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Stardusters… Canto 63

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Canto Sixty-Three – Harmony’s Response Team Assembly Area

Almost as soon as the crash woke Harmony Castille’s team of warriors, the old girl was immediately busy with setting up a response team in the area of the crash hole opened up by the collision between space cruiser and dome.

“Studpopper, you take point like I taught you.  You are a good boy and you know how to do the job effectively if you just remember what I taught you.”

“Yes, ma’am, Miss Harmony, ma’am.  I won’t forget what you taught me not to forget in the heat of battle against an enemy that wants to eat me.  I shall certainly remember what you taught me because you are such a good teacher, Miss Harmony, ma’am.”

“Studpopper?”

“Yes, ma’am, Miss Harmony, ma’am?”

“You are remembering the rule about addressing your leaders respectfully.  You are doing that really well, like a good boy.  But you’ve forgotten how to take the point, haven’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am, Miss Harmony, ma’am.”

“You sneak quietly into that hole in the wall and look for the enemy.  When you spot them, you signal us, and we set an ambush for them.”

“Oh, yes.  Thank you, ma’am, Miss Harmony…”

“And, Studpopper?”

“Yes, ma’am…?

“If you forget again the enemy will kill you.  And if they don’t… I will.”

“Yes, ma’am, Miss Harmony ma’am!”  Studpopper saluted smartly just the way the old church lady had taught him.  “You are such a good teacher, ma’am!”

The beautiful Harmony Castile chuckled to herself as the soldier tiptoed quietly into the breach in the wall of the bio dome.  Mere moments later, Studpopper’s hand was signaling that someone was coming.

Silently Harmony signaled Shalar and her other men into position for an ambush.

Senator Tedhkruhz and his remaining elite Galtorrian Guard came marching through the hole, confident in their invincibility.  He pulled his men up short and the gloating smirk evaporated from his face.  The artificial lights of the bio dome glinted off the barrels of six Telleron skortch pistols.

“What have we here?” the evil lizard-man Senator croaked.

“You would be this evil lizard Senator Toadface we have heard so much about, wouldn’t you?”  Harmony’s smile was the cold, calculating smile of the experienced Sunday school teacher who knew for certain she had the young sinner right where she wanted him.

“Senator Tedhkruhz, if you please, Miss Monkeylady.”

“I’m sure I said Senator Toadface.  Did I not pronounce it correctly?”

“I am here to make certain that life on this planet ends with its preordained conclusion.”

“Over my dead body, Toadface.”

“I am certain that is precisely what I had planned,” he said as he stepped back and his lizard-men raised their slug-throwers to fire.  “Shoot now, men!” he roared.

There was an electric blaze of skortch-pistol fire, a few random gun-thing noises, and then a whole lot of sparking and fizzing as skortched lizard-men turned into powder and foul smelling gasses released by their disintegration.

“Did we get them all?” Shalar asked as the gas and smoke began to clear.

“I don’t see any remaining lizard-guys.” Harmony nodded at her men, satisfied.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, ma’am, Miss Harmony, ma’am,” Studpopper offered from his position on point, “But I saw the Senator slip out again through the hole in the wall.

“So he escaped after all?” Shalar asked.

“Dang it all to heck!” Harmony swore with language that pushed the limit of how brutally an Iowa church lady could ethically swear.

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Stardusters… Canto 62

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Canto Sixty-Two – In Lester’s Flower Garden

Sizzahl came running into the Arboretum as fast as her feet would work.  She slammed the door behind her.  Lester and Brekka both looked up startled.  Lester’s two extra heads also looked, as did sixty-five buds whom Lester had started growing to feed his/her friends and provide more plant-people as well.

“What’s the matter, Sizzahl?” asked Brekka trying to rub sleep out of her eyes.

“Uncle Makk is trying to kill me.”

“Oh, yes!  That reminds me.  Lester told me that he was a clone with robot programming.  I meant to tell you all about it.”

“Thanks, Brekka.  That definitely would’ve been useful to know a bit sooner.”  Sizzahl was smiling a grim, determined smile.

“What do you want me to do now, Sizzahl?  Lester said I should eat Makkhain myself.”

“Ah, please don’t do that, Brekka.”

“Yeah, good.  Thank you.  But maybe Lester can help by eating him for me.”

“Um, no.  I love him, even if he isn’t really my uncle.  I may let him win and destroy this planet.  Maybe he and the other Galtorrians are right.  Maybe we don’t deserve to live.  Maybe this planet needs to be rid of us.”

At that moment Alden and Gracie came in through a door that led to the sleeping nests.  Both of them were nude again, but both were breathing hard and looked determined.  Both had obviously heard what Sizzahl had just told Brekka.

“No, Sizzahl.  You won’t let the bad guys win.  You have to fight for what is good.  You are good, and we love you.”  After gasping out her impassioned speech, Gracie bent over and grabbed her knees.  She seemed a bit short of air.

Alden, also breathing like he’d run a marathon, didn’t say a word until he had reached Sizzahl and put both arms around her neck.  He hugged her.

“You are like a daughter to us.  You even made more children for us.  You have to be here to help us raise them.”

Sizzahl wept.  She hugged Alden fiercely.  And Gracie came to them both to put her arms around both and turn it into a family group hug.

