In the last chapter Princess Taegan and Commander Lightyear, marooned on an Imperial watch-station with the remains of the slaughtered crew fought the mentalist illusions of an extraordinarily deadly menace of space: an Adult Brain Parasite, using an old folk-tale of the Empire about Emperor Marduk as a shield and a weapon but even as the tendriled malevolent brain’s reign of terror was ended they discovered the space outside was filled with battle and the station about to be boarded by Space Pirates! Now let us uncover their fate..
Princess Taegan looked down at the astro-radar screen then up to Commander Lightyear, “The Pirates are coming closer! They must mean to plunder the station!”
“How big a rocket?”
“Probably a Class 2 Stiletto by the rad leakage.”
“Sounds like that might be too many to reliably take on. If they only want goods is there somewhere we can hide and ride it out?” Lightyear asked.
“Risky if they want to take the generator or air-scrubbers or other vital equipment. Still, if they do we can launch an attack.”
“Or surrender if the odds are too great. Chances are good we’d be treated well and ransomed.”
“Are you afraid to die Lightyear?”
“No Galacteer is, but I can do more for the galaxy alive rather than dead, so I’d rather sell my life doing my duty rather than avoiding capture from Pirates.”
The Princess nodded slightly appreciating the Galacteers different but understandable take on honour and duty. “Well there are some access panels that aren’t too obvious unless they decide to dismantle and steal the entire reactor. It’ll be a bit hot but there’s room for keeping the reactor cables cool.”
Commander Lightyear nodded as they made haste, the Princess did give the bloated globular remains of the tentacle brain-parasite a last look. Something that rare should be in the hands of the Magi preserved and studied to uncover it’s weaknesses and when they were done stuffed and mounted in her hall of conquest in her palace on the night-shrouded witchfire lit forest moon of Eth. She took a moment to kick it under a console, the most delay she could afford to preserve it.
Swiftly Princess Taegan led Commander Lightyear to the access panels yet even as they were unlocking them to crawl inside the station shuddered with the impact of heavy-duty boarding style docking magna-couples. With haste they clambered into the compartment and pulled the cover panel back into place. And there they waited in silence with weapons drawn.
The Pirate boarding party moved through the station with a mixture of practised professionalism and swagger. Gleaming well-maintained weapons and black plastic uniforms shining darkly in the reflected lectro-amplight. Most were Earthlings or the descendants of Earthlings, one was a blue-skinned Dragonman, beings of a world Conquered personally by Emperor Marduk normally only seen in Imperial vassal forces whose scars showed the difficulty he had escaping Imperial rule and whose wings even while folded took up much of the corridor, another was a former Imperial citizen… the two stayed as far as possible from the other as they passed from room to room, the Dragonman always taking the left, the ex-Empireman covering every right. The least humanoid was the Slishian with a pair of eyepatches on two of it’s three eyes and one tusk capped with gold. But the one that most stood out was the Kutila, hunched over, four-armed with a head vaguely reminiscent of that outback reptile the Thorny Devil and a mottled red, yellow, brown colouration. It’s wide head seemed to chuckle quietly as it moved, filled with an obvious and sinister pleasure. In two of it’s hands it carefully cradled a strange life-form that seemed that someone had grown a fungus into a bipedal mouselike shape and taught to stand and move like a pigeon. This strange creature kept swinging it’s bobbing eyeless head, weaving it’s bundle of grey wormlike semi-translucent feelers in the air first one way then another. In the forward right arm the Kutila kept a raygun ever-ready, in the forward left arm it pointed and signed silent directions to the rest of the Pirates.
The strange fungal thing led them straight to the hiding-place.
When they went to open the vent Princess Taegan kicked it open into the face of the ex-imperial defector, smashing his nose and sending him to the ground. As she leapt out firing with pistol in one hand and waving deadly electric blade in the other 3 more Pirates died, while Lightyear incapacitated another 2. But she was brought up short by a grim faced earthling pirate holding an active grenade in his hand.
