Dawn of Chrysalis

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Chapter 16 - Treachery

Hubert Rash widened his sensor scan as the Verbinna FLITed its third and final leg of the journey from Earth to the outskirts of the Chrysalis system. The IFF beacon on the Salterr was detected almost at once and within seconds, the Verbinna floated 500 feet away from its sister ship.

“Welcome back Verbinna,” Doug said.

“I come bearing a gift,” Yuri-Milost responded. “Dr. Heinbaum upgraded the Shield. It’s now proof against the Asiddian laser beam.”

“Great news! What’s the procedure for installing the upgrade?”

“It’s all software. We need to dock. I’ll send Lieutenant Rash over with the thumb drive, and he’ll supervise the installation and testing.”

“Initiating docking maneuver now,” Doug responded.

“Roger that.”

Clicking off the FLR, Yuri-Milost looked at Rash and said, “You know what to do.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I mean Yuri-Milost,” Rash stammered.

“Your Grace is now the preferred way of addressing me within the protected walls of my ship, Deacon Rash,” she responded.

Bowing his head, Rash was about to take his leave when Quentin DeLoth walked into the master control room carrying what looked like a small, stainless steel thermos bottle. The bottle was about two inches in diameter and eight inches tall with a ratcheted thumb lever on top. Rash took the canister, put it inside the breast pocket of his jacket and left for the docking portal.

Taking the co-pilot’s couch, DeLoth asked, “Why not just kill the beast and be done with it?”

“Death is too easy,” she replied. “It’s my judgment that torture, a lifetime of slavery and then an ignominious death in the fires of Hell are the proper and adequate punishment and divine retribution against the Beast and its followers.”

DeLoth began double checking his instrument readings, hoping Your Grace wouldn’t see the deepening lines of concern etching across his forehead.

***

Whatsit met Rash at the docking hatch and escorted him to the Engineering deck. He thought it was odd the way the Human stayed at least two feet away from him as they made their way down the passageways of the ship. Rash acted like he was annoyed by Whatsit’s presence. His responses to any of Whatsit’s questions or comments seemed dismissive. Very strange.

When they entered the Engineering deck, Miguel hustled from his seat at the FLIT gen monitor panel and shook Rash’s hand.

“Dr. Miguel Roemer at your service, Lieutenant. This is Dr. Jamins GooYee. What do you need to input the new shield software?”

Whatsit noted Rash nodded his head toward GooYee but angled his body in a way indicating he didn’t want to touch him. Whatsit was beginning to develop a distinct dislike for the mousy Human.

Rash didn’t answer Miguel directly. “Give me a moment to orient myself with your equipment, and I’ll tell you what I need.”

Miguel was amazed by the man’s response. As Rash walked around looking at the various control panels and machinery, Miguel looked pointedly at Whatsit and raised his eyebrows. Every scout saucer was equipped the same way. Humans had followed the Chrysallaman example of plug and play when they did any modification. If Rash was a member of a scout saucer crew, then he was familiar with the layout and the purpose of every piece of equipment. Something was amiss.

Whatsit began striding toward Rash as the man reached the air purification system. Reaching inside his jacket, Rash pulled out the stainless steel canister. Whatsit doubled his speed, but just as he grabbed Rash’s arm, Rash thumbed the release valve on the canister and a clear mist sprayed into Whatsit’s face. The effect was instantaneous. Whatsit collapsed into unconsciousness.

Roemer and GooYee were so surprised, they froze in place while their brains coped with the unexpected. Rash took the opportunity to lock the canister release valve open. Placing the hissing nozzle in front of the air intake vent, he watched momentarily as the clear mist was sucked into the air circulation system. No one on the Salterr was spared. Everyone onboard, except Rash, slumped over unconscious as the gas spread throughout the ship.

Setting a countdown timer on his watch for the five minutes required for the gas to dissipate, Rash pulled his MA pistol and made a quick sweep of the saucer. Satisfied the Hallowed Gas of Silence had done its job, Rash waited until the timer buzzed. Removing the nose filters protecting him from the now inert gas, he pushed the send button on his FLR.

“Mission accomplished.”

“Excellent, Deacon Rash,” Your Grace responded. “Your dedicated service in furtherance of the doctrines of The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany shall be enshrined on the Sacred Scrolls. Acolyte Trakutel will join you in a few moments. He’ll prepare the Salterr for the next phase of our retribution.”

