All the Darkness in Space

Dedication

To all those dreamers who dare to write science fiction, fantasy, and horror and thumb their noses at the arty-farty literati. We can all have fun being serious.

All the Darkness in Space:

A Novella

1

Flames burned purple at the dawn of death. The skies droned with the color of moron flesh. Silent explosions flared upon the distant horizon beyond the lake. Gesele stood among the pines along the shore watching the dawn mists rise and float above still waters. She squatted, enjoyed the crunch of pine needles and pebbles under foot, ran her hand through the water feeling the almost creamy smoothness of calm water then jerked it away. The lake was ice cold. She watched droplets of water drip from her fingers. The skies grew lighter and lighter with a video dullness. A breeze began to stir through the trees and rippled the waters. Grey boulders jutted out of the metallic pond. A sun bleached log lay across the sand, its top half still in the water. Stark, skeletal branches cut through shadows of the dawn. The sun rose churning fire.

A whirlwind of sunlight crashed through the conifers, drove out all shadow and seared the forest floor. Gesele backed away, shielding her eyes with her hands, stumbling, tripping, falling down. She cursed the sun, her breasts heaving beneath her tight suit of flexible, breathable armor. The breeze whipped into a wind and gusted across the now choppy lake. The early morning fog blew alive and writhed with energy. The sun sucked mist into its maw. Straw-like reeds bent across the water toward the rising heat. It was her first morning in what used to be the old American state of Maine. Despite the terror of war she loved the Maine outdoors. Gesele relished the early-morning knife whip of sun-warmed wind.

Fighter planes pulsed overhead, screaming silently into the radio static. Gesele cussed again and ran deep into the woods, pushing through pines and firs to hide among giant red spruce. The earth was so soft yet cobbled with rock. More explosions. The sky flared with radiation. Gesele wiped sweat from her brow and stood there, ribs swelling and falling with each breath, her taut muscles flexing, curled fingers flicked open sharp as talons.

Goddammit where the Hell is Korbin?

She reached up behind her left ear and pushed. A microbutton, resting just under the skin, indented and clicked. She grumbled at the obsolescence of her augmentation for the newer ones didn’t need tiny buttons. All you need to do with the new ones was think the command. Her neurocomputer implant flashed behind her eyes as she mainlined into enhanced reality.

Gesele scanned the forests. Every object shimmered with auras of electromagnetic radiation yet registered with amplified digital clarity. She focused her electronically amped vision and expanded her own aura. Pseudo-psychic sparks erupted as tongues of bioplasmic energy rubbered out through the woods, searching. More planes zoomed across the face of the rising sun, blasting the rebel forces dug into the mountainside.

ZEEEMmnn . . . a sensation of iced razorblades slit her consciousness. She cried out, surprised by the intensity. There. A kaleidoscope of glitter pinwheeled her into a vortex, and she went with it. As the wind coursed over the lake she flowed through the morning quicksilver and then she was there. Gesele reached up behind her ear and dropped out into the real world.

Ahh, the real world, she thought as she took off her cap and ran a hand through black, spiky locks. One had to be careful not to wander too long among the planes of enhanced reality. It was the outer space of the mind fused with electronic synth tissue. It was nowhere yet everywhere far beyond the borders of the ancient Internet and things virtual. There were people who never came back, leaving their bodies catatonic while they wandered lost in an illusion. But the illusion could be so sensuous, the sheer erotic power of it, the showering sparks, the multilayered colors of a billion auras, the wild, still unexplained mystery of computer-enhanced extrasensory perception.

There were even some, it was whispered, who deliberately sought to lose themselves. Many among the super wealthy had the resources to keep their bodies plugged in and fed, some longer than others. Some claimed the world of illusion was just as real, if not more so, than the mundane. It was beyond dreams and out of the mind. They were out there searching for the perfect astral orgasm, the melding with nirvana, to electronically escape from the mundane world into the seduction of the unknown. Cyberghosts, they called themselves, and in some weird way their sacred scripture were yellowed paper copies of Walt Whitman’s poem “I Sing the Body Electric.” Most failed to break out, many went insane, but a fabled few never returned. Where they went no one knows.

Ahh, it was so beautiful here amid the pine and maple trees clustered around old ice age boulders and primeval lakes of cold, cold water. Combat ships howled across pale blue skies and worn-down mountains as a cool morning breeze caressed her unwashed face. She could settle down and live here…almost…maybe…just maybe…

“What took you so goddamn long?” Korbin growled and jarred Gesele from her thoughts.

“Never mind. Let’s get the Hell outa here.” Dream forgotten, she stepped toward the ship.

“I guess you didn’t get it, huh.”

“No, I didn’t. Bastard never showed up.” Gesele shrugged her shoulders, but quickly stamped her foot. “C’mon, we gotta get outa here. There are certain physical limitations to mind travel, you know.”

“Hell, I can’t do it anyway,” Korbin laughed and ran a hand over his shaved head. “You’re the one who’s wired to ghost.”

The two moved in cat-like synchronicity into the zip ship, a small, swamp buggy space boat that was part pulse-rocket and half hovercraft. Zip ships were light and fast and can dart anywhere. They were also thin-skinned and poorly armed with the exception of one massive pump cannon projecting from the tip of the bow. In a tight spot one had to depend upon the evasive skills of the pilot.

Korbin slumped into his seat and strapped in. A sheet of transparent steel slid down and locked. He was a huge man. Six-foot-three and bulked up with great slabs of muscle. His face was chiseled and could have been handsome but for all the scars. Korbin scorned cosmetic surgery. The last person who wondered aloud a little too loud if Korbin had cut himself up on purpose to look cool had his cheek sliced open.

Stubble darkened Korbin’s mottled face and enhanced the meanness glinting in his eyes. For someone so pumped-up Korbin was surprisingly fluid. At one time he was a climber, thriving high above the streets, nimbly edging his way up mile-high skyscrapers. And before that he was a dancer with a contact improv group that jammed across Earth and Mars.

Gesele grabbed the power levers as Korbin stabbed buttons. She was the exact opposite of her partner. Incredibly strong, Gesele was only about five feet tall but wiry and sinewy. A hardbody fanatic. Cool-headed martial arts mixed with crossfit madness had been her passion before she plugged in to the nasty, criminally profitable realm of the eGokudafias, interplanetary electronic ghost mafias. Both Gesele and Korbin were variations of the myriad hybrid races.

Few pureblooded ethnic groups were around anymore. Those left were considered as a genetic oddity, much as some remote jungle tribe might have been back in the old days. There had been too much genetic interfacing during the past few centuries with an astounding mixing of genetic and neuromusculoskeletal manipulation with robotics, nanocomputers, and holographic projection. Not too mention the last two mass migrations in human history when most ethnic groups became so commingled and interbred old national rivalries had finally disappeared. First was the global diaspora in the wake of the last great world war, and the second was when the world vomited humanity out toward the stars.

The zip ship rose straight up, vibrated heavily, then lurched forward into the sky. It rocketed swiftly out of sight of the battling aeroplanes. Korbin shoved it into overdrive. They massed forward, gliding around the planet away from the sun.

“Goddammit, I wished Berc had showed up,” Korbin shook his head.

“Either he chickened out,” he said, “or decided to screw us over. But he’s not that way. He disappeared and nothing happened. We coulda used the magic modem to tube in for the Undead, though.”

“I feel he’s dead.” Gesele said it without any emotion. She just felt it, and she didn’t really care whether or not their connection was alive or dead, just so long as he moved them what they wanted. Then she shuddered. How could she think that about Berc? He was part of their team, brilliant, was ugly in a odd but handsome way, and so serious he was hilariously funny.

“Probably is. But I don’t think so. Something happened. He’s too powerful.”

They sat down upon a large rock and enjoyed the stillness of woods and water. Ahh, they felt so alive here in the wilderness. Even as war raged across the Solar System.

“Hey, Korbin.”

“Yeah?”

Gesele turned to face the scarred giant. “It was really beautiful back there. Standing on the lakeshore. Being around real trees. Smelling the pond water and the dirt itself. Feeling the breeze as the sun came up and warmed the air. Yeah, man, it was lovely, kinda quiet. Serene, y’know? Before the shooting started.”

“Yeah, I like being in the woods, too.”

“Even saw a set of moose antlers by an old hiker’s camp.”

“Yeah, in the old days this place used to be Maine. It’s all haunted now. Ghosted off the legal maps.”

“Wish I could stay here, though,” mused Gesele. “I’m not looking forward to Pluto.”

She was silent for a moment.

“Jeeze!” she shouted. “Fucking Pluto! Frik! Frak! Fuck! Pluto!”

“Ever been there?” Korbin half-laughed as the ship veered off cross layers of churning clouds.

“Nope, never been beyond the Asteroid Belt. Except once, to Saturn’s rings when I was a kid. Before the war. Family vacation. Some of those rings had real flippin’ mountains and canyons on ‘em…unbelievable.”

“Back when you was a good li’l girl, eh?” Korbin twisted his tongue up between teeth molded from steel alloy. Suddenly he flashed his chiseled canines at Gesele and laughed. He fancied himself a shark in a man’s body, but she was reminded of a more mythological creature.

“I wonder what Levi the Vampire’s gonna do now.” Gesele shook her dark tresses out of her face. “He really wanted his modem.”

“We can deal with him. Nail his damn ass back into a coffin, take the money and git.” Korbin licked what was left of his lips.

“I don’t mess with the Undead,” said Gesele.

The zip ship blasted into a jungle of steel and concrete. They hovered momentarily over a riot in progress. A mob was storming a food coop. Riot police lobbed jellyball grenades into the crowd.

Imagine getting smacked with a heavy, souped-up wet snowball. That was a jellyball, except jellyballs can break bones and knock you down with the force of impact. They glowed in the dark, sticking to the victim like honey, searing the skin with chemicals that created an intense sensation of burning but without actually damaging the flesh. Suddenly lasers arced up toward the ship.

“Let’s motivate!” yelled Korbin.

Gesele pushed forward, grimaced, and they vanished into reality.

Berc was left behind. Wherever he was. Or wasn’t.

 

 

2

Too many years long after humans first walked on the Moon, Planet Earth was finally unified and at peace, the mother hub of human colonies scattered throughout the solar system. The old Cold War had ended, the Global War on Terror finally petered out, but the middle of the twenty-first century erupted into what became the last great planetary war. Nation rose against nation and the planet seethed with chaos. Refugees from a thousand races swarmed helter-skelter around the globe.

When the conflict ceased the peoples of the world agreed to finally unite as One People and stop such madness forever. They spent the next century rebuilding and exploring, and the centuries after that they settled the solar system with a constellation of colonies. With advanced technologies and primal courage humans thrived in even the most inhospitable places. Excitement combined from both greed and curiosity pushed them to explore and conquer and settle with an almost messianic intensity. They wrecked whole worlds even as they improved them.

Earth and its colonies merged to form the Solarian Federated Empire Republic, governed by the democratically elected Parliament of the Sun. In the early years the Parliament of the Sun governed wisely, possessed with a zeal only a sense of destiny and good fortune can bring. Commerce and the arts thrived. People migrated and mingled in peace. Efforts were made to safeguard the natural environment of planets and moons to avoid the pollution of Old Industrial Earth.

After a time, however, the system became hardened and clogged. Crime and corruption soared in an age of exploitation. Greediness led to a collapse of the asteroid mines and a computer-enhanced collapse of the commodities market. Fuel shortages soared. Space service between the colonies began breaking down. Distribution of products and services fell apart. Corruption thrived on black markets. Local and regional gangs, warlords, and neo-feudal politicians began to emerge. The Empire Republic symbolized by the Sun, the source of all life, lapsed into economic chaos and civil discord.

Frustrated and ambitious military forces, long dormant since the last Great War, stormed from their barracks with unsettling speed. The Parliament of the Sun was overthrown in a bloody coup and most of Earth seized by the military rebels. Mars and Pluto also fell to the coup. A dictatorship was established in an attempt to restore law and order in the federation, but civil war erupted in reaction to the military take-over. An awful irony, as the militarists were originally guided by the desire to reestablish a plural democracy once all the corruption and disorder of the old regime had been purged and burned away. Seeing themselves as the righteous “good guys,” the military ended up being the “bad guys.”

It was a savage, multifaceted civil war. On one side was the military dictatorship, concentrated mostly on Earth, Mars, Pluto, and several satellite moons around other planets. Parts of these worlds were not entirely secure, and rebellions broke out frequently against the coup leaders. Hundreds of thousands died. The other colonies combined their self-defense militias and police fleets to oppose the Terran military.  They sought to restore the Parliament of the Sun to its former revolutionary glory and to preserve the Solarian Federated Empire Republic as a democratic, pluralistic society with a space based, socio-capitalistic economy.

To further complicate matters was a colonial reaction against the two Solarian factions fighting for control of the entire federation. A growing disgust with the idea of solarial unity sparked a surge of independence movements throughout the Solar System. More and more colonies declared their independence, inviting bloody retaliation from both the Solar Military and the Solararian Federals.

It also happened that the majority of the breakaways became swept up into a new messianic religion sweeping the SFER in the wake of chaos. Led by a dogmatic fanatic known publicly as the Cosmic Prophet, the new Pagan faith infiltrated all levels of the rebellion. It was ironic that the military leader of these Pagan rebels, a charismatic populist with a genius for war as well as diplomacy, had little to do with the religion. He fought out of duty for his homeworld.