“Kill me,” sniggered the pirate, “And everyone dies.”
The surviving pirates seemed as dissatisfied with the turn of events as the Princess was, and as the air turned blue with the low language of scoundrels Taegan learned that either this pirates name was Behklar or that was some new term of particularly degenerate obscenity she had not yet heard of.
The Princess held the blade pointed at the Pirates throat, her pistol aimed between the eyes of the Dragonman beside him, her foot tapping impatiently as she tried to decide on how to kill him or if Lightyear had a point about surrender. Her greatest duty was to save the Empire from the Zenithian threat and to ensure that the Draco system was conquered and its mysteries harnessed to her fathers will. All else including her pride must fall within and serve that duty. Still she did not lower either weapon.
“So then, I let you live while everyone else dies” she said, her eyes boring into his, testing his resolve as her finger gently squeezed and the traitorous dragonman joined that of all those who reject the liberation of Imperial rule in death.
“Stop that or I’ll kill as all anyway and you will die too!” snarled the furious pirate, his hand twitching to communicate his determination. Still the princess was not in the mood to relent.
“Aren’t you betting quite a lot on my being afraid to die? Yet as an imperial soldier I am ranked amongst the glorious dead the day I enter service.” Her body remained perfectly still except for the wrist and trigger finger of the hand holding the pistol and the Slishian drew it’s last breath, the raybeam’s atomic light being the last thing it’s remaining eye ever saw.
“I mean it!” Cried the Pirate, removing all but two fingers from the grenade, the button preventing detonation still held down by only the slightest of pressure.
The Kutila snarled, “Damn it Behkler you..” but was cut off by the reverberating clang of the Pirate ship decoupling from the watchstation.
The Princess smiled while another pirate cried “They’re leaving us?”
Still holding the fungal thing in one hand he used another to activate his communicator. “Schnarl what are you doing?”.
The reply came through with the hiss of atomic waves as the battle produced interference of the signal. “We are ending the Imperial fleet to ensure we keep our prize Xasaphrax. So keep it in good condition till we get back.”
The Princess laughed. “Would you pirates like to discuss the terms of your surrender now while you still have a chance at reasonable ones? Taegan teased.
“But.. but.. I’ve got a grenade.. I could kill us all.. you are supposed to surrender to me” stammered the exasperated pirate.
Lightyear sighed and, ignoring the standoff sat down calmly and comfortably at the edge of the access duct. “Really doesn’t that all depend on who wins the fight outside? If it’s pirates you might still get to keep us captives. If it’s the Empire you want them as little annoyed at you as possible when they turn up.
And so with guns drawn and aimed, with a live grenade barely held in a hand, with death a single muscle-twitch or fumble away, they waited.
But when the sound of a rocket docking with the Watchstation returned to their ears the pirates found their communicator signals were not answered.
“Evans, Gemmack, Smith, go see if that’s our side with a damaged communicator or if it’s Imperial scum” barked Behkler.
“And if it is?” Asked one of the pirates as he made to leave the standoff.
“Kill them all and we’ll take their Rocket.”
The predacious smile on Princess Taegans ruby lips grew slightly. “Your numerical advantage keeps dwindling.” She cooed almost seductively, the blade still held perfectly still mere inches from the jugular of the pirate.
“And I still have a grenade that could take out everyone. So we’ll be taking you prisoner with us no matter who owns that rocket.”
They stood staring at one another as the sounds of a raygun exchange filtered down faintly from above.
“Looks like you’re in Imperial hands now pirate”, cooed the Princess. “There’s no way you can escape the reach or wrath of Marduk. I’d surrender now while the Radium mine is still an optional doom for you. The longer you wait the more horrible the fate will be.”
