((Sorry about the long wait! We're halfway there. It just isn't right to leave a story hanging. I've decided to come out of retirement and continue it.))

Zurg: It's just so hard to find good fanfic authors these days

Me: Well at least you HAVE authors. Ungrateful purple imp.

Zurg: That hurts *hands over his heart in mocking fashion*

"Unhand me you cretins!" Zurg continued to fight against the guards powerful arms. That only incited them to squeeze all the tighter, making his arms go numb from the elbow down. Zurg tried to hold back his tears as their sharp claws dug into his soft purple skin.

"Is there anything else you'd like to tell us, oh lowly Zadok?" the shorter of the two guards hissed; his chilling voice growing deep with hostility.

"Would it kill you to use a nail file? Honestly, your claws are atrociously long. I know this item—" before Zurg could finish offering the guard to buy a part of his future stocks in the cosmetics department, the other guard promptly pinched the tip of Zurg's sensitive horns, sending waves of painful stimuli along the opposite side of his body.

No sooner had his claws scrapped along the sides of Zurg's horn, electric impulses went shooting through his nerve cells, causing him to feel like his very cells were being eaten alive by acid.

"YEOOOOW!" Zurg's voice screeched. The pain was so great that it caused his limbs to grow limp.

"That'll teach you to mock us, your newly dictated superiors," the taller minion laughed, straightening all those clumps of keratin into a grisly smile. He was clearly enjoying boasting his newfound power over the royal screw-up.

Zurg kept his head bowed as he struggled to keep up with the guards' pace. It wasn't easy when one of your legs was still tingling with phantom pain. He concentrated on the floor, staring at the plaster between the tiles.

"Ha, that got him to shuddup," the taller more violent guard slurred the last word. "But you know, I'm actually gonna miss having this fool to push around. The other royals are just as cold and calculating as the Emperor, Spirits bless his soul."

Was the tile bluish gray or grayish blue? These are the thoughts that occupied Zurg's mind. It was better than paying attention to the grim state of affairs that threatened to strangle him.

"But there's always a black reptile in the family," the shorter one presumed. "Wonder if he can get lost inside a black hole…"

Hmm, were these terracotta tiles, or marble?

"Now now," the lanky guard waved a finger at his comrade, "we can't get everything we want."

Bah, what did it matter? If Zurg had his way, he'd cover the whole mess in a lovely purple carpet. Violet maybe, with bright yellow embroidery. Yes, that would be much better.

"But the Emperor, Spirits bless his soul, sure can!" the stouter guard reminded his partner. He had one too many bars of zirconium, and his waistline was paying the price.

As the guards drifted into a random tangent, a lengthy slender being stepped out from the shadows, pulling the collars of the guards oblivious to their surroundings. The guards continued walking, only to be pulled backwards with two sharp tugs, sending them to the back wall.

They let go of Zurg, who stumbled backwards, caught in the stranger's arms. Zurg stiffened at the touch. "Who is this guy, and why do I feel like things are going to get even worse?"

Once the tall Zinnian was certain that the prince could stand alone, he glided over to the other guards, towering above them. This tall savior was at least nine feet tall—or three columns if you get into their X-centeric system.

"Who dares to lay a hand on the seed of the emperor?" the robed Zinnian stood with his spine erect, facing the guards who had the hatred momentarily cooled off from their eyes. The voice was dual toned as well, but much louder. That guy did have a large lung capacity to pack a punch behind his strong vocal chords.

His royal-blue robes were gleaming under the harsh fluorescent lights, with black sequins outlining the entire ensemble; the mark of a Chief Counselor. Only seven were able to attain that prestigious honor, through work involving foreign matters, security, and upholding the law.

Zurg stared at the Zinnian's back, trying to put a name to his savior, while the guards were stammering. "We-we have orders, and we follow them!" the stouter guard exclaimed.

"From the head honcho himself," the taller one gained more confidence, "and if I remember correctly, he ranks higher than you."

