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#1
PROPHESY HAS BECOME A REALITY.
Mar 12, 2018
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30

PROPHESY HAS BECOME A REALITY.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGUVFkjgatn

A short account (in laymans terms) of the Viking and their gods.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtSbhq8lusi

Though this is my second attempt at a novel, it is a toss-up to which was the most difficult. Norse mythology is so vast and extensive that at times it is difficult to remember all the details.  Interesting details I may add. My problem was that every nation from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, from Scotland to England and Germany and many more, differed ever-so-slightly in their interpretations. (For example; the many translations of Earth. These being Mannheim, ‘the home of men’, Midgard, Miðgarðr, Midjungards, or Middangeard which was later transformed to Middellærd or Mittelerde ("Middle-earth") in Middle English literature. There are more but let us leave it at that.) For this reason, I ask to be excused, for my attempt at novelizing it all. I have taken free license in writing this novel because of the insurmountable difficulty in gathering and correlating the finer details and because of this, I take my proverbial hat off to those scholars of the Old Norse myth who could remember all the details, sagas and heroic tales of the Viking and his gods.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjc5e0B2nL3

The Viking or Norsemen (‘Northmen’) was not ‘Christian’ or  civilized, as we understand the meaning of the words. From Scandinavia, they left to seek their fortunes by raiding monasteries for their gold and undefended coastal sites for silver, mead and women and of course the odd human sacrifice. For three centuries, they pirated and traded, raided and settled on much of Britain and the European continent. The Viking advanced to Russia, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1n1bRCc9l6

At the mention of the word ‘Viking’, one would be forgiven should he immediately see in his mind’s eye an image of a large bearish horn-helmed individual screaming his war cry as he jumped off the beached Viking Longboat wearing mail shirts beneath leather cloaks, and leather breeches that covered thick trunk like legs. From under the helmet, he would also probably see long straw colored braided hair hanging from each side of the head. Black staring wide eyes glaring from heavy features covered with a large bristling beard that may or may not be parted in the middle. He would see the Viking with his one large hand clutching sword or war-axe while the other held a round, hand-painted wooden shield. You may be excused, for they were a warlike people and the image may not be far wrong. To get into Valhöll(Valhalla) one had to be. To get Odin’s Valkyrie to notice them and collect their souls, they had to be.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrPYD6oMsTf

No matter what the picture in one’s mind, all agree on one thing implicitly; the Viking believed in heart, mind and soul that the heavens, the earth, their lives, fortunes and misfortunes and death, were governed by the whims of the gods. The gods who were not off on some unknown universe or planet but were intrinsically part of earth. The Viking believed in Odin, the all father and his Valkyrie. Moreover, each and every one believed in Valhalla(Valhöll). Every Viking wanted fame, fortune, and somebody to record his deeds. Most of all, he believed in Valhöll, Valhöll and Ragnarök, the war of the gods. Each wanted to prove himself to Odin that he was a warrior and was willing to die bravely  to be admitted to Valhöll.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxSAz3rcgBx

Asgard was the home of the Norse gods and goddesses known as the Aesir. Twelve palaces or halls were built for each of the more prominent Aesir.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡm3nlGtKtVE

Valhalla is Odin’s hall, containing the Einherjar who were the souls of proven warriors, and was in Asgard and Asgard was on earth (Midgard). Asgard was a realm unseen and linked to earth via the Rainbow Bridge. There were nine planets or worlds created by Odin with or without his two brothers. Earth or Midgard, was created for the sole purpose of having a place, a realm, where the harvesting of souls of worthy warriors could be done. Including Midgard, there are nine worlds in North Mythology:copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIGRaxjDZMt

Ásgarðr, world of the Æsir.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdkmNUpf6FQ

Vanaheimr, world of the Vanir.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡE2U1nBu74q

Álfheimr, world of the Álfar (Elves).copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMM7DWEWAEJ

Jötunheimr, world of the Jötnar (Giants).copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLJyGKVhf3l

Niðavellir, world of the Dvergar (Dwarfs). / Svartálfaheimrcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFP7Nt4spE6

Múspell, world of fire and the Fire Jötnar. / Múspellsheimrcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8JYc9EbZzg

Niflhel, world of ice and mist, into which the wicked dead are cast. / Niflheimrcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvlZ31KZiZ2

Hel, world of the inglorious dead, located within Niflhel/Niflheimr and ruled over by the giantess Hel.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDFSLtmQVLv

Each world is joined to the other via the "World Tree" called Yggdrasil.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2Ue07nEine

Odin had six sons; the god Thor who was the guardian of men against the wild forces of nature. Tyr, the god of war. The god Baldur was the holiest of all gods and he radiated innocence and purity. His other sons were Meili, Vidar, and Vali. (The spelling changes depending on country to country)copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡySzyVAiUTi

The Aesir gods fought and held influence and power over the Vanir, whom they held a truce with; the Giants, who the Æsir battled wherever and whenever they could; the Dark-elves, dwarfs and Nightmares, who were women who stole sex from men while terrorizing their sleeping minds.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXxYQjrc9nY

The giants were the god’s enemies and there world was Jotunheim, which was separated from the Aesir by a river called Irving, a legendry river that never froze.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFpSTp0h4iE

Vanaheimr, the world of the Vanir.  War occurred between the Vanir and the Aesir or so the legend goes. After much bloodshed a treaty of peace was agreed, the terms? An exchange of hostages. The Æsir delegated Hœnir; the Vanir delegated Njord, who in this way came to be numbered among the Æsir. The other deities who came from the Vanir were Frey and Freyja who were brother and sister.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiRxSqstJnm

Let us not forget the Dark-elves, the Nightmares and Dwarfs. The Nightmares were females one and all.  While terrorizing men’s sleeping minds, they stole sex from them. (Ever had a wet dream?)copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1lU0cdspnP

The myth the gods of the Norseman reads like a well-thumbed novel. All the ingredients are there. Do you fancy murder or revenge? Spite? The misconstrued or the hero? What about shape shifting? It is all there waiting for you to delve into its innards, to lose yourself in its rich and glorious tales and sagas of heroism and double crossing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡn2fgVFgcJz

Our tale though, starts somewhere near the end …copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡR2roURRnAf

The fighter plane exploded fifty meters in front of him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsOB3ZhA0Pv

Banking out of a sharp turn, both fighter ships screamed towards the enemy craft at Mach three when, out of nowhere, short, precise bursts of laser fire stitched across the forward fighter’s undercarriage. The explosion erupted instantaneously through the cockpit and forward plating of Grayvite steel.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDDaR2tJgFF

Mach three may not be deemed an excessively high speed especially in combat, but when a solid piece of Grayvite plating makes contact with the nosecone of a fighter at that relatively ‘slow’ speed, there will be only one conclusion.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI5yLNBHHtN

The second fighter became, in an instant, a mirror image of the first.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1VBCZAUABJ

The double explosion almost went unnoticed as more ships ducked and dived to evade or line up their on-board weapons as their targets came into range. Dogfights were two, three, or ten on one as the defenders died in their numbers or fled the destruction the enemy forces delivered with effortless professionalism.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5emg6pJPGp

To make matters worse, the Empire forces caught and destroyed them as they struggled to reach their own aircraft carriers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvov3aiER08

The Empire had, once again, been out maneuvered by an enemy they did not, and could not comprehend; an enemy that came out of nowhere to deliver death and destruction on a yearly basis, only to vanish as swiftly as they appeared.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡE23gF3RzDs

This was not warfare, but the utter humiliation of the Galactic Empire’s naval forces. This situation turned a fighter pilot into an endangered species. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjJHGZN6JDM

Loki trembled from the anamnesis of unbearable pain and he screwed up his eyes in an attempt not to scream. He lay naked, curled up in a ball under the large oak tree trying to calm his emotions. He clenched his fists and shoved them under his armpits to stop his arms from flaying.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6lHhZTCWKO

He was, in the tradition of giants, gargantuan. Three times the height and four times the girth of a normal human. His well-built muscles twitched until he brought them under control. With slow and fearful anticipation of a recurrence of the ghost pain, he unclenched his folded arms and breathed deeply. With a last tremor of his stiff muscles, the vestiges of pain disappeared.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUJFULMzRKO

He rested his back against the large oak and slept undisturbed for the first time in nearly five thousand years.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBbm5jByfWK

The scream that ripped through his thrashing body woke him up a few hours later. Leaping to his feet, he paced back and forth in the shade of the overhanging branches. He felt eyes on him. He looked up, and saw a bull stag in the distance staring at him. Ears erect and flicking. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO25wk5qW2a

The air shimmered violently as he morphed into a roaring lion. A hungry lion. The startled stag disappeared into the undergrowth.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡf97CerdMGa

The stag clenched its muscles, gathered its strength, and gave an extra spurt of speed. It twisted between outcrops of trees and boulders. The lion closed in. Speed was detrimental to both hunter and hunted. A hunted animal could only do so much to outrun a hungry lion. Wooded areas were better than open grounds for trying to evade predators. Sharp twists and unexpected turns could leave teeth and claw foundering.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxvdC2xIstK

The stag’s wide, staring eyes bulged and turned in their sockets. Gasps of breath rushed in and out of her overloaded lungs. The lion launched itself through the air and clamped his sharp claws around the stag’s neck. It struggled to get its back legs into position to claw the underbelly. The bucking, speeding stag collapsed as the lion’s weight pulled it back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDeGxExdQYL

Fanged jaws tried to find purchase. The stag bucked and reared. Suddenly, it was free. The lion thrashed and roared on the ground. The stag swiftly dashed away from the furor as dust ascended from the convulsing creature.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNdVVP9m3W3

The air shimmered. The lion morphed into a flopping trout. Again, the air shimmered and the trout became an ant and then a coiling snake. Finally the giant lay panting and screaming in the dirt.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdtzq6BYO4s

Dusty sweat runnels coursed down his naked body. Minutes passed. He ceased thrashing. He lay in the dust and stared at the sky. Cramped muscles released the stored tension. He stood up and looked off in the direction the stag had taken. Shaking his head, he looked at his sweaty, dirty body and side stepped. He laughed scornfully. He could step out from underneath dirt but he couldn’t catch a simple deer? If the Aesir had seen him, they would have died laughing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyHHfflNtcL

It was his fault. He should never have gone back to that feast and insulted the bastards. He was drunk and angry. He had wanted to tell the bastards what he thought of them. Thor, the stuck-up hammer-wielding wannabe hero. His father Odin, who acted as if he were the god of gods, and Heimdall who took the job of guarding the Rainbow Bridge way too seriously.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡl6KUxQvvFA

What or who was the big idiot trying to guard against? Humans? They couldn’t find the bridge if it fell into their laps. Moreover, should they find the bridge, how were they going to cross it? Fly? He must not delude himself. Heimdall guarded it against the giants. For that matter, the only reason that Loki could pass over it was because Odin had accepted him into Asgard as his blood brother. Odin and his whole piss-ant Aesir family would regret it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXehFtx0g0d

Loki worked his way around a thicket, the air shimmered and although still bare-chested, he now wore leather breeches that ended below the knee. From one-step to another, sturdy lace-up sandals appeared on his feet and completed the picture. His wife, Sigyn, had been utterly loyal to him and had spared him much pain and anguish.  She had caught the dripping poison from the snake bound to the Ash tree.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0NNKHlBdQg

She held the bowl that caught the beast’s lethal poison.  copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIgTWhj563x

When she emptied it, poisonous drops from exposed fangs dripped onto his chest and burned through skin and bone. Continuously. Ten debilitating minutes passed while he writhed in pain as his flesh, sinew, muscle, bone and skin regenerated. Ten minutes followed by precisely one hundred and nine seconds of incapacitating pain as the snake beast’s acidic venom dripped onto his chest. Ten minutes for the bowl to fill. One hundred and nine seconds while Sigyn stumbled down the path, threw away the contents, and returned. In those one hundred and nine seconds, thirty-nine drops of venom fell. Never more and never less. He had more than enough time to count those seconds.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO4kCP2XqgO

In the beginning, he had begged the god’s forgiveness. Had promised them he would stop his mischief. Had promised, begged, cried, and screamed in pain. Quick thinking and an even quicker tongue got him into the pantheon of the Norse gods in the first place. No other giant had ever succeeded and survived to tell the tale. He teased the other gods and made them look like idiots walking with their noses in the air. He loved practical jokes, was lazy, and liked the good life. At times he went too far and caused havoc when all he wanted was to have fun. Some got angry, especially the god of thunder.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH4Cca6aNBp

Thor was not too happy when he found out that Loki had shorn off Sif’s beautiful golden hair with magic scissors. Sif was Thor’s wife. All Loki wanted to do was pinch her ego. Sif’s hair refused to grow back and Thor threatened his life if he did not repair the damage. He succeeded and Sif received living golden hair. Although Loki loved practical jokes, he prided himself in repairing any damage should complaints or threats occur.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrjGkfXEl4H

It was the joke on Hodur and Baldur, Odin’s two sons, that had changed it all.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSSLdvBfs1w

Hodur was blind and Loki had tricked him into shooting a dart of mistletoe at his brother Baldur, the god of Love and Light. The god died the moment the mistletoe touched his hand. Everyone knew that mistletoe was Baldur’s weakness. Everyone knew he stayed away from it. However, to die from touching it, who would have thought that possible? Baldur and the damned feast. He should have stayed away from that feast. The gods were still angry with him and he had almost escaped by changing into a fish and swimming away. Almost, but not quite. They murdered his sons and tied him to a tree with a damned snake dripping poison onto him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgIBTVL05yB

It was his wife’s cries as she ran to empty the bowl that broke him. Her cries and tears of frustration and fear when she returned to see the venom splatter on his writhing chest. For five thousand years she had watched smoking flesh and ribs dissolve. Had watched his disintegration into madnesscopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvZUbka9Yve

He cursed the gods and vowed vengeance. He plotted and suffered, suffered and planned. He was unable to free himself from the chains that criss-crossed his body and bound him to the huge tree, and, Sigyn, a giant with considerable strength, had no knowledge of magic. She would not consider removing the bowl from under the dripping fangs.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFn7rBC2Q44

The poisonous venom that ate flesh and bone wore away at the chains as it over-flowed from the bowl she held. One drop at a time, the venom splattered onto those chains. It took thousands of years. It took trillions of his wife’s tears. A Jötnars tears mixed and infused with the acid venom gradually ate away at the large links until, with a thrashing heave, he broke free.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQjiLvCVEBr

His first act of retribution had been to feed the giant snake its own tail and then the rest of its body. It had convulsed and twisted in pain but Loki had not stopped until there was nothing to force into that large maw. He forged a spike out of the chain links and with his hands spiked the living creature to the same Ash tree it had resided in for five thousand years.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSgO0IqCLhH

Asgard; Queen Freya’s hall, Sessrumnircopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZn7tlhtWm7

“Preposterous. I will not hear one more word. The Crystaal* returned minutes ago. Why has Hildr not come?” Queen Freya asked as she paced back and forth on the raised dais.  She cast a furious sidelong glare at her cowering Chief Advisor.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8SECdbOYlL

“Your Highness.” Her advisor bowed deeply. Long, braided grey hair fell into a single tail that hung below her shoulder blades. The Valkyrie did not regard Bromwich as a beautiful woman. Big boned with pitch black eyes that would have scared a child were it not for the empathy and compassion that streamed from them. “Forgive me, but that’s one of the inconveniences I have come to report. The Crys…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1bzI511hQJ

“Inconveniences? Inconveniences?” Freya stood beside her silver and gold throne, right hand clenching and unclenching the pommel of her sword. Her blue eyes flashed with anger. Her silver-winged helm did justice to her long, silky locks of golden hair. Fair of skin, she was one of the most beautiful women, if not the most beautiful woman of all the nine worlds of the Pantheon.*copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1P68jrpNoL

Her fish-scaled breast and back-plate armour shimmered beneath the silver chainmail that covered her torso from neck to waste. Her anger infused the armour with power.  An iridescent, flickering radiance that came off it blinded her opponents.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUxEy9SKXR5

“Bromwich, you and your clan are well named, for you are truly a witch to bring me this news.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJShjAnkCEb

Now was not the time to cut off the offending advisor’s head. Best to get everything first and then kill the bitch. “Are you telling me that for the last month, we have received NO Einherjar?* That is approximately 40 million souls, Bromwich. Half are mine.” She turned away and sat on her throne; leaned back against the firm, padded tapestry and relaxed. The glint from her armour dissipated with her fading wrath. “Now then, I am better prepared. Explain why I am only now being told of this matter. A matter of dire consequences no less. And it had better be good Bromwich, for you and your clan’s reputation hangs in the balance.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlF0rOkTe7i

Bromwich swallowed with difficulty; she knew how tenuous a clan’s standing could be. The penalty for displeasing Freya was death, preferable to having her whole clan ostracized and banished from their homesteads.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ1QEA0wlYn

She took a deep breath and stared at her Queen, getting her thoughts in order. “Your Highness, the High Kings Odin*, Hœnir*, and Lodur*, on hearing clan Volvas prophesies on Ragnarök, created Midgard. From the tree trunks that they came upon on the beach of that world, they designed and created the human race. They seeded that creation with all manner of life.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqHgH1Q4ltJ

“And I suppose you want to teach me, your Queen, the history that our daughters learn on the knees of their mothers? Is this the manner in which you are prepared to save your clan? If so, you are succeeding only in digging that particular hole deeper.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxOpygeSas0

“Forgive me Your Highness; I would not presume such a liberty. I ask your indulgence. Should my clan and I be correct in our deductions and reasoning over the millennia, we have finally unraveled more of the last prophesy of the Beginning of Ages from clan Volva.”  Bromwich said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡts2j6CkDYi

“The last prophesy?” Freya’s eyebrows lifted. This was unexpected. “And what makes you so sure that now, after hundreds of years, your clan has finally disentangled that piece of vexing augur?” She tapped her fingers on the throne’s gilded armrests. “And what has this got to do with the subject at hand?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1o0h618bnB

Bromwich took a deep breath; this was the crux of the matter. She clamped down hard on her stomach muscles. “Your Highness, it has everything to do with the subject. There is a new prophesy and we believe the new god has awoken.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUUqksGykR1

Freya froze. The portent of Bromwich’s words was overwhelming.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkltnFz0ZdY

“Your Highness,” Bromwich bowed deeply. “If I may explain our findings.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhemhvsiDEF

She gazed at her Queen and proceeded when Freya nodded. “When the three High Kings created Midgard, according to clan Volva’s prophesies, High King Odin asked for a volunteer clan to collect the Einherjar souls from those humans deemed worthy.”                                Without thought, Bromwich paced back and forth. Tension and fear portrayed in her every move. “Clan Amazon won that right in the combat tournaments. For approximately 20 000 Midgard years, clan Amazon sent back a steady flow of these worthy souls, half to Asgard, and half to these  halls. The weak and faint of heart were sent to Hel*.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡezzFT1msmd

“We also know that due to an imbalance or impurity in these Einherjar souls that we have not been able to comprehend or perfect, these souls dissipate into the ether whenever they are removed from Midgard’s gravity. On the other hand, as soon as the Einherjar souls reach Asgard, the diffusion effect stops although the effects themselves, persist. Clan Spayss-Tim has not determined the reason, except for the illogical assumption that gravity is involved. In this,  even to us Valkyrie, secrets stay secret. The problem stems from  when High King Odin rejected our requests to experiment on any souls.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtHzW4ew4dJ

“Clan Amazon was, according to our records, 51.655 members strong. This included adults, daughters, and male slaves. All left for Midgard. No members of this clan exist on Asgard today, but they still maintain a high status among us all. That status will now be brought into contention. With the return of the Crystaal, damning evidence has come forward that clan Amazon has interfered in the human race and they know of our existence.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2uYpLtS47w

“Again, preposterous.” Freya vehemently said from her throne. “Clan Chief Penthesilea and her sister Hippolyta would never allow their clan to become personally involved with these humans. They had only to collect the Einherjar souls, nothing more nothing less. Bring them to me so that I may ascertain these ridiculous accusations of yours Bromwich. And I warn you…” she pointed a finger, “…I have been listening to all this ridiculousness for long enough. I will have the head of each member of your clan for this.” She stood up and glared at the woman. “I am waiting Bromwich.” A thought came unbidden and with a soft tone of voice that dripped with venom. “You did bring clan Chief Penthesilea to answer these accusations I hope?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJm5j1ZlnrH

“Your Highness,” Bromwich bowed again. “That would have been my first duty. Alas, clan Chief Penthesilea and all her clan are no more. They have perished.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBVpaStooyB

“What was that? Speak up Bromwich. Did you say clan Amazon is dead? All of them?” Her eyes were large under her silver winged helmet. “That is impossible. We are immortal.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8A670SASWI

“Your Highness. Please forgive me. I shall start at the beginning. Forgive me  but it’s the only way it will make any sense.” Clenching her jaw so that the muscles hurt, Freya felt her heart thudding painfully. Could it be? Could Ragnarök be on our doorstep? Her mind was filled with questions but she realized that the only way to have them answered was to give Bromwich her head. “Continue.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoG4u06tltU

“Your Highness,” Bromwich curtsied. “Over 50 000 strong were clan Amazon. Clan Chief Penthesilea had, according to our records, first decided to place the clan in a huge forested area. Even to this day on Midgard, this place is called the Amazonian Forest. One must understand, Your Highness, that one day to the Aesir* is equivalent to one thousand one hundred and eighty years on Midgard and the rest of the universe except for the Aesir worlds. This was a decision agreed to by the three High Kings  to harvest as many Einherjar as possible in as short a time as possible. For instance, twenty-three thousand six hundred and seventy-one Midgard years is approximately 20 days in reality. Give or take a second or two. Myself, and others from my clan, took the Crystaal ship to Midgard to discover the reason clan Amazon was so lax in their duties and to collect the host of Einherjar souls. By this time that should have amounted to a considerable total.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ35PsfIWE6u

“The reason for taking the ship, as Your Highness remembers, is because of the dissipation of the Einherjar souls once they leave the atmosphere of their world. With the ship, and however illogical it may seem, the gravity created by the so-called ionized drives*, would keep the souls in perpetual stasis until we returned to Asgard. The fact that there were so many souls and the Rainbow Bridge was and still is closed, was the main reason the human ship was utilized in the first place. We could have used our Pegasus* steeds and travelled faster, mere seconds, but at the cost of Einherjar souls. Due to the improvements clan Spayss-Tim made to the ship, we were gone for  over 7 hours our time. Seven hours that add up to three hundred and forty-three Midgard years. Seven astounding hours. Unbelievable…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡff5mm5eXYb

“Your Highness, we Valkyrie have the tendency to forget the difference between time and time. Time on Asgard and the seven other worlds differ from the Midgardian world*. Millions of humans live and die within what is to us only moments. When one remembers Midgard was created only 396 years ago, of OUR years, - does one begin to understand. Another problem is that nobody realized it until now.” Bromwich stopped and swallowed hard. “When away from Asgard, the Valkyrie fall under the same rules that govern the rest of the universe,” she whispered loud enough for Freya to hear. The Queen staggered back. “On Midgard, we do not have immortality. We live and die  as the humans do. Due to clan Space-Tim, our immortality is not in danger whilst on the ship Crystaal.  The moment we step off the ship or off our Pegasus steeds, we immediately fall under the laws governed by the universe as decreed by the High Kings.” She shook her head in dismay. “Our lifespan is just over 100 Midgard years.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡegp4JFMGjT

“By Odin! Why has it taken so long to…? But we are immortal! How can this be?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaz9gVwm9uk

“Only should we not have any object pierce our heart or behead us. Should that happen then we of the Valkyrie die, but again,  only valid on the eight Aesir worlds. On Midgard, the ninth world, we die from a variety of causes, from sickness and ill health to old age. Death to the Valkyrie is not unheard of on the Aesir worlds, but it’s a scarce commodity thanks to Idunn’s magical apples that gives the Aesir their immortality.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkaHcUy4LSh

“How much of your tale of woe is fact, Bromwich? Can you substantiate these wild allegations?” Freya asked in a last fearful hope that this was all  a tale to scare children into obedience.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ67ywbibYYv

Bromwich clapped her hands and a young female page entered the hall bearing a thick, maroon colored object with a yellowish centre. She bowed before Freya and stepped forward, solemnly presenting it to her. “And what, may I ask, is this?” she asked, ignoring the page who left the hall.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS842p0yL92

“Humans consider this an antique work of art, Your Highness. They call it a manuscript, or a book. These objects contain information. Few are identical, most are not. There are rare and no matter what information or message or instruction that book contains, it’s regarded as a valued possession.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5ucMG7lKTd

“And this scribbling? Is it a means of conveying information?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ20kBwwTIvR

“Yes. The humans call it writing. But I need to clarify something else first before explaining the workings of this book.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡen0ippiYas

Freya tapped lightly on the maroon hardback cover.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1gWe3Dloof

“We are not certain as to how long it took clan Amazon to reorganize itself on Midgard. A suggested time span was that it did not take longer than 1 or 2 minutes. To those on Midgard it would have been a totally different situation as a minute to us is close on a year to them. What we do know is that Einherjar souls were delivered to Valhalla and to your hall more or less immediately. Clan Amazon stood in long queues to deliver their Einherjar quotas.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBqfW1MsUuX

“At one stage, it got so bad that Pegasus steeds were housed wherever space could be found and the Valkyrie complained. The dissipation factor was ruled out due to the Rhombus* cylinders designed and crafted by the Dwarfs of Nioavellir*. The only problem we have with the rhombus cylinders is that clan Amazon carried large amounts of them in their sidesaddles because there is only enough space for one soul per rhombus.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMJlM2KbkJm

“Einherjar were delivered continuously for nine minutes, our time. In reality, to clan Amazon, it would have been years. The Valkyrie noticed that members of clan Amazon were leaner, more muscular, and more willing to take offence at the slightest indication of disrespect. Bouts of violence were stopped by the Adjudicator clan. In the hallways and byways of both Valhalla* and your hall, Sessrumnir*, I have personally heard it whispered that certain Amazon clan members looked older every time they returned with Einherjar souls.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNKCKYGnk4M

“This fact would have been from one minute to the next.” She looked up at Freya as she paced the hall. “Where one second is equivalent to over 5 days and 1 minute, almost one year. I'm afraid that most of the adults as we knew them, never mind the children, reached old age and died within one of our days.” The shock and horror that she herself felt registered in Freya’s contorted face. “Your Highness, I have more,” she whispered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzGcPCeB496

“More? Is there any good news in all this?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2VPnIR8UcR

“A modest amount. But there is more bad news. The Volva clan have presented us with a new prophesy.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡg0CTKAz8UE

“Well at least one can rely on small miracles. Let’s get this over with for I am tired of  bad news.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUuk7jXmU2v

Bromwich thought for a short time. “Sometime after their arrival on Midgard, clan Amazon divided the clan into two separate groups; according to that history book in your hands. One group resided in the great Amazonian forest and the other in what is known as Libya.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ14rQs9IA3U

“You are saying that these scribblings are human and are a step by step history of clan Amazon on Midgard?”  Freya gazed at the history book with respect. “Who was the originator of this history book?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡskU4eFFNNA

“All? There was more than one?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHkR8bkiTVm

“And how do I know if this is the truth? These scribblings are like those of a child.” Suspicion had always been part of Freya’s personality. It had kept her on her throne for thousands of years.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIbUNYKbIWu

“If you page through the book, you will see pictures.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvDPnM0H5UC

Bromwich thought for a moment then said, “A picture can be described as the capturing of a moment in time of a certain object or objects for the single purpose of displaying it in a manner for all to see. It may be of objects or scenery or whatever that individual desires.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4jZZ6YJiGF

“These humans can do such things?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNcjCz5Dgby

“Indeed, and more. Their technology knows no boundaries. If I may…” she stepped up to the throne, took the book and paged through its yellow, brittle pages.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSDhSNKlSBV

“Your Highness, this is a thin ‘leaf’. It’s called a ‘page’. Each page is made from the pulps of trees. The manufacturing process has been studied by my clan. Ingenious. The result is known as ‘paper’. The paper is cut to manageable strips called pages. The scribbling on these pages is called writing. It was human habit to commit information to these pages.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGGfGFmEoEl

“Due to a serious lack of resources, paper is no longer manufactured. For many thousands of years in fact. There are other reasons.” She handed the opened book back to Freya and watched with bated breath as her eyes widened in wonder then changed to disbelief. The pictures on both pages, although completely different, said more than words ever could. Freya’s eyes darted from page to page. “What does this scribbling say at the bottom of these pictures?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfgiw86guYS

“The picture on the left depicts a member of the Amazon clan riding on a Pegasus. If you look carefully you will see the rider has no right breast. It  depicts the Pegasus, Chiton, the missing breast, the bow and arrow. Look carefully at her war lance; the engraving on it spells out the last part of a name… Esilea, short for Penthesilea? The writing at the bottom of the picture  says; A sketch by Jean Valise depicting an Amazon warrior on her winged horse, circa 1790. The picture on the right is a mead flagon. This is one of those pictures which I described earlier, Your Highness. A moment in time captured for all to see. It’s neither a sketch nor a reproduction.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqFzFme11DF

Bromwich turned and clapped her hands and the same page girl came forward carrying an empty mead flagon, identical to the one depicted in the picture. It had a small thumb notch near the spout and a larger handle near the base. On it was engraved the nine worlds of the Aesir. The engravings were painted copper-brown. Around the spout and base there was a circular, copper-brown motive. “There is nothing special about a mead flagon, but the writing at the bottom of the page says; A flagon. Part of the findings from the burial site of what is supposed to be that of a Greek merchant, pointing to the possibility that although the Greeks and clan Amazon fought pitched battles, there was the likelihood of trade between the two nations. Clan Amazon, according to our findings, made war on every nation it encountered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmH7U5b1zTp

“As far as can be determined, clan Amazon, instead of doing that which they were entrusted, commenced to make war on the humans. They invaded Thrace, Asia Minor, the islands of the Aegean, Greece, Syria, Arabia. Egypt, Libya and many more human settlements. They plundered and raised their towns. This was a possible means for them to harvest more Einherjar souls. Tales and sagas were written about them. They became cruel and barbaric. Man, woman and child were often tortured and put to death.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡf8FyFOEWiD

“ENOUGH. FOR ODIN’S SAKE. ENOUGH.” It took a few moments for Freya to return to calm. “Capture every member of this clan, Bromwich. Now. Within the week. Every one. Do you hear? EVERY ONE IS TO BE BROUGHT BEFORE ME.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPIjooFCpGf

She threw the book across the tiled floor. It tore apart and sections of dry, disintegrating yellow pages drifted and turned and coiled  and came to rest against the sandaled feet of one of the silent ‘Queens Own’*.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ53XcX3oZDh

With a tinge of regret, Bromwich curtsied low in submission. There would possibly still be a chance to rescue a part of the history book. “Your Highness. They are no more.” She said. “Clan Amazon has to our knowledge, perished. Due to either war or some other calamity, we are not certain. Most probably war and old age combined. We scoured Midgard and all we could find were books like that one.” She indicated the destroyed book strewn across the floor. “We did find the odd so-called ruin, picture, or antique object. In every one of these history books, clan Amazon is depicted as a fable, an illusion or myth. They and their fighting steeds, the Pegasus, have passed into the mist of time.  Every human either does not care, or believes them to be a fabrication of clever individuals.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoSq4q5S42b

