ALTERNATE TALES OF THE STAR FORCE

STAR BLAZERS---RETURN TO THE GREAT MAGELLENIC CLOUD

Being the seventh part of THE RIKASHA INCIDENT--- BY: Frederick P. Kopetz


ACT ONE--STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU


I. PATROL FLIGHT

Deep Space

Somewhere Near the Octopus Star Group

Monday February 1, 2202

1020 Hours Spacetime


For the first time in quite a while, Captain Derek Wildstar was again behind the controls of his Super Starfighter on a patrol flight with the Black Tigers, specifically, Hardy's squadron. His flight formed a "fifth" flight on patrol with the Tigers as part of the usual CAP that regularly scoured space around the Argo. The huge space battleship was still marooned near the Octopus Star Group. She was now about 15 AU's away from the edge of the storm near an edge of the black nebula that surrounded it, (Astronomical Units, each AU being the distance between Earth and its star), but the storm had subsided a little. Hence, the patrol flight. At the current time, they were flying near an edge of the black cloud, or black nebula. Close-up, the nebula looked just plain weird; it was multi-colored, and it occasionally was luridly illuminated by lurid flares of static electricity that went off inside the cloud due to the action of the gas molecules rubbing against each other. Not one of the more pleasant places I've flown in, thought Derek, but we're just checking out a hunch of Sandor's that maybe there's another way out of the black cloud.

"Nice to be flying again," he said over the radio to the wingman on his left, Stephen Sandor, who was flying his special Technical Recon Cosmo Tiger.

"Sure is," said Sandor. "Take a look at that cloud. The static activity is just plain fascinating. It wasn't this active the last time we were here." As if to punctuate his point, a burst of lightning went off somewhere deep inside the cloud.

"I'm enjoying it, too," said IQ-9, who had finally been rebuilt and released from the Mechanical Engineering shop. He was flying as Sandor's RSO. "But I'd rather be in the other plane."

"You mean mine?" said Captain Wildstar. "I thought you'd have a nice discussion with Sandor about science."

"I mean with your other wingman, Captain Wildstar."

"No thank you," said Derek and Nova Wildstar together in chorus. Nova was flying the other plane, a spare Strike Cosmo Tiger refitted with a Life Sciences recon pod packet much like the one on the plane she had been flying a while ago at Pellias. She was using some of its ancillary functions to help Derek and Steve check out the black cloud.

"What's wrong? Don't you trust me? I was killed saving your life, you know, Nova." chirped IQ.

"I know...it's just...well...we thought you could help Sandor, that's all," said Nova. "I made a point of being there when they turned you back on at last yesterday."

"And I hugged you for joy..."

"You also wouldn't put me down for five minutes," giggled Nova. "You're very sweet, but I think you need to let your systems stabilize for a bit. After all, you've only been working again for less than twenty-three hours."

"I'm a newborn robot," he said. "And I'm more of a genius than ever!"

Across the void, Derek looked at his wife in her cockpit and put a gloved hand up to his helmet. He began to twirl his finger around rapidly.

Nova nodded back and giggled. Yeah, Derek. He sure is crazy ..she thought. But, we love him just the same.

"So, you two," said Wildstar. "How's the solar wind?"

"Bad," said Sandor. "If we go ten megameters deeper, we'll start to have problems with the instruments."

"The storm was out here yesterday," said Nova. "It's more chaotic that it was last time. I wonder what could be making it that vicious?"

"I was noticing the same thing in terms of the static discharges inside the cloud," said Sandor. "It seems as if this whole region has gone berserk."

"Hey, Wildstah!" called out Hardy from just a few hundred kilometers away.

"Yes, Hardy?"

"Three of my guys are startin' to report problems with their navigational instruments," he said. "Request permission to return to the ship."

Derek was about to just ask them to head off on another course heading when he saw his fighter's astro-compass beginnning to twirl around. "Uhh...guys..I see your point." He called over to Sandor. "Sandor! Is your astro-compass staying on course?"

"Yes...don't know for how much longer, though."

"Nova?"