"And if you remembered your basic training correctly," the Counselor sneered, "you'd remember that exiling others is a long process, and requires going through the courts, which is under my jurisdiction."

"But the Emperor—" the Counselor interrupted before the guards could produce more dribble from their mouths.

"The Emperor is but a mortal who is also subject to the will of our laws," the Counselor reprimanded them. "They were put in place before his grandparents were even born, and they'll be in place long after his death."

The taller guard shouted. "You speak of his death? MUTINY!"

"You fool," the Counselor struck a sound blow on the side of his face, leaving an indigo bruise to form in the shape of a fist, "It is not against the honor codes to speak of a fact. Everyone dies at some point and time, you incoherent pile of blubbering lack wits."

The other guard implied a threat, "So what do you wish for us to tell the Emperor? Hmm?"

"The Counselor crouched down until his blazing red eyes were an inch from the guard's. "Tell him that if his antics are rash enough, I will be sure to organize the Council to strip him of his power and send him into the throes of deep space!"

His voice grew lethal, "Now get out of my face, before I tutor his young highness about the art of autopsy." His clawed fingers tapped lightly against each other.

The guards didn't need to be told twice; they hightailed it back to their barracks.

"Now that's better, wouldn't you agree Prince Zadok?" the Counselor turned his attention to Zurg.

Upon seeing the cold glint in the Counselor's eyes, the rigid way in which he stood, holding his lengthy spine erect over the shorter Zinnians, and the frown that permanently held some hints of sneer in the strands of keratin, Zurg knew.

"ÆTHELWINE," some relief showed through Zurg's features. "It's you!" The younger Zurg ran to the Counselor, giving him a strong hug.

"Unwanted…physical contact?" the Counselor warned. He did not like being touched, least of all by a spawn of the Emperor.

"Oh, sorry; I forgot," Zurg sheepishly grinned. Nothing could put a damper on his mood. It was his one ally—or at least the one person who treated him justly, who defended him in spite of the Emperor's distaste.

"It's alright, young Zadok," the Counselor tried not to sound disgusted as he pulled off Zurg's strong grip from his arms. It was nothing against Zurg perse—he was never one to shake hands let alone 'embrace' someone in an eager fashion. "So, what did you do this time to get your father to completely lose his senses?"

Zurg shifted on his feet, "Honestly?"

"Honestly," the Counselor replied.

"I told him what a giant fool he was," Zurg answered, "among other things."

It was a moment of tense silent before the Counselor broke out into a lukewarm laughter, "That old cod; even his son is disillusioned by his actions." He grew more distant, "Good for you, sticking it up to that uncultured brute. A title does not a savvy mind make."

"Don't we all know it," Zurg replied, as he thought of the Emperor's serious lack of self-control.

ÆTHELWINE, also referred to as Win, sadly nodded to the neglected prince. "Follow me. I suppose you can use my quarters for the time being, until we bring some form of enlightenment to his stubborn head—but it's only temporary mind you."

And so the Counselor took long strides down the twisting hallways, as Zurg trailed after him.

Zeryll felt like banging his head into the nearest wall. "Why in the cold expanse of space did I have to get saddled with those two ninnies?" he silently fumed to himself, as he sat squashed against the window, trapped in a booth at Cosmos with Booster sitting by his side, and XR across the empty table.

"Remind me why were out in an eatery when we could be…I don't know…apprehending the shadow creature?" Zeryll posed the question in a nonchalant way.

"Two words, my icy friend," XR stated while folding his hands; "Hostage situation."

"XR," Booster shook his head at the robots quip before turning to Zeryll. "It's team bondage. We have to get to know each other before we start kicking bad guys into PC-7. It's like a tradition!"

"Traditions," Zeryll grimaced. "How quaint."

