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Stardusters… Canto 51

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Canto Fifty-One – On the Operations Deck of the Star Ship Bone Head

The forty-two Galtorrian soldiers stood at parade rest.  Tedhkruhz in his ghastly purple robes stood quietly watching as two more soldiers led Farbick, Starbright, Stabharh, and Bahbahr out into the operations deck in manacles.

“Ah, Bahbahr, my friend, we meet again… but for the last time,” said Tedhkruhz in an oily voice that was so oily you could lubricate six Earther car engines with the vowels alone.

“You have won…  I don’t deny it,” said a defeated Bahbahr with tears still rolling down his fat cheeks.

“Yes.  I have won.  And as the victor, it is my privilege to execute you now.”

Bahbahr hung his fat head and cried more freely.

“You know, it is my prerogative as his security chief,” said Stabharh, “to be executed before my master.”

“Oh, yes.  We will be quite happy to oblige,” said Tedhkruhz while swinging the gun around to point at Stabharh.

“Wait a minute,” said Stabharh.  “It is my prerogative.  Doesn’t that mean that I can also choose to not be executed first?”

“Well, now, maybe you have a point there, Stabharh,” said Tedhkruhz, leaking more oil out of his corrupted personality.  “What do you think men?  Do we let the security lizard make that particularly disloyal sort of choice?”

“Of course not, sir,” replied a junior officer.  “Execute him first.”

“Even though Stabharh is scrawny with far less meat on his bones?” wheedled Tedhkruhz.  “Remember, Bahbahr alone has enough bulk to feed us all for a few days before we have to kill and eat anybody else.”

“Okay, Farbick, help me out here,” said Stabharh.  “Surely there is something in all of that which you can use to start something brewing.”

Farbick was surprised.  Stabharh was throwing the figurative basketball to him now?  What did the lizard man expect him to do?  Talk the oily Grandpa Munster-lizard into killing himself?

“I, uh…”

“Surely you can point out to these warriors that Tedhkruhz once had a crew of hundreds aboard his flag ship, the Bone Head.  And then you could ask them what happened to all the rest?  Why are there only forty-four of them left?”

“Yes, what did happen to all the rest?” asked Farbick nervously.

“Some of them died in battle…” said a young warrior.

“And we ate them after they died,” said another lizard warrior.

“And we ate some of the rest because we were starving,” said a third.

“But who picked the ones to be eaten?” asked Farbick, beginning to form a plan.  “Did they volunteer?”

“Of course not,” answered another lizard-warrior.  “Tedhkruhz always selected them.”

The Senator’s dimpled smile had disappeared completely.  He grabbed a warrior’s weapon and fired a shot directly into Bahbahr’s head.  “I truly believe that that is enough thinking for one day.  You troopers do not want to tax your brains over-much.   Look at all the meat we now have.”

“Let’s cook him immediately,” said a lizard-warrior in an ugly hat that Farbick assumed must be a cook’s hat.

“Yes, let’s,” said Tedhkruhz, smiling again.  “And put the three prisoners back in the pit until the meat runs out.  No sense in letting anything spoil before we get to it.”

The lizard warriors dragged the no-longer blubbering mound of carcass that had been Bahbahr away.  He was obviously headed to the cook pots.

“That didn’t go like I thought,” said Stabharh to Farbick as the soldiers grabbed the manacles of all three prisoners.

“What were you actually thinking?” asked Farbick.  But before the small lizard-man could answer, Farbick noticed Tedhkruhz looking at him.  The Grandpa Munster grin was definitely gone.  And was that a look of fear in his eyes?  Fear as he looked at Farbick?

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 50

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Canto Fifty – The Control Center of the Bio-Dome

Davalon was surprised to see Sizzahl enter the control center with a large Galtorrian warrior.  Tanith noticed the intruder immediately too and shot Dav a worried glance.  But he had no idea what to tell Tanith.  Sizzahl was not worried by the lizard man’s presence at all, so he couldn’t be an enemy, could he?  Davalon shook his head slightly to tell Tanith he had no ideas.

