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Aeroquest… Canto 33

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Canto 33 – Dance of the Two Spiders

      Naylund Smith was dressed in a formal silk jacket with an embroidered Japanese-style phoenix raising its wings across the chest and turning to flaming ashes on the back.  A white chord ran down the left leg of the blue silk pants and ended in an embroidered white spider, the first time Ged was to see the White Spider’s personal logo on anything.

Ged couldn’t help but admire the strong-looking, erect posture of this amazing man.  He wore a gold earring in his left ear; his head was shaved and hairless except for white eyebrows, a white bun at the very back of the head, and a white goatee.  The man’s iron-gray eyes glared like the stare of an eagle.  Only the golden walking stick hinted at any weakness in the man, and he never seemed to lean upon it.

“The web of space is locked in an ever-expanding spiral dance,” said Naylund as ceremonial armor was strapped to Ged’s arms and chest.  “The spiders that move from strand to strand are merely a counterpoint to the great dancing flow of the web itself.  When spiders contend for space on the web, then the dance reaches its most violent and most beautiful point.  I cannot help you with the next few steps of the dance.  The prophecy says that you will be victorious, but no prophecy is ever absolute unless it can be proven to come from God himself.”

“You sound like I am about to have some kind of duel,” said Ged cautiously.  “I thought this was just a welcoming ceremony.”

“It is that.  It is also deadly serious.”

Little Ham Aero Junior was brought to Ged dressed in a milk-white kimono, and an embroidered white spider picked out in light blue covered the heart.  The female attendants left him with Ged.

“I am to stand with you, Ged-sensei,” the boy said.

“Did Frieda teach you to speak so well?” Ged asked the little Nebulon.

“No.  I learned your language long ago by telepathy.”

“Why didn’t you ever teach it to your mother?”

“She hardly ever spoke to me.  I was nothing but a reminder to her of the shame of her servitude.”

“I’m so sorry for you, Junior.”

“Don’t be.  Now I belong to you and you belong to me.  I will stand at your side and die rather than leave you.”

“A very handsome and noble child,” said Naylund.  “He deserves to be treated well by you, Ged.”

“Don’t worry, Naylund-sensei.  I am learning to love my nephew too.”  Ged smiled at Junior.

Naylund motioned to Ged to leave the tent where he had been dressed in armor.  He was now done up in the armor of a Japanese daimyo or feudal lord, a samurai.  He had everything but the demon mask on him.

As Ged, Naylund and Junior stepped out into the arena, 40,000 people cheered.  Ged was stunned to see so many people.  Being a spacer meant being alone more often than with other people.  He’d never in his life been with so many at once.

“Behold!  The so-called White Spider,” said a man across from Ged in the arena.  He gestured with a silver katana sword to Ged and his two companions.  “What do you say that I test this gaijin?  Do you really believe he is the white spider?”

The crowd roared that they did believe.

“Well, we shall see,” said the man, drawing his katana in front of him.

“He will now try to kill you, Ged,” said Naylund.  “If he succeeds, he will kill the boy and me as well.”

“But, wait!” said Ged.  “I am unarmed!”  He sounded panicky.

“According to prophecy,” said Naylund, “that’s not supposed to be a problem.”

“I am the Black Spider,” shouted the man.  Ged noticed his black silk robes bore a red spider-symbol on the chest.  “I will kill you now, Ged Aero!”

The man charged at Ged with lightning speed.  He was obviously martial-arts trained, and knew precisely what to do.  Ged tried to dodge, but the katana came down on his right shoulder in a perfect arc.  Ged’s right arm was neatly severed at the shoulder.

The crowd gasped.  Ged fell to his knees gasping also.  Junior tried to run to him, but Naylund grabbed him and firmly held him.

“Patience, little one.  Ged must pass this test himself.”

Ged’s mind swirled, but fixed on an image from his mind implanted there when Tara helped him return to his rightful form.  His inner eye sharpened and fixed the image with crystal clarity.  Immediately the arm grew back into place.  The crowd was silent with shock.