Marshall Sunyamodo, born on a primitive satellite near the rings of Saturn, based his forces upon the rebel moon of Titan. His forces busily prepared for a major assault on the Terran fortress of Pluto. Terran and Parliamentary forces were both bogged down in a long, nasty campaign for the asteroid belt. Another battle was shaping up on Mercury. Most of the independence movement was based upon the moons and satellite stations of the outer planets. Gradually the rebels had spread out and secured the outer sections of the solar system, leaving the other two factions to quarrel over the heart of the SFER between Jupiter and the Sun.

Only Pluto, which the old SFER had built up as a massive launch site for expeditions of galactic exploration that never left, was locked into Terran military control. Both the Terran and Parliamentary factions wanted to revive the goal of launching voyages of discovery from Pluto after the war ended. Whenever this horrible war ended. And even then peace would have to be restored among peoples burdened by years of hatred and despair and mutual slaughter. Concern over the economic demands of postwar reconstruction would further delay dreams of exploring and expanding beyond the borders of the solar system. Even the outermost regions of the Solar System, including the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud with their hordes of comets and mysterious icy planetoids remain relatively unexplored. Leaders supporting the coup against the Parliament of the Sun had crushed the one single rebellion against Pluto’s military garrison. Most civilians were exterminated.

Intelligence sources had informed the Cosmic Prophet that Pluto was ripe for taking. The initial giddy success of the coup had given way to the paranoid gloom of isolation from Terra. Low on supplies and long cut off from ship contact with the coup factions closer to the Sun, poor morale spread as a malaise through the garrison. The bloody rebellion by pro-Parliamentarian service personnel and some guard units led to bitter divisions in the ranks of the victorious Terran forces. Morale deteriorated further with the death of so many acquaintances combined with pro-Terran units now taking on added service responsibilities. The new religion was taking hold despite efforts to eradicate it. Epidemics broke out in some quarters due to breakdowns in sanitation. The general mood among the rank and file of Pluto was one desiring change, major change, but it was want suffocated by fear. There had been talks about the surviving pro-Parliamentarians and the Terran military reconciling, burying the hatchet, and combining forces against the Cosmic Prophet. The trouble with that was not just the animosity between the two but that so many in both camps found it easier and more inviting to turn instead toward the Cosmic Prophet and the new Pagan religion of the Cosmos.

Sunyamodo marshaled the rebel forces for an all-out effort to take Pluto. The liberation of Pluto would be a devastating blow to the Terran coup leaders as well as a major snub against the Parliamentarians.

Sunyamodo sighed as he walked down the hall toward Command and Control Station Number One. He would have to share another day with the Cosmic Prophet. Sunyamodo imagined his starship shimmering smoothly as it rocketed through the cold vastness of space, trying not to think of all the hundred million lives lost in the past three years of interplanetary war.

Doors slid open to allow him entrance to the deck of C&CSN1. Cloaked in a monkish robe of earthen green and rustic brown sashed with a coil of red over a voluptuously revealing outfit, the Cosmic Prophet rose from her chair and turned toward him with a face of golden steel.

 

 

3

Droklan Tartar strode down the grimy corridor toward the Hub, brushing his knuckles against whiskers grey against unwashed flesh. They’ve been out of water for a while now. Sabotage. But he didn’t care. He was just fed up with garrison life on Pluto, with isolation and endless war without combat. A Captain in the Terran Military Occupation of Pluto, he had led his units with distinction in suppressing the bloody colonial uprising against the Terran Military. But all he got was another job and a reprimand for not killing enough rebel civilians. Now he toyed with ideas of mutiny, and grinned savagely whenever he spied clusters of lower ranking officers griping and moaning about life on Pluto.

Nexus of a dark, frigid fortress, the Hub filled an entire crater with a hive of activity. Droklan moved toward a bank of radar scanners and scowled at the stench of unwashed bodies.

“Captain Tartar, sir, there appears to be a massive mobilization of rebel forces gathering outside Pluto’s orbit,” Sgt. Mike Lugvoola reported, a cigarette dangling across his lower lip. “The Governor-General has already been alerted.”

“Well, shit, Mike. That ain’t nothing unexpected,” said Droklan as he scratched his armpits. “We’ve been anticipating such an attack for a long time now. Hell, we’re a thorn in their sides; perched way out here in their rear when all they really wanna do is storm across Earth. Damn Pagans and their Cosmic Witch Queen whatever.”

“Yeah, Captain, but check out the numbers, sir.” Mike shook his head and scattered ashes. “The colonials never had this many ships coming together like this before.”

“Shaping up into a major operation, huh? Goddamn bastards are gonna blast us off this ice bucket of a planet.” Droklan grinned again, scowling suddenly as a rotten tooth began to throb.

“Friggin’ tooth!” He reached into his mouth and gently touched it. Painful!

“Captain!” Mike hunched over his terminal. “Check this out.”

Neon screens glowed luminous in the electronic dungeon of the fortress as a message from Arn Chi’n Yang, the Governor-General of Terran Pluto, flickered into solidity.

“Jesus!” hissed Droklan as he decoded the cipher.

The machine clattered out a scroll of purple paper, but the real message flashed three times on the screen and disappeared.

“Intelligence sources confirm the presence of both the Cosmic Prophet and Marshal Sunyamoto among the gathering rebel fleet. The largest rebel assault since the war began is expected. The military councils on Earth are unable to aid us. We are on our own as valorous defenders of the Empire Republic to keep Pluto free from rebel control and an integral part of Terra. Despite all the hardships we valiantly suffer here on Pluto, I know we can hold this planet. I expect every man and woman to go beyond the call of duty, to exceed normal expectations, to do your very best for the SFER. Even if the worst shall come, we shall go down fighting and take as many of the enemy as we can. It is our duty. Even in defeat we can break the back of the enemy, and thus save the rest of the Empire Republic from the bloodthirsty nightmare of evil visited upon our solar system by the so-called Cosmic Prophet. Out here, bereft of ships, there is no retreat. So to battle, comrades, and what a battle it shall be! I am proud to lead warriors such as you.”

The videoscreen melted into a chaos of gray sand.

“Bullshit,” Droklan Tartar thought to himself.

Sgt. Lugvoola took a drag on his cigarette and blew smoke away. He seemed surprisingly calm.

“Quite a little speech there, but what about the colonials here?” he asked. “And as for us, we can fight like hell for a while, but a few good rockets punching holes through our shields will destroy our atmosphere. Our bodies’ll get blown out and smashed into the rocks. So much for a glorious last stand, huh, Captain?” The sergeant turned slowly toward his captain and winked.

“Mike, are you contemplating treason?” Droklan Tartar asked sternly, and then winked carefully at his companion.

The man sat up in his chair and pretended to look busy, then turned slyly toward his higher-ranking officer.

“I would like to live one more day, yes,” he nodded. “And turn up a cold beer beneath a big, hot sun. If the frakkin’ SFER truly values this place, I think my higher duty lies in preserving Pluto for the good of all rather than help destroy it.”

“Hmmmnn,” mused Droklan Tartar, “I tend to agree with you. And I think I can rally a fairly large segment of our comrades-in-arms to our views. In fact, many already share similar views. Our great, glorious Governor-General may get his glorious last stand, all right, but it ain’t gonna be what ol’ Yang thinks.”

Tendrils of tobacco smoke spiraled upwards toward the vents.

 

 

4

Dr. Obanji Asawandoba hunched over treasure in the bowels of the cave. A full mile below the surface in a relatively unexplored portion of the cavern system brought dread and oppression to his coworkers, but a sense of elation and freedom to him. Let his comrades fly into space for freedom; he found his within the inner hearts of planets. Only his lover, Gobanjo Akuwangini, claimed to understand.

What occupied Asawandoba was the cluster of rare crystal formations protruding from the cavern walls. They glistened in the glow of his headlamp as molten steel even though frozen solid. Plutite beauties, found only on Pluto, a planet of ice and rock.

“Obanji!” Homer Kangavango shouted from across the way. “Come check this out. Seismic vibrations are steadily increasing upon a narrow frequency, as if something is heading toward us.”

Asawandoba stood up, sweating in his suit. He urinated into his recycling filter. Convenient, but still awkward. “Something heading toward us? In this ice? What the hell does that mean?”

“A vent of magma dissolving rock as it shoots toward the surface? The pressure of an impending volcanic eruption causing local quakes? Jeepers, Doc, I ain’t got no idea!”

“Shit. Lemme see that, Homer.” Asawandoba strode over in his clunky

suit. Stooped, he peered at the jumping signals peaking on his assistant’s seismometer. “Can’t be, naw, it can’t be.”

“Jeepers, can’t be what, Doc? C’mon, Obanji, tell me. Looks like microquakes to me.”

Suddenly the needles on the seismometer stopped, as if the supposed magma stopped venting. But Homer Kangavango knew molten rock did not pause as if to listen.

“Homer, it’s not volcanic and it’s not a quake. Too local. Strange, it’s as if someone’s drilling with an enormous bit. I wonder if the enemy forces of the Prophet are attacking us from within.”

“What, Obanji? How could they get through the Terran military fields without being detected? How come there’s not more than one?”

“Who knows how many there are?” replied Asawandoba. “The military’s exhausted. Limited manpower. Any number could slip in undetected into some frozen ass crater somewhere. Hide in the frickin’ shadows, y’know, and tunnel thru this little ass ice bucket.”

“Damn,” muttered Kangavango. “But we also know gravitational tides can cause small, local spiderweb quakes on many of the ice moons around the gas giants.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” said Asawandoba and nodded. “And who knows what the Cosmic Prophet and her unholy minions can do? Unholy minions, sheeyit. Unholy.”

He chuckled.

“Unholy, Doc? I don’t take sides in that stupid war. I’m with getting on with exploring the galaxy. In fact I don’t care if the Prophet wins or takes Pluto.”

“Nor do I. Trouble is, Homer, if the Prophet takes Pluto, she will destroy every living thing here to do so. She justifies it as helping us reincarnate into spiritually more evolved beings. Sheeyit.”

“Wow, look, check it out, Doc!”

The needles jumped madly, fluttered wildly, then stopped again.

“Every living thing? Hmmmnn, Homer, maybe some rebel colonials escaped with some ore mining equipment. Something big is burrowing through solid rock.”

“Aside from humans, Pluto is a dead world, Obanji. You know that. Just a giant, dead comet rotating with Charon, another big ass, dead, dirty butt snowball.”

“But our explorations have been mostly confined to the surface. And even about ten percent of that has yet to be fully explored. So much ice. Hardly any atmosphere. Poison gases. Weird metals. Rock morphed by ancient heat then extreme cold. So much more to discover. This damn war . . . ”

“The quakes are getting stronger!” Homer Kangavango backed away.

“Really now, young man, you know there is no place to run.” Obanji Asawandoba threw back his bubbled head and hee-hawed off into the darkness a mile deep beneath the Plutonian surface. “All for some goddamn Plutite crystals!”

“What the devil are you babbling about?” demanded Homer, unnerved and a little mad at Asawandoba’s suddenly strange demeanor. Instinctively he grabbed his geologist’s pick and turned to run down the cave. Plutite crystals glowed as clusters of distant stars from radiation absorbed from the scientists’ lanterns.

“Stop, Homer, we are too far down to run and will die anyway in this stupid ass war.”

In a great, silent shake the walls of the cave convulsed and blew out in a lateral eruption of rock and dust. Great jagged stone chunks spilled out as boulders bounced forward and shattered in a radius of dark, quaking destruction.

Homer was flung down, but miraculously his suit remained intact. Now as the great violence suddenly seemed over, all panic left him. He even felt a strange eagerness to determine the cause of the quakes. Death by molten rock seemed unimportant now, for the good Dr. Asawandoba was correct. He couldn’t run fast enough and far enough anyway, and so he might as well satisfy his curiosity. As he stumbled about, the powerful glow of his headlamp searched over the rubble and spied his associate. Obanji Asawandoba lay crushed beneath an immense rock.

Things were too intense and scary to feel anything but a sublime numbness. His first thought concerned informing the doctor’s lover. “So now I’m the one who’ll have to tell Gobanjo . . . ”

A movement in the murky veil of rockdust caught his attention. Homer jerked his head around. The glare of his light sparkled and reflected off a curtain of rockdust, but moving through it and toward him was a great force of apocalyptic strength and calculating, purposeful intelligence. In his shock Homer felt his brain being scanned by a mental power as enormous and deliberate as the body that encased it.

Life other than humans and their germs and parasites did indeed thrive on Pluto. Evolving deep in the rock and ice and protected from the harsh conditions of the surface, unhampered by the light gravity of small planet, these creatures grew to enormous girths. They devoured and recycled raw rock, relishing crystals and minerals, nourished themselves with the ice of frozen gases and metals, living among other creatures in vast interconnected hives deep in the bowels of the planet.

Heavy, ponderous, bulbous, plated in armor where molten rock had hardened as crystalline steel over its wet, rubbery skin, the gigantic bulb-like root towered over the geologist. Other than a complex integration of crystalline plates glittering in the glare of the headlight, there were no visible features connoting face or limbs. Just plates amid plates of plates and immense bulk.

Homer gasped. The thing was monstrous. Only then did he glimpse an idea regarding the true magnitude of the beast as it began to slide into the cavern, its quirky flesh shimmering with reflected heat. The creature began bulking up and bunching into an enormous crystalline conglomeration. It continued to probe his mind. A blizzard of alien symbols invaded his brain and multiplied as viruses, drawing off his soul and filling the emptiness of his cerebrum with duplicating chaos.

