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Stardusters… Canto 60

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Canto Sixty – The Bonehead

Light suddenly blared into the prison pit with a brightness that sledge-hammered the skull of anyone and everyone who had eyes.  From pitch dark to bright light in practically no time at all.  The optic nerves had no time to adjust, let alone the reactions of an intelligent brain.

“We are landing!” called out a Galtorrian voice that Farbick had not heard before.  “Now is the time to be free of that prison.”

“Okay,” said Farbick carefully, “does that mean you are setting us free?  Or are you just asking us to come out so you can kill and eat us?”

“We don’t trust Senator Tedhkruhz to allow us to survive for very much longer.  You were right to point out to us that we are not helping ourselves by helping him.”

“And you let me live when you could’ve killed me, Stabharh,” said the voice of the guard from before.  “We kinda owe you for that…  I do, anyway.”

“Yes, what is up with that, Stabharh?   First you betray your precious Bahbahr, and then you try to convince us to do the same with Tedhkruhz?”  It was the first voice again.

“Slahshrack, is that you?” asked Stabharh.

“Of course it is, you fool.  Who else knows you well enough to question your actions… especially the changes from your old ways?”

“It is Slahshrack,” Stabharh said to Farbick with a sudden toothy grin.  “We went to Galtorrian Centurion School together to learn to become generals.”

Slahshrack and the guard helped all three prisoners out of the hole.

“There are only two of us that will help you,” Slahshrack said directly to Stabharh.  “No one else trusts anyone else aboard the Bonehead.  Helping one another is against Tedhkruhz’s rules, and gets you turned into dinner.  Most of the Galtorrian soldiers who are left alive are not really capable of thinking for themselves.  But I am, and Goahnahd is as well.  That’s why he told me about your plans.”

“I’m very glad he did, and you came back to let us out,” said Farbick.

Slahshrack glared at the Telleron.  “We wouldn’t have believed it if Stabharh hadn’t stayed in the prison pit.  It made me believe he really had changed.  If you had just killed Goahnahd and escaped the pit I would’ve killed you as worthless minions of the Galtorrian system.”

“You don’t believe in the system any more, Slahshrack?” Stabharh asked.

“Of course I don’t.  Tedhkruhz is more conceited and ruthless and corrupt than fat old Bahbahr could ever have been.  But I couldn’t go it alone.  And now, Stabharh, with you as an ally, we can make the world our own.  Tedhkruhz has the last working space ships and the last living army on the planet.  If we slay the great dragon, then we can easily become the next great dragon.”

Suddenly the entire space craft crashed into a large, domed building.  It had finally come down to the planet.  Unfortunately, the damage and violence to the craft probably guaranteed that it would never lift off again.

“What happened?” asked Farbick.  “Why have we crashed?”

“Well…” said Slahshrack, “we kinda started this rebellion by killing the pilots.”

Farbick was beginning to feel a little queasy in the craw.  He pulled Starbright to him and folded her in his sucker-tipped arms and fingers.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 59

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Canto Fifty-Nine – In the Nesting Quarters of Tanith and Davalon

Davalon and Tanith had learned to cuddle and hold each other in the affectionate way that Earthers like Alden and Gracie Morrell always did.  They were doing it now in the nest Sizzahl had given them.  Dav could no more imagine being apart from Tanith than he could imagine going back to the old Telleron ways of killing and recycling the protein of tadpoles who proved to be unnecessary during the long space voyages.

“Are we going to survive this adventure, Dav?”

“Yes, I think we stand a very good chance now with the adults here to save us.  Especially Mrs. Castille.  She is a very formidable warrior.”

“How did our people survive without her?”

“That’s a very good question.  I think our people have been going down the wrong path for centuries.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever wondered about how our fundamental survival methods actually work?”

“No.  We were not programmed in the egg to think about things like that.”

“I think that’s a mistake too, Tanith.  We need more thinkers in our species.  With the protein recycling system we used to have, you and I might not have survived.  If we hadn’t undergone such a dramatic change on Earth, our whole mission might have gone extinct by now.”

“I don’t follow, Dav.”

“Think about it.  What kind of Telleron people survived most often in our society before we adopted Earther behavior?”

“Self-promoting evil ones like Commander Sleez… and, well… stupid ones like Corebait and Studpopper and Finkerblatt… the ones who were lucky enough to never be put in a position where their life was threatened.”

