Chapter Nineteen

"Hostile Takeover"

20:57 – Planet Snivelak, Thug HQ (Plaza), Bogon Galaxy

The general of the Thugs-4-Less army descended the stairs of the main governing building and sauntered to Captain Natasha. In the air, remembering about Velak, Captain Rezabar turned his attack-ship to face the bridge and flew off in that direction. The rest of the army came to a stand still before the dust cloud where they'd last seen the lombax fall and waited patiently. They kept their various weapons ready.

Back on the bridge, Velak smacked his assailant with the butt of his Flux Rifle, parrying the machine off of him. When the machine tottered dangerously close to the edge of the super structure, Velak aimed his weapon hastily and fired a round into its chest, causing it to fall off the top of the bridge. He moved toward the edge and peered down with weapon in hand, seeing the machine smash into the roadbed far below, but only hop back onto its feet and look back up at him. This time, however, it alerted the others with a strange shrill, five more running to its aid. They all stared up at the thug left alive on the bridge.

"Just my luck!" Velak said as he aimed and shot one of the machines in the head, knocking it on its back.

In unison, from the roadbed the machines began climbing up the bridge's super structures and the rails. Velak looked around for an alternate means of escape, but his choices were limited to taking a swim in the polluted waters of Snivelak or to leap to the closest railing, a thick steel bar that he assumed to be more than fifty feet away. He decided against both options and believed he had a better chance of fighting the machines where he stood. Another shrill from one of the machines told him that they were getting closer to him, so he readied his rifle, stepped back toward the middle of platform, and waited for the first sighting of a robotic face.

For a moment, there was nothing at the edges around him as he swiveled, keeping guard at every angle. Then suddenly, one of them leapt high into the air from a corner and came down in front of him. It approached aggressively with his clawed fingers twiddling, its mechanical jaws gnashing with sparks, and its eyes gleaming red. A second machine leapt onto the platform from behind; metal, retractable, clawed feet tapping evilly. Velak exchanged stares at each, trying to figure out which of the two he would attack first.

Without any warning, the one from behind lurched forth with its claws ready, jumping toward him with its clawed foot coming down in a swift, diagonal slash. Velak whirled around to parry off the first attack of the machine's hands with the length of his rifle, but the machine's foot managed to slice along the inner part of his right thigh, causing him to kneel in great pain.

"Ahssst!" he cried in a hiss, feeling the burning sting on his thigh, where he perceptibly guessed a gash had been created. He rose back to his feet in time to elude another attack from behind, using his back to force the machine back.

With his rifle clutched tightly in both hands, he dipped beneath another frontal attack from one of the machines and again swung the butt of his rifle at the closest one to him, knocking it off balance by tripping one of its legs from under it. He charged the machine in front with his shoulder and knocked it off the the bridge. From behind, he heard another manic cry and turned around to block another attack from another machine. At his feet, four more machines climbed up to the platform.

"What are youz things?" he said behind clenched teeth, turning and using an assaultive machine's momentum against it, making it run off the bridge as well.

He lifted a boot as one of the others endeavored to cut at his pant leg. He moved back, allowing the machines to finish their ascent. They crawled on top of the platform and looked at each other for a moment as if deciding who would be the one to get the kill. Velak gnawed his nether lip, contemplating whether or not to leap from the bridge to escape a gruesome fate. Then gunfire ripped through the machines, forcing a couple of them off the platform. When he looked up, he saw that it was Captain Rezabar in his attack-ship.

Not waiting for the machines to recover, he went into a sprint and leapt far as he could toward the attack-ship, grabbing onto its skids. For a moment, he dangled by the arm and almost dropped his rifle if it weren't for its strap tangled around his left wrist. Once Rezabar felt a slight shake, he pulled away from the bridge and flew them back to base where it was safe.

In his headset communicator, the air captain heard the great relief in the soldier's voice. "Thanks, Captain! I was beginning to thinks you'd forgotten about me up there on the bridge."

The captain grinned a little. "I almost did, Velak. I almost did."

Velak slid his communicator back into his breast pocket and began climbing fully onto the skid, sitting on it while holding on one end of it with a hand and the other, onto his rifle.

When the smoke cleared, there was nothing but rubble piled in excess atop the allegedly defeated lombax. There wasn't any sign of the lombax--anywhere. In the side of the building, he left his indentation in the wall, but nothing more. Only the bravest of thugs went in to investigate, removing the rubble piece by piece in search for an answer to the whereabouts of Ratchet.

Captain Natasha saw this and gave a quizzical look at Stravek. "There is a problem, Thratcher."

