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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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Aeroquest… Canto22

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Canto 22 – Flying by Pinwheel

The Conference Room onboard the corsair flagship was spacious.  It was one of the largest in Tron’s fleet.  The most famous corsairs in the Imperial Rim Worlds were gathering there for a meeting.

“I missed you, Uncle Goofy,” said a cherub-faced little boy to Trav Dalgoda.

“I missed you too, Artran.  I wouldn’t have left, but two of my very best friends from Questor needed my help.”

“The Aero Brothers?” asked Artran, eyes opening wide like brown blooms in a sunny field.

“Yes,” Trav nodded.  “And your father got rather mad at me too.”

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“He’s always like that.  He always forgives me, though.”

Trav nodded at the boy.  Artran was no more than seven years old.  He was a very open-faced, trusting little man.  It was difficult to believe his parents were two of the most infamous space pirates in known space.

The sour-faced pirate known as the King of Killers came into the room and sat down opposite Trav.  He was a thin, bitter man with no sense of humor.  Trav liked him anyway.

“How’s the pirate business, King, old Jester?”

“Shut up, Goofy, or I’ll rip your head off and stuff it in your… er…”  He looked at Artran, “mouth.”

“That’s not very nice, Mr. Killer,” muttered Artran softly.

“Oh, I know, boy.  I don’t mean it.  It’s just that this clown and thief has caused us too much trouble.”

“I apologize, King.  I had to help my friends, didn’t I?”

“I respect Ged Aero,” shot back the King.  “If you’da said that he needed the artifact, I’da voted to give it to him.  You don’t just steal stuff from Tron.  Where’s your sense of honor?”

“I’m not sure I ever had one.  If I did, I probably sold it and forgot about it.”

“The Aero Brothers are colonizing a planet?” King asked for conformation.

“No.  It already had a really cool civilization on it when we found it. They are merely taking ownership.”

Just then, Elvis the Cruel walked into the room, his guitar slung over his back.  He walked with a swagger and wore a dirty white muscle shirt.  He was combing his greasy black pompadour with a practically toothless comb.  Beside him walked the gorgeous lady pirate called Sheherazade.  She wore a Princess Leia-style bronze slave bikini, though no one remembered why the heck such clothing was called that.  It had something to do with a former emperor’s favorite comic book or something.  Her skin, and she was showing practically all of it, was a deep ebony color.  She sat down next to Artran and motioned Elvis to sit beside her.

“Thank you, thank you very much,” said Elvis.

“So, Trav,” said the sultry Sheherazade, “How did you get Tron to let you live?”

“Oh, Sheherry-baby, you know I’m Tron’s best buddy.  The old Jester could never kill me.”

The beautiful lady laughed with a charm made more elegant by her tawdry companions.  She seemed a regal Egyptian goddess.  The King of Killers watched her longingly.

Elvis took out a cigarette butt and lit it, letting it hang on the slack part of his lower lip.

Pirates from other corsair fleets began to arrive.  Razor Conn of the Black Hawk fleet showed up wearing a white cowboy hat and sunglasses with his second in command, the mysterious oriental, Shad Blackstone, by his side.  The Degenerate, one-eyed Captain of the Corsair Frigate Palace of Foul Odors showed up in his crusty Lancer Battle Suit.  The dwarf that traveled with him was named Stinky because of his unique ability to produce overpowering flatulence on cue.  Several other Lancer Corsair captains were also there.   Fez Amin of the dreaded Monopoly Brigade was there.  His bald, tattooed head was skull-like and menacing.  Arkin Cloudstalker was there with seven of his beautiful Lady Knights, captains of the White Sword Corsairs.

Tron came in with both his beautiful wife Maggie the Knife and Dana Cole.  They both sat with him at the head of the conference table.

Tron held up a hand for silence and attention.  All eyes fixed on the man with the scar.  He had a commanding presence above and beyond the many forceful personalities gathered on the ship.

