Of Love and War
By Brandon Victorian
Questions or comments? Contact me at Khyron20@yahoo.com or Khyron20@aol.com
"Herc, what's going on?" Jayce asked as he entered the bridge.
The warning klaxons, which he'd heard halfway down the hallway, were now screeching painfully in his ear. Even Oon, who had followed closely at his heels, was pressing his hands to the sides of his head in order to futilely drown out the sound that Jayce was certain had to be deafening for him as it reverberated throughout his zircomite body. Even the zoggies, he noticed, were huddled in the corner beside Gillian's console, barking in annoyance.
Herc ran his hands over his control panel, completing the shutdown command for the alarm. It finally ceased, much to everyone's relief.
"Ahh! What a relief!" Oon said with a deep sigh. He collapsed himself onto the floor, too relieved to even shoo the playful zoggies away.
"Sorry, kid," Herc said, allowing Jayce a moment to recover from the noise, "but these alarms go off when there's an unauthorized launch."
"Unauthorized?" Jayce echoed. "Who…?"
"Take a guess," Herc said blandly, bringing up the image on the screen. As Jayce would've guessed, it was the Sky Bolt, moving swiftly through space, away from the Pride.
"Life signs?" Jayce asked.
"Only one," Herc confirmed. "And it's Arxoxa, of course."
"Can you contact him?"
"Actually," Herc said, looking up from the controls with a hint of surprise on his face, "He's...hailing us!"
"Let's see him."
The viewscreen changed from space to a view of Arxoxa's stubbly face.
"I'm sorry for leaving so suddenly, Jayce," he said in a sad voice, "but I have extremely pressing matters to attend to on the two worlds. I hope you can understand."
"But we were heading there ourselves," Jayce remarked, confused at the man's sudden change of plans. "Is there something wrong?"
"Not at all," Arxoxa answered, shaking his head. "It's just that I guess that I am a loner by nature." He smiled. "Don't worry about it. You have my thanks for your help, and as a token of gratitude, I left a few gold bars in your hangar bay."
"Gold?" Herc breathed.
Jayce saw the familiar smile appear on the pilot's mouth.
"You... didn't have to do that," Jayce said, keeping his face away from Herc's, which he was almost certain would have become a glare because of that remark. "But if you need to continue alone that badly, we won't stop you."
"The letter from Audric that I gave you should be enough," Arxoxa said. "Contact the people on Zelos first; they'll know what to do."
"I will. I also hope you have a safe journey, Arxoxa. May our paths cross again."
Arxoxa's smile became wistful. "I hope you find your father, Jayce."
The transmission ceased.
"Something doesn't feel right about this, Oon," Jayce said, still staring as the screen reverted to its default view of space: the Pride was now passing by the gas giant outer planets in the system.
"Do you think we should've grabbed him with a tractor beam and hauled him back?" Oon asked.
"Of course not," Jayce replied half-reproachfully. "That would be rude. But I am still concerned as to why he left so suddenly."
"Aw, those types are always on the go," Herc said, as he descended from his console. "You shouldn't pay it any mind, kid. And personally, I'm glad to see him gone. I don't particularly care much for gunrunners, no matter how polite they are. They always carry a knife behind their back... as well as other weapons. By the way, could you man the bridge for a moment?"
"Sure, Jayce said, "But why?"
But from the look on Herc's face, and the way he rubbed his hands, he knew very well the reason why.
"I'm... going to do an inventory of our new bit of pay."
And with that, he jumped the rest of the way from his console before it completely descended, and sauntered off.
Jayce took his seat in the captain's seat. He'd never taken a liking to sitting here in Herc's place on those rare occasions that he had to, but at this moment, that was the least of his concerns. He still couldn't get his mind off of the recent events of yesterday and today: Flora's dream, Gillian's apprehension and his unusual spell in the cargo bay, and now, Arxoxa's admittedly hasty departure only hours after Gillian had finished the repairs to his ship.
