Isolde's Initiative -- Serialization of Novel by J.A. Taylor -- Third Installment
Interstellar News Flashes from Paldaar!
THE INTERSTELLAR COUNCIL POWERLESS! In the capital city of Riel, Deltan Governor Quillar walks out on the inquisition. This came as a surprise in the Great Hall after Lord Morgan of Baldaninus made an expected appearance, disrupting the Interrogator’s inquiry. The “terror” of Baldaninus—as he is known—stood with Lord Quillar, disputing the accusations, facing down the hostile audience in the gallery, and stated emphatically that the Interstellar Council had no right to get involved. The Uvalde-Minor/Delta-Linus Treaty of Reconciliation, the mining colony on Brigdaan was under the jurisdiction of Delta-Linus; thus, tying the hands of the Interstellar Council. This reporter can truly say, there is no justice in the galaxy as long as worlds like Delta-Linus can attack helpless societies with impunity!
THIS JUST IN! Sources say that despite the fiasco at Lord Quillar’s inquisition, Governor Ryholden requests Lady Cassia Isolde's presence on Uvalde-Minor as he petitions for membership with the Interstellar Council. Also, word from Alpha-Bynaurus hints of a similar invitation given to Chief Consul. Both father and daughter are soon to depart on their separate diplomatic missions.
Evil Crosses the Line
After casually boasting about his deadly militia--a highly-motivated assassination squad-- Quillar affords Morgan the opportunity to get rid of the Chief Consul when Isolde's mission to Alpha-Bynaurus becomes known. Morgan takes the offer to a new level--that of including the whole family.
Quillar, fearing repercussions and without Morgan's knowledge, arbitrarily decides to make the deaths of the Isoldes to appear as unrelated accidents; knowing their demises so close together would raise questions, he sets own plan in motion with a few alterations.
The Chief Consul will disappear somewhere in space, the sons will be easy targets for his assassins, and the sister shall receive his undivided attention.
But on Uvalde-Minor, fate prompts Damon Gyles to step between a squad the Deltan assassins and one of their targets.
In the ornate palatial surroundings of his living room on Baldaninus, Morgan stood before the open hearth, leaning at arm’s length against the mantle. For the past ten minutes, since Quillar’s arrival, he gazed into the flames, pensively stroking the hair around his lips and chin.
“Eidell Isolde has been the ache in the marrow of my bones for too long,” he said.
The Deltan lord, sitting in a high-backed chair, poured a steaming cup of jaide tea, shoveled two heaping spoonsful of white crystals into the cup, followed by a stream of amber Nectaria from a decanter on the serving cart.
Quillar placed the cup and saucer on a table beside him, making clinking sounds as he stirred the beverage. “The cure is quite simple,” the old Deltan said.
Morgan straightened with his back to the flames, and gave the Deltan an inquiring look.
Quillar lifted the spoon from the cup, tapped it on the rim, and laid it on the saucer. “You apply a blade thus…” Quillar gestured an assassin’s routine about his own throat. He lifted the cup to his lips, slurping it, and gave out a satiated sigh. “You should try this tea, Morgan. It is quite settling.”
Morgan smiled slightly and walked toward the serving cart—and then, he poured a cup of the hot liquid. “Indeed. Always with you, everything is simple.”
Quillar hurriedly took another sip. “You’ll also find a generous touch of Nectaria will lift your spirit.”
“At a time like this,” Morgan replied as he picked up the decanter, “I don’t think anything can.”
“Then perhaps you’ll find the latest news from Paldaar a bit more uplifting, shall we say?”
“And what could that be?” Morgan took a sip from his cup and returned to the warmth of the fireplace.
“The Chief Consul will be making a journey very soon…to Alpha-Bynaurus,” Quillar said.
In the middle of another sip, the corners of Morgan’s mouth turned up. “That is interesting.” He lowered the cup.
“Say the word.” Quillar extended his hands toward Morgan as if he were offering a gift. “Isolde’s head will be in your trophy case in no time.”