“So!” said the Black Spider.  “You are a magician!  It will help you not!  I have killed many magicians before you.”

Ged didn’t bother to listen.  Power was surging through him.  He could feel the rightness of each shape as it came to him.

“Tara?” said Junior, amazed at what he saw.  Ged had changed first into the lithe figure of Tara Salongi so that the bulky clothing and armor would fall away.  Then, as the nude female Ged stepped free of the binding clothing, he was already turning into the fearsome raptor dinosaur from Don’t Go Here.

“Try this!” cried the Black Spider as he leaped onto Ged’s scaly back and tried to sever the saurian head.  Ged’s clawed foot nimbly came up and swept the attacker off, as easily as a horse knocks flies off his flanks with a twitching tail.  The other clawed foot found the Black Spider as he hit the ground, the wicked hook slicing into the flesh of his stomach.

The Black Spider wobbled to his feet again, defiant and angry.  His intestines began to droop out of his wound. “Good trick, spider, but I’m not beaten yet!”

Even as the Black Spider was bragging, Ged remembered one other beast he had been forced to kill and eat.  He morphed almost immediately into a Samothracian Shadowcat, one of the most difficult creatures he had ever hunted.  On the colorful planet of Samothrace, with its many xeno-flowers, shadowcats had developed the ability to change color so masterfully; they could practically disappear from view.  As soon as the first paw touched the sand of the arena floor, Ged shimmered and disappeared.

“What?  Where…?” cried the Black Spider, swinging his sword wildly.  Attacks battered him from three sides.  Ged it seemed, had turned into the wind.  It looked like puffs of air were slashing the Black Spider; until finally, the sword fell from his hand and the Black Spider fell dead and thoroughly bloodied.  Ged remained invisible so as not to disgust the crowd as he replenished himself by feeding on the flesh of the enemy.  He also ate his own severed arm before he finally reappeared in his own form.

Naked, he quickly dressed in the samurai armor once again, though not bothering with the many straps and ties.  The crowd was utterly silent, which left Ged wondering what it meant.

Shen Ming approached solemnly, holding two sheathed swords in his hands.

“You have done well, my son.  Take your swords of office.”

Ged humbly received the swords from Shen-sensei.  He bowed.  There was a beautiful silver katana with a white ivory pommel and a smaller golden wakizashi with a blue woven pommel.  The crowd now began to cheer riotously.

“I have defeated the Black Spider?” asked Ged of Naylund.

“You have defeated the first of many Black Spiders, Ged-sama.  We will never be at a loss for villains.”

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Aeroquest… Nocturne 2

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Nocturne 2 – Treading New Pathways

Ham and the Madonna were given separate rooms in the inn, yet, somehow, she was in his bed the next morning, head pillowed on his bare shoulder.

“No, now wait…” he muttered as he stretched awake.  “I didn’t drink like poor Sinbadh.  I know what didn’t happen in the night!”

The Nebulon woman stirred and opened her sapphire eyes.  She smiled as she looked at Ham.  She was nude under the single sheet.  She was powerfully attractive.

“You and I need to talk about this,” said Ham.  “I’m a single guy.  You can’t be throwing temptation in my way every day like this.  Do you understand me?”

“Frieda teached me your speaking.  I know what you say.”

“But do you know what I mean?”

“You saved me.  You own me now.”

“Trav saved you.  You belong to Goofy.”

“He does not want me.  I offer.  He refuse.  I now pick man I love and I offer me to you.”

Ham started to say no.  Still, he had to admit, she was beautiful, and he was powerfully attracted to her.  He had to make her understand, though.  If he was going to get romantic, it wouldn’t be with a concubine.  It wasn’t that he meant to reject her; just that he didn’t want her to be that.  She would have to understand.  Love was complicated, and he’d never felt that way before.

