Gar complained as the Shadow Squad sat in their chairs waiting for the speech to begin. “This is SO BORING!”
“It’s only for a few more minutes,” Aaron said.
“But it’s SO BORING!”
“Gar, quiet down, people are looking at us.”
“I actually agree with him,” Nax said, “this is a waste of valuable time which we ought to be spending on our assignment today.”
“Look,” Aaron said, “this is the Scorpionians’ ceremony of release. This is an incredibly important event. This is when a species has lived out its sentence and is released back into the Galaxy to be allowed to make its own way as it did before. This ceremony, and what it represents, is a core part of what it means to be the Devine Ones’ appointed judges, what it means to be a Conduit! Now shut up and appreciate the honor of being invited to attend such an important event.”
The speech began: “Greetings, to both those servants of the Devine Ones here and the Scorpionians being released by them. Approximately one-hundred-thirty-two years ago, the Scorpionians invaded and conquered both the home world and the single colony established by the then young Virgonian Republic. The Scorpionians successfully enslaved the Virgonians.
This enslavement was intended by the Scorpionians to be permanent but, because of Conduit intervention, lasted only about three and a half years. During this time there were four instances of Virgonians being forced to participate in large-scale gladiator sports and countless instances of Virgonians being forced to participate in small-scale gladiator sports.
After the aforementioned three and a half years, Conduit forces successfully retook both of the previously conquered planets and returned them to the Virgonians, whom they freed from enslavement. The Scorpionians were charged with two counts of illicit conquest of a planet, one count of illicit enslavement of a species, four counts of illicitly forcing innocents into large-scale gladiator sports and over one-thousand-two-hundred-eighty counts of forcing innocents into small-scale gladiator sports. For these crimes, the Scorpionian Species was sentenced to one-hundred-twenty-eight years of enslavement to the Conduit Empire.
This sentence was carried out in full, without noteworthy incident, and ends tonight. Once I have declared you free, you will be released onto this planet, which we are standing on right now, the original home-world of the Scorponians. Houses, roads, factories, and other structures of all sorts have been built all around the planet. Over the next five years, you will be gradually weaned off of Conduit support, and at the same time gradually be given access to your old colonies, except for those obtained illicitly either in this incident or any other.
With the exception of those forbidden to do these things for reasons not contingent upon the continuation of the sentence ending tonight, individual Scorpionians are permitted to move about as they please, both on their own planets and those controlled by any other species that are willing to accept their doing so. They may enjoy all other rights free persons not in a state of punishment are entitled to.
With that said, with the authority granted me by Holy Ordainment and appointment unto this task, I pronounce the Scorpionians’ sentence to one-hundred-twenty-eight years of enslavement officially completed as of this moment.”
“Finally!” Gar said, “We can go!”
“No we can’t, we’re staying for the party”
“Do I need to give another speech about how important this is? Besides, this is an entire species being released from enslavement. It’s an occasion worth celebrating.”
After getting back on the ship, The Shadow Squad entered the showers. Mat spent over ten minutes scrubbing the dye out of his fur. A Conduit’s fur coat was usually completely white, but on special occasions they often decorated their coats in colorful patterns. Kron had had the sense to merely line his back with a few forest green stripes. Mat had colored nearly half of his coat the same yellow shade as his armor. He still knew he was getting it easy, though. As soldiers, the Shadow Squad was expected to put on something simple that they could easily wash off; in this case, a single pigment of a type that was known to be more washable than most of the people there had what could only be described as paintings across the entirety of their fur.
Mat exited the showers and put on his armor. He met with the others in the briefing room.
“Hello Shadow Squad,” the briefer said. “Your mission today is not to assassinate anyone, but rather to kidnap a young girl. Your task is to find a way into the palace of the Universal Monarch of Humanity and kidnap his daughter, Princess Maria. At night she will be sleeping in her bedchamber. You must get her, alive, and bring her back to the ship. Once she’s here, Nax, as he requested, will be primarily responsible for her care until she is transferred to a more secure facility. Having her as a captive will be of massive strategic benefit. Any questions?”
Aaron gestured in the negative.
“Good. Then, get moving Shadow Squad.”
The Commander marched into the Monarch’s palace. He marched into the throne room, and bowed before the monarch.