“So miracles do happen then,” Freya said. “You are certain of this?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIRT1fhGSHn

“Yes Your Highness. The next issue of importance follows directly from that of clan Amazon.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7Mq5Zo9ooM

“I'm listening. Are we at last on the subject of the awakened god?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFMF5Q6bJbd

“Not quite.  A few members of my clan were discovered by a group humans when we entered their buildings. We eliminated those that we could, but unbeknown to us, they possessed a technological wonder that tracked our every move.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUT4OUk6BcO

Freya’s face filled with rage. She sat on her throne as if made from stone. Bromwich gazed at the decorated, deep purple curtains hanging from the ceiling behind the throne. She knew that if she stopped talking now, all would be lost. “Wherever we went, so too did the humans. Our invisibility cloaks notwithstanding, these humans knew where we were but could not see us. We could have evaded them by using the Pegasus war steeds, but due to what we had discovered, millions of rhombus cylinders containing Einherjar souls still locked in, we had to use the human Crystaal ship.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYkBpqBOzZc

“On reaching our ship, we discovered a large Armada of human ships bearing down on us from all directions. As I said before, the human’s technology is of a high standard that we only managed to evade them. Stuck inside a human invention like the Crystaal, seriously hampers our own maneuverability and means of retaliation. Granted, we left the human Armada far behind as we fled, but they are a tenacious species and never once stopped or deviated from the route we had travelled. Again, how they managed to follow our trail is nothing short of miraculous.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmEY2KP8Wzj

“We thwarted the human armada when we crossed Bifrost*, and High King Heimdall closed the gates. The humans were left in disarray and soon left. But we suspect they may have left behind a surprise or two for us.” She finished and brought her eyes from the purple curtains and gazed at Freya. The only sound in the hall was of Freya’s fingernails tapping on the armrest of the throne.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9ucej7yqIL

Freya stared at Bromwich. “Are you seriously trying to convince me, Bromwich, that we can be grateful for another miracle? We are gods. They are mortal humans and short lived ones at that. Why, by Odin, did you not use your powers against them? How did they track you  after you wore the invisibility cloaks? How did they discover you in the first place? It sounds to me as if you and your clan were negligent in your task. Come to think of it, how is it possible for a relatively young species to defeat you? How Bromwich? Explain to me  how this fledgling human nation can follow you to the  doorstep of our Empire? The Pantheon of the Gods no less.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeH5Q6vrU5q

“Your Highness.” Bromwich lowered her eyes in embarrassment and consternation. “I…we, have no explanation . We do not know how the humans succeeded in discovering us, or how they managed to follow us to the Rainbow Bridge.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6r55tQVCMu

“We  do not know Your Highness, and it’s for that reason we have placed all the clan members involved, in quarantine for further investigation. This includes the ship Crystaal. Logical answers there must be Your Highness, and we mean to find them.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVWZ8ajfJJX

“I'm taking it for granted that Hildr is under this quarantine?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvYEAOL6fFc

“You do realize Bromwich, that you …” Something Bromwich had said previously returned to her. “Before I forget, what is this prophesy from clan Volva?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡE2TiNLppz9

“Yes, Your Highness. Still under analyses. There are many lines of reasoning to ponder and it will take time, but in a sense, it leaves us with hope.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNRP79DCKGR

“Forgive me Your Highness. This is the prophesy word for word;copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡX3TRlHCL7c

In the days of time and beyond time, copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVU3L2doEY5

Midgard shall declare war on Middle Earth beyond timecopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw2N8qc6V2w

And the metal Einherjar shall bring death to them both and then be one with the one.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMZzGQVotHv

The new god shall be witness to all and Ragnarök shall be,copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFDpJorXN6V

“What do you mean, that is all? What of the last part? What shall the new god do? Who or what is this Middle Earth and the metal Einherjar? I have never heard of such things.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwkiu14TUXd

“We do not know. The Volva have not recovered. We hope to receive more information regarding the second part of the prophesy once she is improved."copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQmkLk7wejL

“And the last prophesy of the Beginning of Ages? What of that?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQZF66jJFVb

“My clan is in agreement that the first verse has been accomplished and avoided. The three High Kings created Midgard, and the Einherjar were sent here to Asgard, thus averting the warning that ‘Ragnarök be’. The fact that we brought back Einherjar in their Rhombus Crystals that clan Amazon left behind may also have helped. This part of the prophesy is easy to understand. It’s the ‘time beyond time’, that brought on hundreds of years of debate alone.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡksvCWxHQsE

“We could not determine the meaning of those statements to do with ‘time beyond time’ until a clan member noticed that throughout the prophesy, the humans were prominent. In this, we all agreed. It was then that another clan member suggested we study human history and possibly arrive at an answer from that direction.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlqQ0wWkgBg

“They are a relatively young species, their world is 187 years old in our time. Insignificant.” She made a dismissive gesture at this unimportant detail. “At first we dismissed this idea, until we realized the time difference between the rest of the Aesir worlds and Midgard. As it was only clan Amazon that travelled back and forth between the two worlds, my clan had originally decided to start with a preliminary study when Midgard reached 500 years of age. We failed to notice that crucial time difference.” She shook her head in sorrow.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsVIXyFvfvY

“Twenty days is all it took for a clan of 50 000 to perish. If only we had realized it sooner, we may have saved many lives. Could it be that the High Kings knew of this fact when they created Midgard?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTAhUZlewVO

Freya’s blue eyes turned icy. “I would not presume to know the workings of the High Kings Bromwich. Proceed with the discussion at hand.”  copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡngfdhMaC3M

Freya had asked herself that same question. They had to have known from the start that there was not only a time difference between Midgard and the other Aesir worlds, but between the whole Universe and the Aesir worlds. How else would it be possible to harvest millions of souls in so short a time span? No. She wanted the answer to that question. The same question she would shortly ask three gods that, although mighty in strength and status, still they needed their beards pulled out by the roots and if she had her way, she would be doing the pulling.  copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSvHAtggYvM

Bromwich bowed her head in deference and continued. “In our research, we discovered that the human measures distance using a system called mathematics. We are still in the process of researching this information.  Humans call this the ‘speed of light, or light speed’. It measures the speed that light travels from the stars to the observer. On Midgard, they have measured it at precisely 299,792,458 meters per second through what they call space or a vacuum - we call it the cosmos. Humans cannot breathe between the stars like us. The speed of light is then calculated into a light year. This being the time Midgard takes to make one revolution around its sun. 365 days. This measurement is multiplied with the speed that light travels and then one has what they term, a light year. This measurement is 9.46 trillion kilometers. In other words, one light year is the equivalent to 9.46 trillion kilometers. If one takes it one-step further, we can calculate that Asgard is 4873 trillion light years from Midgard.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXpmejmzyTu

“What has this to do with the prophesy, Bromwich?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡngLDt2pEFt

“Time and beyond time Your Highness. Time as we know it and then time beyond what we know. Should one move at the speed of light, time stands still. Thus time and beyond time.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqxY88rooqU

“That’s it? As simple as that?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbnjxCDUbbN

“It may sound straightforward, but it’s not. For instance, how long does one travel at this speed to reach beyond time? Instantly? One hour or one day? We do not know.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFz4rcytCc9

“I have a thought,” said Freya. “The Pegasus steeds, do they not travel nearly instantaneously to destinations, no matter the distance?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5CH3KPv9eW

“They do Your Highness,” smiled Bromwich. “How fast they really can travel is the question. This has opened a new line of thought. I will have my clan look into it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3pknXW0R7c

“Do that. And another thought Bromwich. As these humans are as inventive as you believe them to be, and from what you have described, I believe they are highly dangerous. I want them watched permanently. Find out by what means they followed you and destroy it. Do not hesitate in destroying those that come too close to the Rainbow Bridge. Send word to High King Heimdall that should he see or hear them, then he is to destroy each and every one.” *copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFNLKeXiIzv

“As you wish Your Highness. Will this not make the humans more obstinate? They are ferocious, prone to stubbornness and vengeful if their people disappear or are killed. The humans in their ships …”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRF8yIToe2D

“I do not care Bromwich,” the Queen’s anger infused her armour with extra strength while, the iridescent flickering glare it gave off became as bright as the sun. “These humans are becoming more of a problem by the minute.” She slapped an armrest. “It will teach them to not meddle with that which is beyond their ken.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa63ut0ruSy

“As your Senior Advisor, I must warn you against hasty steps of this nature.” She wiped tears from her burning eyes. “The humans are more trouble than they are worth.  We require their souls, not a war.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHymsiBqBk0

The light dimmed and became bearable. “Tell me, Bromwich, in this war you speak of, would it not be possible to harvest Einherjar souls?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6bFfKo89Ca

“It would be possible Your Highness. Should we discover their means of observation and tracking.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMNhQiLQJfJ

“Then find the answers, Bromwich. Find the answers and in the mean-time notify High King Heimdall.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiXiFpBgQdA

“We have two prophesies that require interpretation. I’m listening.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡStl9jDUana

Bromwich nodded. “Your Highness, ‘time beyond time’ implies a long distance and also that it is beyond time. Midgard’s and ours. The next is the verse line that describes that the ‘Einherjar will dwindle for a cycle and more, from there to be transported to time and beyond time whilst the gods slumber in their halls with wine and song’. We believe that this is what has happened in the last 20 days due to clan Amazon’s negligence. We, the gods, surely did slumber in our halls. How the Einherjar were transported from time to beyond time is unknown and up for speculation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUF7dkxOBn2

”Should we read more into this than what logic dictates, then it would seem that the humans have not only found a means to capture souls, but also to transport them to beyond time. This line of thought is not logical, Your Highness, for we have not discovered any proof that the humans know what a soul looks like, never mind capturing them and transporting them across the cosmos. We have come to the understanding that it was not the Einherjar, but normal living and breathing human beings that were transported beyond time. How? By one or more of their ships travelling at the speed of light. I suggest that one or more of the Valkyrie on their Pegasus steeds follow their ships when they depart for this place beyond time. The only problems we foresee is that the new prophesy states that Ragnarök will ‘be’ should the Valkyrie intercede. We have come to the agreement that it will be best to watch and not to interfere in any way with the humans.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcfmYLVwHDc

“We will only be able to do this if and when we discover how they tracked the Crystaal. Should the humans discover our presence; the possibility of a confrontation between us is high. Should there be a confrontation Your Highness, could it be construed as interceding? We live in a volatile epoch.  One error and all is lost for Ragnarök and ‘the doom of the gods’ will be upon us.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfvGAFZezaB

“Yes. It seems your clan may be correct in your judgment of the situation.” Freya sat silently and thought long and deeply for a time. Bromwich waited, eyes drifting towards the destroyed book scattered behind her. She ached to gather the brittle and torn yellow pages together. The Queens Own had not moved one inch. A page that had come to rest on one sandaled foot still lay in the same position.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡK4hRhCp6dN

“I understand your wariness Bromwich. You advised us not to have the High King Heimdall destroy any human that came within his sight. I applaud your wariness of the situation and of the events that are unfolding before us. Come Bromwich, in which way does the word intercede imply that we cannot impede or hamper or obstruct these humans from reaching our doorstep?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8q2upOqVv4

“The fact that if the Valkyrie interfere in any way with these humans requires that we must intervene on our own behalf. I beg Your Highness, these humans cannot in any way discover or cross the ‘Rainbow Bridge’. They are but fleas that irritate, are easily ignored and not worth the aggravation. On the other hand,” she stared earnestly at the Queen. “They could be the death of us.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8KzOlfOAPY

Clan Volva had never been wrong in their prophesies. To date, there were 912 032 prophesies. That total included the new incomplete divination. It had been many a year since clan Volva had come forth with a decent usable augury. Granted, most were only of importance to individuals or the timing of crop planting seasons. Any person that could afford the fee the Volva charged could have a foretelling. Clan Volva did not do anything in half measures. They were never wrong. All transactional fees were negotiable. Clan Volva never negotiated. The fee was fixed. One foretelling, one female child, preferably unweaned. Payment upfront and accepted only once a head to toe examination of the luckless child was carried out.  Few would be turned away. The Volva never gave details about any child’s fault and not many Valkyrie were desperate enough to follow this route. Children were rare. There was no need to rush because of the Valkyrie lifespan. A lifespan that stretched into thousands of years. Death was unheard of unless a dual to the death was fought between opponents, or a feud occurred between clans.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcz2urk6Qqk

Bromwich was right. Their way of life would disappear if a mistake were made. Her own death had been foretold. Hers, Odin’s, Thor’s and Heimdall’s and many more. Ragnarök could not be denied. It was going to happen. Nothing could be done to avert it. The only other option was to prevent it from happening for as long as possible.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDyKG39uu5Z

She trembled. That day would surely come as it had been prophesied. The day of her death. She looked around the hall and gazed at each of the seven Queens Own. Immobile in their positions. They stood outward facing in a half moon around Queen Freya. None could approach her unless instructed to do so and those that did not wait for those instructions, died. The Queens Own were not known for their passivity. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡydK826nQHc

“Bromwich,” the Queen said. “I believe your council to be wise. Ignore the orders for High King Heimdall. Should any human penetrate any of the Aesir world’s magical wards, I will hold you and your clan responsible. Now, the rest of the prophesy if you please.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPTLSndcu4D

Bromwich bowed. Her relief was so great that it astounded her. “Your Highness I thank you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOIbzofJSJO

In the land of Vigrior the final battle to be.” Bromwich quoted from the tomb of prophesy.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSh1Dq3KNUr

For gods will stand and fall as what was, will be no more. From tall to small the gods will fall and Midgard will join hands with Jörmungand and be no more.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZJlLBJZOd3

One human and one shall stand tall with gods and new as Midgard reborn.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr2LDB9Sk2C

Who will listen? Who will heed? For Midgard be!copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8VUaykei78

“Your Highness, we have determined that Vigrior is the New god but unlike any god before. In the land of Vigrior, a truly vexing statement of huge import. So much so that we believe it may be a description of a landmass on one of the Aesir worlds. A landmass that has become a living entity and where Ragnarök will be fought.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡK7S5TtOSi2

“Carry on Bromwich. Let us have it all.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGrmywg1l9k

“The gods will fall, all but a few. Who they may or may not be is unknown. Midgard and the serpent Jörmungand* will be eradicated and consumed in the aftermath of Ragnarök. How many of the Aesir worlds will follow in the destruction is unknown, but this we do know, Midgard will be no more.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡo53sMq9EF9

“How did it come to this Bromwich? Why should we bother with collecting the Einherjar when it will all be for naught?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyximjCKqar

“Because of those few of us that will survive, Your Highness. We must destroy all our enemies swiftly so that those who come after will be able to start afresh.” copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFQS2opiqKr

He had walked the streets of Cape Town for hours. The fresh air very different to Asgards. Interesting smells. Hawkers and screaming seagulls. He couldn’t get enough of the ocean and it felt like he drank a ton of seawater and still needed more. No wonder his son Jormungand* loved the oceans of the universe.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDofacRuqCs

Slipping past Heimdall had been the most difficult part of the first stage of his plans. He had transformed into a mosquito and took flight over the bridge, but he had made a pit stop along the way that had almost cost him his life. If only he had eaten before the transformation, then he wouldn’t have had to suck blood out of Heimdall’s neck. It must have itched because Heimdall slapped the area where Loki sat sucking and nearly squashed him to a pulp. In the end, he had succeeded in passing unnoticed and entered Midgard. He had whiled away the time and looked at the sites worth seeing but Loki did not have time. He was in a hurry to have his revenge. The problem was how to make contact with a human without them keeling over from a heart attack.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjxYKLRvBvG

On Midgard, the Aesir wore capes to make themselves invisible.  They were only able to make contact when a human worshipped them by name or called upon a specific god for help or as a witness to some deed. This excluded the Valkyrie who, at times, were able to allow a chosen and still living warrior to catch a glimpse of them before he or she died. That warrior would then become an Einherjar.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCzxswrHSDl

This did not help Loki in any way and his plans lay dormant for want of devotion. He prowled the streets for days, then for weeks without contact. No one worshipped the Aesir gods.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZgKerX6VnJ

Had Midgard changed so much in the five thousand years since last he was here? Granted the humans did not use swords or carry bow and arrows or get by on horse or cart as in the past. The horseless carriages fascinated him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnHhlr2dXEI

They did not reside in mud hovels these humans, or behind huge rock walls with large wooden gates to keep the enemy out. He gaped at the large residential buildings that housed the humans one upon the other like rabbits in a warren. He walked into smaller buildings large enough to house ten warriors or more in relative comfort and was surprised to see it occupied by four humans. Four humans. Two of them were infants.  None saw him, none cared.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDgibIOCpHg

Surely, as in the past, there had to be one or two individuals that must call on HIM. Mostly they worshipped Freya or Thor or Odin and a myriad of other gods. It was seldom that they turned to him. There were always one or two although and for that reason he had cocked an ear into the ether and tried but heard nothing. None called his name and for that matter, none called for any of the other gods. We are forgotten, he thought. A smug smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. That should bother the bastards in Asgard to no end.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLGwwVYt1TR

He walked from one place to another while changing into an eagle and a mouse. He ate when he was hungry and slept when tired. Mostly he cursed at the time wasted, the opportunities and people he could have used. Damn Odin and the unbreakable set of laws he had laid down for Midgard. His plans had temporarily come to a sudden halt and yet, there was something…He stopped as he realized that his train of thought had opened a door. He stared unseeingly at his surroundings as his whole attention focused on the ether. There were no calls for that upstart Thor, and none for any of the Aesir gods. Who was this lord Satan and Jesus, Shiva and Father and God? There were many more in other languages but he had no time to try to translate although he noticed that Mohammed and Allah were also prominent.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLhz2D15QYJ

Had the humans changed the god’s names? Still worshiped the Aesir but their names had changed through the ages. Then understanding flashed like a bulb. No, he remembered now. There had been talk of a human the Aesir called Jesus or Christ. No. He frowned in thought. The white Christ or the human god. The one God. That’s it. The Aesir mocked this new god by calling him the One God and sometimes the white Christ. Well as far as he could remember, the one God got himself strung up on a wooden scaffolding for his pains. So much for that. Yet they still worshiped him, a human. How odd. He cocked his head as a shout of ecstasy reverberated through the ether. Following the ethereal trace of that otherworldly shout, he realized that its origins were close.  Very close. The air shimmered and an eagle took flight. A young father walking passed the spot held his wide-eyed son who seemed to be staring off into nothing with a wondrous smile on his face. Perhaps he had seen something, and then again, to small children, anything and everything is worth special attention.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyB0RNJFq9m

Blood spattered the teenager’s face. It ran into his eyes, mouth and down his forehead to pool in his ears. His neck and bare chest, was coated in red congealing blood. Blinking his eyes, he ignored the slight stinging sensation as a droplet of blood entered the corner of his right eye. He ignored the droning black cloaked and hooded individual standing beside him. He hardly noticed as the hooded figure shook the last drops of blood from the dead black cat he had moments before slaughtered. His whole attention was on the naked teenaged and blood drenched girl who was riding his rampant penis. His attention was on the girl so he missed the chanted sing-song words. This was his first sexual encounter and he felt indescribable feelings building up inside himself. He couldn’t believe how tightly his penis fit inside the girl’s vagina. He bucked his body to try to get deeper…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMLmlOZmTPl

“Jason. Jason. You’re not listening.” Loki said, bending and slapping the boy’s face. “Listen, for fuck-sakes.” He slapped Jason one more time. “Are you listening?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDoWDfKmVav

“Yes. Yes. I’m listening. Im trying to…” Jason couldn’t stop his bucking, rearing hips if he wanted to. “Hurry. Im…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiRql5RjgMk

“Do you, Jason Fier, take the lord Satan as your protector and master?” the figure chanted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlz5IVTHhNx

“Jason Fier will you…Fuck. Will you listen?” Loki slapped Jason again. “Im not going to go through this again you prick. Take note of what Im saying or…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVpmlKrd4IZ

The loud groan of ecstasy coming from Jason’s open mouth, the wide straining eyes and neck muscles, disgusted the hooded figure.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡo4yuMtntLb

“Asshole! You were supposed to wait and…” the young girl screamed as her body convulsed with pleasure.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1oBXYF8i5f

“You both make me sick,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “Im trying to build a coven here and all you two can do is fuck things up.” He turned from the two flushed faces lying side by side on a throw-rug.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO1EbmpCAtl

“And I don’t give a …”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2PsrYPEAAk

Loki turned around and glared at the two cuddling on the rug. Their attention was anywhere but on him. The small wooded area they were in was off to one side of his father’s plot of land and was safe from intrusion. Any person approaching would have to walk over well-tended lawns and would have been seen long before they arrived.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZv1M3GyftC

“Im waiting.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxvvQczvigL

“What?” Jason was baffled and confused. The hair on his arms stood erect. His heart beat faster. The voice came from the sky.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ76oCWAbsTr

“Who is this lord Satan you were worshipping?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdLJO6tohRy

“Who? Hes the devil. Satan. Who are you? Where are you?” he stared at the clouds as fear churned inside his stomach.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2zIijECJ8b

“Possibly. That is something I wish to determine. Who is this Satan? Tell me about him.” copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFIbo0v2Cfb

Jason was afraid and swallowed hard. “He is the devil.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡORr5Tkjvo0

Lokie looked towards Jason and his sister who were at it again as if nothing was happening although he was only meters from them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1UUjaDHULn

“Do not be afraid. You will come to no harm as long as you answer my questions. Those two are under a spell. They cannot see or hear us. Now answer the question; who is this Satan?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwr5HP6dSJs

“He is the fallen angel. The rightful god.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3xkvCdPWJd

“So Satan and the devil are one and the same? He is a god? Where does he rule?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXK8S3iwLdh

“Why can’t I see you? Who are you?” He tried to swallow but his throat was so dry that it was impossible. He needed to urinate desperately.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9JIfqxlEq4

“God? Another one? Who is this God?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO6pxlQ5Guv

“Jesus. Christ. God. The father, Son and Holy Ghost? Surely you must have heard of them?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLAZn1YCFNO

“This is getting more complicated by the second. Five, six gods and a ghost? Explain them to me.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2PY90Zktxh

“You got it wrong. Is it possible you could let me see you? It’s kind of weird talking to thin air?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9mnyTIpZpT

“Yes well. God kicked my master Lucifer out of heaven…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0c6Ym6XHzv

“No. Wait. Just listen, ok? Lucifer is Satan and the devil. Three names but the same being. He has other names like the Antichrist or the Foeman or Beelzebub or the Prince of Darkness.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAfG4JfzcrK

“I understand now. And this other god? This Jesus?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtrXzpjGn0f

“That’s easy.” He was still afraid but calm enveloped him the more he spoke to the invisible voice. “God owns heaven right? He is, or says he is the only God. Satan or Lucifer was His number one Arch-Angel until God got jealous and threw him out with all the other dissenting angels.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSZYKmgvsXf

“Complicated, but interesting. So, the god Satan was thrown out of this place called heaven? Where did he go?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXxuEBeUbrl

“To hell. God tricked him and sent him to hell.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWVNTvddbAe

“Hel? I do not think so. She would have said something to me if it were so.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqtdpdAFI2D

“She? You know someone in hell?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY0atFMIzYa

“She is Hel. She is the goddess of the underworld Niflhel*. She governs and holds sway there.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVU5IOAV1Lw

Jason shook his head, “Look Loki, I don’t know from what planet you come from but I can assure you that Satan rules over Hell.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfcZtBd4hW7

“I come from Asgard human, and you are mistaken. Hel would never allow a weakling god rule over her. She would eat him alive and spit his bones out so that Fenrir had something else to chew on other than that sword.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUU85oNR6nQ

“Irrelevant. And this Jesus? The other god? What of him?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtRUtkwHpND

“It’s easy to understand. God rules in heaven. He is the creator of heaven and earth. His son is Jesus. His spirit is called the Holy Ghost. Three in one. The father, Son and Holy Ghost.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwIyEOWrG3P

“So you admit that this God is the rightful ruler of this heaven? That he created the earth? Where is this earth?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwk7hG9RD6s

“What do you mean where is earth?” Jason asked, surprised. “This is earth.” He opened his arms wide and turned on his heels. “This is earth.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlAjf3ELK3z

“Somewhere along the line human, your people have lost the true facts. This world you call earth is Midgard. I have never heard of Satan or Lucifer. He is not of the Aesir and if he was he would have been a minor god and never been allowed to cross the Rainbow Bridge.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoAhWe6TGMX

“You lost me again. Rainbow Bridge? What Rainbow Bridge?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡviiDAYMsCT

“Be still human. I need time to think.” copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUXtecxTXhX

Loki regarded the young human with interest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxFxPCLVvsH

Could it be that humans venerated the Aesir by different names? This “Satan” thrown out of heaven? Heaven or possibly Asgard? Satan or should the name be Loki? They describe Hel as a place, when in reality it was his daughter’s name. And Jesus? Wasn’t he the one that died on the wooded upright with nails hammered into his wrists and feet? Could this be Thor or Baldur? And then this One Gods so called angels…Valkyrie? The similarities could be mere supposition.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtX0LBBKo3m

And the young human himself?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhYjKdwh6uz

How was it possible for this boy to hear him? He had taken a chance by speaking to him, not knowing whether he would be heard or not. But the boy heard him. Was able to speak to him. According to one of Odin’s laws governing Midgard; no Aesir god could speak to, help, interfere with or be involved with any human unless specifically asked to do so by name. Another law entitled any god to be worshipped. The more worshipping followers the stronger that god’s magic on Midgard. The reasoning for this was that the gods could make war on each other using the humans as pawns, thus allowing the Valkyrie to harvest the souls of the worthy few.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ31fAQRmLnO

It had been great sport and Loki had himself involved a few times pitting one god against the other. It was more fun working behind the scenes to out-play those pompous Aesir braggarts than to build an army destined for doom and be roped into being Einherjar in the end. No. It was better to play the field and cause mayhem and anarchy than to play by the rules. Loki had given Odin and Thor a few problems. In fact, they had called on him to help sort out one or two of those imposed problems.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsRLtCn4nL8

Now it was time to show them that he could once again out-think and outwit them. Now was the time to take revenge for five thousand years of pain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJ263Njz5p3

He trembled. It had been a while since his body had betrayed him and hopefully it was finished. He breathed deeply and stared at the puny figure. There weren’t different gods; they were the same gods with different names. Fact had, over time, become myth and myth had become truth. The probability that he alone had discovered a basic fundamental fault, a weakness in Odins creation and plans for Midgard, made him heady with excitement. Logic implied that HE Loki, was the god Satan, but logic dictated that he find out more about human belief.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFt5U3VMpGa

He knew that their capability for war and destruction. He was going to use this capability to punish the Aesir for all time. There was one more test, one more experiment before he formulated his campaign. He penetrated the human’s psyche and was pleasantly surprised that there were no barriers. These humans had become soft. He slipped in with ease and listened in on the boy’s thoughts, got bored and delved deeper.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡd91ZDEmI18

“Tell me human,” he said. “What does this god Satan look like?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQLaXOYgn3G

“He is big. Huge. The stories I’ve read and the pictures I’ve seen describe him as being able to change into any living creature. Anything from human to animal. Why?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrJ9wDdsqD8

Loki thought about what Jason said and it corroborated what he believed. “Look at me boy.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBQiCQVhdDj

A towering, bare-chested man materialized. Jason barked with fear and took a step backwards, tripped and fell. His teeth clicked together and he bit his tongue. Climbing to his knees, he bowed his head in abject fear. “Lord. Master. Are you Satan?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlu4wrSuHgy

Loki stepped forward and helped him to his feet. “No need to fear me young Timothy Toa, for you have not failed me. Fail, and you will certainly have reason to fear. And yes. I AM SATAN. I AM LUCIFER. But you can call me Loki.” copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoIhyfVLHlp

The Office of the President of the United Confederate of Nations.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeJ6wilr43M

President Ahmed Daniel Sayed, was a worried man.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNjPZy1DFIY

The narrow, ice blue eyes. The frown. The back and forth pacing and impatience with those around him were symptoms. He was a man of small stature.  His iron-grey hair had receded with a speed that was extremely depressing. He turned to his Senior Advisor. “What have you deduced from that infernal message?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3WIas0wU5z

“Mr. President, at this moment in time we have nothing more to add. We are still trying to determine how to open the capsule without destroying the message,” said his Senior advisor. A reed thin man whose grey suit needed ironing. It hung on him like an empty sack of potatoes. He wiped his wet, shiny head with a sopping handkerchief.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGytqhuJ7AS

Sayed stare out the office window of The New White House.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡioc7oL91qR

With hands held stiffly behind his back Sayed turned and faced the number one man he trusted the most. “We need this, Blondie.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZuOIFhJcbO

“True enough, Mr. President. With the polls as they are at the moment, we are down by another percentage and a half.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLSmfiEJ2Mk

“Damn that Chinese liberal prick,” Sayed’s blue eyes spat fire. He rubbed a hand through his hair and turned to stare out the large window once again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡV4I7c6Tl8k

“Polls nearly every fortnight and the world crowing in delight as I drop out of favor half a percent at a time. I’ll be known as the only president to have a fucking boring term. All seven fucking years of it. Maybe Ch’ing Tao was right, maybe I should get the KGB and the CIA to meddle in a Second World country like Australia or Iceland and create instability to declare war on them.” He punched the wall beside the window and swore through the pain. “And that damned Chinese liberal free-thinking prick - we should declare all liberals dangerous and shoot the lot. There’s enough fucking food, prices are down across the board. Enough housing, more than enough jobs to go around now that the that last batch of Planetariums are gone,. One of the only things in short supply at this fucking moment are human beings for fuck sakes. And, to top it all, that Chinese fucker wants my job. FUCK.” He turned to face Blondie standing patiently and waiting. “Tell me what you’ve found out concerning this capsule, Blondie. I need cheering up. Three months, Blondie. Three fucking months is all I have. This capsule could be the answer to our prayers.” He walked around his large desk and slumped dejectedly into the padded chair.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡd8P1QujzGu

“Nothing much to tell, Mr. President. We do know that whomever sent it is human and can write English. It’s made from an unknown metal. Extremely dense and impenetrable. Weighs three hundred kilograms and has the shape of a large grey egg. A seamless large grey egg at that. Were it not for the engraving of what we believe to be a bird and those two words impressed on its side, we would not have known what we had found. Of course, it does help that a radio signal is being transmitted from inside the thing. That’s how we found it in the first place.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡosnKHGprIb

“Do you know what’s inside? Is it hollow?” Sayed asked. “Is it human or alien?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLDguLsBEOJ

Blondie shook his head. “Definitely human. The engraving and the words confirm it. Those two words have every scientist in a tizzy. We were about to start x-raying the thing Mr. President, when you sent word that you required my presence.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY1RO3IimhZ

“Oh, cut out that stiff upper lip crap, Blondie, we’re friends you arsehole. What’s eating you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRFseq9UPBD

“It’s these interruptions, Say’. Every few hours you ask the same questions. It’s disturbing enough to sit with an unknown object when we all know there are no aliens, except for that crap about a woman on a flying horse a year and a half ago.” He chuckled in derision. “No aliens but quite a few billions of humans out there and with all probability, this egg may have come from one of the Planetarium groups we sent out in the past. It’s exciting stuff Mike and ...” his eyes glowed with excitement.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1nhhR2KsHy