A hole opened in the side of the creature as a spiral of scaly plates peeled back. A whirring nest of delicate tentacles coiled out and fanned through the air. Paralyzed by the invasion of his mind, Homer was powerless to run as a web of plasma curled around him and melted through the fabric of his suit. With life-support systems thus deactivated, the scientist was already dead before the tendrils penetrated his body and drained the suit of all organic material.

Pulsating, the great beast paused a mile below the surface, scanning the great activity of humans scurrying above in their colonies, preparing for another battle in their endless civil war. As their mindless and idiotic fighting threatened destruction of the whole planet and thus the inner biosphere, the inner realm of life unknown to the invaders above, it was time to purge clean the flesh of the Mother Planet.

The creature stretched out its tremendous bulk in a fantastic elongation of crystalline-encased plasma. Shimmering at ever-faster rates of speed, the organism sparkled in blinding waves of incandescent energy and shot up through the caverns at incredible speeds. Behind it and all around followed a great hive of others, swarming with volcanic fury toward a sun not seen since their ancient ancestors burrowed in from ice and snow.

 

 

5

“Are any of you familiar with the Undead?” Capt. Droklan Tartar peered around the cabin, looking each miserable face in the eye. Such an unhappy group of mutineers, he thought.

Only one shook his head yes. A lieutenant. “Vampires, of a sort,” he replied. “Corpses of people freshly dead, chemically reanimated, medically altered, genetically reprogrammed, something like that.”

“Not quite, but close.” Droklan Tartar nodded. “It’s an eugenics experiment gone awry. They have certain, uh, powers, so to speak. Long ago it was supposed to create cyborgs with the ability to survive in extremely harsh climates on almost any planet. Plus with the ability to repair and regenerate injured bodies. Something like that.”

“Friggin’ nonsense!” exploded another unshaven face. “It is a myth perpetuated to paralyze people with fear! It was an eugenics experiment, cloning or something of corpses mated with robots and computers, but nothing worked. All was destroyed a couple hundred years ago in the Great World War. Atomic destruction! Frakkin’ zombies, man.”

The others nodded and looked around, not really sure what to think but wanting to look tough and confident.

“Well, regardless of such myths, the Undead do exist. They are the power behind the throne. Hell, they are the power behind the power behind the throne. Back there they run a consortium of black markets and criminal empires. Many of the people who work for them don’t even know or believe the Undead exist. Some who do, well, they disappear. The Undead, in fact, are at the very center of the eGokudafias. We are in fact, fellow conspirators, and yes, remember if that word shocks you, we are already traitors, the original fuckin’ traitor. We’re traitors to the First Government of the Empire Republic which our generals and admirals so kindly overthrew, remember, to in fact rid us of the corrupting political influence of the Undead’s criminal empire. Their web of evil was strangling the government and the culture of the great Solarian Federated Empire Republic. Our puritanical military warlords saw fit to overthrow such poison.”

“Even if all this is true, what is your point?” rasped the Face.

“By the Sword and Gun, I’ve never heard such poppycock,” the Lieutenant gushed and flailed his hands for silence. “But,” and then he leaned forward with a menacing grin that made Mike Lugvoola shiver, “it sure as hell makes sense!”

“Sir, how do you know so much about the Undead?” asked the Face again.

“Ever seen one?” piped up another.

“No,” the Captain said flatly without even nodding one way or another. “And I don’t want to.”

“But the man has a point,” said the Lieutenant poking the air with a spiky gesture. “What’s your connection to the Undead?”

“I’ve got my contacts,” shot back Captain Droklan Tartar. “And once upon a time long ago I was in a eGokudofia clan before I joined the military. That’s all I’m gonna say on that subject. Got it?”

Everyone else nodded and half of them fumbled for cigarettes.

“We know we can not infiltrate as successfully as we wish,” continued the Captain, “nor win in armed combat for such combat would break open the shields and destroy us all anyway, without the help of the Undead.” Droklan Tartar traced a web of scars upon his face with the nail of his index finger. While suppressing the colonial rebellion on Pluto he received a rip-edged slab of hot shrapnel in the cheek as a gift. He had massacred in return. That’s why war is Hell, he thought. Everybody slaughters everybody and the winners cover up their own horrible, shameful crimes. Then pretend the good guys did everything right and all the evil was committed by just the bad guys. Fuckin’ war. He almost said it out loud. But he didn’t.

“Outside this door awaits an emissary from the Undead. One of the Undead themselves,” Droklan Tartar continued. “It will be my first time laying eyes on one. The Undead seek revenge upon the leaders of the Terran Military Occupation. They are allies of all who oppose our so-called glorious warlords. New wars can be fought later over the spoils of conquest, but for now that can wait. First thing first is to take over the Terran Military Government of Pluto.”

“And what do the Undead seek in exchange for our firepower?”

The backdoor swung open and a tall, muscular creature strode quietly into the cabin, so quietly as to almost float. Neither male nor female but once human, the androgynous being peeled back the cowl from its head, flipping it back over the red and black cloaks draping its presence. Gasps of horror issued from battle-hardened veterans. A few turned away to keep from retching behind their seats.

“In exchange for your military experience and support,” grated the ghostly voice of the demonic being, “we want total control of the Planet Pluto, its moon Charon, and all their population. Except you, of course. All who aid us in this venture shall be allowed to leave the planet.”

“What the hell do you want with Pluto?”

The cyborg vampire hissed and stared imperiously at the Face. “It’s no secret. Pluto is the perfect world to set up our own kingdom, one might say. Especially for the Undead. This planet and its moon Charon, furthest from the sun, shall be our nesting ground. It is here that the Undead shall come home to roost, indeed, my friends, to reproduce.”

“Do you realize what the hell you are asking us to do?” the Lieutenant stood up and pointed at the menace. “For temporary short-term gain, we lay the foundation for the total enslavement and destruction of the human race! What is this? I thought we were to be in alliance with the Cosmic Prophet?”

“Enough!” roared Droklan Tartar. “Korbin, come in!”

The massive ex-dancer glided in behind the figure of the Undead. He grinned around at the circle of officers, his metal teeth glinting in the light. “Another unholy alliance!” he laughed.

Droklan Tartar pointed at the newcomer. “This mercenary won’t hesitate to kill you upon my orders.”

“Actually, my friends,” the cloaked figure chuckled, “I won’t wait for Korbin. I’ll take care of you myself, quickly, painfully, and I assure you, in a most intimate and ungentlemanly fashion.”

“Who are you?” asked Sgt. Mike Lugvoola.

Luminous red eyes glowered upon Lugvoola until he shuffled his feet nervously. “Ahh, your Captain would have introduced me in proper fashion if I had not so rudely interrupted. As a sign of my generosity amid this spirit of cooperation, I will return to him the honor.”

Korbin barked out a laugh and flexed his muscular torso with a sensuous jerk.

Thank you, sir,” nodded Droklan Tartar. “Comrades, allow me to introduce to you the great arch-criminal of the Undead eGokudafias, Levi the Vampire.”

The androgynous monster bowed gracefully, and Korbin shut the door behind them.

“And…uh…eGokudafia vampires only go by…um…one name.”

Damn vampires, Korbin thought, but they sure do pay well. He was horny and kept fantasizing about wild, kinky sex with Gesele, who was back guarding their ship. He desired to lift her up into a swing chair, strap her in, and whirl ‘er hot, wet, and juicy upon his cock and feel her muscles shudder with pleasure. Oh yeah, baby, oh yeah…then he looked around and thought again, damn vampires.

Yeah, the Undead, whoever or whatever they really are, madmen in drag for all he knew, paid better than anybody else in the solar system. Only one problem nagged at the back of his mind. The Undead demanded much in return, so much in return. But he was confident he and Gesele could outfox even them. Yeah, ol’ Gesele. Can’t wait to feel her talons raking down his back. Feeling her writhe cat-like beneath his apish thrusts as he slapped her round bottom red.

But here they were on Pluto, far from the lakes and woods of Maine. Gesele wanted to go back to Earth and live there, if things ever worked out. No more stench and cold and the stale air of living in space. No more blood and torture and screams of war. No more killing everyone in sight so their children won’t grow up to kill you.

 

 

6

Arn Chi’n Yang, Governor-General of the Planet Pluto for the Terran Military Occupation, was more a prisoner than perhaps any other human realized. A prisoner of himself, of his own office, of his title. He wanted to get off the frozen hunk of space waste just as much as any of his troopers, yet a fierce dedication to the Terran Military made him determined to fight to the last. As warlord of Pluto he had a stake in the crazy-quilt breakup of the SFER and any new, unpredictable mosaic of political configurations that may replace it. He wondered if any of the major factions would win the great civil war in the conventional sense, or themselves fragment into a multitude of warring tribes burning themselves out amid a great wasteland of charred planets.

Surrounded by computerized controls, video terminals, blinking lights, piles of files and papers, books, he lived as in a giant video game. He even had a personal self-defense robot bristling with armament, which could be triggered by his own thoughts projected and enhanced by neurocomputer implants. Beyond the big, blinking banks numerous aides and soldiers scurried about the huge complex, all automatons programmed to merely exist, or so it seemed.

The stench was horrible. Even in the inner command bunkers of the Governor-General. The shortages took a terrible toll upon such a distant planet so far from resupply. But the military bases upon Pluto seethed with a deadly concentration of firepower seen little where else in the solar system.

Pluto was, after all, the outermost planet, and was the first defense the human race had against any alien hostiles from beyond its orbit. Of course, any alien incursion could cross the imaginary frontier far from the actual real-time location of Pluto. Nevertheless it was deemed wise to have an outpost so far out. It felt good to those closer in to the Sun. The outposts on Pluto were especially important since the SFER had planned to launch expeditions of exploration and possibly colonization into the rest of the Milky Way.

Arn Chi’n Yang was aware the absence of a Terran space fleet severely handicapped his ability to defend Pluto. It was too much like the classic naval battles of old Earth where battleships and cruisers were pitted against aircraft carriers and fighter planes. But Yang was also confident the great dome shields were much more blast resistant than most of the rank-and-file believed. The Cosmic Prophet would lose many of her ships to missile swarms alone, so many that silly Marshal Sunyamoto would be exposed as an incompetent, bloodthirsty butcher of his own people and thus fall out of favor.

Metal slammed upon metal as security guards dragged a bellowing man into the compound.

“I demand to see the Governor-General now! And be treated with respect! Now, I say. It is an emergency and you should fear for your frickin’ lives instead of treating me like shit!”

The man rolled up off the floor and stood up, spitting and brushing off his clothes. He ran a hand through his matted hair. The guards shoved him toward the Governor-General’s command cubicle.

“You shall get your wish, rock digger,” snarled one of the guards.

“Let him be,” Yang said mildly and motioned the man in.

“This is Dr. Gobanjo Akuwangini, a geologist who prowls around in restricted caverns for Plutite. He is a colonial.”

“I am perfectly capable of describing myself, you blasted jerk with a badge! I am a civilian scientist, not some damn colonial. And I have important information which concerns all that live on Pluto.”

“Indeed,” Yang stared at the disheveled scientist. “Well, you shall have your chance to address me. Guards, how did this man manage to walk so far undetected into this center? Find out, not from this doctor but from those responsible for guarding this center. And,” he warned with a quiet glance of menace, “anybody guilty of any such security violation shall be cast outside the dome naked and suit less.”

“Yes sir, Governor-General!” The chief guard snapped off a salute and left.

“Now, Doctor, this is your chance to speak. Please make it brief. Are you aware the whole planet faces battle with a huge fleet under the Cosmic Prophet herself with her toy servant Marshal Sunyamodo? Are you aware what could happen to you and other colonials if we fail to properly defend the colony and you fall into the hands of those messianic Pagans under that madwoman? Fanatics who seek to reincarnate all souls not in agreement with them? And even if you agree they’ll kill you anyway because they believe you’ll merely reincarnate a wiser person? Do you understand me, doctor?”

“I am aware of this damn fool war tearing apart the human race, yes. And I am also aware of these myths and untruths spread all over the place about these Pagans of the Prophet, who treats her captives better than your troops have treated us!”

“Is treason what you want to discuss? I’m sorry, Doctor, but my time is too important to waste on speeches about the past.”

Dr. Gobanjo Akuwangini thought of all the coo-coo speeches he had been forced to endure from this idiot of a warlord. He took a deep breath and sighed. Dragged his hand across his forehead and flicked a bugger from his nose. These pitiful soldiers, he thought.

“Sir, what I care about is the survival of this outpost of humanity irregardless of who governs Pluto. Governments change and come and go, but there can be no government unless there are people to be governed. The war between all of us will someday come to an end, but I do not want to see an end to the human presence here on Pluto, perched so precariously in a most hostile region in an orbit oscillating wildly across the plane of planets. We are the keys to the Solar System, Sir, if you will.”

“You have impressed me once more on how vital Pluto is to the interest of humanity. Which is why the Terran Military made such great effort to secure it for humanity.”

Yang could not help but wonder why the hell did Earth now feel compelled to abandon Pluto to itself. Great suns, he might as well declare Pluto independent and enter into peace with all factions. Now why didn’t he think of that earlier? Maybe this doctor is on to something. Yes, he was loyal to the Terran military. Hmmnnn, but more so to the human presence on Pluto as part of the great Solarian Federated Empire Republic.

