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Aeroquest… Canto 28

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Canto 28 – Rock and Roll Starship

      The Megadeath was the only available starship left in four Parsecs of space in any direction from Don’t Go Here.  Ged didn’t want to travel in a Trav Dalgoda concept, but left with no choice, he trusted Frieda’s demonstrated skills as a shipwright and spacecraft designer.  He could use it to travel if only he could recruit a space crew.  He needed a pilot, an engineer, and a navigator who knew how to figure coordinates from Xavier Tkriashav’s memories of nearby systems in unknown space.

The finding of a crew proved quite difficult.  All they had was a pool of marooned talent left by Lupin corsairs, mostly the dregs of the spaceways.  Tkriashav had a telepathic network set up on the planet, and there were some primitive crystal radios.  Otherwise, the planet was bound together by a word-of-mouth commo system.

All they could find was a rather motley crew.  Vince Niell was the only pilot to apply for the job.  He was a merchant pilot who’d lost his final ship to Lupins in the Mingo star system.  He wore mirrored sunglasses even in the dark.  He had a leather flight jacket which he wore over his Fredsuit.  He signed on for a pair of pants, some underwear, and a baseball cap from Ged’s own wardrobe.  He wanted Ged’s brown fedora, but that hat was non-negotiable, being needed always on Ged’s own head.

Nikki Sixx was a guitar-playing engineer with bright red hair that he wore long down to his waist.  He had his own hand-made electric guitar and broadcast speakers even though he had no generator to make electricity for them.  He had blue ovals tattooed around each eye, and he had skulls tattooed on his bare chest.  He wore Bam-Bam shorts and also carried a medium-sized stone-caster.  He signed on to keep the engines purring on the promise that he would be allowed to play guitar whenever he had free time.

The third crewman was the hardest to find, and easily the one Ged would’ve most preferred to replace.  He gave his name as Cold Death.  He was a white-skinned near-human with skin that looked like snow and was surprisingly chilly to the touch.  It was like shaking hands with a snowman.  He had strange black triangles tattooed around his eyes and wore a neon green Mohawk for a hairstyle.  He also had two ivory fangs like Dracula in his mouth.  He, too, was unnaturally attached to a guitar.  He, too, was willing to sign on for a chance to play Heavy-Metal Rock-and-Roll.

Ged’s only comfort with this crew was the fact that they came cheap.  He didn’t have any Imperial coins or electronic credit-exchangers to pay them with anyway.  But the music gave him headaches.

Before leaving, Ged helped Tara use the Hammer of God to build a downport on the surface of the planet.  All Tara had to do was take Ged’s blueprints and descriptions, picture them in her imagination, and then telepathically download them into the Hammer.  The device shot a stream of purple energy into the dirt at the construction site, turning the silica and clay into a pool of microscopic nanobots that made her mental image grow into reality before the startled eyes of the cave men of Don’t Go Here.

Plans were made for housing and high-rises to enhance the economy of Bedrock and the planet Don’t Go Here.  A shuttle system was built to help Tara get starship building supplies up to Frieda and farmers up to the grange station.  Ged promised many that he would come back soon to begin training spacers to man the space ships they would build.  The Hammer of God allowed them to boost the planet from a quasi-stone-age to the space age in next to no time, Flintstones into Jetsons, so to speak.  Of course, Ged had promised a lot of commitment on the part of both his brother and himself.

Finally they were prepared to leave Don’t Go Here in the hands of Tara and her father, Bam-Bam.  Ged, Tkriashav, and little Junior Aero would head out with the crew of the Megadeath to visit Tkriashav’s world and the system of prophecy.  As Ged said a final, difficult goodbye to the beautiful teenager, Tara Salongi, he never imagined that he wouldn’t be back to see her again within the year.  He never imagined a lot of things that would make the memory of that one goodbye one of his greatest regrets.

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Aeroquest… Canto 27

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Canto 27 – Blue Eggs and Ham

      The Leaping Shadowcat pulled into the orbit of White Palm just as the last explosions on the periphery of the battle site were dying out.  Sinbadh sat next to Ham in the copilot chair.

“So, Bucko, what be Questor like?  I have ne’er been in that there port.”

“It’s deep in the Imperial Interior, in the Phaetus Cluster with the systems of Phaetus, Xerxes, Perch, and the Talosian Systems I, II, and III.”

