsis has copious amounts of marine life that create a food chain centered on the various strains of kelp and fungi. They thrive near the coastlines and in the first twenty or thirty feet of the oceans. There is a proper hierarchy of paramecia and plankton-like organisms.
“The life on land has evolved more recently and we have not yet had time to observe all that this planet has to teach us. Suffice it to say, however, that there are some amphibians and a few fliers and herbivores. The largest of the land fauna is the predator, Xyrix Carapacia.
“The adults of the species can surpass fifteen tons. Although the most visually intimidating, the Xyrix Carapacia is hunted as well.
“And this is why we have brought you here at great Network expense, Balancer Graylion.
“As you know, there are other Network mining projects in systems throughout the Frontier District that received colonization and amino acid dissemination. No sentient xenomorphs ever evolved. This and the speed at which these carapace hunters came to exist out of the primordial, skorian ooze alarms us.
“We need to better understand these super-predators, gather more helpful data and make the appropriate assessment.”
“So I am your reconnaissance,” I said.
“Exactly,” Dr. Anaximander replied.
“Tell us what you can about this skorite mob. Do they pose a threat to our mining interests on Skorsis?”
I was surprised by the words of Dr. Anaximander. I knew that the Network planted or instilled life and habitats on barren planets. I didn’t know their accelerated genetics program was so developed or could work so quickly.
A downward-looking view within the holographic display, recorded from a thermal scanner in orbit, showed a herd of Xyrix Carapacia being hunted. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Dr. Anaximander spoke as we watched.
“The skorite hunters are nomadic social animals that travel in groups of two or three dozen.”
I saw a pack of warm bodies conduct an ambush. They thrived on the shelled mollusks’ bewilderment. I turned to Dr. Anaximander.
“Is this normal? Are these species supposed to evolve to a sentient state? They appear to have organization. How intelligent are they?”
Dr. Anaximander grinned, proud of his creations.
“To be quite frank, Balancer Graylion, I don’t know.”
I was curious.
“You haven’t done an ATA on a Xyrix hunter? I would think the forensic data yielded from dissection would be revealing.”
Captain Iguana was flabbergasted by my questions.
“Yes, well this is where your services are needed, Graylion. We sent Balancer Sunwolf to the surface when one of our peripheral, automated prospecting units was rendered inoperative. Network technology does not fail independently so deliberate sabotage was apparent.
The computer generated a map of the southern coastline of Remus, the largest continent, where the Network had the majority of its mining projects stationed.
“A hundred miles down the coast of Remus is our main Network mine site, Tranquility. We have three hundred mutants and families situated there.”
Dr. Anaximander’s brow furrowed with concern.
“Since the Network deposited Balancer Sunwolf on the surface of Skorsis we received neither radio nor Ultra High Frequency transponder signals. His Global Positioning Implant is active. We want you to locate him, complete the reconnaissance on the skorite hunters and get back up here as soon as possible.”
Captain Iguana swiveled in his chair to face me.
“This is a mission with risk, Graylion. That’s why I requested that it be you the Network awakened from cryosleep.
“You knew Balancer Sunwolf. All of us fought together in the Synthesis Wars. Because of the nature of this assignment, the Network has allowed me to offer you, in return for services rendered, release from your indenturement.
“Good luck, Graylion. See you in a few days.”
At last the meeting was over. I prepared to travel to the surface of Skorsis with visions of Dr. Anaximander’s astrophysical and biological machinations swirling in my imagination. What secrets awaited me on the planet below!”
The doctors and the Captain had done their best to create the usual Network ambience of polished decorum. But I am a Balancer and my instincts told me that if I was brought out of cryosleep, there was a reason the Network wanted my expertise and experience on this job instead of some rookie still wet behind the ears from the cloning tank.
I had known Balancer Sunwolf. He was like an older brother to me. Two trimesters ahead of me in the Network Indoctrination process, he was an adept and prodigious Balancer Initiate.
In weapons marksmanship and arrest tactics he was impeccably the best. What could have gone wrong for Sunwolf?
He was someone I would trust with my life. Despite the mysterious nature of these skorites, I intended to bring him back to the Network, no matter the cost.
One thought lingered, tugging at the back of my mind.
What would I do if I succeeded?
The Captain said that upon my return I would be released from my status as an indentured employee of the Balancer elite.
I am Balancer Graylion. My purpose is to serve the Network and thwart all those who would perpetrate its laws. Before the Network we served in the War. What would I do if not what I was Indoctrinated to do and kept in cryosleep to do all these years?
The landing pod was disposable. It carried the bare essentials for the trip to the surface. It was basically a ceramic bubble with a heat shield on the bottom.
Lightning was chased by explosions of thunder. The wind ripped the tall, grassy weeds that surrounded the landing pod.
The sun peeked through the purple and black clouds that galloped across the sky. It descended from the electric storm, a dark, red spheroid of shimmering, undulating fire that curved wide in the distortion of the atmosphere.
The thunderheads released torrents of rain and pebble-sized hail. I felt the wind blast droplets of water and ice onto my body. The Skorian air tasted fresh. Its uncanny purity shamed the filtered and recycled oxygen used in the cramped halls of the Network Security Headquarters.
The plant life was astonishing. In the shallow valley where my pod came to rest the plants that grew everywhere stood twice my height. They had an aquamarine hue.
