Now, during the winter of Covid 19, is the right time for a bite of elderberry pie. Or a sip of elderberry wine. Did you know, the antioxidants in elderberries are a European remedy for colds and flu from the middle ages? There is old wisdom in turning to elderberries to protect you from virus and bacteria.
And old wisdom is what you get from old berries like me. The longer you put up with my blue/black berry tartness of taste, the more likely my bittersweet wisdom is to affect you in some positive ways.
Here’s a bite of elderberry pie for you. “When it comes to taste, don’t go for too much sweet or two much sour. The road between those two valley edges avoids both diabetic breakdowns on the one hand, and old, bitter cynicism on the other.”
The middle road, down the canyon’s center, is the safest road to take. Go too far to either side, and there are cliffs with many rockfalls, and occasional rattlesnakes. (I know these are metaphorical rattlesnakes; those are the best kind. It is the best way to express the idea without actual snakebites, and I only wish the members of our governing bodies knew that.)
Here’s another forkful. “A little bit of bitter is necessary to the overall flavor.”
I could also use the trite old food metaphor about having to break eggs to make omelets, but I am trying for pie-based metaphors here. You have to take a little bit of the bad to get to the really good parts. Sometimes it seems like it takes an awful lot of endurance of the bad to get to not-enough good. The current pandemic seems to be like that. Almost too many bitter berries to get to the medicinal qualities of basically beauteous berries. But that which doesn’t kill us will make us… easier to kill next time? Hopefully not. But haven’t you noticed? The best Disney movies make you cry a little at some points… cringe a little too… but they also make you laugh a lot. And the message of the movie’s ultimate ending leaves you with a smile. And smiling more makes you live a little longer. The berries grow brighter when you can make your own sunshine. These berries are beginning to taste a bit like vinegar because maybe Mickey doesn’t cook them quite right. But bottle them for now and let them ferment a bit. Then you get medicinal elderberry wine.
“Finally, when you have pigged-out on the whole pie, you should be full. It is good to be satisfied.” Eventually you reach a point in life where you will either succumb to despair, or you will look back over the arc of your life and be satisfied. The good you have done should outweigh the damage. You are a good cook. And the whole pie of your life was worth the effort to bake it.
I know that three bites of elderberry wisdom does not seem like much. But the longer you practice berry-baking, the more you come to realize, “A little bit of hard-won wisdom goes a long way towards making you healthy, wealthy and wise.”
No, Ben Franklin never said that. Mickey did. Sorry if that means it is not the wise wisdom you were hoping for. Pie-based essays rarely are.
Tempi, one of Shen Ming’s messenger boys, spotted the intruder first. He was riding on a PZ-27 anti-grav sled more commonly known as a pregnant penguin. He was wearing a golden helmet with three spiked horns, just as Shen Ming had warned Tempi to look for.
“Master Shen! Master Shen! Your old enemy has come, like you thought he would! What do we do?”
“Oh, my! What, me, worry? No, this is a job for the White Spider and his charges. Run, Tempi, and warn young Master Shu or young Master Phoenix… or both!”
Tempi ran as fast as short legs could manage.
Shu Kwai was the first notified and the first to respond. He found the helmeted intruder menacing a crowd of people in the courtyard with a pair of strange ray pistols.
“Die, ugly, worthless Gaijin! In the name of the traitor Shen Ming, I slay thee!”
Shu immediately grabbed at the guns with his telekinesis powers, and though he couldn’t take the weapons away, he could pull the shots off target. The rays splashed harmlessly on the palace walls and on the ground. In fact, surprisingly damaging or burning nothing at all.
Swiftly Sara Smith was at Shu’s side.
“Can you grab his mind and put him out?” Shu said.
“No, I can’t. His mind is shielded from my power in some strange way. But I sense that as he fires, he doesn’t even try to hit his targets. He’s… missing on purpose.”
Jadalaqstbr teleported into a group of children that were in danger in the middle of the courtyard. She grabbed two boys by the arms and let a small girl wrap her arms around her neck. Then she teleported them all to safety.
Shu and Sara gave chase as the intruder leaped up to the roof of the library. Shu shielded them from the shots he took at the two of them, but they seemed to be incredibly weak shots.