“Kinda the suburbs to Galtorr Prime?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Do it be easy livin’ there?”

“Yes, but…  Well, the Galtorrians house many of their slaves there.  Freaks, Unhumans, Mechanoids, Metalloids, all the basic slave races are housed in the ghettos of Questor.   It was oppressive growing up there and seeing all that injustice.”

“Me, I never had the chance to see the like.  My people were forever hunted out there beyond the borders, movin’ an’ hidin’, movin’ and hidin’.”

“You had it good.  When I was twelve, I had a friend who was a Mechanoid.   He was only ten when they reanimated him.  He would’ve never been able to grow up had he…  At school they caught me talking to him when he was supposed to be mucking out sewers.  They whipped me for talking to a slave.  They shut him down and scrapped him.  I found out, though, that he was still a person, just like me.  He told me all about his memories of his early life.  He remembered when he was still alive.  He felt love and fear just like we do.  I vowed after that that I would change the galaxy some day.  I wanted them to be treated the same as we are.”

“Ged feel the same?”

“He’s worse than me.  He’s careful and doesn’t get into trouble as much as I do, but he cares passionately about justice and morality.  He’s already done more to help the oppressed than I ever dared to even dream of.”

“Good man, that Ged.”

“You’ve no idea.  He’d give his life for an ideal.  He’d sacrifice himself to help you and me, too.”

It was then that the Madonna brought them lunch.  It was made of blue eggs from the starchickens of the planet Arriseah. They smelled foul and were served next to greasy slabs of fried bacon.  The meal was not healthy, but the planet-bound peoples of the Imperium believed the meal had the effect of a love potion.

“Madonna, my girl,” said Ham shaking his head, “I do not like blue eggs and bacon.”

The Madonna looked at him confused.  She wore a revealing flesh-wrap that effectively showed off her girlish blue figure.  Being a neotynous Nebulon, she had the physique of a fourteen-year-old human girl, even though she was a Nebulon woman of nearly thirty years in age.  Nebulons were child-like even when they achieved advanced age.

“I…  I read about your world… foods of love…”

Ham’s expression turned from one of disgust to one of sympathy.  He had grown fond of this Nebulon Princess.  He didn’t want to hurt her in any way.

“You don’t need to feed me Aphrodisiacs.  I love you without that.”

The Madonna smiled at him shyly.

“Well, says I,” said Sinbadh, “I better get to the galley and make this right.”  He took the eggs and bacon and headed out of the cockpit.  “I’ll make ye some of me best honey-plant stew.  I got a case of honey-plant roots on board for just such an occasion.  They can make ye fall in love too… with me cookin’, o’ course.”

The Madonna sat down in the copilot chair.  On the view screen, a large Pinwheel Corsair showed up.  Its weapons were visibly armed and ready to fire.

“Unknown vessel!” came a voice over the commo, “prepare to be boarded.”

“Negative, corsair.  You don’t need to board us.  We are friends of Captain Tron.  Radio him that Ham Aero is here to help.”

“Ham Aero?  Is Ged with you?”

“No.”

“Oh, okay.  Don’t make any foolish moves.  We’ll escort you down to the planet.”

Together the two spacecraft rolled to the left and inserted themselves into the atmosphere of White Palm.

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Aeroquest… Canto 26

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Canto 26 – The Duke with the Curly Mustache

     A quick search of three hardened underground structures that Dana Cole knew about yielded nothing but empty rooms and crying concubines from Nefaria’s harem.  It wasn’t until the densitometer in Trav’s gloved hands booped out the presence of a hidden chamber that they found something of value.

“We can cut through right here,” said Goofy pointing.

Tron used his pulse-laser as a cutting tool and made a new door in the wall.  As the slag fell inward, the adventurers found a prison room with three disheveled prisoners within.  One was a handsome, curly-haired adult with a handlebar moustache.  The other two appeared to be young boys, though one of those was a Lupin Freak and the other had pointed ears and extra-large eyes.

“Are you rebels?” asked the man with the moustache.

“Of a sort,” confessed Tron.  “We are corsair raiders, come to take the treasures of White Palm.  Who would you be?”