“Please, stand,” the monarch said almost immediately.
“Thank you, sir,” the Commander said.
“The Palace guard has been vastly increased,” the Monarch said. “Every entrance and exit is incredibly well guarded. You’ll have a lot of help with this. Please, defy your reputation and use that to your advantage.”
“Of course,” said the Commander.
“Now then,” said the Monarch, “they’re not expected to attack until tonight. So feel free to enjoy yourselves so long as you’re at your posts by 1700.”
As they walked down the hall, they split up to enjoy their brief time in the place before five o’ Clock. John headed for the museum of human history. Mike for the game room, Tim and Crystal for the garden, and Molly and the Commander for the library’s section devoted to warfare history and tactics.
In the beautiful garden, Tim whispered toward Crystal in a voice quiet enough that none of the cameras were likely to hear, “You know, this is pretty romantic, the numerous colorful flowers, the peaceful little creeks, the pond over there in the corner, and the various marble pathways.”
“Shhh, you know it’s forbidden for soldiers to be in relationships with other soldiers.”
“Crystal, we’ve been at this for six months, you have been unable to play that game since you kissed me on The Girak’s home-world”
“Yes, but the cameras.”
“They can’t hear us, not as quietly as we’re speaking.”
“None the less, let’s not risk it.”
“May I ask another question though?” said Crystal.
“What do you mean?”
“At the Glistening Guardian, one of the Shadows mentioned something about your parents.”
“It’s fine if you’re unwilling to talk about it.”
“No,” Tim said “It’s just… I’ve been ashamed of it ever since, paranoid that I might repeat--”
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“No, I’ll explain it.” Tim took a deep breath “My parents were merchants, and on one occasion they needed a military escort through a pirate infested region. The Commanding officer at the time wanted to send someone else, but I convinced him I could do it. I won’t go into exactly what happened but, I couldn’t. I failed horrifically. My parents were killed, most of the rest of the crew enslaved, and the cargo stolen. There were half a dozen things I should have known and been able to do differently that could have led to a safe delivery, but I didn’t do those things. I did what I did, and the only person who came out unscathed, was me.”
Crystal couldn’t think of anything to reply with. “It’s not your fault,” she finally came up with.
“How would you know?” Tim asked, “You weren’t there. You didn’t see how obvious my mistakes were. At the time I was even thinking, ‘I should be doing this’ but I didn’t. Had I done those things, my parents would still be alive.”
“It’s not your fault,” Crystal said, “It’s the space pirates’.”
“I’ve heard those words dozens of times, and they’ve always been trite and unsatisfying. I failed to protect my parents. The evil of the space pirates shouldn’t have been enough. I’m a failure, and other people are dead or enslaved as we speak because of it.”
“There there,” was all Crystal had left.
“I’ve had this conversation thousands of times, by the end, the person trying to cheer me up has reduced themselves to that exact phrase. People fail, Crystal, and sometimes when they do it really is their fault. And innocent people suffer because of it.”
John marveled at the various historical exhibits in the museum. They began with the birth of Christ about 4300 Years ago, and worked up through the current era. There was an exhibit dedicated to each Pope as well as many major historical events and persons. As he walked through, he noticed the dazzling special effects as the text attached to various exhibits told the story of Humanity. There were exhibits on World Wars One, Two, Three, and Four. There was one on the first interstellar space flight and Humanity’s first contact with the Draconians in the 2300s. There were exhibits dedicated to the falls of all of the major false religions. As the walk through the museum progressed, it eventually came to the 3900s at which point the story of the rise of the current monarchy began.
Like most governments, the monarchy began as an illicit land grab. The first Monarch of humanity rose to power by conquest. He slaughtered many in the process of gaining control of humanity. But a single brave hero rose up against him. This man, now a called Saint Michael the Resister, after whom Mike was named, fought to defeat the First Monarch’s plan. But he failed.
When a bounty was put on his head and it was clear that all hope of stopping this regime in the short term was lost, he made a deal with the First Monarch: to willingly turn himself in to be executed in exchange for two things. The first was that his family, including his pregnant wife, be exiled, rather than killed as they would have otherwise been. The second was that the Church would face no government persecution of any kind.