“Are you an ambassador from some rebel faction still hidden among the rest of the colonials?” he suddenly asked Akuwangini.

“Hell no!” the geologist shook and turned purple, then reminded himself to breath. The man almost chuckled at himself.

“I am with no faction amid a colony riven with factions. The further from the sun the greater the madness. But we are not alone on this world. We humans, that is, irregardless of factions.”

“What do you mean?” Yang started.

“Life forms of some kind, intelligent life forms at that, live deep in the rock and ice of this planet. I don’t know about Charon. At any rate, these damn critters have determined that we surface dwellers, as they regard us, must go before we destroy their world with our wars. Governor-General, we must keep Pluto for the human race. The real war is not between human factions but between humanity and those who live below the caves! The real enemy is not beyond the stars but here, right here, below us, tunneling through the rock below.”

“So you say. How interesting. I am not surprised.” Yang showed no emotion. He was excited, however, stimulated by the dirty scientist, but for other reasons. Hmmnnn, saving Pluto in the midst of crisis! He dreamed of crowning himself King of the Periphery, Generalissimo of an Independent Pluto, far from the punitive reaches of an obviously weak Terran Military Government, so weak it couldn’t even come to the aid of its cherished Fortress Pluto. He could enter into a convenient and secretly temporary relationship with Sunyamodo and the Prophet. He dismissed the threat of the Parliamentarian forces with a chuckle. They could barely hang on to an asteroid. He laughed again, a high-pitched giggle that rose into a squeal, and then stopped as he caught himself.

“Governor-General, sir, this is no laughing matter!” the geologist insisted. “Creatures of an unknown and hostile nature live below us, boring tunnels throughout the planet.”

“Actually, my dear doctor, there have been rumors for years of prehistoric monsters hanging out in the caves, but they’re all been researched and shown to be fairy tales and the result of hallucinations from people like you spending far too much time away from the sun, prowling around in areas off limits to civilians.”

“But . . . but . . . sir . . . I have evidence.”

“Have you seen or captured one of these pets of yours?”

“No, but . . . ”

“Guards, come here. Take this idiot away. He’s as much confessed to violating quarantined areas and here he is wasting my time telling lies upon the eve of battle. Toss the poor fool outside the dome.”

“What! You arrogant, power mad troll! The aliens killed my lover! They killed my coworkers! They destroyed our Plutite research! They melted everything . . .”

But the Governor-General was deaf to all, debating to himself the pros and cons of remaining loyal to the Terran Military Occupation. His spies where constantly informing him and reminding him about dissent and mutinous conspiracies multiplying throughout the colony and the planetary defense forces. Devils. He would show them he was the true Master of Byzantine intrigue and interplanetary politics.

Arn Chi’n Yang had already forgotten the warnings of the nutty rock picker as a door slid back from the outer layer of the dome’s shield. Exposed to the harsh bitter elements of the Plutonian surface, Dr. Gobanjo Akuwangini died instantly as his contorted and distorted body was ejaculated forth upon the snow. Twisted inside out as his body simultaneously exploded and froze solid, his brittle corpse hit the ice and shattered into a million crystals of bone and flesh. All around lay scattered heaps of frozen, broken meat from others who suffered similar fates.

 

 

7

“Sir, come here!” cried Sgt. Mike Lugvoola, cigarette dangling off his lip. “I can’t believe it!”

Capt. Droklan Tartar charged over to the viewing screens.

“I caught the tail end of it. Dammit. Playback. Playback!”

“Awright, sir, hold on. Here. There! Replay.”

The videoscreen flickered back into a gritty clarity. Martial music played briefly, then an image of Governor-General Yang swam into focus. A flag spanned the wall behind his head.

Droklan Tarter cursed and jabbed his finger at the flag. “That is the flag of the rebel independence movement here on Pluto! Damn it! Yang massacred the colonials! They scarred my face, and I slaughtered them in battle. Bastards! Now he conveniently adopts their symbols! But for what? He is a loyal slave of Terra! Usurper!”

“Listen, Captain, sir. Listen!”

Martial music faded and the warlord’s lips began to part.

“Another one of his crazy damn speeches!”

“Captain, please listen, sir!”

“Fellow warriors of Pluto! I greet you, my comrades in arms. Together we have occupied and defended Pluto as an outpost of the human race. Together we still represent the human race even as political events change. We have no control over what goes on beyond the inner orbit of Pluto. But here, along the periphery, we are the ones in control. And as your leader in war and battle, I have to make decisions. I do so in order to protect and defend you, my loyal troops, glorious victors of this still on-going civil war.” Yang paused and smiled. More martial music.

Lugvoola cursed. This was rambling even for a Yang speech. Cooped up in his dungeon of a bunker the old fool must have gone off his rocker. Hell, he couldn’t be blamed. They were all going crazy here on Pluto, consorting with vampires and robots and things half-human.

“In light of changing political situations, I made some momentous decisions,” Yang began again. “These decisions reflect my appreciation and affection for you the troops of Pluto. We were sent here by the Terran Military Government of the SFER to occupy and defend Pluto. Due to changes back on Earth the Military Government has indicated it can no longer resupply nor aid us, once their most valued military outpost. We protect all humanity from whatever else lies in hostility outside our Solar System. It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Especially when you consider the fact that you, honorable and glorious combat veterans, have been betrayed and abandoned by our warlords on Earth and Mars. They are traitors who have used our loyalty to rightfully overthrow the corrupt and crime-controlled Parliament of the Sun. Instead of instigating a government of democracy and just law, they instead created tyranny and provoked civil war.”

“Get to the point, Yang!” The menace in Lugvoola’s voice surprised even Droklan Tartar.

“As representatives of that military tyranny, we face overwhelming attack from the space fleets of the Cosmic Prophet and her Pagan army. To ward off unnecessary battle and slaughter, I have decided it is no longer in our best interests to serve those who have betrayed and deserted us. In light of these changing circumstances, I, Arn Chi’n Yang, Governor-General of Pluto, in the name of the colony and the occupation defense forces, hereby declare our Planet Pluto, its moon Charon, and the plane of their orbits completely independent of the SFER. We are now the Kingdom of the Periphery, and Pluto is the capital planet. Others may join us in the future, but for now we shall concentrate on the rebuilding of Pluto as we are the keys to the solar system, the link between humanity and the stars beyond.”

“What a dreamer!” declared Droklan Tartar. He laughed. He even admired Yang’s trickery and crazy vision.

“In the name of the people of the Periphery, I am hence declared to be King and Generalissimo of Pluto and the Kingdom of the Periphery. All the other planets, governments, and factions within the SFER are being notified. We are hailing the fleet of the Cosmic Prophet to request direct communication with Marshal Sunyamodo. There is no now no need for war between our peoples, as we shall guard Pluto and the Periphery for all humanity. Yes, my brothers and sisters in arms, yes all colonials and soldiers, we have finally thrown off the yoke of the Sun. We are free! We are independent! We ride the Periphery forever! Thank you for your glorious support.”

The videoscreen faded into martial clatter.

Mike Lugvoola sat there devastated. Numb. He stared up at Droklan Tartar, who tried to grin even though he too was drained of emotion.

“Captain, you know what this means? It means we’re even more isolated than before. It means we can never leave this world. We can never go home again.”

“Yang is nuts!” cursed Droklan Tartar. “The fool! We can barely survive without resupply from somewhere, and the civil war has disrupted all trade! We can’t even be frakkin’ pirates way the frick out here! Defending Pluto for all humanity from aliens from outer space! What nonsense!”

“Captain, if Yang can change sides, or even create his own side, can not the Undead switch sides as well? This is playing right out of our hands and into the hands of Levi the Vampire and all those other stinking corpses. They wanted Pluto and Charon for their own empire, too.”

“You know our mutiny was for the sole purpose of escape from Pluto, Sergeant. If we become trapped here, we all become spawning food for the Undead.”

“I’ll commit suicide . . .”

“You won’t dare, Mike! They will resurrect you as half-robot and part-demon out of flesh and wires. They’ll take you down into their weird hybrid occult temple – mad scientist labs. There you would be experimented on. Eventually, you would be eaten alive in ritual cannibalism and reborn a vampire. I don’t know how, and I don’t intend on finding out.”

“OK, so what are you getting at, Captain?”

“Yang is still our dictator. It doesn’t matter if he represents a far-away government or his own. Nothing here has really changed except a bunch of fancy titles.”

More martial music blared as the videoscreen blazed with urgent intensity. A young woman in uniform spoke in tired but excited tones from a room with soldiers rushing around in back.

“Where the Hell they get that goddamn marching music?” Droklan griped. He began to grumble again when he was cut short by the young, uniformed woman.

“I bring you the latest update on behalf of King Yang, Generalissimo of Pluto,” she began. “The evil legions of the Cosmic Prophet have rejected our offer of peace. Their military commander, Marshal Sunyamodo of Saturn, demands our unconditional surrender. As glorious defenders of the Kingdom of the Periphery, the Keys to the Solar System, we will defend Pluto to the last. The battle will soon begin. Our glorious leader has ordered . . .”

The screen blinked black with splintering lines of color before the face of the notorious Marshal Sunyamodo filled the box to gargantuan proportions. He spoke in a heavy, provincial accent.

“Hey!” yelled Mike Lugvoola. “He overrode our screens!”

“To all people of Planet Pluto, you must know the truth.” The large, bald head of Sunyamodo was still, his lips paused. Then he continued. “Your planet is under interplanetary quarantine. There is a nest of Undead hidden among you, and it must not be allowed to reproduce. Ignore your incompetent and treacherous warlord who calls himself King at your expense. Allow us to land peacefully so we can all unite together to root out the evil of cyborg vampires. It was the Undead who in the first place instigated this civil war and plot the destruction of all humanity. I do not even ask you to surrender. Just ignore your own dictator and allow us to land. The Undead must be stopped. If you do not allow us to land peacefully, we shall destroy the whole planet. Not to destroy you but to exterminate the vampires. We take this threat with extreme seriousness. But you cannot leave the quarantine area until the Undead have been exterminated. Think about it. Ignore your silly king. Why die with him?”

Droklan Tartar slammed his hand down upon his console. “I am tired of speeches! See, Mike, nothing really has changed, has it? Yang will still get his glorious last stand of a battle while we mutiny to save our own lives so we can get the hell out of here!”

“What do we do now, then, Captain?”

“Round up the others. Meet in the room behind the Eleventh Hall. Meanwhile I’m going to have a little chat with that musclebound dancer. Korbin. I have a little bet with myself that mercenary will value something more than money, and that is his life.”

 

 

8

“Yang is an idiot!” Gesele burst out, slicing the dank air with dull, black talons. “He’s a clown in uniform, playing king in some quixotic fairy tale out of some stupid comic book!”

“Well, your darling idiot, this comic book clown, has nevertheless succeeded in outfoxing us,” Droklan Tartar snarled with clenched fists. “He has undermined mutiny among the troops and rioting among the colonials before rebellion even begins. In his stupid cunning he has upset the balance of power in the Solar System. The Terran Warlords have lost an entire planet, the Parliamentarians have yet a new enemy, the colonial independence movements a new ally, but the Cosmic Pagans continue to lay siege.”

“Spare us yet another speech,” growled Korbin, whose electronically enhanced eyes flared luminous green, “and please get to the point. No one ever gets to the point around here. I am in the freezing cold land of ice and speeches. Hell, it is contagious! Why, here I am babbling one out myself! But, Captain, why are you here?”

“Because I feel we have common, mutual interests that can be exploited to everyone’s profit. But first, you gotta allow me to explain the reality of Yang’s actions.” Droklan Tartar paused and stared back into the emerald orbs of hot ice turning slowly in Korbin’s face.

“What do we have in common, Captain, other than battle scars etched into our cheeks?”

Droklan Tartar laughed in response. “I may like you yet, Korbin. By the way, what is your last name? Where you ever in the military?”

“I am Korbin. I have no last name.”

“Harrison,” Gesele blurted out. “Korbin Harrison is his name. He’s kinda cute, but he really has some hang-ups that make no sense.”

“Shut up, bitch!” Korbin spun around and pounded the wall.

“Quiet, asshole!” Gesele yelled back. “And if you ever call me that again, a Warrior of the Underground, I shall latch on to your skull in the midst of lovemaking one of these nights and eat your face from your head like a female praying mantis devouring her mate!”

“Ow! Don’t do that! Damn, I get it. I want no one to trace me through the Underground.” The big ex-climber turned toward the captain. “And Korbin Harrison is not even my birth name.”

“I won’t even ask what crimes you’re wanted for, but now I know of some of the rumors. Regarding a criminal mercenary of the same name, with a heart of gold.”

“That demands to be fed with gold.” Korbin stepped nimbly up to the Captain and peered down through nebulous vision. “And can you pile high before me more gold than even the Undead can amass?”

“No, but I do have access to rare Plutite jewelry, more valuable than gold, I would say. But that is not important. I say let’s work together to save our own skins. I can save your life. Without me both of you cannot leave the planet alive. And I need your help as well, to help me escape from Pluto with you. It’s as simple as that.”

“But what does this have to do with King Yang? Quick, Droklan Tartar, time grows short as lives dangle in the balance. You have already wasted valuable minutes quibbling about a name you will never know.”