"What problem? The lombax is no more . . . I hopes he's buried alive under all of that armor."

Behind them, the general stood silently still, overlooking the situation in front of them. They turned to glance at him.

"General, we're waiting for the men to confirm that Ratchet is dead," said Natasha."

The thug leader cocked an eyebrow when he saw her deplorable condition. "And what happened to you's?" He placed a big hand on her shoulder and stared down at her.

Natasha shot Stravek a look. "Oh, nothing much. Nothing at all."

A cheer from one of the thugs brought them to attention. They'd finally discovered the lombax, pulling his limp and heavy form by his arms from the debris. It took six to seven thugs to lift the lombax to his feet. The biggest of the bunch carried the lombax by each of his shoulders and dragged his feet along the street, bringing him toward the front of the plaza where Captain Natasha, Stravek, and the general waited.

The lombax's armored helmet didn't glow as it had done so brightly before, and it was cracked along the sides, showing a blackness inside. His armor was badly damaged, his shoulders plates missing a few pieces. The rest of him, his chest plate and chassis remained intact.

While being dragged along, followed closely behind by a mob of thugs, one of the brutes carrying the lombax thought he'd seen one of the lombax's fingers move, but he simply ignored the thought of anyone or anything capable of surviving such an ordeal.

When they brought the lombax within several feet of the general, Captain Natasha was the first to speak. "What's the matter, private? Does the lombax weigh more than you?" she joked, staring the brute in the eyes.

The brute look up, "Ma'ma, he weighs like a ton. It's got to be all of this armor he has on. He's got to be incredibly strong to even move in it."

Natasha nodded. When Stravek heard ton, it made him suspicious of the lombax and skeptical of what he had said earlier about him. He had run into the lombax before and didn't remember the lombax ever being described as a heavyset person. More than anything, the lombax was too short and small in size to be heavy--at all.

To reassure himself, he said, "Brute, let's see his face. Remove the mask."

Captain Natasha gave a nod to the brute as he looked up at her for the order, and then motioned his head for another thug to do the honors. A henchman came round from the back of them, stood in front of small group holding the lombax, and placed his hands on the sides of the helmet. He studied it for a moment to see how it worked. He gripped the sides hard as he could, pressing down on what he thought were release clips, and tried pulling the helmet upward; but the helmet didn't budge.

Natasha's eyes narrowed a little. "What's the matter now?"

The henchman's face became contorted, wrought with confusion. "It won't come off. It's as if it's--attached--to the armor."

One of the lombax's arms moved slightly, scaring the same thug who had thought the Veldin were alive. Again, he said nothing, returning his stare to the front of the group.

"Someone pry that damned thing off," ordered the general. "Blow his head off if you have to. I want to make sure he bleeds."

Once more, the lombax's hand moved. This time, the same thug kept his eyes on the lax lombax, watching the Veldin's hands with undivided attention. Stravek saw this and followed his gaze, waiting to see something happen himself. Captain Natasha turned to look at her Manhunter operative, a part of her feeling rejuvenated than before. She flashed him a small smile.

"It's over, Stravek. Today, we thugs have won." She slapped his shoulder in a friendly manner. "Shall we make amends and discuss what happens to your brother now?"

He rudely quieted her by placing a finger on her lips. "Quiet. Look there," he pointed toward the lombax's hand. "He's not quite dead."

Natasha motioned her head away from his finger and to where he stared with deep concentration. The general behind them did the same, unfolding his arms and clearing his throat quietly. The lombax's hand moved a bit more than it did before, and then his other hand curled its fingers. The thug in front of him lifted his head and peeked inside the orifices made into the helmet's visor.

"That's strange, I can't see anything inside. Not even his ey--" a cold, gloved hand reached up and gripped the thug by the throat. With a simple twist, there was a snap, and then the thug fell dead where he stood.

In fright, the brutes handling the lombax suddenly released him onto his feet. Behind the visor, the lombax's visual returned fully, but only parts of it was showing signs of damage, charred to imperfection, flickering its advanced display.

"He's not dead! Kill him! Now!" barked Stravek.

The legion knew the lombax was unarmed and so they charged him all at once, tackling and pinning him in a big pile. Thirty some bodies compiled atop the lombax. Surprise filled in the eyes of Natasha, Stravek, and the general when the bodies on top began sliding off. Beneath the biggest thugs, the lombax hefted seven on his shoulders, rising slowly to his knees. When he mustered enough strength, he threw back the pile as if they were bean bags.

"What the . . .?" said a thug near the seemingly unconquerable lombax. "He's been taking nanroids or something since our last encounter."