Due to this condition, neither the first nor second monarchs could do anything at all when the Third converted. The Third Monarch of Humanity was inspired by his Catholic faith to rule justly, and with particular compassion; though it is believed that a good deal of his compassion came from his wife, now Saint Crystal the Kind, after whom Crystal was named.
The Fourth Monarch, in response to the demand of an increasingly converted public, made the Universal Monarchy of Humanity an officially Catholic state. The Fifth Monarch was the first to put into practice the extremely popular doctrine of Human Dominion. That all non-human species, including sapient ones, were tools created by God and given to humanity to be used in almost any way they saw fit.
The rash of conquests that then occurred resulted in the Conduit Empire, with whom humanity had no prior important relations sentencing Humanity to extinction and launching the planetary attack that began the war with the Conduits, which had continued throughout the over one-hundred years since.
Molly and the Commander both eagerly searched the shelves for books that would be difficult to find elsewhere. They each found their own copies of “Combat Tactics in a Space-faring Age” by Eric Clarkson, an eighteen-hundred year old book. They had of course, each read it from digital copies before. And much of what it said was outdated, but it was a simply amazing experience for them to hold such a great guide to war in their own hands. They each finished their own copy and two other books by five o’ clock, when it was time to report to their stations.
The Shadow Squad waited until the palace reached the dead of night before attempting to enter. Under Kron’s cloak they took their drop-ship down to the surface, and into the garden. Still cloaked, they grappled up the wall, and Dany sprayed something onto it before they dropped back onto the ground.
“What do you do when every entrance is guarded to the point that it’s not feasible to use any of them?” Dany signaled to the rest of the squad in Sai.
“What?” Mat signaled.
“You make a new one,” Dany said. The wall then exploded due to the compound that Dany had applied to it.
The Shadows quickly grappled into the palace.
Crystal, upon hearing the explosion, ran quickly with the rest of her squad to the hallway where it had occurred. She looked to the left, saw the hole in the wall and then ran quickly in the direction of Princess Maira’s room. She saw the Shadow Squad ahead of her and the rest of the Photons following behind her. She caught up to and tackled Aaron. She activated a mechanism that had been added to her suit for this mission and wormholed herself and Aaron to another planet. As she did so, the rest of the Photons did the same. The Commander tackled Kron, Tim tackled Mat, Mike tackled Gar, and John tackled Dany, each taking their respective Conduit to a different planet. Molly also tackled Nax, but he reached behind his back with his gun and shot the device that would make a wormhole.
Crystal, still on top of Aaron from having tackled him, quickly rolled off of Aaron and put about twenty feet of distance between them before he could recover and get up. She looked around. There were crystals as far as the eye could see. It was night, but the light of seven small moons made the crystals shine around them. If she had not been in combat she would have spent time marveling at the beauty of the scene. As it was, she drew her gun and fired at Aaron. Aaron saw the fire coming and managed to deflect fire with his armored forearm.
“Interesting,” he said, “where exactly have you taken us?”
“If I told you,” Crystal said, “you could wormhole back. As it is, you don’t know where we are precisely. But I know we’re on a human controlled world, whose inhabitants are mostly non-human slaves. Meaning that if I win my allies will be here to pick me up. And if you win, they’ll be here to capture you, and get some info from you. Maybe put you to some use while they’re at it.” She fired several more shots, which Aaron was able to evade by his constant motion.
“Clever,” Aaron said, “I suppose this isn’t, say, 10483 a?”
Crystal fired several more shots before concluding she was wasting ammo. “I’m not that stupid,” she said, “If I answered I’d either confirm that you’re right or eliminate a possibility. You do, after all, have two-hundred-billion stars to guess from.” That’s what she said out loud, but Aaron was right. She had no idea how he may have guessed it.
“No, no, that must be it,” Aaron said, “Human slave planet, has seven moons, entire plains made of crystal. It’s definitely 10483 a.”
Crystal grabbed one of the jagged stones and threw it at Aaron. Aaron dodged with ease before finally grabbing his gun and firing a stream of extremely hot discs at Crystal. The gun he was using, a Firespreader, was standard issue for all Conduit soldiers, and carried by everyone in his squad along with a plasma sword and a secondary weapon of some sort. It fired several extremely hot discs, of a synthetic material, in a fully automatic fashion. The spacing between escaping discs was so small that they had the illusion of stacking against each other when they were fired without moving the gun from side to side or up and down, such that it was as if one were firing a literal stream of them.