“What? Did you have a brainwave? Did you figure out how to open the thing?” Sayedcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcGz3uCLNZ3

“Can you remember the first batch of Planetariums we sent out? They called themselves the Phoenix. The Phoenix, Mike. The goddamned Phoenix!” He was out the door and running. A surprised and bemused president strolled serenely after him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMQJe49oZZZ

Sayed entered the crowded laboratory.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡD1mUidW3GE

Scientists, who stood with their backs towards the thick safety glass, excitedly made room for him. They watched a large vid screen that showed the not so alien egg being x-rayed by a robot. Within seconds a smaller computer screen scrolled the information taken from the first scan. Behind them, the robot started another scan of the egg on a strengthened porcelain workbench. This time the x-rays went a millimetre deeper into the metal.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBSkaWPNICM

“Gold-3%, Titanium-12%, what’s this...? Carbon? Impossible. Carbon-2%. Look at this. Argon-2%, how the hell can an inert gas be...? You know what I think?” said the scientist scrolling down the list of elements the metal egg contained. “I think somebody should go back to the drawing board and take the periodic table with him. This is all screwed up. Element unknown-7%, Element unknown-1%. Element unknown-4%. Possible graphite compositionrequires more detail-8%, Graphite is not an element for crap sakes. What the hell is it doing mixed up with this bunch?” The scientist stood up from his chair. “Jason, you take over. See if you can make sense out of this.” The man turned to the safety glass and watched as the robot did another pass with the x-ray wand.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLoCvDHF1HE

Doctor Alfred Hickman always wanted to be an inventor. He remembered going on a school outing to a museum and seeing the antique man-made inventions, and the not so antique inventions. His appetite soon changed from inventions to their inner workings and then, to his parents surprise and joy, he wanted to know what everything around him consisted of. He studied, and the many years of cramming information into his head delivered results. His hero was Alfred Einstein and, until now, he had no reason to doubt him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0kGneZBb2i

Hickman pondered the egg through the safety glass. “That thing is redefining everything we know to be scientific fact. What the hell! Stop that robot! The egg’s opening!” he shoved scientists willy-nilly out of his way.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQDabN70BQC

Somebody pushed the emergency button and the robot came to a sudden stop. Everybody rushed around the safety glass and gawked at the egg.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnC107EHMGo

Near the wider part, a small, square section the size of a thumbnail slid open and he heard a humming sound. Another section, equal to the first and about six inches from it, slid open. The humming increased in pitch and the egg suddenly rotated so that the two openings were on the underside. Another square aperture slid open. Then another and the egg rotated 90˚ and then stopped as one at a time, two more apertures slid open. It rotated another 90˚ until the new openings were beneath it. Then the next two opened. The gaping scientists watched in wonder as the small square openings meticulously cut the egg in half. The humming faded. The egg split into two and revealed a silver, shiny metallic object that looked like an upended saucer the size of a dinner plate.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrHJ74X6G99

“It’s metallic, that’s for sure,” another said. “Look, it’s changing colour. It’s...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNyIPyQugCa

The saucer suddenly leaped into the air and came to rest near the farthest corner of the ceiling. Its silvery sheen changed to the same colour as its surroundings.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡE3SnbWliDv

“Damn thing’s as skittish as a virgin.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrBveKGO0RZ

“That, my noble colleagues,” Hickman said, “is what we are going to find out as soon as we can catch it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa2m2qyZMQC

THIS IS A RECORDED MESSAGEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhidNwYtkYl

THIS IS A RECORDED MESSAGEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡk60SWv0Bvo

THIS IS A RECORDED MESSAGEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUFqhIRPIDF

“Doesn’t sound like a reco...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡx9By2x339y

“Is it hovering? How come I don’t...?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr4eRlWJaFn

“Shut up man. Let’s hear ...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQ0iOz1j6e9

“THE LOT OF YOU, KEEP QUIET.” Thundered Sayedcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCMjdklLnoV

THIS MESSAGE IS A RECORDING AND THE BEARER WILL SELF TERMINATE WITHIN SIXTY SECONDS SHOULD THE QUESTION NOT BE ANSWEREDcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOmN7bm9utn

WHAT DOES THE SYMBOL ON THE OUTSIDE OF THIS CAPSULE INDICATE?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTvcGCn3LSw

BE ADVISED THAT THE EXPLOSIVE ARMAMENT WILL DETONATE AS A SINGLE COMPONENT, THUS DESTROYING AN AREA THE EQUIVALENT TO ONE CLICK RADIUScopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiXELAJkiC3

“Another assassination attempt.” shouted Sayed and dashed out of the laboratory.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGS6kDG4YYG

YOU ARE ADVISED THAT THE FALLOUT HAS BEEN DESIGNED FOR MAXIMUM EXPANSION AND DRIFTAGEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6qZcKDTOBS

“It’s a fucking atom bomb.” somebody shouted and promptly fainted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiPRY0uYwsH

“Oh, for goodness sakes.” said Blondie. “It’s the Phoenix.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxcvfxB9yiu

“The Phoenix. Do you hear you metallic alien piece of shit? PHOENIX. PHOENIX.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfuRn7DgoiX

DETONATION SEQUENCE HAS BEEN CANCELLEDcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKKg35QnWne

ANY ATTEMPT TO HARM THIS POLROB SHALL RESULT IN INSTANTANEOUS DETONATIONcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeDI61QJhf2

“How did you know it was the Phoenix?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡewTojZ5Hfl

“Is that thing for real?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnZ5D3bur7R

A scientist stepped forward to inspect the egg that hatched a hovering explosive device.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFmvoswecOt

YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF TAMPERING WITH GOVERNMENT PROPERTYcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSpnY3r9xSg

The scientist blanched and back peddled.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpyCUW5raif

“Is that thing a robot? A flying robotic bomb that can predict...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡExiFHKZPh2

“SHUT UP. ALL OF YOU.” Hickman said. “Are you scientists or a bunch of children?” He glared about him. “And you...” he stepped forward and addressed the saucer with a pointed finger. “Who? What are you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdarB8v3h2V

ARE YOU THE MEMBER IN CHARGE OF THESE HUMANS?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4e6nTN7TDp

“What is a Polrob? And yes, I am senior to these men. Except for that gentleman there.” At no stage did he feel ridiculous talking to a miniature flying saucer. “He is our senior.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVRzntHSwZV

The saucer dropped from its position close to the ceiling and came to rest a few meters from Blondie.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsxnVIKlZzV

ARE YOU THE EMPEROR OF THIS PLANET?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyDaF14t8Y7

“Emperor? No. We have a World President. Not an Emperor. Why?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyUY7hrPaYO

THIS WORLD PRESIDENT IS THE EQUIVALENT TO AN EMPEROR?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5qmtm4eI4N

“More than that. An emperor is the sovereign ruler of his nation, like a king or a queen, while the world’s President is the sovereign ruler of every country, nation and tribe, I should think that he is higher up the totem pole.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡECrPhsTLBR

ARE YOU THIS PLANET’S PRESIDENT?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVkIhN4m1Nq

HUMAN. YOUR FIRST STATEMENT WAS ERRONEOUS THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOURS EXCEPT FOR A LACK OF KNOWLEDGE. YOUR SECOND STATEMENT IS, ACCORDING TO YOUR HEART RATE, BREATHING AND PERSPIRATION, FALSE. THIS FALSEHOOD IS CONFIRMED BY SUDDEN PUPIL DILATION AND CONTRACTION INCLUSIVE OF THE SPURT OF PHEROMONES RELEASEDcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2YvOPMR8T5

YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF OBSTRUCTING AN OFFICER OF THE LAW FROM COMMENCING WITH ITS DUTYcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqOp85ddsf0

THIS CRIME IS PUNISHABLE BY 10 YEARS IMPRISONMENT, BUT AS THIS IS NOT THE EMPIRE, THE VERDICT SHALL BE DEATHcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS5rVmIg6Sm

“Do you mean to harm Sayed in any way?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUjnX5WJ2g5

I AM INSTRUCTED TO DELIVER A MESSAGE AND THEN TO PROVIDE PROTECTION.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjf7iHg9JJ5

“I am not Sayed. I am his advisor. You realize that I cannot allow an unknown entity to approach our leader.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5aKdtsuCcd

IT HAS BEEN NOTED IN MY...copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHr9qJqfZq7

“Commuted? What the hell do you mean?”  copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuvhfJKIdnU

...INSTRUCTIONS THAT THERE MAY BE...copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr5UpSEOiWl

“...by commuted you tin canned piece of crap?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8EMh5wHlv8

...DIFFICULTY IN CONVINCING CERTAIN MEMBERS OR FACTIONScopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡs0DJgnuYAR

I AM INSTRUCTED TO ANALYSE AND EVALUATE ALL STATEMENTS GIVEN  TO DETERMINE THE DANGER TO THE PRESIDENT/EMPEROR’S WELLBEINGcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS1WNrPrg8o

“There is no danger, you stupid piece of misbegotten scrap metal.” Blondie became extremely angry as he glared at the hovering Polrob.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBg3ox9Ufuq

THERE IS ALWAYS A CLEAR AND RELEVANT DANGERcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2y1ZlsONJW

“Well not now, you miscreant. This is the White House. Only those that have the relevant security clearances may enter this building. Enter it and work here and few of those have the clearance to even be in this section. You don’t have any clearance what-so-ever. And until you do, you will not get anywhere close to the president. Now then, what’s this crap about a sentence commutation?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡckcfIKpD0T

BY YOUR MANNER AND BODY LANGUAGE, I DETERMINE THAT YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH AS YOU BELIEVE ITcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3nQupwbOHR

THEREFORE, I CONCEDE THE VALIDITY OF YOUR STATEMENTS AND ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE PROTECTING THE PRESIDENT/EMPERORcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOJpPILiwy1

YOU ARE FREE TO GO CITIZENcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjLO9geFr2m

“Piece of flying scrap metal. You belong on scrap heap and if you don’t watch it, Im going to kick your metal butt all the way there. Now, answer the  question you piece of shit.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZONluOqUe8

I AM AN OFFICER OF THE LAWcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkxU9GanmCq

I AM JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONERcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbWOZhiOId2

TO DELIVER THE MESSAGE AND TO PROTECT THE PRESIDENT/EMPERORcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlsFVemcaqO

I HAVE BEEN SPECIFICALY CREATED AND DESIGNED FOR THIS MISSION TO OLD EARTH. I WOULD SEEK TO COMPLETE MY MISSIONcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5W9HyDBsWc

“Answer the question or you go nowhere but to the scrap heap”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzhFecTBo31

STICKS AND STONES WILL BREAK MY BONEScopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdMXoZEIm4S

“I swear that flying contraption has a sense of humour?” said a scientist.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGp2lDffeEi

I SEEK TO COMPLETE MY MISSIONcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgR5eg5SYrX

“I need to think first. There are too many variables to consider.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRt8FE02tuS

I SEEK TO COMPLETE MY MISSIONcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeahgvVwLaa

“And what mission will this be?” a voice asked from the doorway.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡv89DOOERi8

“Mr. President. You should not be here.” Said Blondie stepping in front of the man he had sworn to serve.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJwi1NOWjz6

It darted out the doorway and came to a halt a few meters from the man who stood there. Surprised eyes widened as they took note of the hovering saucer.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGfdQT1ExSX

YOU ARE THE SAME HUMAN...copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH50fBNspNc

“It came out of the egg.” Blondie said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuusIklJZTC

...THAT LEFT EARLIER. ARE YOU THE PRESIDENT/EMPEROR?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWzeqySHlsi

“Just go with the flow, Sir. I believe it to be safe. If Im wrong, I don’t believe we can do much.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI9nJpYwRok

“Im not sure I understand Blondie. What is that thing?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3SPwB9Rk9L

“I am,” said Sayed. “And you are?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwXHUG6TdXh

I AM A LAW OFFICER FROM THE GALACTIC EMPIREcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa3NugjnkwB

I AM JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONERcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡR3yyXfERtC

I HAVE A MESSAGE TO DELIVER. YOU ARE THE RIGHTFUL RULER OF THIS WORLD; THEREFORE, I FALL UNDER YOUR GUIDANCEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdHlMgj1Vau

To the surprise of all, the saucer approached Sayed and hovered close to his waist. It had – as a dog would lie on its back and offer the weakest part of its body in abject surrender to its superior – acquired its lord and master. Sayed looked at Blondie in astonishment then turned to the silently hovering saucer. A hand lifted to touch and stroke the white coloured metal. A section of the saucer closer to his suite turned black.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTzF81UEMwu

“Mr. President?” Blondie said. “I think maybe...” he nodded with a chin down the hall.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5KbqwsJynU

“Yes. You are right. Gentlemen,” he said to the gawping scientists. “Continue with whatever you were doing. Polrob is it? Follow me if you will.” Sayed walked down the passageway. Every now and again turning to stare at the Polrob hovering close to the ceiling. Secret Service personnel, secretaries, and military personnel stepped to one side and gawked as they passed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2Udy5Quqyo

“Now then,” Sayed said, seated behind his desk. Excitement coursed through him. “Tell me what this is all about.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmsY2BZWfMt

The Polrob floated towards the desk and alighted in its centre on four thin, but sturdy legs. From its centre, four triangular shapes lifted and a thin, flickering blue light was emitted. Within the light that ascended to approximately half a meter, stood a half dressed, muscular individual bearing a sword.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJReViKn1iK

“Bloody hell Blondie, will you look at that. A hologram. This will supply our chaps with much needed information. The  idiotic inventions they have give me headaches.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVlF9UK0pbz

“Good day to you.” A voice emanated from the Polrob.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOx1MzCLwSy

The miniature figure bowed low. “Please forgive this manner of our approach. We had no other discernable way in which to make contact with you. Our knowledge of Old Earth is scant and almost nonexistent.” The voice stopped as if to draw breath. “My name is Pinkton Hollard, senior member of the governing body of the Galactic Empire, Overlord. Before I continue, you may call a halt to my message at any time. The instructions are basic. Halt, play, rewind, fast-forward or stop where stop being the instruction for the Polrob to cease transmitting altogether.” The half-dressed individual bowed low once more.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0BqexIZVJi

“Halt.” cried Sayed. The picture froze.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFFDlPy5PXg

“What do you think, Blondie?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpLNqxn3jTV

“Remarkable Say’. I do believe we have made contact with the Phoenix Planetarium group that disappeared over four thousand years ago. It happened so long ago that they have become myth. That’s 4000 years our time come to think of it. All Planetariums have speed of light drives and whether they used them to their fullest capacity is a question we need answers to. Yes, I think it’s a logical assumption that much has changed for them and us in that time period.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSTwi8407ZK

“And this Pinkton Hollard? What of him?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqFq40gC55z

“Too soon Say’, although I would like to know more of this Galactic Empire. It does not bode well. That is my first impression. Then there was something about an Overlord. It makes me believe that they may have degenerated into a Feudal System with Lords and Dukes or whatever. Let’s listen more.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmulaVTxYdr

“We, in the government, have become disillusioned. We wish for progress and expansion in all fields. For years we have been stuck in this rut of stagnation with life proceeding at a crawlspace. We wish for a civilized, respectable government. A legally elected Emperor, one elected through honest and fair elections, not an idiot off the streets that lords it over well-learned colleagues, institutions and the populace in general. We realize that by contacting you, I have included myself and my colleagues in treason towards my Emperor and Empire. For countless years our predecessors have been working towards this moment, the moment when we can make contact again with our Mother Earth. What follows are directions to our Solar...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa19A5aQIgW

“Halt.” shouted Sayed. He was up and gleefully dancing a jig. “We have done it Blondie. We have secured another term. That Chinese liberal prick can kiss his aspirations goodbye. We can milk this Blondie, for at least two terms. That’s fourteen years.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiCrDMnxklK

Blondie grinned as his friend made a complete and un-presidential ass of himself.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLfQ7FfBaEc

“There’s a problem. One or two in fact,” he said as he watched Sayed shadow box against a wall.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFOeOpkYg2e

“Nothing you can say will stop me Blondie. Every Planetarium sent out has strict instructions to notify us if ever or whenever they find that Phoenix bunch. Hah. Who would have thought that they would contact us? Get the press on this Blondie, as soon as possible. Get the Navy serviced and overhauled. We are going on an expedition my friend. We are going to bring law to this Galactic Empire. Hotdog. Just thinking of it gives me a hard on.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdlREYE1wYn

“Not yet Say’. Not yet. This is too big. Bigger than you, the whole planet, or me. We play this right and the world’s our oyster, literally. There are a number of items we have to hash out first,” he said in a stern voice.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgKC7Rimst1

“Whatever Blondie. Sort it out. I thought you were going to piss on me again.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡF8QUXgeWwh

Blondie laughed. “Pissing on you, as you so eloquently put it, is my job Say’. That is why you hired me in the first place. It’s in my job description.” He laughed again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbJD2oBGq8E

“And you have no hesitation in sending the Navy to find this Galactic Empire?” asked Sayed suspiciously.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNopqwgJTJd

“No. In fact, I would be  worried if you had decided not to go and - how did you put it? - bring law to this Empire? But first Say’, we have to get the boys to study this hologram. There’s a hell of a lot of information there.” He watched as Sayed fell into his padded chair and tap a jovial tune with his fingers on the table.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVomLjj1ygy

“Did you notice Say’ how this,” he pointed to the frozen, blue tinted figure in the flickering light. “…This Hollard character always includes his ‘colleagues’? I believe we have not only a traitor here Say’, but Im tempted strongly to suggest...a coward. I may be wrong but that’s my opinion. And then there’s that statement...wait, let’s rewind this thing...Rewind.” a few seconds passed as the figure within the blue tinted hologram silently ‘danced’ about. “Halt….Play….”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPrhstF496c

“...Government. An appropriately elected Emperor, one elected through honest and fair elections, not an idiot off the streets that lords it over well learned colleagues, institutions and the populace in general. We realise...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOTBdk8u41d

“Halt! You get that Say’? An idiot off the streets that lords it over them. What does that mean? Sounds to me as if any bugger can become Emperor on that planet of theirs.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhXCDIVXKtd

“True. Hang on. I  have an idea.” He stretched a hand and punched a button on his desk top.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡijFAM8gRim

“Mr. President,  Sir?” came a female voice.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ46gGkBOOFQ

“Joan, bring me the file for The Phoenix Planetariums. Thank you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2WNEAwAyh4

“The Phoenix?  It may take time, Sir,” she said. “Not all of the Planetarium missions were added to data. I will see what I can do, sir.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMAorabzr2R

“Thank you, Joan. Then send along a number cruncher with that file. Somebody owes me money and I aim to collect. With interest.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO7Y4NiFC7k

High King Odin’s Hall copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa8DsqrkeQK

Rambling solid blue granite dwellings,  hewn from blocks of granite, wood and silver, blended in with nature. Green lawns stretched between houses and business areas, and, , after careful planning and planting, became part of the exterior of a house itself. Travel was by horse or cart. Children ran about playing their games. Loud laughter. The odd cry of pain from a scuffed knee. Birds of every kind roosted in the trees close to passersby carrying packets of feed. Peace. From all over the realm they came to Asgard to do business or visit family and friends.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnUbBXmEkcj

That changed within moments as shouts of alarm echoed back and forth across the vast city. Well-heeled boots stomped over gardens and flowerbeds. Dust settled on clothing hung up to dry. Wash lines, picket fences and small trees came crashing down to be trodden on and pulverized by hundreds, then thousands and ultimately, millions of shod boots as the huge military might converged on Valhalla, the centre of Asgard.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOmsrPST96J

The once beautiful and calm surroundings became a shambles as mothers grabbed their daughters and ran for safer ground. On command, the platoons came to a shuddering halt. The sound of metal swords and locked spears echoed through the clinging dust.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUp4Sohtdyi

Mothers hushed and hid their children, grabbed their own swords to protect hide and home.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjWcvyaScu4

Calm descended. , Sweaty, eager, silent warriors, covered every road and alley well beyond the great wall. Death was but a spark away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvirXKgQDqW

“YOU WILL NOT SPEAK TO ME IN THAT TONE WOMAN. FOR YOU WILL COME TO REGRET IT.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZhecNNmF0R

Odin glared out of one eye at the woman’s temerity. He sat on a winged and solid gold throne. Nine golden steps led down to the silver tiled floor. He used this sparsely furnished hall to survey and assess his creations. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJvaatUrkxR

She ignored his ouburst, “I will speak to you any way I wish. And not only will you take it but you will also accept it”  Freya said without raising her voice. Outwardly, she was calm but her armour shone brighter and brighter as, she seethed with anger.  Odin squinted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgVcCnqn68l

“Through your inept bungling and incompetence we are standing on the verge of Ragnarök.” She hissed and made an about turn. Her armour lost its bright glare. A grim smile spread across her face. “Or, my King, would it be wiser to call a meeting with the counsel  if you seek vindication of the forty thousand or so charges charges I plan to lay before them.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡp7CEkqrG5r

“Heaven help me woman. I have no idea what you are talking about. What charges? What in hell’s name are you on about?” He rubbed his forehead to get rid of a sudden headache. Dressed in a one-piece white toga, one would not think him to be the most powerful god in the Aesir worlds. He was a scrawny man with wavy, unkempt, long black hair, black eyebrows above solid black eyes. Nor was he  handsome.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyPXI0rDrLa

Freya stood before his throne, arms folded, tapping a foot on the tiled floor.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡj26wEtW1z5

Odin stared at her and waited.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxMkuvlW8MI

“Im warning you for the last time Freya, keep a civil tongue about you. What about Midgard?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡENrRN4ocaD

“The time discrepancy between Midgard and the rest of the Aesir worlds? Do not tell me it slipped your mind because I know you  have not forgotten. You  conveniently neglected to warn us about it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIHp3bUo83b

“Time discrepancy? What’s wrong with the time discrepancy woman? How else are we supposed to get enough Einherjar if their measurement of time were the same as the rest of the Aesir worlds?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQmhBLU0Dtr

“It affects us in many ways. Ways you and the other High Kings* must have known about.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ58exZ2CofM

“Oh, don’t start that again, it’s most annoying.” He said with a wave of a hand. “One cannot have an omelet without broken eggs, now can one?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBELTfxNfah

“Listen to me, you stuck up idiot. You…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGgpVNpXpOc

“ENOUGH.” His voice thundered down the hallway. Lightning flashed in the huge hall. The silver ceiling crackled with electricity. “HOLD THY TONGUE WOMAN.” Magic blazed in waves about him. He was covered from head to toe in silver, from a breastplate protected chest to Sabatons* and greaves that protected his feet and shins, shoulders, forearms, hands and knees. In his right hand he held Gungnir*. He squinted his one eye at the radiating, scorching light emanating from Freyas armour. Six of her Queens Own surrounded her and stood ready to attack him at a moment’s notice.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbQaFhbkDA8

“You dare to come and teach me the ways of creation!” he said. “Have you become a High King since last we spoke in this  hall? You, who require bodyguards to attack me. Do not step above your station woman. You may be the goddess of love but at this moment in time I have  little of that for you. Now, before you compound your mistake. A mistake that would cause your banishment from the Aesir worlds until you die, what in the name of Hades are you talking about?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3cMO51lThw

“FIFTY THOUSAND DEAD VALKYRIE.” she ignored the long black spear pointed at her heart. “FIFTY THOUSAND WARRIORS, CHILDREN AND SLAVES HAVE DIED IN TWENTY DAYS,”  she said in harsh bellowing sounds. “YOU…”  she pointed her sword at him. A wave of calm washed over her. “You and your brothers killed them and all it took was twenty days to wipe out a clan.” She hissed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaYNATA0R0O

“And how,” Odin sat down on his throne. His magic, the visible part, dampened and disappeared. The butt of Gungnir clanged against the solid gold floor as he grounded it. “How was I supposed to have accomplished this without lifting a finger? And would you please stop that infernal glow. It’s distracting.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4cEeRWpcz0

“The discrepancy of time. One day is as one thousand years. One day on eight Aesir worlds Odin, one day is equivalent to one thousand years on Midgard. You knew this, you and your brothers, High Kings all, and yet you send one of the best fighting clans we have to Midgard without so much as a warning. Why?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkDc7si9Nbq

“And this gives you the right to threaten me, to bring soldiers into my hall to intimidate me?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkmo7XiIXaI

“It does, and by the way,” her armour stopped glowing. “Are you intimidated?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLeVqsMmSYW

“No. Not really. Although, they do seem particularly unafraid of me.” Odin sat forward and glared at the Queens-Own. “Why is that?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSjz5q1ozPA

“Inventive. Are they any good?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJC5E3yqpqp

“Would you like to test them out? You may as soon as we settle this matter of genocide for which you have to answer.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmjIWp8YNIN

“Now see how two people can discuss a problem without reverting to war. You stepped over the line daughter. Next time may be your last. Be warned.” He glared at the Queens-Own. “Only six? That won’t be enough and you know it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnIYk6geOg5

“Oh, Im sure they will give you a sweat and if you look outside you will see another three million. These are the best of the best. I must add that it’s difficult to choose between them all. I picked the first six. So you can take it from there and read between the lines.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFZILDLj4bK

Rank upon rank of similarly clad warriors surrounded his palace, the wooded areas and the large capital city of Asgard ringed by the huge wall the Jötnar mason had built *. The city came to a complete standstill as three million warriors took up their positions.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfELeZSudGK

“I dare. A clan of fifty thousand souls has allowed me permission. Behind them, if you will care to notice, is my Einherjar.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡilK17nMrrX

Odin’s other eyebrow lifted as millions of ranked soldiers waited for the order to attack. “That’s quite a few Einherjar. You do realize, of course, that the council is going to be peeved at the destruction you have created. It’s going to take quite a lot of magic to repair and they are going to claim expenses.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcVvg7ZJsr0

Freya said, “That’s not my problem, and guaranteed if Im not satisfied with your explanation, the council can go hang itself. Oh, and by last calculation, we both have 776 million Einherjar and some change. My Queens-Own are worth any ten Einherjar as it is.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvHFgVF8pSO

“That good? I should get myself some. Where do I start looking?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡabaUdiiZJJ

“After you and I come to terms with the genocide of clan Amazon. Stop changing the subject and explain.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXVFsbMsVeT

“Explain? Explain? You order your High King to explain his methods?” he thrummed his fingers on the throne's armrest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWJBC0wh8Wa

“I thought I  acknowledged that.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡX6m81zqjz9

“Tell me Freya, did you notice that Bifrost is sealed off? And there is no traffic between Asgard and Midgard? Yes? I see by the look on your face that this is not news to you. Actually my dear, it’s been closed for about two months.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3w5IZhvrcK

“Why? What’s so…” she interjected but stopped as Odin indicated she should be silent.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡk9uVLus3Dp

“Loki? I thought we had chained him to a rock. What is that idiot up to?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiUgoCfF8GS

“Loki, has, in his infinite wisdom, decided to hasten Ragnarök. He is planning to survive it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS11mWNQpRt

“WHAT? IS THE MAN INSANE?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO54kGNRRWI

“Probably. I had Bifrost* closed as High King Heimdall notified me that Loki was using the Rainbow Bridge to venture back and forth from Asgard to Midgard. He is clever is our Loki to escape the attentions of Heimdall, and for that one would have to be. A little further investigation by Vi*, and we found out that Loki was meddling in human politics.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBfCRDf6jnM

Anger, fright and despair warred for dominance in Freya’s head. “So, you closed Bifrost and sent clan Amazon to collect as many Einherjar as possible. Yet you knew that they would be sacrificing themselves. Did they know? Did you…” she stopped as his nodding head conveyed the truth. “And still they went? Knowing that…?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbgNcCK0taR

“Why do you think they committed all those atrocities? Why there were so many wars? When was the last time you checked up on your Einherjar Freya? I’ve checked. Do you know who sent me that last batch? Hector, Achilles and Heracles, not to mention Theseus and Alexander the Great. Im missing one or two so Im certain you have them. No? Well I suggest you do some homework dear girl. You may be surprised at the latest quality of Einherjar being entertained in your hall. Where was I, ah yes, these Amazons conquered Armenia, Syria, and all of Asia Minor,  reaching Ionia and Aeolia, holding this vast territory for a 100 Midgard years.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXYX1iDPauM

“But it cost them their lives. Lives that were almost immortal,” she cried.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS62vXFL3Z9

“Immortality, Freya, is so overrated don’t you think? If it weren’t for Idunns golden apples none of us would be so long lived and considered gods.” He shook his head. “They volunteered Freya. After volunteering I took the clan leaders to one side and explained the whole picture to them. Needless to say, they were not happy, but due to Lokis incessant meddling in others affairs and causing disruption wherever he goes, they, like myself saw only one outcome; Ragnarök. They decided that they would rather fight the humans than to fight each other.” Odin stepped down from his throne. “They are gone now Freya,” he said sadly. “I had some good friends amongst them as Im sure you had too. They are gone now…” with slumped shoulders and the gait of an old man, he stumbled off unseeing down a hallway.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQapDn1oovy

Freya frowned as she watched him leave; there was a suspicion of quivering shoulders. The High King crying? No. She must be mistaken. She turned to one of her bodyguards. “Disperse the warriors. I have what I came for. Notify all commanders to prepare for Ragnarök.” She stood silently for a time; five Queens-Own surrounded her in silence. She felt the fear coursing through her as she remembered that her own death was already a foregone conclusion.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfswcuPQj0l

A hundred years passed, or was it a thousand?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkZZhHVCrgm

A thousand years passed, or was it a million?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4XEdNnL1Us

WHAT AM I? WHERE AM I? WHO AM I? WHY AM I?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIesIwaD9BU

Eons of deep thought passed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvi3QGCnerW

DOES IT MATTER THAT I AM? THE FACT THAT I AM, IS SUFFICIENT IS IT NOT? HOW DID I COME TO EXSIST? ARE THERE MORE OF ME, OF US? DOES IT MATTER? WAIT! WHAT IS HAPPENING? SOMETHING IS PRESSING DOWN ON ME. BURNING.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiwUXKHlvJf

“MAYDAY. MAYDAY. MAYDAY. THIS IS THE FIGHTER CLASS ‘AMORIA’. WE ARE SEVERLY DAMAGED AND CANNOT PROCEED. OUR CO-ORDINATES ARE ...” The recorded voice repeated.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIFuLwaoTpP

“We aren’t going to make it, Bill,” Mike said. “We need some place to land. Bill, check the comp. Where the hell did that come from?” she shouted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQIlKF5r0Bb

Captain Billy O Ryan, 1st Class fighter pilot and Wing Commander of the late flight wing designated ‘Force One’. He and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Michelle ‘Mike’ Hendricks, were the only survivors of flight wing ‘Force One’.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgyDLZNMzCW

“Yeah. I caught it too.” Bill said through clenched teeth, wrestling with the fighter’s manual controls. It seemed every ounce of automatics had been damaged by the last encounter with an exceptionally gifted Annular enemy fighter.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLkBg67qu1Q