Too astonished to react, the thugs watched as the lombax advanced the general in slowness with its visor gleaming several times.

Natasha pointed to ten of the closest thugs and ordered them to apprehend the lombax believed to be Ratchet. "You, you, and you . . ." she continued saying, "take down Ratchet."

From the sides, one by one, a thug leapt for the tackle, but a fist sent them flying back like rag dolls. Whenever a group would try to take down the lombax, with some of them being dragged along by his legs, the lombax would spread out his arms and shake off the thugs trying to subdue him. One soldier dared to stand in front of him to impede his progress, but a swift backhand saw to it that that thug went swirling in the air. Others tried jumping onto his small shoulders only to have the palms of their hands, stomach, or chests partially impaled by the spikes on the lombax's armored shoulder plates. And with a powerful whip of the lombax's forearm--and fore blade--across the face of a thug, he gouged him, disfiguring him forever. The lombax left thugs in his wake--bloodied, maimed, or dead. The rest of them wised up to this realization and eschewed the lombax.

There was nothing standing in the way between the general but Captain Natasha and Stravek Thratcher.

The lombax stopped in front of Captain Natasha and Stravek, looking at each of them as if they were willing to move out of his way or to be moved. They stared at each other, cracking a mischievous smile.

"Be my guest, Captain. He's all yours," Stravek said with seriousness.

Natasha smirked, "How about we take him together?"

"Okay, let's do it."



Together, they got into their battle poses. In response, the lombax motioned forth another step, daring them to try him. In a flash, Natasha's boot smashed into the lombax's visor, peeling back his head in a painful way. From behind, she bent low for Stravek to follow up with a drop kick. He struck the lombax in the chest, adding to the imbalance of his footing. Natasha moved in for another attack, a quick sweep, and managed to trip the lombax onto his back. To finish the chain of combos, Stravek leapt onto the chest of the lombax and aimed his weapon at the lombax's helmet.

"Boom!" he said--and fired.

The thick, green energy blast of the mighty Thrasher Cannon was enough to force the lombax into the street--deeply. All around them, the street tore up from the ground in thousands of fragments. The force of the blast knocked Stravek back, but he remained unharmed unlike the last time he had pulled the stunt in Jakata. He landed on his feet some several feet back, blowing off the acrid smoke from the barrel of his favorite weapon. Natasha stood aside, putting her hands together and clapping.

"Good job! You didn't get hurt this time. Lucky devil."

Stravek reached up with an arm, holding his chest and slowly shaking his head. "Nope. Not even a lombax can survives a blast like that up close."

"Indeed," said Natasha.

Filaments of concrete of what had been sent into the air from the street began raining down over the area where the lombax laid embedded with outstretched limbs. On parts of his battle armor, superheated with green plasma, it smoked and showed monstrous scorch marks. As for the lombax himself, he remained motionless for a short while.

"Like I saids, nothing can--"

The lombax grabbed the sides of the his makeshift entombment and slowly pushed himself out of it, rising from within the street in a casual manner. To Natasha and Stravek, it was as if a corpse had risen. The general blinked several times, reaching behind him and unsheathing his swords. It was time to end this foolishness.

In inadvertence, Stravek charged the lombax with his weapon held high above him. Natasha reached out to him with a hand and cried to stop him.

"Stravek! No!"

When the Manhunter came down with his weapon over the head of the lombax, the weapon didn't even faze the Veldin; it was like striking a solid object. His arms hurt from the repercussion of his weapon when it rattled hard. In return, the lombax reached for the weapon, tautly yanked the weapon from the Snivelakian, and crushed it in his gloved hands without so much as fidgeting, relinquishing what was left of the weapon afterward. Then he reared back an iron hard fist and punched the Manhunter squarely in the face. The sheer amount of force sent the lizard skidding back on the soles of his feet before he eventually tripped and tumbled back in the most agonizing way.

When Stravek's body stopped rolling, bringing him to a still on his stomach with his head turned away from the shabox, he didn't move anymore. Natasha's heart raced wildly as she ran across the street to him. She kneeled beside him and was reluctant to place a hand on his back, but forced herself to do so. She shook him softly, calling out his name.

"Stravek? Stravek?" she said, trying to rouse him. "Stravek? Stravek?" she choked in between sobs as deep-rooted emotions for him began to resurface. She gasped when she noticed a pool of blood escaping from beneath his head. He even bled from his ears. The Manhunter--was no more.