Taffy King lifted herself up to the library roof and used her telekinesis to make a barrier that forced the helmeted stranger directly towards the trap that Phoenix had planned.
It was Phoenix and Rocket Rogers that stood at the end of the intruder’s path.
“Rocket! The fire bubble to burn his oxygen!”
Rocket, at Phoenix’s command, sealed an air-tight dome of flaming air over the man and absorbed his ray-gun shots.
“Now, I drop him with heat…”
Phoenix’s temperature-spiking bolt took him down.
“You didn’t kill him, I hope?” asked Ged-sensei as he arrived at the scene.
Shen Ming arrived in time for the unmasking.
“Your messenger said this was some kind of old enemy, Shen-sensei,” said Ged.
“Ah, yes… yes. Every three hundred years he comes around to threaten and maybe kill people seeking vengeance for something he imagines I did to wrong him.”
Of course, everybody present knew that Shen-sensei was more than nine hundred years old. A vendetta that old was not surprising.
“So, you’ve never caught him before?” Ged asked.
“Oh, no… not quite like this… This one is too old to remember his evil self, but he is called the Avenger.”
Phoenix pulled off the horned helmet.
“It’s Jai Chang our archery master!” said Ged in confusion.
“Hmm… now, that seems so unlikely. I recall Master Jai is only thirty Earth years old. A mystery this is…”
Shu noticed that the old man had a suspiciously jovial smile for the circumstances.
“We will take him to the infirmary and strap him down. When he comes to we will learn more about what caused our faithful teacher to do this thing.”
Shu and Taffy picked Jai Chang up with telekinesis and floated him down from the roof and to the infirmary. Ged and his students looked at the inscrutable Shen-sensei and shook their heads in wonder.
The students of Ged Aero Sensei were seated on the grass in the courtyard of the Palace of 1,000 Years in a large semicircle. In the middle of the circle stood the archery sensei, Jai Chang, dressed in teal-blue Iga-shozoku ninja armor. He had his elegant handmade bow with an arrow already nocked.
“Okay, bone-headed ones, this is the first thing to know when shooting a bow. You must aim with the dominant eye. To find your dominant eye, look at the target with both eyes open. Point your pointer-finger at the bullseye. Then close the right eye. Open the right eye and close the left. One eye will move your finger off the target without having moved it at all. The other eye will leave the pointer finger aimed true to the center of the bullseye. This is your dominant eye. Your aiming eye.”
“Show us how it is done, sensei,” said Phoenix, seeming somewhat bored with it all.
Jai Chang frowned at the insolent red-haired boy. Then he aimed his bow at the target 300 yards across the courtyard. He let fly an arrow which arced straight into the center of the bullseye. Three of the students gasped audibly in a way that sounded as if they were impressed. Phoenix, Alec Songh, and Mai Ling all yawned as if they were bored beyond words.
“All right, insolent children. Who among you can do better?”
Phoenix stood and walked over to the bow master. He was lightly dressed, wearing only a loin-cover and tabi boots. He took the yumi to ya, the bow and arrow, from the master’s hand, nocked another arrow, and in a single smooth motion, lifted the bow and shot, almost without looking. The arrow plunged into the center of the bullseye so tight up against the previous arrow, one had to look carefully to see that there was more than one arrow dead center in the target.
Jai Chang frowned.
Phoenix handed the bow to Alec who immediately got off the third arrow, landing within the bullseye circle less than an inch away from the other two arrows.
Alec tried to hand the bow to Mai Ling, but she took only a single arrow out of his hands. Then she stood with the arrow in her left hand and her back to the target. She threw the arrow back over the top of her head and spiraled into the center of the target, splitting the shaft of Jai Chang’s first arrow.
“I suppose it is pointless to tell you that it is wrong to use your stupid little mind powers to do this task. The purpose is to learn precision, skill and discipline. Not to use Psion witchcraft to take the easy road.”
Phoenix glared at the bowmaster.
“I learned the way of the bow from Bone Daddy in the Black Spider Palace. Hundreds of hours of practicing with a painful slap across the face for every miss as the only reward. Alec had to endure the same. And as for Mai Ling, her skills are incredible and made all the more amazing by the practice she has been doing with me late into the evenings. We do this while everyone else is doing their Tai Chi, meditation, and prayers. Some things give greater focus to the spirit force than mere words and empty sayings.”