“Yeah, except Corebait disintegrated himself back on Earth, and Finkerblatt tried to flush a toilet into space instead of the molecular recycle grid and was pulled out into space by his…”

“Yeah, but Studpopper proves that the lucky stupid ones do sometimes stay alive.”

“Okay.  You’re right.  But it is also the steady and quietly competent ones like Farbick… and maybe Commander Biznap that not only survive, but get critical things done and help others to survive as well as themselves.”

“So, what are you saying, Dav?”

“I think we know what we have to do, and what kind of Telleron people we need to become.”

“We need to be lucky and stupid?”

Davalon smiled as he saw how brightly Tanith was smiling at him.

“We need to be people who think and solve problems.  We need to be competent like Farbick.  We need to take the lead like Biznap.”

“You think that thinking is our job or something?”

“Exactly.  Promise me you will help me learn how to think better and more clearly.  You are smart, Tanith.  If you and I help each other, we will both get smarter.”

“And maybe we can raise up tadpoles of our own.”

Davalon smiled at her.  She was lovely cradled in his arm and close up against his chest.

“Yes.  We can make a new world where Tellerons are better than they have ever been.”

“We can evolve into a better people?”

“Yes. And with a little of the lucky that used to be only for stupid Tellerons, maybe we can be a people who live to old age and rebuild a planet.”

“You are giving me good things to dream about,” Tanith said, closing her eyes and falling softly into the realm of good dreams.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 58

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Canto Fifty-Eight – On the Gundahl Moon

Xiar looked around at the moon base.  There was considerable damage to the buildings and the power plant was going to need to be replaced by Telleron Magna-Grav generators.  But, unlike the main planet below, the atmosphere on the small, broken moon was breathable and totally conducive to Telleron life.  His people were saved.  They could thrive here.

Biznap walked up with a young Galtorrian boy trailing in his shadow.

“Can we install an energy shield to protect us from that space craft you mentioned?”

“We can go one better,” said Biznap.  “The defensive slug-throwers are still operational here.  They have a rail gun set up here that we can electronically enhance and increase the lethal power to levels the Galtorrians cannot match.  They will not be able to drive us out.”

“The news pleases me,” Xiar said.  He nodded toward the boy.  “Who is your young friend?”

“I have appointed Jahzpuhr here the leader of the Galtorrian children on this moon.  He is helping us with repair and construction.”

“You will not try to kill and us, will you, Jahzpuhr?” Xiar asked.

“No, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.”  The boy looked very much like a scale covered human from Earth, but the tail was definitely a difference.  He was dressed in a new cadet uniform made from Telleron synthesizers.  “Your people have saved us from death.  You are feeding us.  We owe you a life-debt and will serve you to the very end.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Galtorrian children we found here are all refugees from the planetary war,” said Commander Biznap.  “They were starving to death until Farbick found them and fed them.”

“Our masters were keeping us around so they could eat us when all the food was gone,” said Jahzpuhr.  “You have given us more than we could ever have hoped for, and we are grateful.”

“Well, I am just happy you didn’t eat Farbick, or any of us.  I do need to take this base for my people, however.”

“The base is not ours, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.  It belonged to Overlord Bahbahr the merchant prince.  We will evacuate at once if you desire it.”   The boy said it with a look in his eyes that told Xiar he was really begging to stay.

“Nonsense.  You will stay here and work for us.  If you do your jobs well, we will reward you.  And you can certainly live here among us.  You are all mere children, right?  And there is to be no eating of Tellerons?”

“We will be faithful, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.”

“I like how polite you are,” Xiar replied, “and I definitely appreciate the no eating of Tellerons thing… but you don’t have to keep calling me sir, Captain Xiar, sir.  Your majesty will be fine… or your ultimate gracious highness… or maybe just Captain.  OK?”

“Yes, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.”

“Not a very quick learner, huh, Biznap?”

“No, sir, he is not.  None of the lizard children seem particularly bright.  But they do work hard and they have some skills in the construction department.   They will be useful.”

“And your Earther wife, Harmony, can teach them all that Bible nonsense, eh?  Instead of me?”

“She will appreciate more souls to save for Jeezis, or whoever it is,” said Biznap, “but she didn’t let up on me just because she had the rest of you to preach to.  She has a sincere faith, and a very large capacity for curing un-taught heathens of their heathen-ness.”

“Is there any way to track them and get them back?  Particularly Harmony and Shalar, I mean?”

“I will take a wing and go after them, but knowing Harmony, she will not slow down without finding and rescuing the lost tadpoles first.”

“That’s too bad.  I really miss Shalar.”