“Your Grace, the coma induced by the Hallowed Gas of Silence endures for three hours. Timing is crucial to the accomplishment of your Holy Goals.”

“Don’t worry. I hustled his ass over there. In fact, he should be joining you right now.”

Just then, Trakutel walked into Engineering and nodding to Rash, went directly to the FLIT gen monitor panel and inserted a thumb drive into its access port. Keying a series of commands into the computer, he waited a few moments as he read the progress of his virus upload on the monitor as it infiltrated the main server. Finally he pushed the Enter key and removed the thumb drive.

Without delay he said, “Let’s go to the master control room. I need to program the automatic controls on the GPC and set the computers for auto-destruct. We can’t let the Asiddians find out how the FLIT gens, FLIT drive or our weapons work.”

Jogging up the ramps, Trakutel and Rash entered the control room and dumped Doug and Becky from their pilot’s couches. Doug’s head hit the deck so hard his scalp started bleeding, but Rash and Trakutel could’ve cared less.

Trakutel set the navigation controls and programmed the computer to implode all the FLIT gens upon arrival.

“I learned this trick from the Scottish buffoon during a long evening sipping a variety of single malt scotches. McPherson convinced Dr. Heinbaum a backdoor was necessary to provide for destruction of the FLIT gens in the event an enemy captured one of the devices. The destruction is caused by weakening one-half of the fullerene activation nodes. The black hole becomes unstable and implodes, taking the entire fullerene structure with it in one instantaneous moment of dissolution. Nothing is left but the bowl.”

“What about the MA weapons and the defensive shield?” Rash asked.

“We take all the pistols with us. Just before the saucer makes its first jump toward Chrysalis, the Verbinna will destroy all the weapon turrets on the ship. The defensive shield is nothing but a specialized FLIT gen. It’ll go with the rest of them.”

Less than an hour later, Rash and Trakutel returned to the Verbinna and disengaged the docking link between the two craft. After stowing the MA pistols they’d confiscated from the unconscious crew of the Salterr, they rejoined Your Grace in the master control room to witness the final voyage of the Beast and his sinful human cohorts.

“This day shall be forever rejoiced by the followers of The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany,” Your Grace intoned. “The destruction of the Beast and his miscreant disciples shall heal the schism in the Church caused by the heinous death of my grandfather, Your Grace the First, God rest his soul.”

“Amen,” chanted Rash, Trakutel and DeLoth as they knelt before her.

Pulling a spray decanter of Obsession cologne from her pocket, Your Grace anointed each man with a quick squirt to the middle of his throat. Not only did she love the fragrance, she had blessed the liquid with words from the Holy Scripture rendering it as sacred as Holy Water.

“You are each forgiven of all your sins and purified in the eyes of the Lord God,” she murmured. “Arise.”

“You’re all briefed on the story to be reported to General Blunt?”

When they bowed their heads, she continued. “We shouldn’t be suspected of any wrongdoing, but there’s no doubt we’ll be questioned separately. It’s imperative we all stick to the script and not vary from it in the slightest detail. With God on our side, we cannot fail.”

“Amen,” chanted Rash, Trakutel and DeLoth.

Smiling, Your Grace ordered, “Acolyte Trakutel, initiate the Salterr GPC navigation sequence, but first destroy the weapon turrets.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

They all gazed at the view screen where the Salterr floated against a black background of space sparkling with far-off stars. After destroying the turrets with MA rays, Trakutel pulled out his FLR and pushed a series of six numbers followed by the pound sign.

As he pushed the pound sign, the Salterr vanished as it FLITed the first of three legs toward its final destination.

“Let’s go report the bad news to General Blunt. The Salterr appears to have been destroyed by the Asiddians,” Your Grace chortled.

***

Struggling to shake off the sticky cobwebs slowing down her mental processes, Hannah Wren pushed herself off the deck and blinked. As her vision cleared, she saw Ramona Crow lying a few feet away snoring softly. Hannah gently shook her Science Officer. Crow’s eyes fluttered, and she began trying to sit up.

The hatch to their cell was open. Rash hadn’t bothered to close it when he made his search of the Salterr because he thought the knockout gas would keep everyone unconscious at least three hours. He never considered the possibility the metabolism of the Asiddians would be fast enough to clear the effects of the gas in less than two hours.