“Davalon?  Tanith?” said Sizzahl with a beaming smile, “This is my uncle, Senator Makkhain.  My parents and I thought he had been killed by Tedhkruhz’s forces over a year ago.  He has been fighting with the resistance.”

“Tellerons?” said Makkhain skeptically.  “Please tell me you are not making Galtorrian frog-fusions too.  I don’t need grand nieces and grand nephews who are part Space Toads!”

“You have no right to use insulting language like that,” said Tanith in a quiet voice.  “We are a more technologically advance race than you are, and we have never invaded your miserable planet before.”

“Before now, you mean,” said Makkhain.  “I tracked a landing party of Telleron invaders coming this way.  They are lead by an Earther warrior the like of which I have never seen before.  She is ruthless and efficient and cut down an entire wave of angry and agitated scabbies.”

“Earther warrior?” asked Davalon.  “We didn’t bring anyone like that with us.”

“Blond woman with big muscles in her arms and a very authoritative voice?”

“Harmony Castille?” Tanith wondered aloud.

“She’s not a warrior,” said Davalon.  “She’s what the Earthers call a church lady.”

“Earther armies must tremble at the mention of church ladies,” said Makkhain, shaking his scaly head in a way that looked to Davalon like pure admiration.  “We could’ve really used her in the war against Tedhkruhz and Rekhpahree.  We finally defeated and killed Rekhpahree, but I am the only survivor of that battle.  Your church lady has not lost a single man during a very long and impressive march from their landing site and their initial battle with the scabbies.”

“They’ve come to rescue us,” suggested Tanith.  “We are saved.”

“If they are invaders,” said Makkhain dangerously, “perhaps I need to use you as hostages.  In fact, maybe I should kill you and use your bodies to dissuade them from invading further.”

“No,” said Sizzahl.  “These Tellerons are my friends.  They are the first friends I have had since Gohmurt killed my father.   I would sooner die by their hands than have to fight them!”

“Sizzahl?  You understand… it is not my way to go down without a fight.”

“We are not invading,” said Davalon.  “We only need a place to live until we can figure out how to get back to Barnard’s Star.  We were trying to help Sizzahl save your world.”

“Our world is doomed,” said Makkhain.  “We have let evil people do whatever they want for too long in the name of greed and self-interest.  If only we had gone to war sooner as I had suggested in the Senate, maybe the warlords who have destroyed our ecosphere and our world would not have been so devastating.  Now all we can do is hunt down the enemies we have left and wait for death to find us… either on the battlefield, or in some forsaken laboratory like this where scientists tried in vain to solve our problems by magic.”

“Maybe your mistake was in not trusting in the Lord your God,” said an entirely new voice.  Davalon and Tanith both turned to see Harmony Castille pointing her skortch pistol at Makkhain’s head.  The church lady was both confident-looking and formidable.  Shalar and the Telleron troops were behind her.  Dav felt as if the day were saved… at long last.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 47

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Canto Forty-Seven – In the Flower Garden

“Don’t get too near that old plant again, Brekka,” warned George Jetson.  He shuddered with the memory of it scooping her up in the mouth-like blossom and nearly munching her to pieces as it had done to the scabby.

“Silly boy, the man-eating plant is now my friend.  He… or she… or it… is calling to me, telling me it will never harm me again.  In fact, it wants to help me and protect me.”

As the emerald-green girl tadpole walked closer to the huge blossom, the plant seemed to be smiling with flower-petal lips.  George looked at Menolly.  Menolly looked back and shrugged her bare shoulders.  She appeared to be creeped out by the carnivorous flower as much as George was.

Brekka stopped, naked and defenseless, directly under the giant blossom that was grinning at her.  She reached up with her left hand.

The blossom lowered to her.

“Oh, no!” gasped George and Menolly together.

But the blossom stopped an inch above her hand and let her stroke it… her… or him… under what could’ve been a chin, but definitely had the look of sepals.

“That’s a good boy, Lester… er, good girl… er, well… that’s good anyway.  You aren’t going to hurt anyone ever again, are you?”

