Chapter 9 - Greetings
Popping two more pickled egg yolks into his mouth and absently chewing, Emperor Horcunt considered his predicament. The Destinnee was well armed and encased in an impregnable shell of Armorium. It carried enough food, water, equipment and weapons to outfit a small army for a long time. His trained and loyal Guardsmen were his crew. He should feel safe and secure. Instead he felt confined, exposed and endangered; ensnared like a wild animal with its leg caught in a trap.
Just as panic was beginning to bore its spiny tendrils into his mind, Captain Yoogo Batress approached and said, “The mother ship VrrSilliac Xur has just arrived. General Hisspat Zeck requests an audience and is awaiting your reply.”
“Put it on screen,” Horcunt ordered as tension flowed out of his neck and upper back.
A nearby monitor came to life with the image of General Zeck sitting at his master control console. Horcunt was pleased to see Zeck attired in the ceremonial robe of conquest and the diamond glass planetary leadership tiara rather than his military combat vest. Standing at attention behind Zeck were two other Chrysallaman males, one of whom looked familiar. The other was dressed in a crazy looking wide-brimmed hat and long, high-collared green coat.
Concluding the colonization of planet HG-281 was already underway following extermination of the native animal infestation, he said, “General Zeck, how many mother ships are in your entourage? I believe ten on each flank of the Destinnee should be sufficient to provide a royal escort to planet HG-281.”
Zeck looked shocked and replied, “Your Royal Highness, the VrrSilliac Xur is the only available mother ship at the moment. All others are busy with colonization duties. When I received your radio transmission, my first thought was to make sure there were millions of Chrysallamans waiting to greet you on the planet. It never occurred to me you would have made the journey from Chrysalis without a phalanx of mother ships by your side.”
Annoyed by the reasonableness of Zeck’s response and not wanting to reveal how scared and exposed he felt, Horcunt blustered, “While within the safe walls of my flagship, I don’t need mother ships to guard me. Who stands behind you?”
Looking over his shoulder, Zeck said, “They are both colonists. To my right is MerrCrr Z. JnnWall, a professor of telepathic studies who teaches our military how best to mentally control lower lifeforms. On my left is Whatsit who has a unique ability to empathize with and calm lower animals.”
“I do seem to remember meeting JnnWall at some point in the distant past,” Horcunt replied.
Then peering curiously, he said, “Whatsit is an odd name. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it before. What is the surname of your family, Whatsit?”
“Zennk,” Whatsit replied, and he was sure he heard MerrCrr inhale at the mention of the name.
“How unfortunate,” Horcunt said.
“Why do you say that?”
“A fellow named Zennk was the first Chrysallaman to ever lose a scout ship on a mission, and in military circles the word Zennk is now synonymous with bad luck.”
“How very unfortunate.”
At that moment, Zeck broke into the conversation with a suggestion, “Your Majesty, I would be honored if you would grant me the privilege of sending my personal navigator to guide the Destinnee to planet HG-281. He has all the solar system planetary coordinates in a memory chip for download to your navigation computer. I can shuttle him over in a scout saucer at once if you so agree.”
Just as Horcunt was about to answer affirmatively, Batress pushed the mute button on the console and warned, “I don’t like what I’m seeing and hearing Your Majesty. My gut tells me something is amiss.”
“Why do you say that, Captain?”
“We’ve seen no evidence of military involvement. Zeck is in civilian attire. The only Chrysallamans with him are civilian. No mother ships accompany the VrrSilliac Xur. The circumstances are very unusual to say the least.”
Horcunt normally heeded the opinions of his Captain. Batress had never failed to give him sound advice; however, Horcunt was frightened by the military power of the Asiddians. He wanted 50 mother ships guarding his backside sooner than later. He decided to compromise.
“We’ll let the scout ship dock. It’s impossible to fill a small saucer with enough troops to overcome all your highly trained men. Keep everyone onboard the saucer under heavy guard. Escort the navigator to me.”
Batress nodded and pushed the Mute button to permit conversation.
Horcunt said, “General Zeck, I would be pleased to have your navigator come aboard. Please dispatch him immediately.”
“At once, Your Majesty,” Zeck replied as he bowed his head.
