The dignitaries flittered over the canape tray; the tinkling of laughter and the clinking of glasses the only sounds beside the quiet determination of the band playing bravely onwards in the face of total ignorance.
As the gathering of ambassadors, regional governors and assorted bureaucrats did their best to mingle with the right people and avoid certain other groups simultaneously, Buzz's ever watchful eye roved over the entire scene. The ventilation. The windows. The various entrances. A score of rangers had been assigned to safeguard this meeting; one well-placed explosive or other ill-meaning device would decapitate the leadership of a half dozen worlds.
Mira was fending off Izaran nobility; the tan-skinned aliens were trying to convince her to give their prince her hand in marriage so that the twin worlds of Tangea and Izara would forever live in peace and eternal harmony. Her expression was that of annoyance contending with grim frustration. Buzz grimaced at the fact that neither of them could do anything about it. Whoever's idea it was to have a democratic conference (read, dinner party) on the Saturn station while the planet was at it's most remote orbital path should have been made to take guard here, instead of him.
Buzz was, quite simply, bored. He hadn't stood in one place for so long since the sector dispute talks, which had done nothing but give him disc pain. When told to guard something, his first impression of the task went something along the lines of posted sentries, cruisers patrolling the area on constant scanning routes, and occasionally checking the kitchen. But the bigwigs felt that such precautions were not necessary; it simply wouldn't do to have military ships flying around right outside the window while the visiting representatives had no such ships. It made his teeth grit; first they get Star Command to play bodyguards at some stupid function, then they dictated demands while frittering away the evening on seafood and cocktails.
And formations! Formations! He'd like to see the policing system on the planet they came from; have twenty people stand in one place and look pretty. They should be spread out! Diversified! Blending! Page 57, chapter 3 of the manual. Defending a fixed position. His arm twitched as he supressed a sigh.
XR was doing his best to look neutral as several representatives from Intonia marveled at the very idea of a robot ranger, fawning over him and tapping on his helmet. Booster was conspicuously absent; Nebula had had hell trying to keep him from the convention. Another political decision. Jo-Ad was not very popular with Izara and neither was Izara very popular with Earth and in fact the very idea of the Alliance in general, so the entire thing was more or less being planned around them. Next thing you know they'd want Izaran militia posted at these gatherings.
Buzz rolled his eyes gently, trying to keep himself from going insane. The function was going to last another couple of hours, and his ankle was giving him gyp. Mira was looking more and more uncomfortable as the Izaran prince started rambling on about the superiority of their genetic coupling, and quoting various paragraphs from the Book of Izaria on how supple Tangea was the perfect match for Izaran strength. The fact that this was going on rather loudly, in front of dozens of foreign nobles and government representatives was irritating him to no end. If the Izarans crashed the party, guess who was going to get blamed? Not the prince's royal ass, he could tell you that much. Then it'd be paperwork/apology/official reparation and he wouldn't hear the end of it for weeks.
'It is not custom for my race to do this; much less members of the royal family.' The prince continued, much to Mira's chagrin. 'I get on my knees.' He did, all five of them. 'And tell you, moon goddess of Tangea, how much I yearn for your delicate hand in holy matrimony.'
The entire Izaran congregation made a series of rapid arms movements and chanted a word three times.
'I confess to you a profound longing deep within my Izaran soul.' Chant three times. 'A hundred star cycles I've lived this galaxy but never have I wanted someone as much as I've wanted you.' Chant three times. 'Accept my invitation, O Tangean princess. A hundred times again, come to me.' Chant Chant Chant.
Mira was quite beside herself; it was taking a lot of self control to keep from kneeing the 89th Izaran prince in the groin. Buzz, for one, wasn't going to stand for this any longer. No one harassed his crew, royalty or no.
He stepped away from his post, approaching the Izaran company. He could already see Nebula's disapproving glare forming in the back of his mind, but at this point he didn't quite care.
'Excuse me...' He said, watching Mira's expression change to one of relief as six Izarans turned to face him.