"Mine keeps going off a degree. I'd better follow you guys out visually."

"Okay, out we go," said Wildstar. "Sandor, I'll follow you."

"Roger that."

A while later, all fifteen planes emerged from the nebula and landed safely aboard the Argo.


"So, what did you guys find in there?" asked Conroy a while later in the Black Tigers' briefing room.

"Whole lotta nuthin," said Hardy. "Sandor's hunch almost cost five guys their butts out there."

"What do you mean?" asked Conroy.

"We went deep inside that black cloud, looking for a way out. We went deep enough so that we began having instrument problems. We almost lost all of Charlie Flight in my squadron..."

"You mean Miyamoto, Lindenmann and Garand?" said Conroy. "You sure got the short end of the stick, buddy!"

"Yeah. And the other two were both of the Wildstars. Luckily, everyone followed Sandor out. He didn't lose his compass."

"Shhoot! I could kinda see Nova getting lost, she's still a bit new at flying fighters; but Derek? The guy's practically grown up in that damn cockpit of his."

"Like ah always said, Conroy. One mistake out there in space can kill ya mighty fast."

Conroy looked around. The other squadrons had arrived... namely; Laurel Hartmann's and Tatiana Lubyanska's squadrons. He noticed that Bryan and Angie Hartcliffe were both sitting with their squadrons and hadn't reverted to sitting together yet. Guess things are still pretty dicey between those two, thought Conroy. You think they'd be closer...

A moment later, Nova, Sandor, and IQ-9 came in together, all animatedly talking about a series of technical readouts on a printout that Sandor was carrying. Sandor nodded, and went up to the podium while Nova and IQ sat down together.

"I think everybody knows we had a close call out there today," said Sandor. "And this was all following a hunch of mine about that nebula and another way to get out. Before we hear from the Captain, I'd like to apologize to everyone involved in today's survey flight. Thank God we didn't lose a single person or plane out there. Flying out there is getting dangerous."

Wonder what the Captain said to him? Bryan Hartcliffe thought from his seat. I hope he got bitched out like I did when I made my mistake, man.

Bozhe moi, even the senior officers are now admitting they can screw up, thought Lubyanska.

"Now, Captain Wildstar is here. He'll...take the podium," said Sandor.

Derek adjusted his ascot and stood there, not another pilot, but now, once again, the "Old Man" of the ship.

"I think everyone's heard by now that we had a close one out there in that cloud," said Captain Wildstar. "I'm not blaming anyone; I was there. I even made some flying mistakes. One of which was even permitting a flight so deep into that nebula. You know that the storm's not subsiding; we're all on edge, and we're grabbing at straws to try to find a way out of this crap and get back on the high road with our mission. I'd like to apologize to everyone for permitting that flight, and almost costing us lives. Dying in the cockpit of a marooned astrofighter as you slowly run out of heat and air after you run out of fuel and power is a slow and lonely death that I wouldn't wish on anyone here in this room. Sure, you can say we would've recovered anyone we'd lost...but given that radar doesn't work right in this mess, do we want to take that chance?"

Everyone just murmured a little as Wildstar continued. "So, effective today, I'm instituting some new security regs. No one goes out there into that nebula while it's active. I know it'll cut down the range of our CAP flights, and, as we eventually end up closer to the nebula, probably will curtail our patrols altogether, like the last time we were here, but we can't risk lives over hunches any one of us might have. I know you're probably thinking, what's with Wildstar...is he losing his nerve? I'm not. I'm trying to remember we have over three hundred people on this ship, whose lives are depending upon my decisions. And Earth is depending upon our successful completion of this mission. There's a time to act on your hunches, but, right now, no one on this battleship, myself included, can afford to act like a cowboy and muck things up. Is that clear?"

Counting losses they had incurred, the forty-two Black Tiger pilots and other officers present in the briefing room murmured assent.

"Good. Conroy, Hardy, you guys are to join us in the central briefing room for that briefing at 1300 after lunch. Lubyanska, you go out there for the next patrol. Watch your butt out there," said Captain Wildstar.