Morgan set his cup and saucer on the mantle, and then began to pace about in thought, again stroking his bearded chin. The Deltan was in mid-sip of his beverage when Morgan turned around to him. “What if I asked for…four?”
At Morgan’s words, the Deltan responded with a slight strangling cough. “F…four?”
“I detect some hesitation.” Morgan noticed Quillar’s scramble to put the cup on the table. “Do you have a problem with that?”
Quillar cleared his throat, and shook his head. “Of course not…but, do you think it wise…I mean, the entire family? Questions would be raised.”
Morgan had turned once again toward the flames in the hearth; and for a few moments, he stood as if in a hypnotic state. “It is not enough to sever the root. The branches must be purged as well, for the fruit they bear could be deadly.”
“But the whole family…all of them?”
Morgan looked around—Quillar’s appeal for reason had not fooled him. “It’s the young woman, isn’t it?”
Under Morgan’s intense gaze, Quillar shrugged, about to offer another opinion as Morgan gazed down into the cup held in his hand as if looking into a crystal ball. “She is too much like her father…a firebrand. She could ignite the entire galaxy, just as she has your desires. That is why they all must die. With the Isoldes eliminated, the galaxy will be ours. This entire matter requires your special talents.” Quillar rose to his feet. “Oh yes…one more thing. Remind Governor Frashure one last time that his son’s good health is still contingent on Alpha’s cooperation. Let him know I’m sorely displeased with his latest breach of trust.”
Quillar nodded, but his thoughts were running wild as he left Morgan’s presence. He had no qualms ordering the assassinations of Lord Eidell and the two brothers, but wasting such a beautiful woman…Who was Morgan trying to fool? You can’t just murder an entire family without there being repercussions. I’ll make them appear as accidents, yes, that’s it.
Roashaan, whether a moon or a small planetoid, was more than an insignificant off-world possession of Paldaar. Twenty years earlier, an exploration team set up the first research facility to study the climate and determine whether the surface could support human life. What they found was a breathable atmosphere, mild-to-moderate temperatures, and a veritable paradise for horticulturists and botanists. The soil was so rich with minerals that plants seemed to sprout overnight. Within two years, Roashaan was a thriving community of farmers producing endless varieties of vegetables and grains, most of which were exported to other planets. The resident botanists jokingly told their new colleagues, “When you drop a seed, step away quickly.”
Five months ago, when the harvests were reaching epic proportions, a plague of Jynesian beetles struck, followed by a mysterious blight. Some of the most analytical minds of Roashaan were working tirelessly to find a remedy.
Under Owen’s supervision, hard-working lab techs were striving to isolate numerous cultures. Owen, with a vid-com pad in hand, reviewed the work of one of his lab assistants and paid only passing interest in a couple of common field mechanics entering the lab with an anti-grav dolly bearing a rusted horticultural robot.
“Good work, Remi,” Owen said. “You may have found the answer we’re looking for. Go back and recheck the time each change took place. We need to support our findings before we can present our solution to Chief Torya Gavril at the staff meeting tomorrow.” Owen handed the vid-com back to him and the lab tech went back to his workstation.
“You Isolde?” a coarse voice spoke from behind him.
In the three weeks since his arrival on Roashaan, Owen deduced that anytime someone addressed him by his last name, his day was not going to fare well. He gave the inquirer a brief glance and went back to what he was doing. “Yes?”
“Where do you want it?” the man asked.
Looking from the vid-com that held his greater interest, Owen’s attention focused on the mud-encrusted machine. “You’re in the wrong lab. For that matter, the wrong wing.”
“The name’s Baycon, sir, Machinist First Class. If you’re Isolde, we’re in the right place.”
“We got this order from Chief Tech Guyon,” the other man said, holding out a vid-pad, “authorizing this repair. So, if you’ll just press your thumb here, we can get back to more important things, sir. So, where do you want it?”