“You’ve heard the word circulated already,” began Tron.  “News travels fast among the Corsair Brotherhood of Gentlemen Adventurers.”  Everyone laughed at the high-tone name for the scum of the universe.  “I have come here to declare war.  We have been double-crossed by the smuggler prince and planetary duke of the planet White Palm.  Count Nefaria tried to take us all out by acquiring ancient artifacts of incredible power.  The Pinwheel Corsairs intend to take him on in his own system and take him out.  I am not asking you to help me, though help is welcome.  I am asking you to refuse any call for help he might make.”

“And what happens if we decide we like Count Nefaria more than we like you?” growled Fez Amin.

Elvis stood up and glared across the table at Amin.  “Then we bust you up like a bunch of Louisiana hound dawgs!”

Fez Amin laughed.  “What does that mean?”

Tron stared at the Monopoly Brigade’s tattooed leader.  “Are you taking me on?”

“Naw,” said Fez Amin.  “I’m just asking what if?  Goober there gave me a funny enough answer to satisfy my need to laugh.”

There was a lot of nervous laughter.  Everyone feared Fez Amin.  He was dangerously insane and full of bloodlust.  They feared Tron and his ace pilots as well.  Few openly laughed at the eccentric behavior of a pilot like Elvis the Cruel.  The possible consequences of such disrespect made everyone with a sane brain nervous.

“You tell me now,” said Tron to the group, “Who has a contract with Count Nefaria?”

No one raised a hand.

“Who is against my plan?”

Again, no hands went up.

“We hear you met a group of Corsairs called the Wraiths,” said Razor Conn.  “You know much about them?”

“No,” said Tron.  “But we beat them hard.”

“Let me give you this to help your cause,” said Conn, tossing a computer log core onto the table.  “That is proof that the Wraith Corsairs work for both Nefaria and Syn Corporation.”

Everyone gasped but Tron and Maggie.

“Robots?” asked Tron.

“That’s my guess,” said Conn, smiling beneath his mirrored sunglasses and white cowboy hat.  “It cost me forty fighters and one Black Hawk Frigate to get that bit of evidence.  I’m not gonna help you kill Nefaria, but I mean to bet on you and the Pinwheels to succeed.”

“I thank you for that,” said Tron with a gracious nod.

Arkin Cloudstalker spoke up then.  “We hear you helped Ged Aero escape the Imperium in return for your so-called Crown of Stars ancient artifact.  And we hear Ged now owns a planet.”

“I won’t deny it,” said Tron.

“What part does that Crown play in all of this?” asked Cloudstalker.  “That’s what I’d like to know.”

“You know the Crown has the power of the Ancients,” said Tron.  “If we knew how to use it, we would tell you what we plan, but we need to research it more.”

“So, if we throw in with you, does that mean we are also supporting Ged Aero?”  Cloudstalker’s face was grim as he got to the crucial question.

“I haven’t negotiated with the Aero Brothers yet.  You can see I have their friend Trav Dalgoda as a member of my team already,” said Tron, indicating Goofy who was playing with Artran and oblivious to all around him.  “I think it’s safe to say we respect Ged Aero and intend to throw our support behind him as he opens new systems in unknown space.”

“Well,” said Cloudstalker, “I believe Ged Aero is the one man who can solve our problems with the Imperium.  I believe only true integrity can undo the Gordian Knots of Galtorr.  I’m adding the White Swords to the Pinwheel Corsairs in this attack on Nefaria.  I say one less nasty old spider in the Galtorr Imperium is a good thing!”

Most of the corsairs applauded Cloudstalker.  Fez Amin growled.

“Ged Aero is a Werewolf!” shouted Amin’s tattooed second in command.

“Your foolishness is good for business!” mocked Fez Amin.  He jabbed a large polished knife intao the conference table.  “If you kill or capture Nefaria, Admiral Brona Tang will be hunting you down like the dogs you are.  The Imperial Navy hasn’t paid any attention to you before now.  That will change.  I’ll be the only corsair still operating with a reasonably valid Letter of Marque.  I’ll be laughing at your cold, dead corpses floating in endless space!”

Fez Amin and the Monopoly Brigade stormed out of the conference as if in anger.  Tron frowned.  It was more likely a tactical retreat.  Amin was now part of the enemy.

Trav reached across the table to retrieve the fancy toad-sticker.  “Sorry about the table, Maggie,” he said sweetly to Artran’s fierce mother.  “I’ll just keep this cool knife.”