Behkler opened his mouth to respond, but all that came out was a rasping sound and a trickle of blood! A scaly pebbly mottled tan hand encompassed the hand holding the Grenade carefully preventing its detonation, while two others pushed the lifeless Behkler off the wicked knife in his back. The Kutila pirate grinned from his broad mouth as the other pirates returned with a wounded Imperial Rocket pilot.
“It’s just a class 1 Scorpion, all the rest of both fleets are gone and.. Xasaphrax, you killed Behkler?”
“Yes, yes I did” oozed the oily voice of the 6 limbed reptilian. “He would not have the will to actually use the weapon,” He shook the grenade, “but you all know that I have nothing left to lose, that I would.”
“But why kill your own comrade over that?” Gasped Commander Lightyear.
“Because with my superior vibrational hearing I could tell it was an Imperial class 1 Rocket. And they only have 2 seats. Enough for one captive Princess and one Pirate to collect the Ransom. I’m already wanted by the Empire for the death of a planetary Governor. You get a lot worse than the radium mines for that! There is no way I’m heading for the punishment for that crime, dying in an explosion would be much more preferable. And the only way to be sure the one pirate in that rocket is me is to be the one holding the bomb!” He pointed one of his limbs at Lightyear. “You! Tie her up or you die.” Another limb pointed at another pirate. “And you, make sure he does it properly or you die. Then you can sit and wait to see if it’s Pirates or Empire that shows up next. I won’t leave you hopeless though, I’ll tell the pirate fleet you are here and it’ll be up to them if your worth rescuing.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Asked the Princess with a tiny flourish of the tip of her pistol.
“No. You called his bluff and he was bluffing. I’m not. Now I don’t know if you care about whoever that guy is with you or this pilot we just captured or the cost of a state funeral and your fathers tears if he is capable of them, but I know that If I’m to live you will need to cooperate and if I’m to die I’ll kill you with me. So what is it, do we both live and you go back to your precious empire and I get enough money to retire or do we both die now?”
“All right then, I’ll let you be my chariot driver, for now.”
Reticently Commander Lightyear took the cording from a pirate casualty and bound the princess’s wrists behind her. Though he knew that with her legs still unbound she was probably capable of killing all the remaining pirates with her feet.
Princess Taegan hoped that if he ever captured her in battle Lightyear would do a better job of binding her than this, it wouldn’t be fun if he didn’t make escape a challenge.
Still the wrist binding was secure enough for the Pirates examination and she was lead at gunpoint towards the stations docking hatch, followed by the wary Galacteer Commander Lightyear and the dismayed surviving space pirates who watched from the doorway.
Cautiously Xasaphrax donned a breathing apparatus, taking no chances. The Imperial Scorpion pilot, on recognising the Princess, looked ready to risk jumping the four-armed Kutila Space Pirate but at a look from the Princess they relaxed.
The grenade held ever-ready he ordered the Princess through the hatch and short concertinaed tube where she adroitly lowered the little folding golden chair behind the pilots seat with her foot and sat down with elegant ease in the tiny cramped cockpit. Xasaphrax then cuffed her bound arm to the chair frame. She would still be able to kill him with her feet if she chose too, but getting to the rockets controls would be nigh on impossible now.
Xasaphrax made the Rocket ready, leaving the closing of the hatch to the last moment, then, laughing, cried out.
“See you all in the afterlife you scudge swilling zwilniks”, and he tossed the grenade at Lightyears feet slamming the hatch down and pulling away as the explosion rocked the docking port!
Is this the end of Commander Lightyear? Will Princess Taegan’s thirst for vengeance doom her too? What will the broken heart of the Empires most idealistic and noble daughter mean for the fate of the universe? With the fate of our entire dimension balanced on a knife-edge will royal tears tip the balance? Be sure to return for the next instalment of Hydra Serials Waaar Roooocket The Missing Princess Chapter 14 A Desperate Cry in the Darkness, brought to you by the Edmond Dantes legal firm and by Gully Foyle, your jaunty motivational expert.