Alex had never had to maintain an illusion of himself as a Chrysallaman warrior with so many native Chrysallamans for such an extended period of time. The Human expert in casting illusions was Becky Chang, and she had coached him on the techniques for maintaining the mental concentration necessary to carry out his subterfuge. Still he worried. Alex was both a perfectionist and a self-doubter; two traits his father had told him didn’t mix well. On the one hand, Alex felt confident he could carry out the illusion with no slip up; however, he also knew the longer he kept up the illusion, the more chances there were to make some minuscule mistake a native Chrysallaman would spot with ease.
The sound of the docking hatch opening broke into his reverie. Nine armed Royal Guardsmen stared at him with the dead, black eyes of killers. Zeck, Whatsit and JnnWall stepped through the hatch into the wide entryway leading into the Destinnee. Clamping down on his self-doubts, Alex followed them.
One of the Guardsmen with Captain’s insignia on his combat vest ordered two of his men to inspect the scout saucer. As they shouldered past Alex, the Captain said, “If you find anyone in the scout saucer, restrain them and deliver to me.”
Turning a stern gaze on the foursome, the Captain said, “General Zeck, I am Yoogo Batress, Captain of the Royal Guard.”
“Yes, I recognize you,” Zeck replied with disinterest.
Pointing at his entourage, he said, “This is JnnWall, Whatsit and my navigator, Fields. Escort us to the Emperor at once.”
Batress didn’t take orders from anyone except the Emperor, and he bristled at the disrespect.
“Don’t presume you have any authority on His Majesty’s flagship. I have my orders . .”
“You should treat General Zeck with respect when he makes a civil request!” Whatsit intervened.
Shocked by the audacity of the interruption, Batress faced Whatsit and demanded in a derisive tone, “Who do you think you’re talking to, you civilian peacemaker?”
When he didn’t get a stunned reaction from the lizard at his insult, Batress added, “What kind of ridiculous outfit are you wearing? I won’t permit you to wear an ugly hat and coat in the presence of the Emperor.”
Whatsit stepped up to Batress with practiced dignity. His natural height plus the sombrero made him tower over the shorter Chrysallaman.
His telepathic reply was so strong it almost made JnnWall and Zeck wince. Batress had never encountered Whatsit before and his eyes began to water as the powerful message entered his brain, “These garments hold significant religious and supernatural meaning to the Human animals infesting planet HG-281. Do not demean what you can’t understand.”
Taking a quick step backward in reaction to the unexpected comeback, Yoogo hastily drew his cutter ray pistol and blustered, “No one speaks to me like that.”
“Well I just did.”
To his amazement, the oddly clothed Chrysallaman turned his back and began to walk to his former position just behind General Zeck. Batress was so angry, he fired his ray pistol at the offensive lizard. The ignominious death of the insolent Chrysallaman would be a lesson to Zeck. The silvery beam of light about the width of a good cigar flashed at Whatsit’s back. Zeck and JnnWall threw up their hands in a defensive gesture as the weapon fired, but the cutter ray never touched Whatsit. A clear bubble of protection surrounded him.
Turning to face Batress as the deadly ray continued to beat against the PDS screen, Whatsit strolled over to within 3 inches of the active pistol barrel and said, “Would you please stop embarrassing yourself and holster the useless weapon?”
Easing his finger off the activator button, Batress looked in wide-eyed amazement first at Whatsit and then at General Zeck.
“What sorcery is this?” he squeaked.
“I have much to discuss with the Emperor,” Zeck replied. “You would be surprised at the things I have learned in the past few weeks. Now stop wasting my time and take me to him.”
Still keeping his pistol clutched in his hand, his eyes narrowed with suspicion and fear, Batress shuffled sideways toward the bulkhead as far as he could to avoid touching Whatsit. Casting furtive glances over his shoulder to make sure he was putting distance between himself and Whatsit, Batress shuffled down the passageway toward the throne room. Ringed by the remaining guard of six commandos, Zeck and his companions followed.
Their trek to the Emperor’s throne room took so long Alex got the distinct impression they were being slow-walked on purpose. To make matters worse, the telepathic tokens in the bulkheads had been turned off leaving no way for them to determine where they were in the maze of passageways. Standard design protocol for Chrysallaman spacecraft included subtle telepathic signage built into the walls giving clear guidance throughout the ship. Once you knew the tokens existed, even a child could find any area of the craft. It was obvious the Royal Guard didn’t want strangers gaining familiarity with the layout of the Destinnee.