A knock came at the door.  Ham nervously jumped into his pants and shirt, motioning for the Madonna to hide in the fresher.  She didn’t move or seem to care.

“Who is it?” Ham called.

“Let me in, old Jester.  I know about the girl.  We just need to talk.”

Goofy!  Ham didn’t care much to talk to that trouble-making clown, but he knew there wasn’t much choice.  Besides, Trav had freed the Nebulon Princess.  Maybe he still thought he had some say in her affairs.

“The door is open.”

Trav Dalgoda and the Duke of Coventry came in together.  The Duke raised an eyebrow as he saw the Madonna in the bed.

“It’s not what it looks like,” said Ham, furiously blushing.

“It’s not our business,” said Duke Ferrari.

“Yes,” said Ham, “well… What is your business?”

“I need to pursue the alliance Tron Blastarr is promoting.  Count Nefaria has removed me from Imperial politics.  If I am going to help my planet and my people, I have to return there and make the government secede from the Imperium.”

“So, why are you telling me?”

Trav lifted his bogus eye-patch and stared at Ham with two brown eyes.  “You’re a pilot, Ham.  You have your own ship.”

“You want me to take you to Coventry?”

“And possibly beyond,” said Duke Ferrari.

“Why would I be doing this?” asked Ham.

“For the good of your planet.  And because it’s the right thing to do.”

“And, also,” said Trav, “I may know where to find another ancient artifact.  I read through Nefaria’s cargo manifests.  He had something Ancient shipped to a warehouse he owns on Dancer.  That planet is right on our way.”

“The water world?”

“Yeah.  The pirate planet owned by Razor Conn and the Black Hawk Corsairs.”

“You won’t mind if I replace you with another engineer, Goofy?  You’re getting kind of independent of me and Ged again.”

“Oh, I might start my own crew if I can get a hold of the right starship… and find a good pilot.  I might even go back to working for old Jester Tron.”

“We have an agreement, then?” asked Duke Ferrari, offering a hand for Ham to shake.

“I’m a sucker for that it’s-the-right-thing-to-do argument.  Ged taught me to be like that,” Ham admitted.  “I also like a good adventure now and then.  Though I have to tell you, it’ll be going the opposite direction from the one I promised Ged I would go.  I hate to disappoint my brother.”

The Madonna sat up on the bed and hugged Ham around his middle.  The covering fell away.  Goofy and Ham both blushed.  “I go too.  I not want you dead.  I need you.”

Ham looked at the Duke.  Duke Ferrari was smiling wickedly.  Ham stuttered, “So… ah… Duke, can dukes perform marriage ceremonies?”

“Yes, Mr. Aero.  I will include it as a small part of the fee for your services.”

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Aeroquest… Canto 18

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Canto 18 – Spelunking with Dinosaurs

    Ged had gotten the planetary coordinates from Frieda for the so-called Hammer of God.  As they took instrument readings on the surface, they could accurately determine by use of a gravitometer the device was located in one of the deep places in the Bedrock Undercity.   An expedition would be organized to retrieve it before they believed Trav and his Slaghoople connection would be able to mobilize the criminal element.

Ged took both Tara and Tkriashav along to teach him more about Psions.  He couldn’t help but look longingly at the beautiful teenager, Tara Salongi.  The facts of it made him feel terrible.  Bam-Bam Salongi and Sinbadh went along for muscle.  Ham couldn’t help but bring the beautiful Nebulon Princess and her young son.  The two of them seemed to persistently attach themselves to Ham, though Ged noticed the boy looking at him more than once.

The Slate Cliffs had a huge cavern opening in their northernmost face.  It was there that most people gained access to the Bedrock Undercity.  The rocks there were an oily gray and led into a series of caverns that were torch lit and gloomy.

“Do you know anything about these Ancient artifacts?” asked Ged, looking sternly at Tkriashav.