Crystal ducked to dodge the discs and quickly shot Aaron in the hand, wounding him and causing him to drop his gun. Aaron quickly retrieved his gun with his other hand and fired at Crystal’s hands and feet. Once he had rendered her unable to move or shoot, Aaron drew his Plasma sword. The thing was held by a base, which generated plasma, and also generated a magnetic field to contain it. Attached to this was a blade made of a heat-resistant synthetic material with holes drilled therein to allow some of the heat to escape.
Aaron walked toward Crystal as she attempted to roll across the field of crystals. He caught up to her, kicked her onto the ground, and restrained her with his legs. He was about to decapitate her when she sent for a wormhole to the ship that was stationed nearby just in case of such an eventuality.
Aaron, using a small, wrist-mounted wormhole generator not large enough to send a Human or Conduit through, sent a beacon to the Righteous Judgment asking for a proper wormhole. Estimating his position on the planet by the fact he was in a crystal field and the position of the seven moons, along with a tag that could help to pinpoint his exact location once his general one was known, he was able to get it to generate a wormhole about two feet away.
There was no hope of getting a drop-ship past the Anti-air around the palace without Kron’s cloaking. So, once he got back onto the Righteous Judgment Aaron could only wait.
Mat and Tim ended up on a forest on 22495 a. The ground below them by about one-thousand feet was flooded with lava. Despite the lava, a forest of what were commonly referred to as platform trees was growing beneath them, and indeed they landed on such a thing. The things were typically about one-thousand feet tall. And, rather than having leaves, had no branches until the very top where there were two large structures strong enough to effortlessly support a human’s weight, and that performed photosynthesis. The trees didn’t need much water and their trunks were made of a substance that could survive lava flows for extended periods of time.
Tim wasted no time. He quickly drew his knife and went to stab down on Mat. Mat elbowed him in the side, causing him to reel back long enough for Mat to get out from under him. Mat quickly hopped from platform to platform until he was about thirty feet away from Tim. As Tim pursued, Mat drew his firespreader and fired it at Tim, sweeping it from side to side to make it more difficult to dodge. Tim ducked under the spray. Mat responded by firing again, this time moving side to side and up and down. Tim quickly raced to another platform, but was unable to avoid several discs which pierced through his armor and burned his back.
“Why is it I constantly defeat you when we encounter one another?” asked Mat.
“We’ve faced off once,” Tim said, getting back up despite his wounds. “I was destroying you until I was distracted by an explosion.”
“Perhaps that isn’t a sufficient sample size,” said Mat drawing his sword. “I guess we’ll have to repeat the previous results here.”
“This is coming from the guy who tried to pin me without restraining my arms in our last encounter,” Tim said, drawing his own gun.
“Like you just did seconds ago?” asked Mat, as he hopped from platform to platform towards Tim.
“Perhaps I made a mistake,” said Tim, “but you’re clearly afraid of me. In fact, I think your fur is turning yellow.” Tim drew his own weapon, a standard issue simi-automatic rifle, and fired at Mat’s head. Conduits were typically hard to hit as they moved about in random zigzags. When they had no need for their arms, they were known to do this on all fours, at which point they could scurry upwards of twenty-five miles per hour.
“This is actually from a party I attended this morning,” Mat said, racing toward Tim. “It was the Scorpionians’ ceremony of release. Unlike you, when we enslave a species we do it for a valid reason and release them once their sentence is done. And to think you claim to be in the right.”
“Indeed, the entire Scorpionian population, including its abolitionists, deserved what was coming.”
“We consider that,” Mat said, “the public opposition to the offense was deemed negligible.” He finally reached Tim and slashed at him with his sword. Tim rolled out of the way and shot Mat in the foot. Tim stepped back and aimed his gun a Mat’s head. Mat threw his sword at Tim. Tim ducked and caught its handle.
“Thanks for this,” he said, “I’m sure we’ll find a use for it later.” Tim drew his gun to fire at Mat. Mat couldn’t roll away, because if he rolled off of this platform, he would fall into the lava below. Mat pulled out an energy shield from his belt, activated it, and hid under it.