“Something’s wrong,” Wren said as she peeked out the open hatch into the quiet passageway. “There’s no guard, and I haven’t heard a sound.”

“We’re sitting pigeons if we stay in this cell. Maybe we can find some weapons and a place to hide,” Crow said.

“Let’s move then. Luck can be fleeting.”

Slowly creeping their way through the ship, Wren and Crow discovered the Humans and the Chrysallamans were unconscious. After a quick survey of available materials, they found some sturdy zip restraints to secure the hands and feet of their enemies.

Returning to the control room, Wren and Crow dragged the bodies of Doug and Becky off to the side and turned their attention to the view screen. Trying to identify a familiar constellation so they could get some idea about their location proved impossible. Nothing looked familiar and the star patterns seemed to shift rapidly as if the spacecraft was changing its galactic position absurdly fast.

“Do you think you can take control of this ship?” Wren asked.

“I’m sure I can, given enough time, Captain. I have to move cautiously, or I might push a button that blows us up. It looks like the ship is on some kind of automatic pilot. I’ve noticed that every time we see a change in star patterns, that green light on the touchscreen blinks.”

As they both looked at the green light Crow was pointing toward, it blinked a third time and the planet Chrysalis appeared on the view screen. Just as soon as the planet appeared, the radios in their armor came alive with chatter from the battleships ringing the planet.

“Commander Osprey! Enemy scout saucer just appeared from nowhere!”

“Weapons control. Target and destroy.”

“Sir, the ship’s not functional. There’s no energy signature. It’s a derelict.”

“How can that be? It didn’t get here by magic.”

“Sir, targeting sensors locked. Three other ships are claiming the honor of destruction. If you don’t take action, one of them will claim the bounty and the oval tatt of victory.”

Wren frantically activated her suit radio as Crow stared at the battleship spines locking their targeting sensors.

“To all Asiddian ships. This is Captain Hannah Wren in command of the captured Chrysallaman scout ship. Do not open fire. Repeat. Do not open fire!”

“Who is this? You’re transmitting on command frequency Warble and unauthorized use is prohibited under penalty of death.”

“I repeat. To all Asiddian ships. This is Captain Hannah Wren, Serial Number 37843ZapataDove in command of the captured Chrysallaman scout ship. Do not open fire. We have prisoners. Two Chrysallamans and three aliens of a species never before encountered,” Wren responded.

A radio silence followed, but fortunately no disintegrator ray fired at them.

Deciding a strong bluster was her only available weapon, Wren said, “Now send a shuttle over here with an armed guard to take charge of my prisoners and transmit a message to Princess Peregrine requesting her presence during the interrogations. If you delay, I’ll personally make sure your head is mounted on my cabin wall.”

The response from the battleship commander was idiotic. What else could she expect from a person trained by the Asiddian military system? Wren bashed her fist on the master control panel as she heard it.

“This is Commander Judith Osprey of the Asiddian Battleship Incarnate. I don’t know who this is, but Captain Hannah Wren, Serial Number 37843ZapataDove, is stationed in the Cuddlur System. At lightspeed, Captain Wren couldn’t possibly be in Chrysalis orbit for at least another 15 years. You are either a spy or an enemy combatant. Weapons control, you are free to . . .”

“HOLD BY ORDER OF PRINCESS PEREGRINE.”

Not another word was uttered. Every Asiddian knew better than to question orders broadcast over command frequency Alpha. Princess Peregrine was the only member in the Royal Family on planet Chrysalis who could initiate a broadcast on the Alpha frequency.

A brief moment later, a sultry voice said, “Hannah Wren. I’d recognize your haughty tone anywhere. How’s my favorite chick?”

“Princess!” Hannah answered, relief evident in her voice. “I appreciate your intervention. We have much to discuss.”

“So I gather. Land your ship on the palace grounds. My personal guard will take charge of your prisoners and escort you to me.”

“Your Majesty, this is First Science Officer Ramona Crow. The power generator in this ship is dead, and we have no operational knowledge about its systems. It’s impossible for us to maneuver or land this craft.”

“Confirmed, Princess,” Hannah said. “The ship was somehow pre-programmed to fly to this destination. We’ll have to leave the Chrysallaman craft in orbit and shuttle down to you.”

“Very well. Commander Osprey, dispatch shuttles to deliver Captain Wren, her Science Officer and prisoners to the palace at once.”