Booster started rambling about how Team Lightyear was such a closely-knit team, and grew to being like a family over the years, and how even though this grouping was temporary until Mira got better and Buzz re-enlisted himself again, they could still be great pals too. To avoid listening to the dribble, Zeryll tried to use a common meditative strategy, where he sunk inside himself by mentally going through every battle tactic he knew. All too soon, Booster interrupted his concentration.

"TY! FOP" the red Jo-Ad leapt from his seat, rushing up to hug the two rangers in a giant hug.

Ty Parsec winced from the bone-crushing embrace, while Fop simply laughed, "We're delighted to see you too!"

Ty struggled to breathe, "Now would you mind putting us down?"

Booster not being one to question his friends immediately released the rangers, allowing them to fall onto the floor in the process.

"Oh, I'm, sorry!" Booster immediately apologized. I just have to get used to the fact that this is not Jo-Ad; you guys are too easily lifted off your feet."

Fop immediately picked up the conversation; "Oh Booster, you affectionate sweetheart! It's no trouble at all."

"Tell that to my chiropractor," Ty rolled his eyes.

"So what are you guys doing here?" Booster missed that sarcastic comment.

"We were just on our way back to Star Command, and I wanted to try out this cute little dining place. We don't have restaurants in Tangea; just private chefs to cater to our every need," Fop looked around the place. "Oh look at this. There are little menus, and a waitress that serves everyone at once! Oh my, those uniforms are darling." He was having a great time immersing himself in the diner.

While Booster was explaining to Fop how everything worked, and XR went after them to see if he could sucker Fop into buying a commemorative napkin holder from the eating establishment, Ty slid into the booth opposite of Zeryll.

"Hello," Zeryll acknowledged the forced company. "You're enjoying this as much as I am, I take it?"

Ty narrowed his eyes in slight annoyance, "I just wanted to punch in the time card and blast on home, but noooooo, my blue partner over there just had to stop at every 'amazing' site along the way."

"Where to?" Zeryll was intrigued by this slightly cynical human with very large eyes. The similarities in their situations amused him to no end.

"The gas station, traffic cones, random starships along the way so he could chat with the ordinary 'peasants' as he called them," Ty moaned, dropping his head into his hands.

"It's been a long day?" Zeryll could hardly hide his amusement.

"It's been a long day," Ty answered back.

Zeryll made a mental note: if he did terminate anyone, he'd spare this Parsec person. The guy was too amusing. Now that AI on the other hand…he couldn't be too sure. He couldn't decide between stripping the robot for parts, completely rewiring his circuit board, or placing his bodiless head into a trash compactor thus allowing him to keep his torso and empty dome as a trophy.

"So can I interest you on getting the waitress's digits?" XR nudged Fop. "She'd be able to cater to your every need, for a price that is."

"Yep, definitely the trash compactor," Zeryll made up his mind.

"So how were you paired up with that Doppler over there?" Zeryll asked while calmly sipping some water—ice water to be exact.

"It's a long story," Ty warned.

Zeryll motioned towards the trio, with Booster demonstrating the function of the cash register to Doppler by ordering over half the entrées, Fop gawking at what Booster defined was loose change (who knew Galactic pennies were round), and XR offering to convert some of Doppler's Tangean dollars into UB currency, for a conversion fee. "We've got plenty of time. Those fellows will be occupied for a while."

Ty conceded, "Fine, I'll tell you, but it's not as glamorous as you might think."

Zeryll answered, "Try me."

After taking a deep breath, and looking out the window, Ty resumed telling his story. "I was re-enlisted within Star Command's ranks shortly after Nos-4-A2 was destroyed," Ty explained, his muscles tensing up at the mere mention of that energy vampire's name. "The last of the radioactive moon rock was supposed to be destroyed to prevent me from going Wirewolf again, but through some confusion in paperwork and a little villainous intervention, Zurg managed to steal the remnants of my curse."

"Coffee?" the feline waitress with four arms bustled in, handing Ty his steaming mug of black gold.