“Well, Baycon” Owen replied.
“Yeggs, sir. Machinist Second Class.”
Owen looked up into the face of the strangers with an irritated sigh. He pressed his thumb to the small device. “I don’t recall seeing you around here before. This is a bio-research laboratory, not a machine shop.”
“But Chief Tech Guyon…” Yeggs stammered.
“Yes, yes. I heard you the first time. We must keep Guyon happy, mustn’t we?” Owen pointed to a workbench over in the corner of the room. “Very well, put it over there. I’ll get to it when I have the time.”
“Begging your pardon, sir,” Baycon said, “the order says immediate attention, not when you have the time, sir.” Owen noted the man’s sarcasm as he and his partner maneuvered the little machine to a spot on top of Owen’s designated workbench, and then detached the anti-grav.
Passing Owen on their way out, Yeggs and Baycon seemed to be sharing a private joke and let out a little chuckle. “Have a good day, sir.”
Owen, trying to ignore the curious gazes of ten lab techs, ended up instead giving each tech a hard frown, a signal for them to get back to their work. He tried to remain focused on the vid-com in his hand, but his eyes wandered from the experiment he was most interested in to the workbench nightmare demanding his immediate attention.
Resigned to the fact that his concentration on the project at hand was a total loss, Owen handed the vid-com to one of his assistants, and headed toward his workbench.
He stood a few moments examining the exterior of the little monstrosity and reached for a screwdriver. Owen was in the process of removing the access panel to the memory bank when Alec entered the lab, sidestepping the people who were too busy to notice him, finally arriving at Owen’s work area.
Owen mumbled under his breath. “And for this, I came to Roashaan.”
“Is there a problem, sir?” the android asked.
Owen tossed the access cover on the bench, and then looked up long enough to grab a small wrench. “Oh, there you are, Alec. So, tell me, how did the new ZBX-twenty-three work out?”
“Quite well, sir.” Alec watched Owen in fascination. “It completed the soil cultivation in less than half the time of the old Rycktar-thirteen. Chief Guyon is definitely pleased with it.”
“Good, the last thing I need right now is for Guyon to be displeased,” Owen said with sarcasm as he scraped inside the machine.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what seems to be the problem?”
“It appears to be dust build-up on most of the circuits and the servo-gears. Its main disk drive must have crashed. The poor, misguided thing didn’t have enough sense to get out of the rain.”
“The condensation bubble?” Alec asked.
“That’s what it looks like. Maybe I can blow the excess dust out. Hand me that pressurized air hose.”
Owen reached out with his free hand.
Alec placed the requested item in Owen’s hand. “Sir, I thought WD-eights were retired from service?”
“Apparently this one got overlooked.” Owen released air from the hose, ending up with a mud-splattered face. “Ugh-h-h!” Coughing, spitting, and rubbing his face and eyes, Owen straightened in anger and frustration, tossing the hose to the floor. “In spite of all my research qualifications, they’ve turned me into one of their all-purpose handymen!” I should have accepted that position at the academy that Corey offered, he thought. He reached for a cloth on the workbench and wiped a greasy substance from his hand. “I’m through with Guyon and his petty little projects!”
In utter exasperation, Owen forcefully tossed the cloth back onto the workbench and strode away to one of other lab workstations on the other side of the room. Alec lingered by the old machine scratching his head in curious thought until and Owen called, “Alec!”
Owen turned to an experiment and proceeded to analyze the results from another vid-com while a technician stood by him. Alec arrived at Owen’s location twenty feet away. Just as the android stepped directly between Owen and the corner workbench, an ear-splitting noise shook the room. Beakers and test tubes on the workstation counters and shelves exploded from the impact of the shock wave, and numerous other projectiles flew across the room. Flickering and dying lights stabilized when the facility’s emergency generator kicked in to restore power and the ventilation system began to pull smoke and fumes from the room.