“Latest intelligence reports show that most of the scattered rebel groups fighting for independence in the colonies, colonies throughout the old Empire Republic, have joined forces with the Cosmic Pagans. They’re out to create a new order. It is not unexpected. Even here on Pluto is a strong fifth column loyal to the Cosmic Prophet and in awe of Marshal Sunyamodo. The Parliamentarians, abandoned by the Undead, are being defeated left and right all over the Solar System. Their forces, representing those loyal to the old, corrupt Parliament of the Sun, are fragmented and expected to surrender one by one to whomever they happen to oppose in a particular sector. The Terran Military is holding its own, yet remains boxed in and capable of much ferocious destruction. Then, of course, there remains the problem of the Undead.”

“They hide in shadows and steal your souls. They fight in stealth with others as ignorant proxies, playing different factions off against the other, laughing without laughing. They drag people off into their mutant temples to cut them open and fix machines inside their bodies. Aye,” said Korbin, “I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen too much.”

“No one knows exactly what they want, what they’re up to or truly capable of,” broke in Gesele. “Only they want Pluto and Charon very bad, but secretly. Yang plays into their hands, but now supporting your mutiny-to-be does not. Levi the Vampire will do anything to steal Pluto from the human race.”

“And the Cosmic Prophet will destroy Pluto before she allows that to happen. Even with a throng of loyal supporters just waiting for her sign, she will kill them all as well just to incinerate the Undead,” Droklan Tartar said. “We will all die. Even you two, hired guns of the Vampire, are only expendable stooges. Most likely Levi will turn on you and spawn with you both.”

“But what about Yang?” Gesele asked.

“My point is that nothing really has changed, out here on Pluto. We find out Sunyamodo and the Prophet are out here not to conquer Pluto from the Terran Warlords, but to deny it to the Undead. So Yang’s declaration of independence is meaningless.”

“Meaningless?” Korbin looked confused. “But it’s rebellion!”

“Yes, but he still represents the same concentration of Terran Military power,” Droklan Tarter continued. “It was a move on his part to preserve Pluto and his own power from the destruction of an unwinnable battle. Not being aware of the Undead, but well aware of the recent alliances between colonial freedom movements and the Cosmic Pagans, he simply assumed that removing his association with Earth would remove Sunyamodo’s reasons for attacking. And preserve him position with absolute power. But it’s not working out. So everything really remains the same. Except on paper. Because of the Undead. They would make Yang one of them anyway, as well as all of us.”

“Argh!” Korbin waved his arms in disgust. “All this talk makes me want to puke. Ehhgg.”

“Korbin, Levi has been avoiding us lately,” Gesele said. “Acting strangely.”

“The Vampire always acts weird!”

“But,” Droklan interjected, “He now has to act quickly. His original plan to use a military mutiny allied with a colonial rebellion to oust Yang would have succeeded. But now Yang is the one who is revolting. The Undead is not gonna sit around if they want to breed.”

“I want out of here, Korbin,” Gesele said.

“Hell,” the giant laughed, “let’s go back to Maine.”

“Take me with you, back to the woods by the lake.”

“To hang out with mosquitoes while you ghost around in enhanced reality, to watch the sunset through neurotransmitted visualizations, to become one with the sunset itself, to go there where there is no there, only here.”

“To be one with all nature.”

“Hey,” interrupted Droklan Tartar. “I just wanna get off this frozen ice ball. Get away from the war.”

“What can you do to help us escape?” Gesele asked, going over to stand by Korbin. The huge fighter, ex-rock climber and former ballerina, scooped an arm around her lithe figure.

“First, will you desert the services of the Undead?” Droklan Tartar asked, almost quietly.

“Our first loyalty, Captain Tarter, is to ourselves,” Gesele replied.

“To each other,” Korbin nodded.

“Jeeeze,” Droklan Tarter shook his head. “Y’all don’t look like the type. I just can’t believe it. Jeeeze.”

“The mushy, romantic types?” Gesele asked with an uplifted eyebrow and a quirky grin.

“Hell, Tartar, Gesele and me here, why, we’re mushy as two rhinos goin’ at it, gruntin’ and rippin’ each other up.” Korbin laughed. “Tearin’ away like two crocs in heat. Ain’t nothin’ like the power of love. Aye, love!”

Gesele looked up at her lover. “What? I thought ours was a business arrangement.”

“Look, uh, I don’t know why the hell a couple of lovebird weirdos like y’all are way the hell out here . . .”

“For the money, Tartar!” Korbin barked.

“So we can buy a little hide-away camp in Maine,” Gesele responded. “Plus a few other things, too.”

“Anyway, you two can just call me Droklan.”

“Fine, Droklan,” Korbin reached out and shook the captain’s hand. “And you can just call me Korbin. Harrison ain’t necessary.”

“And my last name shall remain a mystery,” Gesele said and winked at the captain.

“But in all seriousness, Droklan, what can you do to aid us?” Korbin asked. “We only have a small zipship . . . ”

“A zipship!” Droklan sat back in surprise. “Way out here? How did you get to Pluto on a zipship, undetected at that?”

“The Undead have no fleet, in the conventional sense, but they do have ships, too,” Korbin replied. “Even large ones capable of holding many. We were deposited by a mother ship near Pluto’s orbit.”

“Yeah, but I don’t understand how you got here. Some secret arrangement with Yang in a doublecrosser’s doublecross?”

“I don’t know about that, but Undead technology has mastered cloaking devices. I have one on my ship. No cyborg vampire can pilot worth a hoot in hell. That’s where we come in, as expert pilots, experienced in the ways of the underground, and as bodyguards who can move in and out among humans.”

“Cloakers, huh,” Droklan chuckled. “Then why do you need me as well? You can sneak off anywhere.”

“For two reasons, Droklan,” Korbin said as his eyes blazed with a sudden flare of incandescent green. “The cloakers are programmed so only a vampire can operate it. They plug it directly into their own cyborg brain. See, it doesn’t really cloak the ship as much as they imagine it to be where they wish it be, in a there that isn’t here.”

“And with your own neurotransmitter and ghosting ability, you couldn’t modify it, Gesele?” Droklan asked.

“Maybe with a lot of money for a lot of surgery,” she shook hair out of her eyes. “But we would have to have access to Undead technology.”

“Can you not, through your own enhanced reality abilities, go there, interface, steal it, and ghost back?”

Gesele leaned forward, as if the idea was nothing new yet quite serious. “You’ve heard about the Atomic Ghosts, those who fuse so completely with virtual reality as to completely disappear within it, never to return? No one knows for sure what really happens, right?”

“Yes?” the captain nodded for her to proceed.

“Well, I think the Undead with their advanced, criminal technologies have snatched them away, stolen their very existence.”

“But for what purpose?” Droklan shrugged his shoulders, intrigued, but frustrated by his own lack of knowledge.

“The Undead prowl cyberspace as well as anybody else, if not better. After all, they’ve been dead and resurrected,” Gesele responded, eyes squinting into the harsh light of the ceiling.

Korbin sat down and leaned forward. “Droklan, we have seen many things in our mercenary careers. We suspect, although we are not sure, that the Undead are on the edge of developing some kind of mutant technology. There’s even hints of combining cyberspace technology with quantum physics and the occult.”

“The occult!”

“Yes, a Witch’s brew of astral travel, shamanic dream journeys, ceremonial magick, sex magick, and psychedelic drugs,” Korbin said. “The craft of calling demons up from the pits of Hell. The art of calling down the power of gods and goddesses from Heaven.”

“I wish Berc was here with us,” blurted Gesele.

“Who?” asked Droklan.

“Berc. Part of our original trio. The occult is his specialty. Berc’s not only a martial arts killer but has a Ph.D. in physics and is a highly skilled sorcerer. He’s lethal. We haven’t heard anything from him after we agreed to rendezvous on Earth. He just . . . vanished.”

“Yes, Berc has the power to go head to toe with Vampires,” said Korbin. “They are intent on domination of what we call the Afterlife. The Undead feel all that exists beyond biological death, the Afterlife, are really different dimensions of reality. If they conquer the Afterlife, they can control the physical universe from literally.”

“By mastering the science behind magick,” said Gesele as she remembered to glance around.

“Taking the old ways, taking what was beautiful and perverting it,” Droklan nodded. “I’ve read about some of those crafts. Back in my younger days.” He laughed as he remembered the warmth of old books yet researching through hologram libraries. He shook his head with a smile as he continued. “Many of these primitive techniques with drugs and rhythm achieved certain intense spiritual states similar to certain explorations of cyberspace. Except the old ways were messy, tedious, took a long time to do, even longer to master. With cyberspace anybody could just plug in and ghost away, easy, totally in control.”

“But not in control, Droklan,” Gesele said. “Control was an illusion. The old ways of magick and ritual were real, dangerous, and difficult, but once there you were in control. But only a very few ever mastered it, become avatars and shamans, witches and sorcerers, wild men and wild women, castigated by a society fearful of lack of control over those who were in control. See?”

“I’m trying to.” Droklan shook his head, lost in thought. “I remember stories as a child, legends in my own tribe back on Earth, about shamans and witches, but the Great World War destroyed so much.”

“But the new explorers of the inner worlds, of cyberspace, they were not truly in control. Experienced only in pretense and delusion, seeing games and not visions, they nevertheless encountered an entire alternate universe, which intertwines throughout ours. Perhaps it is part of the alternate universe of the Afterlife, of Heaven and Hell, of Nirvana, of the Summerland, or whatever lies beyond. There are things out there so powerful, so mysterious, so immense, that they are the ones who control what really goes on, everywhere.”

“Gods? Are you talking about God?” Droklan’s eyes grew huge.

Gesele nodded her head affirmatively, then shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. There are those who think we are breaking into the House of God. Then there is the Cosmic Prophet with her cyberspace visions of the Great Goddess, who in opposition to the Undead wants to do the same thing. Almost.”

“What? Want to do the same thing? The Cosmic Prophet and Sunyamodo? What do you mean?” Droklan reached up and scratched vigorously behind his ears.

“The Cosmic Prophet,” broke in Korbin, “so we understand, has a great vision. A vision concerning the future evolution of the human race. Of all humanity as a species.”

“And what is this vision?”

“Of utilizing the archaic yet powerful tools of the occult, of magick and shamanic ecstasy, to enhance our technological ability to access and explore cyberspace. So every mind, every brain, every soul can be linked together in this vast interplanetary web connected by cyberspace as well as by our astral ether. Together, as one giant brain spanning the entire solar system, powered, in fact, by the mighty Sun itself, we can then interface with Deity. Deity beyond God and Goddess, the Highest Divine Power itself, the absence of all ego, the absence of all worldly awareness. Nirvana achieved. We can then go anywhere in the universe. Nothing can stop us.”

“We become nothing? But what about our physical bodies left behind? They feed and house the brains. Without them there is nothing to truly interface with. Sounds like another delusion to me.”

“That is the plan of the Cosmic Prophet.” Korbin sat back and held out his arms. “But the Undead seem to have a very similar plan, but a dark, perverted one, utilizing the abuse of such powers to create a criminal monstrosity the whole galaxy has never seen. They’ll steal your soul instead of enhancing it. Your flesh will sustain theirs. They will breed inside your mind, shredding you asunder as they become . . . you. They will use cyberspace to destroy the Solar System, to invade the Galaxy, to subvert the Universe, yes, to wrest control away from the Divine Power, to become, in a demonic fashion, gods themselves. Evil gods with power!”

“But if this is true, than they can only reap their own destruction, obliterating themselves from reality,” Droklan said.

“It’s the old Witch’s Law of Attraction. Good begets good, but harm returns threefold to those who do harm to others.”

“Yes,” replied Korbin, “and destroy all of us and the rest of humanity in the process.”

“And even escape into cyberspace, leaving the flesh totally behind,” Gesele said.

“Impossible!” Droklan stated.

“No sweat, man,” Gesele chuckled. “The dead do it all the time.”

“But, Captain Tartar,” Korbin became stern voiced. “We have one more need of you.”

“Just get me off this blasted chunk of frozen stardust.” Droklan stared back.

“Incite rebellion. As you said, Yang is still in charge whether or not he is loyal to the Terran Military Government. Start the mutiny in motion. This shall encourage the colonial remnants, even after their first revolt failed so bloodily, to revolt once more. It won’t take much. See, what we really need around here is chaos. We can hide in all the ruckus. Then we shall escape.” Korbin thumped his massive chest with his stump of a fist.

Droklan Tartar nodded his head, then stood up. “Actually I’ve already sent out orders for certain units to mutiny and take over. That will instigate a chain reaction. I have reasons of my own to boot Yang out of power and stir up a mess.”

“Reasons of your own?”

“Several. Revenge. I served loyally and am exploited, then betrayed. Guilt, for murdering thousands I sympathized with. Anger, for my scar. And chaos, so we can escape together. Otherwise, I have no ship. All of the vessels here on this great military outpost of humanity are all broken down and grounded for repairs for which we have no spare parts.”

“Sounds good enough for me,” Gesele said.

“But we have to hurry,” Droklan said, gesturing toward the door. “But where is Levi the Vampire? Shouldn’t we take him out first?”

“Let the Cosmic Prophet play with him. Besides, he’s already gone to pay ol’ King Yang a visit.” Korbin waggled his head and chuckled.

“A state visit, no doubt,” Droklan winked in approval. “About time the ol’ croak had an ambassador from another realm come to pay some respects.” Droklan grabbed the back of a chair and laughed. “I guess the ol’ bastard is finally gonna get it now. Levi’s gonna kill him, right?”

“No,” Gesele stated. “He’s gone to secure his body, to make Yang one of the Undead, to penetrate and fertilize our poor li’l ol’ king with a vampire’s lust.”