'No, excuse me!' A voice cried out from the entrance to the hall. The entire room turned as one to face the speaker, who was holding a couple of groaning space rangers in his clawed hand.
'I hope you don't mind me gatecrashing.' Zurg said, tossing the rangers aside. 'But it's so hard to get yourself invited anywhere these days. Oh, sorry about them.' He said, giving the rangers a little kick. 'They were being rather rude, don't you think, Darkmatter?'
'Zurg!' Buzz said, immediately reaching for his arm laser. At the first shot, the VIPs ducked to the floor, screaming. Zurg merely raised a hand, his glove absorbing the fire. Buzz rolled over to the side, knocking over the dessert table as he fired again.
Zurg sighed, blocking this one too. 'Quite useless, Lightyear. I've invested in some lovely shield systems that I managed to pick up from Trade World.' He said, stepping into the room. 'I do hope I'm not interrupting.' He paused, looking over to his right. 'Are those canapes fresh?'
'Hold it right there, Zurg!' Buzz said as the rest of the rangers held their weapons up at him. 'Make a move and we all shoot!'
'What did I say about shield systems?' Zurg said, hands on his hips. 'Oh, I also managed to get one of these.' He pulled a little remote control from the folds of his cloak and pressed the button.
'No!' Buzz said, aiming at the black box and firing. Or at least, pressing the fire button. No high pitched squeal. No high powered energy blast.
The band played on, oblivious.
Every ranger in the room hit frantically at their triggers as their weapons refused to work. 'Oh, yeah?' XR cried from behind a pile of Intonian ambassadors, pulling out his entire arsenal. 'Eat this, Zurgieboy!'
A ball of pure energy flew across the room, vaporizing the robot ranger as Warp Darkmatter stepped in through the doorway. 'Sorry, metal man.' He said, his expression speaking of exasperation more than anything else. 'Can't risk hitting the vee eye pees.' He said, looking over at Buzz. 'Hey Buzz. How's tricks?'
Buzz wasn't going to stand for this much longer. He activated his jetpack, soaring across the room at Warp. Before he could get within ten meters of him, a bluish sphere struck him from the side; encasing him in a clear bubble and sending him floating toward the ceiling.
'Sorry, Lightyear.' Zurg said, brandishing the weapon he was holding. 'Can't have you ruining the party.' He said, hovering over to one of the tables, taking a sliver of sandwich and popping it into his mouth. 'Lobanan lobster!' He cried happily. 'I love this stuff!'
'You'll never get away with this, Zurg!' Buzz cried, trying to break the bubble that trapped him.
'Get away with what?' Warp asked him, arms crossed. 'He's not doing anything.'
'Mira, Liaken, get him!' Buzz shouted at the two female rangers, who were providing a sort of human shield for the Izaran delegation. The two nodded, running at the evil emperor who was currently stuffing his face with lobster sandwiches. Splitting up, they both tried to grab him from opposite directions, but were send flying as they hit the crackling glow of his energy shield. 'Star Command, Star Command, come in Star Command.' Buzz said into his communicator.
'Oh, don't bother, Lightyear.' Zurg said with his mouth full. 'I've jammed the entire sector. My ship is sitting just outside.' He pointed with his thumb, shaking his head. 'Do you have any idea how hard it is to find parking in this system? I was cruising around out there in rush traffic for half an hour just trying to find a space. Who plans those ship routes I wonder?'
'What do you want, Zurg?' Buzz asked, his mind racing through the possible scenarios. 'Hostages? Galactic conquest? Revenge?'
'I do wish you wouldn't be so hostile, Lightyear.' Zurg waved a hand at him and the energy bubble disappeared, depositing him on the floor in a rather undignified heap. 'I'm just here for the food and the ever so pleasant company.' He stopped, his head at an angle. 'Is that Strauss?' He said, looking at the band. 'I love Strauss!' He cried out, making his way toward the band, hands clapping. 'Encore, encore!'
'Darkmatter!' Buzz shouted, pointing accusingly at the henchman. 'What the hell is going on?'