Hannah turned to Crow and smiled at the look of amazement on her face.

“Princess Caroline Peregrine and I became best friends at the fleet academy. It’s a long story. The first time we met I didn’t know who she was. All I saw was a young lady being harassed by some bullies, and I intervened. Seems the King refused to coddle the Royal offspring. She had no bodyguards or visual indications of Royalty to protect her, and my presence saved her from a beat-down. I didn’t learn she was a princess until almost a year later because she was afraid our friendship wouldn’t survive my finding out about her Royal lineage.”

Crow was speechless for a moment. Shaking her head, she narrowed her eyes and said, “If you have any more get out of jail free cards up your sleeve, please let me know so I don’t worry about being blasted from the sky by our own battleships.”

***

Doug clawed his way back to consciousness. His head ached horribly, and his tongue felt thick and pasty. He tried several times to lift his hands to rub at the sharp throbbing in his forehead. His efforts were fruitless, and he came to the realization he was lying on his side with his hands tied behind his back.

He heard voices murmuring in the background and was stunned when a strong kick against his left shoulder turned him onto his back. If it hadn’t been for his enhanced bones and muscles, Doug was sure his shoulder would’ve been dislocated by the vicious blow.

More words he couldn’t understand were exchanged and abruptly the dark bag covering his head was jerked off. Blinking against the sudden brightness, it took a couple of seconds to orient. In the meantime, a booted foot pressed like a lead weight against his chest.

He was lying on a floor surrounded by five Asiddians. Two of them were the crew members of the Asiddian battleship his team had destroyed. Two others were military guards wearing body armor, helmets and carrying ominous, black weapons that looked like SAR-21 assault rifles. The fifth Asiddian was tall and slender with dishwater blonde hair. Her large eyes were a startling golden color with dark brown pupils, and her skin was deeply tanned as if she spent at least an hour every day in a tanning booth. Like all Asiddians, her nose was long and its tip had a distinct downward hook. She was dressed in a royal purple, floor length gown festooned with what appeared to be hundreds of tiny diamonds that glittered every time she moved. She wore a sparkling diamond tiara, and the whole ensemble gave Doug the impression she was royalty. At the moment, Blondie had her arms crossed and was frowning.

Glancing at his surroundings, Doug saw he was lying on a cold, tiled floor in a square room. The walls were made from a dark gray stone imbedded with glittering sparkles that might have been ground quartz. There were no windows. One ornately carved wooden door with cast iron hinges was the only visible access to the chamber, and it was closed. A large alcove in the wall opposite the door was occupied by a broad wooden table covered with various instruments of torture. The most frequently used instruments had dried blood stains visible on their otherwise shiny, stainless steel exteriors. Recessed ceiling lights were so bright no one in the room cast a shadow.

Carefully sending a telepathic probe into the surrounding area, Doug felt the thought patterns of Whatsit, Becky, Miguel and GooYee. They were all close-by and beginning to show signs of awakening. At least they were alive.

Focusing his attention on Blondie, he smiled and said, “Greetings. My name is Doug . .”

The rest of his sentence was lost because the guard with her foot on his chest kicked him hard in the mouth. The blow would have broken the jaw of any un-activated human, but all it did was make Doug angry.

Narrowing his eyes and focusing his thoughts, Doug remembered Becky’s explanation of how she learned to speak Asiddian. Centering his attention on Blondie, Doug insinuated telepathic tendrils into her spinal cord, followed them upward into her brain and slotted his imaginary USB connection into the language center of the woman’s mind. It was the first time he had attempted the Chang technique, and he was astounded how fast the Asiddian language transferred into his brain.

Rolling his jaw to ease the discomfort from the guard’s kick, Doug looked at Blondie and said in perfect Asiddian, “If that long-nosed, armor plated jerk kicks me again, I’ll splatter her all over your nice stone wall.”

Pleased by the stunned looks on the women’s faces when he spoke their language like a native born Asiddian, Doug nevertheless anticipated the guard’s reaction. Incensed at the thought a prisoner would try to speak to Princess Peregrine without permission, the guard again kicked Doug in the mouth. Braced for the impact, Doug barely felt the blow, but his reaction was swift and delivered as promised. Although his feet were secured with heavy-duty zip restraints, he lifted his knees to his chin, twisted his body toward the guard and thrust his bound feet like a battering ram against her armored chest. Driven by the indignant rage Doug felt at being kicked like an unwanted dog and powered by his activated muscles, the results were shocking even to him.

