Chapter 4: The Tower of Treachery!
Where we left our heroic Imperial Forces, Captain Atrius had just rescued Princess Taegan from the Temple of the Dino Men and we follow them now as they flee from stone-age reptile pursuers into the tunnels beneath The Tower of Treachery!
Princess Taegan and Captain Atrius ran at full speed down the corridor of the secret stone Labyrinth, behind the strange reptilian Idol of the troglodytic dino-men to catch up with the two other Imperial survivors of the disastrous battle with the Zenithians.
“Atrius” Princess Taegan panted as she ran, used to having given commands in combat situations, she timed her words with the breathing required to keep her muscles powered for distance running.
“Yes my Princess?” Atrius responded, his deep voice showing none of the exertion of the activity.
“Should I be offended or take as a compliment that both of the two tribes of Dino-men on this forsaken world have tried to sacrifice me to their stone gods?”
“Clearly, my Princess, it is a sign they recognise enough of your greatness and beauty as to see you as the most valuable and worthy of us to give to their god and a sign of their blindness that they don’t covet your beauty enough to defy their god and don’t see enough of your strength and cunning and wisdom to just fall at your feet and worship you in its stead.”
Princess Taegan thought of two different reprimands for Atrius’s excessive flattery but discarded each, then decided too much time had passed for her to bother. Though she couldn’t help but smile both at the compliment and at the recent memory of the furious face of the dino-man high priest as his stone god’s decapitated head crushed the thin bridge he was standing on plunging him into the lava below.
As they passed the two Imperial soldiers, whose ray-guns had decapitated the stone god while Atrius used the last of the rocket-troop pack fuel to cross the chasm to rescue the Princess from the sacrificial stone knife of the dino-men, the loyal Imperial warriors blasted the roof of the winding corridor of stone behind, collapsing the roof and blocking off pursuit. Safe, for the moment, they slowed their pace to swallow some ration pills and water capsules.
The princess also took the more relaxed pace of walking to cut the remnants of fungus-vine-rope from her wrists and ankles.
“We still need to deal with the Zenithians on the surface. Do we have a way up?”
“Yes Princess. This maze connects with mysterious ancient stone engines that seem to connect with the Zenithian towers, and perhaps explain why all our firepower had no effect.”
“Hmm… I’d rather not destroy the engine till we have a complete understanding of its operation; it could be a valuable prize for the Empire!”
“Captain Atrius, I want you to make detailed scientific observations of the engine device. We need as much information as you can get so that our scientists can reproduce its effects.”
“Meanwhile, I will need to get inside the tower itself. And as Zenithians don’t have the sacred hypnotic volcanic incense of the, now headless, stone god then the best way to get inside… is as a prisoner.” Taegan smiled a confident and deadly predatory smile, showing her unusually long canine teeth. She took a ring from her finger, holding it up so that her precious Vyper-bat could see, “Atalleph, guard Atrius.” then handing Atrius the ring, the jewel-scaled Vyper-bat flew to Atrius’ shoulder and coiled about his arm.
“Take good care of him till I get back.” She added as she checked her most obvious weapons. Atrius wasn’t sure if that was said to him, or the creature coiled around his arm!
On the other side of the ridge was the Saucermen patrol. Princess Taegan artfully dishevelled her hair and used a little saliva mixed with red earth to make it look like she was far worse off than she was. Then, carefully composed for her deception, she staggered out from behind the ridge. Her arms raised in the universal code of surrender.
“Water… please… water…” She croaked.
The ruse worked and swiftly the Imperial Princess was attached to the chain of captured dino-men being led into the central of the strange towers. The nearer they got, the more it became evident that while the majority of the tower was a slightly greenish-tinged silver metal, fairly standard for the Zenithians, the foundation was of the MacGuffinite latticed grey-green stone that belonged to the ancient civilisation of dino-men whose sophisticated civilisation crumbled countless aeons ago. The prisoners were dragged up a short flight of steps, remnants of the original structure, then into a large cargo-vator. At each stop, five of the prisoners were detached from the long chain and marched away, with the smell of a radium furnace sweeping into the cargo-vator with every opening of the doors. A slave labour force, forced to mine a deadly but also explosive material. Perfect. Things couldn’t be better for Taegan’s plans – ‘till what would have been the final stop, but the four before her were led away and not her. The Zenithians must want to interrogate her, or ransom her.
The cargo-vator went up three more stops before she was led down a stone and steel corridor and shoved mechanically by the cloned Saucermen into a dark cell.
“Hello again, Princess! We always meet under the strangest of circumstances…” The voice was measured like a blade with an unmistakable air of calm command and a hint of humour.
“Pirate Captain Woz! So they got you too!”
A greenish soft light emerged in the room and what was revealed brought a gasp of shock from the Imperial Princess! Not only did the cell contain the Space Pirate captain she had so recently joined forces with against the Zenithians and Valkeeri in battles around the planets moon, but also two of the most important Galacteer commanders in the sector!