And even thought Arxoxa seemed to be in a hurry, wasn't he the one who warned them of the varied spells and weapons left in the system, and their need to take the route to Kelos and Zelos slowly? It was because of this that for the past day and a half, the Pride had been on minimum propulsion, and still had three hours to go before finally reaching Zelos.
But then again, Arxoxa's ship was much smaller and far more maneuverable than the Pride; perhaps that made the difference.
Still, it all seemed so strange....
"You have done well, trader," Saw Boss proclaimed, his evil mind linked with the communications device inside the Sky Bolt. "Now, begin phase two of the plan."
"Wait just a minute, Saw Boss," Arxoxa said, holding out his hand. "When you left me alone and crippled in space so the Lightning League could fine me, I did what you wanted only because there were other people at risk...and because you promised me payment. And now that I'm running under my own power once again, I don't see any money. Either you give me what I deserve, or you can just forget about your little 'phase two!'
"You were promised payment upon completion of your task," Saw Boss said, voice even but nonetheless menacing.
"Yeah, well, being tortured by giant plant people can have a funny effect on a guy's loyalties," Arxoxa replied airily.
"It would be wise not to cross me, human," Saw Boss thundered, making known his growing exasperation with Arxoxa well realized. "Entire planets have died for less than what you have dared to say."
Arxoxa merely snorted at this. "We're light years away from where you found me, Saw Boss. So I'd pay attention to my payment in stead of idle... wha-?"
The Sky Bolt gave a sudden lurch, and then began buckling violently, nearly throwing Arxoxa off balance. Bracing himself between his seat and the control console, he barely kept his balance as he adjusted the controls to switch the view of the outside on the screen.
To his complete shock, and then utter horror, he saw the very present and very real sickening green Monster Mind vines surrounding his ship, pulsing and squeezing on its outer hull like a vice. All around him, pressure valves slowly broke and hissed various gasses into the cockpit as he heard the buckling of the Sky Bolt's polarized titanium panels.
"I am closer than you think," Saw Boss' voice said, though it was distant in Arxoxa's haze of fear.
And then the vines' squeezing and the groaning of the ship's outer hull ceased.
"I believe we will have no further... outbursts of that nature any more?"
N-no... Saw Boss," Arxoxa stammered, once he'd found his voice. "None at all."
"Be grateful that I am in a generous mood today," Saw Boss warned. "Now go, and complete your half of the bargain."
The transmission ceased, and Saw Boss slouched in his throne, gloating. Humans were so easy to manipulate at times, although there were the odd few who would not cooperate, no matter what means of coercion he or his troops used. Be that as it may, the trader was now sufficiently intimidated, and would have no more trouble from him.
"Excellency," Terror Tank sneered, breaking the silence of the lair, as well as Saw Boss' train of thought.
"What is it?" Saw Boss growled down at his subordinate. The Monster Mind general cowered back slightly at the displeasure in his leader's voice.
"The process is complete," Terror Tank said after straightening himself. "It is ready at last"
Saw Boss' eyes flashed with a fierce light as he descended from his throne, his smile, now especially devious.
"Open the holding pen," he ordered to Beast Walker and K.O. Kruiser who lurked in the shadows beyond the throne. At his command, the two hulking Monster Mind leaders grabbed the hinges of the nearby doorway and hauled it open.
Saw Boss merely stood and waited.
The door had not been opened since the days that Audric called this place his home, and so the vine-covered hinges creaked and complained against the efforts of the two creatures as it slowly opened.
And then a harsh, sickeningly green light flooded the throne room.
The other generals skulked back in apprehension, but Saw Boss, alone and unafraid, stepped towards the light, from which a pair of glowing white eyes appeared.
"There you are," he said, voice heavy with expectation. "Come forward; fight me if you wish, but in the end, you will join my legions and call me, master!"
"What is it, child?" Gillian asked, feeling her sudden shudder as she stood by his side.
Jayce turned around towards her; so did Herc.