“Well, then, bow master, perhaps you would like to be in charge of the archery lessons. You have to learn them. It is a part of Shen Ming’s program of study for all students in the Palace.”
“Yes, happily,” said Phoenix with a voice that sounded more like sarcasm than obedience.
“Ah, I do not like what I am hearing,” said Shen Ming, the frail old man seeming to appear out of nowhere at the edge of the green. “There is no honor and respect in the voices of either the master or the student. This is not the way of the White Spider.”
“Apologies, Shen-sensei. But honor and respect have to be earned, don’t they?”
“Yes, and granted when a fine display of skill earns it. And, young master Phoenix, one must always show respect to a dedicated teacher whose very existence has earned it. Is that not so?”
Phoenix and Jai Chang both nodded agreement with eyes to the ground.
“But I would like to see the three young bullseyes help Chang-sensei to teach this class. Teaching others teaches the self more thoroughly, and this is an impressive set of skills to share with students and classmates alike.”
“Yes, Shen-sensei,” said all the students together.
“And now, Jai Chang-sama, I would speak with you further. Attend me in my office. We have much to discuss.”
As the old man who had a spotty face that looked eerily like the face of Alfred E. Neuman on the cover of Mad Magazine, walked away from the students, Shen Ming’s smile grew even broader and his eyes actually began to twinkle.
This is Garrison Keillor, an author, a humorist, and a Midwesterner. I have some things in common with him, but he is not me. So, why is his picture here instead of mine? Because I am growing dumber and I picked the wrong picture.
Seriously, if I do have Parkinson’s Disease like my father before me, that erodes your short-term memory. I had to go back to the grocery store today to buy the things I forgot while I was in the store yesterday. This, of course, included bread. I mean, bread!!! If you live on a peanut-butter-sandwich-based diet, bread means life. Short term memory is a pretty important thing to be losing. I know you are probably thinking, “Mickey, write it down. Make a grocery list.” I did. I forgot it at home fifteen minutes after I finished it. The three items I forgot were all on the list.
And I have found being a writer gets harder with age because years of reading student essays has left me unable to spelll and make verbs agrees with subjects and other writing stuff that you really has to know if you wanna do it good. (Why didn’t the spell-checker flag “wanna”?) I have to look up immediately,embarrassment, and noticeableevery time I try to write them. (Including this time… And I find myself using incomplete sentences too now way more than I….) You know what I mean?
And I have three kids that have now all reached adulthood. I survived three very different puberties with three very different results. I have grown more liberal with age. So, naturally, my kids are all conservatives. And they all basically have me convinced that I don’t know anything about anything anymore. And they are probably right. But I reserve the right to be skeptical about their diagnoses of early-onset dementia until I see the evidence in front of my eyes… my really old eyes that have glaucoma and will probably go blind. But I remembered to vote for Joe Biden. And that is a good thing. A smart thing. Even though high school friends on Facebook are all thinking about un-friending me over not admitting the superiority of Trumpocratic thinking in the United Trump-States of Trump-America. What is it about farmers loving Trump after their farms all went bankrupt over the Chinese tariffs kerfuffle that was actually only a penis-length contest between Stormy Daniels’ magic mushroom and Chinese President Poohbear (Don’t have me killed, please, Xi. I just don’t know how to spell things in Chinese. And , hey, you could be his twin brother.) I should be smarter than to insult Chinese and Russian presidents. But I’m not.
I have only gotten dumber as I have gotten older. (Did I remember the “b” at the end of dumber? I did? Well, one for Mickey, then.) Hopefully there is still hope.
Several system-defense boats, the so-called Atmospheric Police Force of the planet Coventry rose to surround the wrecked but recovering hulk of the First Half Century.
“Enemy craft! Stand down with your weapons. Prepare to be boarded by the Coventry Air Guard.”
Dana Cole turned to her beleaguered crew. “Any chance we can escape or fight our way out of this?”
“Not without using that… that THING!” said a horrified junior officer whom she didn’t know.
“Yeah, that is definitely out of the question.” She turned to the reanimated thing that was now her beloved Trav. “We have to surrender now, lover. I expect we will be facing trial.”
“Ah, a primitive justice system. That sort of illogical display will prove most enlightening in these times of our intellectual progeny.”