The guard flew through the air a good fifteen feet. The only reason she didn’t fly farther was because her body impacted the stone wall of the chamber with a loud clank. Just before toppling dead to the floor, everyone in the room saw the dented armor chest plate with two boot prints where Doug’s feet had struck. The only sound in the room came from the heavy, metallic thud as the guard’s body fell face first to the granite-like floor. A visible outline of the guard’s torso and head remained etched in the stone wall from the force of the impact.

The remaining guard swung her assault weapon at Doug and would have shot him if Hannah Wren hadn’t grabbed the gun’s barrel and twisted it away. Even so, the weapon discharged, and the red laser beam chewed a ten inch hole in the far wall.

“Don’t kill him yet! We need him alive.”

“Stand down, Lieutenant Goshawk,” Blondie ordered. “Get four more of my Royal Guard here at once and advise the coroner to come fetch the body of Captain Finch.”

“Yes, Your Highness. As you command.”

Pushing buttons on the communicator interface built into the forearm of her armor, the guard quietly issued instructions as Peregrine turned her attention to Doug.

“What manner of creature are you?”

Just then the ornate, carved door to the chamber opened and four more armored guards entered, surrounding Doug. The story of how Captain Finch died had obviously spread like wildfire. All the new guards maintained a safe distance between themselves and Doug. Considering the imminent danger of death or serious injury his friends were exposed to from a trigger-happy guard, Doug decided the best course of action was to bide his time and try to learn as much as he could.

“My name is Colonel Doug Jenson. I’m a Human from the planet Earth.”

Peregrine was intrigued by the creature. It was obvious he was a male of the species and not that bad looking for an alien. His eyes were too small and close together and his poor nose was far too short, but from a distance she could mistake him for a male Asiddian.

“The Asiddian Empire has never encountered a Human in its entire history of galactic conquest. The logical conclusion under the circumstances is that your race is from some backwater part of the galaxy we have yet to explore and control.”

Doug was formulating a response when the crisp thoughts of Becky Chang interrupted him.

“Is it just me or is every alien lifeform in the galaxy born an egotistical maniac?”

Relief swept through Doug as he welcomed Becky’s familiar thought patterns. She was conscious and sharp as ever. He thought he felt an inner shiver of delight when her telepathic thoughts entered his mind but decided the feeling had to be his imagination. Taking a couple of seconds, he telepathically brought her up to date about what had happened since he regained consciousness. They decided she would remain quiet and help Whatsit, Miguel and GooYee recover from the effects of whatever had knocked them out.

Interpreting the lack of a response from the Human as fear, Peregrine smiled haughtily and said, “It appears the Human is physically strong and mentally weak. I see no reason to keep any of them alive.”

“You might want to ask Captain Wren to explain how the mentally weak Humans in a tiny Chrysallaman scout saucer destroyed her Asiddian battleship in a little less than one minute,” Doug responded with a glint in his eyes.

The look of stunned disbelief on Peregrine’s face was comical. Turning toward Hannah and Ramona, she commanded, “Explain.”

“Princess, I don’t know what manner of shielding they used, but a ten-fold disintegrator beam deflected away from their ship without causing any damage. They used a ray of dazzling white light to cut through our armor plating as if it was so much tissue paper. The ray was so powerful, they cut out the entire center of my ship from stem to stern, killing every crew member except Science Officer Crow and myself.”

Peregrine remained silent for a moment as she absorbed the information. Hannah was her childhood friend, and she trusted her implicitly.

“Do you have anything to add Officer Crow?”

“Your Majesty, without examination of the power systems in the scout saucer, I have no idea how they were able to deflect our disintegrator beam, but I can tell you their shield is not impregnable. Every time we hit them with more than three combined rays, their shield weakened, and they had to flee.”

Hesitating for just a moment, Peregrine pulled back the left sleeve of her gown, touched a diamond studded button on her wrist communicator and said, “Dr. Corvus, come to the Interrogation Chamber.”

After a brief moment, a raspy voice replied, “On my way, Majesty.”