“And your missing tadpoles too, I suppose?”

Xiar tried to remember which ones those were that they were talking about.  “Yes, them too, I suppose.”

****

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Stardusters… Canto 57

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Canto Fifty-Seven – Sizzahl’s Primary Laboratory

Sizzahl let the Senator into her sanctum with the key she rarely ever used.

“Your father had more secrets than I knew, didn’t he?” asked Makkhain with a resigned sigh.

“Yes.  Truthfully, he didn’t trust you totally because you are always so anxious to go to war over everything.  Father believed we needed to at least try peaceful solutions.”

“That is the one thing about your father that makes him a hopeless fool.  Galtorrians are a warrior people.  We solve our problems by removing the greatest threats by force.”

“But you can’t declare war on toxic chemicals and gas, and then just kill them.  Those problems are not mortal.”

Makkhain nodded.  “I did not believe that your father could reverse the pollution problem.  I thought scientists had already doomed us, making the war unwinnable.  I took steps to undermine their efforts.  I may have made a terrible mistake.”

“What did you do?”

“I targeted your father’s installations for destruction.”

“But he didn’t tell you where the atmosphere scrubbers were located.  He didn’t trust you, so he gave you misinformation.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“Of course I do.  They are operating under my direction.”

“Will you tell me where they are now that I have found you again and vowed to protect you?”

“No.  I love you, Uncle Makk, but I don’t trust you any more than Daddy did.”

“What?  Why?”

“It is too important that we keep them optimally operating.  We cannot allow them to be interfered with in any way.  The only way I won’t keep them going is if I decide our world is not worth saving.”

“Not worth saving?  What are you talking about?”

“Galtorrians are alpha predators on this planet.  They can’t be at peace because they are dedicated to killing, maiming, and destroying.  They are vicious and without morals because it is in their genetic make-up to be that way.  Creatures like us deserve to die and make way for a better, more thoughtful race of beings.”

“That’s what the Galtorrian/Human fusions are for?”

“Of course.  I will save this world… but I intend to save it for them.”

Makkhain’s lizard eyes were glowering at Sizzahl with undisguised menace and loathing.  Was this the uncle she loved?  The only relative who had ever treated her like a worthy being, and not just some brain-blossoming freak?  Or had his adventures during the war changed him somehow?

“Well, I don’t expect you to save the world for me.  I am nearly at the end of my road no matter what.”

“What do you mean?”

“When Senator Tedhkruhz finds us… and he soon will with the tracking mechanisms implanted in my body… he will slay me once and for all, and use all the information he can torture out of you to squash your father’s legacy.  Our destruction is, after all, guaranteed.”

*****

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Stardusters… Canto Fifty-Six

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Canto Fifty-Six – The Prison Pit Again

“Guard!  Guard!” called out Starbright.  “I am very ill and I think the other two prisoners have died.  Please help me!”

“What?” the slow-witted lizard man awakened at the urgent call.  “Don’t get sick, please.  You will taint the meat!”

“Ooh!  I feel like regurgitating everything I ever ate!  Did you poison us?  Or did the Senator do this to try to cut down on the number of mouths to feed?”

“Why would he do that?  Spoiled meat isn’t good to eat.”

“Maybe he wanted you to eat us and die from the poison.  How far do you really trust him?”

“Um, maybe you’re right.  But what can I do?”

“You can get me away from the diseased bodies so I don’t get sick.  Then you could safely eat me.”

“Yes.  Eating you sounds good.”

The stupid lizard-man stupidly opened the stupid pit.  He looked in, and immediately was seized by a lizard-man hand, a small one.

“Yaargh!”  The guard fell with a thud to the floor of the pit.  “You have tricked me!”

“Yesss, young lizard… you know who I am, and you know I can kill you now and escape.”  Farbick wasn’t sure what Stabharh had in mind as he told the guard this.  If he intended to kill the guard, why was he telling him anything?

“Yes, Stabharh… I… I know who you are.  You were once the most feared general in all the corporate armies.”

“That’s right.  And I should probably just kill you.  But I wanted to offer you a chance at survival… not just saving you from me right now, but saving you when Senator Tedhkruhz wants to kill you later.”

“That is very generous of you.”

“Of course it is.  This prisoner, Farbick, has taught me that warriors can help each other and do what is best for the group rather than the individual.  Did you see me betray Bahbahr, my lord and master?”

“Yes.  I thought surely the Senator would execute you for that.”