Lubyanska nodded. "I'll prepare a new flight plan now, sir. I'll...keep in mind what you ordered us to do."

"Good. Tigers, you're dismissed," said Wildstar. "Remember your alert statuses, guys."


II. REVIEW SESSION

Central Briefing Room

Space Battleship Argo

Monday, February 1, 2202

1300 Hours Spacetime


"Okay," said Commander Mark Venture while he stood on the large deck screen, right in the center of the surface. He held the usual pointer. "Before we start getting into a mutual exchange of recriminations, everybody, let's review how we got ourselves caught in this fix here at the Octopus Star Group...again."

"On the twenty-third of January, you recall, we had a long discussion about how we were caught here and we discussed our alternatives...none of them good. So, after trying a few things, on the twenty-fifth, we had just finished taking scans of how large the black cloud or nebula that surrounded this soup had gotten now. Why was that, again?'

"Because I thought we had found a place where we could warp out of this mess safely," said Aliscea as several crewmembers began to give her dirty looks. She now looked a little different; she had borrowed a brown simulated suede skirt from another crewmember, and she wore it with a black blouse and her usual lace-up sandals.

"She was doing what we had asked of her," said Captain Wildstar. "Venture, go on."

"Yessir. At close range, we had discovered that the black cloud had grown several hundred megameters, from here...to here..." said Venture as he pointed at the screen. "Our escape route, here...was cut off. However, Parsons, Lieutenant Wildstar, and I sat around that navigation scope on the second bridge for nine hours straight on the twenty-sixth to try to find some way out of this dilemma as Aliscea had suggested."

"Again, I commend all of you guys," said Derek. "Mark, Holly, Nova, you all have commendations in your records for your hard work."

"Thanks," said Holly. Mark breathed a sigh; Nova stood in silence staring at the deck. "Lieutenant Wildstar, you've got the floor for a minute," said Venture.

"Thanks," said Nova. "Now, here's the part where you can all blame me. After I made scan after scan that day, I finally found an alternate path out of the black cloud, here, at XPY-322," said Nova as she took the pointer from Venture and pointed to a flashing dot about 60 AU's away from the Octopus Group itself. "That channel wasn't on our old charts; so I guessed it was a change in the nebula. We flew Tigers into it several hundred megameters...we thought it was clear. We warped a short staging warp of 60 AU's outwards in this direction, because I thought the stellar storms had subsided a little..."

"And thanks to your bright thinking, we found ourselves facing an electrical storm and this deep garbage in this uncharted part of the nebula when we came out," snapped Dash. "Smart, Nova. Real smart."

"It was a random event, Dash!" snapped back Nova. "We couldn't pick it up 60 astronomical units away."

"That was typical, Nova. You got us lost."

"And what do you have to say about this morning when I risked my neck trying to find another way out in a plane?" Nova retorted.

"Both of you, cool it!" shot back Captain Wildstar. "Now, I know we're all on edge here, but we don't need to act like we're in high school. We're a military outfit, not a bunch of space pirates without discipline. We don't need any more fights like that garbage on the first bridge the other day. Nova, Dash, both of you are to apologize to each other after this briefing. I know you two don't exactly like each other all that much on this cruise, but we don't need your shenanigans today! I don't have time for it! You got that?"

"Yessir," said Nova in a muffled voice. She kept her eyes down because she knew that if she looked up at the Captain...her husband...she would be staring daggers at him. She knew she couldn't show that sort of disrespect to the Captain at a meeting, even if she was fuming inside.

"Aye, aye, sir," said Dash. He glanced sidelong at Nova and shook his head. Women, he thought.

"Now, let's get on with this," said Captain Wildstar. "Venture, based on our information, how much longer do you think we're going to be caught here with the stellar storm in front of us and that crazy nebula behind us?"

"At least twenty days...maybe twenty-five," said Venture. "It's hard to tell for sure, sir. We'll just have to keep on monitoring both that stellar storm and the nebula. If we find a way out, one way or another, we'll take it."

"Wish we weren't stuck here," muttered Sakamoto, who had been reassigned to Conroy's squadron. "Maybe there was something to the old naval superstition that said women on a ship were bad luck."

