by Andy Heizeler
“I completely get it!” said Creon, holding the holy book of the Relativist Universalist Non-church. He was standing in the cargo bay of the Tachyon Valkyrie which was currently decorated with long banners hanging down from the crosswalks. Each one bore a giant red question mark inside of a circle. At the far end of the bay sat a golden, six armed statue with a different religious symbol in each hand.
“Creon, it’s two fancy covers separated by thousands of blank pages,” said Dean, annoyed. He was busy polishing the synthetic gold finish on the statue.
“I know! It’s brilliant!” murmured the ex-mercenary, wandering off towards the mess lounge in his tailored white robes.
Arc came down the stairs into the cargo bay moments later, dressed similar to Creon and Dean. Everyone’s robes bore the question mark symbol of the RUN.
“We’re entering the combat sector; we should run into one of their patrols in a few minutes,” said Arc, glancing up from his telepad.
“Excellent. How’s the Captain’s disguise coming?” asked Dean, standing back from his polishing job to admire the shine on the statue’s belly.
“Just fine I’d say,” said Captain Sedona strolling into the cargo bay wearing jeans, a light blouse and carrying a quantum transmission rated camera. On her head she wore a baseball cap with the blue GNN logo. Her hair was in pony tail and spilled out of the back of the cap playfully. Dean turned around and smiled.
“You look fantastic! I’d be willing to chuck my vows of celibacy if you wanted to drop your professional ethics, my dear reporter,” said Dean.
The Captain chuckled and patted him on the cheek.
“Professional ethics? Don’t you mean my standards?”
“Oh? Where were your standards on the night after the Neo Athens job?” asked Dean
“Obviously missing along with my ability to count the number of drinks I had that night,” she said playfully before whistling at the cargo bay.
“I haven’t seen the Valkyrie this clean since, well, ever.”
“You're welcome Captain,” said Dean, bowing. Arc nudged him.
“Ah hem, thanks to all of us of course. Speaking of which we should be getting a call soon, is Cloey ready?”
Arc nodded distractedly, looking at his Telepad in confusion. “Yea, she looks great,” he punched a button. “Hey, I think we have company but even with the new scanners it’s fuzzy. Best guess says ‘stealth recon’ ship of some sort.”
“We’ll be in the cockpit,” said Captain Sedona, grabbing Dean’s arm. He marveled at the soft swish of the air recyclers now that they had been revamped, along with nearly every other system and component on the aging ship. Just as they reached the cockpit, the new communications display lit up. Dean flipped the switch.
“Unidentified vessel, this is the Post Martian Federation Scout Ship Syrtis. You have entered restricted space, transmit your identification codes at once,” said a voice that sounded too close to puberty to be flying a space craft. Dean smiled piously and toggled the switch to transmit.
“Scout Ship Syrtis, this is the Humanitarian relief vessel Archetype. We are on a mission of mercy, and by intergalactic treaty you must let us pass,” said Dean sounding righteous.
The outside of the Valkyrie was freshly painted in brilliant white; a large red circle and question mark symbol on her side with ‘Archetype’ in bold crisp lettering along her thruster banks.
“Um, wait one Archetype, hold your current course and speed until I get back to you,” said the young pilot. Captain Sedona raised her voice to the intercom despite the fact that she no longer needed to.
“Steady as she goes, Arc.”
“On it, Captain. Cloey came up, she’s ready to go,” said the pilot from the cargo bay. Dean couldn’t wait to see what her “Priest and Priestess” look was going to be.
“Archetype this is Syrtis, proceed on course to quadrant zeta four. The Super-Cruiser Zarathustra will rendezvous and conduct a search of your vessel to check for compliance with regulation sixteen dash,” Dean pretended to listen to the rest while easing into the new pilot’s seat. It had once been aboard a luxury liner that had since upgraded. He tapped a few buttons and brought up the tactical display which projected onto the viewport windows.
Captain Sedona whistled low. “Look at that Dean. There are more ships out here getting ready to battle on one side than all the ships involved in the Dai-Kon war.”
“Yea, and that’s just the one’s we can see. How many factions do you think are involved now?”
“Check the quantum,” said the Captain.
Dean had to smile. He had been so used to getting quantum broadcasts only when they stopped on civilized planets that he had forgotten about the transceiver they had recently installed.
“You know, the Valkyrie is almost like a real ship now,” said Dean, switching on the device and searching through the news bits. Captain Sedona punched him in the arm for the remark.
“Ow. Check it out. We’ve got The Post Martian Federation allied with the Unified Corporate Star Nation. They’re opposed by our friends the Pure Human Coalition who’s in bed with Echelon and the sad remnants of the old Dai-Kon Empire. Every last one of them is claiming the prize but it looks like the PMF is currently in possession of the ball,” said Dean in his sports caster voice.