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Aeroquest… Canto 21

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Canto 21 – Blue Boy

The entire group of adventurers went aboard the Leaping Shadowcat to work out their problems. The Hammer, an ancient device of incredible power, was now actually in their possession. Junior Aero had detected it hidden within the Synthezoid’s body cavity.

Junior Aero“How was this boy able to read the robot’s mind?” Ged asked Tkriashav.

The almond-eyed Psion Master looked at Ged through narrowed eyes. “He has a Psionic power I’ve never encountered before. His mind reads as a telepath, but he can read artificial minds. He can manipulate computers and robots in the same way Tara and I can bend human minds.”

“Will you teach him to use this power?” Ham asked.
“No,” said Tkriashav, closing his eyes. “I believe he is meant to be Ged’s first student. I can’t touch his mind properly. Neither can Tara. He might prove dangerous to us.”

“But…” began Ged, “I don’t know how to teach! …Not Psion power!”

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“You know more than you realize,” said Tkriashav. “You are a master of the inner eye. You do it so well. It is an instinct with you. From what we saw today, the child is nearly there himself. All he really needs from you is moral guidance, positive support, and, well… love.
Ged looked at the blue-skinned boy. He hadn’t really paid much attention to him before. He looked like a blue version of Ham when he was young. He was small and thin. He hardly ever smiled, but he had dimples when he did smile. He was nine years old, but looked more the size of a six-year-old. It was his Nebulonin curse to be forever small and child-like. Ged nodded. He could learn to love this boy.

Ged Aero
“Lend me a hand, Ged,” said Ham as he hoisted the inert body of the Synthezoid onto the game-skinning table. The Madonna had gone to the galley to cook. Tara and Sinbadh had gone to help. That left Bam-Bam, Ged, Tkriashav, and Ham to do the surgery on the Synthezoid.
Ged helped Ham stretch the body out on the table. They pierced the wrists and ankles with skinning hooks. The flesh oozed green juice as if it were blood, but there the similarity to human anatomy ended. There were layers of circuit-weave mesh under the skin and titanium bones at the bottom of it. On the outside, Sorcerer 4 was made like a human. He even had the naughty bits. But under the skin, he was all robot with fiber optic wires and blinking lights everywhere. Ham easily peeled away synthetic flesh to reveal the metal man underneath.
In the hollow of the Synthezoid’s chest cavity, they uncovered the device itself. Ged almost laughed at Junior’s big-eyed facial expression when the boy first saw the Hammer of God. Everyone had been pretty much expecting a Thor’s Hammer type of thing. What they got was an undecorated tube with two right-angled handles on one end. You would never know it was an ancient artifact without the eerie purple glow coming out the open end. It looked like an ordinary plumber’s tool.
“There are no buttons to use the dang thing!” swore Ham, disappointed.
“No,” said Junior in a small voice, “but the thing is telepathic.”
“He’s right,” confirmed Tkriashav. “I can sense that to use the device, you must be a telepath.”
“Oh, great!” moaned Ham.
“It’s workable,” said Ged. “We have to use these things carefully. We will ask Frieda about it, and we have telepaths that might be willing to help us.”
“You do,” confirmed Tkriashav. “I know I haven’t earned your trust yet, but from here on out, our destinies are all intertwined.”
“Even mine?” asked the little blue boy.
“Especially yours,” said Tkriashav.
Ged couldn’t help but be a little spooked by the Psion Master. He didn’t like knowing so many riddles about the future, and he was not comfortable around someone who did.

Tkriashav picked up the Hammer. “It makes things according to mental directions. It uses some kind of organizing power that can rearrange molecules and energy flows. It is light years beyond any technology on Don’t Go Here.”

“What will we use it for?” asked Bam-Bam.
“This planet,” said Ham. “We can bring space-travel technology here with the thingy. We’ll build downports and dry-docks and spacecraft. We can make this world high tech overnight.”
“Don’t be surprised if they insist on staying cave men,” warned Tkriashav.
“Yeah,” said Bam-Bam. “Most of us grew up in Fredsuits and riding dino-back.”

“If we’re going to make this world home, we need to dress it up a little bit,” sighed Ged.