The expression he wore as he rolled his eyes was nothing but weary. 'Nothing, Buzz. I told you. Zurg's just here for the party.'
'You honestly expect me to believe that?' Buzz said. 'The most evil and ambitious man in the galaxy, self styled evil emperor, comes to a conference of six of the most influential planets in known space and he's not here to employ some sort of evil scheme?'
Warp pointed with his thumb, his face deadpan. Buzz turned to see Zurg boogying down to the Blue Danube.
'Wha?' He said, shock overtaking him.
'Told you, big man.' Warp said, hitting him on the shoulder. 'Zurg's lost it.' He said, walking over to the canapes. 'Hey, these are good!'
The dignitaries were coming up from the floor, slowly. Zurg was clapping and laughing and begging for another rendition.
'What the hell is happening, Buzz?' Mira asked incredulously. He could only shrug, his face a paroxysm of conflicting signals.
'Hey, have you tried these?' Warp said, handing Buzz a sandwich, which he accepted blankly. 'Man, you Star Command boys really know how to throw a party, you know that?'
'What's going on?' Mira asked Warp in an accusing tone. 'What are you trying to pull?'
Warp bit off the head of a particularly succulent prawn. 'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.' He said in between bites.
'Try me.' Mira said, folding her arms.
'You're really not going to believe me.'
'You're really not going to believe this.' Warp said. His was the tone of a man who had seen the slopes of Hell, and was trying his best to come back with the help of his family therapist and a mountain of Prozac.
'Tell me Warp, before I-'
'The Sound of Music, buttered popcorn, and Triple Creme Lattes.' Warp said, sighing.
Mira's brow fused. 'What?'
'And Leo Buscalgia tapes.' Warp said. 'Lots of them. Chemical imbalance is my best guess. Hey, could I get a drink over here?' He asked, beckoning a waiter toward him. 'Cocktails? Thanks pal.' He patted the human on the back as he took a long chug. 'I can't handle this sober.' He said, walking over to the small bar they'd installed in the rear of the party.
Mira, meanwhile, was standing in shock. 'Leo Buscalgia?'
'Warp, do you mean to tell me-' Buzz said, looking over at Zurg, who was proceeding to do handstands. 'That Zurg is-'
'Completely out of his mind.' Warp said. 'He just came right up to me and said, 'Darkmatter!' He lowered his voice several octaves. 'Star Command is having a party! And they didn't invite me! Zurg! Emperor of Evil!' So we just had to come.' He downed the rest of his cocktail. 'Hit me, barkeep.' He put his glass down. 'Hey, do they have buyback in this place?'
Polite applause, some laughter. Zurg was making up lyrics to the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven.
'I am the one!' He cried, hand on chest. 'I Am The One...'
Some rangers had found the pieces of XR and put him more or less back together. He was missing a tread and some fingers, but he wasn't really complaining.
'Buzz, aren't we going to do something?' Mira asked, tapping Buzz on the shoulder. 'Hey Buzz?'
'I'm-' Buzz said, his cheeks bulging slightly as he grimaced. 'I'm going to have a drink.'
'Buzz!' Mira said as he made his way to the empty stool next to Darkmatter. 'You can't drink on duty!'
'Re-lax, princess.' Warp said, glass in claw. 'Let the man down a few. He can't handle this without a couple of stiff ones, am I right buddy?' He nudged Lightyear, who wasn't saying anything. The bartender poured a thick brown substance into a glass and put it in front of him. 'I remember back at the Academy with this bozo.' Warp said to Mira. 'After every Stellar Cartography exam he'd go down to Cosmo's and drink like a fish. The man can't handle depression. Well,' He said, raising his glass. 'At least not sober.'
'You can't make me (youcan'tmakemeyoucan'tmakeme) You can't make me you can't make me, you cannot make me! You cannot make me! Stop!' Zurg raised his arms above his head. 'You! Can't! Make! Me...'
'Here ya go, buddy.' Warp said, putting the glass into Buzz's hand. 'Drink up. You'll feel better in a jiffy.'