I decided to ride out the storm in the pod. The relentless rain beat a perpetual, disjointed tattoo on the ceramic hull of the entry craft. I tried to contact Captain Iguana but the lightning kept interfering with my transponder.
I settled for the night in the pod and dreamed while I slept. When I awoke the next morning I had a strange memory that I dreamed the entire planet was alive; the grass, the forests and the fauna. I figured it was my excitement over tracking down Balancer Sunwolf.
I had a visitor. It was one of the skorite hunters. He was a small, exoskeletonous vertebrate possibly four feet tall. I was amazed that such a dense, armored body could move about with such ease. The same size creature on the Network home world would have been unable to move about with such a heavy skeleton. I concluded that the lighter gravity of Skorsis made it possible for this chitinous being to ambulate and penetrate the thick grasses more deftly than I.
On his back and limbs the skorite had orange and red spotting. The rest of his torso, thorax and abdomen were a pale, translucent gray. His face was equine, with a protrusive nose and mouth.
I wondered if this small, stalwart-looking being could be one of the same warm-blooded hunters I saw subdue the terrible Xyrix Carapacia with such cold, strategic skill.
Before I could do anything, the skorite spoke without making a sound.
You are a Balancer. I am called Rhythm. How are you called?
For several moments I could not respond.
“My name is Balancer Graylion. I take it that you know of Balancer Sunwolf and have learned our language. I have never before encountered one who communicates telepathically, without speaking, as you do.”
This has been the way of my people, who you call ‘skorites,’ for the last eight generations. I have come to take you to your companion, Good friend Sunwolf.
The skorite hunter, Rhythm, further explained that he was the first of his species to encounter Sunwolf when he arrived on Skorsis.
The dense grass and bracken of the valley made it difficult to navigate, even when I used my all-purpose, cutting laser. My alien guide took to the task of passing through the fragrant grasses like a duck to water.
Rhythm continued to explain the ways of his people to me as he used his strong forelimbs to act as a wedge, like a cowcatcher on an ancient Network steam locomotive. He made a space in the tightly-grown grass that closed just as quickly behind us, leaving no recognizable evidence of our passage.
I no longer doubted that I was indeed addressing the cunning and scrupulous slayer of the Xyrix.
I asked Rhythm if his species had always preyed on the giant creatures. He answered as we hastened forward.
We have hunted the Xyrix Carapacia and other creatures as far back as the elders can recall. However, we are not nomads. You saw our hunting parties from orbit. We hunt in the plains and the lowlands of the elder planet, Skorsis, but my people live on the mountain.
Soon the terrain changed. As we left the grassy valley we entered a thick, old-growth forest and the land continued to incline upward as we traveled.
As I gazed about I was intrigued. Only a few centuries ago the land was flat, bereft of water, plants and animal life. I marveled at the complex, highly-developed being leading me deeper into the Skorian wilderness. I remembered my question to Anaximander.
“How intelligent are they?”
Now it seemed that I was as much an object of curiosity to the skorite as he was to me.
“How long did it take you to learn our language from Balancer Sunwolf?” I asked.
Good friend Sunwolf no longer calls himself ‘Balancer’ as you do. Perhaps he will explain his reasons for this to you personally once you meet him. To answer your question, it took several days for Good friend Sunwolf to make enough noises for me to put them all together.
If you think of us as the hunters of the Xyrix, then we think of you as the noisy people. How can you ever hunt your prey if you must make such noise among yourselves?
Rhythm paused and became alert. He appeared to be taking in his bearings or possibly receiving a signal inaudible to my ears.
We are nearing the enclave. Soon you will know all that you came here to learn, Balancer Graylion.
As the land rose, the plants changed around us. The valley’s vast swaths of aromatic, skorian grass became colorful fungi and large flowers. Some of the blossoms extended several feet in diameter. Above us, in the canopy, I heard the cries and screeches of the many varieties of fliers. These creatures depended on the height of the twisting, gnarled trees for protection.
We finally approached the enclave. It was based in an opening in the forest where the tree canopy gave way to the sunlight. This was the home of Rhythm and his skorite people.
The enclave was a conglomeration of interconnected cul-de-sacs. It was not fabricated with wood, because to pierce the flesh of a living tree was sacrilege to the skorites. The habitat was constructed with resins expelled from spinnerets on their bodies.
From the outside, the enclave looked like a pyramidic midden heap. Its glossy, membranous outer layer had hardened into a reflective shell after generations of skorites added to its mass and architecture.
Several trails ran different directions from the surrounding forest to gaping portals that led down into the nucleus of the enclave. A bearded, wolf anthromorph stood at the mouth of the nearest portal. It was Balancer Sunwolf.
“Hello, Graylion, it’s been a while. I knew the Network would have someone come looking for me.”
“Are you all right, Sunwolf? What happened?”
“I’m through with the Network. They’re not just in the mining business anymore. The Network home world is dying. With a stagnant, drab society, its only a matter of time before the Network is sending fleets of space freighters loaded with cargoes of mutants preserved in cryosleep to be awakened upon reaching Skorsis and all the other developing systems. This is a constant demand for expansion. The ancients called it Manifest Destiny. Our own species has reached a crucial standstill and it will progress or die.
“The Network needs an economic boost. It needs more colonies and consumers of Network products.”
As Sunwolf spoke my awareness of the enclave and the surrounding forest changed.