“Yes,” said the almond-eyed master.   “I know what prophecy says.  The Prophecy of Master Xan says that the White Spider shall be reborn and he shall use the sacred tools of God to remake the Great Web Across Darkness.”

“Good God!” said Ham.  “What does that mean?”

“Ged is the White Spider, the Weaver of Golden Destiny.  I have foreseen this myself.  The tools of God are the ancient relics of Grandfather whom some describe as God Himself.  These would be the Crown of Stars, the Hammer of God, the Celestial Dragon, and the Orb of Essence.  Ged will use these, I believe, to remake the very stars into a new and better Empire.”

Ged sighed.  “That’s a lot to ask of a simple hunter.”

“You will do it, I have seen.”

Tara slipped her hand into Ged’s and smiled up at him shyly, more like a teenager now than when Ged first met her.  He felt uncomfortable, thinking of what they’d already done together.  She was still very much a young girl.  Still, he couldn’t make himself let go of her soft and delicate hand.

They entered a wide and much-traveled stone footpath into the middle of the Undercity.  Many cave men and women were already there, going about stone-age business.  A billboard advertised the big Rock-ball game on Monday night, and another mentioned Stone Cold Cola in glowing terms.

“What will you teach me about being a Psion?” Ged asked morosely.

“I can’t teach you much.  You are already a Master of Shape-changing.  You can control cellular regeneration.  That power alone will make you immortal as long as your brain doesn’t die.  Your power as a hunter will also make you formidable.  And Tara telepathically gifted you with most of the instincts you didn’t already have.  If you know enough about a creature, if you can read its DNA, then you can become that creature.  Unlike most who can change shape, you are not limited by your size.  You can change into things both larger and smaller than yourself.”

“How do you know this?” Ged asked, puzzled and irritated.  “Is it by your vision?”

“Oh, no.  I can also read your mind.”

Ged looked violated and perturbed.  He had not even sensed another’s presence in his head.

“Don’t be offended, my son,” said Tkriashav soothingly.  “It is not as intimate a reading as Tara did.  You still have secrets that I will not violate.  I am as strong a telepath as you are a shape-changer.  I can even read the Nebulon boy, and he’s going to be a very powerful telepath with tutoring.”

Ged looked at the naked blue child clinging to Ham’s reluctant hand.  “What can you tell me about the two Nebulons?” he asked.

“The Princess has a very important father.  He will not be pleased with the boy, a child caused by abuse as a prisoner in the Imperium.  His father was a Galtorrian-fusion bully.  The boy as yet has no name.  What he does have is psionic ability, and a strong connection to your future as the White Spider.”

Ham, on hearing this, stroked the boy’s bright yellow hair with a loving, sympathetic touch.  “What’s the Princess’ name?” Ham asked.

“In her language, she will now be called the Madonna.  She is mother to a fatherless boy.  The name is Inouijuc.  She is very much in love with you Ham.  She believes she owes her life to you, Trav, and Ged.”

“Princess Inouijuc,” said Ham, “What shall we name our boy here?”  Ham put a hand on the blue child’s soft shoulder.

“Hamfast Aero Junior,” said the Madonna clearly and without hesitation.

Ham blushed.  Then he smiled.  He didn’t say another word or protest the decision.  Ged also smiled.  He couldn’t help hoping that Ham decided to settle down with this pretty blue princess.

Ahead of the party, a row of raptor riders lined themselves up across the road.  Nine of them.  The riders were armed with stone-flingers and spears.

“What do you want, Goober?” Bam-Bam Salongi asked of the beady-eyed leader.

“We mean to help you and your friends, Bam-Bam,” Goober Slaghoople answered the silver-haired caveman.  “A friend of mine witnessed the death of Rocko Slaghoople.  That other group after the Hammer is evil and foul.  They must not have the thing.”

“We welcome your help,” said Tkriashav.  “As Rocko’s nephew and only living male relative…”

“I am now leader of Don’t Go Here! Yes,” proclaimed Goober Slaghoople.