Flora opened her mouth as if to say something, but then stopped.
"It's nothing," she finally said, breathing a sigh.
"Are you sure, Flora?" Jayce asked. "Are you certain that you didn't sense anything?"
Flora stopped, and stood silent for a moment, as if concentrating, but then shook her head. "Nothing," she said. "I thought for a moment that there were Monster Minds nearby, but the feeling left."
"M-M-Monster Minds?" Oon stuttered, his metallic knees starting to knock together.
"No," Flora said. "I don't sense anything. I thought I did, but, well, maybe it was just my imagination."
"Are you absolutely sure?" Gillian asked, looking Flora directly in the eyes.
"Well, we just came through the inner asteroid field," Herc said. "Chances are there was some magical residue or something there." He turned to Gillian. "You think that there's some way it could've confused her powers or something?"
"That may be, Herc," Gillian said, and then placed his hand on Flora's shoulder. "But we should still be cautious."
Caution never left my mind, Herc thought as he turned back around towards his console. "Anyway, we're approaching Zelos, Kid."
The screen switched to the view of a planet unlike any Jayce had ever seen.
In form and color, it was like any other planet suitable for humanoid life, but dashed about its surface, like fine lace was a latticework of thousands of silvery strands that the database mentioned to be highways, connecting to tiny globules of silver that were cities. But outside the planet, there existed a complicated set of panels, set at orbit above the planet in five separate layers, like a floating outer world.
From the outside, they seemed bare, as the Pride continued its approach, but once she passed through the first layer of panels, it became obvious through the side viewports that the orbital paneling each contained the latticework of gigantic city-like structures on the inside. All throughout, ships, ranging in size from platform carriers and battle frigates to personal space cars floated to and fro.
"Hey, kid... Jayce?"
Herc's voice broke Jayce from his reverie at the sights before him.
"Ah, yes. Herc, did you say something?"
"Yeah," Herc replied dryly, tapping the console. "They're hailing us."
Jayce shook himself fully awake, and re-directed his attention back to the viewscreen.
A middle-aged man with dark hair and goatee, and deep, piercing green eyes was seated at a desk: a blue banner with a silver sword pointed downwards in front the circular outline of a planet, hung in the background. The man himself wore an official-looking black uniform with silver fringes at his shoulders.
"I'm Jayce, son of Audric," Jayce recited to the man in the viewscreen. "I've come to your world in peace. I was told that my father might be here. We request permission to speak to your leaders in order to..."
The man gave the Lightning League a strange look.
"I don't think he's friendly," Herc said across the bridge to Jayce.
"Svals vina sae," the man abruptly said in a stern tone. "Selmolek Khas sesh."
"Herc, is the translator working?" Jayce asked, bewildered at the man's sudden speech in an incomprehensible tongue.
"It's working fine," Herc replied after a brief systems check. "This language just isn't in the computer's database."
"But the universal translator on any ship is capable of deciphering over a million languages," Jayce said. "Why isn't this one in it?"
"Because these worlds have remained isolated for so long," Gillian said, floating towards the viewscreen. "Only translators onboard trading ships that frequent this system have a database for the language. But don't worry, my boy; I happen to have traveled here in the days of the Ke-Zel Imperium, and still remember the language quite well."
"So you can talk to them?" Herc asked.
"Of course," the old wizard said with a smile, and turning back towards the viewscreen.
"Dhorlak vau," Gillian began with a polite bow. "Lightning League sesh. Audric ghos Jayce yest veuna..."
"Nash neuna sken!" The man said in a voice that was not at all friendly, and gestured sternly away from the wizard. "Glas vrag, ehleuna skeh. Dlek pos ki skal ghe poh. Nhaku sae?"
"Dhash vuna she," Gillian replied, and then turned back towards Jayce.
"I take it that didn't go too well?" Herc quipped.
"They only wish to speak to the leader," Gillian said. "I expected this, though; This is Zelos, after all. It being the technology world, they have something of a problem with magic users."