"I heard that, Sakamoto!" barked Captain Wildstar. "Do you have an excuse for that?"

Good job, Derek, thought Nova with a little grin.

"Sir...no sir. Just recalling...old folklore."

"Folklore which is now, thankfully, obsolete," said Derek. "Does anyone else have any other comments to make from old folklore?"

The gathered officers stood there in uneasy silence.

"Good," said Captain Wildstar. "This briefing is adjourned."

Dash began to leave, but Nova grabbed him by the arm. "Dash, I believe the Captain wants us to say something to each other in front of him."

"Oh, yeah...right," he said. "Captain," said Dash. "Nova...I'm sorry I lost my temper with you. We're all on edge. I'll try to be more professional."

"Me too," said Nova. "Dash, I'm very sorry I snapped at you."

"Good job, guys," said Captain Wildstar. "You know you can't let the tension get to you."

"I feel like climbing up a bulkhead, sir," said Dash as they all walked out into a corridor. "I almost wish someone would attack the ship so we'd have something to do."

"That's a terrible thing to wish for," said Nova. "You know how many people get hurt in battles."

"I admire you, Nova," said Dash. "How do you keep your convictions and that gentle heart in the face of all of the battles we've been through? And how do you keep your cool, Wildstar?"

"It's not easy," said Derek. "You don't want to know the times I've wanted to put my fist through a bulkhead on this cruise, Dash."

"As for me...it's personal," said Nova. "Not that it's easy to keep to my convictions all the time here on this ship. I'm not a perfect person by any means," she said as she patted Derek's arm.

"So how do you manage?"

"I don't know, Dash...prayer, maybe? Meditation?" said Nova. "That's...why I didn't want to get into this," she added as she and Derek stood before a lift. "I know...we have different convictions, you and I."

"Yeah. There's something to be said for your clean lifestyle," said Dash.

"Problem is, I'm not as clean as I look," said Nova.

"What does that mean?" asked Dash.

The lift came. "Nova, let's go," said Derek.

"See you later, Dash," said Nova as she and her husband stepped into the lift. The doors whizzed shut, leaving Dash to ponder the point alone in the corridor.


III. RIKASHAN DISHONOR

Baron Anton and Baroness

Mikala Cha'rif's Bedroom

Sherikhan Fortress

Planet Rikasha

Tuesday, February 2, 2202

1657 Hours Spacetime


Baron Anton Cha'rif sat on his own round bed in his bedroom in his family's palace at the center of their oasis-like fief on the hot, bleak desert world that was Planet Rikasha.

He wore only a gauze caftan-like garment that reached to his knees. The sheets and pillows on the round bed were rumpled, attesting to a nice time earlier with his wife, the Baroness Mikala.

Right now, the Baron sat cross-legged on his bed, resting the lower bell curve of a Rikashan musical instrument known as a khalil'bak against his bare ankle. He blew into the oboe-like instrument, and dolefully played a tune that would have sounded both exotic and bizarre to Terran ears. Rikashan music used a strange tonal musical notation and time signatures like nothing ever heard on Earth. The closest analogue on Earth to Rikashan music (and it was a very poor one) was a cross between Arabic and Indian music.

Cha'rif blew a series of notes through his instrument that matched his black mood. Lord Zaden said he and my father would be here from the Capital in two days to judge my case, he thought. I don't even know if I'm going to end the week alive or not. Damn the Star Force! I should have blown up their ship when I had the chance! I got myself in this spot by being...honorable. Damn honor! I would've cut off my right arm a while ago rather than say that, but may Perdition take honor! It doesn't work out there...in space...against enemies the Empire wants dead! And the worship of Ekogaru...growing more fanatical than ever. And human sacrifices? They never did that before. What's wrong with us? What's wrong with my beloved people? My beloved world?

Anton blew more notes from his khalil'bak, and then he threw it on the bed and put his face in his hands. He growled into his hands, and then just began to hiss.