“You can’t hide under there forever,” Tim said. Tim called for a ship to come pick them up. It appeared overhead. As Tim turned around to signal their exact location Mat looked closely and took note of the serial number. He searched his database. It was a slave control ship. Conduits almost never attacked slave planets, so it was not that surprising the humans had been negligent enough to allow the Conduits to hack into the relevant database and know what planet it was stationed at. They were on 22495 a.
Mat sent in for a wormhole. He was able to get one, so close he would merely have to roll off of his platform. He drew his gun, and quickly deactivated his shield. He shot Tim in the back of the knee and rolled into the wormhole before he could recover.
Tim was also wormholed up to the ship, and back onto Domination, also too injured to be of any help back on the ground.
John felt the cold air against his back.
“What were they thinking?” he thought. They’d dropped him off on 290485 e, a notoriously cold planet. In an ice cave no less! While he was freezing to death from being dressed for the mid-spring temperate climate of the palace, Dany, or any other conduit, would be nice and warm due to his fur.
He quickly rolled off of Dany and drew his gun. As he tried to get up, he felt himself falling back onto the ice. It was too slippery. He settled for shooting Dany while sliding backward. He then understood why this location might be chosen. Dany was as helpless to move on the ice as he was, taking away the biggest advantage a conduit had, speed.
The bullet hit Dany. John quickly fired several more times until he remembered his knife. After shooting Dany ruthlessly in the feet and legs, John pushed against the cave wall he was by then laying against, and slid toward Dany, who was immobilized, but not unconscious. Quickly, Dany pulled out his backup weapon, a grenade launcher, and fired. John was forced back across the ice by the explosion which hit nearby.
“Ha, missed,” John said.
“No I didn’t,” Dany said.
John looked behind him to see the hole in the ice he was headed towards. He did not know what was at the bottom. He tried, in vain, to stop. He went to take a few more shots at Dany hoping at least to take the conduit with him. But Dany took another shot with the grenade launcher, this time blowing off John’s hand and accelerating him back faster. John called for a wormhole. There was no reception in the cave. He was back to wondering who could possibly think putting them here was a good idea. John continued frantically calling again and again until he finally made a connection. He requested a wormhole.
“My hand has been blown off!” he shouted. He was wormholed back up onto the ship above him and then onto Domination.
Dany was in a pickle. He was full of bullets, and on some human controlled planet, but which one he was on was a mystery. He almost lost hope but then it occurred to him, “they wouldn’t really let me die. Too much would be gained from my capture and interrogation.” So he was perfectly free to just wait.
After a few minutes, a squad of six soldiers came in. Dany quickly grabbed his firespreader and shot one. The others drew tranquilizers. He shot four of the others. He pulled out his grenade launcher and fired between the last one’s legs. The explosion behind the human made him lose his balance and slide forward. Dany grabbed the human once he reached him. He drew his sword as he held it up to his neck.
“Where are we?” he asked.
The human didn’t respond.
“Where are we” Dany repeated.
The human just struggled and begged.
It occurred to Dany that this human may not understand him. He got out his multi-lingual keypad and set it to translate his speech into written English. He repeated his question, “Where are we?”
“290485 e” the soldier said.
“Where exactly on it?” Dany asked.
The soldier gave him coordinates.
“Good little human,” Dany said.
Dany sent for a wormhole, he received one. Before going through, he warned ahead about the human, who was placed in the brig to be interrogated later.
Mike quickly rolled off of Gar, stood up, and observed his surroundings. He was in some kind of boiler room. It was extremely hot. These conditions were unpleasant for him, but would be miserable for a conduit. He saw Gar bolt away from the furnace in the center of the room towards the cooler edges.
Mike quickly hid behind one of the tanks of water for cover. Mike poked his head out of cover, and was met with fire from Gar’s weapon. He was able to duck back in time, but Gar’s shot hit and burst a pipe behind Mike, causing it to begin spewing hot boiling water. Mike was forced to leave cover as the water pooled on the floor. He ran behind another boiler. Gar refrained from shooting this time.