“Everybody who’s anybody except for the Greater Star Republic in other words. You were right Dean, this is going to be the worst battle in history,” said the Captain.
“I’m always right, I just rarely ever tell the truth. I would have placed bets on the winner but how to choose a planet that won’t get wiped out?” Dean asked disgustedly; switching off the quantum feed as they came into the vicinity of the Super Cruiser PMF Zarathustra.
The coming battle had been building for months, all centering around the planet they were currently headed for.
“Vessel claiming to be humanitarian relief, this is the PMF Zarathustra, synch to relative speed zero and prepare to be pulled into our inspection bay,” said a particularly rough voice. Arc had overheard the transmission and complied, as per their plan.
“I don’t like the ‘claiming’ in that, Dean,” said Captain Sedona. Dean grinned confidently.
“We’ve got them right where we want them, suspicious and ready to throw a whole ball of red tape at us,” he said without sarcasm, heading for the cargo bay. Captain Sedona followed, carrying her camera.
Cloey was standing regally in front of the confusing statue; her hair in blonde dreadlocks, her form most definitely female, but sporting a fu-man-chu goatee. Her robes contained every color of the rainbow in a swirl of tie-dye. Dean was delightedly impressed.
“Oneness is multiplicity my friends,” said Cloey happily. Dean nodded in approval. The boxes of relief-aid food and water were stacked neatly to one side, spaced optimally for inspection.
After a series of noises that indicated the Super Cruiser now had them in its inspection bay and had pressurized the same, Arc hit the sequence on his telepad to open the cargo bay ramp. Captain Sedona hoisted the camera up onto her shoulder as Creon, Dean and Arc stood stoically in preparation as if meeting a foreign delegation.
As soon as the ramp was down, a reddish orange and black uniformed Officer came marching up accompanied by no less than six armored sentries carrying assault pulsers. Several dozen more were waiting in the obnoxiously bright inspection bay, kneeling with weapons pointed up into the ‘Archetype’.
“I am Lieutenant Commander Julian. Who is in charge of this craft?” demanded the Officer. Cloey flowed forward in a swirl of color.
“I am High Priest and Priestess Cloey of the Relativist Universalist Non-Church, I am responsible for this blessed relief ship and it’s crew,” she said in a voice that could have belonged to a young man or woman. Julian was immediately confused and uncomfortable. He noticed the camera on Captain Sedona’s shoulder.
“What is that?” he asked, sounding dangerously official.
“That is the Galaxy, live via quantum wireless. Galactic News Network has been kind enough to accompany us on this mission to bring food and water to the people of Achivia Prime,” said Cloey expertly. Julian’s discomfort increased by orders of magnitude. He tugged on his uniform to make sure it was straight and lifted his chin.
“I see. You are aware that there are only four people down there, correct?” he asked, trying not to sound harsh. The Post Martian Federation did not need bad press, especially on the eve of such a tremendous war.
“To save one is to save all, to save four is even better,” said Cloey nonsensically. Creon looked as if he were about to cry in religious ecstasy at the perfection of her words.
“Right, well according to regulations we are required to search all items being transported to the surface of the planet. If you have any contraband we are granting a thirty second amnesty for you to admit to such, after which time said amnesty ends.”
“We are willing to comply in your efforts, insofar as it furthers the benefit of the people of Arcivia Prime. We have nothing to claim. We are most pleased to be dealing with the civilized military of the Post Martian Federation,” said Cloey warmly, implying that the other factions were less civilized and thereby giving a good bit of propaganda to the camera.
Julian set most of his men to opening the crates as two more came on board with long sweeper scanners. Dean’s heart rate jumped up at seeing those, and he looked to Cloey meaningfully. She raised an eyebrow disdainfully at the men holding the devices.
“You are free to use that technology on all parts of this vessel, but I object to them being brought near Lord-Buddha-Freyja-Vishnu,” said Cloey, indicating the rotund golden statue behind her. Julian was busy keeping his men from doing their usual job of tearing everything apart during an inspection and looked over his shoulder with growing annoyance.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, and err, sir, but regulation is regulation,” he said stiffly. The men with the scanners started towards the statue. Cloey put up her arms and the acolytes, Dean, Arc and Creon formed a human ring around their gaudy idol.
“No! If you scan Lord-Buddha-Freyja-Vishnu, you will steal His Ka, therefore keeping Her Ba forever separated! We would all bite down on our cyanide capsules before we would let that happen!” said Cloey defiantly, making a show of clenching her jaw. The acolytes followed suit. Captain Sedona was busy panning the camera between the suicidal Relativist Universalists and Lieutenant Commander Julian. Seeing a disaster on Galactic News caused by his rigid adherence to policy, Julian naturally panicked.