“Sounds rather drastic to me.”

Sounds of gunfire and hissing lasers broke out in the corridors around them. Droklan laughed and patted the bulging pistol in his holster. A pumpblaster with laser precision. Each plug burrowed in, then exploded.

“Well, my friends, you’ve got your mutiny. Now let’s go find your ship.”

 

 

9

Deep beneath the frozen surface of Pluto swarms of lava-encased plasma beings teemed as a blazing mass of incandescent maggots. Communicating by touch and by bullet-like explosions of telepathic thought, they oozed and rolled one upon the other, squirming, flexing, bubbling, a mammoth hive of alien natives, transforming themselves from rock boring roots to amoeboid psuedopods to tunneling worms and devouring grubs to walruses of stone. Sometimes their shells of superheated rock would slide off and plasmic skin would contact plasmic skin. Immense amounts of bulk would fuse together in a wild copulation, thrashing, fluids boiling and hissing, flesh smoking, and more would join the fray. There was no limit to how many could mate at one time and fuse into one vast superorganism. Than the whole colony would cool down, colors changing and darkening, and melt away into a thousand more creatures, fully matured, memories preprogrammed from the originals. Every single beast shared the memories of every single other. Slender tentacles would slither out beneath overlapping layers and layers of crystalline structures, and melt into amoeboid liquids. The outer casing, depending on the creatures whim and motion, could cool down to a smooth grayish rock, or blaze into an incandescent molten embrace, or crystallize into an intricate shield of dense strength. Around the core of their planet they carved an intricate maze of tunnels and caverns, developing their brains, or rather, their equivalent of brains, and spirituality into a psychic civilization. Their culture was not one of artifacts, devised by hands with opposable thumbs, but rather one of mind. But instead of being trapped in their bodies, they were trapped inside their planet.

For eons they had ignored the surface world. Ever since their ancestors, themselves colonizers from some prehistoric empire back in the dawn of time, for some unknown reason decided to burrow into the core of the planet. So focused were they with life at the core of Pluto, far from the Sun, that most awareness of the surface became glazed over and forgotten. Not even much attention was given to the humanoids that recently landed upon the surface as they colonized and mined the shallow soils. They weren’t a threat to the tunnelmakers. Even the warfare and fighting between the humans never really disturbed the peace of the underworld, for it was always confined to the surface.

Trapped in the bowels of the planet, such great intellects could access cyberspace without artifacts and technology. As some of the more curious became aware of the human presence on certain levels, they began to become aware of cyberspace as a battleground as well. One that disrupted the harmony of the realms of cyberspace as well as the physical presence of the planet Pluto, of the Solar System itself. A few humans had even been completely absorbed in mass, but their confusion of minds and memories proved impossible, even dangerous to behold. Things were much clearer in cyberspace. When the experiments of those known as the Undead became known, the rock dwellers were made acutely aware of their impending destruction by forces totally ignorant of the great creatures’ existence.

Seething in a huge, frothing maelstrom of telepathic screaming, the tunnelmakers blasted out a wave of psychic energy. Traveling at varying frequencies, on wavelengths unknown to human science, this great outburst of distress bombarded space with a cry for help. It was not even a deliberate act. Indeed, it was done instinctively, automatically, as a species on the edge of extinction and aware of it. As a species they recoiled from the psychic perversion of the Undead, and their alien abuses of the gifts of the Divine.

Their psychic scream was a tsunami of terror, rolling across the galaxy in all directions, searing the minds of all with the defined ability to hear, slicing through the minds of a million different species with a razor slash of icehot sharpness. And then there were some who actually listened, and knew.

In all directions the tunnelmakers rose toward the surface, clumping beneath clusters of human colonies and military bases. They were all one and the same to the tunnelmakers. They were determine to destroy the Undead by attacking them at their food source. And it would be pleasant to rid the world of all those warring, combat crazy humans. They have such short, kaleidoscopic memories.

10

Levi the Vampire burned straight toward Arn Chi’n Yang’s Command Bunker, slaughtering as he went and cursing the inability of Undead technology to cloak smaller objects such as him. They could make ships invisible, but not humanoid-sized things. Humans, however, have been cloaking for decades. It was a matter of heat signatures. No matter. Soon he would be inside that stupid king’s body and feasting upon his soul.

All over Pluto other cyborg vampires under his command were moving quickly to take over bases and colonies. Their mother ship, teeming with a mass of Undead waiting to spawn, lay cloaked above the planet, invisible to the fleets of the Cosmic Prophet. Levi chuckled at how ignorant humans were of their own Frankenstein creations. Those who were aware would be surprised just how few the Undead actually numbered. They would be surprised how advanced their technology was in certain areas, yet frustratingly primitive in others.

While each cyborg vampire was immensely powerful, their ships were few, and they had trouble handling them in space and manning the weapons. One reason for mercenaries. Each vampire was too much of an overlord to stoop to such labor. It was hard enough to get them to submit to each other and work together. They were more interested in secrecy and amassing wealth and power, in controlling events and people without necessarily being seen.

Cyborg vampires were originally developed as weapons of stealth and combat. A blend of experiments in mutant genetics, robotics, virtual reality, and necromantic sorcery all gone astray, the anguished products quickly became uncontrollable and too powerful to allow loose. They were all destroyed, or so it was thought. Bits and pieces survived, their calculating madness and lust for blood and flesh congealed into an alien intelligence that lurked around the fringes, coming together to engineer the enslavement and destruction of the human race and their social systems.

For decades they worked carefully, subverting and corrupting the human network constituted as the Solarian Federated Empire Republic. Wherever men and women went and established colonies and markets, so too did the cyborg vampires, crooning in the shadows as they fed on corpses and spawned inside the living.

It is perhaps incorrect to refer to cyborg vampires as he’s and she’s, even though much of their physical forms are composed of reconstituted human bodies of one gender or another. They were designed to be androgynous hermaphrodites, self-replicating organic machines, but things went wrong. Too much depended on the electronic and mechanical aspects of the creatures as well. They could not reproduce alone or easily. Their mutant infants, the self-replicating fleshy parts, vampire larvae, needed fresh human parts as well as a resupply of electronic machinery.

Cells kept replicating mindlessly, but they needed the form and structure of synthetic devices. Upon the planes of cyberspace, however, the cyborg vampires ghosted from virtual to enhanced reality and were truly free of their bodies. Their ultimate aim was to exist simultaneously in both realities, and eventually to dwell in the freedom of cyberspace and the astral planes alone, yet able to control with iron fierceness the mundane world as well.

Levi the Vampire smashed down the last and greatest metal door and strode into the large, round hub housing Arn Chi’n Yang’s Command Bunker. Corpses lay strewn about, lights flickered amid gaping holes, and smoke curled up from burning consoles. Videoscreens sat smashed and riddled with bullets. And all the many corridors fanning out where sealed with great metal gates, just like the one he had so easily torn apart.

Ghosting ahead, Levi’s mind scanned the one lone human hiding amid the nest of control banks. Apparently the self-proclaimed king had gone mad. Paranoid out of his wits he ordered his self-defense robot to spin out and mow everybody down, destroying the nexus of the Terran Military Occupation’s Command Bunker. Now Arn Chi’n Yang was a gibbering fool, down on his knees, cradling his killer robot next to him, drooling down his unwashed jacket. The former governor-general suddenly defecated in his shorts, and a great, wet stain blobbed down the front of his pants. High-pitched giggles broke from his mouth and screeched into a choking, crying laugh.

“Levi the Vampire!” Yang called out and cackled. “I know you’re here! Welcome to my hub, you rotting web of plastic meat!”

A stream of bullets erupted from Yang’s robot as a laser pierced through metal toward Levi’s figure. Only he was not there, but here. The robot rolled out away from Yang and circled off around the room, spinning a fusillade of bullets and lasers. A cloud of roiling smoke gushed out around the robot as it disappeared within. The King of Pluto laughed. The King of Pluto loved to laugh.

Levi was not impressed. Shields up, he waited for the robot’s tantrum to end, then he simply overrode Yang’s mental control. The robot’s neurocircuitry shorted out and brought it to a standstill. The self-destruct mechanism designed to trigger a small atomic device shut down and the plastic wiring bubbled, then burst into flames. The robot stood off to one side, smoking and burning, silent and harmless.

Arn Chi’n Yang giggled and cursed from the floor as he watched the great dark shadow float in and hover above him. He could feel the other’s alien mind squeezing his own. He felt ice dripping on his soul. To his amazement he realized the cyborg vampire stood before him unclothed and naked.

No longer able to restrain himself, Levi lunged upon Yang with a screeching, ravenous groan. He shredded Yang into ribbons, gorging himself on hot, quivering meat, catching great spurts of blood in his mouth. Ripping open Yang’s abdomen, Levi then ripped open his own and fused the two wounds together. Levi’s organs passed into Yang’s and disgorged an enormous, wriggling larva. The cyborg vampire screamed, then laid there upon the Generalissimo of Pluto slithering his tongue over the man’s face, slurping up blood and tidbits of grub.

Yang was still alive, but could not scream. He could feel something deep inside him eating at his insides. Purring with rubbery, throaty rumbles, the cyborg vampire pulled a glittering electronic tube from his chest and plugged it deep into the side of Yang’s head. Levi detached another device from his own head and slammed it into the base of Yang’s skull. Peering directly at Yang’s frozen, helpless face, Levi’s eyes stretched forward from his own sockets and hovered over Yang’s head. Swiftly, they plunged into Yang’s eyes and hooked in to his nervous system. In a jerking frenzy Arn Chi’n Yang’s jaw began to saw up and down until Levi seized it with his mouth, pressing bloody lips against bloody lips in a fierce, lusty kiss.

 

 

11

Gesele raced around the corner, fleeing gun battles and insurrections. There, nestled below the dome in the crater was the zipship. Crates of useless supplies lay scattered about and broken open in this deserted hangar. A torpedo cruiser, its rusting hulk glittering with ice, dwarfed the zipship. Out of the shadows ran Sgt. Mike Lugvoola.

“What are you doing here?” Gesele cried.

“Where’s Droklan!” he gasped. “Where’s that goddamn captain!”

She noticed he was bleeding from his left shoulder.

“I don’t know!” she retorted. “How the hell would I know? Everything’s gone crazy here. People rioting and shooting at other. What are . . .”

“Droklan Tartar, that bastard!” Lugvoola interrupted. “He betrayed me. Did you know that?”

“What are you babbling about?”

“The captain! He got the mutiny organized. It went off as planned. But more people are loyal to Yang than we expected. And Tartar is suppose to lead us and help take over the base.”

“What a crock of lies, Sergeant! You two chickenshits were gonna escape together, deserting your own cause! Levi the Vampire knows about this. The Undead spare no secrets, Sergeant!”

“How does Levi . . . how do you know? Whore of filth, you sleep with the Undead? Or did Droklan take you for himself? Is that it! Tell me, space whore, ain’t that what happened? Droklan betrayed me, awright!”

“Shut up and stop babbling! Before someone hears you yelling your fool head off. I don’t know nothin’ about Droklan.”

“But you just said . . . Awrrgh!” Spittle flecked the corners of Mike Lugvoola’s mouth.

“And Sergeant! You call me a whore one more time, I will cut you wide open. You understand me? Stay cool and let’s work together here!”

He nodded once and turned toward the zipship.

“This ship wasn’t here before,” he said. “It must be the one Droklan was talking about, the vampire’s little coffin boat.”

“You stay away from that ship, Sergeant!”

Mike Lugvoola darted toward the boat, maniacally thinking only of escape.

“Sergeant!” yelled Gesele, “You won’t get very far in that boat. The Undead would take you prisoner and spawn in your frakking guts. They’ll eat out your stinking brains!”

With a snarl of fury, Mike Lugvoola launched himself upon Gesele. She fell beneath him and rolled away. Panting, he reached out and clutched her by the throat as he struggled to unzip his trousers. Gesele lashed out with her razor-claws extended, amputating Lugvoola’s arm off at the elbow. She jumped up and yanked the severed hand from her throat as the sergeant cradled his stump and screamed. He looked up, eyes blazing, just as she lashed out with her foot and drove a pop-out spike through his cranium into his brain. Without a shot fired, he crumpled up as she jerked her foot loose from his skull.

Droklan came in on a run, followed by Korbin. Droklan cradled a heavy atom blaster, Korbin a pumppistol and a sack. Smoke billowed into the dome behind them. Screams and curses and the chaos of battle welled up down the corridors. Droklan suddenly noticed the bloodied corpse of Sgt. Mike Lugvoola.

“Into the ship!” Korbin yelled. He hurtled forward as if to grab up the very ship itself.

Droklan Tartar turned, dropped his weapon, and pulled out a remote control device for the dome. He had stolen it from a superior officer. The mutineer pointed toward the main entrance and nodded satisfactorily to himself as the gates slid shut and locked. Next he pointed straight up, toward the center of the dome, and initiated the unlocking of the roof. But he had only moments left to dash into the zipship before the dome’s atmosphere escaped and the harsh frigidity of Pluto blasted down. Droklan charged after Korbin, eyes set on the dark slit of a doorway above the ramp.

Explosions detonated behind him and the gates blew in with a burst of blazing smoke. Without waiting for anyone to appear a large diameter laser pulsed from the zipship into the entrance, cauterizing everyone trapped in its glare. Droklan looked up. It must be Gesele, he thought. He clambered up the ramp and dove through the doorway onto the floor just as Korbin ignited the engines. The door snapped shut behind him as he stood up and shakily brushed off his uniform.