“We are honored to have your help,” added Ged.  “My brother, Ham, and I are the new owners of the Don’t Go Here Space Port and the Grange Station.  We will be working with you from now on for the planet’s own good.”

“Don’t Go Here has a star port?” asked Goober Slaghoople, flabbergasted.

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Aeroquest… Canto 17

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Canto 17 – Wraiths and Pinwheels

      Trav was the kind of guy who easily gets led by the nose if a pretty woman decides she wants him to do something for her.  Dana Cole with her strawberry-blond hair and luminous blue eyes was perfect in the role of that kind of woman.  She got Trav from Flintstone land into the clutches of the dangerous and powerful Synthezoid, Sorcerer 3.  She got him to reveal the location of the Crown of Stars.  She led him by the nose to Sorcerer 3’s hidden starship in a back alley of a slum in the outskirts of Bedrock.

“We will help Sorcerer 3 by giving him the Crown of Stars, and then he will help us get the Hammer of God,” said Dana in Trav’s ear.

“Sounds good,” said Trav, nodding his doody-head stupidly.

“You know,” said the artificial man with a bright electrical spark orbiting his head, “The Crown really belongs to us anyway, since it was stolen from one of our starships at Mingo Downport.”

“Oh, well… ah…ah,” stuttered Trav, “It was actually Tron’s idea.  I’d never heard of Ancient artifacts before that.”

“Yes,” hissed the Synthezoid with a red spark in his pupil-less eyes, “we forgive you for that.”

The spaceship, hidden behind piles of trash cans, was a sleek black merchant clipper, built for traveling fast in the outer darkness and well-defended from pirates with an impressive weapons array.

Sorcerer 3 turned to face Rocko Slaghoople and his two goons, Thing and Thog.  “You know I don’t have room enough for the three of you in this ship.  You told me where to find the Hammer of God, and I need to make sure no one else finds out where it is.  I think it’s time I gave you your rightful reward as we discussed.

“Uh… Thank you,” said Rocko stupidly.

“How nice!  I rarely get thanked for this kind of service!”  He plucked an illegal Skortch Raygun out of his robe and popped the beam three times, once into the head of each of the three cavemen.  All three of them disintegrated with looks of ignorant surprise on their faces.

Trav was a great fan of extremely destructive weapons.  He recognized the weapon for what it was.

“Ooh!  Can I see that Skortch Ray?  I’ve always wanted one of those.  You do know they are illegal in the Galtorr Imperium?”

“Yes, Trav.  I know about Skortch Rays.  They come from a time when only the Telleron Frog People of the Planet Telleri could travel faster than light and that at a very slow pace.  You may not see it just now, however.   We are in a hurry.  I promise to show you exactly how it works after we have retrieved the Crown of Stars.”

“Well!  Let’s get there then, old Jester!”

The sleek black craft was up and out of the planetary gravity well in a matter of minutes.  It effortlessly pulled itself into docking range with the rebuilt space station.

“I’m impressed by what you did with the place in the short time you’ve been here,” said Sorcerer 3.

“Oh, I didn’t do much.  I got Frieda to do it for me!”

“Hmmm, tell me more about your invisible friend Frieda.”

“Oh, well, I…”

Suddenly they realized that the newly opened starport was surrounded by Pinwheel Corsairs.  Now, a Pinwheel Corsair is a deadly fighting vessel.  Each of the spinning pinwheel arms rotating around the cockpit bore a large, ship-to-ship laser.  The green beams could bore a hole in the side of its victims large enough to fly into, and boarding parties could deploy in vacuum suits.  The only defenses against pinwheel lasers were really thick ablative coatings that evaporated as they absorbed the laser fire, and really large sand-casters that could cloud space with opaque bits to block the rays.  Neither defense would work after the first couple of hits.

“So, Trav,” came the familiar voice over the commo system, “this is where you and the Aeros leaped to?”