“I’m not talking to the mind of Trav Dalgoda am I?”
“Decidedly not. Tyrrix ManSel wishes to observe for the next decade or so.” The dead eyes were lit from behind with a yellow luminescence.
“Yep, that can’t be good.”
“There is a possibility of incarceration and even execution, isn’t there,” said Tyrrix with Trav’s mouth.
“Yes. If they don’t kill us as soon as they come aboard.”
“Well, if my database on the Xandar future is accurate, our ride should be showing up at any moment.”
Outside the viewport, two Blackhawk Corsairs, both in rather battle-worn condition popped out of jump space.
“We need the Coventry forces to back off for now. By proxy orders of the White Duke.” Dana easily recognized the voice of Razor Conn.
Through the viewport, the crew could see the system defense forces backing down.
One of the Blackhawks sent a half dozen air rafts out through its blast-blackened docking bay towards the First Half Century.
In moments, the leader of the Blackhawks, Razor Conn, stood on the bridge looking at Dana through mirrored sunglasses. He was wearing a white, wide-brimmed cowboy hat like so many veterans of the Pan Galactican Border War.
“I take it this incident was mostly the fault of the evil Tesserah thing?” Razor said simply.
“Yes. It seems to have a mind of its own. An evil mind.”
“We are going to tell the Coventry government that we have the rogue warriors in custody and we will give this starship to them as compensation.”
“So, you’re not going to hand us over to be executed?”
“No, of course not. We already know it wasn’t the fault of you or your crew. Our own ranks are a bit depleted now too, so we will be taking you aboard to work for us. We will only claim to have executed the war criminals. Once the emergency is over, any necessary investigations can happen in a few years. We have more pressing things to worry about now.”
“Oh? Like what for instance?”
“That evil Ancient thing wants to kill us all. Maybe the whole universe. We have to find a more effective way to deal with it than just doing what it tells us to do.”
Dana looked at Trav. “Are you telling them what to do?”
“Not I,” answered Tyrrix. “Your friend speaks of the evil inherent in the Tesserah. It is, after all, an ultimate Ancient doomsday sort of device.”
“Do you know how to get rid of it?” she asked Razor.
“No, but we have to figure something out. In the meantime, I would ask for everybody’s company aboard Blackhawk One. We really have a lot of work to do.”
One could coherently argue that Trav Dalgoda was history’s most evil murderer. 997,463,756 died in the initial blasts from the Tesserah. One and a half billion people would end up dead from the incident and the lethal fallout of its aftermath; earthquakes… or rather, coventryquakes, out-of-control fires, landslides, and radiation all caused casualties, both immediate and long term. It is no wonder it took seven Earth years to bring the incident to trial and condemn Dalgoda as an ultimate villain, perfidious skank, odious killer, and all-around really bad guy… officially.
But it must be pointed out, the reincarnated Trav Dalgoda was never punished for the crimes. Not even a slap on the wrist by a nun using a metal ruler. Nothing.
There were a number of reasons for this. Hard-to-argue reasons that actually made some legal sense.
First of all, Dalgoda was not in possession of his own brain. It was proven through testimony by talented Psions that the Tesserah itself was a powerful mind-controlling psychic influence, and undoubtedly had control of Goofy Dalgoda’s rather limited intellect and all of his motor control.
Secondly, it was pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that Trav Dalgado had already paid for the crime with his life, having been beheaded by his lover, Dana Cole.
No prosecutor was able to prove that Trav Dalgoda’s head was not legally dead when Dana Cole, together with one of the intelligences left in the Crown of Stars, a device obviously impossible to understand being from a tech level so far above anything fully understood by Imperial or New Star League scientists.
It was also not hard to prove that the reanimated Trav Dalgoda, more Synthezoid or Metalloid than living being, was not the same person who fired the fatal blasts from the starship bearing the evil Ancient device known as the Tesserah.
I have to admit, I myself have often questioned the correctness of the verdict. Trav’s war crimes could really not be wholly laid at the feet of the evil inherent in the Ancient device itself. After all, the other Ancient devices that the Aero Brothers and Trav brought to light were not in themselves evil. The artificial being known as Frieda proved quite beneficial to the New Star League. The device known as the Hammer of God was used to create cities and starships and space ports that brought the web of interstellar travel to the New Stars. Certainly, the starship Megadeath proved to be one of the most important starships ever created, and as the creation of the Ancient intelligence known as Frieda, was itself an Ancient artifact of sorts.