He looked up, and a green light glowed in his eyes as he used his R'jkharraz powers to lift a steaming cup of kif up from a nearby table. He levitated the bitter coffee-like drink to his hands and began to drink as the doors to his chamber opened. In strode Mikala, wearing a caftan like his, some jewelry, and nothing else. The sun shone through her caftan as she approached the bed, and that made him smile a little as she jumped up onto the bed. Mikala made sure her husband had a nice view of her long legs and bare ankles, decorated with bangly ankle bracelets that jingled with her every move. Despite her doubts about her mercurial husband, she truly loved him.

"Want a cup of kif Baroness?" he asked.

"What I would desire, you probably won't do."

"And that is?"

"For you to come out and talk with your wife and son again?" she said gently. "Ar'ten's been very worried about his father. His father has had no stories from the battlefront...no souvenirs from exotic alien races. Not even a fur coat for his wife for those cold nights when the sun doesn't beat down on us. Tell me...what is it that troubles you?"

"I met a foe out in space trying to help a sworn foe of the Lord Ekogaru protect itself. They are our sworn religious enemies. They fought well, and were honorable warriors. They say Ekogaru only aids the honorable...the decent warriors. If that is so, then why are such decent people enemies of our Lord?"

"I can't answer those questions, Anton...nor do I think it is wise for me to try. At any rate, your father and the Lord Zaden sent a message. Their caravan arrives here at sunset. They would meet with you before the sun sets in the audience room."

"What...did they say? Do they need a scaffold built? Will...?"

"No, they gave no orders for the building of a scaffold. In fact, your father invites you to dinner after sunset with himself and the Lord of our People after their meeting. That must mean you will survive the meeting, my dear Baron."

"It sounds good...promising...but, will I still be Baron? Will I be cast out?"

"I don't think so," said Mikala. She hugged her husband. "But whither thou goest, I go with thee. Whither you go into the deepest Kahved of the desert, or the edge of the Universe, I go with thee!"

"Good," he said as he kissed his wife affectionately on the top of her head. "I think I shall need you with me."

"Thank you," said Mikala. She kissed him and said, "When you finish that kif, would you mind if I took that caftan off you? You need to be oiled before you put on your dress uniform..."

"And I assume, you desire other things as payment for oiling me," said Cha'rif as he reached his hands up under his wife's garment. He smiled.

"Yes, Baron...yes..." she purred. "Hurry up and finish your kif. I would have you to myself again, if you are up to it, that is."

Anton kissed Mikala tenderly. "I am, Lady. I am."


Later on, in an audience chamber in his father's palace, Baron Cha'rif and Ter'garv, his second-in-command, knelt together on a carpeted runner before a throne. On that throne sat Lord T'Grish Zaden, the secular head of government of the Rikashan Star Empire. Beside him stood his father, Duke Sta'gin Cha'rif, and Marda, who was now the High Priestess of the R'Khell Priesthood of the Rikashan/R'Khell Union.

"So that's your explanation of why you didn't defeat them," said Marda with contempt. She took a deep breath and said, "Lordship, I suggest we show him no mercy."

Zaden raised his hand. "Let's not be hasty, Lady. Before we punish him, let's at least hear his reasons. So, why did you let Aliscea go when you had a chance to capture her? Explain it again, lad."

"Have no mercy!" barked Marda.

"Marda, with all respect to Lord Ekogaru, button your lip, would'ja?" growled Zaden. He took a long, almost overlong sip of the wine offered him by a servant girl in gauze. "Good wine, Sta'gin," said Zaden. "I've always liked your hospitality here. Like the tapestries, the beams in the ceiling, the sandstone walls of the Sherikhan Fortress...nice place. Like I've always said, you can't insult your host by deciding to decapitate his son in a hasty manner. Go on, lad. Don't be afraid. Tell us the truth. Remember, boy, I am family. Distant family, to be sure, but family. Tell us all about it, Anton."

As Marda's lip curled back in rage, Anton continued. "Thank you, M'Lord Sire. I always thought you were a decent sort. Fat, gross, but decent."

"He shows you no respect!" barked Marda. "Kill him for that alone!"