“Ah!  Tron, old Jester!  I am so happy to see you here.”  Trav put on the view screen before Dana or Sorcerer could stop him.  The one-eyed face of Tron and the beautiful face of Maggie the Knife glared down at them.  “This is my new playmate, Sorcerer 3, and my girlfriend Dana Cole.”

Tron lifted an eyebrow at the sight of Trav’s new friends.  “You again!” He sighed.  “Goofy, you are playing with the worst kind of fire.”

“And you’re too near the dynamite, love,” added Maggie.

Three pinwheels opened up on the sleek black space clipper.  The boring beams came down from three different angles, blazing bright green light and deadly heat.  Then, by some miracle of technology, the skin of the black clipper absorbed it like a bikini babe soaks up sunlight on the beach.

“Hey, cool!” said Trav.  “How did you do that?  We should be dead by now.”

“Ah, no,” growled Sorcerer 3.  “Tron Blastarr is the one who needs to sweat now!”

Forty black ships materialized out of nowhere.  Wraith Corsairs!  They de-cloaked on cue and took Tron’s pirates by surprise.  Three pinwheels were blasted into debris and dust in seconds, before they could react.  Tron himself was moving from the moment he first spotted Sorcerer 3.  There was no better pilot than Tron Blastarr.  He immediately began taking the wraiths to school.

“Why don’t you just die, Tron?” said Sorcerer with a sneer.

“It’s still your turn, Sorcie, old buddy!” Tron growled back.

The battle had only just begun.

 

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Aeroquest… Adagio 5

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Adagio 5 – Psion Society

     Now, I told you before that I wasn’t a Psion myself.  I, Professor Googol Marou, expert on practically everything, must rely on testimony and speculation to tell you about the Psions themselves.  Strange people they are, with unnatural powers.  Oooh!  Spooky!  It’s little wonder the Galtorr Imperium was so deathly afraid of them.  Still, I suspect that Grand Admiral Brona Tang of the Imperium was himself a Psion, him and all of his clones.  So, I believe that the Imperium only feared Psions they couldn’t control.  It turns out that Ged and Ham were not the only ones to seek escape from persecution of Psions by leaping outside of known space.  It seems it had been going on for so long that an entire Psion Empire had blossomed in the stars just beyond the Imperial Border.

Of the nine billion people living on the planet Don’t Go Here, only a handful were Psions.  The few I came to know well seemed to originate from the cavern-world beneath the surface of the planet that bore more than two thirds of the dense population of the planet.

Most of the Psions in our galaxy lived on the worlds of Zanatas and Zarane in the Phoebus IV Star System.  It was a good 40 light years beyond Don’t Go Here in the Unknown Regions.  It took at least 10 Jumps in space to get there with a good starship, and the Don’t Go Hereians had no ships at all.  The Psion Colony Worlds were Tfriash, Kvarii VI, and Rhaskoo.  All three worlds were many light years further away.  You may have noticed that they are also hard to say.  They seemed to have a thing for names with too few vowels in them. Kinda like Poles and Czechs, I suppose.

So the fact that Don’t Go Here had a Psion Master living on it was nothing short of a miracle.  The thing is, though, that Tkriashav was himself capable of telepathy, teleportation, and clairvoyance.  He had been anticipating Ged Aero’s arrival on Don’t Go Here since well before he found himself marooned upon the planet.

I like Tkriashav.  I count him as a friend of mine.  But I find him creepy in many ways.  It is very unsettling to be around someone who can, in a sudden flash of insight, at any moment reveal to you the manner and place of your death.  Oooh!  Spooky again!  Some things I really wish I didn’t know.

Tkriashav had been the mentor and teacher of several Psions as he lived on the planet Don’t Go Here.  He had brought his sister’s family along on the space voyage that had resulted in his being marooned on the planet.  Young Friashquazatl, Freddie they called him, was a shape-changer like Ged.  He was Tkriashav’s nephew and Tkriashav had raised him since he was an infant, teaching him to control his power.