“He didn’t because he knows he has to be careful that his crew doesn’t realize that serving him is not in their own best interest.  You know that he will kill and eat you when the time comes that he must do that to survive.”

“Yes.  Of course.”

“And it was exactly the same with me and Bahbahr.  Your Senator must make me die a horrible death so none of you lot will think of betraying him as I betrayed Bahbahr, even though it might save your lives to do so.”

“So, let me understand this… you are not going to kill me and escape?”

“That’s right.”

“You are going to let me live so I can talk to the rest of the crew?”

“Yes.”

“Very well.  Help me out of the hole.”

Stabharh took hold of the guard’s foot and hoisted him out of the pit.

“Thank you,” said the guard.  And then he slammed the pit door shut again with a resounding clang.

“Maybe…” said Farbick carefully, “just maybe… we should’ve climbed out of the hole before we tried to reason with him?”

“I have not yet quite mastered your tricky Telleron ways,” answered Stabharh.

“Yes,” said Starbright with a sigh in the pitch darkness.  “You still have some lessons to learn.”

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 43

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Canto Forty-Three – On the Moon Gundahl

The massive space cruiser set itself down on the ruined tarmac of the moon base.  Only Farbick and Starbright were there to meet it.  After all, the two Galtorrian overlords were still penned inside a force-field and all the young lizard-children were still soundly sleeping off a full meal.

The cruiser was heavily armed and had cannons sticking out in all directions like spines on a sea urchin.  It had some battle damage on it, but obviously gave far worse than it had received.  In fact, Stabharh had said that this was probably the same warship that had damaged the moon base to such a degree that chunks were missing from the moon.

“Can they really be as terrible as Stabharh says?” asked Starbright.

“I suppose he would know better than I,” said Farbick.  “He says this Senator Tedhkruhz led an army across all the continents of Galtorr Prime and murdered two thirds of the population of the entire planet.”

Starbright shivered.  Farbick put a comforting arm around her shoulders.  There was definitely something to be said in favor of the Earther way of showing love through physical contact.  Tellerons had been too cold and distant from each other for too long.  Starbright leaned into the hug in response.

The entry ramp of the cruiser came down, and some of the crew appeared at the top of the ramp.  There were Galtorrian soldiers armed with slug-throwers akin to what Earthers called assault rifles.  There were also clunky metal robots that looked a lot like trash cans with a pair of legs.  Two lines of soldiers and robots formed on each side of the ramp.  Then, decked out in a purple velvet suit, the Senator himself appeared.  Farbick couldn’t help but notice that the Galtorrian Senator had a smiling face that resembled Grandpa Munster from the television show   The Munsters of the 1960’s on Earther TV.  Grandpa Munster with no hair and a smiling face covered in green scales, but definitely Grandpa Munster.

“Where is Bahbahr?” asked the Senator in a loudly-projected voice.  Farbick couldn’t tell if he was using some kind of unseen microphone device, or his voice was actually that capable of booming.  “I know that the Galtorrian criminal I seek is here somewhere!”

“What will you do with him if you have him?” asked Farbick.

“He will get what he deserves… his just deserts are to be dessert.  We will cook him and eat him.  My soldiers are hungry.”

“If we give him to you, will you give us this base and leave?”  It was worth trying.

“Of course not.  We will take and eat all of you.  You can’t really believe you can prevent that from happening, can you?”

“There are four of us.  My companion and I have captured the scoundrel and his warrior.”

“Ha!  That is rich.  Tellerons who happened to catch the big and mighty lord of merchants!  And is his warrior toothless little Stabharh?”

“He is.”  Farbick hoped the children were well enough hidden that this cruel cannibal would never find them.  He had disabled all the Telleron tech except the force field that held the two lizard-men, so there was no chance that Grandpa Munster would be able to use the devices against anyone.

“You are going to have to accept the inevitable, Mr. Telleron,” said Tedhkruhz.  “Surrender now and you won’t be subjected to pain and torture.  We will make it easier on you.”

“Will you take us away from this place?  Or will you stay here?”

“Why-ever would anyone want to stay in a place like this?  I blew chunks out of this moon before.  It’s in pieces now.  Not a very nice place to be.”

“You have a better place?”

“Well, no… but I own several other installations that are at least partially whole.  We will be able to make something work.  Some of us are destined to rule and be the lords of this planet.  I have the power to be the last one standing, and I think that is pretty great.”

Starbright and Farbick just held up their hands and surrendered.  What else could Farbick do?  At least, Biznap and the other Tellerons would find this place where they could take up residence and possibly survive as a people.

*****

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