"I don't mind," laughed Zaden. He slapped his stomach and laughed. "I am fat and gross, and I know it! You story, boy. Or you may just tick me off..."

"Yes, Lord," said Cha'rif. "I had my reasons. Personal reasons. I thought that they were honorable and had decent reasons for getting to Pellias and back. I hoped that I could capture...Aliscea at our leisure," lied Cha'rif. "I thought we could carry out our orders in a way that wouldn't be so inhumane. I was personally sickened by how forces under my command attacked civilians of a planet we had no quarrel with. Such an action isn't honorable. It's not a part of our warriors' code. I thought...Marda...that I was best serving Ekogaru by doing that and precisely that...by acting as a man of honor. If you wish to execute me for serving our Lord, then do so." At that, Anton knelt with his face in the carpet. "Just permit me to say goodbye to my wife and son, first."

"You heard his confession," hissed Marda. "Kill him, Lordship!"

"No. I won't," said Zaden. "But he will be punished. Baron Cha'rif, stand!"

Anton stood up. "Yes, Lord?"

"I cannot strip you of your rank, nor can I take your noble perogatives. However, I can give you new orders. I want you to atone for your losses at Pellias and afterwards by leaving Rikasha the day after tomorrow with three hundred ships. We will begin a ji'had against Earth soon, and I want you to be at the forefront of that ji'had. Marda tells me that the will of Ekogaru is to see this Lady Aliscea, who is a threat to us, killed or captured. Likewise, your mission is simple; capture, disable, or destroy the space battleship Argo of the Earth Defense Federation. I understand she was once an ancient warship of theirs called Yamato, so, if you would, deal with them in the manner befitting a piece of history. Show them no mercy. Those are your direct orders. Can you wipe out the stain on your family's honor by doing that and exactly that? Do you understand where we are coming from, lad?"

"Yes, Lordship, I do. Thank you for stating your orders to me in such a direct fashion," said Baron Cha'rif.

"Good. I give you the perogative to take whomever it is you like aboard your flagship, B'eoneraze, which, I understand, is below this Fortress in dock. To bless your undertaking, may we dine aboard your ship, below the palace, tonight?"

"Uh...yes, Lord...of course. It would be an honor. Certainly!" said Anton.

"Good. You may rise. Let us retire to B'eoneraze, Baron Cha'rif. Permit Marda to bless your ship before we dine so she may bless the ship before you depart. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Lord." Baron Cha'rif rose.

"I hope that you understand," said Zaden. "Of course, if you return to Rikasha without accomplishing this charge, you know I'll have you crucified," said the Lord of Rikasha with an evil grin. "You understand, of course...just business."

"Yes...Lord...I understand quite well," said Anton. All too well, he thought to himself.


IV. BECALMED

Space Battleship Argo

Wednesday, February 3, 2202

1912 Hours Spacetime


In her cabin, Angelique Hartcliffe sighed and slammed down her flight bag. She had just come in from a patrol, and she felt desolate. "Hello? Anyone in here?"

"I'm in here," said her husband Bryan. "Upper bunk, luv."

"If you'd come down to the lower bunk and just hold me, we'll talk," said Angie after she removed her boots.

Bryan jumped down a moment later. He was in his Black Tiger uniform short and boxer shorts. "All right, luv. I'm holdin' you. Now what's up?"

"Bryan...I'm still not quite ready to be with you yet."

"What'cha mean?"

"That experience I had on Pellias a while back...I...I still dream about it," she sniffed. "I want to be with you, but I'm not ready to have a man touch me yet."

"Not even yer husband?"

"No...not even you."

"Do all of you females get like this after this happens?"

"Post-traumatic stress is a hard thing to figure out, Bryan. Dr. Sane and Nova said so."

"Are they the ones tellin' you not t' sleep with me? Huh? Izzit them?"

"Bryan...you're acting like an idiot. No! No one is telling me not to be intimate with you...all right? They told me not to rush it if I didn't feel comfortable with it. They told me that every person reacts differently. Some people might want to be comforted by their husband or wife right after it happens; others might wait for weeks or months. They said it all depends upon someone's psychological makeup."