By the time the smoke cleared, four technicians lay writhing in agony while others, shaken but unharmed, went to their aid. An alarm sounded throughout facility, and within moments, emergency med-tech teams arrived to help the evacuation. Owen awoke with Alec on top of him. Alec pushed himself up and got back on his feet.
The android reached down to help his shaken, disoriented master. Owen staggered backward as he stood up. “Are you all right, Alec?”
“I’m fine, sir, and you?”
Shaking shards of glass from his hair and dusting himself off, Owen felt a sharp stinging sensation from a minor cut on the upper part of his right forearm. “I’m fine.”
“That WD-eight was apparently more over the hill than we thought,” Alec said.
Chief Technician Guyon arrived and surveyed the disaster area while the remaining injured personnel limped from the lab. Fanning at smoke and dust still hovering in the air, he navigated his way through the rubble strewn about the floor and joined Owen at the site of what was once Owen’s personal workstation.
“What happened, Isolde…one of your little experiments gone awry?” Guyon asked sarcastically.
“On the contrary, Guyon, we have you to thank for all this.”
“Frankly, Isolde, humor has never been your strong suit. I would half-expect it out of this droid.”
“Android, sir,” Alec corrected, “You see, a droid…”
“Whatever.” Guyon wasn’t impressed by Alec’s attempt to define the difference. “Well, do I have to guess what happened in here?”
“An explosion, sir,” Alec said.
“Of course it was! Mind telling me how or what caused it?” Guyon turned to Owen with his hands on his hips.
“It was that WD-eight you sent in,” Owen answered.
“What WD-eight? WD-eights were phased out two years ago!” Guyon exclaimed.
As the coolness of twilight settled over Uvalde-Minor, rush hour shoppers crammed the street market and food pavilions for which Mallerneen was best known. Damon Gyles moved among them with the casual pace of a tourist. Ah, civilization…civilized food. Every day for the past three months, the Vrende nomads fed Damon a steadfast diet of Vrende sourdough cakes, desert scrub grubs, grantespomas, and oasis water peas. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate Vrende hospitality, he just craved food that didn’t remind him of his survival training days. The only deviation from the Vrende staples came the day Rufah stepped out of his tent fully recovered. In thanksgiving, the Vrende tribe threw a nomad community feast complete with a roasted desert boar and all the trimmings. Then, it was back to scrub grubs.
Pausing to inspect the offerings of a fruit stand, Damon picked up a luscious red orbus. He tossed a coin to the vendor, and then swiped the fruit against his shirt sleeve a few times before taking the biggest crunchy bite he could out of it. Not bad, he thought with each delectable chew. Certainly beats those Vrende grantepomas. Turning back to the vendor, he tossed another coin and grabbed another orbus from the pile, giving it a playful lob into the air and spreading the pocket of his shabby homespun Vrende robe to receive it.
Since his arrival in the noisy marketplace, the bickering between buyers and sellers was as much food to his ears as the red orbus was to his taste buds. Living among the Vrende was like being in a soundproof room. Like Rufah, they could hear but not speak. They had no problem understanding what Damon said, so Damon became a quick study in Vrende sign language.
Damon noticed that even in their day-to-day routine, the Vrende moved about making very little noise—a good skill for hunting, but not with a jumpy Deltan in their midst. On a couple of occasions, Damon, startled by a Vrende hand placed on his shoulder, went instinctively on the defensive. Fortunate for the Vrende, Damon reacted with a cool head. At Damon’s request, all the Vrende began wearing tiny ankle bells that would let him know when they came near. Although the situation had been remedied, the constant jingling took second place in the annoyance category to that of his hearing only one voice—his, day-in and day-out. Needless to say, the Vrende and I lived through it, he thought as he stopped at the booth of an ornaments dealer.
Hanging from wires draped from one post to another were strands of beaded necklaces, decorative shells arranged into intricate wind chimes, and bells. Damon stepped between the ornament dealer and the booth of a fabric merchant, out of the main flow of the marketing public. While examining the varieties and patterns of the wind chimes, he realized that he had boxed himself in on three sides, not an ideal situation for him since noting an unusual concentration of Deltans in Mallerneen. His only way out was the way he entered.