“Wait! Stop, no, it’s alright. Leave the, er, leave it alone. Scan the rest of the ship. The Post Martian Federation is tolerant of all religious paths,” said Julian soothingly.
Cloey stopped clenching, as did her followers but only after a squinty glare at the men with the scanners. The rest of the ship was searched; the lids returned to the boxes of food which was mostly rice, and Lieutenant Commander Julian was able to do a shout out to his family back home.
Once the cargo ramp was closed, everyone on the Valkyrie stared moving with extreme speed; tearing off robes, putting on battle armor, and getting ready for mayhem in general. The six arms of Lord-Buddha-Freyja-Vishnu were torn off, revealing assault pulsers, laser pistols and stunners. Everyone was armed in moments.
The Valkyrie left the inspection bay of the Zarathustra and softly decelerated towards the surface of Achivia Prime. The lifeless surface was brown and ugly with craters. It’s thin methane atmosphere presented no resistance to their decent.
In the center of what could be considered its northern hemisphere, a clear, geodesic dome was erected. After transmitting a series of codes given to them graciously by the Zarathustra, they were allowed to pass through the dual layer airlock at the zenith of the dome and land next to the tiny Library.
As soon as the loading ramp was down, Arc charged up to the front doors and yanked them open. Dean rushed through the opening with Cloey who was most definitely male now. Being an augmented polygender with the ability to change sex and appearance at will came in handy during situations like this. Cloey was now sporting large, intimidating biceps and wearing power armor. He fired his assault pulser into the ceiling with a loud series of ‘Pzehu-Pzehus’ accompanied by bright green flashes and falling plaster.
“Nobody runs away, nobody dies! Everyone on the ship outside!” Cloey yelled, his now deep voice filling the cavernous space of the Library's entrance. All four people who had been chatting near the central desk were now cowering in fear.
“Listen to the ape and no one get’s hurt! Let’s go people!” shouted Dean, pumping a phase grenade into the chamber on the under-barrel of his assault pulser for effect. All four librarians ran for their lives onto the ship where Captain Sedona quickly instructed them on binding each other with expanding double backed super tape.
Dean was now wearing a Post Martian Federation uniform with the rank of Private Second Class, in the event of disaster.
Creon wheeled the armless Lord-Buddha–Freyja-Vishnu statue into the Library on a dolly. As soon as it was down, Arc promptly twisted off its head and ran to the back wall where the interface to the massive computer complex underneath the library rested. He pulled a data cable from his pocket, plugged one end into a slot in the wall and the other into the third eye of the head. After a few quickly tapped commands on a touch screen, he gave Dean a thumbs up.
“Captain! The unabridged history of the Galaxy according to the Achivia computer is now being downloaded into our data sphere,” said Dean regally, feeling righteous. The Second Eternal Council of Galactic Powers had recently voted this particular version of history as the official history of all human occupied worlds, which made it insanely valuable. In Dean’s mind it didn’t justify the war which was about to be fought over it, but wars rarely ever made sense to him.
“You might want to tell Arc to hurry it up, we’ve got company!” Captain Sedona shouted, holding the telepad now with her back turned to the four librarians. They were helplessly struggling inside a growing ball of tape that had now fixed itself to the bulkhead.
“Arc, double time, they’re on to us!” This was exactly the disaster Dean was hoping he wasn’t going to have to deal with. Remembering to straighten his hat, he ran around the Valkyrie and posted himself before it and the Library. He could see a sleek orange and white recon shuttle coming down through the big airlock now. It touched down softly inside the pressurized dome only fifty meters away from where Dean stood. Little tufts of dust settled on its landing struts as the landing thrusters cut out. A ramp lowered from its side, disgorging two armored sentries who took up positions at its base. A pompous looking fellow with a rank that Dean guessed was somewhere around Commander or Captain, strode out of the craft with rigid haste.
Dean assumed the position of port arms and jutted his chin high. “Halt! Who goes there?”
“Commander Geller of the Destroyer Escort Avesta, who are you?” he asked incredulously. Behind him a gaggle of sentries piled up.
“Private Second Class Wederman, sir!” Dean barked back.
“Stand aside, son, we need to conduct a follow up investigation of these humanitarians.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that sir. In fact I have orders to shoot you if you try, sir!”
“Well I’m ordering you to stand aside private!” Geller was growing heated now, and the sentries looked confused.
“I’m afraid you don’t have the authority to do that, sir! I was given my orders by the office of the Fleet Admiral, sir!” Dean said with just the right touch of pride and respect. Commander Geller’s face turned red.
“You have orders not to let anyone pass? What about those humanitarians?” he asked slyly.