“Yes,” said Tkriashav. “But this world may not turn out to be home in the long run.”

“Why would that be?” asked Ham.

“I see other places on both of your horizons.”

Ged shivered. “Don’t tell me that. I don’t want to know.”

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Aeroquest… Canto 20

Canto 20 – Seize the Hammer

In the caverns of Don’t Go Here, Ged and Ham and company had arrived at the coordinates of the so-called Hammer of God. Instead of some large ancient construct resembling Thor’s Hammer, however, they found a small army awaiting them. They were not an un-schooled, low-tech army of cave people. They were leather-clad laser jerks, complete with plasma laser rifles and allosaurus mounts.
The army was led by a white-skinned conehead in fake tiger fur. He rode the largest of the allosaurs and he had a small electrical star orbiting his cranium.
“So, you are the Aero Brothers!” cried the cone-headed leader. “You are too late to thwart me this time. I have the Hammer already, and I mean to kill you all now!”
“Ged,” said Ham, “You have such ill-mannered friends.”
“I’m sorry. I hang out in too many low places, I guesssss,” answered Ged, already transforming into the familiar raptor body.
A beam of green energy lanced out of Ham’s weapon and sliced the torso of a bald allosaurus rider in two pieces. Sinbadh’s twin laser pistols splashed angry red beams along the flanks of two different allosaurs, spilling intestines. The beast that didn’t fall dead immediately lashed out in pain and took the head off of another laser jerk.
Chaos erupted before the Synthezoid leader could give any orders to his army. Ged and Ham had never fought an army before, but they knew dangerous beasts from years of hunting experience. They could split up and de-fang a large group of xenomorphs with great skill.
Beams of blue-white plasma leaped out of the laser jerk barrels and skewered things in their path mostly in random directions. One beam passed through the craniums of two of the ten allosaurs in one shot. It wasn’t enough to kill the two-ton carnivores, but it put them both down with smoking holes in their heads.
Ged had transformed and used the raptor’s innate leaping and clawing ability to great effect. He was quickly up on the allosaurus backs and slashing away at laser jerks, piercing leather armor with the wicked hooked claws he wore on each foot. Growling in triumph, he twisted the head off another laser jerk.
Tkriashav used his telekinetic powers to shield the group from laser fire. Plasma and heat splattered off his invisible force fields to set the rocks alight. Puddles of magma began to form around the group of adventurers as rock melted under the rain of deflected plasma.
Tara sent streams of mental fire into the brains of untouched laser jerks. Most fell from their mounts into the burning lava puddles, or to be eaten by their own agitated mounts. Riderless allosaurs did not stick around for a further fight. They scattered into the darker recesses of the back part of the cavern.
The artificial man, unhorsed from his allosaurus, lay glaring up at the raptor Ged with a fierce defiance on his white face. “I shall not underestimate you again, Ged Aero,” he said. “There are ways to defeat even your kind. Psions have weaknesses too!”
“Who are you?” demanded Ham, pointing his laser weapon at the face of the Synthezoid. Bam-Bam Salongi, unable to do anything but watch in the battle, had picked up a plasma rifle. He leveled it at the Synthezoid and showed him that Bam-Bam had seen how they operated by observing laser jerks. He fingered the trigger switch menacingly.
“I am called Sorcerer 4. Remember that name. I will be the death of you all.”
Suddenly the Synthezoid began to hum internally. His eyes rolled back, and his orbiting spark went out like a light bulb.
“He’s going to explode!” shouted Tkriashav. His inner eye had warned him.
“I will get it!” shouted the little blue boy. His naked body vaulted over the corpses to lay hands on the Synthezoid’s head. “He’s still downloading to somewhere else!” Junior closed his eyes and directed a bolt of mental energy into the metal mind.
“The boy can’t do anything!” warned Tara. “We can’t read that artificial mind!”
Suddenly the whirring and the humming ceased.
“I stopped him,” said the boy, smiling. “I mentally diffused the bomb. I can see into robot and computer minds.”
Ham stepped forward and picked up his new Nebulon son. He glared down at the defeated Sorcerer, and then grinned at the boy.
“You know,” said the boy, “you are really handsome when you smile.”
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