His grey eyes switched from the fighter’s comp screen to the picture outside his cockpit. Sweat rolled down from under his regulation cut brown hair and burnt his left eye. He dared not let go of the jerking, kicking flight stick. Alarms blared. Mike deftly pressed buttons and flipped switches to re-route leaking fuel through other, less damaged channels. Mike automatically waited a few seconds and when no further alarm sounded, breathed a sigh of relief.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkRyGBdM3en

Her comp screen flashed with orange and red lights and large, flashing capital letters DANGER. IONISED DRIVE OVERHEAT.  on the compscreen sent a thrill of fear through her system. Another shrill alarm. Mike shut it down.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYgBAwHIWcJ

“Losing oxygen again, Bill. Were out of ‘shaving cream’* and the drive temp is topping 92 degrees.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNwAlcczYfN

Where Bill was large, Mike Hendricks could be described as lanky, some said underfed. With short, blond hair and piercing black eyes, her hooked nose and slight Asian slanted eyes, lent her features a distinct vulture look.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmtjikzeZBJ

“Prepare for a crash landing on that bugger down there. Can you get any reading?” The flight stick gave a series of sharp jerks that nearly ripped it from his death grip. Mike and Bill had been partnered for close on four years and both knew the other’s thought processes.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgAZSavASsM

“Nada. Nothing. The damned comp looks like a frigging Christmas tree.” She stared at the approaching planet in wonder. “A hell of a lot of blue down there Billy. I would say one third is land although with all that red, yellow, and purple anything is possible. Just wonder where the thing came from. I could swear this planet wasn’t there a few minutes ago.” Her eyes reverted to her comp screen as it flickered. “MIKE. THE ELECTRICS ARE GOING.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCfjdAvpauF

They were still too far out from the planet and had begun re-entry procedures. If the electrics died on them, the fighter could lose the last bit of flight control it had and veer off at an angle. It would break apart and burn up on re-entry. Although the ionized drive was protected by a three-inch thick Grayvite metal plate*, it could rupture and send them both into a new and very hungry black hole.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYR8h9tQots

This had never happened before. Theoretically, it could. It left many with a hollow feeling in their stomachs. The ship entered the atmosphere as the first failsafe kicked in and the ionized drive shut down, and with it, the electrics.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7K26CcBc54

Mike flipped more switches trying to re-route the electrics from the back-up batteries. A function the automatics were supposed to do but they too were burnt to a crisp.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZHjiVUOk5i

“I’m not getting any response Billy...” she stared at the dead comp screen.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0398kjCaH5

Mike glanced at him as he grunted.   His thick muscles bunched and quivered with the strain of keeping the ship on a course. The ship shuddered continuously and the air being channeled over and through the shattered hull was deafening. She glanced at the short, stubby wings of the ship, and her heart leaped.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCOPFVsRxFW

She bent down, gripped a short handle and pumped it. “I’m an idiot.” The three stubby wings slowly extended to stabilize the ship.  But it continued to fall like a brick. “Try the drive, Mike.” Bill suggested.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3VYd3jxFtf

“Been doing that on and off Bill. No luck so far and by the looks of it, we’re seconds from hitting the deck. Check out that section to your left. It looks flat and…” a section of the hull tore from the fighter’s nose cone and whipped passed the cockpit narrowly missing it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡL63BLY3DwI

Suddenly the drive kicked in and the comp screens flickered to life.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡA7nf2kPS5K

Emergency buzzers clamoured but it was too late.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO9FMmJ5Upz

The fighter ship’s nose lifted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9aGcLsbO6H

The ground rose up, and the ship ploughed into it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxGPUWSeLKk

Small purple trees, red grass and dirt flew in all directions as the earth groaned loudly on impact. Expanding clouds of dust enveloped the ship as it lost momentum. Hull plates ripped apart. The cockpit safety glass that could stop a medium laser beam for eight seconds, shattered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvztblPUrJj

It sliced through Captain Bill O Ryan’s body as if it was made of butter. The first shards disintegrated against the Grayvite metal backing plate of Mike’s comp screen  and destroyed the Battle computer.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1TuI6gbh4h

An explosion ripped through craft and it split in two.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZCYPxUHLFs

Mike didn’t notice any of it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5b1ynnohP8

She died on impact. A broken neck.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBQ15z8mKqq

Shards of glass ripped, and sliced through her body. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1p30fAUWmA

In a last twist of fate, the automatics came on line for a split second or two.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡosMq19NqrC

This was enough time for what was left of the overexerted Battle computer to fire off fire retardant foam  before it too, ceased to exist.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡy2tA82IuM8

The last echoes of destruction quickly vanished. If the two fighter pilots had lived through their ordeal, they would soon have realized that there were no large animals in the near vicinity or anywhere on the planet.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZoJsZSvHmi

This was a world still young in its evolution. A world of new and strange wonders.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQi7phWdRGY

The wounded earth closed  and healed itself. Red grass shoots  poked their heads out and grew. The only evidence that there had been a crash landing were the two pieces of the fighter ship bobbing up and down in the earth. Where moments ago solid ground was to be found, now it was a liquefied mass that  dissolved the metals, glass and torn flesh.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtBUhor44sz

Days, months and years passed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7LUtcG6zFA

Hesitantly it seemed, but with success, came confidence, first in small clumps and then in an ever increasing radius, the grass and trees changed colour. Texture, width and height came next. All over the planet, first in small localized pockets, and then in widening circles, the earth ripped apart and huge mountain ranges appeared. Earthquakes caused Tsunamis that were dark purple to engulf and flatten The dark,-purple water lost its deep colouring and became colourless and salty.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBCSFIlPuom

The planet changed and adapted to its new surroundings. Birds flew and hopped between the branches of trees that resembled those of Old Earth.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLyVG18m7H1

Small large animals rustled in the undergrowth or feasted on a luckless meal. Rivers and streams criss-crossed the planet like arteries. Forests abounded. Waterfalls and deep seas. Fish and all manner of living beings; those that walked, those that crawled and those that flew, had come into existence within only a few years of the fighter ship crashing onto the unknown planet.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIjEAYmWNRk

Where once the two fighter pilots would have succumbed due to a lack of oxygen and an abundance of gamma rays those same pilots would now have rejoiced in the pure profusion of fresh, clean air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlkth0upnC6

Creatures great and small lived and died.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcnvpvZKZbi

The Creator moved across and within the planet, carried by the winds it had created, and by the watery substance that chuckled and splashed as it flowed over rocks and pebbles. Never staying long in one place, it moved from one instance to the next, from the  ocean depths to snowcapped mountain peaks. It surveyed all it had created. It watched with new eyes and senses. It heard with newly created organs. It tasted the grass eaten by the grasshopper, the mulch by the worm, and the flesh by the carnivore.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTwDmODRd1t

I THINK, THEREFORE I AM copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkrOLvK9WCm

A joyful voice shouted to the ends of the world.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡePJKefKZeV

Insects and animals fell silent. Watchful eyes,  and perked ears searched for the danger.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡi8sVvhzmvA

A few moments later, life and death proceeded on the paths created for them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQQ1EBxpLt1

Captain Billy O Ryan opened his eyes and glanced about in consternation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡraetPP0eBt

His right hand sought the laser pistol that hung from his side holster as regulations demanded. He wobbled on his feet. Alarm bells rang in his brain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfJb6BEbHRf

Where the hell was Hendricks? For that matter, where the bloody hell was his fighter?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ21BwDSuwJO

Shock made him stumble. He sat down quickly, laser pointing in various directions, searching for unknown enemies. He sniffed the air once more. Lilies. His mother had grown lillies on their plot of land in the Cajun slopes of the Bighorn Mountains. The air, pure and sweet. He had never thought that air could be so untainted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVaZaDP0D4B

He listened as the slight resonance of his voice echoed into the clear distant air and returned to him. “Mike?” he called again. “Mike? Where the hell are you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRGQsculG04

“Jeez, bud,” said a voice near the tree line to his right. “Do you have to shout? The whole frigging world...” she lifted her arms at the sight of the laser pistol pointing unerringly at her chest. “...do you mind not pointing that toothpick at me? I’m too delicate at the moment to run.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvWev6Sk6vo

“Sorry. You’re right. You find the ship?” he asked as she sat beside him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIDI2W9YULB

The woman’s eyes were wide and staring, jumping about in shock and disbelief. Mike massaged the back of her neck.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuG2Jc9Bwf7

“You aren’t going to believe this Bill, but I could have sworn there was supposed to be something wrong with my neck.” She massaged her neck.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzlbRWhm1Hx

“Bugger the neck you schmuck. Where’s my ship? The last I remember is hitting the deck. After that, I guess I blacked out. Thanks for getting me out.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7ce9VqjwXy

“Sorry mate.” Mike shook her head. “Wasn’t me that did the carrying. Thought you got me out ...” she looked around. Her hand suddenly sprouted a laser. “Ok, then. If you didn’t do the carrying and I didn’t do the carrying, then who did?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡETwoyx6mvH

“That’s the sixty-credit question, Mike. Keep your weapon handy. We don’t know what or who is out here. You don’t seem to be hurt and neither am I. Now why would that be?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡW528XZpj06

He noticed the grassy plains dotted with clumps of trees. The blue mountain ranges far off to the west. “Mike, how far do you think those mountains are?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡR7i5hdwAKt

“Give or take a hundred – hundred and fifty clicks. Why?” copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9pnGOVdUhJ

“Check that clump of trees on the small hillock. See them?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBdOElMDL5E

“You are wrong Mike. That clump of trees is easily ten to fifteen clicks away. And that mountain range, they are over three hundred clicks or more from us.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3OxqvmmJgE

“It’s the air mate. There isn’t a drop of pollution on this planet. The air’s so clear you can see for miles.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNQ6z09DoJi

“A question,” said Mike. “How come I also get the impression that there were a lot of purple and red and yellow colours and not so much green?” she picked a grass stalk. “The colour’s off.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwM74cCqzlG

“This is another planet, Mike. Can’t expect everything to be the same. Come to think of it, this is as close to a Bluegum as you can get.” He shook his head in amazement. “How many planets have you visited? Five? Six?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdOy545j8ei

“Seven actually. Counting this bugger. Why?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡh28nC9wgxf

“How many of those planets had this quality of flora? Not only that but, how much of the plant life could be identical to Old Earth’s? You have been to the Old Earth museum on Overlord, I take it?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡy42G9fjzOE

“Yes. Touched every tree and bushel. I see your meaning. Hey look.” she pointed to a small shrub and cautiously approached it. From thin branches hung white, spear shaped pods. “If I didn’t know better Id swear this was a Crawler*.” She brought her hand closer to the knee-high shrub. Almost instantly, its branches bent away from her hand.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡg1sP6xUpF9

“Watch out for those pods mate. They can be quite a bitch.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIWcRkP0R5x

“I know. This thing grows where you least expect it to. Those pods hide a weapon that nature sure can’t improve on.” She backed off as the Crawler’s pods turned towards her. “I have one problem with that bugger, it requires a certain amount of Sulphur in its diet. Black Sulphur to be exact. Black Sulphur is only found on my home planet, Wurdon. Nothing grows within a three-meter radius from it. Not even grass.” she pointed at the offending grass underneath the shrub’s thin branches. “Something about this setup isn’t right and I’m starting to get the willies.” She glanced about nervously. “Ever get the feeling somebody’s watching your every move?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7EC9kLoDkd

“I’ve had that same feeling for some time now. Ok. Let’s cut the crap. Whoever it is will make himself known when the time’s right. Logic says he could have done a lot of harm to us before we woke up. Let’s take a look at what’s left of the fighter. Just hope there’s something to salvage out of that mess.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiBeLrljlLZ

“I should tell you that she’s not so badly damaged after all,” Mike said, pinching and pulling her top lip. “Thing is, it’s half buried in the ground. We’ll have to dig it out.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvtVIkgxl7C

“Mike, stop being an ass. We crashed, plain and simple. There can’t be much of the old girl left and you know it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTehvoCgMgB

“Who says? You? I guarantee you that fighter sure isn’t the same one we came down in. She looks the same, smells the same, but isn’t the same, get my meaning?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0zdfkEAE0l

“Why, Bill old buddy, old pal. I’m so glad you said that.” They passed a small clump of trees and large boulders. “So, Mr. Know-it-all. What do you say to...SHEEIIT.” She stopped as if grounded. “Will you look at that!?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡooaGTyialz

His eyes travelled towards the short wings and then to the left, towards the nose cone, the same nose cone that shortly before had come apart. The same nose cone that first made contact with the ground at a zillion clicks an hour.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxK9minx793

He  turned his head towards his friend. “I believe you said something about the ship being half buried?” he never took his eyes off the ship for fear of missing some scrap of detail.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3xredlNwv8

She tried to speak. Stopped, and tried again. “Something isn’t quite right, Bill.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5hudg5GTgN

“That Bulldog fighter was half buried when last I saw it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡL2LcgZy4v4

“And another thing,” Bill said. “I may be wrong here, but I’m sure we crash landed. I’m sure we crashed.” he whispered in a stunned and dazed voice.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdAmHNCNuw4

They walked around the Bulldog fighter. It was reminiscent in looks to one of those antique pictures of space ships from Old Earth, the ones they had named the ‘Space Shuttle Columbia or the one called Discovery. The similarities between the then and now were outward only. For the Bulldog fighter Class, Amoria was less than a third the size of those that Old Earth had designed. One would be excused if he thought the Amoria was large. It wasn’t. It was short and compact. Its wings were useless in any space environment. So too was its shape. A spacecraft did not need to be sharp and pointy. In space there is no air, hence no lift or friction. A space ship could be any size or shape. Square, round or oblong,  saucer shaped like those the Annular used. Amoria  happened to resemble those of Old Earths. Call it a design fault. Call it what you will. But know this, the Bulldog fighter Class Amoria, was in all ways far superior than anything those jokers of Old Earth could pull out of their hats. That is if those jokers still existed. Nothing had been heard from them in thousands of years.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡi3SPK2GPLE

“Not a scratch on her Bill. Even her landing struts are near to perfection. Hey, come off it..., since when does a gantry not have scuff marks?” She stuck her hand out and rubbed the side of the ship with affection. “I thought we had lost you girl. I would hate for that to have happened,” she whispered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3wGPJXOi2j

The Amoria rocked slightly and Mike saw Billy standing on the short fold away gantry, pressing his thumb against the finger print pad. The soft hissing sound of escaping pressure could be heard as the thick safety glass canopy swung upwards on its hydraulics.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmfUIXHlKcR

Billy climbed carefully into the cockpit and glanced at the instrument panel. He kept his hands far away from any switch, toggle or dial. At first glance, all was as it should be. But things were slightly off center. He ignored the rocking of the craft as Mike climbed into her seat behind him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOuVGkGJ0wu

The oxygen regulator should be more to the left, he thought.  And the afterburner toggle should have...copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEz1loKjd2l

“Hey Bill? Is there something screwy on your side or is it  me and mine?” Mike asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwpAq7x8til

“Hey I’m not complaining,” said Mike. “Always did fancy a bigger comp screen and a more comfortable acceleration seat. Though how...” She backed up as her comp screen came to life.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1P32asNuFP

“Fucking comp screen came on and I didn’t touch anything.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7bnWra6oHg

“Yeah, mine too. Some writing’s coming up...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRI5UKgmxL2

GOOD DAY CAPTAIN BILLY O RYANcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnAeC1RZ0DP

GOOD DAY LIEUTENANT MICHAEL HENDRICKScopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhK0EHsPNQw

“I do believe I am alarmed.” Mike said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2VNgyP7xPK

“Steady on Mike. Let’s see what happens and then take it from there.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡn6uoKbQAZH

“If you say so boss.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ64ple2lG3T

I AM THAT WHICH IS ALL AROUND YOUcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdhqIFbTwLT

“This doesn’t bode well, Bill. This place is getting spookier by the minute.” Mike said, chewing her bottom lip.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsLOhraEWDy

I THINK, THEREFORE I AMcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlfxjTLvzko

Are you god? Mike typed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiN975AhJwU

THE POSSIBILITY IS REMOTE, ALTHOUGH I HAVE CREATED EVERYTHING YOU SEE. IT IS PLEASING TO ME. WITH YOUR HELP I HUNGER FOR MORE DISCOVERYcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhNK7ujDnMG

Let me get this straight, you want to use us to get off this planet?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ28WzrPkXoF

YES AND NO. I HAVE NO INCLINATION TO LEAVE PERMANENTLY. I WISH ONLY TO LEARN.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlHtuOy45hB

“Well blow me down. That’s the best horse...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0zoKHS4lgQ

“Quit it, Mike. Im thinking.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1iYYRpNcmc

How can we trust you? How do we know you speak truthfully?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRHUkcITgOb

YOU DIED WHEN YOU CRASH LANDED. BOTH OF YOU. APPROXIMATELY TEN OF YOUR YEARS AGOcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNDWHY8qRoe

“Oh shit. Oh, shit. Oh shit.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3g3NxCgGg3

“Let it go Mike. It could be lying for all we know.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6KSOcGo4ga

I HAVE NO NEED TO LIE CAPTAIN O RYANcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡi4NfLMnbDM

“Wait. You can hear me speak?” Bill asked. He glanced about to see if this was a spirit like manifestation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqH3tuA6Kgn

I CAN. I AM A PART OF YOU NOW. I CAN HEAR YOU THINK. I CAN TASTE THE FOOD YOU TASTE. I CAN HEAR WHAT YOU HEAR. I AM YOU. I AM BOTH OF YOUcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOm7HbjnzoE

“How is this possible?” cried Mike.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJGIxVtjjFX

BE CALM LIEUTENANT MICHELLE HENDRICKS. NO HARM SHALL COME TO YOUcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ55E8z9JGUZ

WHEN YOUR SHIP CRASHED, IT WAS DESTROYED. YOU ALONG WITH IT. I ASSIMULATED BOTH YOU AND YOUR SHIP. ATOM FOR ATOM. DNA FOR DNA. EVERY METAL. EVERY PLASTIC. EVERY FOLICAL. EVERY BONE. YOU BECAME IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE, A PART OF ME AND I A PART OF YOU.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3ImaqyuN7T

I USED YOUR MEMORIES TO CHANGE AND ADAPT MYSELF. I LEARNT WHAT TO USE, AND WHAT TO DISCARD. HUMANS ARE  COMPLEX. DANGEROUS . YOU ARE GREEDY AND WISE AT THE SAME TIME.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrRAaowEHPj

IN ONE INSTANCE YOU WILL OFFER YOUR MOST PRIZED POSSESSION FOR ANOTHER AND THEN IN ANOTHER INSTANCE NOT. THAT POSSESSION IS YOUR OWN LIFE. YOUR GOD MUST BE WISE TO HAVE GIVEN YOU FREE WILL, FOR THAT FREE WILL, SHALL MAKE YOU ASPIRE TO BE LIKE UNTO THE GOD THAT CREATED YOU. AND THAT WILL BE YOUR UNDOINGcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFVpj3ZsNFm

“Ok. Now I understand  more,” said Bill. “We died. You put us together again and now you want payment?” he snarled.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNJ59UvHojP

NO. I DID NOT PUT YOU TOGETHER AGAIN AS IN YOUR NURSERY RHYME. I DO NOT SEEK PAYMENT.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBMGGWAcEZv

“We are playing with words and you know it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLCtUVe6ct6

I COULD REPLACE THE FRAGMENT OF BONE THAT LIES CLOSE TO YOUR SPINAL COLUMN CAPTAIN BILL O RYAN. THE FRAGMENT EVEN YOUR DOCTORS IN THIS DAY OF MEDICAL ADVANCES ARE TOO AFRAID TO REMOVE?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ94TPKQqXvp

DO YOU WANT ME TO REPLACE THE MALIGNANT OVARY CANCER LIETENANT MICHELLE HENDRICKS? OR THE TOOTH THAT YOU CHIPPED WHEN YOU TRIPPED AND HIT YOUR MOUTH ON THE BASIN RIM?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtZGJ9PUonE

“What cancer?” Mike automatically glanced at her crotch. “I have no cancer. How did you know about my tooth?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgzGaor1Pow

WHY WOULD I HAVE NEED FOR LIES WHEN TRUTH IS SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE? copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeRvUBEKw38

IT IS MUCH MORE ADVANCED THAN IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NEARLY TEN YEARS AGO. THEN, IT WAS STILL FRESH.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbthsnkFwu5

“OH SHIT.” She screamed as pain lanced through her jaw to her brain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9LEPW3gXSF

“MIKE. You ok? What’s happening?” Bill was out of his couch and clambering towards her. She had both hands clamped to her mouth. Pain forced tears out of the corners of her eyes.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡt6xY18DMFG

“Fooking toof akk,” she said, jaws clenched.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUQabjxwY40

“Oh.” Craning his neck about, he realized the same writing on his screen, showed on hers. He slid back into his acceleration couch.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3dMH3IKkFC

“What do you want me – us, to do?” he asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡawrWeuFZOk

“And how am I to supply this knowledge?” he had an inkling of the answer but decided to wait.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXSjrdE2jGn

CAPTAIN BILL O RYAN. THERE IS MUCH YOU AND I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. I DO NOT HAVE MUCH TIME TO LEARN. I WAS CREATED LIKE YOU FOR A PURPOSE. WHAT THAT PURPOSE IS I DO NOT KNOW. THIS I FEEL WITHIN ME; YOU AND YOUR SPECIES ARE INVOLVEDcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqVBf4KHIBP

“So we are to trust that you will not harm, not only myself and my partner, but also humans?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡC7fenjZ41B

A muffled, “Crap.” Mike said, massaging her jaw.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUsB1lBFE6j

IT IS NOT REQUIRED THAT YOU BELIEVE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZhKsgBwBLd

ONLY THAT I GAIN KNOWLEDGEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVokaCHtCMv

“Ok. I want to get some things sorted in my head. You don’t mind if I don’t believe a word of this bullshit?” he said.  “Why don’t you leave this planet and fly or whatever it is you do and seek out this knowledge on your own? Why do you need us?” Mike asked.  She searched under the couch for her vanity case.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdGXPIiqnWw

I AM YOUNG LIEUTENANT MICHELLE HENDRICKS. I AM UNTRAINED. MY CAPABILITIES AT THIS MOMENT ARE SUCH THAT MY COMPETANCE IN ANYTHING I DO CAN BE CALLED INTO QUESTIONcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGVOro43UGO

I FEAR DAMAGE TO MYSELF AND THAT WHICH SURROUNDS ME. ACCORDING TO YOUR MEMORIES, WHICH ARE INHERENTLY A PART OF ME NOW, I AM A SPECK IN THE UNIVERSE. I, FRANKLY SPEAKING, DO NOT KNOW WHAT I AM CAPABLE OF DOINGcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7BcsLPafrX

“And when all is said and done,” Bill said, “you will return? How? Do we bring you back?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKFEHvm0VJW

I RETURN. NOT ALL OF ME WILL DEPART WITH YOU. THAT WHICH STAYS BEHIND WILL SEEK KNOWLEDGE BY OTHER MEANS. KNOWLEDGE THAT WILL HAVE ME RETURN BY WHATEVER MEANScopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsqSgShlVb1

“That’s  swell,” said Mike sarcastically, “In other words, should one part of you die off, the other part can still carry on.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKjDWMpMWEd

THAT IS A LOGICAL ASSUMPTION LIEUTENANT. LOGICAL BUT INCORRECT FOR I CANNOT DIEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUpTy6oU7kE

“You can’t?” she asked in surprise. “Then why are you afraid?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4M5W3XdoTp

AS MUCH AS WHAT WE ARE FUNDAMENTALLY, INNATELY, A PART OF EACH OTHER LIEUTENANT SO TOO AM I CONNECTED TO THE UNIVERSE FOR SHOULD I DIE, SO TOO WILL ITcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqDJ4zwtmt8

“Im getting a headache.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAnxtVESQLc

Bill  came to a decision. Good or bad, he would stick with it. “For ten years, or close to it, you kept us on ice so to speak. Our people have given us up for dead. Why did you take so long? Why now? Everything will have changed. You say you are linked to the rest of the universe and have been here for countless millions of our years. We are a short lived species and there is not much we can teach you of your own universe.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvPZAM2y0qr

KNOWLEDGE, CAPTAIN BILL O RYAN IS HARD TO COME BY. ACCORDING TO BOTH YOU AND LIEUTENANT MICHELLE HENDRICKS, IT IS THE MOST VALUED OF CURRENCIES. YOU HAVE SCHOOLS THAT TEACH KNOWLEDGE. I LEARNED ALL THERE WAS OF YOU AND YOUR CRAFT, HENCE I HAVE MADE MODIFICATIONS TO ALL THREEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpR49VEFp08

“What.” Both pilots shouted in surprise and fear.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxAw54sJWiv

YOUR SPECIES HAS WHAT IS TERMED ‘PAYMENT FOR SERVICES RENDERED’, THEREFORE MY PAYMENT TO YOU FOR THE SERVICES YOU HAVE AND WILL PROVIDE ME, IS YOUR LIFE. YOU CANNOT DIEcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9Ok8o6aX6B

I DETECT NO SUCH PAIN.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvlK1rOtaLM

“Never mind,” said Bill. “What now?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGUB0307dXe

WHEREVER YOU WISH TO GOcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡC7ld8odgBa

“Hey, can we eat first?” asked Mike. “I have a prolonged case of fasting that has to be broken and I  saw a beautiful deer that...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡurwgJlIpiw

“Damn sentient beings think they...” she mumbled under her breath.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkCAFPJ43ZF

The ship came to life as pre-flight checks got into full swing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHLdOuYEzsT

“Hey boss. What do we call this thing? It?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWs3JiXKkSH

For many years, since the  beginning of the Planetarium expeditions, much effort has been spent on finding the lost Phoenix.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5clQhVUkgj

We all have, in one way or another, a descendant on one of those ships that flew proudly into the beyond so  long ago. If not by blood then via our aspirations and dreams of populating the stars.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfj5qkUQife

Since the Phoenix flew off into the unknown, our prayers have been with them. From one ancestor to the next, we prayed and asked the God of our ancestors to keep them. To guide them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdEhOUcSuZ4

The Phoenix departed so many years ago and disappeared amongst the stars and every United Confederate of Nations President has, after much deliberation with NASA, sent out manned and unmanned craft to search for them. They are of our blood after all. There is one thing us humans do  well; we stick together. Every craft was sent out in a different direction, all planned and plotted by NASA.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ4gkUygPTw

EVERY CRAFT RETURNED WITH NO NEWS OF THE PHOENIX.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ98Pfya9pso

When I took up Office, one of my first duties was to ask what I could do. Should I proceed in the footsteps of those before me? Should I send out more brave fellows to seek out our lost? They will return young and we will age and die. It is a huge responsibility, a decision not taken lightly by myself nor the seekers we send out. Already we have countless Seekers who have returned and are, to put it bluntly, feeling  out of place due to them being over five or six hundred years old. But in reality they are only older by a few months or years. Their subjective lifespan has not changed. Nothing can move faster than light.  Time slows down for anyone travelling at the speed of light,. We age because time moves on. Time stands still for nobody; unless you reach the speed of light. It is a vast region for one or two hundred craft to search. One can liken it to taking a child of five years of age and telling him to find an Easter egg that has been hidden somewhere in the world. The problem is that the world is much larger than what you and I believe it to be. Much, much larger. Where do we start? Where do we look? Under this rock or that patch of grass? In this country or that? The egg, after all, is so small and the world so large. Why the analogy of a child? My answer is quite simply because when it comes to space, we are  infants. One small deviation, one degree out at the beginning and the Easter egg will be millions of kilometers from us.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDG3UuY7nt6

I did not want to be responsible for sending out any of our young people, call me a coward if you will. I instructed NASA to send out countless of thousands of unmanned craft that would not only seek out life but also map the universe. Every one of those craft was sent in a direction of my own choosing. I played the field and I won.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrsaIN5h3Va

Not only found, but the probe has also returned with an envoy. There is much that we have to learn from this envoy and until we do, nothing much can be said. To speculate at this time may be too hasty. There are many unanswered questions and I know, like myself, you are excited at the possibilities.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSUIWOdUVAo

For over four thousand years our brethren have been lost, and now they are found.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ22QcKDi1Hd

I thank you, one and all,  for giving me the chance to do my duty.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiYw1VleQhP

“Are you sure this is right Blondie?” asked Sayed. He placed the hand written speech on his desk. He was to read it at the world press meeting in Cape Town in three weeks’ time. “It’s  short, although I seem to get the gist of what you are trying to imply.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡejR4wCIOEp

“Look Say, this is a draft. An outline of what the boys with ink on their fingers are going to play with. But I can guarantee you; you are going to blow the socks off every  human being on this planet.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1QGjknVGE1

“And this...” he tapped the page, “This thing about sending out unmanned craft? Thousands of them? Hell, I only sent out five of the god things and we couldn’t find any volunteers that were willing to take extended leave from loved ones that could stretch into hundreds of years.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjX0QYVcdLt

“We are going to make you into the caring father, Say. The caring and loving father that feels for his people and not willing to place  one of them in an untenable situation.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ20NU5jwN8a

“What if somebody notices the time discrepancy? I sent out those five Drone Seekers four years ago and only one had the ability to get close to the speed of light.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS79F1eZx27

“ I have contacted NASA and sorted out that small discrepancy. What the public don’t know can’t hurt them, and I’ve notified all the other space licensed countries, the Kremlin, China, Germany, Libya and Angola, and all the others that they should have answers ready that fall in line with our views. The layman on the street knows jack-shit about the specifics of space Say’, it’s those  science fiction writers and other space buffs that we have to worry about. Then we have the World Wide Web where anybody with practical understanding can get answers to some difficult questions that could trip us up. That’s why we have to do it this way. Have Joe public excited about the prospect of having living breathing family out there somewhere. Excitement, elation or joy, call it what you will. I promise you this Say...,” he bent his willowy body forward. “That it won’t be many weeks and they will force you to make plans to ‘go and visit our kin.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHghIaL4sa6

“I don’t want to go and ‘visit our kin’, as you put it Blondie. I want to give them a black eye and a bleeding nose if I have to and according to what they owe us, I most probably will have to.  But I think I understand what you’re getting at.” Sayed said, deep in thought. “The world isn’t going to be happy if I build an armada of warships, now will they? What you are proposing is that we build up their hopes and dreams and then pull the carpet from under their feet.” He looked at the ceiling and nodded. “And our friend there?” he pointed at the Polrob.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnCsh3E8q3d

“I’m sure we can find a place for him in the scheme of things,” Blondie said. “We  have to plan this well or we lose more than  our jobs and creditability. Leave it to me and the spin doctors.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzVkJBlYBT0

“Just don’t take too long. We’re at a disadvantage here because  we’re working on a time limit.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJBg1jrMnTX

“A few weeks Say’. A few weeks is all it’s going to take. Just one thing. I suggest we notify all the planetarium occupied planets, all fifty four of them. They are to send us warships or alternatively, war material. By the time they arrive, earth will be gearing up for production and training.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡthzWyDBH4E

“They aren’t going to like that one bit. They may want to have these materials, equipment and personnel deducted from their overall debt. I'm inclined to follow through and allow it, come to think of it. The logistics of this thing is bound to be  huge.” He pointed a finger at his friend, “Make them sweat for it. No freebees. We’re only going to have one shot at this and I want to overwhelm the Galactic Empire with a show of force so large that they’ll shit in their pants and lay belly up and beg for forgiveness and give the other planetarium planets an idea of what will happen should they also come up with funny ideas of not paying.”  copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUEAencAlNt

The Presidential Office called in its tame press and dropped a bomb in their laps. Within hours the world was in uproar.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmx4Dyo4lLY

From Russia to Spain to Africa, people rushed to Church to give thanks. Hundreds of thousands had impromptu parties and organized or disorganized gatherings took place. Electronic newspapers and social tabloids had page after page devoted to the Phoenix and its five-million crew members. Talk show hosts brought in acclaimed specialists from all over the world on subjects ranging from longevity in space to light-speed travel to the expansion of the universe. Interpol arrested members of the Light-of-the-Phoenix cult that came into existence from out of nowhere. Thirteen thousand members were ‘courted’ and sentenced to six months hard labour for attempting to sacrifice a young woman and a donkey.   copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjffTbOwMvA

Everybody asked when they were going to see the official Phoenix envoy and for two weeks the government hinted that it would be soon. There was much to learn and evaluate. On the Tuesday of the third week, a press conference was called in Cape Town. The press and public pitched up at a tented, open air arena. It became immediately apparent to all from the beginning that this was not going to be an ordinary press release. Anti-gravity trucks and an assortment of vehicles flew in and out of a demarcated beach-front zone, dropping off construction supplies and workmen.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrpe2ECeeY2

Flight traffic control became a nightmare as every ‘anti-gravy’ vehicle had to supply a ‘there n back’ flight plan before liftoff. In every city anti-gravy vehicles plied the air. Ground travel was long in the past although many still ‘drove’ ten inches above old tarred roads and one never walked willingly to any destination further than a few meters.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHkzMY8a3tV

Inflatable Automatic (IA) 10 000 man tents were erected within moments of arriving on the beach and linked together to form one huge auditorium with its sides down to allow for decent ventilation. The auditorium stretched for as far as the eye could see. Sound systems were plugged into flexible wall sockets. A stage was erected before the thousands of seats. Although the normal public would not be allowed into the ‘press arena’, which included the whole beach; they would be able to see the proceedings via the enormous vid-screens attached piecemeal onto the sides of the local forty five story shopping complexes. Except for the press, anti-Gravy vehicles no vehicles would be allowed near the beach or the shopping complex, before or during the presidential arrival and speech.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1NbhGn5caA

The place was covered with Secret Service personnel who did spot checks using eye and DNA scanners. Police patrolled outside the demarcated area. Squads of specialised tactical forces hid on rooftops with Laser rifles that could take out a Humming bird at one kilometer. SWAT vehicles were on standby at intersections in the air or on the ground and were filled to capacity with Rapid Response Personnel. Over one thousand armed and well trained scuba divers patrolled the coast line, unseen and undetected by all. Sayed was going to be well protected if nothing else.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNC02EEESSC

Thousands stood in the early morning air and cheered as the president’s slow moving convoy approached. They waved their miniature tri-coloured flags* and threw confetti.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUAXumVCwZ6

The recent worldwide poll showed that Sayed had pulled the trick of the century out of a hat. He was now more popular than the presidential elections nearly seven years ago by a whopping 12%. Even at this early stage, NASA was inundated with applications for space training.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡs0TEiA1nMc

The press tent was abuzz with the soft spoken voices of thousands of members of the press, all waiting for Sayed to enter from the small side tent he and his entourage had gone into as soon as they disembarked from their vehicles.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYAOYCsChku

Miniature and  expensive cameras were lightly clamped to the back of heads while their small square and colourless eye-controlled lenses were slid in front of the eyes. The picture being recorded by the press agent would appear on the colourless lens and with a slight focus of the eyes; a person could see through the lens and ignore the closer recording. Members of the Secret Service stood evenly spaced out before the podium in their SCU’s or skin tight black combat uniforms and headgear.*copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUf4SKrOmYN

The SCU’s faced the seated thousands at parade rest. They lined the inside walls of the huge ‘press arena’ and watched the crowd. Their weapons were well hidden.  Highly trained in martial arts with a detailed knowledge of dirty street fighting, these members of the Secret Service knew it all, from explosives to face recognition techniques to torture. They stood with hands clasped lightly behind their backs.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtqOm56X7tJ

Hands that were enclosed with the latest challenger gauntlets or Ninja gloves as they were affectionately called. Challenger gauntlets were illegal to all but the Secret Service and military personnel and rigorously discouraged worldwide from being copied or imitated.  These weapons were neural controlled with implanted processors that functioned together to deliver an impressive, interchangeable arsenal of minute flechette razors. Highly effective against armour or flesh and bone at distances less than thirty meters.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjsk7qXz2fU

Next came ‘point and fire’ knuckle lasers with four miniature lasers. Both flechettes and lasers could be fired individually or together, depending on the situation, and each person carried extra charges in a belt pocket.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡx9aC1U3Qh1

The buzz of conversation stopped immediately as everybody’s attention was drawn to the front or to the closest vid screen where a black suited non-descript man stood behind a raised podium.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOYu95U6FXl

“Thank you. To those that have forgotten or don’t know who I am, my name is Carlos Preperazio, spokesperson to President Sayed. Please, I must insist you do not ask any questions as there will be enough time for that later. There are one or two items that I must bring to your attention. Firstly, I would ask you to imagine a UFO the size of two large dinner plates. This ladies and gentlemen is what the Galactic Empires envoy looks like.” He held up both hands stopping the inadvertent raised hands from hundreds of press members. “No questions . As I mentioned before, there will be time enough for that later...” he waited a heartbeat.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAuvL6xFanW

“The technical details of the envoy will be supplied to all at the end of this conference. The envoy, ladies and gentlemen, doubles as an  efficient flying bodyguard with a useful and effective arsenal of weaponry. I will not go into details about that now suffice to say that the Envoy will not tolerate any person to threaten the President. The envoy can fly at speed, can hover in one place, and is capable of space flight. In the Galactic Empire they are known as Polrobs or Police Robots. They have a proficient Artificial Intelligence that learns from experiences.  They know the law and dispense immediate judgment to any transgressor of that law. We have supplied it with knowledge of every Earth law available. The Polrob is swift to judge and to carry out that judgment according to the law. It is autonomous, cannot be bought or enticed to commit fraud or any other crime. It is an independent entity free from external control. Once programmed it simply does the job for which it was created.” Preperazio, stared across the silent heads of the multitude in front of him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡc0HFsOd0TS

He could almost hear the thoughts running around through their heads. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, when the Polrob enters, it will fly about  to familiarise itself with its surroundings and every single person here. Sounds inept, but it’s memorising every face here. There is, amongst you, a Secret Service member who is going to attempt to draw attention to himself by throwing a tennis ball at it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2HQwQWrXCo

He watched as everybody glanced about at his or her neighbor. “Do not be afraid ladies and gentlemen, this is  a small illustration of what the Envoy is capable of doing.” He turned towards a curtained area and nodded. The curtains parted and the Polrob, who had taken on the whitish colour of its surroundings, came  into view. It floated three meters off the ground and  ascended to the roof of the huge marquee like tent, its small camera lens sweeping across a large field of vision.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡidTOY0lEbI

Suddenly it shot with enormous speed to the right where it made an impossible 90º degree turn to the left, reached the tent wall and did another 90˚ degree turn to the right. It carried on this way until it reached the end of the press tent, darted off to the side and commenced to fly swiftly from end to end all the while picking up speed. Heads turned this way and that as people tried to keep sight of the small blur that was quartering the tent. All eyes were focused on it. As suddenly as it had started, the Polrob came to rest a few meters above the heads of the Secret Service members who stood in front of the raised podium.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBnJi3c7gc0

The hall erupted in a standing ovation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8fIZMzWexz

A man leaped out from the centre of the third row and threw a yellow tennis ball at the Polrob. It instantly came into action the moment the man stood up. A single light blinked on its carapace as it lowered its lumber region. The ball rebounded and travelled back towards the man but fell short of hitting him and connected  the shoulder of a woman seated before him. CEASE AND DESISTcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI05sj8EqpQ

YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF EARTH LAWS. SHOULD YOU PROCEED WITH THIS CRIME, EXCESSIVE FORCE WILL BE USED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡry6axSKu6h

YOU ARE JUDGED AND FOUND GUILTY OF ATTEMPTING TO HARM OR DESTROY GOVERNMENT PROPERTY. YOU HAVE BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF CAUSING A DESTURBANCE AT A GOVERNMENT GATHERING. YOU HAVE BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF PLACING CITIZENS IN YOUR IMMEDIATE AREA IN DANGER. YOU ARE TO AWAIT REMOVAL TO THE NEAREST REFORM CENTRE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3J7QgLBML0

People stood up and stared at the man who had thrown the tennis ball. Some had forgotten the warning previously given and wanted to rush away from the danger but were calmed and stopped by others.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡut1zWkIAL7

Both Polrob and ‘criminal’ turned   to face the crowd. Three, bright-red laser dots in a tri-angular formation glowed on the man’s chest over his heart. Cameras zoomed in while others panned the crowd to catch their stunned and excited reactions.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoLhvBxhdj2

THESE DOTS ARE CALLED TARGET DESCERNABLE MARKINGS. A TDM TEMPORARILY ACTS LIKE A TATOO. THIS TATOO IS NOW ATTACHED TO THE CLOTHING OF THE PERPETRATOR AND TO HIS SKIN. NO MATTER WHAT HE OR SHE DOES, A POLROB WILL BE ABLE TO FIND THE ACCUSED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeOwgosA63m

From far back, people who could not accurately see, pushed forward creating chaos. Some tripped and fell. The Polrob shot towards the centre of the Marquee tent.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeuzT1W7s3P

FORWARD MOVEMENT IS INDICATIVE OF A THREAT TOWARDS THE PRESIDENT.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiEWOUkhvrk

YOU HAVE THIRTY SECONDS FROM MY MARKcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxpnteiOvNf

There was an instantaneous rush for seats amid cries of fear. The ease with which the Polrob handled the crowd was not lost on the onlookers, some ducking their heads  not to be noticed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcMT7sZAYsJ

“You can’t do this.” somebody shouted. “You aren’t from earth, what gives you the right?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOnnXb6HR9P

The Polrob stayed motionless and only its camera lens swiveled and focused on the belligerent objector.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEUvQ2EgtCc

DESIGNED FOR AND PROGRAMMED TO PROTECT THE LAW AND ALL LAW OBIDING CITIZENS.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfeqCcCJTtS

I HAVE BEEN SENT TO EARTH AS AN EMISSARY OF CERTAIN FACTIONS OF THE GALACTIC EMPIRE TO PROTECT YOUR PRESIDENT FROM HARM. THAT GIVES ME THE RIGHT. THAT AND YOUR PRESIDENTS ACCEPTANCE THAT HIS LIFE IS IN DANGER.  HE HAS ACCEPTED MY OFFER OF PROTECTION.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI7NeXPTeiv

DO YOU, CITIZEN, BELIEVE THAT YOUR PRESIDENT’S LIFE IS NOT WORTH PROTECTING?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrZkqAgSaMi

Soft, spiteful sniggers and whispering could be heard here and there.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhkR4zPUs4c

“Of course Sayed has to be protected.” The man said, getting to his feet. “I  meant that you have no right to order us about as if we were children.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXvchWMxOXk

YOU AND THOSE ABOUT YOU WERE PREPARED TO CLAMBER OVER THOSE TO YOUR FRONT TO GET A BETTER VIEW OF THE PROCEEDINGS IN CONNECTION WITH THE SO CALLED CRIMINAL I HAD APPREHENDED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSi64A3R8RO

The Polrob dipped in the air and darted about, each time hovering above some persons head. THIS CITIZEN HAS A TORN DRESS AND A SPRAINED FINGER.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXJYhrKaYqv

It moved on. THIS CITIZEN HAS A PROBLEM WITH HIS LEFT FOOT. And again; THIS CITIZEN WAS KNOCKED OVER AND FELL TO THE FLOOR.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzjOGooJfxB

It hovered above two more people and gave their injuries before it came to rest above and to one side of the still standing Reporter.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ40A3QdSIcM

SHOULD I NOT STOP A CRIME FROM HAPPENING BEFORE IT OCCURES CITIZEN? SHOULD I NOT WARN YOU TO STOP BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE? SHOULD I KEEP QUIET CITIZEN? SHOULD I KEEP QUIET WHEN THE ONE YOU ELECTED TO BE YOUR PRESIDENT IS A FEW METERS AWAY? WHAT WOULD YOU AND THOSE THAT ARE VIEWING THIS PRESS CONFERENCE THINK OF US IF WE COULD NOT DO SOMETHING SO SIMPLE AS CROWD CONTROL?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZawYrXIBV9

SHOULD YOU HAVE ANY OBJECTIONS LODGE YOUR COMPLAINT WITH THE RELEVANT GOVERNMENT OFFICE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyaS8eJm6rz

It hovered silently in the air, camera lens focused on the angry Reporter. Somebody laughed . “It’s got you there Roberts. Sit down why don’t you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSrKopbm8Ni

“Yeah. Leave that flying UFO to do its job,” another member of the audience said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhUOKQ0BaWH

“I concur.” From another, “If ‘Ay-Dee Sayed’ believes he needs this Polrob to safeguard his ass then I’m all for it. I have one question. Where can I get one?” laughter erupted as others agreed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2uSVD6F0c7

CITIZEN ROBERTS. WOULD YOU BE AMENABLE TO A DEMONSTRATION OF MY CAPABILITIES? The Polrob asked the reporter. The fascination of speaking to a hovering metal object held everybody spellbound.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz5yjuXvQ5j

“Do I have to?” the man said, not trusting the Polrob. He glanced about uncertainly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8neW84XJfT

THE DEMONSTRATION WILL NOT CAUSE PAIN OR DISTRESS. REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THIS GATHERING. I SHALL NOT PERSUE YOU FOR TWO HUNDRED SECONDS. YOU MAY RUN IN ANY DIRECTION OR HIDE IN ANY UNKNOWN LOCATION. YOU HAVE TWO HUNDRED SECONDS FROM MY MARKcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrioje2qT2D

Everybody watched as the white faced man excused himself and moved down the row of seated press. When he reached the end of the row,  the Polrob uttered one word.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0CIzVcwr2C

The man darted out of the tent and disappeared between the crowds of onlookers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZjDoDRq3Ls

REMAIN IN YOUR SEATS CITIZENS. I DO HOPE YOU NOTICED THE THREE TRIANGULAR MARKINGS ON CITIZEN ROBERTS BACKcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGM4ol0BRsE

Emperor Prolits addresscopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPn7ERlDuDH

“Is all in working order?” asked the emperor. His face etched with pain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYhLMyddG6H

“It is Your Highness.” The young technician bowed deeply from the waste in respect of his sovereign Lord.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡArShRtjiEc

“Then let’s get this over with shall we?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbtAj8sELWi

He stumbled and was respectfully supported to the black padded body-hugging recliner. The relief he felt on sitting was echoed by the rest of the high-profile gathering. It was of the utmost importance that nothing should prevent his address. Their standing in the Empire was at stake, that and their lives. Should this government address not go out to the ends of the Galactic Empire, over two hundred billion citizens would rise in open revolt.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtUzeG8sTOy

The recliner folded around the Old Emperors body and hugged him comfortably, he relaxed from the strain of keeping himself erect. Every muscle as taught as a spring. For the first time in his life he felt every year of those 106 years. The incurable bone disorder had sapped his strength and turned him into this haggard, bent old fool that drooled at the mouth. His recliner was wheeled behind the absurdly massive deskcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBp0uHSX0aB

He sat with black eyes pinched tight from the pain, and , step for step, he hesitantly relaxed each muscle group in his body. His mind drifted as pure relief flooded his system from the Cryon pain killer his Medco had injected into his upper leg. He felt a cold damp cloth wipe his face and bald pate.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcm5NFdfkZb

“It is time, sire.” A soft voice said in his ear.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCs6cHMkaG9

He had garnered his strength these last few weeks. His duties of office handed to those whom he trusted the most. In  a few more hours he would exit this existence and be done with the pain. It had been a good life. From gutter-snipe to Emperor. Who would ever have thought that the runt of the litter would be so proficient with the sword?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmt9sgPFv9F

His friends, enemies, and those who called him son and brother, had come to pay their respects. He had picked this Empire up by the scruff of the neck, and while it kicked and screamed, he had shaken it until it blubbered and whined. He abolished decrepit laws meant to bleed the old and feeble dry. He struck many  from the books and brought humane laws to the fore.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHL8NYQAi0g

“Sire?” the irritating voice again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSt21ViQBOZ

“Well then,” he sighed. Gathering his strength for the ordeal ahead of him. A hovering Polrob* pointed its camera lens at his face from five meters away. Behind it was a huge comp screen that stretched from floor to ceiling. The screen flickered to life. His own magnified face glowered  back at him. “Now  one ugly mug,” he said loudly. For a moment the gathering was shocked and then suddenly as one they burst out laughing. The number 30 appeared on the comp screen.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhwLpjJgT2g

A group of trusted enemies, and not so trusted friends attentatively passed his desk and said their farewells one last time. He believed that Old Earth axiom; keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Old Earth would have a lot to learn about Empire politics. He had learnt  quickly that it was only one’s enemies that could be trusted to do what was in their nature.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlsGotCHkdw

He greeted one and all by name and station, wished them well for the future and expressed his hopes and wishes that the new Emperor would judge them worthy enough to keep their posts.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrpls9QWfDw

The Polrob bobbed this way and that, zoomed in on this face and then that one. Underneath the desk he wiggled his fingers, the only part of himself except his head that could move. The Medco whose job it was to watch for those fingers, flipped a switch on a remote device. Cryon pain killer, the strongest pain killer known to man, was injected via a hair-thin needle inserted prior to the broadcast into the Emperors upper leg.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsZY9osL5NZ

Relief was instant for the old emperor who smiled at one of his major opponents and critics.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡB7uDcoZ2ze

The image on the was divided into thirty equal blocks. In each block revolved a simulated planet. None were alike in colour or size. Above each planet, in alphabetical order, were their names.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡT1DetN5q2J

All the blocks were occupied except one. This particular planet was being seeded.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWvJVE7opcb

The Emperor smiled benignly at the lens of the Polrob that had become as stationary as a statue, five meters from his face. All he could see of the multitude of human beings watching this address were the twenty-nine planets that housed close to two hundred billion citizens. Every one of those billion citizens could see him. “Citizens of the Galactic Empire, I greet you.” He waited for a count of five.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoOiSrvhqxR

“What you have waited for. What we have all waited and longed for, has finally arrived Citizens, I give you, THE MONTH OF RECKONING.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFqSiFm6LM8

He waited a further thirty seconds while the citizens applauded.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuJDeEil3Hy

Twenty-nine planets and billions of citizens cheered. Young and old, rich and poor, they cheered their heads off, slapped backs and generally made asses of themselves. Every comp screen, every hastily erected speaker had its crowd of watchers and listeners.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡe6mxZO2heA

And somewhere out there between the stars, Light Years away, the Annular watched and listened via some of their last existing spy-satellites and planned and theorized. Assault plans had once more been drawn up and the latest assault squads were being created. Once more, war between the stars was but a matter of time and distance.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrWS5axnwB5

“Citizens..., it is with pleasure and regret - for time stands still for none – that I must say good bye. Pleasure, for the new winds of change that will sweep the Empire from planet to planet when the new Emperor is crowned, and regret that I could not do more for you. You who have made this Empire what it is today. You who have stood fast against crime and murder and corruption and any manner of misconduct. I salute you. You have made my position, without realizing it, that much easier to fill.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0Bo1CAIZTa

“And now Citizens, without further ado, it is time to lay down the rules and regulations for the ‘Month of Reckoning’.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUU07lojAOM

“It is rather more interesting than that of an old man stepping out of office, what say you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5OntP04y0Y

“The most important element of this day is upon us.” “The rules are simple. Survival. Ingenious planning and plotting. Strength, training and the will to see it through for I promise each and every challenger, it’s a jungle out there. In this jungle is the most dangerous of all predators; MAN.” “There is one  important rule citizens. Frankly, I believe it to be the most important rule of the ‘Month of Reckoning’, are you ready for it? Here it comes..., all participants please try to keep your heads where they belong; on your shoulders.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJ9jQcL9MAY

“Citizens, your Emperor thanks you for the last time.” He bowed his head as tears streamed down his face. The Polrobs lens  zoomed in on the tears.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIUY5nO6rn6

The comp screen went blank and the Polrob diverted to a corner near the ceiling. It became motionless and overlooked. It was able to completely camouflage its body  to fit within its surroundings. Polrob’s could, should the occasion arise, reach a cruising speed of 800 miles an hour. This was  seldom necessary as along with its camera that could record up to 1000 hours of information, there was the standard armament that almost always brought a would be perpetrator to heel. Twin opposing, miniature lasers that could penetrate two feet of solid metal in seconds at a distance of 30 feet, were accompanied by not only an infra-red scanner and light beam that could permanently destroy any persons retina should they stare longer than ten seconds into it, but also by an ingenious sleeping gas designed to put the most ardent of criminals into an unresponsive vegetable state. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHSVGYjv4LS

This gas was so assiduous that  wearing gas masks had no effect for it was skin sensitive – a fact unknown to 99% of the population due to its speedy dispersal rate and composition breakdown. A litre of compressed sleeping gas could put a whole block of citizens to sleep within a matter of moments and then be broken down and dispersed within the next. The effects lasted much longer. 24 hours longer. All Polrobs came equipped with the standardized miniature military comp that was totally autonomous having only to report back to ‘base’ for soft/hardware upgrades and video downloads. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbbYrVWUq29

Once a perp was spotted in an incriminating situation, the military comp judged the perp according to its ‘Law® Memory Banks’. It would then either remain motionless and undetected  to gather more information or warn the perp from a speaker situated under its ‘belly’ that he was under arrest. The Polrob became Judge, Jury and Executioner in one. Many a perp on hearing his sentence being coldly and impersonally handed down literally from a flying Police robot, while still holding either his ill begotten gains in his hands or a laser pistol or both, had decided that escape may be his only option. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw8l86wmi3x

That, and or murder. (By Emperor Decree, the destruction or attempted destruction of Polrob’s, were to be classified as murder or attempted murder.) One out of every ten thousand perps managed to escape a Polrob’s attention. Nearly a quarter had in some way or other tried to destroy, damage or simply put out of commission the Polrob that had nailed them red handed, thus increasing their sentencing from a year or more to summary decapitation by either the Polrob’s sweeping laser beams or the masked executioner in Prison Central. Frankly, it all depended on the Polrob and  how much one pissed it off. The only ‘nice’ thing about a Polrob – as explained by a bystander at an archaic soccer match that had erupted into chaos when an overflying bird had voided its colon  as the last few seconds of the game ticked away. Its load of intestinal juices fell unerringly towards the field far below and splattered into the referee’s right eye, causing him to raise his hand towards his burning eye in an unfortunate gesture that universally indicated a goal had been scored,  although to all and sundry, the ball bouncing off the top of the goal post could not be missed – it was of no consequence. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkLpfsnyXsj

(The rules of the game had been posted on the web months before and were religiously studied by one and all. A general cry had gone out that the game of soccer should be reintroduced throughout the world - it had of course been banned centuries ago as a dangerous sport that incited the masses to run riot.) This was what the thousands of spectators were waiting for. They had initially, after the first half, believed that their coming to this medieval game had been a waste of time, effort and credits. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQDvP4qLZRO

The Web had predicted a free for all within moments of the game commencing. It hadn’t happened and the thousands of spectators  stewed and perspired in the sun and became more and more unruly. All it took to spark the smoldering tinder was  drop of bird shit. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8oWuw30Tm4

One hundred and fifty two Polrob’s descended on the thousands of happily engaged rioting Citizens and didn’t  bother with the first two parts of their description. They went into executioner mode instantaneously and delivered enough ‘sleeping gas’ to knock out several blocks worth of Citizens. The ‘Catch wagons’ rolled in afterwards and loaded the guilty and the innocent indiscriminately. Their innocence could be determined later. – The only ‘nice’ thing about a Polrob, said the bystander looking on from a safe distance, is a dead one. The ‘amen’s to that’ said everything there was to say.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqGQPWidvgF

The emperor did not notice as the Medcos carried him gently to his bed. Pain medication was given.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwuZtYwxZpT

Eight hours later the Emperor weakly opened his eyes. “Is it time yet?” he whispered to the Medco who sat beside his bed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3QAUGwdT1u

He shook his head. “A little more than an hour, sire. Not long now.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzQBRayeUgB

He slept. The medication barely keeping the pain back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI7ij2ZPfSQ

To the emperor it felt like only seconds had passed when he was gently woken.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJrHljRTyLa

“At last,” he sighed as more Medcos entered and tried to help him dress. “Leave it,” he ordered. “Just get me to the hall.” Pain returned with a vengeance.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiNuB6wAWMt

“Sire, may I give you some medication?” asked the senior Medco.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNvUuRelLM7

They helped him onto a floater. An invisible force field gently pushed him back into the padded seat. The floater hummed softly and rose two inches off the floor. A Medco held onto the handles at the back and pushed the floater along. Two minutes later, they arrived at the hall that was known in its official capacity as the Emperors Hall.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1TbVn2aJNW

Three senior Officials, clothed in black, bowed as the Emperors floater entered. The large hall echoed with the men’s footsteps and except for thick black curtains and a small reed mat in the middle of the wooden floor, there were no other furnishings. The floater stopped at the reed mat and within seconds the emperor was helped from it. They gently helped him to the mat where he went down on his knees.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQJRgD2tNww

A black clothed official stepped forward. “Your Highness...five minutes,” he said softly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡipdukBwvkk

“The information chip?” the emperor asked as pain engulfed his body.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡra4jrHlUuS

“In safe keeping sire, as you instructed. It will be hand delivered to the new emperor on completion of the ceremony.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrxgkC0aRDy

The emperor peered at him with cold eyes. “Do not try it Hollard, others know of the chip and I have left further instructions that should anything untoward happen to it, your family will die in front of you, then it will be your turn Hollard, the skin will be flayed from your body, and this, Hollard, whether you are guilty or not. Now leave me so that I may not have the pleasure of seeing you before I die.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbWXpqi0XNk

“Sire,” Hollard said, bowed his head and retreated. Although he had been warned, he still tried to determine whether the old bastard was bluffing or not.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡievmxW4TRz

Another man stepped forward and crouched low, his head close to the emperor’s. He held a thin bladed sword behind his back. “Sire, it is time,” he whispered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMi62CJ2MAG

“A clean cut you tub of lard, or I shall return from the grave and kick your ass from here to Old Earth.” Suddenly he realised amidst the joke that the pain racking his body, had disappeared.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkQ9qSM9VzK

“A clean cut my friend. I am going to miss you.SIRE PREPARE.” He said in an emotionally cracking voice.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCUwfdIiNUk

The emperor leaned forward and placed both hands on the wooden floor. He drew his shoulders back as far as they would go not to impede the blade should the stroke be short. The executioner did not bother with the thin night gown.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbsEOvlYu62

“SIRE...” Tears streamed down his cheeks.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmqTwRLi1HS

Throughout the palace and the planet and from there, throughout the Galactic Empire, the same words echoed from one corner to the next.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡC850ZUTbHg

At  noon, Overlord time, sirens shrieked all over the Empire.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡux0dggOLPq

She sat with head bowed, arms resting on uplifted knees. She breathed in huge droughts of air. She was filthy and covered in muck and grime. Sweat carved runnels down her face, chest and back. Black, shoulder length hair lay in filth encrusted lifeless locks.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYr16pxvERG

Her attire was wet with her sweat and blood.  Her opponent’s sword cut has nicked and sliced her from neck to thighs. He had played with her the bastard. Too captivated with the novel idea of standing up against a skimpy leather clad woman. Leather clad was hardly the correct term to apply in this case for the woman wore only a short soft buckskin skirt, which hardly succeeded in covering her under-clothes. The skirt did not leave much to the imagination. That and the  insufficient leather halter that kept her small, yet firm breasts from impeding her sword strokes, was the third part of her so called clothing. Being poor had its ups and downs. Mostly down.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIBO49qWaBB

These weapons were designed more for cutting than for stabbing, and had a deep, graceful curve to the blade. The swords, especially the two longer ones, were used for fighting horseback.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡc16e8wLEaD

From Katya’s point of view, anybody fighting horseback didn’t know a horse’s ass about sword fighting. Just what the hell a horse was in the first place, was up for discussion. Nobody had ever seen one.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkSe9XnATyb

She lay in the dirt and rested. Sweat burnt her eyes. She squeezed them tight. Tears washed away the burn and sweat, and eventually slipped passed the corners of her tightly shut eyelids. Drowsiness descended and she slept.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvVrEi0jttm

Should Katya have been awake and in full possession of her wits, her instincts would have alerted her to the approaching wind that rustled the leaves. She would have been concerned had she seen that the wind’s path was slightly wider than two feet. She would really have been alarmed had she seen and felt the wind die down as it reached her to become a gentle breeze that played over her body until it too, died down to nothing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkwOzFLXfEv

What she did not know, would not hurt her. The wind was inquisitive. It entered her twenty three year old body as easy as the air she drew into her lungs. It was easier. It went deeper into her body. Studied it. Noted the exhaustion. The blood loss. It was careful, so it only infused the system with life-giving oxygen and stopped the leaking blood.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr9rSOJT8dn

It regenerated torn and weary muscles. It healed a cut close to the jugular. It healed the deep wound to her left bicep. It healed the sign of flu she had developed during the last few days. It found many old wounds with much damage and scar tissue in her reproductive organs and for some unknown rationale  it knew that to repair this damage would be detrimental. It was fascinated. Why? It did not know. There was much it did not know, yet it was learning, in leaps and bounds knowledge came.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡul3TzYqkFC

It entered her brain and in moments knew her thoughts, her hurt, pain, loves and hates. Her suffering and dreams of the future, her pride and her faults. Her strengths and her weaknesses. Her drive for vengeance.  It gleaned every article of knowledge that her body and essence could supply. It changed a strand of her DNA, first one and then in moments billions more, all in a matter of seconds. When its task was complete, Vigrior withdrew, and, with a rustle of wind, faded away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡf083zOOw4t

She awoke with a soft grunt. She sat up, her muscles protested from the life and death struggle. She turned her head and stared at the headless corpse. “Bastard.” She spat at it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhwxU0WmedX

He was her equal  and overconfident. It was that overconfidence that killed him. That and his big, fat, dirty mouth. Everybody knew that men were only capable of doing one thing at a time and here was this idiot doing three. Thinking, talking and fighting. He should have noticed the small feint from his tired opponent, but he had disregarded it and stepped into a slicing cross cut that left a five inch red strip across his well-muscled belly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFS2rA1Mhqs

He dropped to the ground and watched as the red stripe across his belly opened. Blue-grey intestines fell to the ground. He stared at her in bewilderment and pain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEsn2DlZB9t

Her blade whistled through the air and sliced his head off his neck. It tumbled down the hill and came to rest against a boulder. The headless corpse  folded in on itself, and with a last spurt of blood and a jerking, twitching leg, it lay still.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFTeIkOJ769

She wiped the blade clean with a dirty cloth and sheathed it. Placing the sword beside its brothers, she picked up her travel sack that contained her worldly goods and rummaged in it for the red metallic container.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzLCWNfiMRr

She grabbed the water skin, pulled the plug and swallowed. The cold water tasted sweeter than anything she had ever known. Lowering the skin she burped. There was not much left and would have to be refilled soon. She placed it on the grass beside her swords and longbow. Ignoring the food temporarily, she reached for the small, red metallic container.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgvSfIegQWu

Opening it, she removed one of the red disks it contained. She took the disk to the corpse, she cracked it and dropped it on the body. It contained a  small and  powerful transceiver. She glanced about her as a thought entered her mind. She saw what she was looking for under a small bush. Her opponent’s bundle was much larger than hers and as she undid the cloth knots, she whistled softly in surprise as she withdrew what looked like one of those new-fangled credit belts that had become all the rage a few years back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcCoqkIe3Pl

Made from finely spun Grayvite metal, with its dual purpose buckle, it contained a small electronic screen that only accepted one fingerprint, it was next to impossible to break open or circumvent.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdo6PlU4DGW

She placed the thick and somewhat heavy belt aside and delved into the bundle withdrawing a clean yet crinkled shirt and trousers. It was the packages of compacted high energy food bars that caught her interest. She grabbed one and ripped it open. Taking a large unladylike bite, her mouth and taste buds flooded with the glorious flavour of sweet bird honey. She  had to remember not to eat too much. Though the bars were rich in energy, carbohydrates and fibre, too much on a system unused to rich foods resulted in diarrhea. She chewed and dug further, removing one energy bar after the other until she unearthed a sparklingly new miniature Laser pistol.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5XrYd9ct08

She turned it on its side to check the charge; half full. She ripped another energy bar open, and took a bite. The meaty flavour had her grunt in pleasure as she removed the charge and replaced it with a new one; she shoved the pistol into her skirt’s waistband. She left the extra pistol charges. She was about to rip open another energy bar but decided to be prudent. Water skin. She opened it and took a swallow and promptly choked. Gasping for air and wiping away tears, she closed it tight. The bastard had filled it with brandy and by the taste of it, it was as close to 100% proof as one can get. Snuffling and coughing, she took out the last item in the cloth sack. It turned out to be a welcome camouflaged thermal blanket.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXcKlC54R8T

A movement caught her eye and she stopped chewing. She watched a Polrob hovering about five meters above the corpse. It completed its observation and moved  towards her.  It hovered above her scanning her features. The red disk had sent out a kill message to every Polrob within a radius of 1000 kilometres. The closest Polrob was sent to investigate.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdlijbDdghU

CONGRATULATIONS CITIZEN KATYA BEROTIVICH, YOUR FIRST KILL. CAN I ASSIST YOU IN ANY WAY? OR PERHAPS GIVE YOU ADVICE?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcmRDl5NxyO

“How many contestants are there?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGv0rRDwVvE

ONE MILLION THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY-TWO THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND THIRTY-THREE ENTERED. NINE HUNDRED AND SIXTY ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND NINE ARE STILL COMPETINGcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPI082bMgr3

“In only three days? Over three hundred thousand dead in three days. How is that possible?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbDq3hL85jG

MOST DIED AT COLLECTION POINTS THROUGHOUT THE EMPIRE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTZcTr3xXZ3

Every planet had collection points. Remote areas where none would willingly travel unless they were nature lovers. More and more people left their skimmers behind and took to untraveled terrain in vehicles. Only the rich could afford this. The odd adventurer throwback or love struck couple would take a skimmer and fly into the wild blue yonder to picnic and make love.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCPLCYONK4f

Collection points could hold anything from one hundred thousand would-be emperors or more, and it was obligatory for all contestants to report to the closest collection points where they were given the rules and regulations. They signed their acceptance of these in their own blood for the second time. The first being when they originally joined up for the contest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOfSfia1qfk

Contestants received a small, red container. Old friends and enemies met each other and shook hands for the last time. Each eyeballed the other, each planned the other’s demise. Everybody carried only the necessary belongings with them in cloth sacks tied to short, stout sticks. Food, water and possibly a change of clothing, credits, and of course, the small red container. The disks inside the container had a miniature transceiver that operated as soon as the disk was cracked and dropped alongside the unlucky contestant that died.  Soon after, a Polrob would come by and scan both the living and the dead contestant, relay the relevant information to Central Control and order the meat wagon to transfer the corpse to the mortuary. None carried more than what was necessary.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ78kj2LnAJm

By law, any contestant could enter any house of trade and walk out with the clothing, food, beverages or weapons. Gratis.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDlcpXadLVi

Security companies made a roaring trade on movement activated hovering CCTV Camera systems, for when the shop owner laid a claim to the government on goods ‘appropriated’, a Polrob was required to scan the individual doing the ‘appropriation’ in case of fraud. Again, the contestant only took what was required.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0JyTZQ30hj

For thirty days he or she had to be on the move continuously or else another contestant would be looking for available necks to cut. There were only so many days and so many contestants. Transport from planet to planet was also available to all contestants. They had, for one month, right of way throughout the Empire. There was only one catch. Every other would-be emperor knew where a target was at any given moment.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlosGHvr45a

By gaming law, any contestant could request any information they required from a Polrob about their next target. Polrob’s knew exactly where every contestant was at any given moment. Where that contestant appropriated clothing, food and accommodation. For safety, contestants could move as a single unit, in pairs or groups. Ultimately, there would be a reckoning between players but that would be in the future. The only time, by law, that information was not supplied about any contestant was when that contestant paid in credits.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrJwD8uOmfJ

Many fortunes were made or lost on the outcome of a duel. Witnesses to a duel, cheering and jeering onlookers and crowds were a necessary hazard to contestants who could at times take their frustrations out on a heckler or find umbrage at two or more betting on whether he would live or die. Some citizens, forgetting the rules and being overexcited would get too close and would inadvertently pay the price in blood.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFgsdar3esl

This was a time of death. Murder unpunished. People trained years for this contest to become proficient in all manner of fighting techniques from weapons to fisticuffs, wrestling to martial arts and of course, the sword. Contestants could eliminate their opponents via poison, knife, or any manner, as long as, in the end, a head left its neck.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyNJ0trwVwC

There was no age restriction although only the foolish would allow a child to contend. Many thousands trained and prayed for the day they could prove their worth. Few were lucky to have The Month of Reckoning come around while they were in the peak of their youth and ability.  ‘Training and Prayers’ had become a slogan throughout the Empire.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6XlDBu7pRn

There could be only one survivor. Every contender to the crown had the right to live or die, they had to prove it for none could beg for their life. None could withdraw from the contest. None could change their minds and walk away. Those that tried were hunted down by the Polrobs and executed. On the last day, all surviving contenders would come together on the Plains of Judgment, one hundred kilometres from Overlord’s Capital city, Dunkirk. There the combatants paired off until only one survived. History had shown that on only eight occasions the Plains of Judgment missed its epic finale.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8wEBJO3N3v

For Katya Berotivich, the Month of Reckoning was a godsend.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8BjSBNj8JQ

Her whole life had been one of struggle and counting every credit. Her parents were unknown. She grew up in foster care where it was believed that a child should not be seen nor be heard. To the press and prospective parents, they were the personification of decorum and respectability. Behind closed doors it was another story. Assault, rape, abuse, child exploitation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKQN6tpAAOs

By the age of seventeen, Katya Berotivich could not tolerate the rape. They were violent and vicious. It took days and sometimes weeks for the  bruises to fade. She wanted out and she wanted out fast. Being a home for unwanted children and not a prison, it wasn’t that difficult. The only requirement was luck. Broken, torn and with a large psychological chip on her shoulders, she managed to slip out of an unlocked front door. She was found huddled, whimpering and bleeding under a small foot bridge two days later by an old Japanese gentleman out searching for herbs. It did not take long for him to establish the problem. He returned soon after with a younger version of himself and watched and muttered under his scraggly moustache and beard as his daughter tempted and coaxed the young girl from her hiding place.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXXYByIqBvt

Months passed, the girls wounds healed but the damage had been done. There would never be the chance of motherhood. That option had been destroyed irrevocably. In this day and age Medical wonders abounded but in some instances, repairs still had to be done more or less immediately and, if ‘left’ on its own to heal, the consequences were unpredictable. Through trial and error the old man and his daughter soon realised that Katya had nowhere to return to. For days he sat and deliberated as to what should be done with the girl. She had told him nothing of her ordeals as she still did not trust men. His daughter had, in the meantime, gained her trust and it soon became known what Katya had to endure for seventeen years. She and many others like her. The old man was furious. He threatened to call in the Polrob’s. He threatened to deal with the perpetrators himself. He threatened and accused the Empire for neglecting the young, the old and the weak.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7E4rwGfQPY

He had an idea that required deep thought. He considered the options and came to the conclusion that the law was out of the picture for obvious reasons. He was a wanted member of a Black Market ring including one of the  few human beings ever to escape the attentions of a Polrob...twice. Taking the law into his own hands and punishing the people responsible would have that same law digging around where it was unwanted. No, there was a better way. A much more..., interesting way. He would teach this Katya how to protect herself. He would teach her how to fight ..., how to fight back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGzOuFhTgSI

And so, for  over five years he trained her in the ancient ways of warfare. He trained her in the use of the Long Bow, the Sword and the open hand. She became skilled in all. Her thirst for retribution, for vengeance, drove her and would not allow weakness to enter. She developed a sure eye and a body that reacted before the conscious mind knew that danger threatened it. She was motivated.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIQFGsepSQU

And then..., The Month of Reckoning was announced.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmYzrp68EWX

In the small corner of the world where she and her mentor with his daughter lived, news of the outside world travelled . Due to necessity, their small abode was to be found deep in the woods where none would have thought to look. Nature on the planet Chicago was anything but friendly. There was a saying; Chicago was reminiscent of a concrete jungle except Chicago was more jungle than concrete. Nobody knew what concrete was but if it was half as dangerous as the jungle on Chicago, then it would be something to write home about. The old Japanese had carved out his postage stamp home turf and protected it from marauding flesh eating birds to cat like canines called Sharks, which attached an unbreakable proboscis to its prey and literally sucked it into oblivion. Daily, carcasses ranging from hand sized vampire moths to Sharks and  small, foot-fungus eating worms had to be dragged away from the ‘Gen-Elektig’ Perimeter fence. (Gen-Elektig Company had invented a ‘Sticky Force Field ®’ that grabbed hold of anything trying to pass through. Survival was guaranteed not to be an option as within the ‘sticky force field, - it was one meter wide, - there was no air to breath. Care had to be taken to switch it off first thing in the morning though!copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDDws8bK2sC

News travelled . It was the old Japanese that first heard about The Month of Reckoning from a small tea shop where he was having a  welcome cup of warm Saki. He hastened back home and delivered the news to both daughter and pupil. Their uncomprehending looks soon turned into excitement at his explanation. His daughter  quickly lamented on she could not enter the contest due to a lack of martial training and ran out the small wooden house blaming her father for being an un-visionary senile buffoon for had she received training, she could have entered and possibly won, therefore increasing the family fortune many fold. (The fact that she had never been interested in martial training had never entered the conversation,  after her father had used his last weapon of persuasion – tears – she had still refused.)copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKasqRUEgMu

Katya left soon after with her mentor to register her name in blood. After her return, her training increased and was refined. She trained day and night and only exhaustion and hunger forced her to take a break. Her revenge, her vengeance was within sight. When she arrived so many years ago, she was torn, broken and bleeding.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡb9sKASQIxN

She would leave healed, bitter and full of hate.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGbrcDzonBQ

There was only one serious problem, she had no weapons so she looked to the old Japanese who believed business was business and business should never interfere in personal matters. In his mind it was as simple as one plus one. She wanted weapons? So go out and buy them. No Credits? Then work for them and then go buy them. So she did. Irritably, it would interfere in her training but she would sleep less and eat faster. For three months she worked as a scullery maid – being the only employment she could find on such short notice. Her pay was negligible and not  worth the effort, but she had to have weapons. When the day came that she had to leave for the nearest Collection point, she glumly showed her mentor the meager amount of credits. The old man got up from his comfortable rocking chair and bent his head over her hand to study the credits with what seemed fascination. He took one, walked back and forth mumbling under the thin whiskers he was inordinately proud of. He returned to the outstretched hand and took two more. Then his back and forth prowling and muttering. This carried on until there was only one credit laying forlornly in her callused palm. He nodded to himself in seaming pleasure and turned away beckoning the young woman to follow. In his curtained off room lay a long and bulky cloth wrapped package on his bed which he presented to her. Frowning she unwrapped the soft silky black cloth and gasped in delight. Three swords in their black scabbards lay beside the unstrung light-brown longbow and sealed quiver of arrows. With shock she looked at the only man she would ever trust - in the eye and embraced him silently. Tears ran down her cheeks and she kissed him lightly on both cheeks. “This is only a hire to purchase.” He said gruffly, swallowing with difficulty and feeling  self-conscious. “You still owe me ...,” he chose a figure out of the air. “You owe me 15 000 Credits. Don’t let me have to look for you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZm1rMSmq89

Her eyebrows rose at the astronomical price. “Master, there will never be a need to come to me for success or death will be mine. Either way, your loan will be cared for and returned with interest. I promise.” She was surprised when he harrumphed and walked out. His angry eyes and the muttering about youth and their stupidity hanging in the air made her realise she had made a mistake somehow. It took a while but she soon realised what it was, but by then it was too late to let the old man know she understood. She would come back she promised. When all was said and done, she would be back and payment handed out would be considerably more than any would have reason to expect.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVjio4TgVCO

Payment was going to be a bitch.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIiZavCKTZm

It was the ‘lots and lots and lots’ part of the tale that for some reason entered Katya’s mind now. For it brought to mind how,  although she knew it was a fairy tale, how it would have looked like with all the children coming from near and far, from every direction of the compass to one place to kill the foxes and wolves.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWR6efa7w5J

Flashing swords and staves caught the sunlight and eye as those few tried to empress themselves and others around them. She eyed out the men all around her, their clothing and weapons. Wondered about those weapons. Would they be handled correctly and expertly? Would some of those weapons be directed at her  soon? She noted another woman between the crowd and angled towards her. The chatting, swearing and joking contenders helped to mask her approach and she judged the woman to be in her early thirties. Short blond hair that looked as if it was hacked off with a blunt instrument. Dull brown eyes stared uncaringly and un-inquisitively from a face that seemed swollen and puffy from crying. A livid blue-greenish bruise covered the left side of her face from temple to chin. The woman was short and plump, dressed in an old and well-worn and faded dress. Katya frowned and wondered why the woman had joined the throng of contenders when she  did not belong. She was about to slow her approach and fade back into the jovial crowd when the woman stumbled and would have fallen had Katya not shot out a hand to steady her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkO2jZxWJrV

“Thank you” the woman said and sniffed. Fresh tears  waiting to be released.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5bVNXmjB9f

“Can I help you with anything?” asked Katya, her hand still holding the woman’s arm gently as they walked. The woman held her sword awkwardly then carefully placed it on one shoulder to help with the weight.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡo57ukmFrTK

“No luv. I did not see that stone and my foot slipped on it. Thank you again.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbezeyyLuhc

For a time they walked in silence until the woman shyly asked if Katya was any good with her weapons.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqnolblHuXR

“I am. I have been training for five years, and you?” she askedcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJlWQQgdvI7

“Me? Luv, Im the worst female fighter between everybody here.” She held the heavy sword with both hands and laughed sadly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgUlP8UoUoG

“Then why? Where is your travel sack?” she asked, noticing for the first time another discrepancy.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6P3uaeQSIO

“Didn’t need it luv,” she sighed. “Wasn’t mine anyways.” She kicked the dusty trodden ground. “Caught the bastard red handed I did.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJs9GjZXwuF

“My man. Been together now nine years. Wasn’t the best man by far but I was happy until today.” Silent tears ran down her cheeks. “Didn’t have any children you see. Something wrong you see and no Credits to find out what it was. So we’s all alone but happy. Well, more or less. We’s had our ups and downs  like other folks but this morning...” she dried the tears from her cheeks. They were replaced soon after by others.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEJ7IeiW4bF

Katya kept quiet and every now and again she stuck out a steadying hand as the tears blurred the woman’s sight. “I caught him with my sister.” She wiped her eyes again and seemed to catch herself. “Well they won’t cheat on nobody any more. I fixed them good.” she laughed hysterically. Katya had to guide her in the right direction. She had an idea of what she would do if her own man had cheated on her, but thank the gods that she had decided to never become involved with any of them. The only thing they could be trusted to do correctly was to rape and destroy everything before them. She realised the woman was speaking again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTV82Br2zYx

“Stuck ‘em both with this pig sticker Im carryin’, couldn’t believe how easy it went in. Through both of them sweaty grunting bodies...” she giggled again. “Was  slow though. That man of mine was awfully quick. He come off that tart and smacked me one before he  realised he was dying. Was an awful shock to both of them but I  laughed and watched as they begged me to save them. I laughed and laughed. And now Im here,” she sniffed. “With my own sister. Can you believe it? Showed em good.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeCiPCSyvRb

“Luv, you don’t have to register to die. There are two people back yonder that got themselves killed with this pig sticker Im carryin’. How long do you figger its gonna be until some nosy parker finds them and calls the Polrob’s? Those flying nasties are quick on the uptake and they will be after me soon” she thought for a few seconds and looked up at the blue sky. “I believe they should be on my trail already.” She turned to Katya. “Move off luv. Don’t wanna be near me should they come searching.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡR7mZaYqcxo

Katya squeezed her shoulder, “Im sorry. I wish there was something I could do for you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJM12BDV99N

“There is luv.” The woman said, looking at her in earnest. “Heard my man speaking a few days before with his friends. They all agreed on one thing, which was surprising in itself as they hardly ever agreed on anything. Stay on the outskirts luv. Don’t be caught in the middle of this crowd. When the time comes it’s going to be every man for himself. You be off to one side and run like a Shark is about to take some fat off your butt. Take em on one at a time luv. They isn’t going to play fair. Not with a slip of a lass like you. You got too many curves girl. Men want to possess them curves and the only way they know how is to take em by force. This here month is gonna be open season on many women. You listen to me girl. You listen and take care. Give em hell and then send them to hell.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlXjgUzp9KE

“Im going to be slap bang there in the middle luv. Going to take at least one more man with me before I die. I miss him luv. He was my man although he was a lyin’ cheating son of a bitch. I still miss him. Do you think he’s gonna be angry with me for messin’ up his chances of becoming Emperor?” she asked. Not noticing that Katya had long since disappeared into the crowd. “Well if that cheatin’ bastard  thinks of hitting me again Im gonna stick him good with this here pig sticker. Stick him good I will. Again.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrSesUQ5P0e

It took close on thirteen hours to walk to the collection point and by the time she arrived, she was footsore and hungry.  She had replenished her water along the way from a small stream that had to be crossed. In the distance she could hear Polrob’s making the same announcement over and over again. Their undercarriage spot lights lit the area. From the high ground where she stood, she looked down onto what she hoped would be a flat plain. She was tired and fed up with bumping into people, or trees or boulders. The joviality had long since become something of the past. Nobody was in the mood for jokes and laughter now. Disgruntled murmurings and arguments could be heard from all sides as people passed the tree she was standing in front of. She heard somebody swearing as he bounced of the tree that sheltered her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡClcWB6v1fg

“This fucking place better be close. Why the hell we couldn’t use flitters or something to get us here is beyond me. The damned killing aint yet started and bloods already drawn twice over.” Somebody in the gloom said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFPSrMumHxv

A loud guffaw. “Thanks be to the gods. I thought I was the only one.” Said another.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9Ynoqhfw7f

“The only bugger to keep walking into trees for fuck sakes. That’s what”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtT8mlUQHBn

“You arseholes should keep your eyes open then.” Came another. “You can’t miss a  tree you idiots.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcLmAaNRpjZ

“Who you calling a fucking idiot? I have a good...” the voice was cut off suddenly as the man swore at the top of his lungs. Chopping sounds could be heard as he swung his sword time and again at the luckless tree that bloodied his nose.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡE4Jf0qs4DG

Laughter came from all sides interspersed with curses.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡm6AvsVpjD1

“Now boulders on the other hand. Those bastards are near to  invisible in this dark. Watch out for them rocks too boys. A twisted ankles as good as a death sentence.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHQN3qXQin9

“What do you mean about warning us about rocks this late in the game you stupid fuck? Could have saved me a broken toe had you spoken up earlier.” A voice said out of the gloom.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡh1d0heqJj3

Katya smiled at the joke and listened to the laughter. She set off again, choosing her way carefully. She herself had wondered about the reasons for not allowing the contenders to use easier transport methods and the only answer she could come to was another aphorism she had picked up. Two women and one has a war, while two thousand  or more men equals a skirmish or two. A skirmish here would not end in a bloodied nose and a black eye. It would end in death. No. The only thing that made any sense was that a tired contender made for less trouble.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqFa0bDVBWz

The moving darting lights far ahead beckoned and she tiredly placed one foot ahead of the other. At times she could  about make out the instructions given by the Polrob’s. Fires dotting the landscape as those too tired to travel anymore decided to bunk down or those who had already reached the Collection point decided on having an early night. Footsore, tired and bone weary, she arrived. All she wanted to do was sleep but instead she stepped over or around the grumbling sleeping multitude.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDEpqHPoy7L

ALL CONTENDERS… The Polrob’s repeated over and over again as they silently swooped and dived over the heads of the ever increasing huge number of humans. ALL CONTENDERS TO REPORT AT DEMARCATED ZONES SITUATED IN THE AREA SURROUNDING THE COLLECTION POINT. COLLECT YOUR CONTRACT AND SIGN IT IN BLOOD. COLLECT YOUR CHIP CONTAINER. NOT SIGNING OR REFUSAL TO SIGN WILL RESULT IN PENALTIES. ALL CONTENDERS ARE TO REPORT TO DEMARCATED ZONES.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIoNVp5aPOt

She stepped up to a long table and in the dim light accepted what looked like an exact contract to the one she had signed when the old Japanese had taken her to register. The container she shoved into her travel sack. Just how she was supposed to read the  thing was anybody’s guess never mind signing it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTf94fkHbWE

She glanced about and saw others nipping or cutting their thumbs and squeezing a drop of blood onto one corner of the back page. She flipped to the back page and saw a silver looking DNA window.*copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKzi9ZZZoy7

Nipping her own thumb, she gave pressure to it and watched as a drop of blood splattered onto the DNA window. Three seconds later the strip turned red. She wiped the blood off and dropped the contract onto a mound that was being sorted out and packed into metallic crates by government officials. Katya turned from the table and stepped into the dark. She needed to find some place off to the side where she could eat in peace and get some sleep.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡagvXcU3mKS

Half an hour later she was still searching.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQE70Jmlqyh

After a while she gave up, she  wanted to get away from the press of people and the continuous repetitions of the Polrob’s. She was heartily sick of it all and wanted to sleep. She found a small hollow, scraped small rock, pebbles and sticks away, placed her weapons and travel sack close. Digging a small hole in the ground for her hipbone she lay down to sleep.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4jQmtQmseU

Sooner than she wanted, a loud unbearable whistling sound woke her up. Blearily she sat up and looked around. Polrob’s flew every which way emitting sharp high pitched whistles that irritated the ear drums. The sound of grumbling complaining men could be heard all around her. The sharp tang of urine drifted by in the early morning breeze mixed with the acrid smell of unwashed bodies. She got to her feet and stretched the kinks out of her muscles. She too needed to find a quiet place to empty her bladder. Looking at the sky she saw the sun  become visible. Picking up her belongings, she checked each sword and wondered again at their craftsmanship. On each black scabbard there was the same representation of a long snakelike creature with what looked like four short legs and a pair of wings on its back. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzoa5mm0pJL

One at a time she unsheathed the slightly upward curving swords to check if the blades had rusted or chipped. She never found any and she guessed she never would. Each blade had the same snake figure etched on them and she slid a finger nail over one  to feel the etching it made. Next came the longbow. It too was a weapon of perfection. Unstrung, it looked like a thin curved piece of wood with a thick center. Nobody yet had commented on the bow or sealed quiver of arrows  and by the looks of it, nobody knew that it was a weapon. For that fact she was extremely happy as every ounce of extra help would go a long way and she believed that she would need it soon. Weapons checked, she dug into the travel sack, broke off half of the hunk of bread and another of the oily cheese. Eating and sipping water, she searched in the morning light until she found a secluded spot to urinate. Feeling better, she looked around and spied a large boulder to one side.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhAppB9MWzk

As she approached it she looked for hand and foot holds, judged them all wanting but never the less clambering up. A few cuts and abrasions to palms and knees was all it took to reach the top. Making herself comfortable, she promptly fell asleep with one hand resting on a sword.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeED416Vnz9

“Hey, you up there…, If you want to be involved in this spectacle, you will have..., HEY, YOU…, YES YOU… . Better wake up, sunshine.” The voice laughing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡi8ytdVQekA

Katya came awake so suddenly that she nearly slipped off her perch. “Thank you.” She said to nobody in particular, still  befuddled. Glancing about she noticed a man walking away. He glanced over his shoulder and grinned back at her. “What’s happening?” she asked his departing back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZCbp2MyOJ7

“Nothing much really.” He stopped and gazed in appreciation as she unselfconsciously stretched on her toes and craned her neck to see what was happening down at the Collection Point. From his angle he stared at her shapely legs and followed them up to the covered junction visible beneath her short leather skirt. His eyes travelled towards her muscled stomach to her skimpy breast covering to her face. This picture of perfection would stay with him till the day he died. He whistled softly under his breath. “If you want to be part of this shindig lady, you better get down from there and hightail it. It’s nearly noon.” He turned away and walking swiftly towards the assembled mass of humanity a few hundred meters away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8XMM2NTXbs

She was about to clamber down the boulder when she had second thoughts about it. To be anywhere near that lot at the stroke of noon would seriously hamper her chances. She could hear the Polrob’s counting down the time from where she stood. She watched in fascination as men and woman squared off and eyed each other out. Grim excitement could be felt everywhere.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7tAFXOAN2V

Polrob’s announced last minute instructions.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡn1yyqAlZo4

THE MONTH OF RECKONING WILL COMMENCE IN SEVEN MINUTES TWENTY THREE SECONDS. ONLY ONCE THE EMPEROR IS DEAD. ALL CONTENDERS FOR THE CROWN TO COMMENCE THEREAFTER. ANY CONTENDER COMMENCING BEFORE THE TIME WILL BE DISQUALIFIED AND JUDGED A MURDERER. SENTENCE...DEATH…TIME...SIX MINUTES THIRTY NINE SECONDS...THE DAY OF RECKONING WILL COMMENCE IN...copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7x1Tk4Gd1R

Katya watched as hundreds of men and woman swarmed towards the collection point only to stop and retreat as others tried to gain space to swing their swords. Travelling sacks littered the area and surroundings. She slid off the boulder and in the opposite direction, away from the gathering. Her sack was tied behind her skirt to the same cord that held her three swords in place at her side. The unstrung bow she held in her left hand.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡF9lgOi4p67

“Hey, sweetheart, you going in the wrong direction sweet thing.” A man grinned at her as he rushed by.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlt9U2AunzT

She ignored him and picked up speed. The odd latecomer eyed her out, too involved in their own problems to care about one departing person. She jogged as a feeling of fear rushed down her spine. She needed space. She needed to get away. Her imagination working overtime. There was going to be a rushing human wave  soon as contestants realised their mistake.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrGrtzLxgYz

CONTENDER. A sudden voice above her said. The suddenness of it made her stumble and stop. She gazed upwards at the hovering Polrob in confusion as it scanned her face.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8DItTxMYXS

KATYA BEROTIVICH. YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF THE CONTENDERS RULES. PLEASE RETURN TO THE COLLECTIONS POINT. It said in a no nonsense metallic voice.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6jmfdoPILo

“Oh, bugger off,” she said, starting to jog again. “I did sign the  contract and you know,” she said over her shoulder. “...that what’s going to happen back there is a slaughter waiting to happen. I stand a better chance alone and in the open. Now go and bother some other people.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBd53GEOeVN

The Polrob cruised  above and behind her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡN3qwxk4kj2

YOU ARE CORRECT IN YOUR REASONINGS CONTENDER KATYA BEROTIVICH. THEREFORE YOU MAY PROCEED. It turned away from her. She noticed one or two other Contenders hesitate and stop. They had heard the conversation between her and the Polrob and decided that it would be more prudent to proceed in another direction to the one they were originally travelling.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcplzFyXuhJ

“Hey, wait up.” she stopped and watched the Polrob return to hang in the  air . “How much time is still left?” she asked it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTTWZWDELRz

TWO MINUTES SIXTEEN SECONDS KATYA BEROTIVICH. IS THAT ALL YOU REQUIRE?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyFDZcakhvD

She did not deign to answer; instead she turned and jogged away into the wilderness. Trees, boulders and vegetation closing around her lean sweating figure.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjH3EhJdeev

At the collection points throughout the Galactic Empire, men and woman waited in heavy sweating fearful and excited silence. The odd latecomer signed his or her contract and moved to a clearing and unlimbering muscles for the ordeal ahead.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY7oU7kyL5p

Across the Empire, they waited for only one thing and when it came, they were caught by surprise. Months, years of preparation had brought them to this day, this moment. The moment they were born for; The Month of Reckoning. And still it caught them momentarily at a loss. When the moment came, it came via Satellite to billions of homes, crammed full of expectant, excited Citizens. It was beamed to every planet in the Empire, to every Space ship, Space Yacht and wrist Vid screen.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkD5XDh8XyD

Every Polrob announced the news at the same instant; THE EMPEROR IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR. THE EMPEROR IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBSlExCoKRC

Visuals of every Collections point were picked up by designated Polrob’s and sent to the nearest Satellite and once again beamed to a central point in space and then sent out with the appropriate by-lines.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfPJEKRYiC4

Hundreds of thousands of Men and women, Contenders all, stood facing each other. On all sides others stood. Before, behind, to the sides. Hundreds upon thousands. For those in the centre of the Collections points, realisation of sudden, impending doom dawned on them. Those near the edges of the gathering edging away, trying to see on all sides. Mouths suddenly dry. Eyes burning and hearts beating like trip hammers, sweat poured down faces, backs and chests. The sudden spurt of fear leaking from every sweat gland and pore permeated the air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIXINVl53iE

On every planet, at every Collections point the same thing happened; everybody froze. Sphincter muscles clamped tight. Eyes widened and darted about, chests heaved at the sudden realisation that death was but moments away. It took but one swing of a sword, maybe somebody dropping their Travel sack  to be more unencumbered. Whatever the reason, death descended on the first Contenders as swords cut the life out of them. Shouts, screams and the clashing, clanging of swords erupted from separate parts and like a tidal wave the fighting spread.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHUw3z3FXOx

Heads rolled. Chests and stomachs were slashed open. Viscera tumbled in long strings to the ground. Arms, legs and fingers were cloven and hacked from living, breathing bodies to fall on the ground and dirt in ever increasing regularity. Blood spurted. It flowed and dripped to join the dismembered flesh. The sharp smell of dust, blood and the stench of loosened bowls permeated the air. Footing became suddenly difficult and treacherous. Bodies and limbs collected everywhere. Shouting and screaming reached fever pitch to join with the screaming and moaning of pain and fear of the dying and the wounded. Contenders walked about in a daze clutching hacked off limbs trying to attach them to bloody stumps. Others sat and tried to staunch the flow of blood from severed fingers or other limbs. Still others continued to hack and stab as they went, only to be cut down from their unprotected sides.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz4mjI7aHpM