“You’ll not get a ransom for me, if that’s what you’re thinking.”  The man’s lantern jaw was set in a hard line.  His blue eyes flashed with resolve.

“We didn’t come here for that,” said Maggie.  “We came to get revenge on Count Nefaria, and Goofy here killed him.”

“Nefaria’s dead?” asked the man, stunned.  “I thought no one would ever catch up with that snake.”

“Please, kind sirs… madam, are any of you a medic?” asked the Lupin boy.

“I can put my hands on Doctor Courtney Blake,” said Tron.  “Why?”

“Hassan here is wounded, and his leg is infected.”

Maggie the Knife kneeled beside the wounded boy.  She gently peeled away the torn and bloody pants caked to the wound.  “Oh, gawd!” was all she could say.

“Get Courtney Blake,” Tron commanded of Sheherazade.  The dark-skinned beauty moved swiftly back up the tunnel.

“What is your name, son?” Maggie asked, looking at the white-furred dog-boy.

“I am called Sahleck Kim.  The Peri here is called Hassan the Elf.  Our friend and master is called Duke Han Ferrari.”

“Duke Ferrari?  The Duke of the planet Coventry?” asked Tron.  “I thought you said you weren’t worth any ransom.  Coventry is one of the most densely populated worlds in the Galtorr Imperium.”

“Yeah, well,” said the Duke, “they don’t want me back.  The Imperium paid Count Nefaria a hefty fee to dispose of me permanently.”

“Why would they do that?” asked Maggie.

“I’m the leader of the Revolutionary Star-World Brigade.  We have been working towards a reversal of the last Unification War, trying to split our planets away from the Galtorr Imperium.”

Tron laughed.  “Now there’s an idea whose time has come.  You have any forces on your side?”

“We have troops aplenty, but no space fleet.  The Imperium holds a lock on that.  Independent space fleets have all been decimated or incorporated into the Imperial Space Navy.”

“They haven’t decimated my fleet yet, though they’ve tried real hard,” boasted Tron.

“How many ships are in your fleet?” asked the Duke, a new fire of revolution beginning to spark up in his blue eyes.

“Tron!  The boy is going into a coma!” cried Maggie.  “Without immediate attention, he’ll die.”

The boy, a Peri Freak created by Faulkner Genetics to be a living, creative computer, was trembling and sweating as he appeared to be asleep.  Any thought of other things left both Tron and Duke Han Ferrari.

“Where’s that medic!” roared Ferrari.

“Dr. Blake!” shouted Tron into his commo dot, “Get here now, or face my wrath!”

As if by magic, the pirate doctor appeared wielding mini-computers and med-robots.  In no time the leg was amputated and the Peri saved.

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Aeroquest… Canto 25

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Canto 25 – Count Nefaria

      The underground of White Palm was riddled with ancient tunnels and warrens that may have been caused by nature, or may have been evidence of a lost civilization.  They meandered everywhere just under the surface of an entire planet.  They varied in temperature from cool and dark, to bright-hot ovens.  Navigating them was perilous.

Dana Cole led the way with Trav Dalgoda hovering right behind her.  She knew the passages Nefaria used, and she made Trav hold the densitometer, a gravitic device meant to read matter density and reveal open spaces, to read the makeup and general shape of what lay ahead.  Tron and Maggie came behind, pistols and lasers at the ready.  Artran came next with a stuffed Pleezy-bear under one arm.  Arkin Cloudstalker and Sheherazade came after the boy, also fully armed and ready.  The rest of the ground troops covered all exits from the Oasis City underground.

“We have to go carefully,” said Dana Cole.  “Nefaria imported tunnel fuzzies from Galtorr to serve as underground guard dogs.”

“Tunnel fuzzies?” asked Tron.

“You know,” she explained, “those acid-spitting green spiders with the hundreds of eyes?  The ones with the plastic fur that make insulation good enough to bathe in lava without getting burnt.”

“Fascinating,” said Cloudstalker ironically.

“There’s a large corridor ahead,” said Goofy, grinning.  “There’s a really big room beyond that.”  The densitometer made his face glow with unnatural purple light.

“This place sure is spooky,” said Artran.

Without warning, a stream of bright yellow-green acid flew over their heads and melted an alcove into the sandstone on the far side of them.