“Weren’t gonna wait for me, huh?” Droklan asked Korbin with a chuckle.

“Sure we were,” Korbin spoke over his shoulder, punching buttons and flipping switches.

“We can’t leave just yet anyway. Not till there’s enough aperture for us to squeeze through.”

“Levi’s not hiding on board, is he?”

“What? No, Gesele already made a quick check.”

“Hey, Gesele!” shouted Droklan above the noise. “What the hell happened to my Sargent?”

“Dumbass freaked out and instead of working with me chose to try to rape me,” she replied. “Anybody who does that I terminate. Period.”

“Understood.”

Droklan watched the woman from her battle station, scopehelmet fastened to her face, her fingers spasming as she seared the charging troopers with great bursts of laser light. Some of them were comrades Droklan used to command and even drink with. But the soldiers had wised up now. Further down the tunnel they mounted heavy pumpguns on tripods and began lobbing streams of slugs toward the zipship. Their aim was errant, however, but only until they worked the bombardment closer and closer to the space boat. In the midst of apocalypse he realized how much he admired Gesele.

The inner dome was wide open and now the outer layer peeled back. With an explosive whoosh the atmosphere raced out, sucking clouds of debris with it. Mike Lugvoola’s corpse rolled across the ground, bumping and thumping along. His severed hand danced in the wind with the attached lower arm flipping about. As the room depressurized and the icy cold of Pluto raced in and invaded the corridor, all attacks quickly ceased. Even the flames went out.

“It’s not open all the way yet!” Droklan shouted, feeling the engines rumbling beneath him.

“We don’t need ’em all the way,” Korbin yelled back. “Just enough to squeak by!”

The ground beneath the ship quivered, then heaved. Great slabs of reinforced floor buckled up.

“What the hell is that?” Korbin yelled. “Droklan, your guys back there got any new tricks we don’t know about?”

“Not that I know of. C’mon, ain’t there enough room yet?” the mutineer asked as he strapped himself in, peering out the window at the slowly widening dome.

“Hey!” Gesele shouted. “Look at that! Man, we gotta get outa here, now!”

They stared out the portals just as an enormous mass of incandescent flesh surged up out of the ground, rose higher than the top of the zipship, then pulsed toward the entrance, a gateway much too small to accommodate its great bulk. The thing simply bored through the walls in a great molten violence. Whatever it was still boiling out of the ground, shaking and pounding along as some mammoth train of volcanic flesh.

“Now!” Korbin shouted, and the zipship lurched up.

Another monstrous beast exploded out of the floors beneath them, great sheets of crystallizing plasma rising toward them as they blasted through the narrow aperture of the outer dome into space. Looking behind them they were shocked to see a giant phallic mass of alien flesh smashing the dome apart, followed by another and another, huge, indescribable, immense beyond imagination, out of character for such a small planet. One great mass of living tissue towered above the dome, shooting tendrils out in all directions. Briefly, all three humans experienced a psychic jolt and stared at each other, each aware of the other’s mind being momentarily invaded and released.

Silent, uncomprehending, they circled the planet on a trajectory, gazing at the numerous domes of military bases and colonies, knowing that they hid all signs of the recent insurrections. The uprising was not meant to destroy where people lived and work but to take over the planet. All over Pluto, however, they saw the bases and colonies collapsing in a cataclysm of apocalyptic proportions. Now and again they caught glimpses of monstrous alien beasts raging from the ground and thrashing among the ruins in a great frenzy of destruction.

“I . . . I don’t know what to think,” Droklan Tartar said as he scratched behind his ears.

“The Terran Military Government has nothing like that back in its biological arsenal, and besides, could not have transported anything like that out here. If what you tell me about the Undead is true, perhaps the vampires bred a new weapon and brought them out in cloaked ships? What about that? And maybe, out of a sense of karma and divine retribution, their own biological warfare experiment backfired?”

Korbin shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

“No, Droklan, I don’t think so,” Gesele replied. “No human bioengineering technology could create that. Not even the Undead. Did you see how huge they were? We couldn’t even fit them on a cargo freighter.”

“Maybe the eggs, or the babies, or whatever form they have as little ones?” Droklan speculated. “Why, one ship could carry enough eggs to fill half of Pluto . . . ”

“And where would they go? Land? Hide? Live and grow? What the hell do they eat? Breathe?” Gesele shook her head no. “I don’t think Levi and his buddies have anything to do with this. That was the most incredible display of violence I’ve ever seen.”

“Yeah,” Droklan agreed. “And I bet every damn vampire on Pluto perished with a big look of surprise upon their ugly mugs. My, how I would’ve loved to see Levi’s last moments alive.”

“True,” Korbin nodded. “But don’t estimate the Undead’s capability to survive in bits and pieces. After all, it was once thought they were all exterminated during the atomic bombings of the last world war.”

“Yeah, but that was on Earth,” Droklan said. “Life thrives there, at least life as we know it. But this is Pluto. Even the Undead require a certain degree of environmental hospitality.”

“Perhaps,” Korbin shrugged again. “At least I hope so.”

“But whatever we saw down there is alive, very much alive,” Gesele added. “And it is life we know nothing about. It seems to thrive on Pluto, even without breathing, or breathing as we define it. I don’t know what it is, or how it could have escaped detection for so long.”

“But there are even areas on Earth we still don’t know much about,” Korbin said. “Even after all these centuries. No one has been to the core of any planet yet.”

“Yeah,” mused Droklan. “We look up at the stars and out into space, and so off we go. We think so little of the ground we stand upon, or what happens deep below.”

“Hang on,” Korbin commanded. “We’re leaving orbit and heading back into the Solar System.”

“Think we can evade Sunyamodo’s blockade?” Droklan asked.

“Maybe. I hope so,” Korbin said. “But I’m more worried about being snatched up by a cloaked vampire vessel. There aren’t many of them, but you never know when one is lurking in the vicinity.”

“Jeeez! I never thought of that,” Droklan sighed and scratched his ears again.

“Damn, Drok! Stop scratching your ears,” Gesele frowned at him. “It really gets on my nerves! Especially the way you dig behind both of ’em at the same time.”

The mutineer arched his eyebrows at her and smiled in a quirky fashion. He just shook his head and mumbled. Deep inside, however, a growing happiness of finally being off that grubby, frozen hell of a planet worked its way into a dreamy, goofy glaze. A flash of memories from his youth made him nostalgic for the past. He was homesick for Earth, the planet of his birth. He had been away too long, just as this damn civil war among the planets had gone on much too long.

Korbin pulled out the sack he’d carried onto the ship with him, and placed it upon the shelf next to the others.

“Yeah? What’s in the bag?” Gesele asked.

“Plutite crystals,” interjected Droklan.

“Plutite!” Gesele gasped, then smiled. “Why, they’re worth more than gold!”

“Yep,” Korbin snorted and laughed as he dumped the translucent, iridescent beauties out onto the counter. He looked up and caught Gesele’s eyes.

“By the way,” Droklan said. “That’s all yours. I got enough of my own.”

Korbin laughed again and swept his crystals up into the bag. “Yep, Gesele, I’m just securing my financial future for when the war’s over.”

She reached over, fondled the sack, and held it up for all to see. Gesele caught Korbin’s mutant eyes.

“For Maine,” she said. “For a cabin by a lake.”

“Uh, excuse me, miss,” Korbin said as he snatched the bag back. “That’s my financial future, buddy girl.”

“Your financial future!” She pushed back, indignant. “But what about me?”

“So?” Korbin shrugged and his eyes flared green. “You didn’t make the effort to take your own. Tough luck.”

“But I thought it was all for us, for our future together!”

“I’ll think about it,” Korbin laughed and reached out with his long, apish arm, ignoring her slaps as he curled it around her shoulders. She allowed him to kiss her on the cheeks.

“Jeeez,” Droklan mumbled and quickly scratched behind his ears.

 

 

12

Marshal Sunyamodo of Saturn rested calmly in his chair. Before him the planet Pluto hung in space up on the giant videoscreen against a wild dash of stars. The frigid, agonized planet was almost beautiful. Serene. In a slow dance Pluto and its satellite Charon rolled through space. But the military genius of the Cosmic Pagans had just ordered a massive bombardment of the planet to exterminate the Undead known to be massing there and preparing to seize Pluto and spawn a new army of cyborg vampires.

“Marshal, sir!” Lieutenant Sheila Uzama, his ship’s communications officer, straightened up in her chair. Her terminals were kaleidoscopic with barrages of conflicting messages. “Something extraordinary is happening down on the surface. We’re getting numerous calls for help. Seems like the whole place is collapsing, sir!”

“Cancel my last orders!” Sunyamodo barked at his battle commander, Admiral George Erwin Zhukov. “Hold all fire until I order the attack to commence again.”

“Yes sir, Commander!” Zhukov quickly relayed the message to all the ships encircling Pluto. “But why wait? Shouldn’t we press the attack while they are weakest? After all, it is the Undead who is our first priority, sir, not the Terran Military Occupation.”

“A good point, Zhukov,” Sunyamodo agreed. “But in this particular case, full of complex repercussions for the whole solar system, we need to know what is happening down there before we obliterate it. Uzama, up screens! Let’s sort out this mess. Pluto and Charon have always been strange places, wild comet-like planetoids tumbling off on their own eccentric orbit beyond the reach of the gas giants.”

Cries for help echoed from all over the planet, each trying to override the other. Clashing images of civil warfare, rioting, mutiny, of carnage beneath the domes filled the screens. Blazing fires, mutilated bodies, smoke billowing over pools of blood amid twisted, blackened steel, smashed equipment, and walls and floors and ceilings riddled with laser burns and bullet holes. Officers and civilians from both sides pleaded for intervention and medical aid, fearful the life-support systems of the colonies and bases would be damaged and all would die.

“Marshal,” Uzama broke in. “The colonials and large elements of  the Terran Military have revolted against King Yang. Loyalist forces are attempting to put down the rebellion, but appear too fragmented. It seems the mutineers and the colonials are winning, but are taking heavy casualties. There are no signs of Undead.”

“Aye, no cyborg vampire abominations in sight,” Sunyamodo said as he leaned forward in his chair, peering at the discordant images flashing across his screens from around the world. “But are the monsters ever in sight? This is all part of their smokescreen as they seize control of all this human flesh to breed in. Bastard mutants!”

Even the marshal gasped as one signal overrode all others. The corrosive, demonic features of Levi the Vampire ballooned across the screen. Side by side, attached head to head, stared the gore-encrusted zombie face of Arn Chi’n Yang, King of the Periphery and Generalissimo of Pluto. Levi’s cyborg skull split into a blood-dripping grin as his red eyes blazed crimson. But it was Yang who spoke, connected to Levi as a vampirish Siamese twin.

“Greetings from the Kingdom of the Periphery,” Yang boomed forth, then erupted in a staccato of guttural laughter. “As you can see, I have a new lover. He is teaching me the proper etiquette of biomechanical transformation. Together in a new alliance of humans and the Undead we shall make open war against the rest of the solar system, spawning new mutations as we go.”

“Of course, my dear marshal,” Levi purred, “Yang is still King, but you can tell who, in traditional vampire fashion, retains true power. I urge you to surrender.”

“To surrender!” Sunyamodo barked. “You play games to make me giggle like a child? Pay attention! Have you not noticed rebellion all around you? You rule a planet collapsing in self-annihilation. I don’t have to do a thing. Your own attempts to conquer Pluto will only wreak havoc for yourselves.”

“Then you have failed to notice our manufacturing has caught up to our technology. Surrender. Let us join together. Or we will take you all by force, and maybe this time King Yang himself will mate with you. Have you ever experienced the pleasure of having a vampire dump larvae into your belly?” Levi threw back his head, laughing, then jerked back down and spread open his mouth. A stream of blood spewed out and drowned the videoscreen in a blind sea of dripping red.

Zhukov spoke furiously into his microphones, ordering instant battle stations. “Marshal, sir, I’ve just ordered full battle stations. We are surrounded.”

“Surrounded? By whom? Not an alliance of Parliamentarians and Terran Warlords? We would have known if . . . ”

“Sir!” Uzama interrupted. “Three battle fleets of enemy ships have just appeared behind us. They are the Undead and their mercenaries.”

“We still outnumber them, but they are strategically placed in our rear,” Zhukov spoke.

“As they may be controlled by Pluto, I suggest we nuke the planet as part of our forces hold them off in defensive maneuvers. Mercenaries usually don’t fight to the last man.””I don’t know how the Undead have pulled this off,” Sunyamodo mused. “It has been a long time since I have been outfoxed.”

“Commander, we are being hailed by one of the enemy ships. They demand our unconditional surrender.”

“In this case, let us ignore Pluto,” Sunyamodo mused. “Zhukov, order our fleets to pull away from Pluto. If they want it, they can have it. We can destroy the planet later. But for now, let’s teach them who is master of space. Order a double-sphere envelopment. It has also been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of combat with a fleet this size. It will be like crushing an egg.”

“But they are attacking now!” Zhukov shouted.

“Ignore! We must hold steady! We will take them out one wing at a time. We shall surround each of their fleets with one sphere of our ships attacking them, while we surround in turn with a second shield of ships defending them while attacking out. We shall be dense enough to mass fire while roomy enough to evade theirs. But they have so many ships they will only get in each other’s way, plus the added bait of a open invitation to land on Pluto to secure it for Levi.”