I further believe that when the artificially reanimated Trav Dalgoda fathered two children rather dubiously with Dana Cole, who may have used some cloning tricks in the process, those children may have also given an insight into the possible criminality in Trav’s genes.
One-Eyed Jack Dalgoda was a viciously greedy and obnoxious young mountebank, capable of chicanery well beyond the dreams of your average criminal or con man. And that girl, Daisy Duckling Dalgoda, was one of the most infamous gold-diggers and criminal masterminds I ever encountered… by the age of ten no less.
But I get ahead of myself too far in the story. I haven’t survived this little history yet at this particular point in the telling of the tale.
So, I have no idea if anybody is following my Tuesday novel-writing posts or not. But since I have reached the halfway point in novel #4 of the series, I thought I would take a slight break to explain and re-elucidate the whole ugly process before it comes to life and swallows me whole.
The original intent is to take my horrifically bad first-published novel and expand, improve, and reorganize it into a series of novels. Basically turning one badly written swamp full of plot holes and monstrously confusing characters into five equally terrifying pieces of pulp-fiction parody-satire-trash… er, I mean, treasure.
I have already turned 80 percent of the 327 pages of the original piece of garbage into three and a half 35,000 to 45,000 word novels. They have all been displayed here as the novel-writing proceeded, a Canto (what I call a chapter) at a time. Hopefully they show how I rewrote and modified each new Canto.
I have published AeroQuest 1 : Stars and Stones. It relates how the Aero Brothers find and reclaim the cave-man planet called Don’t Go Here, and the first conflict in the Foundation War of the New Star League is begun.
I have also promoted the first book in the series with a free give-away e-book, to a rather insignificant degree of non-success.
This book was the easiest to revamp. It started off the old novel with the most coherent plot lines and story structure of the entire old monstrosity of a manuscript. And publishing with Amazon gave me the option of including lots of illustrations which were already made and waiting to be scanned and inserted. So, this was mostly a cut-and-paste rather than rewrite process. Very little new material needed to be written.
The second part took a good deal more sorting and re-arranging as I had to gather scattered Cantos from the whole rest of the original manuscript and link them together more coherently than I had before.
This would become AeroQuest 2: Planet of the White Spider. This would chronicle mainly the story of Ged Aero finding and embracing his destiny as the teacher of psionics written about in obscure books of prophecy (Somehow all the same book written by Xan, Zhan, Shan, and Stan who may actually all be the same guy.)
Ged would be united with and begin to teach twelve Psion students with significant reality-altering mind powers… As well as the ninja skills that Ged’s own Psionic power gave him when, in velociraptor form, he ate a ninja and absorbed its skill.
That left me with the task of sorting out the messy middle of the original manuscript into as much of a novel-like form as it was possible to do.
AeroQuest 3 : Juggling Planets was about the journeys of Ham Aero as he and the crew of his spaceship, The Leaping Shadowcat, went from planet to planet convincing people, or even conquering them, using charm, tactical skill, but mostly sheer dumb luck into joining the rebellion against the old Imperium and trying to form the New Star League.
All three of these books are already published and promoted at least once. Interest has been building. Some among the possessors of the free copy of the second book found it interesting enough to go back and buy copies of book one. Each new promotion found new readers. Nobody, however, has reviewed any of these books yet. But… we can’t have everything we want in life, right?
So, next Tuesday the story of book four will continue with newly written material that I have not written yet. The fourth book, AeroQuest 4 : The Amazing Aero Brothers, is written in two parts. Ham Aero’s part is about continuing the fight against the Imperium and evil Grand Admiral Brona Tang (the Darth Vader parody who leads the bad guys) . Ged Aero’s part will continue to be about training his students to meet a terrible destiny in the prophesied future.
And, of course, the fifth book will bring a conclusion to the series as a whole. But I haven’t really had time to think about that very much yet.
Dana Cole held Trav Dalgoda’s severed head in her hands. The head stared back with lifeless eyes. The crown on the head was pulsating with sickly green lights.