On his way back to the main walking area, a lovely, petite, auburn-haired young woman caught his eye as an over-exuberant silk merchant hawking his wares, refusing to let her pass, accosted her in the midway. She appeared to be in a hurry and kept straining to look around past the irritating man. Each time she tried to change her vantage point, the man stepped into her path blocking her line of vision, waving several fabric samples in her face. She was worried about something. She kept shaking her head, peering past the persistent vender as if looking for help. A woman in distress, for a change. Damon began weaving his way through the congested crowd toward her.
Just as he was close enough to hear her flat refusals, a young, dark-haired Paldaarean officer, who had fought his way through the crowd, emerged and forcibly shoved the annoying man aside. She seemed relieved when he took hold of her arm, and they strode off as one toward the spaceport. Damon stood watching the couple until they were out of sight, unaware that he had caused another blockage to the flow of marketers. As he turned to go in the opposite direction, his left shoulder brushed against a Deltan militiaman.
The Deltan didn’t give Damon a second glance, or an apology—not that Damon really wanted one. The soldier continued his stroll on toward the spaceport with his eyes fixed straight ahead. Damon took a precautionary glance back over his shoulder and decided the best thing to do would be to get out of sight of two more black and red uniformed men looking over the milling crowd in his direction. He slowly walked back toward the ornament booth and pretended to shop, all the while watching the approaching Deltans.
Still shaken by his physical encounter with the first Deltan, Damon slowly pulled the hood of his Vrende robe down to cover more of his face, hoping not to arouse suspicion. He was keeping a wary eye on the Deltans when the vendor barked, “You interested, or just looking?”
“What?” Damon said. “Oh…uh…how much?” He pointed a strand of tiny bells, while paying more attention to the Deltans.
“Fifteen darsis.” The man took them down and held them out to Damon. “You like?” The vendor noted Damon’s distraction, tugged on Damon’s sleeve, and at the same time, shook the annoying bells.
As the bells jingled, the Deltans glanced over toward the booth. “Sold!” Damon quickly snatched them from the vendor and dug into his pocket for three coins. “Keep the change.”
“Let me wrap them for you,” the vendor said.
Damon wadded the strand of bells and dropped them into his pocket. “No, this will do just fine,” he replied, checking on the Deltans again.
The Deltans were looking in the direction of the spaceport now; Damon started in the opposite direction until two more Deltans, weaving through the shopping crowd, seemed headed straight for him. He turned his back to the oncoming soldiers, tugged the hood down farther over his eyes, and fell in step with a Sasshaan nomad leading his heavy-laden woolly kammel, also headed toward the spaceport.
At the end of the street, the Sasshaan led his pack-beast to a watering trough and stood watch as the animal drank. Damon casually parked himself on the edge of the trough next to the kammel. Pushing the hood back, he caught his reflection in the pool. Up until now, he had no idea how grubby he had become. Three months without a shave or haircut…he turned his face from side-to-side until his nose detected a reeking odor. Sniffing at each of his armpits and pulling the front of his Vrende robe to his nose, he turned toward the hairy kammel beside him just as a stream of foul excrement spattered the ground and his boots.
He jumped aside, moving to the over side of the trough. With cupped hands, he dribbled some water to rinse off his boots, then leaning closer toward the water, scooped up a handful to wet his face and the back of his neck. It felt so cool and refreshing that he couldn’t resist dunking his head, face first, then rose back up, shaking his head slinging water in all directions. When the spray of water hit the kammel, it flinched and bellowed, and the Sasshaan stepped around the animal to investigate. Damon was wiping the excess water from his face and beard; when his eyes opened, the nomad was glaring at him.
“These are watering troughs,” the man said, “You are disturbing my beast.” One hand gripped the hilt of his scimitar in a threatening nature and the other waved Damon off. “Be gone!”