"Well, if it's Sane and 'is bird are tellin' you that, they're gonna hear from me!"

"Bryan...don't!" cried Angie. "You were already in trouble with the Captain once! You can't risk a black mark on your record again!"

"Sez who?" said Bryan. He threw on his pants and boots and got up to run out.

"Bryan, no!" cried Angie as she clung to him. "Damnit, reconsider this! You're acting like a jerk!"

"Hey...at least you're holding me," he chuckled.

"Come back into my bunk. I had nothing against cuddling you, Bryan."

"Oh...all right," said Bryan. "Let's forget this trip to the Doctor...for now..."


V. THE DECLARATION

Imperial Palace

Provisional Gamilon Homeworld of Miralden

Friday, February 5, 2202

0942 Hours Spacetime


Leader Desslok stood on a balcony of his palace on the Gamilon Empire's provisional capital of Miralden, a temperate but geologically quiet blue world in the Small Magellenic Cloud. At long last, after many journeys, he had come back to the closest thing that he could currently call home.

Talan and Astrena stood beside him, one on each side. Behind him stood the rest of his generals and staff.

Down below, in the courtyard before his palace, stood many thousands of Gamilons, some in military uniform, some in civilian dress. They waited upon their Leader's every word.

"People and officers of the Gamilon Empire, I salute you!" called out Desslok in ringing tones. "You have made what was a mere outpost of the Empire a fit metropolis for our capital, for a time. For that work, you have my undying thanks!"

The crowd cheered.

"Thanks to your efforts, efforts in which I have been told that the shipyards of this world have added over a hundred new ships to the Imperial Fleet in the past few weeks, the Empire is, at last, being re-established. Thanks to your efforts, our period of homelessness shall finally come to an end!"

The crowd cheered again.

"People of Gamilon, in my wanderings, I have learned much about the soul of our people, and what it should be. I had once assumed that whatever I did for Gamilon was right. I had thought that love and compassion were mere ideals that we could cast aside in our struggle to save Gamilon and survive. I had thought that our home, our foredestined new world, our ancient homeworld of Galman, was being occupied and infested by the people of Earth. In rage, and needing a new homeworld to replace our dying Gamilon, I had thought that we were destined to occupy Earth and build it into our new homeworld. I had thought that these people, people less advanced than ourselves, were mere barbarians that we could wipe out at will. Barbarians they were, barbarians they are, but they have fought for their world like our own people, and they have love and compassion for each other that put my own morality to shame. For that reason, I permitted them to live on at their darkest hour, when I had their greatest ship, the Argo, at my mercy. Hence, I declared that the war between Gamilon and Earth had to end. For that reason, I told them how to fight Prince Zordar of the Comet Empire, with whom we are no longer allied, due to the treachery of Princess Invidia and other Cometines who did not have the nobility of Zordar."

Desslok paused before continuing. The crowd stood in silence as he continued. "Thus, when the Cometines returned, and attacked my fleet, and the remaining Earth Fleet, I made common cause with our former enemies from Earth and sealed the peace I had declared not long beforehand. Then, I learned of a threat that threatened both of our races. In a far galaxy, there was a great explosion of some type, and a planet known as Pellias was thrust many millions of lightyears into the Great Galaxy that the Earth people call "The Milky Way." I decided to investigate this strange phenomenon, and tell the people of Earth about it. It reminded me of the legend of the Great Dark Lord, with which all of you are familiar."

Desslok paused again. "Unfortunately, upon arriving at Pellias, I found that this legend had become reality. The Dark Lord is a real being, a cyborg being known as Ekogaru. On Pellias, the Terrans and I, after many battles with Ekogaru's followers...met with this woman beside me. She is known as Astrena, the sovereign of what remained of Pellias. Her world, like our Gamilon, was dying. But, instead of being brought to death by the forces of nature, her world was brought to death by malice and design, through the great power of the Dark Lord Ekogaru. Hearing of their long struggle against the people of Ekogaru, and learning that their world was dying, I decided to offer them sanctuary in our Empire. Some, including Astrena, who shall spend her life beside me, by her choice, have accepted my offer. Others have asked to be taken to Iscandar. That wish shall soon be granted. Astrena, like Queen Starsha of Iscandar, is a woman with special gifts. She has also decided to remain with us to help us in our war against Ekogaru and the Rikashans, a war instigated by their design; not ours, and not mine. I cannot bear such an affront to our honor, and I know that neither can you!"