The plant pursed its “lips”.

“Well, yes, I suppose you can eat all of those scabby thingies that you want.  That wouldn’t bother me a bit.”

The plant rubbed leaves together to get an actual chirping sort of sound.

“Oh, really?”

“What did he say?” Menolly asked Brekka.

“He says he… or… she can provide cuttings and runners to make baby plants that we can eat.  She says she… or… it can process carbon out of the air with photosynthesis and make plenty of food for us…  It says it… or he… um, can feed the whole Bio-dome if we want it to.”

“That’s good…” said George, “but if the plant is our friend now, wouldn’t that be eating our friend?”

“Lester says the plants on his… er… her world do it all the time… eat each other, I mean.”

“That will help with some of the food shortage problem, won’t it?” asked Menolly.

“Sure,” said Brekka.

“Maybe we should go talk it over with Sizzahl?” suggested George.  He really wanted to get himself and the girls away from the creepy plant-monster.

“You and Menolly go,” Brekka said.  “I want to stay here and play with Lester.”

“Are you sure that’s safe?”

“Lester can’t eat Tellerons without getting really, really sick.  So he will never again try to eat one of us… er, she won’t.  As long as we keep Sizzahl and the Morrells away from it… er, him.  Geez, the boy-girl thing is really confusing.”

So, George seized the opportunity to get away.  He dragged Menolly with him.  Brekka seemed happier with Lester anyway, and George was thinking… well, maybe he and Menolly could try some more… kissing.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 46

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Canto Forty-Six – Outside the Bio-Dome

Harmony led her troops up to the front door of the Bio-Dome.  They waited quietly for her to signal the next step.

“Shalar?  This is the only mostly-intact building in the entire area.  Do you think this could be where they went?”

“If they are still alive, this looks like the kind of shelter they might be drawn to.”

Harmony went forward to the entryway and peered in.

“Oh, my goodness!  All their clothing and equipment is piled in there.  Their weapons too.  If they are still in there, they are naked and unarmed!”

Shalar adjusted her own breath-mask to reassure herself.  “If they are not still in there… or if the air in there is the same as it is out here… then they are already dead.”

“No!  Not my children!  We will enter here and go find them!”

Suddenly the metal man with a handful of spinning blades appeared on the ledge above the door.  His hand-blades whirred menacingly.

“Men!  Catch it in a crossfire like I taught you and take it out.”

The Telleron soldiers knew better than to disobey Harmony.  Four took the left flank and two went right.  The crossing skortch beams fried the machine man, and quickly reduced it to dust and vapor.  Shalar shuddered at the realization of how ruthless and efficient Earther humans truly were.  Her semi-incompetent Telleron soldiers were displaying an unusually high amount of self-discipline and military know-how which they had learned entirely on this mission by following the old Sunday-school teacher’s battle commands.

“That was impressive,” Shalar remarked.

“Of course it was,” said Harmony.  “Now let’s get inside.”

The Telleron soldiers filed in using the precise order and the sweeping-for-enemies maneuver that Harmony had taught them on the way to the Bio-Dome.  The soldiers secured the entryway and the hall beyond while Harmony and Shalar went through the pile of belongings that had belonged to the tadpoles and the Morrells.  Shalar noted all the items on her computerized notepad.   The inventory suggested that everything the tadpoles had taken with them from the crash scene was present.

“They were all here, Harmony,” Shalar said.  “And they don’t have anything with them wherever they’ve gone.”

“We will take all this gear with us so that the young scamps won’t be gadding about naked.   Why they took everything off here is a mystery.  But in my experience with human kids, it usually involves hormones and misbehavior.  We not only have to save their little lives, but save them from sin as well.”

“Sin, Harmony?”

“Well, it’s complicated.  But running around a dying planet stark naked can’t be pleasing behavior to a loving but righteous God.”

“Oh, of course… that.”