Damon made a friendly bowing gesture of submission, sidestepping the Sasshaan and without looking, and at the same time stepped into the path of not four, but six Deltans. Before Damon could pull his hood back up, his body slammed into one of the soldiers—it was Nils Adomas.
Nils reacted violently, giving Damon a backhanded slap. “Outta my way, Uvalde trash!”
Damon wanted to retaliate, but instead he made subservient bows to each of the Deltans standing around him. With each humble gesture, there was a fleeting glance at each face except for the last. Malik? Damon had to take a second look to make sure. Malik returned a gaze that bordered on surprise and possibly recognition as Damon pulled the hood back over his head, doing obeisance on the ground before Adomas.
“Look, Nils,” one of his companions said with a laugh, “he knows his place right enough.”
“Uvalde scum.” Nils’ boot slammed into Damon’s side.
Damon grabbed his abdomen and curled up in anticipation of another kick. The next kick will be his last, Damon promised himself, even if I have to take them all on.
“Hey, Nils,” Malik said, “knock it off. We’ve got a job to do.” Malik, with a firm hold on Nil’s arm, pulled Nils back and away from Damon.
Nils jerked his arm from Malik. “Yeah. Maybe they’ll be more of a challenge than this one.” Nils spat at Damon and walked away.
Nils and the other four Deltans continued on their way. Malik lingered and waited until Damon staggered to his feet. He then rushed to catch up with his companions.
Malik had that knowing look in his eyes, Damon thought. He knew me all right. I ought to get away from here before Nils puts things together. In the back of his mind, Damon knew this party was not looking for him—at least not yet. What was it Malik said…a job to do? Nils said, they, so who are they after?
He watched the Deltans pause at the spaceport entrance as the Sasshaan with the kammel left the watering trough and ambled over to them. In what looked like a bartering session, Nils and the nomad exchanged words, each in turn nodding and shaking their heads. The negotiation ended, Nils reached inside his tunic and brought out a small drawstring bag, handing it to the Sasshaan. Hefting the bag and then nodding, the nomad reached into a carry-all bag hanging across the kammel’s back, pulling out some pieces of old clothing. Each Deltan in turn received and put on a drab, hooded poncho that hung just below their knees to the top of their boots.
With their disguises in place, and in casual style, they entered the spaceport by twos at intervals. Whatever they were about to do, Nils seemed to be orchestrating it. Whatever Nils is up to won’t succeed if I have anything to say about it.
Strolling toward the open spaceport portal, Damon made an appraisal of the passersby before ducking inside. While his eyes adjusted to the low lights inside, a woman’s scream echoed from a corridor ahead of him, which led to one of the many docking bay areas. He loosened and parted his homespun robe, unsnapped the restraining latch on the holster of his disrupter while tiptoeing further down the corridor, his hand resting on the grip of his weapon.
Fifty meters inside, the corridor intersected with lateral passageways. Glancing down each one, he stood wondering which way to turn. Suddenly, the woman cried out again; it came from his left. There’s something definitely happening, Damon thought. Sounds of a vigorous scuffle came from a hangar bay just ahead.
By the time he reached the end of the corridor, there were no lights in the bay, except for one illuminating the final moment of a hand-to-hand fight beneath the fuselage of a Paldaarean Shooting Star. It’s the Paldaarean soldier from the marketplace. Looks like he put up a better than average fight, considering the numbers. Three of his four attackers were nursing some bloody facial bruises. Damon moved silently toward the assassins as they stood over the unconscious Paldaarean like a pack of hungry derans.
Nils stood on the outer perimeter of the lighted arena. “Malik,” he said, “finish him!”
Malik threw back the hood covering his head and knelt down beside the young man, drawing an assassin’s blade from the scabbard behind his back.