The sounds of the fliers and other denizens of Skorsis seemed to get louder and more chaotic yet I could still hear Sunwolf’s voice.
“You see, Rhythm and the other hunters are really adolescents. The elders are stationary and live at the heart of the enclave.”
Sunwolf ignited a shaft of deadwood that had fallen to the forest floor. It was wrapped in coarse, bark fibers that were shed naturally. The interior of the enclave was organic and reflective and was partially transparent. In the light of Sunwolf’s makeshift torch I was sure that I saw veins and capillaries branching within the massive bulk of the walls.
Although our path took several twists and turns we continued to travel downward.
In the flickering torchlight Sunwolf’s face looked different. When we were Initiates going through the Network Indoctrination process Sunwolf was the most self-assured and confident. In battle simulations he was the fastest to discern xenomorph threat from innocent bystander.
“I came down here on orders, just as you did, Graylion. I guess it took seeing Skorsis firsthand for me to realize that I’m burned out and sick of it all.”
Sunwolf closed his eyes.
“I’m tired of cryosleep. I’m tired of Balancing for the Network and all the ATA’s.”
Sunwolf touched the walls.
“Feel this place. This is the future. It lives and breathes in the accelerated biogenesis of this planet. I don’t want to go back to the Network. I don’t want to be a slave anymore.”
“Slave,” I murmured.
The organically buttressed architecture of the enclave became more solid and large-scale. Multitudes of smaller passageways and vents merged to form wider, naturally fortified, ribbed chambers.
Finally we came to the nucleus of the enclave. It was an egg-shaped ventricle that received a constant flow of air from the surface several hundred yards above. Attached to an umbilicus extending from the center of the ceiling were the elders.
No longer needing to perambulate under the gravity of Skorsis, the elders were a colossal, cohesive, symbiotic entity. I was unable to tell where once central nervous system ended and the next began. I could make out over a dozen bulbous skorite faces in the immense, chitinous body.
They communicated in the same manner as Rhythm, but with a more harmonic, subdued euphony to their collected expressions.
We are the elders. Welcome to our home. We invite you to share the dreaming with us.
At this time, a band of skorite adolescents produced the spleens of half a dozen slain Xyrix Carapacia. The ensconced elders digested the meat and expulsed a psychoactive gel.
Before encountering the skorites it had not once entered my mind to question the directives of the Hydrodyne Corporation and especially Captain Iguana. But the look on Sunwolf’s face possessed a peace I had never known existed. Before meeting the skorites disassociation from the Network was a respite Balancers found only in death. My friend, Sunwolf, had spoken the truth about the emptiness and banality of life in the Network, life as a Balancer. He had a fresher point of view on life than I did.
On the advice of Sunwolf I sampled a dollop of the quivering substance as he and the other skorites did the same. The skorite elders combined their minds to establish a telepathic network, linked to the echolocation signals of hunting groups over all Remus and the other continents of Skorsis.
The enclave was like a low frequency, sonic lighthouse. The entire structure was designed to send and receive messages to skorite hunters and scouts in the most remote regions of the planet.
We merged with a hunting party in the center of the continent of Remus. Unlike the heavily forested, lush mountain environment surrounding the enclave, these skorite hunters traveled the flat lands. The clear, skorian air made it possible to see over fifty miles where distant foothills brought a rim to the plains.
Dark storm clouds gave the atmosphere a palpable, humid density. The grasses were of a similar size to the phylum that I encountered when I first landed on Skorsis. Instead of being an aquamarine color, they were ruddy brown. The aroma of their black and white speckled flowers smelled like the threatening storm.
The skorite hunters watched a foraging horde of the giant predator mollusk, Xyrix Carapacia. They fed on ferret-like critterlings that they plucked from their shallow burrows with their dextrous tentacles.
The leader of the skorite hunters was an adolescent male who resonated a harmonious mindvoice.
Wait, they are still feeding. When they have gorged themselves and are sated we shall move in on the one with the gimpy tentacle.
The proposed victim did not seem hindered by his scarred, severed appendage. He seemed very content as he directed two chittering, squirming critterlings into his snapping mandibles.
When the hunters did attack it was en masse. Their dun and spotted coloring allowed them to virtually disappear in the billowing grasses. Their method of diversion was a piercing, echolocated burst. Although experiencing the scenario through the bodies of the skorites, I could see how it would be impossible to think or run if subjected to such a painful, combined telepathic barrage.
The united hunters were able to quickly subdue and devour the stunned Xyrix, leaving only the empty exoskeleton and the spleen to be brought as a tribute to the elders.
As the skorites feasted they recanted the mindsong, the crux of the dreaming as it was manifested on their adolescent level. The mindsong was echoed by the voices of the other hunters who sang details of their own journeys, hunts, ordeals and tribulations.
I realized that just as the elders included the hunters in the dreaming, so had they incorporated Sunwolf and myself. I felt Sunwolf reaching out to me within the swirling, astral, alien pantheon.
At last you understand. Now you see the vulnerable relationship that dominates the elder planet, Graylion!
If Hydrodyne continues to develop mines in this system, Rhythm’s people don’t have a chance. We’ve got to do something or else the dreaming will be a thing forgotten to the universe.
The Network has the same process working in a myriad of systems.