At last they walked up to a set of double doors made of Armorium emblazoned with a gold Chrysallaman star logo. Batress placed his hand on a palm reader set in the door frame and the interlocked double doors slid into their wall slots. Zeck recognized the large chamber by its similarity to the palace throne room on Chrysalis. The Destinnee throne room was 30 paces long and 15 paces wide. The deck was tiled with a black stone polished to a sheen so perfect that as you walked across it, a mirror-like reflection of yourself appeared to walk along with you. At the far end of the room was a dais made of alternating layers of polished white and black stone. At the apex of the dais was a throne made of intricately faceted diamond glass. Strategically placed spot lights shown on the diamond throne causing it to sparkle in a dazzling display of beautiful rainbow colors. Emperor Terr Horcunt sat on the throne staring at them as they approached.
Except for the spotlights on the throne, the lights in the room were dimmed, and dark shadows filled the corners. Alex closed his eyes to trigger the bat-like sonic hearing of his enhanced DNA and the entire room took on the appearance of a black and white movie in full sunlight. Details of everything were clear. Keeping his eyes closed, he casually turned his head and saw Royal Guardsmen hidden in every corner of the room with their ray pistols aimed at his group. Reopening his eyes, he caught Whatsit regarding him with a questioning look.
As they had agreed prior to docking with the Destinnee, Alex sent a telepathic message he hoped no one else could interpret, “Uardsgay in ornerscay ithway unsgay.”
Nodding with a faint smile, Whatsit turned his attention to the Emperor who was issuing a greeting to Hisspat Zeck. Pig Latin was such fun.
“General Zeck, welcome aboard my flagship. It pleases me you present yourself as well as your advisors and navigator,” Horcunt said.
Bowing low, Hisspat replied, “It’s my honor to serve you, my Lord. My navigator is prepared to guide the Destinnee to planet HG-281 at your command.”
Just then, a doorway in the bulkhead opened and a female Chrysallaman wearing a deep blue gown covered with multi-colored gemstones walked through it toward the dais. She carried a silver tray laden with gourmet Chrysallaman tidbits. As she walked toward him, the Emperor gestured for her to approach his guests. Bowing her head, she angled for Zeck and his group.
“Gentlemen, this is one of my most recent acquisitions. A courtesan of subtle beauty named Chellsee Brookkss. She volunteered her services to me just before I departed for planet HG-281,” the Emperor said as he leered at the sway of her hips as she walked away from him.
In truth, Chellsee Brookkss was a forty year old Chrysallaman female enslaved by the Emperor just before he fled Chrysalis. She was 5 feet 6 inches tall and very slender. The shape of her black eyes reminded Whatsit of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes in the movie, ‘Cleopatra’. Her skin was finely scaled and seemed to glow with an iridescent shimmer as she moved. Whatsit was captivated by her beauty and stared into her eyes as she walked up to him.
Fumbling for one of the morsels on the tray, Whatsit said shyly, “Thank you, Milady.”
Chellsee had never met a more oddly dressed Chrysallaman in her life. The wildly decorated wide-brimmed hat and long, high-collared green coat were stunning. Even so, his eyes were kind with a depth and clarity hinting at great mental strength. His low telepathic voice sent shivers of excitement down her spine, and she turned away from him in embarrassment.
Whatsit had never been in the presence of a female Chrysallaman in his entire life, and this first encounter was disturbing him.
“Have I done something to upset her? Is she scared of me?” he thought.
When she finished serving Zeck and his men, Horcunt beckoned her to his side. Pulling her towards him, he rubbed his age-knarled hand up and down the side of her waist and leg in an obvious show of possession. Whatsit felt his anger begin to grow as he witnessed the humiliation of the innocent woman, but just before he began to step toward the dais, he felt Alex’s hand grip his arm.
Turning toward the ersatz Chrysallaman, he saw Alex shake his head. It wasn’t the time to confront the Emperor. Nodding his understanding, Whatsit grudgingly kept still.
Horcunt appeared to remember something, and he stopped rubbing the woman’s leg and gazed with frank suspicion at Zeck.
“General Zeck, my Captain has given me some rather disturbing news. It seems he believes one of your men has some kind of force field that protects him from a cutter ray. Is this correct?”
“It is. I wanted to reveal my scientists’ latest discovery directly to you, Your Majesty, but Captain Batress decided to murder one of my men for no reason whatsoever. If not for the defensive shield, my chief spiritual advisor and Liaison to the surviving Human animals would be dead.”