“Sir! I was told not to let any fleet personnel pass this line so as to ‘keep them from dorking up any of the works in there’ sir! The humanitarians were not fleet personnel, sir,” said Dean confidently.
“Private, in about ten seconds I’m going to go inspect those humanitarians. If you think you can shoot me you go ahead and do so!” shouted Gellar now.
Dean mustered up his courage. “Sir! I wouldn’t do that if I were you. My backside is covered by regulation and the orders of the Fleet Admiral. I doubt very much yours meets the same standard, sir!” said Dean staring up into the eyes of the man with stupid determination while charging his weapon menacingly.
The sentries nodded in approval. It wasn’t every day a private second class stood up to a commander in such a fashion. It was downright inspiring. Commander Gellar looked ready to fuse metal with the heat from his eyes.
“You could stand to learn a few things about military courtesy private! I’ll be back with my own orders from the Fleet Admiral! When I do come back you had better pray your shift is over!” shouted Gellar, turning on his heel and marching towards his recon shuttle. The sentries followed, with one giving him a thumbs up behind Gellar’s back before they loaded up.
As soon as the Recon Shuttle was through the airlock above, Dean ran for the Valkyrie, shouting.
“Time to go Arc! I’m all out of rabbits and hats!”
“I just need a few more minutes! We’re talking about a planet sized archive being compressed into a tiny sphere inside a creepy little head here!” screamed Arc back, shaking the head as if that would hurry it up or make his point.
Creon backed away from the belly of Lord-Buddha-Freyja-Vishnu after closing a small panel. He turned to Captain Sedona and nodded. She waved him onboard.
“Arc?” she asked. He looked back and shook his head. Dean came aboard and tossed Cloey his pulser while starting to take off the starchy orange shirt of the uniform.
“Nice work with the suspicious crowd, Dean,” said Captain Sedona. Dean leaned over her shoulder and looked at the telepad.
“Thanks, but it was a thin lie. It won’t take long for them to figure out none of their men were posted down here.”
It looked clear out there so far. He doubted that would last. Dean joined the others in watching Arc with the head. After what seemed an age of waiting, Arc yanked the plug out of the golden head and bolted for the ship. He tossed the head to Dean who handed it off to Cloey. Captain Sedona threw the telepad to Arc as he hit the ramp. He had the thrusters fired up and the ship lifting before it was even closed.
“Not good people, it looks like they’ve wised up,” said Arc nervously, staring at the gathering ships in high orbit. Captain Sedona made her decision.
“We’re going to have to jump from low orbit. Can you do it and still get us out of here alive?” she asked.
“As long as they shoot slow and we act fast, maybe. Whoever has the button needs to be on the ball, we won’t have a second shot at this. If we engage the Bohm drive with too many particles around us, whatever reintegrates at the destination won’t be pretty,” said Arc nervously. Creon handed a small cylinder with a button on one end to Dean, who nodded gravely. Cloey cradled the head of Lord-Buddha-Freyja-Vishnu and looked to the captain with worried eyes, female now.
“We’ve not died on a mission yet, I’ll be damned if we do it while doing the right thing!” said the pirate Captain. The Tachyon Valkyrie fired her main thrusters as she exited the airlock, climbing at a breakneck pace for the stars.
The Bohm Drive was cycling up but the ready status light was still dark. Thousands of ships in orbit armed their weapons systems and locked onto the suspicious target.
The ready status light blinked on, shining a live saving green. Arc looked to Dean. “Now,” he shouted.
Dean jammed his thumb down on the button. Back on the planet, in the entrance hall of the Library, the armless, headless golden body of Lord-Buddha-Freyja-Vishnu beeped loudly; nanoseconds before the R-20 Planet Killer bomb within him erupted in holy brilliance, consuming the world.
The Tachyon Valkyrie was shaken violently by the flash burn-off of the wispy atmosphere just before she jumped. The munitions of fleets passed through empty space into the afterimage of a planet that no longer existed.
# # #
“I still can’t believe we survived that,” said Dean amidst a shower of champagne in the cargo bay. Arc was spraying the bubbly from on top of Creon’s shoulders, music was booming from the intercom, and the tape ball of Librarians was too drunk to decide what planet they wanted to be dropped off on.
Cloey was dancing with the Creon and Arc stack while Dean and Captain Sedona slowly waltzed.
The burning atmosphere had scorched off all the exterior paint, leaving only shiny metal on the Tachyon Valkyrie which was now drifting on the far side of the Galaxy. The news had come over the wireless that without warning or reason, suicidal terrorists had blown up Achivia Prime. The Next Great Galactic War had ended before it had a chance to begin.
“Once we sell that head full of history, what are we going to do next?” asked Captain Sedona playfully. Dean breathed deeply of her lavender scented hair and sighed.
“Live happily ever after,” said Dean.