I had to admit to myself that I found it hard to believe that only three hundred years earlier, all Skorsis was a barren, volcanic wasteland. Could it be just as quickly returned to such an inhospitable state?
I wondered how I could have been so confident in my duties as a Balancer. The thought of conducting a dissection procedure on a skorite seemed inhumane now that I was on their territory, seeing through their eyes.
Suddenly it seemed like we were hovering, invisible within the Network Security Headquarters. The elders were consoling.
Don’t be alarmed. We want to share with you what we have dreamed. Your compatriots are planning many things of which you are ignorant.
Captain Iguana and Doctor Mbabwe sat alone in the darkened briefing forum. They were in the middle of a heated argument. Captain Iguana was angry.
“I don’t want anymore screw-ups. This time I say we revive a real soldier from cryosleep. What have you got from the Synthesis Cadre?”
“Are you serious?”
Doctor Mbabwe was equally frustrated.
“Have you forgotten what happened the last time they activated a cyborg programmed for extinction?”
“How do you think we won the Synthesis Wars?”
“Some of those species are still recovering. Some species were completely obliterated!”
“There is no substitute for cost-effectiveness.”
“You insensitive bully! What about the possibility that Balancer Graylion has run into some unexpected contingency preventing him from reporting? Don’t you think you should give him the benefit of the doubt?”
“I have no doubts. This is insubordination, plain and simple. In the Network, failure to comply with orders is punishable by immediate Acquisition, Tranquilization and Execution.”
Captain Iguana was not swayed by Doctor Mbabwe’s words.
“Computer, begin cryosleep revival program, Cyborg Six.”
In the cold, dark storage cells of the Security Headquarters a convoluted, mutant mind began to dream.
Dr. Mbabwe was upset with Captain Iguana’s murderous intentions.
“I’ve had it with you and your Network. You people never did appreciate or understand the ethical responsibilities inherent in genetic manipulation.”
She left the Network briefing forum and began the necessary preparations to get down to Skorsis.
“Is the world going insane?” she declared aloud. “I’ve got to warn the people down there about the cyborg.”
The elders slowed the dreaming. The multitudes of mindvoices from throughout the planet diminished until we were alone. Sunwolf, the elders, Rhythm, a few other hunters and I remained in the nucleus of the enclave.
Sunwolf said, “Captain Iguana is a madman. I had my doubts about him during the Synthesis Wars. Those were desperate times and a lot of people who had no business in the Network were let in. That was before our Indoctrination, though, wasn’t it, Graylion?”
I was also surprised at the rash nature of the decision of Captain Iguana.
“We’ve got to contact the miners at Tranquility, otherwise they won’t even know what hit them.”
Sunwolf addressed the skorite hunters and the elders.
“We must leave. Graylion and I will travel to the mining colony and warn them about this cyborg. We can leave some weapons here. The utility lasers are quite…”
That won’t be necessary, interrupted the elders. We have our own ways of protecting ourselves. When the time comes, we will be ready.
Rhythm led us out of the enclave and along a mountain trail heading down to the foothills. We traveled for the next five days. By the following morning we could see the coast. Settled within a shallow ravine in the foothills was the mining town, Tranquility.
Rhythm spoke with his mindvoice.
This is as far as I go. The last time I ventured further I was assaulted by one of those digging machines.
The town was built on the delta of two rivers. The roads were bordered by dilapidated shanties made from corrugated tin, wood and adobe. The miners were a hardy lot. Most worked driving large drills from shaft to shaft.
A burly, tattooed miner stopped his vehicle, a device with a long conveyer belt covered with steel scoops.
“You guys look new here. I’d say you’re looking for Burgomeister Chavez. You’ll find her in the Bow and Hammer down this road, first tavern on the left.”
We followed the miner’s advice and entered the rough-looking tavern.
The music was nearly deafening. The band, if you could call it a band, was the most motley group of individuals I’d seen since my Indoctrination. The synth-lute player was a jaguar woman.
The drummer and bassist/vocalist were both dressed lavishly.
I grabbed the arm of one of the waitresses and yelled into her ear.
“We’re looking for Burgomeister Chavez!”
She yelled back.
“You’re looking at her!”
She pointed at the musicians entertaining the crowded tavern.
I didn’t know what to say.
“The bass player, are you serious?”
“No, silly, the synth-lute player.”
I thanked the waitress and approached the Burgomeister after the song finished.
“My name is Graylion. This is Sunwolf. We came here as representatives of the Network. Now we represent someone else, a people that are native to this planet.”
Burgomeister Chavez led us to a more secluded corner of the Bow and Hammer.
“This is a desert wilderness in more ways than one. If it wasn’t for the nightly show, we’d all be bored to death or at each other’s throats half the time.”
Despite her garb, which was reminiscent of the late Renaissance, Burgomeister Chavez seemed like a down-to-earth person.
“Allow me to introduce a man who is my head of security, and a personal friend.”
Across the table from where Sunwolf and I sat was a muscular, Stygian mutant. He was tattooed with a tribal style.
“Caleb,” said the man who extended his hand in greeting.
The stage crew finished arranging and tuning the equipment for the next act, a reggae band.
Caleb stared at us with his three, feline eyes.
“If you’re from the Network then you can explain how our prospecting units have been failing all over our southwestern perimeter. What kind of animal can shatter the magnesium housing on those units?”
Sunwolf explained the territorial needs of the skorite hunters to Caleb.