Natasha shook with furious anger. She turned back to look at the lombax, revenge burning in her eyes. She rose slowly to her legs and turned around to face her friend's killer. Then she raced toward him, leaping at him to deliver the strongest attack she could perform with a kick. The lombax sensed this and strafed enough for her to miss, catching her in midair by her throat with a big palm.

"Gag!" she sputtered, feeling the lombax's gloved hand squeezing the life out of her. Her eyes turned red. Her fur bristled all over. Her tail jerked wildly behind her struggling form.

The general pointed his long sword at the lombax and yelled at him. "Stop! You want me, right? Come get some, lombax."

The lombax dragged the shabox along with him for a couple of more feet before releasing her. She toppled on the street, holding her throat and gasping for air. Tears came rolling out from her eyes. Her fur remained perked up on their ends. She was still in shock from the unnatural amount of strength the lombax possessed.

In between quick breaths, "That's not Ratchet. That's . . ." she breathed strongly, closing her eyes and facing the sky. ". . . a machine."

The powerful lombax came up to the new thug leader and stopped in front of him. The legion of thugs surrounded the scene between their leader and lombax. They exchanged subtle glances, and then the gentle sway of the general's sword ordered the rest of them to spread out. The army extended their circle around the two, a couple of them pulling the injured Captain Natasha away from battle.

Without another word, the general came forcefully down on the lombax with his gigantic sword with a resounding ping. Where he struck the lombax, his sword dulled there, having become dented in a single blow. He brought out his other sword, and tried again to cause heavy damage to the lombax's armor. His swords slid diagonally across the chest plate and the abdomen of the lombax, igniting a series of sparks--but they didn't leave any deep, serrated wear behind. Not allowing the general to attack any further, the lombax withdrew his Omniwrench, and parried off the next series of strikes.

Together, they exchanged attacks and blocks, moving about the plaza. They came to a nearby light post, and the general slashed viciously there, severing the lamp in an instant. In retaliation, the lombax swung his Omniwrench back, forcing the general back to defend himself. The lombax's attacks came fierce and quick, barely giving the general enough time to respond.

When the lombax missed and struck the street with his weapon, it created a pothole; and during this time of the lombax's miss, the general took it upon himself to counter with a upward strike, creating more sparks along the lombax's mask. Then the lombax followed up with a deadly multi-strike, obliterating the sides of buildings and anything else it came into contact with.

After a while, they both learned each other's moves, more to the benefit of the lombax. The next miss accounted for with a swipe of the general's heavy blades, the lombax reached out to clutch one of the swords with a hand and shortened it with a snap. In surprise, the general leapt back, bringing up his broken sword for inspection.

"You're not the lombax I thought you were. You're simply a machine."--he began cackling--"But even machines can be broken." He tossed his broken sword aside and gripped his remaining sword in both hands, knowing he could strike faster and harder than before.

The general waited for the right opportunity to deceive the machine. He feigned to attack, and when the desirable reaction from the lombax occurred, he simply dodged and came down in a stabbing motion with both of his massive hands on the hilt of his sword--sending his long blade into the torso of the machine. A series of sparks and circuitry came out of the machine when the general kicked the lombax back with a boot, freeing his sword.

For a moment, the lombax looked down at his first true injury. He stared back up at the towering thug and his visor gleamed anew. To the thoughtlessness of the general, who decided to strike the lombax with a slash again, forgetting that it was futile to damage it that way, the machine brought up its hands and caught the sword in his palms. With a sudden jerk to the side, the sword broke just as instantly as the first. And not allowing the general any time for a reaction, the lombax flung the broken piece at the thug's foot, piercing it, followed by the noisome sound of torn flesh.

The general rang out in pain and stumbled forth a few steps, wanting to kneel down and remove the shard. In one final and fluid move, the lombax performed a comet-strike, throwing his wrench past the general in a wide arc. The Omniwrench flew around in a crescent and returned behind the general, knocking him upside the head. The blow was so profound that he fell forward on his knees and became dizzy; and with that, the lombax caught his wrench, turned it downward, and thrust it with a wide wrench extension.

He trapped the general by the nape of his neck in the wrench, forcing him to the ground. Unable to escape this new move, the battle ended with a quick turn of the wrench--snapping the general's neck. The general's massive body relaxed and fell flat. The battle was over. The thugs lost once again.

The surviving thug legion was instantly filled with devastation, demoralization, and distraught. There was nothing they could do. How could they possibly defeat something as advanced and dangerous as the armored lombax? They didn't know what to do. With the general defeated, their dreams of a unification dissipated in their minds as well. The thug order followed a simple code: whoever defeated the strongest among the their ranks became their new leader. And that title was now this machine's. Infernox's . . . .