"Thanks," he replied, taking the warm mug in his hands. Ty inhaled the intoxicating aroma, allowing the caffeine to perk him up. "Want some?" he asked Zeryll.

"I'd rather not," Zeryll tried not to look disgusted by the aroma. It was all he could do to stomach their water tainted by lemon wedges.

Ty continued, "Now instead of rebooting me off the force, which would be deemed unfair by the populous and reflect badly on Star Command, Nebula agreed to allow me to remain a ranger…but not without a price."

"And that price was blue, blond, and begging for a reality adjustment?" Zeryll presumed.

"Unfortunately," Ty groaned. "Fop, being the decorated officer that he was, had been assigned as my partner just in case my little transformation problem reemerged."

Ty took a couple sips of his coffee—man that was good stuff—and lightened up a bit, "It's not like he's a bad guy or anything; in fact, he's a great ranger, but if it isn't one overbearing partner that jumps at every chance to rescue me, it's another. I just want people to understand that I can handle myself."

Upon Zeryll raising his eyebrow displaying his want for further details, Ty elaborated, "So what if I was rescued fifty-one times? I've done my own share of recon missions too."

"No doubt," Zeryll treaded these matters carefully. It would not do for him to offend Ty based on his incompetence. Not when he still had to deal with the laser-happy police force.

"Greetings old chum!" Fop Doppler grabbed Ty's shoulder, not even startling Ty in the least.

"You were not startled?" Zeryll cast a sidelong glance at Ty. Was it possible that being previously converted into a Wirewolf had sharpened his senses?

"You get used to it after the 63rd time," Ty had a look in a mixture between frustration and sorrowful acceptance.

"64th, you old bean," Fop did not notice that his antics caused Ty no end of grief.

"Like I was keeping count," Ty sighed.

Just then, the waitress came over with a large platter of goods all purchased by Booster. He was treating the team and all. There were plates of deep fried molluscs, three dozen Bunzel bagels, a large helping of Cosmo's chili with extra red giant sauce, crisp golden Freedom fries, Bunzel encrusted fish, multiple sundaes drizzled with melted chocolate, ten large Galactic burgers with extra pickles, lettuce, ketchup, sauerkraut, horseradish, yogurt anchovies, fuzzy fungus, and other sorts of unidentifiable food products placed between the buns, mustard excluded. That was just gross.

And for some reason, XR requested green sherbet instead of his usual premium grade oil.

"That loveable red bundle of good will has treated all of us to this fine…uh…meal," Fop started to severely question the health standards of the establishment when he saw a cockroach waltz on by, but Ty assured him that it was just a really tiny alien; upon further questioning by Fop, Ty reluctantly added that Buzz had saved them earlier on some mission or other. Those advanced bug civilians were allowed to walk on the tables to avoid getting squashed as they tried to place an order—crumb sized of course.

"So where are the other two characters?" Zeryll asked. "Aren't they coming to ingest this organic fuel too, or did you manage to lose them?" If so, Zeryll was going to commend him.

"No, they're coming. Booster had to stop by the bathroom, and XR always wanted to see what they were like, as he had never actually had the need to enter one so never saw it with his own optical units. So, eat up and enjoy while I go off to find a suitable drink," Fop explained to the group in general before he turned on his heels to find the manager of the establishment and inquire about a custom order.

After a couple minutes, Booster bustled into the booth besides Zeryll, with XR trailing behind him.

"Oh goodie; the food's here!" Booster was pleased to have a hot meal waiting for him.

"How can you still have your appetite after going through that?" XR motioned towards the doors of doom, behind which a stench reeked so badly, that his artificial olfactory senses wanted to induce vomiting; he came so close to losing his entire oil tank supply. "Do they ever clean that place?"

"Well it is chili day," Booster explained. "And it doesn't agree with many digestive systems."

"Then certain people shouldn't eat it!" XR's cheeks started to fill up with hot bubbling oil, but he held it down. "Man, that place almost made me throw up, and vomiting is not in my programming!"