The music was wonderful. It made me think that despite the differences between we Network mutants and the alien elders, there was more in common than appeared on the surface. The music of the saxophone wailed in a unique way.
“There is the potential for a lasting, peaceful coexistence between the miners and the skorites,” offered Sunwolf.
“Unfortunately our ex-employer is about to introduce a third variable into the mix, a defrosted cyborg from the Synthesis Wars.”
The Stygian Caleb looked confused.
“What does this cyborg have to do with us? Why should we care what happens to those unit-destroying, super bugs? They have been costing us copper.”
“You should care because you share a common environment,” argued Sunwolf. “You miners may have a different origin and story of how you came to be here on Skorsis, but the fact of the matter is that this is your home now. It is yours and theirs.
“Secondly,” continued Sunwolf, “the Synthesis Wars were an ugly time for all of us. The cyborg represents the worst of the internecine genocide of that era. If one of them is reanimated it won’t know that the War is over. To a ruthless cyborg we are all going to be seen as expendable, xenomorph threats to the Hydrodyne Corporation’s expansionist interests. Efficiency and cost-effectiveness are the new gods of the Network home world. Anything that stands in the way of the juggernaut of progress is going to be eradicated.”
“What exactly does this cyborg do that is so worthy of our concern?” demanded Caleb.
“If anyone makes trouble in Tranquility, the Burgomeister throws them in the hoosegow.”
Unfortunately I did know.
“When I was a Phalanx Leader my troops were ordered to respond to a distress call from some godforsaken system in the Scutum Arm. The enemy landed on the newly inhabited planet’s surface and the colonists panicked. They activated a cyborg from their cryotanks. It was a big mistake. By the time my men got down there, nothing was left; no enemy, no Network colonists, just the shriveled husks of the poor, de-liquified souls. It was all that remained after being sucked dry by that cyborg.”
“What can we do, then?” replied the Stygian.
“Shall we just go out like that?”
Caleb did not look ready to acquiesce.
“We can hide in the old mines and fight the thing on our own turf.”
Burgomeister Chavez was kind enough to offer Sunwolf and me sleeping quarters. This was despite the fact that we planned to sleep lightly, if at all.
“There’s plenty of room in the tunnels along the old, depleted copper veins beneath the town.”
In the streets of Tranquility miners and vendors sealed off their homes and booths. The frightened mutants would depend on the expended shafts of the earliest, initial mines that now lay unused and vacant. An intersecting network of lateral and vertical corridors permeated much of the soil under the town and delta.
The agora was a central marketplace in which many businessmen gathered, looking to barter copper for goods or vice versa, all under the watchful eye of Network tithing clerks. It was a bustling conglomeration of tents in the street. They stood from the front of the Bow and Hammer and extended along the rest of the trading district.
Now there was only the occasional, lonely mongrel that rummaged for edible tidbits among the discarded inventory, forgotten in the wake of the already spreading news of the coming cyborg.
Caleb rose and was about to leave the tavern when I was startled to hear a somewhat drunken miner yell.
“It’s a good thing this monster is coming. Maybe it will relieve us hard-working miners from the bureaucrats that have their fingers in every Network pocket from their precious tithes.”
“Is this going to be the second time this month that I have to throw you in the cooler, Gnash? Why don’t you go sleep it off?”
Burgomeister Chavez gathered herself to her fullest possible stature. She pierced the intoxicated, zebra miner with an icy, maternal stare. Caleb stood beside her. Together the tri-optic Stygian and the sometime musician made an intimidating pair.
“What should I care?”
The nonplussed, black and white-striped mutant had equine features. His dilated irises glinted with a belligerence that told me this was not the first time a miner had spoken his mind about what he saw to be unfair Network monopolization of the groundside economy.
“We dig the copper. We breathe in the dust, dirt and toxic drill emissions and then have nowhere to buy food, grog, even the clothes on our backs except from these overpriced rip-offs.”
Gnash brought his face within inches of Caleb’s as he returned his punitive stare.
“The miners have been itching for breathing room from you management leeches. This cyborg is a blessing. When the cyborg is dead there’s going to be a new social order in this town.”
“That’s enough, Gnash. You’re out of control. Don’t make me have you tranquilized.”
I saw that Caleb’s ire was also rising.
“Let me buy everyone a drink and we’ll see if we can come to some sort of an understanding.”
Burgomeister Chavez wrapped her arms around the waists of Caleb and Gnash.
“We’re going to need every able-bodied miner to help take down this monster. There is no time for divisionist revolts. We’ll deal with the issue of our independence from the Corporation after we resolve the priority of survival.”
It was early the next morning as Sunwolf and I were asleep in our corner of the main transport shaft under Tranquility that I was awakened by a familiar embrace.
It was Doctor Mbabwe. I was surprised to see her. I touched her fur to convince myself that she was real.
“Ibis,” I exclaimed, “what are you doing here? You didn’t need to come down to the surface to contact us.”
“Yes, well I didn’t want Captain Iguana or Anaximander to eavesdrop on my transponder signal so I just followed your global positioning implant beacon. Graylion, I came here to warn you of what Captain Iguana is planning…”
“To summon a cyborg from cryosleep,” I interrupted.
Doctor Mbabwe was astounded.
“How did you know? You’ve been incommunicado for the last week.”