Peregrine glared at Doug and said, “Dr. Corvus is Director of my Technical Research Team. His intellect and scientific knowledge are unmatched. He’s been studying your scout saucer and undoubtedly has uncovered most, if not all, of its secrets.”

Trying his best to look nonchalant but worried the unique design of the FLIT gen was in jeopardy of being disclosed to the enemy, Doug was about to respond to her when a familiar voice behind him said in the Asiddian language, “My God, you’re beautiful.”

Twisting around to confirm who’d spoken, Doug saw Miguel staring at the Princess. Miguel’s hands had been tied in front of his body, and he had levered himself into a kneeling position with his backside resting on his heels. His head was shrouded in a black bag, and Doug surmised he was using his bat-like sonic vision to see the Princess.

Peregrine was taken aback. No one ever had the temerity to address her in such a personal way. Motioning to her guards, the bag covering the Human’s head was jerked off. Blinking to adjust his eyes to the bright lights in the room, Miguel focused on the Princess, smiled and stared into her golden eyes.

Peregrine had never seen eyes with such a unique color in her life. She felt as though the Human was reaching into the deepest part of her soul, and she was temporarily transfixed by his gaze. Feeling a pleasurable twinge just below her navel, she pressed her palm to her belly.

An awkward silence continued for about five seconds until Peregrine tore her gaze away from Miguel, cleared her throat and said, “Colonel Jenson. Just who is this ruffian who dares interject himself into our conversation? Do you have so little control over your subordinates?”

Doug looked at Miguel and saw the young man still looking raptly at the Asiddian Princess. Shaking his head in amazement, Doug turned back to Peregrine and said, “Dr. Miguel Roemer is a civilian advisor. The chain of command on my vessel doesn’t restrict his comments and opinions. It may well be he’s still suffering from the effects of whatever rendered us unconscious.”

Doug thought he saw a flicker of disappointment in Peregrine’s eyes when he mentioned the lingering effects of unconsciousness on Miguel.

“What the Hell?” he wondered. It was like watching two teenagers peer at each other with cow eyes.

Just then the carved door opened and the shortest Asiddian Doug had seen to date strutted into the room.

Pulling her gaze away from Miguel, Peregrine said, “Dr. Corvus, please come here.”

“Human, this is Dr. Emil Corvus. He is the most decorated research scientist in the Asiddian Empire.”

Doug was unimpressed. Corvus was the first male Asiddian he had ever met. Standing only 6 feet tall, Corvus was much shorter than any Asiddian female Doug had met. He had light-brown skin and black eyes whose pupils were tinged with purple highlights. His eyes seemed to bug from his head and move back and forth as if he suffered from a nervous twitch. His nose was too long in proportion to his short body. He wore a white, long sleeved pantsuit with a frilly bright green scarf wound around his neck and knotted under his large Adam’s apple. The man’s demeanor screamed of effete intellectual snobbery.

“Tell us what you have learned from examination of the scout saucer,” Peregrine commanded.

“Nothing,” Corvus answered in a raspy, nasal voice. “The damned heathens must’ve destroyed every power generator on the ship. The fusion reactor is completely missing from the engineering bay. All the ship’s exterior weapons are destroyed and a thorough search of the vessel found no handheld or shoulder-fired weapons. The ship is a true derelict.”

Doug, Becky and Miguel were stunned and relieved by Corvus’ report. On the one hand, the scientific discoveries related to the FLIT gen and the FLIT space drive were safe. On the other hand, the total destruction of the generators and weapons meant they were prisoners of the Asiddians on Chrysalis with no clear way to escape.

Whatsit and GooYee were now sitting up and glaring balefully at the surrounding Asiddians. Whatsit’s mind was seething with anger and a deep feeling of helplessness. Doug sent him a silent telepathic message.

“Be strong my friend. I need you focused. We’ll get our turn and give them more than they ever bargained for. Calm down.”

“These are the monsters who’re systematically wiping out my people,” he cried.

“I know, but we can’t fight them all. Tom will come for us soon. In the meantime, we have to survive.”

Corvus surveyed the prisoners and declared, “There is not a spark of intelligence showing in the eyes of any of the prisoners. Since their ship is useless, so are they.”

Becky didn’t like the arrogant Corvus. He was like Heinbaum only without the controlling factor of McPherson. McPherson knew how to handle Heinbaum and keep his massive ego in check. The comparison gave her an idea.