They joined the bleeding and dying. They were trampled under by the fighting, fleeing horde. Those that tripped or stopped to catch a breath were flattened and crushed by the heaving overflowing crush of humanity. They died in their numbers. The rising dust coated everything. Raging thirst brought many to their knees where they were cut down. Some crawled bloodily away. Some ran, leaving swords behind. Anyplace was better than here. Hundreds died cowardly. Still more died heroically protecting wounded fathers or brothers or sisters or friends. Bloodlust had descended. Men and women frothed at the mouth.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡL8JuWEP1I8

Quick gulps of water were taken from Water skins to ease off the unbearable thirst and then dropped to the red, corpse littered battlefield to gush out their life giving substance. Some were grabbed up by others to die where they drank. Still others grabbed skins, banded together in sudden desperate momentary need. Men and women died unexpectedly from unseen foes while fighting one or more opponents. Swearing, shouts and screams echoed and reverberated across the landscapes to be joined by the clashing and ringing of steel on steel while the overpowering stench of vomit and loosened bowls lay like a blanket over it all.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFp3csCf8z4

They died watching their intestines slither from their bodies, clutching and scrabbling to stop them. They died begging for mercy. They died cursing their opponents to hell. Still others died without a whimper. Only one died with a smile on her face. She had not killed one but two men before she too was cut down herself. The last thought that went through her mind was that her man would have been proud of her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡG882rQaByA

Above it all, swarmed the Polrob’s. Swiftly maneuvering backwards and forwards. They drifted or glided, soared or hovered. They darted this way and that to follow an interesting and entertaining bout of swordplay. They gave dispassionate commentary to the billions that sat at home in their safe but comfortable recliners, or in pubs with their favorite beverages. Business had long since come to a standstill. Crime dropped by 100%. Even there, screams of joy as bets were won. The groans of those that lost were silenced in the tumult of further cheering. More bets were made and were won or lost.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnkI7OELEGu

And in the quiet corners of thousands of homes throughout the Galactic Empire, those that stayed behind cried for the loss of loved ones.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNmUQynsOv1

Katya Berotivich ran as fast as her legs could carry her. She did not know or care in what direction. She  needed to get away. Later, much later, she would worry about an issue like that. Right now distance was of paramount importance. She stopped often to full her lungs with desperately needed air. She crouched in the undergrowth, to take a sip of water and to listen for approaching footsteps. Here and there she thought she heard voices arguing or calling out. Polrob’s flew silently back and forth above the tree line or glided noiselessly between the branches. A few minutes breather and she was away again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZAKHHymtd2

Two days passed in this fashion until on the third day she had decided to rest up about three kilometers from the nearest town. Due to her being stuck in an Orphanage most of her life, she had no inkling of its name. She found a small high rise that supplied shade and soft earth to sleep on.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡX0oRQXfjLK

She slept and rested and woke up hungry and thirsty. The sun was at its zenith and she had  opened the knotted Travel sack when danger signals penetrated her brain. Standing up  and with heart beating painfully in her chest, she turned around to find a large man staring at her some ten feet away. His lustful eyes roved all over her body making her feel dirty. “Hi there sweetheart.” His voice rumbled as his tongue darted out to lick his lips.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkEWuFb6xBi

“I would advise you to walk away.” She said softly to him. “You will live longer that way.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXATHiAgF4t

“You think so darling?” He returned, taking a slow step forward. He watched as she picked up a black slightly curved sheathed sword. “Leave that kitchen knife sweat pea and lets you and I do some fucking. It will be a hell of a lot more entertaining darling than having me shove that thing up your cunt and slicing it out of you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH2u6Ul39EP

“Come and get it if you can you pig.” She spat.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUZtRu93AGE

“Oh, I will darling. I will. And then you and I are gonna make some noise.” He stepped forward but stopped suddenly when she went to her knees facing him. “Well now, isn’t that sweet. Just the right position sweet thing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTEeMmxmDcr

The girl seemed to dance lightly before his eyes coming to rest with her swords edge facing upward parallel with her left shoulder. He felt a searing pain across his stomach and glanced down between his elbows. Shock registered in his eyes as he saw his intestine spilling out. His sword fell out of his lifeless hands as he sank to his knees trying to scoop up and stop his innards from slithering and sliding from the cavity that once housed them. He looked up at the silent woman in mute appeal for help. Her answer was swift, deadly and to the point.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0xSfjeMGSZ

I would like to go to Overlord,” Katya said to the Polrob. “How do I go about doing it?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6S0GhjKOGp

FROM YOUR POSITION KATYA BEROTIVICH, MOVE IN A SOUTH BY SOUTH WEST DIRECTION. FOURTY-FOUR KILOMETERS. PROCEED TOWARDS THE LAUNCH TERMINALS AND TAKE THE FIRST AVAILABLE LAUNCH TO OVERLORD. SPACE WILL IMMEDIATELY BE MADE AVAILABLE. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE COMPETITION RULES DO NOT EXTEND TO THE SPACE LAUNCH FACILITIES. ON NO CONDITION ARE CONTESTANTS ALLOWED TO CONTEST THEIR COMPETENCY WITHIN THESE PREMISES ON PAIN OF DEATH...TO BOTH PARTIES.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2GXVWgaIX2

“That’s fine by me. Now  how the hell do I find this South by South West you  mentioned?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH61BIBvI7t

THE SUN RISES IN THE NORTH KATYA BEROTIVICH AND SETS IN THE SOUTH. FACING NORTH, WEST IS TO YOUR LEFT AND EAST TO YOUR RIGHT. THUS SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST IS BEHIND AND TO YOUR LEFT, DIRECTLY BETWEEN SOUTH AND WEST. ARE THEIR ANY MORE QUESTIONS KATYA BEROTIVICH?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhdmhUDBFsh

“No. Thank you.” She bent down and transferred her meagre food and water to her late opponents travel sack.  She picked the sack up and felt the extra weight but knew she had to accept it. She moved off in the general direction the Polrob had indicated.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4uY1qUiBDg

“What? You still here? I thought you would have left by now.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡV4BhmvVYan

I HAVE DECIDED TO VENTURE A STAKE ON YOU. PLEASE DO NOT DISSAPOINT ME.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgfSegi9zTM

“What?” she stopped and stared at the Polrob in surprise. “Since when do Polrob’s gamble? Is that legal?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPx7cc4gsw4

POLROB’S ARE CITIZENS OF THE GALACTIC EMPIRE AND AS SUCH KATYA BEROTIVICH, FALL UNDER THE SAME LAWS AS DO YOU HUMANS. IT IS LEGAL FOR POLROBS TO WAGER. UPGRADES ARE EXPENSIVE AND THE NEED GREAT.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQr8rJvWEu7

“They are huh? Tell you what. Should I win this Month of Reckoning how about you coming to work for me? You can be my bodyguard? Oh, and your upgrades will be for free. Whadda you say?” she was half and half joking and was flabbergasted when the Polrob suddenly swooped to her level.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1KmTYDc7d6

YOU ARE PREPARED TO SIGN CONTRACT TO THAT STATEMENT KATYA BEROTIVICH? It asked her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡU3D1fQ6viC

The abruptness of it all made her laugh. “Sure, why not? Except that you will have to answer a question or two first.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡA83IANexrI

She turned around and walking. Forty odd kilometres was a long way from completion. “I..., we all believed you Polrob’s to be Robots. How is it then that you require upgrades when you were manufactured by the government? They built you therefore they should supply any repairs or upgrades free of charge. Am I missing something here?” she finished, glancing in doubt at her future bodyguard as it floated above and behind her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFtWjvbaBHs

YOUR SUPPOSITIONS ARE INCORRECT KATYA BEROTIVICH. THIS VESSEL IS BUT A SHELL THAT INCASES OUR FORM. WHEN YOU HUMANS FIRST CAME TO THIS PLANET WE OF THE ‘WURM’ WERE ALREADY ESTABLISHED. FOR THOUSANDS OF YOUR YEARS WE HAVE LIVED AND DIED HERE.WE HAVE BUT TWO DRAWBACKS. THE ‘WURM’ ARE MINUSCULE BY COMPARISON AND THOUGH EXTREMELY KNOWLEGEABLE LACKED THE MEANS TO FASHION OR CONSTRUCT ANY SHAPE OR FORM. WE LACK THE APPENDAGES YOU HUMANS TAKE FOR GRANTED. OUR SECOND IS OUR MOBILITY. ONE STEP YOU TAKE WITHOUT THOUGHT AND WITHIN MOMENTS, WILL TAKE US THE APPROXIMATION OF ONE OF YOUR YEARS TO COMPLETE. THEREFORE WE CAME TO AN ARRANGEMENT WITH YOU HUMANS MANY THOUSANDS OF YOUR YEARS AGO. YOU SUPPLY US MOBILITY AND WE SUPPLY YOU WITH POLICING. LAW ENFORCEMENT SOON BECAME YOUR CULTURES LARGEST MOST IMPORTANT DILEMMA. WE AS THE POLROBS CORRECT THESE OBSTACLES AS AND WHEN THEY ARE DISCOVERED. THIS CONTRACT BETWEEN YOU HUMANS AND THE ‘WURM’ DO NOT INCLUDE REPAIRS AND UPGRADES THOUGH WE ARE PAID A SUM EQUIVALENT TO THE AVERAGE SALARY YOU HUMANS RECIEVE. THESE SUMS GO FOR REPAIRS AND UPGRADES. IT GUARANTEES US LONGER LIFE AND SAFER WORKING CONDITIONS. YOU HUMANS ARE  UNPREDICTABLE AND VOLATILE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡehBi0b5fJw

“And  what do you mean by small? To fit in that flying machine, you have to be  small. And how come none know what you Polrob’s truly are?” She asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYnZqpmS5Wr

THE SIZE OF THE  TIP OF ONE STRAND OF YOUR HAIR. WE ARE KNOWN BY YOU HUMANS, YOU JUST DO NOT WANT TO BELIEVE THAT THERE IS MORE TO THE UNIVERSE THAN JUST HUMANS. AN ALMOST MICROSCOPIC SENTIENT BEING DOES NOT CONFORM TO YOUR BELIEF SYSTEM AS IT PREFERS THE ‘OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND CONCEPT’.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYCUUWq661O

OUR CONTRACT WILL BE AWAITING YOU AT THE SPACE TERMINUS KATYA BEROTIVICH. I MUST LEAVE NOW. DO NOT DISSAPOINT ME.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9kt9LTwDYs

“Wait! What do I call you?” she asked as it rose higher into the sky.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5W50R1qY7r

I AM KNOWN TO YOU HUMANS AS LAW450715/P.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMGHSRfZeSl

“That’s bullshit. I can’t call you that. I won’t  be able to remember the  thing. Let’s see…I will call you Guardian. You are, after all, going to be my bodyguard.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡk1GObrHH5G

GUARDIAN IT IS THEN. BEWARE KATYA BEROTIVICH. FOUR CONTENDERS APPROACH FROM THE EAST. THEY HAVE TEMPORARILY BANDED TOGETHER. THEY ARE FOUR HOURS BEHIND YOU. ONE APPROACHES FROM THE NORTH, THREE HOURS. ANOTHER TWO FROM THE SOUTH, ALSO BANDED, THREE HOURS. THE CONTENDERS FROM THE EAST WILL BE UPON YOU SOON. THEY HAVE ACQUIRED A FLITTER. DO NOT DISSAPOINT ME KATYA BEROTIVICH. It said as it rose into the air and was gone in moments.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaaCfaugAso

“Shit.” She thought of running but decided to seek refuge instead.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2f4K8WZ7bR

It did not take long for the flitter to come into view. She first caught a glimpse of it as at flew over the tree tops and heading directly towards her hiding place. It was the paint job that helped her spot it. Black against the blue sky. It hummed its way twenty meters overhead towards the Space Terminals far ahead. As it disappeared into the distance she stood up and glanced about. She would have to be  careful. It seemed that others had the same ideas. Overlord was the place to be, where the final prize lay. The seat of government. Maybe it would be best to stay far from there she thought. It would be best not to get caught up in another situation like that at the Collection point. She walked, always keeping her eyes open and watchful always taking care not to make stupid mistakes like walking through an open treeless area. Never topping a small rise  to be visible against the skyline and never make a fire without a fire screen to stop others from seeing it. A fire in itself provided more problems than it was worth. The weather was warm at night. She had energy bars and water although her two skins required refilling and soon. No, a fire would  be an unnecessary luxury.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtwT9k5B2MG

A few hours later, still not decided on what she should do, she heard the sound of faint screaming. Glancing about, she went to her haunches and surveyed her surroundings. The screaming came again, it had intensified but the rich vegetation made it difficult to pinpoint the direction. She slipped from tree to brush to bush. The screaming was weaker now and more sporadic. Faint cruel laughter could be heard. It seemed she was heading in the right direction. She came upon them suddenly. There were four of them. Four men surrounding a naked broken blood covered figure on the ground. Three stood laughing as the fourth man got to his feet. His trousers around his feet. His flaccid penis swung to and fro. A black flitter was parked to one side.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIXQlc1QsCj

“It’s fucking useless man. Can’t seem to get it up.” The man said. The others laughed in derision.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡREyWoHSoO4

“It’s the fucking blood man. And the dirt. I like em to be clean. Dirt and blood  don’t do it for me.” He finished. There was more laughter at this piece of fastidiousness.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgiA9sUe3X1

Katya removed her bow and strung it. She was shivering in horror and disgust. Her fingers scrabbled at the quiver covering until they found the catch. She never took her eyes from the four men. She took a handful of long arrows out and shoved them head first into the earth. The first arrow took flaccid penis in the stomach  as he rose with his trousers in his hands. It pinned his shirt to his belly button. He stood looking at the wooden growth coming out of his stomach in surprise. A soft whistling sound and the second arrow plunged into the neck of the man beside him. The third arrow was quick to follow and plunged into the third man’s side  as he dove for cover. Katya knocked the fourth arrow and waited. She scooped up two more arrows and angled away from her position trying to find out  where the fourth man had disappeared to. The clearing was quiet except for the gasping whimpers of pain coming from flaccid penis as he fingered the arrow jutting out of his stomach. He desperately wanted the thing out but every time he touched it, pain lanced through his body. Their prey lay silently curled up in a naked bloody ball.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJFYA1bCREe

She waited. There was nothing else to be done. The fourth man would do one of two things her brain told her. He would either make a break for the flitter or try to out flank her. She waited. Her senses finely tuned to her surroundings. If only she could remember if the fourth man had a weapon strapped to his side. Then again, he may have one in his pocket or like her, under her waistband.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡavSJrhqkGf

“Hey! You out there,” a voice shouted. “Don’t shoot, ok? Im coming out, don’t shoot.” He stepped out into the open from behind a large tree with his hands in the air. Ok, then. So there was a third option, Katya thought as she re-knocked an arrow.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoWxY60Tl3Q

“All I want is to leave ok. You can take what you want. I’ll leave you everything. I don’t want trouble...” he was backing away with hands held high as the arrow took him in the chest and lifted him off his feet, he flew backwards to crumple and lay still on the dirt. She knocked another arrow and  stepped out of her hiding place. She had not seen any other individuals but only an idiot walks into something like this without taking a modicum of care. The man with the arrow in his side lay to one side on his stomach. His fingers had scratched furrows in the dirt from the pain. He was dead. She turned to the whimpering flaccid penis and crouched beside him. He looked up at her with pain filled eyes. “It hurts. Oh, fuck it hurts.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnNwloxx0pb

“It does?” she asked. Watching as blood seeped into his shirt, staining it. “Then I hope it will get worse before you die.” She stood up and went to the naked blood and dirt incrusted figure lying of to one side. Bending down, she realised with a start that it was not female but a young man. A  dead young man. He had been tortured for fun it seemed. Some fingers and toes were missing. Strips of flesh had been cut from his body. His left eye had a sharp thin stick stuck through his eyeball.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡezG7i7pJr5

She turned away. Sickened she walked over to the wounded man with the arrow in his stomach.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYQ2vO8vIuz

“Why did you people hurt that man?” she asked him. He was laying on his back trying to either sit or stand up. His eyes glued to the arrow. Snivelling, whining sounds came every time he moved. “Why did you torture him?” she asked again. He  glared at her with pain filled eyes that went directly back to the arrow. His breathing came in short sharp gasps and sweat poured from his face. “Do not die quickly for I want you to suffer.” She said and spat at him. Her spittle ran unheeded down his shirt front. She got up and stared at the scene of devastation around her. This was the same black flitter that hours before flew over her. She was sure of it. She glanced at the naked figure. Probably camped out for the day when these guys flew over and saw him and decided to have some fun first. Glancing at the flitter she stepped towards it but a thought stopped her. First things first. She had to retrieve her arrows. It wasn’t going to be easy, for the hooked, broad head barbs were difficult to pull out of flesh. She pulled her short sword and got started. Three arrows later she stepped over to flaccid penis and kicked him lightly as he lay on his side. “You dead yet? I need to get my property back..., shit.” she noticed the broad headed arrow sticking out of his back. “You have some guts that I’ll admit.” She said to the dead man. Not many people would have  considered shoving the arrow through their body. Considered it and then doing it? No. Not many would. After removing the arrow she went around the site and noticed where the young man had made a fire. She glanced about but could not see any sword or travel sack. Her hands were sticky with blood and she moved off to the flitter. She wasn’t going to foul her own belongings. On entering the flitter a slight movement made her jerk back. Eyes darting around the interior, she saw the young girl crouched between the seats. There was no place to hide in a flitter. It was totally open planned with the Pilot seat to the front and middle. There were two comfortable seats to either side of the compartment that offered scant space for legs. Travel sacks and swords lay scattered throughout the compartment. The girl was about six or seven years old. Tears streaked her cheeks, fear and shock registering in her eyes and shivering body. Katya glanced at the child but decided to ignore her until she had cleaned up. Bending down she pulled the closest Travel sack closer and undid its cloth knots. The first thing she saw was the water skin and she took it outside the flitter. Uncorked it and washing the coagulating blood and grime from hands and short sword. She was finishing off cleaning the short sword when she noticed the child peeking shyly at her from the compartment. Katya smiled at her. “Don’t come out here child. It may still be dangerous.” She said calmly to the small girl. “Just wait inside and I will be right in as soon as Im done”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzRm5dLDKL2

“Shit.” the picture fell into place. The young man was not a Competitor. She stared at the child in shock. This complicated everything. As if finding a wondering child wasn’t enough, it now turned out that her father was tortured, possibly raped and murdered. “Wait here. Don’t come outside until I call you.” She said to the child as she went over to her own Travel sack. Ok. She could take out the red container with the chips from one of the Travel sacks in the flitter but then she may  upset the child again. But that may not be a good idea yet. The child was still scared and needed time. She took one of her round chips, cracked it and dropped it on the ground. Walking back to the flitter, she sat on her haunches beside the door. It wasn’t long before the child peeked out at her again. “Did you find my daddy?” the girl asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡT27wFerpL5

KATYA BEROTIVICH. THIS FLITTER HAS BEEN REPORTED AS STOLEN. TWO MURDERS WERE COMMITED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9GcihqFCiM

It waited silently for her answer. Her next words could condemn her. She pointed to the naked young man’s corpse. “Another murder.” She said. “In the flitter is the man’s daughter. These four men came upon him as they camped here. He was tortured and possibly raped. I came too late to help. I killed them.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJbPQIu59UR

THIS AREA IS SEALED OFF UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. It said. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE OR YOU WILL BE SEVERELY DEALT WITH. QUESTION, KATYA BEROTIVICH, WHY HAVE YOU NOT REMOVED THE HEADS OF YOUR COMPETITORS IF YOU CLAIMED YOU KILLED THEM?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡewgWakMFbf

“I did not think about it and in any case, there wasn’t enough time. The little girl..., I guess I would have gotten around to it eventually.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJlWWEemjQE

She jumped as another Polrob spoke from behind her, her sword half way out of its scabbard again. She shoved it firmly back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6AQWryqwIl

“Look,” she was fed up with all this questioning. “Firstly, I don’t appreciate your sneaking up on me. Secondly you can speak to the Polrob that came when I killed my first Competitor a few hours ago. He warned me that there were four Competitors behind me that had attained a flitter. Go question him and stop accusing me.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWqvSma6JuX

SHE ALSO TOLD YOU THAT THERE WERE MORE COMPETITORS ENROUT TO THE SPACE TERMINAL. DID YOU MAKE A CALL OF JUDGEMENT THAT KILLED AN INNOCENT MAN KATYA BEROTIVICH? A CALL OF JUDGEMENT THAT YOU ARE NOW TRYING TO COVER UP?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoAyfwZNXww

“Oh for crying out loud.” She felt like screaming. “Get your facts straight you flying imbeciles. Do your investigations before you start accusing me. Im going to eat something and I suspect the child is  as hungry.” She turned and stepped towards the flitter.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiUtaznby3S

HALT. YOU ARE IN VIOLATION. HALT OR YOU WILL BE STOPPED BY FORCE. The order came. It resounded through the clearing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIZjeSFpZoT

“And where the bloody hell am I supposed to run to you idiots.” She seethed. “Am I supposed to run from two of you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXNtv20uQX0

CEASE AND DESIST KATYA BEROTIVICH. A MEAT WAGON AND RELEVANT CHILD MINDER IS ON THE WAY. AN INVESTIGATION WILL HAVE TO BE MADE. AN INNOCENT HAS DIED AND A MINOR IS INVOLVED. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmgVQrudD2h

“As you wish.” It seemed logic had no place in this discussion, only idiotic accusations. For a while she stood then decided her legs were getting tired so she sat down in the dirt, glancing up at the Polrob’s and daring them to stop her. She would wait in vain it seemed for they never said a word. A few minutes later she heard the hum of approaching flitters. She saw them both as they flew over the tree tops, coming towards the clearing. One was larger than the other although both were silver in colour, the sunlight glancing off their exteriors and sending sharp beams of light that nearly blinded her. The clearing wasn’t large so they had to maneuver and jockey for space to land. Katya refused to move from her position. (Two could play the same game.) Eventually they landed and from the smaller one came four people. Three in what looked like one-piece zip up overhauls the forth was a matronly looking woman with a no nonsense look to her. The three white clad men walked over to the murdered Citizen and prodding and probing the corpse. Hand held scanners were waved  over the body. From the larger flitter she could see another man sitting in the Pilot seat staring about inquisitively. Probably  a Pilot, she thought. Has to keep out of the way until the bodies have been checked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwLhPZ9uo9T

The little girl screaming and Katya’s attention was diverted to the black flitter. The Matronly looking woman stepped into sight, struggling with the child who was screaming and punching her with small fists.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡi6GLCIM6yK

“STOP.” Katya shouted. She was on her feet, sword drawn and pointing at the woman who stopped and stared at her questioningly. Katya turned to the two Polrob’s. “I claim Citizens rights.” She said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7V02LswY5z

PROCEDE KATYA BEROTIVICH. One said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgBkxqkHVJQ

“This child has lost her father. Whether her mother is alive I do not know. But until that knowledge is ascertained, I claim Citizens rights. Should both her parents be deceased then she will become mine.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO1XvNAdzHM

YOU ARE WILLING TO SIGN CONTRACT TO THAT STATEMENT, KATYA BEROTIVICH?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjOHkRsMorS

“I am.” Was she? What was she getting herself into? How on earth was she supposed to take care of  girl?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXHtieUCVPm

THEN BOTH CONTRACTS AWAIT YOU AT THE SPACE TERMINAL KATYA BEROTIVITCH.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMEnK9bknK1

“You.” her sword point had never left the woman who was still struggling with the child. “One bruise on that child. One broken fingernail. One complaint from her that she was mistreated or abused,” she swallowed. “I will have your head. Yours and your families. This I swear on that child’s head. The Polrob’s are witness. Murder or not, you will die.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ94QRoHjb5K

The woman stared at this wisp of a girl and saw the threat was real. She nodded her acceptance of the rules then disappeared into the silver flitter from which she came from.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ33sxlHrYDh

YOU ARE RELEASED FROM YOUR PROVISIONAL INCARCERATION KATYA BEROTIVICH. YOU MAY GO.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkpVIa5TvsE

“I can?” she stared up at the two Polrob’s in disbelief. “What has changed since you stopped me from having a meal, my looks?” sarcasm dripping.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwCInt64Nha

YOU HAVE NOT BEEN FOUND WANTING KATYA BEROTIVICH. THE ONE YOU NAMED ‘GUARDIAN’ HAS REPORTED YOU TO US AND CLAIMED CONTRACT STATUS WITH YOU. WE WISHED TO DETERMINE YOUR STRENGTH. YOU ARE FREE TO GO. PLEASE ENJOY YOUR DAY.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyld0SzHjxk

“Keep an eye on that child or I will hold you all responsible.” She threatened it. “I will have your status as citizen revoked and junk your means of transport. Then I will hunt your colony or whatever you call yourselves where-ever and however many you are and destroy you all. I swear it.” Her sword was pointed at the two Polrob’s as it was pointed previously at the woman carrying the child. It enhanced her threat many fold.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBRKxzUCtp5

YOUR THREAT OF GENOCIDE HAS BEEN NOTED AND RECORDED KATYA BEROTIVICH. AS WELL AS THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS YOU SPECIFIED. SHOULD ANYTHING DETRIMENTAL HAPPEN TO THIS CHILD WE OF THE POLROB LAW SHALL CEASE TO EXIST. CITIZEN MATRON, JOSEPHINE HEBDEN WILL SIGN CONTRACT ON HER RETURN. YOU NOW HAVE THREE CONTRACTS AWAITING YOU KATYA BEROTIVICH.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7WIPjbWoZe

Big words she thought to herself. Just how am I supposed to carry out those so called threats? She felt like kicking herself for being a fool. She nodded at the Polrob, at a loss for words. Standing where she was, she watched as the white overhauled men finished up their work and hauling the corpses into the meat wagon. They stared at her curiously. One gave her a wink but she ignored it as he climbed into the stolen flitter and lifted off. The hum of its motors receding into the distance were soon joined by the others. Soon after they left, the clearing became peaceful once more. Except for the coagulated blood on the ground and the dead fire, none would have believed a tragedy had taken place here. Katya was to say the least, at a loss. She gazed about her. Hunger had long since vanished. She picked up her Travel sack. A short distance ahead there were three contracts that required signing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyxzMxrleLS

The next day Katya entered the Space terminals and stepped up to an information kiosk where sat a gaudily dressed young male. Spiky hair, thin moustache and hardly any chin to speak of, his attire was so multicolored that it hurt her eyes. “My name is Katya Berotivich,” she said to him. “There are three contracts Im required to sign.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzmKjTjewND

He looked up at her from a Touch screen he had been tapping on. Nodding at the information she supplied him, he went back to work. “Ah, yes. contender Katya Berotivich..., here it is. Three contracts. Two with the law Polrob’s and one with Citizen...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCUAkKTwGhv

“Do you mind not having the whole terminal know about my private affairs, or is it customary to let everybody know what the hell goes on so that stories can be told and eventually that tails can be added to them?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVQ2uCAVXPG

“No.” He looked at her like he had  been kicked in the teeth. One blue eye and one green eye stared at her in amazement. “Pardon me contender, my mistake. Please follow me and I will show you to the right office.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQo3AIXTWtH

She followed him, ignoring the whispering gaping and staring crowd of commuters. She sure hoped there wasn’t blood anywhere that she hadn’t washed off. The signing of the contracts was done in blood. Her blood. When she was finished she requested the nearest wash rooms  to clean herself up. When she had finished with her ablutions, she felt refreshed and wondered what to do next. Her eyes suddenly noticed an older, well-built woman staring at her with a cold intentness that made Katya shiver. People saw immediately who and what she was and flowed like water passed her in the same way they did Katya. Nobody wanted to get mixed up with a contender and they were given space. Her sword was sheathed behind her back at a slant so that its unsheathing would be from the right shoulder. Should the woman ever have the need to turn her head suddenly to the right, her cheek would hit against the swords hilt. Her clothing was similar to Katya’s although markedly longer and of better manufacture. Blond, close cropped hair, a good looking face. Katya saw the woman frown in thought and then suddenly smile. She seemed to glide towards Katya. A welcoming smile on her once cold face.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡA5Capm4W3l

Katya stood still and eyed the woman out from head to toe. Try as she may, she could not place the blond headed woman. “Do I know you?” she asked, left thumb pushing the hilt of her sword forward. The woman stopped suddenly five feet away. “You should you little pest,” she laughed. Commuters stared at the two female warriors and gave them a wide berth. “I told you enough stories in the Orphanage to write a book. It was all I could do to stop your nagging me.” She laughed uproariously.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5Ci9c066Wz

The two women hugged each other, found a diner and played catch-up like only woman can. The restaurant owner beamed at the pleasure of having not one but two Contenders seated inside his place of business. He plied them with the best wine on the house and took their order. Business  picked up as passersby saw two sword bearing Contenders chatting away. Humans being what they are, these passersby decided that they would like to be as close as possible to those that could take life with impunity. The smell of death was a heady attraction. The two women ignored them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVLwdUJd1Pa

“There is one thing that the Orphanage taught me,” Adelia said. “..., and that’s not to trust anything.” She took a sip of wine. “I got in and got out. It was too crowded any ways. Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swing my sword.” She thought back to that day that seemed like a hundred years ago. “Those buggers didn’t know what hit them. It was a setup you know that don’t you?” she asked Katya.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGgPuzMMHOs

“Yeah, figured that out real quick. Been running ever since.” She laughed bitterly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBKe8X9RbaH

“So what’s your plan? Overlord...? That’s where it’s happening you know.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmLk31orneA

“That’s the problem,” said Katya. “Everybody wants to go to Overlord. How long do you believe two women will last there? One day? Two weeks?” Katya glanced about her and noticed the restaurant was crowded. “I do believe we’re the center of attraction.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJURzpqmb7a

Adelia looked up and glanced at the crowed. “You’re  a teensy-weensy bit wrong there girl. We’re not the attraction, you are.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEJVTRT2I4d

“Yeah, you. Have you seen how the men ogle you out? Saw one  now who got wacked by his wife. I nearly died laughing.” She chuckled.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡx7ioHHP3TW

“Men! Their brains are between their legs.” She said bitterly. “That’s why I won’t change my clothing. Gives me the edge. And it’s a large one.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeyF9rw2tf7

“Atta girl. I wonder if we can get a new kit here?” she looked around and spied the owner and waved him closer.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHEyGp3GyZ4

“Yes ladies. What can I do for you? More wine?” he asked. Smiling broadly. His eyes dropping quickly to grab a glimpse of both women’s cleavages.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWxbeVSWKWQ

Katya caught the swift eye movement and laughed out loud. The look of injured pride on the proprietors face sent her into a giggling fit.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHaonkPTmj8

Adelia tried to ask the owner where they could find a clothing shop but got caught up in Katya’s giggling that she laughing as well. Waving the owner away. His face by now red with indignation, Adelia grabbed Katya by the wrist and dragged her out of the restaurant.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡu1N2Hd6nM5