I described the abilities of the skorites to Ibis. I told her how the enclave was the communication terminal for their species and allowed them to observe events that transpired anywhere near their elder planet.
I took Doctor Mbabwe’s hand in mine and bestowed it with a kiss.
“I was afraid I might never see you again,” I confessed.
Both of us were smitten by a trembling shockwave emanating from the town above. Sunwolf awoke.
“What was that?”
“Graylion, listen to me. All of us must leave this place. It isn’t safe here. Cyborg Six is already up there in Tranquility.”
Ibis’ tone was fearful and urgent.
“Are we leaving? Good. I was getting tired of this place anyway.”
The miner, Gnash, emerged from the shadows of the transport shaft, laser unit in hand.
Sunwolf said cynically, “Hello, Gnash! I thought you were going to stick around to establish your new social order.”
Another shockwave rumbled through the tunnels. Small fragments of stone and earth knocked loose from the walls.
Gnash clutched his utility laser like a protective talisman.
“Caleb and the Burgomeister are fighting back. I can hear them!”
The miner’s brow was dotted with cold perspiration. He was several shades paler than he was in the Bow and Hammer the night before.
The Burgomeister arrived in the nick of time. Her face and hands were covered with char and ash. Her visage exuded her distress.
“Alas, Caleb insisted that I retreat. Our only chance is to escape through the sluice line that dumps into the delta.”
Gnash led us quickly to the sluice line, where large hoppers would normally drop mineral-rich ore into a canal that flowed through filters to the river junction. All of us were eager swimmers, considering it was our only means to exit Tranquility.
As we rode the current downstream we saw a column of black smoke reaching miles into the sky from its origin over the charred remains of what had been the mining town.
I thought about Captain Iguana. My onetime commanding officer was responsible for the slaughter of the miners. I was forced to admit that the Network home world was run by mutants with the same, monstrous apathy as the Captain but with a thousand times more power and resources at their disposal.
I was a part of it.
* * * * *
So ends Graylion’s Report. After the destruction of both the mutant settlement and the enclave of the skorite hunters, Captain Iguana withdrew all Network influence from the planet and it was deemed unsuitable for future colonization.
Although crushed by the annihilation of his home, Rhythm led his people deep into the continent Remus to become the first of a new brood of elders in an enclave hidden far from alien intrusion.
Sunwolf, Gnash, Burgomeister Chavez, Ibis, Graylion and a handful of others were the only mutant survivors of the massacre at Tranquility. They too sought safety in the vast wilderness of Skorsis. Doctor Ibis Mbabwe and Balancer Graylion founded a race known only as the People of Skorsis.
They taught their children vigilance so that they may one day unite to confront the cyborg that still wanders the ruins of the Network mining colony.
–Felix Liebert, Andromeda Database
CHAPTER TWO: RECONSTRUCTION
After the diaspora of the skorites into the wilderness of their planet, little data was uplinked from that system. Generations passed and the scions of miners met with the offspring of Ibis and Graylion. They formed a new population of anthromorphs in the outer reaches of the Milky Way. Rather than pursue the environmentally hazardous and destructive policies of the Hydrodyne Company they adopted the philosophy of their parents.
The survivors bonded with the hive builders in pseudo-symbiosis. The telepathic xenomorphs kept the humans posted as to the presence of the xyrix carapacia and other, large predators native to their planet. In turn the expatriates helped the creatures to keep their hives safe and to complete their hunting cycles of the great, shelled mollusks.
The following is my compilation of satellite correspondence and high definition camera recordings of infrared and visible light that I found in the archives here at the database in Andromeda.
Redlion marched through the tropical terrain of Skorsis.
Grandfather Graylion did well to choose this place as a home, he thought.
The birds and wildlife of the area called out into the air. The young lion man was accustomed to the sounds of the natural world and relied on them to reveal places where hunting game were abundant. The anthromorph settlement, Serenity, was doing well, as was the transferred habitat of the skorites. Redlion was experienced with the movements of the hunters native to the planet. The people used the hunting tactics of the skorites as a model and secured a steady food supply of their own by mimicking their strategies.
The canopy of the tropical forest loomed high above the trail that Redlion hiked. The ferns and bushes were lush and bore a variety of colors ranging from bright green to auburn. Redlion enjoyed the foliage and frequently followed game trails and routes that were replete with prey. The people of Serenity thrived on the wildlife of the region and assembled maps indicating places where food was plentiful.
Unbeknownst to Redlion another cyborg had been released by Captain Iguana to the surface of Skorsis. This assassin was not programmed to awake until recently. Now the mechanical workings within the discharge craft, covered with vines and ivy, whirred and ticked with newfound electricity. The cyborg, Zarges, opened his eyes and watched the indoctrination program that the now absent captain left in the landing craft’s debriefing dossier.
“ … destroy the colony … eliminate the skorites … “
The cyborg exited from the landing craft and headed into the tropical forest. He was unfamiliar with the changes in the terrain. The roads and trees changed over the passage of years and Zarges needed time to become reoriented.
Redlion was unaware of the presence of Zarges when he was narrowly missed by a flurry of laser fire. The anthromorph dove for cover. He rolled behind a nearby log and ducked as he heard another blast of lasers strike the wood in front of him. Redlion activated his com-unit and addressed his friends, Nightwolf and Tigra, in Serenity.