Eventually Mike was forced to hide behind the furnace in the center of the room. Gar shot the furnace causing it to rupture and stopping the heating of the water. Now that the temperature was slowly going down, Mike was slowly losing his most important advantage. Mike drew his weapon and ran toward Gar, attempting to dodge fire as he hit him. Gar fired a spray or Firespreader rounds, which Mike ducked under. Each round went behind Mike and hit the pipes and tanks, speeding up the flooding process with the now merely warm water.
The Commander and Kron were in a blazing desert, of just the sort that would disadvantage the furry conduits. One could taste the sandy thirst that enthralled the desolate place. They landed near a large amount of wreckage, which the Commander knew very well and could navigate easily as he used it for cover. This was all according to his design, of course.
The Commander ran away from Kron and made a dash for the cover. He did not know what Kron was capable of, or what the limits to his power were. He knew that he could turn things invisible, and surveillance tapes from the Glistening Guardian had made him suspect that he was also the reason that the base’s wall had been tossed so far with such ease; as though he could lift extraordinary weights. The Commander was not sure what else he was capable of, thus, he ran to cover before the conduit was able to get up.
Surprisingly, the conduit did nothing but look around confused. The Commander realized that the conduit did not know what had just happened. Judging by Kron’s body language, the conduit had figured out within a few minutes that he had been sent to another place, though he knew not where. Gun drawn, Kron headed toward the wreckage, but then stopped.
The Commander wondered why, but soon got his answer as he saw some of the wreckage lift in response to Kron’s hand motion. This was a lighter piece of wreckage, but the Commander did not know if that was needed for him to be able to lift it. As a few more pieces of wreckage were lifted, some after the conduit briefly touched them, the Commander began running farther back into the wreckage. He drew his gun, knowing that he would need to kill the conduit fast. He fired a shot from his grenade launcher. Just before hitting the conduit, the shot was sent back at him and he was barely able to get away it time. Cover near him suddenly started flying about. The Commander ran, but the cover continued to disappear.
As the water filled the room it occurred to Gar that either Mike, or someone else, probably knew a way out. In order to force Mike’s hand, Gar shot as many more pipes and tanks as he could until the water was rising by about one foot every thirty seconds. This worked, as Mike signaled for a hatch on the roof to be opened. Gar followed him out into the facility above, as did the rising water, now lukewarm.
The facility seemed abandoned, but its name, part of which was the name of the Planet, was painted on the walls at regular intervals. Mike ran down the hall toward the stairwell. Gar shot more pipes, some of which were along the tops of the walls, to keep the rate of the water’s rise growing. Gar followed Mike up the stairs. Mike didn’t dare turn around to shoot back. Once he got to the top of the stairwell, Mike attempted to seal the door, but Gar burst through, knocking Mike down. Gar took this opportunity to disarm Mike while he was down, but then let him go so he would lead him out.
Gar continued to pursue Mike up stairwells, shooting pipes along the way. Eventually the two reached the ground floor, the rest having been below ground, and exited the facility. There was a crowd of humans waiting outside to capture Gar.
Gar carefully sealed the door behind them. He welded the door shut with his firespreader and waited. Mike tried to warn the others of the water. But before he could, the water had filled the building, and the pressure from the water burst through the door, washing them all away. In the Chaos, Gar was able to get to a dry place, summon a wormhole, and get back onto the ship, with only the water that was clinging to his fur coming through.
Kron knew there was a human somewhere in this wreckage, and it was just a matter of clearing away the cover. As he did so, he eventually caught a glimpse of the human as it ran. He now knew where it was, and moved on to the position, clearing away the nearby cover. Kron had his firespreader drawn, but in fact planned to rip the water out of the human and drink it in case he had to survive in this desert for a while. He had worked out that he had been wormholed to another planet, though not which one.
As he contemplated, Kron realized that he needed to prioritize escape over killing the human. As a result, he looked around for some indication of where he was. He found it on the wreckage, a planet name, 23987 a.
Looking it up in his database, he was actually able to find the coordinates of this wreckage. He was now in a position to wormhole out, but decided to kill the human first. He cleared away as much of the cover as he could before he saw the human enter the main body of the wreckage. Kron placed some of the wreckage over the entrance and welded it shut, then spread out the sand below the wreckage, slowly enough that it didn’t free-fall and kill the human. Once it was in a hole deep enough to bury it well underground, Kron did just that. He then summoned a wormhole and left, returning to the Righteous Judgment.