When Batress heard Zeck describe the shooting, he blustered, “Your Majesty! I must protest the description of the incident by this foul-mouthed lout. He hasn’t accurately portrayed the lack of respect and verbal indignities I suffered from his damned advisor. An apology is in order.”
“I agree,” the Emperor said. “Draw your pistol and kill Whatsit. His apology will then be complete.”
“But I can’t kill him, Your Majesty! The force shield gives him complete protection!”
Zeck interrupted, “May I suggest an alternative, Your Majesty?”
Alex and Whatsit didn’t like what was happening. Zeck was going off-script. He was supposed to be delaying while the remaining members of the Earth team made their way from the scout saucer to the throne room. The unexpected cutoff of the telepathic guide tokens on the Destinnee was slowing down their arrival. Alex couldn’t use his FLR to hurry them up unless he spoke aloud, and Chrysallamans didn’t speak orally.
Whatsit knew his team’s strategy of commandeering the Destinnee was in severe jeopardy. Zeck was behaving like he had a plan to derail the attack, and it involved separating Whatsit from Alex. Whatsit edged closer to JnnWall. For some reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on, Whatsit had confidence in the integrity of the lizard and hoped he wouldn’t take sides with Zeck.
Hisspat was confident he could turn his helplessness into heroism. He was sure the Emperor would shower him with praise, glory and wonderful privileges if he exposed the Human plan to take over the Destinnee. First he would get the Human Fields killed. He was confident JnnWall would join him in subduing the traitor Whatsit.
“Those damned Humans thought they had frightened General Hisspat Zeck. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Zeck thought.
“Since the defensive screen can’t be penetrated by a cutter or heat ray, I suggest physical combat. My navigator against your Captain. May the best Chrysallaman win,” Zeck said.
“Excellent idea, General Zeck. Captain Batress needs a workout anyway. I so order,” Horcunt declared.
Alex was certain he could physically overwhelm Batress. The real problem was maintaining his Chrysallaman warrior illusion during the fight. If the illusion failed or even flickered, the whole plan for taking over the Destinnee might be ruined. Fighting his self-doubts, Alex removed his combat vest and handed it to Whatsit. He kept his PDS pendant hanging around this neck like a good luck charm. Thinking about his lack of experience in maintaining a long-term illusion, he decided his best chance for success meant allowing the Captain to hit him while he concentrated on preserving his Chrysallaman appearance. He had to buy his team more time to find their way to the throne room.
Yoogo Batress was supremely confident he could best any opponent in physical combat. After all, his physical strength, combat training and brains were the reasons he had risen to be Captain of the Royal Guard. Besides, he wanted payback for the earlier humiliation by Whatsit. Killing his navigator friend was just the beginning of Yoogo’s revenge.
Horcunt motioned. The Guards hiding in the dark corners of the room walked into view and formed a rough circle in the middle of the deck with Batress and Alex in the center. Motioning for Zeck, JnnWall and Whatsit to move out of the way, the Guards turned to face the fighters.
Horcunt began idly stroking Chellsee’s waist and leg as he said, “This fight is to the death. If you run from the circle or are knocked out of it by combat, my Guards will terminate your life functions.”
Whatsit began to protest the rules, but Zeck motioned him back. In order to prolong the impression Zeck was in charge of his own men, Whatsit didn’t interfere, but his seething hatred of Zeck was growing more intense by the second.
Expecting a bell or something to be rung signaling the beginning of the fight and still stunned by the Emperor’s announcement it was to the death, Alex was surprised when Batress lunged at him and struck the side of his head with a vicious blow that would have killed an unactivated human.
Alex’s enhanced strength and bone density absorbed the killing blow, and Batress backed off in stunned disbelief as his fist felt like he had struck a stone statue. The navigator’s head had barely moved from the force of his punch.
Circling his opponent, Batress made a couple of feinting lunges, acting as if he was going to grab the navigator’s body in a bear hug and wrestle him to the deck. Fortunately for Alex, he had four younger brothers and several months of specialized hand-to-hand combat training. The fake moves didn’t fool him at all.
Leaping into the air with a side kick, Batress’ right foot slammed into Alex’s chest. The blow was powerful enough to knock Alex off-balance, and he fell backwards, sprawling on the deck and momentarily seeing flashes of light as his head hit the polished, black stones.
“Ha!” Batress thought as the navigator banged his head soundly on the deck. “Got you now.”