Shalar looked down the dark hallway.  She was worried about the children.  The mystery only seemed to deepen and the peril looked increasingly worse.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto Forty-Five

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Canto Forty-Five – Aboard the Galtorrian Space Cruiser Bone Head

The lizard soldiers roughly tossed Farbick into the holding pit on top of Starbright who had been tossed down roughly before him.  The Grandpa Munster face of Senator Tedhkruhz grinned down at him from above.

“I will allow you all to see the sights of beautiful Last-Star Fortress on the southern coast of the Bone Continent before we cut you all up for meat.”  Tedhkruhz cackled with porcine, gloating laughter.  Porcine was a good Earther word for pig-like, Farbick knew, and nothing reminded him so much of a gluttonous pig as the plans he had heard from the mouth of the Lizard Lord, Senator Tedhkruhz.

Bahbahr lay up against the wall of the prison pit, sobbing quietly to himself in inconsolable misery.  Stabharh stared at Farbick with cold, lizard eyes.

“Are you planning to return to the moon when you’ve eaten us?”  Farbick asked, trying to make it seem an innocent question.

“What?  Fat Bahbahr’s stupid Gundahl Base?  Of course not.  I have already blown the poop out of it with the biggest boom-bombs my people could manufacture.  There is nothing left of it to take possession of.”

“You are going to leave it for any other warlord to take?”

“What?  You mean Emperor Rekhpahree?  That unctuous toad has no space-worthy ships left to get up here.  Once we leave it, there will be no one coming here for a very long time, probably centuries.”

Farbick looked at Starbright’s frightened eyes and winked.  She had to know that the Galtorrian War Lord was playing right into Farbick’s selfless plan.

“You all get some sleep now, you hear?” gushed Grandpa Munster, “you have a big final day ahead of you tomorrow… all four of you.”

The lid was pulled over the top of the pit with a metallic clang.  Everything went to black at the same instant that Starbright caught hold of Farbick’s arms and pulled herself into his comforting embrace.

“So,” said Stabharh’s cold voice in the pitch darkness, “you hid the lizard children so Tedhkruhz wouldn’t find them and eat them.”

“We did,” admitted Starbright.  “At least they will live.”

“Why did you do that?” asked the soldier in a grim accusatory voice.

“We thought that those children deserved a chance to survive.  They have a future.”  Farbick knew the Galtorrians didn’t understand self-sacrificing love… not the way that Harmony Castille had taught the Tellerons from her little black book of Hebrew fairy stories…  But he figured there must be a heart in that lizard-man’s body somewhere.

“You would do that for creatures of another planet who would’ve eaten you if you had not fed them with your machine?  Why wouldn’t you want to see them die along with you?”

Starbright sounded deeply hurt by that.  “If I am doomed, why would it help me in any way to see them doomed too?  Your planet is deeply troubled.  You need those children alive.  They are your future.”

“Yes,” said Stabharh bitterly, “Galtorrians’ future, not yours!”

“I think the future is not yours or mine.”  Farbick weighed his words carefully in the darkness.  “I think the future belongs to all of us.  We don’t wish your people to die any more than we would wish for our own people to die.  It is the nature of those who are alive to want to keep living.”

“Not all people, frog or lizard, can possibly survive.  Survival of the fittest is the way of the Universe.”

“Perhaps,” said Starbright softly, “but the fittest doesn’t necessarily mean only the individual when the whole race is at stake.”

The darkness grew very quiet.  Was Stabharh thinking of a reply?  Or did he lose interest and fall asleep?  Perhaps Farbick and Starbright needed rest too.

“You frog people are just like the other alien races we met…” the small warrior lizard said after a long silence.  “You always talk about peace and helping others along the pathways to the stars… but this is actually the first time I have seen an alien practice what he preaches.”

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 44

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Canto Forty-Four – In the Bio-Dome

Alden and Gracie stood before the row of cloning jars, staring at the gently floating and twitching forms.  Sizzahl gently adjusted the nutrient feeds to the artificial placentas.

“They look so… so human,” said Gracie.  “Their little bodies are so perfect, and so big!”

“We will have them developed to birth size by morning,” said Sizzahl.  “The cloning jars use electro-magnetic chronol-enhancement to make the gestation occur in a fraction of the time.”