'Is he really?' Buzz asked, looking at a mamboing Evil Emperor. Warp nodded solemnly.
'Yep.' He said, finishing another cocktail. 'Hit me.' He said to the bartender. 'Listen, Buzz, the last time he got like this-'
Buzz's face twisted some more. 'He's been like this before?'
'Trust me on this? As my only friend?' Warp said, eyebrows raised. 'You do not want to know.' He took his newly filled glass, raising it to his lips. 'We're still trying to get that stain out of the carpet...' He muttered as he downed his drink.
'What I wanna know is...' Buzz said, watching his drink dissolve the glass it was in. 'What I wanna know is...'
'Whoa, dude, you've gone soft.' Warp said, leaning back against the bar. 'You're running on fumes and you're already bent.'
'I wanna...' Buzz said, his eyes glazing over as he lifted his glass.
It'd been so long.
He put it to his lips and drained.
Fire scorched his chest as ice ran past his throat. Chumzian brandy trudged out of the glass and into his digestive system, and when he was done, he was coughing up lung.
'Whoa, easy there big fella.' Warp patted him on the back. 'You sure you can handle all that in one go?'
Buzz looked up, wheezing. 'Hit me.' He panted, putting the glass back on the table. The bartender shrugged, and poured him another one. The drops that missed the glass burned through the metal bartop and sizzled onto the floor. Above them, the ceiling paint crinkled.
'You know,' Zurg said to the Nubarian ambassador, his arm halfway around the alien's massive shoulder. 'I didn't always want to be an evil emperor.'
'Cheers, buddy.' Warp said, raising his glass towards Buzz.
'I wanted to be a-' Zurg said, pausing in reminiscence. 'I wanted to be a ballerina. Yes. That's what I always wanted to be.' He said, decided. 'I even had that frilly dress they wear, can't remember what it's called now...'
'Tutu.' One of the dignitaries supplied helpfully.
'Yes! Tutu, that's it.' Zurg said. 'Wore a tutu. Went to ballet class.' He sniffed. 'But all the other girls were afraid of me.' He sniffed again. 'No one wanted to be Zurgie's dance partner.'
'Cheers.' Buzz said as he drank the whole glass. Warp winced. Buzz had never been good with the drink, and he'd just had two shots of Chumzian brandy in less than thirty seconds. Even Warp, the ever immortal ladies' man, watered the stuff down with Alkyn tonic. Not because he was sissy or anything, but what it did to your pancreas was just wrong.
Zurg, meanwhile, was sobbing his eyes out into the Nubarian ambassador's shoulder. 'No one wanted to be my friend!' He cried. 'I always got picked on in the playground, I did.'
'There there.' The Nubarian said, his rumbling voice echoing throughout the room. If you want to imagine a Nubarian, picture a walking hulk of granite with arms.
'It didn't help that I was good at math.' Zurg sniffled. 'Every time I got chosen to come up to the board I couldn't help it if I knew what nine plus five was. The other kids thought I was being a teacher's pet.' He spat the word. 'As if! The teachers barely came near me!'
XR's eyes flickered as Mira switched him back on. 'What happened?' He asked, flexing.
'Don't ask me.' Mira sighed, facing him towards Zurg. 'I just work here...'
'Hiccup!' went Zurg as he straightened up. 'Huh hic!'
'Oh no.' Warp said, finishing his last cocktail. 'Time to go.'
'Wha? Why?' Buzz asked, his third glass in his hand.
'Because he's coming to.' Warp said, making his way through the crowd. 'Excuse me, thank you. Yes, excuse me.' He grunted as he lifted his lord and master, helping him to his feet. 'I'd better get him out of here before he realizes where he is and Columbines the place.'
'Thanks for the party, everyone!' Zurg said, waving. 'I'll remember you!'
'Pray that he doesn't.' Warp said to the crowd. 'Catch you later, Lightyear.' Warp said, minding his head on the doorway. 'It's been swell.'
XR watched the whole thing, video camera in hand. 'This is going to be worth a fortune on Galactic Home Videos. Did anyone catch the rest of it?'