“Hey guys, I can use some help here. A maniac is going crazy with a utility laser north of town. How soon can you get to my coordinates?”
“Tigra’s not here, Redlion. This is Nightwolf. I can ride my jet bike to your location in about ten minutes. You’ve got to hold your own until then.”
“I’ll do my best, Wolf. See you soon.”
Redlion ran in a serpentine pattern through the ferns and underbrush. He headed in the opposite direction of the random laser fire. As he moved the shots became increasingly inaccurate.
The red-haired explorer ran a while longer when Nightwolf appeared on a hovering jet bike. The vehicle stayed aloft with a pair of microjets. The high-powered hydrogen engines shifted from vertical to horizontal positions depending on the aircraft’s altitude and velocity. Redlion climbed aboard behind Nightwolf and they headed back to Serenity.
The townspeople were already aware of the prowling of the cyborg. Their global position surveillance systems alerted them to the digital activity in the sector as soon as the aged landing pod opened in the brush. The residents battened down the hatches of their stores and prepared themselves for battle. They remembered the stories of the previous destruction of the settlement of Tranquility and were prepared for such a contingency.
The anthromorphs had a variety of weapons at their disposal. These included blow torches, air guns and sharpened steel blades. They prepared their weapons and waited to see what would happen next.
Redlion helped Nightwolf to close the main gate of the settlement. It was constructed of bound wood covered with sheets of wrought iron. The friends joined the other guards on the scaffolding that was attached to the inner edge of the protective wall surrounding Serenity. The entire village was square in shape so that it would be easily defensible from an outside attack.
A volley of laser fire erupted from the nearby forest.
“Those blasts are the same as the ones I saw earlier,” said Redlion.
“Nightwolf, sound the alarm. We’ll need every able-bodied resident to help us repel this mysterious invader.”
A dozen villagers emerged from their homes and booths. They gathered with the town guards at the ramparts. They soon spotted Zarges roaming around the outer perimeter of their settlement. The cyborg unleashed a barrage of laser fire at the defenders who stood on the topmost level of the ramparts. The anthromorphs were prepared and each raised a reflective, metallic shield to protect themselves. The laser streams ricocheted off of the mirror-like shields and made smoldering patches in the dry brush surrounding the fort.
Redlion’s compatriots then issued fire of their own from their makeshift flamethrowers and bolt guns. Zarges was hit with some pieces of shrapnel and was mildly scorched by the jets of flame. The cyborg’s internal defense systems quickly repaired the damage and the predator continued his search for weaknesses around the outer rim of the settlement.
Other members of Serenity approached Redlion.
“What shall we do, Red?” asked a lupine anthromorph.
The rabbit-like humanoid carried a samurai sword and dagger in his waistband.
“It’s up to us to decide, Hopper. This invader must have been affiliated with the battle initiated by our ancestors. There are records of such cyborgs as the one before us in our community database. If we remain vigilant and focused we will overcome this newfound challenge.”
Zarges fired a pair of thrust rockets installed in his mechanized anatomy and scaled the outer wall of Serenity. The defenders of the village turned their mounted weapons 180 degrees and continued to bombard their adversary. A fierce battle ensued. Volleys of flame and laser fire were exchanged at a fast pace. Hopper tumbled along the ramparts, successfully evading a pair of missiles launched by the cyborg.
The rabbit anthromorph retaliated with his sharpened, steel blades. He rendered slashing blows to the armor of the cyborg, causing significant damage to the assassin’s electronic systems. Zarges’ armor sparkled and smoldered with rampant arcs of electricity. The attacker turned and fled to the surprise of the citizens of Serenity.
“Well done, Hopper,” said Redlion. “You made a lasting impression on the would-be invader. I expect that it will be some time before he returns to assault us again.”
The members of the settlement embraced Hopper in a warrior’s salute. They hoisted the lupine fighter aloft on their shoulders and yelled a trio of hurrahs.
“Please, my friends, we must prepare for another attack. There is no time for this foolishness.”
The anthromorphs lowered Hopper to the floor and he took a moment to clean his weapons of the plastic and grease left by the cyborg.
“We must hold a meeting,” said Redlion. “Send word throughout the settlement, my friends. A decision must be made. The cyborg invader is clearly a remnant of the struggle faced by our ancestors. We must act to protect our society. It would not bode well for us to wait here for the assassin to return. I suggest that we delegate a platoon of fighters willing to pursue our adversary before he regenerates from the damage we inflicted.”
“I agree, Red,” offered Nightwolf. “If memory serves the previous mining settlement of Tranquility was accosted by a cyborg similar to the one we faced today. The majority of the people were slaughtered within the walls of their town. I suggest that we hold council and pursue the cyborg in the wilderness. As you all know there are many hazardous creatures in the forests and plains of Skorsis. We will be on the alert for attacks from both the assassin and the native predators. Perhaps it would be wise to consult with the skorite hunters of the xyrix carapacia. They assisted our ancestors in the past and may be convinced to share their global communication abilities with us once more.”
Redlion and his companions spread word of the planned meeting throughout the settlement. In an hour the residents gathered at the center of the fort. The council of Serenity was filled by the eldest living anthromorphs. Their group was headed by Jack Rhinodon. He was a massive, hulking rhinoceros anthromorph. Among the gathering of elders sat Hopper and Ling Panda. Each of the dozen members of the council had narrowly escaped destruction by the initial cyborg assassin that was sent to Skorsis by Captain Iguana two generations ago.