"Neither is sarcasm, but that doesn't stop you," Zeryll noted. Upon receiving a glare from the robot, he shrugged, "What? I'm just stating a fact."

"Oh come now," Fop came back to the table with a sizzling cup of Tangean tea in his hands, with freshly squeezed Tangean berries for that added kick. "Don't be so harsh on the little robot. I find his quirks quite adorable!"

He slid into the seat besides Ty, leaving XR to stand awkwardly outside of the booth.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry; did I take your seat?" concern shone in his voice.

"…nah, it's okay; happens all the time really," XR tried to hide the hurt look on his face as he gazed around the room until he spotted a moveable stool, which he dragged over to the end of the table, elbowing between packs of customers along the way. "See? Everything worked out."

"Glad to hear it buddy!" Booster didn't notice the tinge of sadness and annoyance in XR's voice chip. "Now, let's dig in!" As Booster was wolfing down his food at a remarkable pace, Fop was sipping his tea, and Ty was snacking on a flaky scone that Fop had turned him onto, Zeryll looked on with a look of revulsion.

"Oh, I forgot to ask," Booster commented, with melted ice-cream dripping down the side of his mouth. "Do you want one of the burgers, or are you going to try the chili?"

"Me…eating that?" Zeryll shook his head. "Uh, thanks but I'm already full."

"What, you want a salad instead?" XR chimed in. "Watching your weight or something?"

"No I am not watching my weight, you ridiculous hunk of corrupted metal," Zeryll spoke in a chilling tone. "And I don't eat greenery. That's for herbivores."

"Then what do you like to eat?" Booster was intrigued. Maybe he could try the exotic dish later.

Zeryll thought 'bloody meat' in his head, with red wine fresh from the carcass, but instead replied, "Sirloin steak, rare."

"Looks like Z has some expensive tastes," Fop added, causing the rest of the company minus Zeryll to drop their jaws.

XR hopped off his stool, extending his legs until he could reach the noble's mouth and promptly cover it with his arms, "Are you insane?"

"Whmp hm umph bhh?" Fop tried to mumble 'what did I do?' from behind the mechanical arms.

"Don't go around calling people 'Z,'" XR warned. "Do you want to cause wide-scale panic, and make people think that Zurg is here?"

"Zurg is here?" a random customer with green skin grew alarmed. He stood up so quickly from his table, causing it to tip over and slide the contents of his meal shooting towards a fly-like alien, with a soup bowl landing on the enraged customer's head. The buzzing mad alien grabbed the nearest lemon meringue pie and hurled it across the room, intending to hit the green alien that soiled his face, but ended up missing and hit another parson, who started blindly shuffling around the room as the sunglasses protecting his delicate light-sensitive eyes were lost in a mess of whip cream. As he crouched down onto the ground in a frantic search for the glasses, the unobservant waitress tripped over his back, toppling over his side and causing her tray of dirty dishes to fly to various corners of the room and shatter on impact, scattering scraps of food everywhere. This cascade of events caused a large food fight of large proportions. It was such a blur of flying food and other less savory items that the ensuing madness cannot be described.

And so the trip ended with Booster chewing the pecan—or was it hazelnut—pie that landed in his mouth, XR used a wiper to scrape the gunk off his domed helmet before it hardened, Fop cheered with glee at the impromptu trip to the cleaners he was going to receive (causing Ty to gripe even more about his fate in life), and Zeryll was silently fuming, with his hair soaking wet. It still managed to defy gravity and stick up straight into the air, but that could have been because the strands were sticky from the fruit punch.

"Next time, we order takeout," Zeryll seethed.

Zurg was led to an oval room. The place had no odor—it was quite the sterile environment. But the lay of the room itself more than made up for the lack of olfactory stimulation, not just because of the intricately woven rug covering the ground, based on complicated images of rivers, forests, and other things that once existed on their home planet stitched by hand, or because of the intricately carved gothic mirrors covering the walls, but because of a simple mahogany chair: a very pricey commodity.