“Tunnel fuzzy!” cried Dana, scrambling to get down under cover as she looked frantically for the source of the toxic goo.

“I see it!” cried Tron, lasering into another dark alcove with his green pulse-laser rifle.

Acid splattered everywhere, leaving pock marks in the walls, sores on exposed skin, and holes in clothing and body armor.  Artran began to cry.

“Are you hurt, Snookums?” asked Maggie in parental agony.

“No.  It’s Little Goofy!”  The boy held up his now headless Pleezy-bear, the fuzzy smiley face burned off by acid.

“Keep a sharp eye out!” warned Dana.  “That could happen to any of us!”

Watching warily, the assault team inched forward.  Trav’s nervous eyes were glued to the densitometer screen.  They eased into the major corridor.  A quick firefight dispatched three of Nefaria’s police robots.  They were swept quickly away by the surprise attack.

As the group bolted through the door into the big chamber, they came face to face with Nefaria and Sorcerer 6.  Neither the monocled, gray-haired villain, nor the white-skinned Synthezoid were happy about the turn of events.

“Well, Captain Tron and friends!” said Nefaria, trying to act suave and sophisticated though obviously rattled.  “What brings you to my humble home?”

“I do,” said Dana Cole.  “You and the other members of Expedition One betrayed me.  One of your Sorcerers nearly killed me!”

“Believe me,” said Sorcerer 6, “no one regrets the failed attempt more than I.”

“Oh, I believe you all right, you slimy white android!”  Dana shot the new Sorcerer right between the eyes with an auto burst from her advanced combat rifle.  Microchips and synthetic flesh flew everywhere.

“Now, let’s not get vindictive!” pleaded Count Nefaria, his monocle falling out.

“Oh, I think we should!” cried Trav stupidly; pulling out the Skortch ray he had taken from the corpse of Sorcerer 3.  He skortched Nefaria before Tron could grab the illegal weapon.  The stunned Count dissolved into hot ashes in seconds, completely disintegrated.  The monocle tinkled as it hit the stone floor.

“You numb-noggin!” cried Tron, grabbing the deadly weapon out of Goofy’s hands.  “We still needed vital information out of that criminal bug-head!”

“Oh… gee… I’m sorry, boss,” said Trav, humbled.

“Kill the Goof now!” insisted Maggie.

Dana stepped in front of her beloved imbecile.

“Please, forgive Uncle Goofy,” pleaded Artran.

Tron looked down at his son’s cherubic face and lowered his guns.  “I forgive you, Goofy, but you will make it up to me with some hard work.  Man that densitometer!  We’ve got to find Nefaria’s prison and his treasure house.”

“Maybe Miss Cole can help with those, too,” suggested Cloudstalker.

“Maybe she can,” nodded Tron.

Sheherazade nudged with her foot the ruin that was once the Synthezoid, Sorcerer 6.  “Do you suppose this is the last one of these?”

“I doubt it,” said Cloudstalker.  “It has too much of the stink of Syn Corporation about it.”

“I hope it isn’t the last,” muttered Tron.  “I need to kill that conehead a few more times myself just to feel good about it.”

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Aeroquest… Adagio 6

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Adagio 6 – The Raiders of White Palm

      The attack on White Palm would come to be an event featured in folktales and legend.  Most of the combat footage and holography was either destroyed in the battle itself, or lost in the wars that followed.  That makes for better war stories because it means nobody can prove you embellished the tale a little, er, or maybe a lot.  You will just have to believe that what I say about it is true based on my own eyewitness recollections and memory of those lost documents.

The world of White Palm was mostly a dry, arid wasteland.  Count Nefaria and his “family” had built their wealth and gained ownership of it through control of the water resources, brought entirely by space transport.  Terra-forming the planet was easy enough to accomplish, but the Count’s family had expressly forbidden it in order to maintain their iron grip on the planet.

Now, it is useful to note here that Nefaria did not hold an independent ownership of the planet.  As a smuggler of the class known as the Smuggler Prince, he was a part of the lucrative frontier “package industry”.  He provided goods and services to worlds along the Imperial Border that could not be gotten legally.  This put him in direct subjugation to the King of Smuggler Kings, Sector Duke Carleton Keyser.  Keyser was the third or fourth most powerful man in the whole Imperium.  He was known as the Thin White Duke, a thin, dapper man who always dressed in white suits and conducted his shady business with elegance and style.  He ultimately controlled all revenues from smuggling and organized crime.  Count Nefaria imitated him in practically everything and it shocks most who knew him to find out that the whole artifact quest was undertaken without the all-important consent of the White Duke.  Count Nefaria would’ve ultimately paid a high penalty to the White Duke if he had won the Battle of White Palm.