Tara Salongi, the beautiful girl who saved Ged’s life the first time he completely transformed into another species, was a gifted telepath.  Tkriashav had taught her how to use her mind power to heal and to help.  She was probably the one student he was proudest of.  Bam-Bam Salongi’s only daughter was destined to be one of the most important Psions in the history of known space.  That should raise some tremendous expectations in your humble imaginations.

The Psions themselves were only about two percent of the population of their own empire, but their planets were fertile and heavily populated.  A large number of people with mind powers were available there to accomplish things that ordinary people could only dream of doing.  Therefore, one has to conclude that Ged Aero was not only the right man on the right planet at the right time, but gifted with the right powers and teaching skills as well.  Teaching skills, you say?  Yes, he was a scout, a hunter, a spacer, and a psion before he met Tkriashav.  But after meeting him, he became the most important teacher in all of known space.

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Aeroquest… Canto 14

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Canto 14 – Sorcerer 3

 

Trav thought this Dana Cole girl was hot stuff.  She seemed to like him.  She talked nice to him.  She made him feel at home in Slaghoople Manor.  She looked really sexy in a fake fur bikini.

“So,” she said, “your name is Trav Dalgoda and you seek the fabled Hammer of God.  Why do you seek it here?”

Trav slouched back comfortably on the synthetic rock sofa.  “My friend Frieda told me it was here.”

“Who is this Frieda?”

“Oh, she was my invisible friend in third grade at school on the planet Questor.  No one else could see her, but she was always nice to me.”

Dana took his hand and slipped an electronic ring on his finger.

“What’s this, then?”

“That is a little something to help me get to know you,” she said.  “Now, you say this friend was invisible?  Did others think you were crazy?”

“Well, yes.  Actually, I sometimes thought I was crazy myself.  It’s hard to believe anyone as handsome as me could be as truly wonderful as I tend to be.”

“He speaks truthfully,” said a tiny voice from the ring on Trav’s finger.  “At least he believes it is so.”

“How interesting,” said Dana.  “I know a man named Count Appleby that you must meet some day.”

“Is he wonderful too?”

“Oh, yes.  He believes he’s the reincarnation of Napoleon.”

“Who would that be?”

“Didn’t you study ancient history back on the planet Questor?”

“Oh!  Well, I…  You know, sometimes there isn’t enough time for study when you’re growing up to become one of the most important men in the Milky Way!”

“He is now untruthful,” said the ring.

“Well, isn’t that something!” marveled Trav, ogling the talking ring.

“Here comes the boss,” said Dana in a purr of dark intent.

“Oh, good!” said Trav.

Rocko Slaghoople was a balding, but massively-muscled cave man who looked quite dangerous.  His brutish face had but one thick eyebrow across his beady-eyed visage.  His powerful arms looked like they were dragging on the floor.  His arms seemed even longer than his legs.

Traveling next to Rocko on metal legs came a white-robed Synthezoid, or artificial man.  His soulless white eyes had no pupils and his head came to a point like some kind of conehead.

“Hello, boss,” said Dana Cole.

“Hello, my beauty,” answered the Synthezoid.

“Hello, Mr. Rocko,” said Trav.  “I understand that you might know something about the Hammer of God.”

“Whu…?” grunted Slaghoople.

“The Hammer of God!  The Ancient artifact!  Everyone says you’re the man to see about such things.”  Trav’s voice cracked with sudden desperation.

Rocko looked stupidly at the Synthezoid.

“Yes,” said the artificial man, “and my intel claims that you know something about the Crown of Stars.  Weren’t you with the infamous Tron Blastarr when he stole it?”

“Well, I…”

“I am even told that you came away with the item.”

“Who… who are you?”

“I am called Sorcerer 3, and I am your new partner in this little quest.”