"Can you modify our translators?" Jayce asked.
"It would take time we don't have," Gillian said. "And I'm afraid that there is no such magic to bridge the language barrier. We should leave."
Just then, a younger man in the same uniform as the first, and with like hair and eyes, invaded the screen. After a second, a look of recognition crossed his face, and he smiled.
"Jayce sken, ghas vuna kar?" He said, ignoring the protesting words from the other man. "Gho ken das vho. Iich, kho kena ghos nu subri!" He began making gestures that looked as though he beckoned them to come forward.
"He's inviting us to the planet," Gillian said, voice filled with pleasant surprise. "What a stroke of luck!"
The other man in the image was by now having a full-fledged argument with the younger one, but it looked as though he'd backed off after a couple of seconds of verbal exchange. The younger man smiled, and beckoned them to come, repeating the same phrases as he did earlier.
"Gillian, I'll need you to get to work on the translators," Jayce said. "Herc, you know what to do.
"One parking space coming up," Herc said, punching in the directions on his console. "It'll take a bit of time, though, what with all the traffic," he said.
"It's okay, Herc," Jayce said. We need that bit of time, so that Gillian can take care of the translators."
Herc shrugged. "Whatever you say," he said.
Audric, please be here, was what he thought.
Jayce and the Lightning League stood ready by the exit hatch in the main hangar bay as Herc punched in the opening sequence.
A fresh breeze blew inside as the hatch responded, and the interior was filled with a bright, but faintly bluish light as the massive Zelosian city complex outside became visible to all.
Flora let out a small "Ooo!" at the sheer height of the buildings and size of the enormous highway systems connecting them one to another.
And at the base of the ramp, leading to a building beyond, there was a large platform trimmed with pretty green hedges at its edge, where stood a small party of armored guards waiting for them in two rows. Between them was the young man they'd seen earlier.
"Hey, Gillian," Herc said as the hatch's conveyor belt lowered them down to the platform, "you sure you modified our translators right?"
"We shall find out soon enough," the old wizard replied. "After all, the peoples hereabouts don't take kindly to wizards, so Jayce must lead and speak."
Jayce, being the first to disembark, was also the first to reach the bottom of the hatch, followed closely by Oon and then Flora atop Brock.
The man at the center of the guards stepped forward, and then smiled broadly. Jayce, comforted by this, smiled back.
"I am Vathen," he announced with a bow, "heir apparent to Supreme Governor Selmolek of the Kelosian Regime. "You are the Lightning League, I presume?"
"Yes," Jayce replied, somewhat relieved the translator now understood him. "We're the Lightning League. I'm Jayce, son of Audric." He indicated his companions with a gesture. "This is Oon, my eternal squire, Flora, Brock, Gillian, and Herc Stormsailor."
"Ah, I see you have an eternal squire as well!" Vathen said amusedly.
"But eternal squires are magic," Jayce remarked, hoping that it would not be taken as offensive. "Why-?"
Vathen waved it off. "He was a gift to my family over two thousand years ago by a Visanni named Wixland. My ancestor Gharen saved his life during the fall of the Seventy-Seventh Kingdom in the Third Solar Age. Even after the Imperium fell, he's been with us ever since."
"Uh... where is he, then?" Oon said, looking back and forth among the ranks of soldiers, "if you don't mind my asking?"
"You mean he's not with me?" Vathen said, looking behind and to the ground, a blank expression on his face.
A guard then leaned over and whispered into his ear.
"Oh, yes, I forgot," he chuckled. "Keet is... well, sort of overprotective, if you know what I mean. He thinks the guards don't do enough of a job security-wise, and so he often does his own... unofficial security detail."
Jayce laughed, stealing a glance at Oon, well knowing his personality.
"Well, shall we go inside?" Vathen said at last. "It gets cold out here, and there's a storm coming tonight. Also, I'm sure you're tired from your journey."