“Together.  We belong here more than we ever belonged on Earth.  We stand together for whatever comes next,” said Gracie.

Brekka felt Lester wrap a leaf around her as if he or she or it was also giving a hug.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 62

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Canto Sixty-Two – The Morrells’ Sleeping Nest

The wall collapsed onto the soft edge of the sleeping nest and Alden leaped to pull Gracie out of harm’s way and over the far side.  It took a moment for Alden to both realize and regret that both he and Gracie were stark naked yet again, and their clothing now buried on the rubble-strewn side of the nest.  Alden was sure he was being punished now for improper thoughts and actions.  After all, Gracie, his wife was just a child in her physical form.

The ruptured surface of the space ship that had plowed through the wall now vomited forth three disoriented and unpleasant lizard-men warriors.

“Look!” said one of the lizard-men.  “Those are Earther children!  We can eat them!”

Alden surveyed the destroyed room.  There was a way out through the door by which they had entered the room hours ago.  There was also a large opening into a room beside and below the nest chamber that had been created by what was obviously a crashing space ship.

“Where did you come from?  What are you doing here?”  Alden asked.

“We need to get out of here, Alden,” said Gracie, trying to pull Alden toward the door.

“Where?  Where did you come from!” shouted Alden.

“We are Senator Tedhkruhz’s elite warriors, here to put an end to the useless machinations of scientists.”

“Yes, we have to put a stop to the stupid efforts to use science to try to change the inevitable outcome of this Great War!” another lizard-man shouted back.

“Do you want your world to end?” Alden asked.

“We don’t want it to end… but since it is ending anyway, we are going to be the ones who end it.”

“That’s a sort of victory, isn’t it?” asked another lizard-man.

“You are insane!” Alden shouted.  “You are destroying yourselves and you don’t need to.”

“You are food for us, and we are starving,” yelled the first lizard-man who now brandished a pair of sharp daggers.

“Please, Alden!  Let’s go!” cried Gracie, trying to pull him towards the door.

Alden pulled back, pulling her towards the hole in the floor.

The doorway crashed open and suddenly a furious Senator Makkhain was standing in the room.

“Senator!” cried Gracie, “Save us!”

Makkhain turned to the lizard men angrily.  “Get those two Skoog monkeys now!  If they make it out of here alive, I will kill you myself!”

Alden wasn’t sure how he had known where he and Gracie needed to be, but they were now close enough to the hole in the floor to swing down into the darkness below, a couple of naked children… or Skoog monkeys… or whatever the heck they were now.

“Kill them yourself, traitor!” Alden roared.  He pulled his beloved Gracie down through the dark hole in the floor.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 61

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Canto Sixty-One – Sizzahl’s Primary Laboratory

Sizzahl awoke suddenly as a large chunk of metal crashed down from the ceiling above.  The Bio Dome shook with the shockwaves of some massive crash above the lab.

“That will be Senator Tedhkruhz,” said Makkhain calmly.  “He has come to put an end to all of us.”

“We can’t let him destroy the control systems in this building, Uncle Makk.  They can repair the planet’s atmosphere if they keep running, but we are all doomed if they don’t.”

“Maybe you didn’t understand me earlier, my love,” said Makkhain, “we have reached the point where this world is doomed.  It is the end of everything.  The Senate decided the world should end before we ever went to war.  We have reached the end times.”

Sizzahl looked at him through horror-filled eyes.  “You are not my Uncle Makk!”

“No, I haven’t really been him for some time now.  But I have enough of his genetics and enough of his real original memories to know that I love you and regret that I must kill you now.”

“What?  Why?”

Makkhain pulled out a knife and a small slug-thrower.  He smiled as he moved sinisterly towards Sizzahl.  “Because my master, Senator Tedhkruhz, commands it.  We were supposed to conduct a simple mop-up operation here.  No one knew that General Gohmurt had failed to kill all of your family and scientific minions.”

“No!  It can’t be.”  Sizzahl’s face was dripping with oozing tears.  She had never believed that she could be made to cry before that moment, but here was her fake Uncle proving her completely wrong.

“I will make your death swift and painless, little one.  I am not without feelings for you.”

Makkhain raised the slug-thrower and fired at her as Sizzahl twisted the buckle on her belt.  The bullet stopped in mid-flight and clattered harmlessly to the floor.

“Wha… what magic is this?”

“It’s Science,” said the weeping Sizzahl.

“What sort of Science?”

“The Telleron kind…  I guess I owe Mrs. Castille for forcing me to wear this uncomfortable Telleron jump suit.  It has a force field built in.”

“A force what?”

“Those frog people are at a higher tech level than we are… even higher than the Earthers are.  And they are more generous and thoughtful than we are.  They have no stake in this planet, yet they have only tried to help me save it.”

“Come closer to me, dear,” said the false Makkhain.  “Show me this magic armor you wear.”

Sizzahl turned her face away from her uncle.  Of course, if he grabbed her with his hand he might be able to kill her with the knife.  So, she turned the dial on the belt buckle further.  She shimmered for a moment and then completely disappeared from view.

“You know, Sizzahl, I can still find you.  I have legendary tracking skills.”

“The real Makkhain did,” she said as she invisibly dashed out of the lab, “but you are definitely not him.”

*****

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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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