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Aeroquest… Canto 11

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Canto 11 – Planet of the Cave Man

      The planet itself was smaller than Earth, but possessed a lot more land space.  Its oceans were limited to five vast and separate land-locked lakes.  Vegetation was remarkably sparse, but what grew was tenacious and very much alive.  What truly shocked the brothers, though, were the scan signs of over nine billion humans living on the surface and in vast caverns. This was a frontier planet with no record of being developed by the Galtorr Imperium or any of its predecessors.  So how did they get there?

“Are we detected yet?” asked Ham nervously.

Ged looked over the scan and signal data on the commo screen.  “I get no scans, beams, or even radar from them.  There’s electricity of a sort, but nothing to indicate tracking or weapons ability.  It’s low tech.”

“Are we sure they are human?”

“Definitely human, but Nebulons register as humans too.”  Ged looked over at the Nebulon Princess as she sat looking admiringly at Ham.

“I think I moight know where they be from,” said Sinbadh.

“Oh,” said Ged sarcastically.  “What do you know?”

“They be marooned ones from Stardog raids.  It’s been a right while, it has, but this planet used to get lots of use from them Stardogs.  Treasure buried here too, I’ll wager.”

“You can’t tell me the Stardog Corsairs captured that many ships!”  Ged was on the verge of anger.

“Nay.  But they was men, women, an’ children got left here.  They’d no choice but to colonize.”

“Where do you want to set down, Ged?” Ham asked.

“Out of sight of the nearest community, I’d say,” Ged answered.  He didn’t fancy being met by an angry mob, or even a worshipful mob.  Mob was not a good word for planet arrival.

“Okay, I have the spot.”  Ham settled the sleek safari craft down in a clearing amongst the strange gray trees that made up the brittle and somewhat spiky jungle.  Ged put on a light set of harsh environment armor and dismounted through the underbelly portal in the nose of the Leaping Shadowcat.

Sinbadh picked up a set of laser pistols and headed out after Ged.  Ham brought up the rear with the Princess and her small son right on his heel.  He normally took the back on a hunting expedition, but he wasn’t used to this kind of attention from a pretty humanoid female.

Ged’s nose changed imperceptibly as he started tracking.  The tingling he felt there meant he was transforming it into something akin to Sinbadh’s nose.  The scent pictures it was taking in began to appear in Ged’s inner eye.

“We are on a strange trail,” Ged announced.  “Two humans and a Dion-raptor.”

“How could there be a Dionysus dinosaur out here?” asked Ham.  “I hated those things back on the jungle safaris to Dionysus.  I don’t want to tangle with them here!”

“Well,” chided Ged. “It’s here plain enough.  You’ll just have to be prepared to scream like a little girl again and work on your tree-climbing.”

Sinbadh laughed his growly canine laugh at Ged’s slammer.  Ged smiled at the wolfman for the first time.

Over the next rise, they came upon the trio Ged had scented.  It was a young human male with no clothing but a fake fur loin cover and an even younger human female with a fake fur bikini and plastic bone in her hair.  They were riding on the back of a large dinosaur predator, perfectly at ease riding bareback on their meat-eating friend.

Ged knew the raptor species well.  He had hunted them on the jungle planet of Dionysus.  They lived there in a loose symbiotic relationship with the humans and the dinosaurian humanoids called the Dions that populated that jungle world.  These creatures were smart enough to operate machinery and even communicate in a limited sort of sign language.  They also turned rogue fairly easily and developed a taste for Dion flesh or even man flesh.

“Do we hail?” asked Ham in sign.

“Yes,” said Ged.  He stood up from where he had been crouching behind a bush.  “Hey!  You there!  Can we talk to you?”

The boy and the girl both looked at Ged and smiled.  The raptor licked its toothy smile with a snaky tongue.

“My name is Fred3576 Flintstone,” said the boy.  “This is my girlfriend Wilma456.  And this is our dog, Dino6478. We’ve never seen anyone that wasn’t from Bedrock before!”

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