Count Nefaria’s chosen allies were the metalloid makers, Synthetic Bionics Corporation, commonly known as Syn Corporation.  They had provided him with the robotic army and the prototype Synthezoid that would become Sorcerer.  They had also provided a lot in the way of behind-the-scenes support.  Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never fully trusted synthetic men or robots.  They have no human emotions unless they’ve been programmed with them.  Ged claims he’s known Metalloids who actually loved other beings in spite of their programming, but I think that’s all basically hoo-haw. All these events occurred before anyone was aware that Syn Corporation was entirely made up of sentient machines.  The unfeeling metal buggers were attempting something evil, and everyone just thought, “Oh, well, it’s just human nature.”  Human nature my eye!  They were metalloids with no biologicals in their entire organization.  They probably would’ve even converted old Nefaria to metal if he’d lasted long enough.

The battle itself was a very close contest.  The Raiders of White Palm, the corsair bands of Tron Blastarr and Arkin Cloudstalker, won mainly due to the battlefield depredations of Apache Scout and Elvis the Cruel.  It was their initial drive into the heart of the city that established military control over the planet.  Count Nefaria had more than ample resources to repel a planetary invasion.  The corsairs lucked into cutting the head off the snake just as it was coiling for the strike.

The battle moved underground before the Count and his robot minions were ready.  Trapped in the heavily fortified command center, Nefaria was unable to coordinate his robotic troops, or even escape from his own lair.

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Aeroquest… Canto 24

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Canto 24 – Attack on White Palm

White Sword Corsairs were long, stiletto-shaped vessels with a wicked array of pulse lasers, microwave beamers, and contact missiles.  Two hundred of the deadly craft led by Arkin Cloudstalker himself had joined Tron’s own one hundred and eighty Pinwheel Corsairs in high orbit above the desert planet, White Palm.

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“Cloudstalker?  This is Tron.  Do you see any sign of space forces?”

“None,” came the quick reply.  “Amin would be here if he intended to oppose us.”

“Do you think we took the Count by surprise?”

“Not a chance.  He knows we’re here.  If he’s not laying for us in space, he has a trap set up on the planet.”

“Do you have ground assault vehicles aboard your corsairs?”

“Sorry, Brother Tron.  We didn’t come prepared for that.”

“We have two aboard each Pinwheel.  Can you at least provide air cover?”

“Oh, most definitely.  We’re the best you’ve ever seen.”

“You fly like a bunch of girls,” said Tron with a snort of laughter.

“Women, Blastarr!  That makes all the difference!” asserted Cloudstalker.

The Pinwheels began spiraling down into the hot, cloud-free atmosphere of the desert planet.  Elvis the Cruel led the way, lasering the desert below out of sheer spite and meanness.  Sheherazade flew her pinwheel right behind.  The King of Killers was on her tail with Courtney Blake right behind him.

Cloudstalker led the White Swords in a classic “V”formation, with his only male ace, Apache Scout, on his wing.  The Lady Knights all followed smoothly in ground attack formation, spreading out in a slowing double chevron.

It became obvious what tactics Count Nefaria had chosen to employ.  The desert was covered by huge robotic walkers, some on two feet, some on four, and even a dozen or so of the six-legged battle platforms.  Plasma beams sprayed out in a flytrap pattern that took out seventeen Pinwheel Corsairs on the first volley.  The beams were hot enough to burn directly through energy shields and leave wide swaths of glass on the deserts of White Palm when they fell to the planet.

“Tron Blastarr, you are outmatched,” came the effete voice of Count Nefaria over the general com channel.  “A wise corsair would count his losses and fly away!”

“Nobody ever accused me of being wise, Old Dracula!” shouted Tron.  “I’ve come to stake you once and for all before the fall of darkness.”

“Big words!” said Nefaria, apparently commanding another volley of plasma fire.  The words had actually been normal-sized, not big at all, but Nefaria had a reputation for being very cruel and not terribly bright.