“How could you do this?” she said to the head.
“The evil power of the Tesserah,” the head answered.
“You can still talk. Are you alive or something?”
“Trav Dalgoda’s life spark is still in here,” said the head, “preserved by the power of the crown.”
Dana’s heart turned over in her chest. “You mean he could be brought back?”
“Yes. We possess the power.”
The feelings that poured through her ample bosom were a terrible, painful mix. She hated the stupidity of the man and all the death and suffering he had caused on Coventry. She felt like the fool deserved what he had gotten out of the adventure. Still, she loved him. There was something oddly attractive about the goofy-sweet fool with the charm of a naughty little boy.
“How can I do this awful thing?” she asked the head.
“As long as we remain attached to the head,” said the crown, “we can speak to you and direct you, as well as keep the life spark alive. We will help you to build an artificial body to allow the man to return to full mobility and control over his life functions.”
“He’ll be a Mechanoid?”
“Not in the sense of the crude beings your own people make of dead bodies. He will actually be alive. Everything but his head will be artificial, but we can make him better than he was.”
Dana couldn’t help but imagine Trav naked with the body of a Greek god. He could be enhanced in that special area… Well, yes. She would do this for her Goofy man.
“How do I go about it? Especially the penis…”
The crown gave her hours of instruction. She took extensive notes, filling three note-computers. She diagrammed the whole thing out holographically. She then located the best materials available on the ruined warship. Assembly took her a week while the rest of the surviving crew worked to restore the ship to flying trim without the specific parts she needed for her project.
When the task was done, Trav stood before her, looking at her with sensory enhancements in his goofy brown eyes. She had replaced his Donald Duck hat with a more manly-looking cowboy hat. He was buff and handsome in ways he hadn’t been before.
Dana Cole leaned over and kissed her resurrected fool. “I love you, Trav. Welcome back.”
“Thanks, old Dana Jester,” he said. “Now how about we make me two more arms? One will have a built-in machine gun, and the other a flame thrower.” Dana smiled. She definitely had her Goofy back.
Ham sat at the pilot-seat controls aboard his safari ship, looking out the main portal into the cavernous docking bay of the Bregohelma. It was depressing. Trying to suicidally destroy his enemy, he had become a mere prisoner instead.
Admiral Tang didn’t see him as anything more than a flea that needed to be slapped. He was glad he and his crew were not dead, but he was irked by the fact that he had been far less of a factor in the Battle of Coventry than had his friend the Goofer. And worse, now Goofy and all those potential allies on Coventry were all dead too. What step comes next?
There was activity in the docking bay. Armed men in combat armor were filing in, keeping together in highly organized tactical formations. Dang! Imperial Marines! There would probably be little hope of surviving this encounter.
“Boss! Yo, Boss!” Sinbadh came stumbling into the bridge of the ship with an armload of unattached plasma gun parts. “We gots plenty o’ buccaneers ready to board us!”
“Yes, I know. Stow the guns away. We are gonna meekly surrender and hope they don’t kill us.”
“Blimey, Cap’n! We surrender without a fight?”
“Yes, my friend. The Madonna is pregnant. Sahleck is a little boy. Professor Marou is really, really old…”
“Not that old!” I said as I revealed myself from where I had secretly been watching Ham from behind the bulkhead.
“Hey, Professor, what were you doing hiding back there?” Ham asked.
“Well, I…” I tried to think of a quick excuse. It suddenly wasn’t necessary.
“Ham Aero! Han Ferrari! Come out!” came the strangely compelling voice. We all felt a deep black fear swelling in our guts and pulling us painfully toward the voice like a nose ring attached to a chain being pulled by a steady, relentless strength.
“Good Lord!” swore Ham. “It’s Admiral Tang, and he has us in his power.”
Ham was right. It was Tang’s special Psion power. He could manipulate us with our own fear. He controlled us completely.
“Don’t shoot! We’re coming out!” I heard Duke Ferrari saying it from the exit ramp beneath us. And there was no choice. We filed out of the Shadowcat like puppets on strings.