I need to distract them with something, Damon thought. He frantically patted the pockets of his robe and felt the strand of the tiny bells. He lifted them quietly from his pocket, then, sent them skidding across the stonecrete floor at Nil’s feet. The Deltans’ attention turned from their intended victim as they followed the sound across the floor.
“Back off, Nils…if you want to live. Call your men off,” Damon said, still in the shadows.
Nils picked up the strand of bells and peered in the direction of Damon’s voice. “Whoever you are,” Nils shouted back, “this does not concern you. Go your way!”
“Can’t do that, Nils,” Damon replied as the Deltan militiamen and Nils peeled out of their cumbersome robes and stopped short of snatching disrupters from holsters beneath their armpits. “I wouldn’t do that,” Damon shouted from the shadows, his voice echoing all around the hangar.
Damon drew his disrupter and took a strategic position from which he could cover any move against the young man and still have a chance at Nils.
There was suddenly a glimmer of recognition on Nil’s face. “Gyles…that was you…out there in the street?”
“Yeah, that was me,” Damon replied, stepping out of the shadows. “Lucky for you, Malik pulled you off when he did.”
Nils gave Malik a hostile inquiring glance. “You knew?” Malik only returned a shrug.
“Whether he did or not, you ought to thank him,” Damon said. “So, why would Quillar send you after this Paldaarean? For that matter, there was a young woman with him. Where is she…who are they?”
“That, traitor, is none of your business!” Nils said.
“I’m making it my business.” Damon motioned to Malik with his disrupter. “Malik, I don’t want to kill you, so back away…and the rest of you.” Malik stood back to his feet and slowly backed away from the man on the floor. The other men moved back toward Nils.
“I give the orders here, Gyles,” Nils blurted out.
The Paldaarean began to regain consciousness and moaned, diverting Damon’s attention long enough for the four Deltans to draw their weapons and begin firing. Damon dove to the floor onto his stomach, rapidly firing his disrupter and taking out two men and wounding a third. Malik helped his injured comrade back to the shadowy perimeter where Nils had taken refuge.
As the Paldaarean continued to revive and Damon monitored his recovery, he feared the young man could be finished off at any moment. It’s a little too quiet, he thought, loosening the tight grip he had on his weapon and taking a deep, calming breath. For all I know, they could be circling around behind me. He lay in the shadow of a stonecrete column where he could still see the Paldaarean, and waited. Stinging beads of moisture trickled from his forehead into his eyes, and as Damon wiped them onto sleeve of his jacket, the recovering Paldaarean spoke, calling out to someone. This is not a good. Damon pushed himself up to his feet with his back against the rock column.
Play on Nil’s ego, Damon’s inner voice said. “Nils! How about that little one-on-one you’ve always wanted. Just you and me.” Hearing footsteps, Damon stepped to the edge of lighted perimeter once again, and checked his fire when Malik showed himself with a disrupter held down at his side, posing no threat. “Malik, where’s Nils?”
Damon relaxed the tension on his trigger-finger and lowered his disrupter to his side.
“Damon,” Malik said, “I wasn’t sure it was you at first.”
“Drop the disrupter, Malik, don’t make me kill you.” Damon kept a watchful eye on his old friend, all the while suspecting an ambush. “Where’s Adomas?”
“Gone for reinforcements.” Malik took a cautious step toward the Paldaarean, his hand still holding his disrupter down at his side. “What are you doing here?”
“I know why you’re here,” Damon said.
Malik took another step. “Just doing my job, Damon,” Malik replied.
“He’s unarmed, Malik,” Damon said. “Just back off, friend.”
“Still taking on lost causes?” Malik asked. “He’s nothing. You’re wasting time protecting this…”
“He’s a man, Malik. You’re not in the arena now. You don’t have to do this.” Damon raised his disrupter and pointed it toward Malik. “What happened to the woman that was with him? Is she dead?”
“No, our orders were to take her alive.”
“Okay,” Damon said, “now…I’m asking you one last time…friend…walk away.”