At this moment the doors opened and a High Priestess entered the command center, her capes swishing behind her. She raised her arms.

“All hail the Cosmic Prophet! By the Grace of the Goddess, she enters!”

Flanked by a consort of priests and priestesses, the woman with a face of golden steel entered and took the chair next to her marshal’s.

“Merry blessings, Marshal Sunyamodo. I understand we have a little predicament here.”

“We shall take care of it.”

“I am surprised by the swiftness of the Undead’s progress.”

“Yes, Prophet, they are rapidly becoming a fourth force. We are now in a four-sided civil war.”

“But they have become the force. They are the main enemy of all humanity. I intend to unite all other factions against them.”

“I regret to see so much life wasted on Pluto. The place drives people insane. I sometimes wonder if humanity should have ever left Earth.”

“But our destiny lies in the stars. All life springs from starlight.”

“Commander, the envelopment is complete,” Admiral Zhukov announced. “But we have already lost eleven ships.”

“Hang tight, by the Horns of God! We must maintain discipline in order for our plan to work. You know that once in place we will crush them, and now we are in place. All ships in the inner sphere will now concentrate their fire on the enemy fleet trapped within. Now!” Sunyamodo sat back in his chair, uneasy in the presence of the woman who calls herself a prophet.

Upon the giant videoscreen a hundred vampire ships disintegrated in the focused annihilation of atomic lasers. Marshal Sunyamodo’s outer shield suffered six more losses, however, from massed attacks as the Undead swarmed angrily around the encased annihilation of their brethren.

“Apparently, sir, they can’t attack with their cloakers on,” Admiral Zhukov said. “Not even Undead technology is that good.”

“But they may disappear to fight again, popping up out of nowhere to blast us at close range. Now dissolve the formation so we can encircle the second enemy fleet.”

“You are so calm, my Marshal. As if playing chess,” the Cosmic Prophet shook her tresses from around her face.

“But I am very focused and dangerous when I play chess,” Sunyamodo replied, starring hard at the woman who has moved half a solar system to her whim. “Besides, the Undead have little battle experience, especially while operating as a group.”

“Marshal! We are receiving new distress signals from Pluto,”

Lieutenant Sheila Uzama announced.

“Videoscreen.”

Impossible things were happening down on the surface. In the midst of all the fighting down in the domes enormous, alien life forms were tunneling up out of the ground into the heart of the colonies and military bases. Moving with incredible speeds, these life forms burrowed straight through walls, paralyzing humans and dissolving every man and woman they encountered. They seemed impervious to all human weaponry. Able to change form and shape, they appeared one moment to be huge, heavy, elephantine boulders, then elongating and heating up into whitish-red tubes of molten magma, then crystallizing into jagged clusters, flowing over the surface in a planetary tide of volcanic annihilation.

One by one all evidence of human existence on Pluto simply disappeared, melted down and absorbed by these plasmic giants.

“I was waiting for something like this to happen,” mused the Cosmic Prophet as everyone else in the room, including Marshal Sunyamodo, sat dumbfounded. “It was prophesized our evil orgy of violence would trigger a backlash from the Gods. But I had no idea what shape or form it would take. These creatures are more than just creatures. For millions of years they must have dwelled deep in the interior. It is our own mindless animalism that triggered their awakening. These creatures, I feel, are the Keys to the Galaxy. They are the Guardians of the Solar System. Now awakened.”

“Guardians of the Solar System?” Admiral Zhukov looked up at her.

“Yes, dear Admiral, guardians of the solar system. They were placed there eons ago to safeguard the rest of the galaxy from us.”

Amid the savage devastation roaring over the frozen wastelands of Pluto, one solitary ship escaped. They watched it upon the videoscreen, zipping around out of sight behind the planet, twisting around Charon, then reappearing to zoom out into space.

“Zhukov! I want that ship captured,” Sunyamodo ordered. “Maybe they will have some answers.” He turned back toward the longhaired woman with a face of golden steel. “So, Prophet, how do you know all this stuff about these alien monsters being guardians among some deep space watchtower?”

“Because I feel it. I can instantly ghost out into the astral and across cyberspace better than any of the Undead. There are things beyond the edge there I can only sense from here. But it is so because I feel it with the edge of my mind.”

“Then I shall restrain from ordering the destruction of Pluto. At least for now. But no Undead must remain alive on that planet.”

 

 

13

“Vampire ships!” Gesele shouted and pointed. “How could they have so many?”

“Looks like a Hell of a battle shaping up there,” Droklan stared, curious. Most of his combat experience had been on the ground, planet-based.

“Yep, but it appears Marshal Sunyamodo knows what he’s doing,” Korbin chipped in. He waved his hand about, pointing from ship to ship. “He’s trying to encircle half of them at once, even though he’s taking casualties. I know for a fact the Undead can’t fire while cloaked, but if they’re smart they could just disappear.”

“But even so all Sunyamodo has to do is concentrate his fire into the sphere of entrapment. Everything will be destroyed anyway,” Droklan stated.

“Only if the Undead have developed sufficient technology to ghost whole fleets through cyberspace from one point of reality to another,” Gesele speculated. “But I seriously doubt it.”

“God! To think of all the metal and other resources that went into all those ships, into all these battles,” mused Droklan Tartar with a sigh. “What a waste. What a drain on the economy. The economy of the whole solar system. We’re blowing ourselves all to shit.”

“Well, well, my scarfaced philosopher,” said Korbin. “There are those who strive to profit from such scrap blown across nine planets.”

“I for one am tired of such profiteering,” ventured Gesele.

Korbin looked at her with surprise. “My, my,” he sneered. “That little working vacation in the north woods of Maine sure has corrupted you. What a change of heart in such a venomous tiger.”

“Shut up, you predator,” she said as fingers stabbed at the control panel.

“Don’t worry, Gesele,” Droklan Tartar said. “This ol’ captain looks forward to camping near a wooded lake on Earth. Any wooded lake will do. Especially next to you.”

Gesele turned and stared at him with hard eyes. Then her lips curled into a smile. She could bite a nail in half and then surrender herself to lust and passion. “Don’t talk that way with me. I’m not your goddamn play thing.”

“Cut it out,” barked Korbin.

“My apologies if I offend thee,” the Captain said as he bowed with mock graciousness. “But seriously, though, all that talk of woods and lakes has intrigued me. I myself wax nostalgic for the steppes and deserts of Southern Russia and Central Asia. I spent the first thirteen years of my life there, and the rest on Mars. Ah, to be so in love with combat but to be so sick of war.”

Korbin shook his head. Blasting through space in the midst of armadas thick with battle ships zooming and caroming in all directions while struggling to stay awake and fearful of Undead vengeance and distracted by the mysterious alien menace erupting from beneath Pluto was just too much for the jaded mercenary. With a shake of the head to stay awake, he quickly decided upon a new plan of action. Without bothering to consult his colleagues, he executed the plan. What the hell, he shrugged and blinked. His little zip ship was almost out of fuel anyway.

“Hey!” shouted Droklan Tartar. “Stop! What the Hell are you doing, goddammit?”

“Oh, my unwashed, unshaven little captain, we’re almost out of fuel anyway. I will transport your dirty little body directly into the midst of the Cosmic Prophet as a secret biological weapon! She will pass out from the stench, and we will win the war!”

“And then you can have your little cabin on a lake in Maine,” stated Gesele with vast aplomb. “Right next to me.”

“Hey!” shouted Korbin. “What about my cabin?”

“Just get us aboard, and then I’ll consider an outhouse for you.” She got this odd feeling to light up a cigarette, something she hadn’t done in years and years.

Korbin gunned the little ship straight toward the flagship of Marshal Sunyamodo and the Cosmic Prophet. His ship was nearly empty and wasn’t designed to be a deep space vessel. After the treachery and bloodshed down on Pluto, he had no desire to encounter the Undead. Besides, he had yet to serve the growing bands of independent-minded colonials and Pagan Goddess-worshippers fused together in an unlikely alliance by the military genius of Sunyamodo, the Geronimo of the Solar System with the resources of a U. S. Grant. After all, Korbin thought with a sleepy shrug, he was a mercenary.

 

 

14

“Marshal, sir! There’s an unidentified vessel off to starboard. A zip ship, sir.”

“Interesting. Ordinarily an issue for the commander of this vessel, Captain Bassingthwaighte,” mused Sunyamodo. “OK, then, what are they doing? Refugees? I actually expected a flood of refugees.”

“Apparently the combination of fuel shortages and breakdowns in the harsh Plutonian environment prevented any refugees from escaping,” spoke Richard Bassingthwaighte as the Captain entered the bridge.

“I would also dare venture all that fighting down there preoccupied literally everyone. Not to mention the sudden appearance of those alien monsters in the thick of battle.”

“The timing is fascinating,” Sunyamodo said and nodded. “Interesting. The battle for Pluto is turning out far different than anyone expected.”

“And nothing has occurred on Charon,” Captain Bassingthwaighte pointed out.

“All human habitation was obliterated during the first colonial uprising against the Terran Military Occupation,” Sunyamodo reminded him. “Seeking to conserve resources, the Occupation in effect abandoned Charon and withdrew to Pluto.”

“And no one else has had the resources to reoccupy Charon,” said Bassingthwaighte. “Would’ve made an excellent base. And it will be so in the future.”

“Sir, we’re being hailed by the zip ship,” the helmsman cried out. “They request refugee status.”

“Open Hangar 247 and allow them entrance,” Bassingthwaighte ordered. “Make sure no vampire battle ships are firing over there.”

“And put them in quarantine,” stated Sunyamodo. “We don’t know what happened down on the planet. Whether or not any biological agents were used by the Undead or whatever those monsters were. Send a decontamination unit down there with standard emergency medical.”

“Yes, sir,” barked the helmsman. He crusaded with the singularity of a fanatic for the Goddess. Far below and away from the madness of battle, great doors of gunmetal gray slid open. The little zip ship darted inside under cover.

At that very moment a rocket fighter from the Undead flashed across the blackness of space and fired a laser pulse into the gateway. A blast of light burst from the hangar as the fighter peeled away. Even so, the mighty gates strained to slide forth, grinding their way across jagged metal to seal the bay off from the vacuum of space. The rocket fighter never made it back to its fleet. A missile locked on to the vessel and lanced toward it with stunning speed. An incandescent orb puffed through the darkness and faded amid a cloud of metal fragments.

 

 

15

“Damn, that was friggin’ close!” Droklan Tartar shouted as he spun out of his seat and flailed about for a handhold.

“Too close,” grunted Korbin as the zip ship skidded toward the walls of the hangar with sparks flying. He gripped the controls with ferocious tenacity. Gesele said nothing. She floated cat-like in the turbulence, her eyes never leaving the panel of flickering lights.

“We were lucky,” Droklan Tartar said as he pulled himself up. “Most space battles are wild, freewheeling masses of mixed-up confusion. Amazing how Sunyamodo prevents that. He maintains control of the slaughter up to the very end.”

“It’s still too damn close,” muttered Korbin. “Sunyamodo and his crazy priestess were a lot closer to loosing control than one may think. Levi and his mutants staked everything on gaining control of Pluto.”

“Everything’s changed now,” interrupted Gesele. “No one predicted those creatures destroying everything down on the surface. Everything. Even the Undead need certain comforts to live and breed.”

“I wonder if they live on Charon,” Droklan said. “Maybe the Undead will move there instead.”

“You guys destroyed everything on Charon, didn’t ya?” asked Gesele.

The captain nodded. “Yes, we did. I was there, too. There really wasn’t much there to begin with. Not like on Pluto. A handful of small scientific stations and a couple of little military bases. Too far away and too expensive. And then civil war broke out.”

“You think any survivors could be left? On Charon?” Gesele looked at him.

“Not likely. We destroyed all life support systems. All the domes were shattered. The environment’s just too damn evil. But then again, anything is possible. Maybe those giant iceworm things live underground, too. Don’t know what they could possibly eat.”

“They eat people, I reckon,” Gesele said with a chuckle.

“I suppose.” Droklan kept a straight face as he patted about for cigarettes. “Damn. All outa ‘rettes. Shoot.”

“Well, from what I hear, the Cosmic Prophet don’t allow no smokin’,” Korbin said as he turned around toward the captain. “If Her Holiness catches anybody smokin’ anything, first she’ll smash your fingers with a hammer. One by one. The second time you’ll get flogged in public with her Daddy’s leather belt. And the third? They cut out your lungs while you’re still alive. One by one.”

“We got company,” announced Gesele.

“We’ve been waitin’,” grumbled Korbin. The giant stood up and strode toward the hatch.

“It’s a goddamn decontamination team,” exclaimed Droklan.

“The Undead. They’re just making sure we’re not carrying any Vampire biological agents,” Gesele said. “Or even cholera, considering the conditions down on Pluto.”

“I bet it has more to do with those plasma creatures,” stated Korbin. “I bet that’s what it is. Sunyamodo thinks he got some new kinda secret weapon to win the war with.”

“Sheesh. I just HATE decontamination,” Droklan leaned back in his seat and absentmindedly patted his pockets for cigarettes.

“I just wonder where in frakkin’ hell is Berc,” muttered Gesele.

To be continued . . .

 

William Dudley Bass
Shoreline/Seattle, Washington
Cascadia, North America
Planet Earth
Solarian Solar System

Copyright © 2013, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.

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