The crowd cheered loudly again, and began to salute their Leader. A chant of "Desslok, Desslok, Desslok!" began, and was soon taken up by every person there as a symbol of their loyalty for their Leader in this hour of crisis. The chant continued for a bit before Desslok raised his arms and called for silence.

"I thank all of you for your appreciation," said Desslok. "I thank all of you for your determination to fight for our freedom and our right to existence. The Terrans have joined with us in our struggle for peace and life itself. Astrena's daughter Aliscea, a woman of even more extraordinary talents, is now aboard the Argo. Ekogaru himself is aboard a vast fortress far greater than the Comet Empire city-ship itself. That Fortress shall soon enter our Local Group near the planet Gamilon. Aliscea has sworn that she will try to stop Ekogaru through her special talents. My fleet shall be there within a few weeks in the Sanzar System to offer what aid we can."

"But first, our Empire's rebirth shall continue. I have learned that the Planet Galman may in fact still exist, somewhere in the Great Galaxy. I intend to find the location of Galman, and, thus, reclaim it as our birthright, our own ancient homeworld, reborn! Thus, the end of the long war with Earth shall finally be achieved, through peace! Thus, I shall become both your Leader, and the Emperor of our far-flung race!"

The crowd cheered again. Desslok gestured towards Astrena, who was clad in dark purple and wearing a crown. "Today, Astrena, who has plighted her troth with me, shall become our Empress, the bearer of my Heir, and my new Second. If there should ever be a situation, before our Heir takes the Throne in my stead, where I cannot command you as I always have, you shall obey her commands as Empress and Regent, and you will give the same respect to her that you would accord to me!"

The crowd cheered again when Desslok presented Astrena to them, but a little less loudly than before.

"My people," said Desslok with a note of anger in his voice. "As of now, she is carrying the Imperial Heir. My son. As such, any slur on her honor, shall count as a slur upon my honor! She is Pellian, but her people have fought as valiantly as we have. Thus, she must be considered a Gamilon and a compatriot! I shall soon depart on my quest, but she shall remain behind as I depart in order to rule over you in my Name until I return!"

The crowd cheered again, at their Leader and Emperor, and their Empress.

"I shall soon depart," continued Desslok. "First, I shall finally bid a long-delayed farewell to Gamilon and Iscandar. Then, we shall depart, hopefully, to find Galman, based upon coordinates we have found in a ruined Rikashan starship whose hulk we have taken after a battle we recently fought on my way back here. When I retake our home, I shall return in triumph before heading forth to help Aliscea and the Earth ship Argo and their Star Force stop Ekogaru in the shadow of Gamilon. Then, our destiny as a people shall be assured, and, then, at last, we shall take back our old domains. In that hour, the new Galman-Gamilon Empire shall act as the true defender of Galactic peace through our strength!"

The cheers came, louder than before. Talan turned to Desslok and said, "Magnificent, Leader."

"Thank you," said Desslok. "Now, if you will pardon me, Astrena and I have much to say alone in seclusion before I depart in a few days. And, also, I need to meet with the rest of our generals. We need to make many plans before my departure."

"Yes, of course," said Talan.


"Your plans, your great plans," hissed Ekogaru as he watched the events rolling forth on Miralden in his Fortress. "Desslok...Astrena. You think both of you shall defeat me. Soon, you shall learn this: as Lord of the Universe, I cannot be defeated!"

And, at that, Ekogaru laughed like a man possessed.

TO BE CONTINUED WITH ACT TWO-"Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?"


THERE ARE NOW 109 DAYS TO THE ARRIVAL OF EKOGARU IN EARTH'S SOLAR SYSTEM