Concentrating on preserving his illusion, Alex rolled out of the way as Batress leaped at him and tried to bury a knee in his solar plexus. Jumping to his feet, Alex shook his head to clear away the cobwebs.
Smiling evilly as he watched the navigator try to ward off the effects of striking his head on the hard tiles, Batress decided to end the fight with a deadly blow. His daily physical fitness routine included hitting a sand filled 80 lb punching bag to keep his fists hardened. Over time, he had learned to hit the bags with such force, they burst open.
Lunging at Alex and swinging with all his power at the unprotected abdomen, Batress sought to drive his fist deep into the gut of his opponent. Alex sensed the blow coming and tightened his stomach muscles.
Driving his rock-hard fist with practiced concentration, Batress struck the navigator’s abdomen in its softest spot just below the rib cage, confident the least damage would be a ruptured spleen or burst intestine. He felt like he’d hit a solid steel wall. Two of his knuckles cracked from the impact, and the calloused skin covering them split open and began to bleed.
Dropping to his knees in pain as he held his broken hand, Yoogo looked up at the navigator with wide eyes and said, “What are you?”
“Just your friendly neighborhood Chrysallaman,” Alex replied with a grin.
When Batress stared with a puzzled look on his face, Alex asked, “What’s the matter, haven’t you ever heard of a Superhero?”
At that moment, a white beam filled with sparkles and swirls cut a man-sized circular hole in the Armorium door of the Throne Room. As the huge slab fell to the black stone floor with a bell-like clang, four Human animals rushed into the room, small black pistols in their hands. The Royal Guards forming the circle around Batress and Alex turned at the noise, and their cutter rays stabbed at the Humans. The deadly silver beams never reached their targets as bubbles of protection appeared and shielded their targets.
Chellsee Brookkss screamed and ducked behind the diamond glass throne. Horcunt froze in terror. The only Humans he had ever seen had been in videos taken by the exploration team.
Whatsit pulled his MA pistol from his coat pocket. Not wanting to shoot the Guards in the back as they concentrated their attention on the Humans, he called to them, “Guards! Drop your weapons, and you won’t be harmed.”
Two of the lizards pivoted and fired toward him. Ducking, Whatsit cut them both down. Seeing their comrades fall to the floor in pieces, the two others stopped firing, dropped their pistols and raised their hands in surrender. The skirmish had lasted less than 1 minute.
The shocked look on Batress’ face was replaced by angry, shamed determination. His Emperor was endangered, and Yoogo and his Royal Guards were disgraced. Somehow, raiders from planet HG-281 had boarded the Destinnee and made their way to the throne room. The time for fair play was over.
Reaching for the ray pistol hidden in his left boot, he jerked the weapon up, aimed it at Alex point-blank and pushed the activator button. The silvery beam sliced through Alex’s midsection and severed his spinal cord. As his ruined body slumped to the deck, the illusion of the Chrysallaman warrior faded away as Alex Fields died.
An eerie mental scream filled the room as Whatsit realized his friend had been killed. With unreasoning anger blocking every sane thought process except retaliation, he blasted Batress with his MA beam and held the trigger down as he swept the beam back and forth over the body, disintegrating it. Even though nothing remained of the Captain’s body, Whatsit continued to play the MA beam over the spot where Batress had been.
MerrCrr had witnessed the power of the MA beam and knew if it continued to fire it would pierce through every deck and the outer hull. Everyone would die. Deciding to stop the destruction, he slugged Whatsit in the side of his head, knocking him senseless. The MA beam cut off, but the danger was not over. Zeck interpreted JnnWall’s actions as support for him. He scooped up Whatsit’s MA pistol and pointed it at the four Humans walking toward him.
“Don’t come any closer, or I’ll fire this weapon!” Zeck threatened. “Your force fields may protect you, but I’ll cut the deck right out from under you, and you’ll fall to your deaths! I’ll demonstrate the technique on this traitorous Chrysallaman.”
Aiming the pistol at the deck near Whatsit, he began to pull the trigger. When no beam emanated from his pistol, Zeck realized he wasn’t pulling the trigger. Standing still as a statue, he watched JnnWall take the MA pistol from his hand and toss it toward the Humans.
Zeck realized JnnWall had somehow taken full control of his body. An angry thought cut into his mind, smothering all his voluntary cognitive processes.
“I won’t let you harm Whatsit, General Zeck!”