Admiral Brona Tang was not only the scariest being I had ever met up to that point in my life, he was also the biggest. He was easily six foot eleven, and encased from head to toe in powered battle armor. The armor was even a bright red color, as if to emphasize the blood he had spilled and the blood he still intended to spill. His face was a red mask with black eye portals, an alien, evil sort of face. He also wore a hat on top of the helmet, a wide-brimmed red hat that looked vaguely like the kind of hat worn by Catholic friars in the long-ago Dark Ages, the fourteenth century. In fact, as I thought of it, images of the Inquisition and power-mad Cardinals leapt to mind.
“Good. You have decided to relent and surrender.” The voice was electronically enhanced and almost sounded like three voices in one to me.
Ham, Duke Ferrari, and I stood in front, as if to shield the others. Sinbadh stood behind with the poor Nebulon Madonna on one side, and the trembling Lupin boy, Sahleck Kim on the other side. The wolfman put a hairy paw around the shoulders of each.
“Neither you nor your brother can escape me, Ham. I have you in my possession, and one of my most trusted agents is by Ged’s side, reporting his every move. Your brother is even now beginning the quest that will dispose of that Ancient device that proved to be such a thorn in my side here at the Battle of Coventry.” Tang laughed. “I couldn’t ask for a sweeter vengeance.”
“Who… who is the agent?” asked Ham, against the force of Tang’s terrible will.
“Ah, no! It’s not that easy! How do I know you haven’t manifested some terrible Psion power too by now? It runs in our families. Mine comes from my father. Your brother’s is from Mammy Aero, a powerful Psion as well known to my father as Ged. My mind is shielded, and I will tell you nothing.”
“Aren’t villains always supposed to brag about their evil plots to take over the galaxy?” I asked sarcastically.
Tang laughed again. “I know you too, Dr. Marou. I learned of you from those accursed Time Knights. You are the one person here that future history books guarantee had to survive this encounter. The same is not true for the rest. Most of you will live no longer than the coming battle against Tron Blastarr at Outpost. Oops! Did I give something away? How about this; I am committing what remains of the entire Imperial Navy to that battle. I am going to win it and put an end to any possible time line where your so-called good guys can win. The Imperium has kept order for hundreds of years. It will last for thousands more.”
Sinbadh winked his doggy eye at me. “Clever how ye got him to spill the ol’ soliloquy there, Doc.” he whispered. “Tip o’ me hat to ye.”
“What will you do with us, then?” asked Ham.
“You will sit right here in the docking bay, prisoners aboard your own ship. I am told I cannot destroy you tonight. It has to wait for the battle. But if I can outthink and kill a Time Knight, I can kill you.”
“Let me understand what you stupid… stupid people are saying! You left the defenses of Outpost and Don’t Go Here to go galivanting all the way to Coventry? And in only three days?” King Killer had never shouted so loudly nor had a face so red as it was in that meeting.
“Dude! It woulda been two days if we hadn’a parked invisioble to watch the battle.” Nikki Sixx appeared shocked that Admiral Killer was so mad.
“Wha… ?” burbled Cold Death stupidly.
“Chill oh soon-to-explode-from-rage dude,” said Vince Niell from his safe place behind mirrored sunglasses. “We followed the orders of the Hooey-dude, man. We know how he worked for you in escaping the Imperium, bro. We just assumed that you gave him the orders he gave us, dude.”
“Vince, grab some whiskey. I need you skunk-levels of drunk so I can understand every word you are saying.”
Besides the Admiral and the crew of the Megadeath, Admiral Tron and his wife Maggie the Knife were also present. Maggie, taking a cue from Admiral Killer went to the bar in the back of the conference room and grabbed two bottles of Mundoploovian Suicide Ale to help make Vince more understandable.
“And where was Captain Lee in all of this, Gentlemen?” asked Tron sounding dangerous.
“Oh, he weren’t with us,” said Nikki Sixx. “He and Pamela left the ship to go be rock and roll stars to the stars! Hooey said they was gonna be megastars!”
“So, he officially abandoned his command and went AWOL?”
“Um, yep, thass about the size of it, boss,” said Nikki. Cold Death nodded stupidly but vigorously to back him up on that.
Maggie put the Suicide Ale down in front of Vince. Then she stuck her shiny knife in the table for emphasis. This particular table had numerous decorations from years’ worth of Maggie’s pointed emphasis.
Vince drank quickly and narrowly avoided vomiting out his liver. He became instantly drunk.