“Hey, Corvie,” she challenged. “How does it feel to be unable to discover the scientific secrets of a backwater race of Humans who make your weapons and tech look like children’s toys?”

Corvus’ fright wig blossomed from his scalp and with a snarl he advanced toward her. The guards didn’t know how to react. Their responsibility was to keep the prisoners under control, not referee Dr. Corvus.

As their attention waivered, Doug, Becky and Miguel acted as one. Easily snapping the zip restraints binding their wrists and ankles, they lunged at the guards, killing all five of them with karate chops, kicks and fists. Their blows were so powerful, the guards’ armor dented inward like tin foil pie plates. The attack was brutal. Only Princess Peregrine, Hannah Wren, Ramona Crow and Dr. Corvus remained unharmed.

Miguel stepped up to Peregrine, gently grasped her arms and said, “I’m afraid you’re my prisoner now.”

Regarding him with an odd look, the Princess replied with a coy smile, “Enjoy it while you can, Earthman.”

Doug heard the exchange while he was removing the restraints from Whatsit and GooYee.

“Young people!” he thought as he helped the Chrysallamans to their feet.

Becky walked up with a concerned look and touched Doug’s forehead, “You’re injured. Are you okay?”

Aware his headache still lingered, Doug touched his forehead and felt the dried blood where his scalp was cut.

“I don’t think it’s serious. Just annoying as the devil.”

Caressing his cheek, Becky said, “I’ll help you get cleaned up later. We sort of have our hands full right now.”

Clasping her warm hand in his, Doug smiled, “I’m looking forward to that.”

Miguel tore his gaze away from Peregrine’s eyes, removed the diamond studded communicator from her wrist and handed it to Whatsit. He then patted down Wren, Crow and Corvus, confiscating their communicators and everything else in their pockets. He had no idea what their tech looked like, so better safe than sorry.

Whatsit tossed the wristlet in the air a couple of times like it was a baseball, turning it over and shaking it near his ear to see if he could hear any rattles.

“Looks like bling is a standard in any culture. I think I saw something similar to this being worn by an actress at the last Academy Awards.”

Asking Whatsit to hand him the device, GooYee pulled a small tool kit from one of his inside pockets and selected a thin flathead screwdriver.

“That’s not a toy, you ignorant lizard!” Corvus exclaimed just as GooYee popped the back off the gadget.

Ignoring the Asiddian scientist, GooYee regarded the electronics for a couple of seconds before declaring, “The Chrysallamans abandoned this design over 50 years ago. While the transmitter is extremely powerful, there is an inherent flaw in the F1CB2 circuit that fails after 600 hours of use.”

The Asiddians couldn’t perceive telepathy because their brains were genetically encased by a substance akin to lead. Becky took great pleasure in delivering GooYee’s analysis verbally to the haughty Dr. Corvus.

Corvus reacted with sputtering indignation, “That’s the latest high-tech transmitter design. Your evaluation is absurd.”

Acting as a translator, Becky told GooYee and Whatsit what Corvus said.

GooYee looked up from his work and smiled at Corvus before returning his attention to the transmitter.

“Ah! Now I see it. This is a short range Alpha frequency transmitter. My guess is the frequency is limited to use by the Royal Family. The authority of anyone using this will be unquestioned.”

When Becky told Corvus what GooYee surmised, the scientist’s eyes bugged so far they threatened to pop out.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Why, he’s Dr. Jamins GooYee, the leading Chrysallaman scientist in high energy physics,” Becky answered.

“I dare say your antiquated tech will be the subject of backroom jokes for the next ten years.”

***

“We can’t remain here. This room is a deathtrap,” Doug said as he helped Miguel search the bodies of the Asiddian guards for anything useful. Hearing a muffled laugh behind him, Doug turned and saw Peregrine covering her mouth with her hand as she tried to stifle her amusement.

With an air of supreme confidence, she said, “I have no idea what manner of creatures you Humans are, but I can assure you that leaving this chamber alive is impossible. The moment you open the door, the Royal Guards in the hallway will kill all of you. Not a single Human or Chrysallaman will escape death.”

“Then you’ll die as well because we’re going to use you as a Royal Shield. I don’t believe your Guards will kill you just to eliminate us.”

Laughing again with genuine delight, she responded, “You are just so deliciously naive, Human. I have implants that nullify disintegrator beams coming within four inches of my body. My Guards know I’m shielded. They’ll saturate your group with hellfire, leaving me completely unharmed.”