Apache Scout was hit, though not fatally.  His White Sword and crew of four arced down into the palm trees near Nefaria’s Oasis City.  A Lady Knight named Stella also caught a plasma beam, but it struck the cockpit, vaporizing all aboard.

Cloudstalker’s deadly corsairs attacked with heat-seeking contact missiles.  Four hundred missiles made four hundred separate hits.  Two six-legged battle platforms went down along with the 398 walkers.  Robot parts were splashed all over the desert.  Tron could picture Nefaria’s monocled face turning pale as he witness the robotic death and carnage.

Elvis the Cruel flew over the Oasis City shield tower, burning it with a sheet of laser fire and causing a series of explosions that caused the building to fold down into the ground, smoking and spewing debris.  Elvis’ Pinwheel curvetted and landed two cliques outside the city wall.  He was the first Pinwheel pilot to deploy his two ground vehicles.  They were tracked ATV’s with pulse laser cannons, the kind that corsairs referred to as “killer campers”.

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As Elvis personally drove towards the walls in his first vehicle, he was hailed by a downed pilot coming out of the palm trees near the reservoir.

“Hey, stupid white man!  I am Apache Scout.  Give me an ATV and I will slay these metal men for you!”

Elvis knew his old enemy, and gladly surrendered command of ATV 2 to him.  Apache Scout was a full-blooded Pan Galactican Indian, and known for his combat piloting abilities.  He could fly or drive anything on the battlefield.

Tron successfully landed his two ATV’s as well.  His beautiful wife and young son rode with him.  If they were going to die in battle, better, Tron reasoned, to all die together.  He knew he could never live without either one of them.  After landing, a battle walker with four legs, called a Road Warrior, smashed in the side of Tron’s number two ATV.  The four crewmen were killed instantly as their own missile battery gutted their vehicle.

Tron, taking offense, cut the head and front legs off the robot, pitching it sideways into the blazing wreck of Number Two.

Sheherazade’s lead ATV, the one she piloted herself, was caught between a two-legged Desert Rat, and a six-legged battle platform.  The plasma energy burned off the back half of her ATV.

In the next few moments, King Killer flew into a supernatural rage, driving down the Desert Rat and pumping the underside of the battle platform full of hot laser fire.  As the platform burned and toppled to the desert, King leaped out of his ATV and plunged into the wreckage to find Sheherazade.  Tron was certain he had just lost two aces from the Pinwheel Corsairs.  Suddenly King emerged from the smoke and flames carrying the still living dark beauty in his arms.

Elvis and Apache Scout had fifteen kills between them, the highest of any ground pilots in the battle, when they finally breached the walls of Nefaria’s Command Bunker.  The Battle of White Palm had officially ended in a victory for the raiders.  All that remained was the fox hunt for Nefaria within the tunnels of his own complex.

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Aeroquest… Canto 23

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Canto 23 – The Fellowship of the Crown

      The Leaping Shadowcat docked smoothly at the starport.  Frieda had completely rerouted and refitted all the systems on board.  Robot arms were redeployed, circuits revamped, and energy flows were maximized.  Frieda had made the starport more efficient, and much more her own.

Ham was impressed by the starport operations on his return.  It was the most pilot-friendly base he had ever visited.

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As they disembarked, Tara moved to catch up to Ged.

“I want you to know that I now know you better than any other human being ever knew you.  I… I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Ged looked sternly at the sweet-faced teenage girl.  He softened as he saw her blush and look away from his searching eyes.

“I know you don’t approve.  I know you feel violated,” she said.  “But I will never share any of your secrets.  Not only would it be against my own moral code, but… Ged, I think I’m falling in love with you.”

“You are too young,” said Ged matter-of-factly.  “I am the same age as your father.  Besides, you will get over this crush you have developed.”

“I’ve shared minds and personalities with many others before you,” she said.  “I’ve never melded with anyone as good and decent and loving as you.”

“You’ve lain with other men before?”

“Be fair.  That only happens when the Psion is dying because of his own powers.  The deeper connection was necessary.  I only used that procedure once before.”