“So, tell me this, Vince, dude… How the hell did you make a round trip to Coventry and back in only three days?” King Killer asked.
“Your friend the time knight brought his little time machine booth device on our ship, interfacing his chrono-circuits with the Megadeath’s Ancient computer brain. It reduced a three week trip to two days via a built in time-accelerator that we knew nothing about until the good Doctor Hooey showed us it’s enhanced space-travel ability.”
“And do you think these other Ancient-built space ships are capable of doing the same thing?”
“I am unsure of the probability… but I believe I can find the device in the other ships if they are indeed present.”
“Okay, Vince,” said Tron, “what was this other nonsense about watching the battle invisioble?”
“Well, of course, the mispronounced word was intended to represent invisibility. The Megadeath, it seems, has a most efficacious ability to go into stealth mode. We delivered the good Doctor Hooey into the Bregohelma with his timeship. And then, per his specific instructions, we became mere observers of the gnarly… err…” Vince had to take another swallow of Suicide Ale. “… most great and glorious battle ever seen since Ancient times ended.”
“Okay, tell us what happened,” demanded Admiral Killer.
“Well, sirs, if it please you, the ship we rendezvoused with was the stolen Apatosaurus Battleship.”
“Did you attack on sight?”
“Of course not, sirs. Our orders were to deliver the good Doctor Hooey to the battleship. He was supposed to meet up with the Lizard Lady there and help her destroy the Bregohelma.”
Everybody gasped at the name of Admiral Tang’s flagship, including Cold Death who had forgotten he knew all of this particular battle story already.
“How were they going to do that with one battleship against Tang’s whole fleet?”
“They were trying to convince the Imperials that they were going to turn over the stolen Ancient tech, since Lizard Lady portrayed herself falsely as an Imperial spy. And when the two ships docked, the Apatosaurus Battleship would blow up and take out the Bregohelma along with it.”
“Did the plan work?” Maggie asked, obviously hoping that it would in spite of having been told the final outcome already.
“Naturally, it did not. But this must’ve been a part of the plan all along, because we were asked to remain invisibly as observers to the battle that followed.”
“That’s when you saw Ham’s safari ship and the First Half-Century?” asked Tron.
“Of course, sir. They flew in bravely to take on Tang’s entire fleet.”
“And what happened after that?”
“Well, it was obvious that the First Half-Century was also equipped with some kind of Ancient weapon system of immense power. The thing went off and destroyed all of the Imperial ships but one, the Bregohelma. But Tang’s ship, as well as the two attacking ships were all rendered powerless and completely damaged when something caused the Ancient weapon to target the planet and blast away about a billion people in the planet’s largest three cities. It was a horrible tragedy. And the three starships were dead in space for a while.”
“Why didn’t you step in at that point and finish off the Bregohelma?”
“We couldn’t. Dr. Hooey told us not to interfere with the battle or we could alter time-lines and keep our side from winning the upcoming Battle of Outpost.”
“Bummer!” said Maggie.
“Naw! Itsa good thing, Mama,” said Cold Death, risking Maggie’s notorious wrath. “Itsa meanin’ we is gonna win dat battle what ain’t happenna yet.”
“Can you give that man a Suicide Ale too please?” asked Tron.
“To make him talk better?”
“No. To kill him if possible.”
“Continue, please, Vince. What happened to Ham Aero and the other ship?”
“Admiral Tang’s ship moved first. They completely loaded the little safari ship on board their ship and took off at a slow crawl. The First Half Century hadn’t gotten more than life support working when we had to leave to bring this report to you.”
“I wish you would’ve at least rescued Ham and the Duke,” said Admiral Killer.
“Doctor Hooey specifically told us not to.”
“Oh. Did Hooey survive the explosion, do you know?”
“No. As far as we know, both he and Lizard Lady are now dead.”
“I really don’t know if that’s good news or bad news,” said Admiral Tron. “It is good that such a large part of the Imperial Navy was destroyed. But we may have lost the heart of the rebellion. And what are we gonna tell Ged Aero?”
“The truth, I would surmise,” said Vince Niell, shortly before passing out dead drunk. Cold Death finished his ale. Sat down next to Niell. And passed out too… where he began snoring loudly, thus proving that he was not, unfortunately, dead.