The ideal situation would be that only Malik remained behind, Damon thought, but he’s not alone. Malik was a little nervous and his eyes betrayed the location of his wounded comrade just before an energy bolt shot from the darkness. Damon dropped to the floor, diving into a left shoulder roll and coming up on one knee to send four rapidly fired bolts into the shadows. The last bolt hit its mark and the soldier screamed as he fell into the pale ring of light.
In the next instant, Damon turned back toward Malik who was taking aim on the Paldaarean. “Malik! No!” Damon took aim on his old friend.
Malik jerked the disrupter up in Damon’s direction and discharged a wild shot. Damon’s shot hit Malik’s chest dead center.
Damon rushed to Malik and knelt beside him as Malik looked up at him. “Why did you make me do it?” Damon asked.
“No other way out,” Malik answered, “no dishonor on my family this way. It was the only way.”
Malik reached up and Damon took his hand. “Forgive me,” Damon said.
“Nothing to forgive. Just leave.” Malik uttered with his last breath.
Damon heard a dragging sound behind him and turned. The battered Paldaarean was inching his way toward his disrupter. Before he got to it, Damon quickly stepped between and snatched it from his grasp. The Paldaarean recoiled.
Damon hefted the weapon and put it in the belt of his own holster. “I’ll hang on to this for a while if you don’t mind.”
Damon offered his hand to him, but the man slapped it away. “Where’s my sister, you bastard?”
“Hey, wait a minute…I’m not one with them!”
“Why should I believe you?” Corey said, as he massaged the back of his neck.
“’Cause if I were, you’d be lying in a pool of your own blood,” Damon replied. “Here’s who you were up against.”
Damon parted the robe of the nearest Deltan and stepped aside pointing down at him. “Recognize those uniforms?”
Corey rose to his feet, recognizing the black uniform. “Deltan militia?”
Corey’s face tensed. “My sister…I’ve got to find her. They’ll kill her!”
“Easy now…if they were going to kill her, they’d have done it already.”
Corey swayed slightly on his feet as he held out his hand toward Damon from the confiscated disrupter.
Damon pulled Corey’s weapon from his belt, and after a moment of hesitation, placed it in Corey’s hand. “Quillar’s elite henchmen don’t go after just anyone.”
Corey checked the charges of his weapon before holstering it. “How is it you know so much about Deltans?”
“I’ve had my share of run-ins, and they’ll be back to finish the job when they get reinforcements. Which means, friend,” Damon replied as he placed a consoling hand on the young man’s shoulder, “we’re getting off Uvalde.”
“Not without my sister!” Corey turned to take his first step, but his knees buckled beneath him.
Damon helped him back up. “Look, you’re in no condition to face off with these killers again. For that matter, my presence won’t be a deciding factor in another skirmish. We’ll have to get her back later.”
Corey brushed Damon’s hand away. “I’m not leaving without her!”
“Take my word for it, you won’t find her here on Uvalde.” Damon pointed toward the Shooting Star. “Is this your ship?”
“Yeah,” Corey answered looking up, “why?”
“’Cause we’re leaving…right now,” Damon lifted Corey to his feet. “Let’s go.”
“What do you mean…we?”
“Hey, listen up…they saw my face. I am not sticking around to see what they do to party crashers. The way I see it, we have just enough time to fire up those thrusters and get outta here.” Damon stopped as they reached the boarding ladder to the canopy. “By the way, where are we going?”
“Paldaar.” Corey started to climb up with some coaxing from Damon.
Damon followed Corey up the boarding plane. “I could think of better places to head off to, but I suppose that beats the party plans here.”
“Who are you?”
“Gyles. Damon Gyles. I didn’t catch yours.”
“I didn’t throw it,” Corey said tartly.
“Not very trusting, are you?”
Regarding Galaxies and Other Universes
Do you believe there could be intelligent life forms on other worlds?
Regarding the Formation of the Universe
How did it come into existence? What do you believe?
© 2015 Janet A Taylor