Nearly all of the current residents of Serenity sat in chairs before the broad table of the anthromorph council. Jack Rhinodon was the first to speak.
“Welcome, all of you. As you already are aware another cyborg sent by the ancient Network has become activated of late. It was originally intercepted by Redlion who was chased to sanctuary here in Serenity. We are gathered here to determine our next course of action. Our chance for survival is greater than that of our ancestors in the now defunct settlement of Tranquility. We have weapons of our own device and a force of defenders that are armed and ready. Our companions, native to this planet, the skorite hunters, must be informed of the presence of the cyborg. They are also a sturdy group of hunters and will do well in the task of surveiling and confronting the new invader.”
“Jack, I volunteer for the search party to intercept the cyborg,” said Redlion.
“As do I,” said Hopper.
“Tigra and I also wish to join the group,” offered Nightwolf. “We can use the digital interfaces on our jet bikes to scan for the mechanically enhanced humanoid.”
“Very well, courageous fighters,” replied Jack Rhinodon. “Ling Panda and the rest of the elders will focus on raising the defensive capabilities of Serenity. We advise you to seek the assistance of the skorite hunters. They have their own means of defending themselves and will be interested to know of any potential threats to their large hive. The carapace hunter, known to our ancestors as Arthur, has successfully formed a new habitat in the depths of the old growth, tropical forest. I will download the coordinates of the xenomorphs’ location to your vehicles. Keep in mind that the cyborg assassin, if similar in disposition to his predecessor, will take the knowledge of any sentient habitat as an opportunity to predate it.”
“We will fly with caution, Rhinodon,” said Tigra. “We are adept pilots and will take care not to become disabled by the lasers and missiles of the malevolent cyborg.”
“Very well, young searchers,” declared Ling Panda. “We wish you luck in your endeavor and will contact you on your com-units if the Network cyborg returns to this location. Farewell.”
The platoon of anthromorphs exited from the council gathering to the applause of the residents of Serenity. They each mounted jet bikes and engaged their thrusters to maximum velocity. Trails of water vapor formed in the air behind the hydrogen-powered engines as they rose to cruising altitude above the walls of Serenity.
The searchers did not travel far over the great canopy of the native trees when their helmets’ heads up displays chirped. Their advanced, electromagnetic scanners indicated the proximity of Zarges.
The mechanized humanoid was engaged in battle with a handful of skorite hunters. The equine natives to the lush planet rolled and tumbled to evade the scorching laser beams emitted from the cyborg’s shoulder cannon. Several trees in the vicinity of the fight were chopped to pieces by the ruthless, Network attacker. The skorite hunters responded to the flurrying barrage by emitting a high frequency electronic burst. Zarges was clearly shaken by the counterattack and did not turn in time to intercept the diving platoon.
Tigra, the tiger anthromorph, was the first to unleash blasts of flame from the torches installed on her vehicle. The cyborg, would-be assassin was scorched from behind. It would take several minutes to regenerate from the damage instilled by the flamethrowers.
Zarges had no choice but to flee from the ensuing melee. He fired rockets built into his metallic feet to shoot through the massive, skorian trees. Numerous branches and boughs were broken by his blundering passage, leaving a trail of detritus on the shady forest floor.
“Now is our chance to destroy this hostile entity once and for all,” Hopper cried.
The rabbit anthromorph unsheathed his curved samurai blade and blasted his vehicle along the smoldering trail left by the Network cyborg.
“Wait, Hopper, we must tend to these brave skorites and proposition their support,” Tigra yelled.
The lupine fighter did not respond and continued on his chosen course.
“Let Hopper go, Tigra,” said Redlion. “We will track him with our global positioning devices. Let us consult with these skorites while the time is ripe.”
“Very well,” replied Tigra.
The orange and black striped anthromorph turned her vehicle from Zarges’ trail and decelerated to a stop at the group of fighters and xenomorphs.
Thank you for coming to our aid, hummed the largest of the five skorite hunters.
Each of them had minor injuries from their bout with the hostile cyborg but they were of little consequence.
We must confer with Rhythm and the other elders in our habitat, said a smaller hunter. They will be thankful to know of the existence of this newfound adversary.
Redlion and his companions followed the lead of the skorite hunters into the labyrinth of tunnels within the new enclave. Rhythm and a few other elders were ensconced and connected to the umbilicus that extended from the core.
Welcome, my two-legged friends. You remind me of my Good Friends, Graylion and Sunwolf. Much has happened since their passing. As I’m sure your presence verifies, our scouts have reported the recent emergence of a second cyborg, bent on the destruction of the settlements and habitats built on this planet, Skorsis. How can we help protect our strongholds, here?
“Such a thing is simple,” replied Redlion. “The cyborg attacks using lasers and rockets. We anthromorphs can help bolster your defenses by constructing a protective barrier around this habitat.”
That sounds like a good idea, Redlion. In addition to your plan we skorites can add a protective shell of our own fabrication to your figurative structure. It should greatly impede any would-be attacks from the hostile humanoid.
Rhythm continued in mindsong.
Although our previous enclave was destroyed by the first cyborg, other enclaves throughout the continent of Remus and this planet, Skorsis, memorized the tactical patterns of the aggressive entity.
TO BE CONTINUED…