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Stardusters… Canto 67

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Canto Sixty-Seven – The Arboretum Again (We Can’t Seem to Get Out of There)

When Farbick and Starbright finally got to the Arboretum where everyone else had gathered, they got in on the very end of Alden Morrell’s third re-telling of the final battle and deaths of Tedhkruhz and Makkhain.  Alden had gotten rather good rather quickly at telling the tale, complete with the sound effects at the climax of Lester smacking his huge petal-lips as he/she/it devoured both combatants.

Starbright then went to Science Officer Shalar to see if she could help with the medical care for the little wounded lizard girl.

“Was she badly wounded?” Starbright asked.  Farbick continued to hold her hand even as she asked it.

“Yes,” answered Shalar, “It seems she would’ve died if not for the application of this alien device to her throat as she was dying.”

The weak and pale little lizard girl smiled up at them.  “It’s a tissue-knitter given to our people by the  Zeta Reticulans as a gift when they left our planet for good.  Makkhain wasn’t supposed to have it, but he stole it from the evil Senator’s treasure room to save me if he was forced to try and kill me.”

“You were lucky that Makkhain was still himself even though he was a clone,” said Gracie Morrell.

“That was Senator Tedhkruhz thinking he could completely control the clone with his hypno-programming.  Makkhain was still free to do whatever the Senator had forgotten to tell him not to do.”  Sizzahl smiled at Gracie.  “I think you know something about the value of love when it comes to clones,” she said to Gracie.

“Yes, if a simuloid Telleron clone had not sacrificed himself out of love for humanity, I would not even be here,” Gracie said.

“And you wouldn’t be a child again either,” added Alden, somewhat ironically.

“But, Alden, don’t you love being young and fresh and full of energy again?” Gracie asked him.

“Yeah, I suppose I do.  We are going to need it raising those clone children.”

“What’s this about children?” Starbright asked.

“Sizzahl used some of Alden’s DNA to create five little boys and five little girls that  are half human from Earth and half lizard people from Galtorr Prime.”  Gracie was beaming like an expectant mother, even though she looked like a little girl herself.

“I was expecting the fusion children to be the new people of this planet.  I really didn’t think any Galtorrians would survive,” Sizzahl said.  She was still weak and looked ill, but as she rested in Shalar’s protective embrace, she was obviously recovering.

“So, let me understand this,” Starbright said.  “The Morrells are finally going to have children of their own, and all of the survivors are going to restore and repopulate this planet?”

“That’s about how I see it,” said Shalar, the Science Officer, giving the idea the rubber stamp of scientific approval.

“Well,” said Starbright, “It’s about time we got in on this whole love and marriage thing too, Farbick and I.”

“The two of you are going to get married?” asked Alden, looking shocked in the fakest possible manner.

“Well,” said Farbick, “She hasn’t officially asked me yet.”

“Farbick, will you marry me?” Starbright asked, smiling  brightly, like a star.

“Of course I will, my love.”

“Gee, that’s just like in some old movie,” said Alden.

“I don’t remember the name of it,” said Farbick, “but it was an old black and white movie I got it from.”

Farbick laughed as Starbright slugged him on the shoulder.

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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 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 49

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Canto Forty-Nine – The Prison Pit of the Bone Head

The darkness was so complete that Farbick felt completely blind.  He could feel the warm slumbering body of Starbright cuddled up against him.  He could hear the blubbering of the deposed lizard overlord, Bahbahr.  He could also hear the whispery breathing of Stabharh somewhere quite near.

“Are you awake, Stabharh?”

“Of course.  My job has always been Bahbahr’s security.  I am not about to sleep if I am on the brink of failure.  There has to be a way out of this.”

“I wish I could believe as you do.”

“You don’t think you can overcome the present situation?”

“Of course I don’t.  The Telleron people are usually lost whenever they face a difficult situation like this.  We are inbred and sort of stupid.”

“What?  You outsmarted Bahbahr!”

“He hasn’t been outsmarted before?”

There was a long cold silence.  Then Stabharh said, “The reason Bahbahr is an overlord and one of the most powerful people on the planet is his ability to always be right and always make a profit.  The men at the top of our meritocracy are always the most capable.”

“How does he always manage to be right?”

“I enforce his will.  I remove those who see things differently.”

“And yet, he would eat you before he allowed himself to starve to death.”

“Yes.  It is my function to preserve and aid him.”

“Including dying for his benefit?”

“Yes.”

“Are you certain he is worth that sort of obedience?”

“What do you mean?”

“It seems to me that your overlord’s greed and lack of concern for his fellow Galtorrians is what is causing your society to break down, and your planet to be destroyed.  His desire to beat his enemies has caused everything to go wrong.

“So, he has been relying on you to make him right and make him profitable.  He would be wrong and broke without you.  Has the ultimate result benefitted you, or made your life better?  Especially if he ends up eating you?”

Again things went unnaturally quiet.  The silence seemed endless to Farbick.

“Are you suggesting I should’ve done more for myself and less for Bahbahr?”

“I just think your boss should’ve cared more about his people, especially you, and less about his own comforts and desires.”

“I agree with you that your people are pointless and stupid… compared to the intelligence of the Zeta Reticulans they are babbling idiots.  But I think you have accurately described the failures of our people.  We are not stupid, but greedy.  We are not incompetent… but we are too ambitious and selfish, and we overlook potential problems to get what we want as quickly as possible.”

“Do you think Senator Tedhkruhz has the same failings as Bahbahr?”

“He rose to power by telling everyone, Bahbahr included, what they wanted to hear.  Whenever the opportunity came up for Tedhkruhz to betray some other powerful overlord or ruler, he stabbed them in the heart and destroyed them.  He thought he had beaten us before when he bombarded Gundahl, but I got Bahbahr safely away and saved him until now.”

“How loyal do you think Tedhkruhz’s men are?”

“As loyal as me.”

“Are you going to back Bahbahr all the way to the death?”  Farbick asked pointedly.

Again a long silence followed.

“Do you think Tedhkruhz’s minions might rebel against him?” Stabharh asked.

“I don’t know.  I think it would be in their own best interests.  But how could we do anything about it?”

“We need you to talk to them the way you are talking to me now.  Your ability to make sense… well… I think you are not stupid or incompetent.  I think if Tedhkruhz were smarter, he’d be deathly afraid of you.”

*****

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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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