Ged was tempted to ask who.  He thought, however, he already knew and didn’t want it confirmed.  He quietly slipped his right hand around Tara’s bare middle.  She was so warm and soft to the touch.  Her Sheena Queen of the Jungle skin bikini looked so alluring on her.  This was a severe temptation that Ged knew was a critical test from God.  He did love her, but he would not give in to temptation.

The adventurers went to the control room to access key information from Frieda.  It was then that Ged noticed that the blue box and the Crown of Stars were gone.

“Frieda?  What has happened to Trav and the Crown?”

“Captain Tron Blastarr has both the Crown and my beloved Trav.  Don’t worry.  I wouldn’t have let it happen if it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Crown and its remaining three minds have a destiny that belongs with Trav and Tron.”

“Three minds?”

“Yes.  The dark mind, the side-winding mind, and a copy of Trav’s mind are all still loaded on the Crown of All Stars.”

“Oh, this is bad,” said Ham.

“Your friends Tron and Trav are not to be trusted?” asked Tkriashav.

“Tron is a pirate and Trav is a clown,” said Ged.  “A thing like that in their hands is a danger to the entire galaxy!”

“Do we need to follow them and take the artifact back?” asked Tkriashav.

“Some of us do,” said Ged, looking at his brother Ham.

“We don’t know where they might go,” said Ham, studying the floor.

“Yes, we do,” said Tkriashav.  “I am clairvoyant.  I can see already that they are going into battle on a planet called White Palm.  They go to battle a smuggler king.”

“Oh, gawd!” swore Ged.  “They’re taking on the White Duke?”

“Doesn’t White Palm belong to Count Nefaria?” reminded Ham.

“Yes, but even Nefaria can field a force big enough to crush Tron’s corsairs.  And you remember how Goofy betrayed Tron before he came to help us?  Trav may already be dead.”

“No, Ged,” said Tkriashav.  “They are allies in the struggle.  For good or ill, they go together into the fray.”

“We need a plan,” said Ham.

“It’s my responsibility,” said Ged.  “Ham and I will take the Shadowcat back into known space.  We’ll track Goofy down and take the artifact away from him before he destroys us all.”

“If you go back into the Imperium,” said Tkriashav, his eyes glowing eerily, “Someone in your party is doomed.  I see a better path.  Come with me further beyond the Imperial border and we will find a new place where you are supposed to be.”

“Can Ged go with you and I go after Goofy myself?” asked Ham.

“I don’t see the result of that course,” said Tkriashav shaking his head.  “I do see the Crown of Stars in Ged Aero’s hands as it does its last service for this galaxy.”

“That settles it!” said Ham.  “I have to go back alone.”

“Ham,” said Ged, “I have a bad feeling about this.  We’ve done every mission together before now.  Who will copilot for you?  Who will lead the away teams?”

“Upon me dead bones,” said Sinbadh, “I will go with Hamfast and purrteckt ‘im.  I be owing you both that much.  I am a capable hand and copilot.”

“I go too,” said the Madonna resolutely.  She moved behind the chair in which Ham was sitting and twined her arms protectively around his neck.  “He and I together.  Is good!” she insisted.

“You’ll hire a crackerjack engineer when you get back?” asked Ged. “To replace Goofy?”

“I promise,” said Ham.

“Where will I go?” asked Ged of Tkriashav.

“There is an unknown planet near here where you must go, Ged.  I don’t know its name, but I see you ruling there.”

“I need to go with you, Ged,” said Junior softly.

“You won’t go with your mother?” asked Ged, surprised.

“He is destined to be your disciple, Ged,” said Tkriashav.  “He has to go with us.”

Ged looked at Tara.

“Can I come with you too?” the young girl said plaintively.

“The Hammer operates by telepathy,” said Ged.  “Someone has to stay here and manage the starport, grange, and planet for us.  We consider you an equal share-holder in this project, both you and your father.”  The word goodbye was already sticking in Ged’s throat.  After all, Ham had his girl.  Still, she was only a child.  “I will… I will come back for you when the time is right.”

Tara looked at Ged with tears glittering in the corners of her eyes.

“We can never truly repay you,” said Bam-Bam gratefully.  “You have given us so much!”  He shook Ged’s hand.

“You are a trusted partner,” said Ged.  “And both of you have my word, I am not yet finished with the Salongi family, or the world of Don’t Go Here.  I will be back.”

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