Back at the palace, Nax kept his mind on his mission. He threw Molly off of him and began running toward the princess. The explosion had awoken her. Molly was shooting at Nax, but to no avail due to the pattern in which that Nax moved. Molly finally got out a knife and threw it at Nax, piercing his skin and causing his blood to leak out. Nax continued running. All he needed to do was get to the princess’ room. He was starting to encounter a few additional guards, but he was easily able to pick them off.
He was intrigued by the fact that Molly had made no attempt to taunt him. He supposed she was merely focused; this was one of her species’ children after all. He supposed he should be too, but perhaps a distracted enemy is worth the cost of a distracted self. Between that and how much fun it would be, he decided to give into the temptation and taunt.
“You shouldn’t feel bad,” he said, “it’s not like we’re going to kill her. Yet.”
There was no response. He couldn’t risk turning to look if he has provoked a facial expression. All he could do was carry on.
“I’m the one who her care has been entrusted to, and I’m under strict orders not to kill her. But I promise you this, I’ll make her hate that rule even more than I do.”
This evoked a one-word insult, but not much more. Nax was getting close to the room and was running more than fast enough to ensure that no human could ever hope to catch up. Finally, he reached the room. He saw the little girl in her bed, screaming. Molly was still running in, but all Nax had to do was activate a wormhole and take Maria onto the Righteous Judgment, and that is exactly what he did.
“Nice talking to you!” he shouted at Molly as the wormhole close behind him, clutching the struggling little girl in hand.
Molly went back onto Domination, feeling defeated.
“Where do you want her?” Nax asked, ignoring the child’s kicking and screaming as the Righteous Judgment exited the proximity of the palace, and the human home-world on which it was located.
Aaron turned to a nearby member of the ship’s crew. “Put her in cell 8, Nax will, as he requested, be responsible for her care.”
“Yes, sir,” the crew member said.
“Alright then,” Aaron said, “I think it’s time we ate a well-earned dinner. Nax, you will be feeding the girl afterwards, okay?”
“Okay,” Nax said.
Molly would normally be punished for failure, but not today, because the Commander was not there. And by the time he would be, he’d probably not have that on his mind. Molly always got special treatment of course. The Commander had always favored her. She knew not why, though she suspected lust. If this was the case, the feelings were not mutual. Molly may have been in her late twenties but the Commander was well into his forties. She had higher standards than that for a lover, though not for a pawn, and she had always seen her friendship with him pay off.
Right now, she had to get her mind off of this failure. It was in some ways fortunate that the Commander was not available to be berated by the Monarch since he had the potential to, in his rage, cut the funding of the squad. That may not sound ominous, but it would spell death. Without money, most groups, organizations, and persons are rendered largely ineffectual. A cut to funding corresponding to the failure to protect the Monarch’s own daughter, given while he was feeling all of the emotional turmoil of the situation no less, would be a disaster.
Molly wasn’t doing much to help free the Commander from the sand. Of course she wasn’t, she was a soldier. That was the job of crew members managing packs of slaves to do the manual labor.
Speaking of slaves, she headed into her quarters and sat down. Reflexively the slave meant to be her personal assistant, a member of some obscure Chihuahua-like race they had conquered before it had gone into space, began massaging her shoulder.
“Harder and to the left,” Molly said.
The slave obeyed.
“Yes, like that,” she said.
Indeed, all she had to do was sit back and wait, they’d be done by well into the next day, meaning that the Shadows would have a head-start on their mission. But it was of the sort that would take a while for them, so that didn’t matter too much.
Nax waited about thirty minutes after the little girl had eaten to collect her plate. It might seem strange for a soldier to accept such a venial task as caring for a prisoner, even for the short time that she was in transport to a more adequate facility. However, Nax had made all of the arrangements. He would be overseeing how she was treated there, too, and without anyone except his contacts knowing. She cowered in the corner as he came into the room.
“You know, I made a promise to someone,” he said. “You see, they won’t let me kill you. I see why. You are worth an awful lot, but I still wish I could have the satisfaction. Nonetheless, my promise was this; I would make you hate that rule as much as I do.” He pulled a strange device from his pocket. “And that is a promise I intend to keep.”