He gestured to the guards and they started back across the platform towards the complex on the other side. Vathen followed behind, followed by Jayce and the Lightning League.
No sooner had the guard at the front of the ranks opened the doorway than a clatter of metal was heard, followed by a shrill and metallic wail. Vathen hurried to the front of the line, and bent down over something, reaching out for small armored pieces that had spilled. A moment later, and he stood back up, and faced Jayce.
"Son of Audric, may I introduce to you, Keet, eternal squire to my family."
From behind him a living suit of armor like Oon appeared. This one, however, was colored in tones of blue, gray and tan, and sported a Mohawk-style plume atop his head. Clutched in his hands, he held a lance like Oon's, that was the same color as his armor.
The eternal squire bowed, and spoke in a cheerful and formal tone.
"My greetings to you, Lightning League! I am Keet, as my master has stated, and may I welcome you to Zelos!"
Oon stepped forward, and saluted him. "Greetings, fellow squire! I am Oon!"
"Well, bless me!" Keet said. "A brother! Been ages since I've seen another of my kind, it has!"
"Come along then, Vathen said, urging Jayce and his company along into the building. "I'm sure you all are very tired from your journey!"
Inside, the corridor seemed to go on forever, lit intermittently by glowing orbs suspended close to the ceiling.
"You know," Herc said to Gillian, "For a planet at war, I haven't seen much in the way of defenses. As a matter of fact, when we got here, the whole place looked downright peaceful."
"That's because we are holding a cease fire," Vathen said, overhearing Herc's remark.
"A cease fire?" Jayce asked. "Is that why our passage here was so easy?"
"Yes," Vathen said. "As a matter of fact, save weapons traders, we usually shoot down any ships that are able to slip past our warning buoys, with no questions. It's how we were able keep the war to ourselves for so long. But since Audric told us about you, and the ship that you would be coming in, we made special accommodations. For now, I'm sure you will be comfortable for your stay. This passage leads to the diplomatic guest quarters."
"That's very kind of you," Jayce said, "But we won't be staying long."
Vathen stopped. Keet nearly bumped into his leg, as did Oon with Jayce.
"Not staying?" Vathen asked, sounding deeply hurt. "But you must!"
"I have to find my father," Jayce insisted, and pointed to the root around his neck that was glowing fiercely and swiftly now, signaling its closeness to Audric or one of his possessions. "I heard that he was here. "If he's still here, then I must unite this root with his. It's the only way to stop the Monster Minds."
Vathen sighed. "Sadly, Audric left just a day or two ago. His ship was badly damaged, and a scout ship found him. Since the ship's power systems were all down and he was badly injured, we knew that he couldn't have come into the system on purpose. We rescued him, and nursed him back to health. He stayed for a couple of days, and then left."
Jayce, by now, had figured this was the case, and so he wasn't as disheartened as he usually was.
"Well, the root is still reacting," he told Vathen. "So there must be something here that belonged to him."
Vathen nodded, stopping in front of a doorway that opened into a very spacious suite.
"As he said for us to be expecting you, he left a message disk in the care of my father. I will arrange for him to bring it to you tomorrow. For now, I must insist that you rest. It takes a long time to come out to the rim, and I'm sure you will need supplies. Allow us to be good hosts, okay?"
"Alright," Jayce said politely. "But only for a day. We must leave as soon as we can."
"Take care," Vathen said, as the door closed. "I will talk to you later this evening."
"Well, I don't think that a day over here would be such a bad thing," Herc said, taking a seat upon one of the beds. "After all, I haven't seen accommodations this good since the Starmage Hotel on Ospera!"
"Have patience, my boy." Gillian assured Jayce. "Vathen seems friendly enough, and the Zelosians are known to take their time with things."
"I understand," Jayce sighed. "But if we wait too long, father's trail might go cold."
"Yes, Oon?" Jayce replied, seating himself on the bed opposite from Herc.
To be continued....This story is Copyright Brandon Victorian, All Rights Reserved