“Commander Lightyear! Jason of Star Command! What’s going on here?”
“That’s a good question your majesty.” The more broad-shouldered and solidly built of the Galacteers in his grey; purple and green uniform replied. “We were passing through a mysterious Nebula that seemed to rise out of a wormhole near this system’s sun. Next thing I know I’m here. And I’ve heard that somehow I’m supposed to still be on board my ship leading my men!”
“That’s about what happened to me too.” Spoke the last of the figures, the more lithe of the two Galacteers. Where Commander Lightyear was like a broadsword, Commander Jason of Star Command was a sabre. A good two to have in a team for the tactics against one were useless against the other both in a fistfight and a fleet engagement. And his uniform was in his fleet’s colours, silver and blue with some gold embellishments. “We had to separate to navigate through the rings of Ferrox while hunting an intermittent sighting of a saucer. For a moment the ship was bathed in a weird scintillating light and the next moment I woke up here, apparently dragged in unconscious. But before all that I was getting reports still in Commander Lightyears code. So, something is deeply wrong.”
“Don’t forget the Valkeeri, She was in here first but they took her away and she didn’t return.” added Woz.
“It’s obvious what they are doing Galacteers. And all our fleets, all our people are in danger.” She looked at Captain Woz and saw in his eyes that he had already guessed at what she was sure was happening. “I surrendered just to get inside and find out what’s going on with this tower after they took out my flagship… after my flagship, a Class 3 Gryphon Rocket, couldn’t make a dent in it. Whatever they did to you they haven’t done to me… yet. But it’s clearly an opportunity they won’t pass up. I’m sure the Saucer that struck the three of you is en route here right now. You all should hope that the ultimate step of their plan hasn’t been set in motion yet. Because the three of you… have been cloned!”
“And so the clones are sleeper agents ready to be activated and lead our people into a massacre.” Commander Lightyear’s gloved left fist striking into the palm of his right hand formed the full stop in his sentence.
Commander Jason raised his hand to his chin as he leant against the cell wall thinking. “The trouble is; how can we get out of here to get to and warn our people before all our militaries are torn to shreds?”
“Oh boys, I can get us out of here.”
“How?” Commander Lightyears eyes narrowed.
“Well a lady doesn’t like to reveal her secrets but I guess I can’t avoid it this time.” Taegan gently plucked one of her earrings from her ear. “These Rubies come from a secret moon deep within the Empire. She started rubbing the ruby swiftly against part of what little cloth that she was wearing. “They do something interesting with a static charge.” She tapped the ruby gently against the stone wall and it flashed bright. “The greater the charge the brighter the flash. Give me a few minutes and I will have us a very strong flash-grenade. Enough to get the rayguns from the guards. Now, any of you able to fly a saucer?”
The Pirate Captain Woz tipped his head back in a short barking laugh. “Oh I’ve captured a few Class 1s and 2s in my time. You get me to one and I can get us out of here.”
“One more thing” spoke the strong voice of Commander Lightyear “We don’t just face the trouble of convincing our fleets not to shoot us down when we arrive in a Zenithian saucer, nor the trouble of proving we are who we say we are to our own people. Whichever of our fleets we find have warrants out for the arrest of at least two others of our little troupe here? If we are to cooperate we need to have a promise of amnesty from each other for each other.”
“Agreed” responded Jason.
“I can guarantee that anyone ranked below me will obey Me.” responded the Princess grinning, “And if we run into one of my siblings I will claim you as my personal prisoners and I will give you my word that I shall then release you. So unless my father, the Emperor, shows up you shall be safe from the Empire until this mess is sorted. The Empire likes strong enemies; we do not want the Zenithians weakening our universe.”
Woz responded, “Well you’ll just have to take your chances with the Pirates. I can give you my word I won’t shoot you today, or order anyone else to when we get back to my people, no profit in that after all. But the rest of the fleet I can’t vouch for. A Pirate fleet is held together by the strength of its leader. And I might just have to kill a few scoundrels to ensure my orders are obeyed again. So if we do find my people first; stand back; keep your guns ready and shoot only those I shoot, and not those I don’t.”
“Alright then boys, let’s get ready to show the Saucermen what this universe thinks of identity-fraud” She cocked her eyebrow in such a way that drew the eye, so they never could be sure where in her decorative and entirely non-functionally designed handful of small golden armour plates she had had the needle-thin Tling-steel stiletto hidden, it just was suddenly in her raised hand as she moved beside the cell door as the sound of approaching clone-troop feet echoed down the corridor.
Can this rag-tag group of enemies set aside their differences? Can they defeat the Zenithian guards and get to the saucer? Will the truce hold when they reach their respective armed forces? Be sure to be at this cinema next week for the next special matinee serial from Hydra Productions of Waaaar Rooockeeet! Chapter 5: The Deadly Escape! Brought to you by Wheat Chex, Rice Chex and good hot Ralston!