Those types of goods were viewed as interesting oddities to the Zinnians, and could only be harvested from other planets in the past, through negotiation with their people, until the Emperor forbade contact with inferior beings. That only caused the prices of plant based objects to get even higher, with everyone bidding for the last few scraps of foreign materials.

"Wow," Zurg gawked at the table. He tentatively ran his silver fingers along the surface of it.

"Be CAREFUL With that," Win warned him. "You still have your gauntlets on." He quickly came up from Behind Zurg, snatching his hands off the table, and pointing towards the sharp tips of his gloves. "You almost scratched the wood."

"Sorry," Zurg meekly replied; his head bowed with shame. "I'll behave…"

Win eyed the young prince with some exhaustion in his eyes as he gave in to his softer side, "There there, young Zadok," he patted the purple lad's back, however awkwardly. "No harm done. Just keep your hands to yourself from now on."

"Alright," Zurg agreed, not wanting to screw this up. "Soooo, where are you off to now?" he asked, as the elder Zinnian went off into the convoluted bowels of the ship.

"I'm off to the Council, to reestablish your presence within our community," Win answered, not so much because he wanted to help the overly eccentric emperor-to-be, but because he did not want him in such close proximity to his person. That and he just knew that Zurg would damage something. He did have his destructive tendencies.

And so Win continued down his journey past halls decorated with fine tapestries, leaving Zurg to contemplate his fate alone.

"What do you mean I'm stuck with him?" Win was indignant. He was in the center of the circular room, with rows of the six other Council members and various government officials surrounding him on all sides, seated in curved golden pews; each hand made in the gesture signifying that the final decision had been reached. (The index and middle finger bent towards the person being sentenced, and the thumb thrust between the fourth finger and the pinky).

The Council members were distinguished from the commonly dressed officials through their royal blue robes draping over their forms.

"It has been decided," the first Councilman started.

"That as you so wish to uphold the laws," the second one continued.

"Responsibility has been placed on your shoulders," the third one explained.

"So as not to burden our Lord, whose health has been negatively affected by his youngling," the fourth one concluded.

"But it is HIS offspring," Win grew annoyed. "Should not HE take care of it?"

"Simply because you are the one that disobeyed the Emperor's orders," the fifth Councilman spoke.

"And that must not go unpunished, no matter how pure your intentions were," the sixth finished the discussion. "We are done here."

"But that's not fair," Win grumbled, but he knew he would get nowhere with these unimaginative cods. Rules were meant to be bent, at least a little.

"Do not speak out of term, Win," the first Council member chided him. "Did you forget proper protocol that quickly? As the law states the exile's life will be spared, and until his final fate is decided you are to care for him as you care for the law. Is that understood?"

"Don't make things worse on yourself," the sixth Council member forewarned.

"He was always a bit of a troublemaker, wasn't he?" the third one started what would be a torrent of gossip.

"Nghhhh," Win groaned under his breath. It was just his luck, wasn't it? To care for the progeny of…him…the false leader he so despised. Disregarding the laws, and worst of all—disregarding love.

Enough. Now was not the time to dabble in the errors of the past. Perhaps he'd be able to make something of the young Prince. Who knows? Perhaps with one cog, he could change the work of the entire system of their civilization. Perhaps….but he wasn't one to gamble. He'd have to work in other methods to ensure the survival of their customs and people.

"Well isn't this delightful?" he rubbed his temple with his gauntlet covered fingers as soon as he was left alone in the room of Atonement and Justice. After all, to show any signs of displeasure with a sentence only resulted in a harsher sentence, and he wasn't about to let a bunch of shallow sadistic fools have their way with him.

"I suppose it's time to see to the young master…" he mused, hands clasped behind his back, as he strolled out through a slender hallway and towards his room housing the future Evil Emperor Zurg.