“I don’t like where this is headed,” Becky said. “Goldilocks is way too confident.”

As if her words were a signal, the sound of stone grinding on stone came from the alcove behind the table. Moving in tandem, Becky and Doug crouched on either side of the alcove pointing the dead guards’ weapons toward the opening, ready to defend their comrades with a withering crossfire. Miguel stepped close to the Princess in case she tried bolting for freedom. Tension filled the chamber as the stone wall behind the heavy wooden table pulled backward to reveal a dark passageway.

Nothing happened for a few seconds. Then with a muffled shuffling of cloth on stone, a female Chrysallaman perhaps 40 years old crawled out from under the table. She was clothed in a filthy, ragged dress, and it was apparent she hadn’t bathed in many days. Her gaunt body was undernourished, but her eyes glinted with sharp intelligence.

The look on Princess Peregrine’s face indicated she had no idea the secret passage existed. She clutched Miguel’s arm in fear. Her actions didn’t go unnoticed by Hannah Wren or Miguel. Wren was shocked speechless. Miguel felt a warm, electric-like shock move up his arm as Peregrine’s fingers touched him.

Directing her attention to Whatsit and GooYee and gesturing for them to join her, the female Chrysallaman said, “You two follow me. Bring your pet animals with you if you like. We’ll deal with them later. Hurry!”

Becky stood up and said, “Whoa there, Missy! We’re not going anywhere without the Princess. She’s too valuable a hostage.”

Stunned by the unexpected telepathic response from a lower animal, the Chrysallaman rescuer backed away and bumped into the table causing several of the torture instruments to rattle around.

“What’s your name?” Whatsit asked as the female’s eyes grew wide with fear.

“Cherree.”

“Well, Cherree, my name is Whatsit and this is Dr. Jamins GooYee.”

Motioning toward Miguel, Becky and Doug, Whatsit said, “These Humans are our friends from Planet HG-281. Colonel Jenson is in command.”

Looking at the Humans with a dumbfounded expression, Cherree said guardedly, “The Princess is not part of the rescue plan. If we take her with us, the Royal Guard will destroy the entire palace in an effort to find her. I can’t allow the risk.”

“It’s not your decision,” Doug said. “We’re taking her. End of story.”

As Miguel put his arm around Peregrine’s waist and began walking her toward the alcove, Wren, Crow and Corvus leaped to her defense and began struggling with Miguel. In seconds, the Asiddians’ claws had raked several deep cuts into Miguel’s left arm. A sudden blast from Becky’s weapon chewed a hole in the ceiling above Wren’s head, startling the attackers and bringing an abrupt end to their attempt at rescue.

As dust from the new hole sifted down on Wren’s head, Becky warned, “Don’t try to follow us, or the next blast won’t make a hole in the ceiling.”

To everyone’s surprise, Peregrine seemed more concerned about the bleeding cuts in Miguel’s arm than in being kidnapped. Pulling a silken scarf from her bodice, she carefully wrapped it around Miguel’s arm to staunch the bleeding. The concerned look in her eyes as she bound his wounds was obvious to everyone.

“Thank you, Caroline,” Miguel said.

Peregrine smiled.

“Let’s go kids! Arriba. Ándale!” Doug said, breaking the spell.

Whatsit and Becky, armed with the dead guards’ weapons, crawled under the table first. GooYee and Cherree followed next. Then Miguel and Peregrine.

Doug hesitated and then decided there was no alternative if his group was to have any chance at escape. He’d been considering killing Wren, Crow and Corvus because they knew the secret tunnel existed. The thought of terminating them for no good reason repulsed him, and he believed he had an alternative.

Focusing hard on the three Asiddians, he insinuated his mental probes into their spines and up into their brains. Quickly moving into their memories, he wiped the last 15 minutes of data from their minds. Doug realized his efforts were clumsy, since he had no prior experience with deleting memories and hoped he hadn’t destroyed any fundamental brain chemistry in the process. As their current memories swirled into emptiness, each Asiddian fell to the floor in a dazed stupor.

Crawling under the table into the dark passageway, Doug joined his friends and watched Cherree pull on a rusted metal lever jutting from a niche in the wall. Slowly, the massive stone doorway grated shut. For the time being, they were safe.


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