“Really?” Alden was aghast, “We will have ten babies to take care of by morning?”

“Oh, yes.  They will grow fast for a while.  They will be toddlers in less than a week.  And about your other comment, Gracie… they are precisely fifty per cent human.  Half me, half Alden… half Galtorrian…”

“…Half human,” said Alden.  It was stunning.  He and Gracie had talked about having kids, in fact, tried hard to have kids for years… and now, suddenly, they would have a family of ten children and three parents who, no matter how mentally old and wise they might be, were physically only between ten and twelve.

“I want to be a mother so badly it hurts,” said Gracie.  “But why so many?  How will we manage ten babies all at once?”

Sizzahl put a hand on Gracie’s bare shoulder.  “There is very little romance in what we have to do.  We have to raise up a workforce of these new fusion-race babies, possibly even an army.  We really don’t have a choice if we are not going to simply let this entire planet die.”

Suddenly a black-clad figure appeared above the tanks.  It was humanoid in form, but had a tail like a Galtorrian.  It wore a black mask like a ninja.

“Ah!  Scabby!” cried Alden, pointing.

“He moves too much like a lizard with no diseases,” said Sizzahl, a firm hand on the shoulder of each of the Morrells.  “In fact… he seems awfully familiar.”

“Sizzahl!  I thought Gohmurt had killed the whole family!”

“Senator Makkhain?” asked Sizzahl.

The lizard-man pulled off the mask.  “Yes, little one, I have survived.  The Cooperative managed to kill Emperor Rekhpahree in the last battle over Spidercrawl Fortress.  I came to tell your father and recruit him to our cause… um, forgetting that Gohmurt killed him, I guess… but it seems the Bio-Dome is wrecked and everyone else is dead.”

“I am not dead,” said Sizzahl, mistress of the obvious.  “And the Bio-Dome is not wrecked.   I have the atmosphere scrubbers working at full capacity, and I am trying to solve the blighted food supply problem.”

“Clever girl.  How did you survive the scabbies with nothing more than your little naked self?”  Makkhain pulled off his mask.  For a lizard-man, he had a very gentle face with wise bluish snake eyes.

“I’m not alone here.  Father’s robots are set to kill anything wearing clothes or carrying equipment.  How is it that you survived them?”

“I’m sorry.  Three of your father’s toys attacked me, and I had to break them quietly with this…”  He brandished a silver blade weapon with a hook on the end that was smeared with oil.

“Erm… I guess I will have to fix them, then.  They have been protecting us very effectively.”

“Who is this man, Makkhain?” asked Gracie.  “Should we be trusting him?”

“Oh,” said Makkhain, “your naked Skoog Monkeys talk?”

“We are not Skoog Monkeys,” said Alden.  “We are humans from Earth.”

“Of course you are,” said Makkhain.  “But apparently really scrawny ones.”

Alden was boiling at the insult.  Still, the lizard-man had a sword and Alden was naked and trapped in a mere boy’s body.

“Makkhain is my uncle,” said Sizzahl at last, “my mother’s brother.  He is one of the good guys.”

“That is good,” said Gracie.  “We need more good guys.”

“What are you doing cooking tailless Skoog Monkeys in the cloning pots?”

“These are fusions,” said Sizzahl proudly.  “They are half Earther and half Galtorrian.  They will be our new work force, hopefully with the best qualities of each race combined into one being.”

“Ah, girl, you always were the smart one in the family… a real dreamer.  But do you really need these things now that I am here?”

“Yes, uncle.  They are superior to the lizard-people who have destroyed this planet.  They will be a more worthy successor race than we were as an original race.”

Makkhain dropped down onto the floor of the cloning chamber and lowered the sword.  He quietly put an arm around his naked niece.  She hugged him fiercely and began to cry.

Alden felt awkward.  He was glad that Sizzahl had a family again.  He was also glad for an adult-sized ally.  But something about Makkhain rubbed him the wrong way.  Things just didn’t feel right in Alden’s farmer weather-bones.

*****

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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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