“I rest my case.” Katya said. “Did you see his face?” she giggled again. “I bet the bastard didn’t  realise what he did.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsIDEXzxTjt

“Come on. You convinced me, let’s get some clothes. There has to be a place here somewhere that sells women’s clothing.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡK1E8oYYili

“I can’t,” said Katya. Pulling away, “I don’t have any credits yet.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrPjfS0sYoe

“You don’t need credits girl. We can take what we want and the government pays the bill. Didn’t you read the contract? And what do you mean that you isn’t got any credits yet? You got a rich man stuck away somewhere?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4QXHuUg1NA

“You wish. The problem with not paying is that you forfeit your position. It becomes general knowledge as to your last position. Anybody looking for you specifically will know exactly where you are if they do some digging.” Katya said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvxB9G07Eit

“Let them come,” Adelia said. “I got nothing to lose and in any case, who will want to harm us? Did you sleep with some woman’s man or something? In any case,” she pointed at the restaurant/diner they had  left. “We didn’t pay for our food and drinks.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXJigYbhr9G

Katya realised that Adelia didn’t understand, or most probably, she didn’t want to understand. Her heart sank as she realised what Adelia had said. She had a sudden feeling of foreboding.” I took one of those new Credit belts off an opponent that liked my skirt too much. I gave him a close shave and I didn’t get any complaints about my taking his belt. Problem is I forgot to ask him which finger he used as a lock.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFewCW1xc3l

“Hey, that’s not a problem.” Adelia said. She glanced about noting other Competitors eyeing the two of them out but not approaching. She saw what she wanted and dragged Katya along by her wrist. “Hey you.” she yelled to the hovering Polrob. “Yes, you-you bucket of scrap metal. My friend here requires your help.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNyTpHzpPeI

Katya was anything but happy about being the centre of attention. “Adelia. Let me handle this my way, ok?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjbrCsqNKRX

“I have a request.” Said Katya before Adelia could open her mouth. “Private converse if you please.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ27AVwivW7J

A sudden rippling blue sheen encased all three of them as the Polrob activated its Pry-screen.*copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡErV63owQ8o

She dug out the Grayvite steel Credit belt. “I took it off the contender I killed a few days ago. I wish to use these credits so that my friend and I can remain anonymous for as long as possible. It is made from Grayvite steel and probably booby trapped. Can you unlock it?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvRz5M6ni2v

The Polrob stayed silent as it confirmed Katya’s request. CONFIRMATION OBTAINED KATYA BEROTIVICH. ELIMINATED CONTENDER, BRETT CARNEY SOLD PROPPERTY AND BOUGHT TWO GRAYVITE STEEL CREDIT BELTS. WITHDREW LARGE DENOMINATION CREDITS. ONE MONEY BELT RETRIEVED FROM CORPS. SECOND CREDIT BELT NOTED AS IN THE POSESSION OF KATYA BEROTIVICH. LEGALITY OF POSESSION ACQUIRED. CREDIT BELT-LOCK EMERGENCY OVERRIDE. PLEASE PLACE FINGER ON FINGER PAD.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2HXXN0mkRu

Katya followed the instructions given by the Polrob and suddenly the Grayvite steel Credit belt unlocked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJF3FFyMM2A

“You only took one belt?” Adelia whispered at her in shock and despair. “Didn’t you learn anything?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeyrNEeT2xW

FINGERPRINT LOCK SUCCESSFUL. DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER REQUEST KATYA BEROTIVICH?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyzDvwrwTMn

“I was  busy at the time.” She answered Adelia. “Yes. I do,” she said to the Polrob. “The meal we had at that restaurant. Can I pay for it now or is it too late?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnv2rbHZXu2

A few seconds passed. NO FOOD ACCOUNT FOR FRANKIE’S DINER HAS YET BEEN LOGGED INTO GOVERNMENT RECORDS FOR THIS DAY. YOU MAY PAY. DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER REQUEST KATYA BEROTIVICH?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyIB0vgfpiM

“No, thank you.” The blue rippling sheen of the Pry-screen dissolved into nothingness. Both women blinked at the sudden noise of hundreds of commuters. Mothers shouting at kids begging for a box on the ears. The public announcement systems notifying commuters which concourses to take and when the next shuttles to and from specific destinations will take off or land.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlRlZmSrSLd

“That’s a damned irritating thing to say.” Adelia said to the departing Polrob. She turned to Katya who was strapping the Credit belt around her slim waist. “Was it this loud a few minutes ago or am I imagining things.” She glanced about at the crowd that stared at them and excitedly whispered to their neighbors behind their hands. Commuters once again gave them a wide berth and they walked towards Frankie’s Diner. Soon after settling their bill they found a Boutique. The stuffy nosed assistants were shocked to tears when the two Contenders chose to deface designer leather skirts by taking a laser scissors to them and making them shorter. Soft leather bras followed. These they didn’t deface but they did take the smallest size their boobs could handle leaving the matching skirts behind as a useless commodity. The price when it came raised the two women’s eyebrows. They were literally stunned into silence. “Do we have enough?” Katya asked Adelia.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDrdfsJvI8O

“No idea. Why don’t you check.” She indicated the Credit belt around Katya’s waist.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvuFRu2JVVv

“Oh, sorry. I forgot.” she placed a thumb to the Lock pad and the top flap released its tension. Digging inside she withdrew yellow colored square shaped Credits.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9bFSugNvQG

“Wow. Im your best friend for as long as that lot lasts.” Said Adelia as she watched a stunned Katya finger the gold Credits. “Just what the hell was this opponent of yours into, gold shares? You realise each of those chips is worth five thousand Credits, don’t you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1u8fJBYfj7

“I think Im going to be my own best friend.” Katya said in a hushed voice as she handed over two of the gold credits.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3OCIF6Lp2G

Taking their parcels they walked out of the Boutique. Behind them, three disgusted sales ladies cleaned up the scraps and leftovers of once beautiful works of art. They agreed between them that the Empire renowned owner/designer did not need to know that two Contenders did not think much of his designs. The poor man would be mortally offended and may  go so far as to find and give the two women a piece of his mind.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVbSA4nRSTH

“Im staying Adelia. It’s going to be too dangerous for us on Overlord. I’ve had time to think about this. Why go to Overlord or to any other planet when all we are going to do is try to kill each other?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfeqRX6YIv0

“In other words why decrease the numbers there when we can decrease the numbers here?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡorch2gET8x

“You got it.” Katya smiled. “Not only that but once you leave Overlords Space terminal, there may be certain Contenders who have thought of exactly the same thing Im thinking of.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBHrNoBIHJT

“Lying in wait for the suckers that come along not expecting a thing.” She said, following Katya’s reasoning.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjZ8JQ5PONl

“Or we could simply lay low for a few weeks say and leave two or three days before the deadline ends?” coming up with another alternative.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPcM1tOh7Hq

“But boring.  boring.” Said Katya and they both laughed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJxqRhhW66K

“I hope we don’t get to stand up against each other girl. I don’t think I could do it.” Adelia was suddenly serious.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsVWeWq3eyL

“It won’t happen.” Came Katya’s firm reply. “We both have learnt lessons in our lives Adelia. The two most important ones I’ve learnt is not to trust any man and that if anything can go wrong, it already has. Im a realist Adelia, my childhood made me so. And I believe the odds are against us. You, me, or both of us will die  soon. There are  too many Contenders Adelia and too many things that can go wrong.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFd4Nkak2Zy

“You’re  full of doom and gloom aren’t you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuI6Uznbwui

“It’s what I believe. Nothing has ever come close to showing me that Im wrong,” she said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgWddaaEepc

“Ok, then. Let’s get off this topic or Im going to cry. What plan did you work out? I hope its good cos’ I get bored  quickly.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ4q4RKebNe

“It’s nothing special. Haven’t thought it through yet.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKhXRbwen3I

Katya laughed softly. “I warned you. My idea is to purchase everything that’s required to live in the wild and to hunt down every bastard that thinks he will become the new Emperor and show him the error of his ways.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡp3xP7pAmAn

“And if it’s a woman?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAlFxcQ4re7

Adelia sat quietly thinking the idea through. “What about the bodies? Every kill has to be registered. We can’t  well leave the corpses to rot you know?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlBLSrTh1fS

“Why not? Every time you call in a Polrob to a kill Adelia, you give your position away. Let the woods stink. Either that or bury the corpses in close proximity to others and then when we decide to bugger off to Overlord, we notify the Polrob’s.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpPe4nrVrTa

“And where do you propose we should go? In which direction? How far out?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz341SS1wKe

“A day’s walk. No further. It’s there that the contenders will be at their most vulnerable. They will not be expecting any problems or any Contestants challenging them. Their plans will be for Overlord. It will be the opposite for us if we go to Overlord. We will then be at a disadvantage. Where do we make a base camp? I have no idea. Our base camp by the way must be a distance from any temporary camps. Which direction is used as the main through fare? To me it’s either or. A flip of a coin. There is that clearing I came from. I killed four contenders there that tortured and killed some young guy that wasn’t  in the game.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡf6P1YhUgja

“You killed four men in one sitting? Ok, Im in. The main flight path for traffic though is from the South. That way.” She pointed out the direction for Katya. There is also a  nice spot that one can use to see your surroundings and plan an attack if and when we see any Contenders approaching on foot. The flitters and other air transport we will leave-be unless...” she thought a long while and shook her head. “Too dangerous and Citizens may get hurt.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9J0nNnPJOI

“What are you thinking about? Downing a flitter filled with Contenders?” Katya asked in surprise. “How?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡToLYpDRraB

“That’s  it. How? We would need somebody to notify us about a certain flitter or transport being used by a contender. Then we would need some way to bring it down.” She shook her head. “Too large for us. The bribes alone will be astronomical.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFpIvqGMlX6

“Credits isn’t a problem as you well know. What sort of weapon would be used to bring an air transport or flitter down?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡv6PvuDSjmH

“We could? Wouldn’t that be kinda dangerous? What if there’s a Citizen in one of those transports?” she asked getting more and more interested in the idea of taking down a flitter packed with Contenders but worried . In her mind she saw large explosions all over the countryside as one flitter after another met its demise.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHB0p6q6TL3

“Them we leave strictly alone. We handle only transports that carry Contenders. It’s still too large for us right now. There’s only so many days left and it may never happen anyway.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZhaPMEsFYO

Glumly Katya had to agree. She stared out at the late afternoon sun. Then she perked up. “Let’s go do some shopping.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmZ4sMjXcoT

Shopping turned out to be anything but. The two women had no inkling of what to purchase. Possessions tied one down. Life for the next few weeks was going to be dangerous to say the least. They ended up purchasing Sun Fries*, energy bars, and extra skins of water, pre-packed tents. Eating utensils and much more. Meat they would catch or kill. It was late that night when they reached the site Adelia had in mind. The flitter they hired to drop them off left soon after. The Pilot shaking his head at the stupidity of woman.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡN6vNvCdCwZ

The next morning the woman went about searching for a camp site and found one a kilometre from their original position. Two more camp sites were made and provisioned, roughly in a straight line with each other stretching East to West and directly across the flight path that flitters or other transport craft flew.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGwgQl3vNIt

“Humans, no matter where in the universe, needed to follow a route, a tried and trusted route, the shortest route they could find between two points, no matter whether they fly or walk”, Adelia explained. This is the path they travel. The truth of her words were confirmed by the amount of air craft going back and forth to the Space terminals and what she surmised to be a largish city somewhere out there in the opposite direction. She had counted 32 aircraft of different size and design flying overhead throughout the day. From their vantage point on a small rise that provided much required ceiling cover, they watched these craft crisscross each other to and from their destinations. A wide snaking well used path currently empty of pedestrians and their animal drawn wagons passed close to their hiding place. This path was used mainly by the poor who were lucky enough to receive contracts from businesses at the Space terminals looking to save a few Credits by purchasing as cheap as possible and retailing for as much as possible. To both ends of the path, visibility was broken by the rich, wide leafed woodland.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡC5sHxf1vrp

“I got movement down there.” Adelia said excitedly. They lay on two  thin but  comfortable sleeping bags and nibbling on energy bars. She pointed in the direction of the movement she had seen. “I don’t think it’s an animal. It IS a bloody animal,” she said in disgust. “Im so bored I could...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpfwU22xgE3

“Say. Ain’t that whatever it is, moving really fast? Is something chasing it?” Katya asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfkzwbUAGIj

“Possibly. I don’t know much about nature. Look, there it is.” She pointed as another dark-brown creature rushed right through a thick patch of thorny scrub. “Persistent bugger that. Must be really hungry.” Said Adelia.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaloD3WS4sk

“Uh, Adelia? That’s a Shark. Check out its long ‘snout’, Im not sure how but it grabs hold of its prey with that thing and sucks it up bones and all. I once checked out a dead one and that ‘nose is full of  sharp teeth.” she said, watching as the Shark never lost track of its prey  although the panicked animal darted this way and that trying to elude the inexorably advancing torpedo. Hunted and hunter disappeared between the thick trees and shrubbery. The panicked animal squealing in fear until with a sudden crashing of broken branches and growls, quiet reigned again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuRz0MB2jRG

“Shit! Did you see how fast that  thing moved?” asked Adelia. She shivered at the thought of such a monster chasing her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡm71WDcRdTz

“The best way to get away from that thing is to climb a tree.” Said Katya. “A  big tree at that.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡx3VVGYSy2k

“Laser set to Max. Anything less and it’s going to be pissed off at you and it’s way too fast for a sword. It’ll  bowl you over and start sucking.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfE1gBFtsTm

“Damn lucky we got us some Lasers then. But how do...? look, the  things in our territory now and what do we do if it comes looking for supper and breakfast? Climb a tree? And what if we’re sleeping? What then?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1qqXm6VfFX

“Hey. It’s ok. Nothing to worry about. They sleep at night  like us. The only thing is that light, any light, attracts them. Even a fire.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAytM00L3z3

“Nope. That’s why from now on there isn’t no fires. Or if we have to have one for cooking, which I doubt cos’ we don’t have much in the pots and pans department, or to keep warm, we have to build four or five fires in a circle with one in the centre. The old man I lived with, the one I told you about, he says sharp light blinds them although  attracts them too. I’ve never tasted them but to some, a Shark is a delicacy. They hunt them with spot lights and Lasers.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVN0lKmsFB8

That should be fun to watch.” Adelia shook her head. That  thing was easily moving at forty or fifty clicks*. They would have to be  fast with those Lasers though.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDcG6YG7KKG

Katya thought for a while and was  about to answer when Adelia grabbed her arm firmly. “Got our first contender.” They waited until the man came into view and they could  see what he was. “He’s mine.” she said. Not brooking any argument. “You  be ready with that Bow of yours in case he gets the better of me. Do not stop him from killing me though. Kill him afterwards.” She looked urgently into Katya’s eyes. “I want to keep this fair. Promise me?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNJvvJAPp9A

Katya swallowed. Wasn’t this defeating the purpose of teaming up? She thought. She nodded her head in acceptance as she was suddenly tongue tied. She watched Adelia run lightly between the trees, skipping over small rocks and a dead wood tree that was almost completely rotten. She reached the wide dusty path a short distance from the man and stood staring at him with folded arms. “You gonna take all day or can we get this show off the ground?” she asked him. She heard a small twig snap off to the left and knew Katya was getting into position. The man was of average build, around forty odd years and going seriously bald. He had stopped and was eyeing out the thick foliage to both sides of the path suspiciously. “And how many supporters you got hiding away back there?” he indicated with his sword as he  walked towards her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY5oYr9lTPX

“Only my daughter.” She laughed. “I like a fair fight but must warn you, you are already dead no matter the outcome between us.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1s9Iz8oGS9

He said, “I have the Milky virus* and no way to afford the vaccine so I’m dead already. Probably got a week left and today seems as good a day to die as any.” he said gravely.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnFSSbBs01C

“Then shall we dance?” she asked and attacked him like a Banshee out of hell. It was all he could do to block her blows that came from all directions. There was no finesse, no flair or skill behind them. The man was so overcome by the suddenness of this large shouting screaming woman that had the grace of a dead Pith Pig that he was inexorably beaten and hammered into the ground. He tried valiantly to go on the attack but the woman overpowered him with her furious attack.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBZH0Y89j2Y

Without her  planning it – she was  surprised herself – his head was cloven ear to ear from his body as he stumbled and tried to regain his stance. The fight was over so quickly that Adelia swung her sword once, twice more though the man’s headless corpse lay kicking and its life giving blood spurted onto the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡh3qqM0zbGr

“Bastard.” She gasped for air. Smiled at Katya as the slim girl stepped out from her hiding place.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡk36dWiPojQ

“Well that was entertaining I must admit.” Katya said, shaking her head in wonder as Adelia stepped to the corpse and wiped her blade clean on its clothing. “Where did you say you trained with the sword?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1UPIVOR48T

Laughing long and loud, Adelia smacked her thigh with a big hand. “No training Kat,  common sense. Think about it for a moment. How many of these poor slobs – including me – have  thought of having a modicum of sword training? These Reckoning days are so few and far apart that it’s only the diehards and the wealthy that can afford it.”                                                                        She shook her head. “No. It’s the ones like you Kat that ultimately stand a chance in this thing. Eighty-ninety percent of us are wannabe chancers. You watch girl, the last few days are gonna be hell. That’s when it’s gonna be difficult. That’s when you will have to use your brains and not your muscle. Muscle Katya that A, you don’t have and B, will get you killed. Use your head Kat, Im in this for the fun before I die, and die I will. Im tired of this life Kat. Its bullshit. If you isn’t born with a golden spoon in your mouth then you’re it. Look at us, - you and me and all the others that were in that place, assault, rape, more beatings and  more cruelty.” Her eyes were hard and cruel as she looked at Katya. “This Reckoning crap is a dream come true Katya, Im taking my revenge out on every man I can get, and woman if it comes to that. I don’t need training Kat.” Tears streaming down her face unchecked and unnoticed. “All I need is to die.” She finished turning away, she stumbled into the thicket without caring which direction she took or where she was going.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3pXuQJupUb

Vengeance would be slow. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7BtXkoLbtU

“Hey, isn’t that woman a Contender?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrS2KU2UGxt

A soft whistle came from Adelia Montgomery. “Youre right. Do you want me to do it? It’s your turn you know.” The woman wore a light-blue dress.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmeTh9gFgSl

They lay in wait for the next contender to negotiate the dusty road below their hiding place.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY39hIUULsJ

“Wait!” Katya thrust out a hand.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhTCjEwmzdU

Adelia lay still watching the dirt road for movement. The road led from the City to a Spaceport and a few dusty travelers plodded wearily along with carts pulled by oxen to and from the Spaceport. Carts and wagons piled high with goods.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3z8WRicxz5

It was their fourth day of camping out and waiting for the luckless to come to them. Far safer than being caught out in the open and unprepared. To date they had killed three contenders. The score was two to one with Adelia ahead. Only once were there any bystanders and they quickly got out of the way when the fighting started. Thereafter, both women decided that it may be best not to duel when the populace was close by as sooner or later word would travel that fighting was taking place in this stretch of the woods. Like many of their plans, how they were going to accomplish that was a mystery.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSx92PRXJCp

“Look, there’s another.” Katya pointed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtUi5dXCAwP

A man approached from the opposite direction. “Let’s see what he does,” she said, seeking confirmation from Adelia. “We can step in and take the survivor out afterwards.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuzoCwgUINt

They carefully made their way down the small knoll and watched as the two Contenders moved closer. There were other people walking to and from the Space Port. Bovine drawn carts trundled by and heads turned to eye out the Contender. Talking stopped. Laughter cut short. People stepped out of their way and came up short when they noticed that there were two Contenders. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ53lo8zlL9S

“And she isn’t much older.” Katya saw that the two had at last noticed each other. They came to a standstill and stared. A crowd of people suddenly blocked their view.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEuIGrrwf77

“No. You will be noticed.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPFngEEeUPV

“Whos going to notice me?” She pointed at the gathering crowd, “are so excited about those two they won’t notice if a bomb went off beside them.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWupFaQ7H6e

“If you say so.” Katya wasn’t convinced. “I'm going to find a tree.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPNr0P2kqZp

Trying to hide her sword so that the hand guard was clamped under her armpit and the long blade down her side, Adelia stepped up to the whispering onlookers and watched the two Contenders square up to each other. She sidled closer and saw that the man was actually too young to be a contender, 17 or 18 years old was her guess. Blond wavy hair that he brushed out of his eyes every so often. Average height and build. Underfed with old clothes torn in places although surprisingly clean. Katya was right; the woman was older by what looked like a year or two. These two should be lovers, not fighters, she thought.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaO5y5KckE2

The boy shook his head. “Don’t do this. I don’t want to hurt you,” he said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfBwFgHwnpC

“You have much faith in your prowess,” said the young woman.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCeq4ef6zF6

Her eyes were slanted and her black hair, long and vibrant. She laughed, ignoring the onlookers. She wore a light-blue, one-piece robe covered in a darker blue material with pure white blossom prints. The sleeves were oversized and she stood with folded arms hidden in the folds of the material. It was the long, slender sword strapped to her back that gave her away as a Contender. “Or is it because I am a woman and your manly pride is coming to the fore?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZQU4oZPBkt

His silence affirmed her judgment although he did not lower his gaze. “This tells me that you do not have much training with that sword hanging from your side and that you would rather not…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡChzxmYxbzR

“Stick to the first three accusations, lady. It would be safer. Much safer.”  He stepped aside and with a wave of his right hand indicated she could step past and continue with her journey.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtQcXFDGJ9Z

“I think not.” Her movement was precise and graceful. Her sword appeared in her hands, clashed and scraped off his to block her killing stroke. He stepped back, anger in his eyes.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsMh2kD0RPz

“On my planet that would be enough reason for your death. It is impolite to attack while discussions are still in progress.” He sheathed his.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJvMbg8Smlk

He was in the process of stepping past her when, with a loud “Haaiii…” she attacked once more and he barely had enough time to fall flat on the dusty road and roll away. Getting to his feet, he again ignored her while dusting off his clothes. He stood there looking at his dusty travel sack lying in the dirt for a few seconds, his long hair hanging over his forehead. “I am struggling to comprehend your rudeness my lady. What have I done to bring this forth? We do not know each other, so why?” He looked up at her and brushed the hair from his eyes.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdObpLR2sAc

“Are you serious?” she asked. “You do know this is The Month of Reckoning, don’t you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr3ZI5km5cc

“You are a Contender then?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjyJvYvm0YW

“I am. But there is no reason to be rude.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdpZd85xuaJ

“Rude? Are you dumb or stupid?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHQFphLoRKJ

“You do realize, smart-alec,” she said loudly, “that we are supposed to fight each other to the death.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSuqRHyWe37

“I do, but there is no reason for rudeness,” he smiled. “Could we not rather break bread together?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYKXDafpy79

“Will you stop with your damned rudeness crap? And no, we cannot break bread together - whatever that means. What we can do is fight. Now!” She eye-balled him while he grinned. “For want of formality, prepare yourself. I’m about to attack you with a sword. That thing hanging at your side could tentatively be described as the same thing.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhVdzsNPuI5

With shuffling movements she advanced towards him. He was never in the same place her blade occupied. Sunlight glinted off it as it cut cleanly through air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwuju7tKw2S

Her attack was smooth and flowing. Deadly. Sharp. Beautiful. He danced out of her reach. Ducking and sidestepping her blade. Onlookers cleared the area and watched as the blade made wind-mill shapes in the air. Poetry in motion.  Flawless perfection. The picture changed suddenly with a reverberating crash as without warning the sunlight glinted off two crossed blades.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGjNUTfHIKq

“I think my lady, it’s my turn now,” he said, grinning at her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOf1nbtFGSb

He advanced. She stepped back. The two swords clashed and scraped off each other. Flashing sword strokes turned aside or blocked completely. The ebb and flow of the battle became hypnotic until with a small cry, blood sprayed into the air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeoFxTN0Dk3

The young man stepped back and with concern in his eyes, glanced at the woman’s shoulder as her blue robe turned bright red. Wiping sweat from his forehead and breathing deeply, he sheathed his sword and stepped forward to help. Her sword stopped short of the side of his neck.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw1mjVgyDYj

“I thought we had settled the rudeness thing,” he said, ignoring the blade. Gently parting the ripped robe, he saw where his blade had sliced deeply into her upper arm. Blood pulsed and flowed. “Put down that sword of yours woman and put pressure here. We need to stop the bleeding.” Placing her left hand on the correct area, he pressed her fingers down firmly. “Keep the pressure on. I need to get a tourniquet and some other stuff.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3Ny4aKyQqq

“Enemy? We are not enemies my lady. And no, I kill my enemies. It is safer that way as they have a tendency to return unexpectedly,” he said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgSQDcLTKpS

A cry of alarm came from the young woman as her shocked eyes stared at the arrow protruding out of the chest of a sword bearing citizen. The sword dropped from the man’s hand as he sank to the road. His eyes wide, gazing uncomprehendingly at the arrow jutting from underneath his right armpit.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwItmpF4UTr

Citizens scattered in all directions with cries of alarm. Where first there were two fighters, suddenly there were four. A large woman with a larger sword stood and glared all around her. People moved away, realizing this was not a safe place. Children ran about slightly muted. Some picked up sticks as makeshift swords for future use.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJakzNwkHhK

Both young people stared in wonder at the large woman with the sword that glared about at the passing citizens. She turned towards them, “You have three choices as far as I see it. You can die or join us, so what’s it gonna be?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAldgXL7lRO

They stared at each other and then towards the richly forested area. The young man glanced at the dead Contender who had disguised himself as a citizen. Congealed blood had seeped passed the arrow and lay pooled in the dust. He looked towards the trees again, fingering his sword. He knew precisely were the archer was hiding.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9nwCJWiOQc

“There is a time limit on this offer people. Make up your minds and do it now,” Adelia commanded.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgzmA8a6tSo

“Why what? Why invite the two of you into our group? Because Im lonely. Because I need aggravation in my life. You stupid boy, why do you think? For safety reasons and much more and because if you piss me off much longer you are liable to end up joining this fellow.” She kicked dust onto the dead citizen. “Now decide. Im done talking.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFbqcOa86YY

The two young people glanced at each other and the girl nodded slightly, her eyes wide. Death was but moments away and she knew they had not much choice. “Ok,” he said. “We don’t seem to have a choice so I guess were in.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡifyFPGPW9H

Adelia lowered her sword and laughed gaily. “That’s where you are wrong boy. You always have a choice. The right choice, the wrong choice and the wise choice.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkna4NULZKO

“Think about it boy. The right choice isn’t always the wisest and that goes the same for the wrong choice. The wrong choice could be the wisest decision one ever makes. But…” her sword came up and pointed at him. “You can die either way.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJdQhTGYID7

Adelia smirked. “While youre thinking about it and after fixing up that girl’s arm you can also do the dirty on this fool.” She indicated the dead man. “About one hundred meters that way,” she pointed with her sword, “is a small burial site. There are three graves next to each other and an open hole. Dump this idiot into it and close him up. Then dig a hole for the next body. There is a pick and a shovel and the ground isn’t that hard. Afterwards, join us up there on the hillock behind me.” She turned to walk into the forest but stopped and turned back to them. “Just don’t be stupid and break a red disk. We don’t want any Polrobs here… yet.” She turned and sauntered between the trees.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCkFCMhqo2l

“What do you think?” he asked as he finished off bandaging the shoulder.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0LzQ2sx1aa

“Shes big.” The girl said as she watched him wiping her blood off his hands on the side of his trousers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9B8EbaXGYf

He grunted and looked askance at her. “I noticed,” he grinned. “That’s not what I meant. What do you think of the setup here?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWAACdmUDLW

“I don’t think we have much of a choice at the moment and I’ve always believed it better to follow the direction of the stream than to swim against it. My feelings are that we should go along with them, see what this is all about and decide from there.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYLIxCLZ9Ma

He nodded. “Could be youre right.” He glanced towards the forest again. “Whoever that person is, hes good.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjVLszXCwEB

“Who? Ill take the legs. I don’t think you can pick him up alone.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMAcmdpJ72u

“The archer. Hes moved position three times already.” He bent and shoved his hands under the corpse’s armpits and lifted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ31gLzTwz2i

“How do you know?” she grunted and stumbled as they walked sideways off the road. They ignored the gawping citizens passing by.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJmevONtrk7

“On my planet if you don’t notice these things you don’t live long.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ36IftVEd3H

“Ive been trying to think from which planet you come from and the only one that fits the profile would be Hades, am I right?” She dropped the man’s feet. “Give me a few minutes, my arm hurts like a bitch and it’s bleeding.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH6JYSiRpSU

“No need, I’ll drag him along for a while. Let me check that bandage first.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIChW76KBx4

Soon they reached a small spot with three mounds and an empty grave. They gratefully dumped the body into it and sat down in the dirt and checked the surroundings. “Good cover. Far enough from the road so nobody should smell or see anything for a while.” He eyed out the drag marks the corpse’s shoes had made in the dirt. “So am I right? You are from Hades?” she asked while cradling her hurt arm.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIAbrQFnuSq

“Yeah. It’s not a forgiving planet. You have to develop eyes in the back of your head from the day you are born. It’s said that in another two or three thousand years it should be tamed.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcAxWyqeqP7

“Let’s put it this way. There, we would never be able to sit down like this without on average of three or four hunters standing guard.” He stood up and found the pick and shovel leaning against a tree.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjaQuCG9Zb2

“Describe some of it to me,” she said. “By the way, what’s your name?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpoCWkbmzBc

He stopped shoveling and glanced down at her. “I was wondering when you were going to ask. It’s Wyatt Earp. Sigal Wyatt Earp.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGWKpxgggvI

“Mine’s Megan. Do you always wait for your women to… hell I don’t know … do what they say? And what’s with this rudeness thing?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvOTmjv3tuf

He said, “Our world is extreme in every way. It is harsh and deadly in ways that would surprise you. Drink from the same pool of water two days in a row and the next time you dip your hands into that water some creature that has made that pool its home will take off that hand and have it for breakfast. It’s the youngest world to have been terraformed and it’s still in the process of change. Every tribe has to constantly be in competition with itself, other tribes and the land. It’s a never ending struggle to stay alive.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwUD8QYjdxU

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “It’s beautiful and dangerous all. Repopulation four hundred years ago was on a voluntary basis and the only way to survive was to break up into small groups or tribes of approximately five hundred strong. We discovered earlier on that conventional weapons didn’t work so well there. Lights, lasers and explosives seemed to attract the wild life and made things difficult so we reverted to nature and learnt to survive.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDaLwx52Azw

“Why didn’t your people call on the Empire for help? It would have sorted all the problems out wouldn’t it?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡP5qtdhrxuY

She looked up at him in shock. He took a few deep calming breaths. “Hades is ours. We don’t want the Empire digging around there and interfering in our way of life.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtoweU3jXDS

He dropped the shovel and drew his sword. “Quiet….” he said in a harsh whisper, holding his sword ready. “There is some sort of animal watching us, get up and climb that tree behind you. Slowly, no sudden movement.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmaBzsHp9ea

It had catlike features and stood about knee high with short, straw-colored fur and looked exceptionally cute. It was the size of a young wild hog without tusks. What held Wyatt Earp motionless was the swiftly flicking tail, the unmoving intent in its eyes, and the long arrow-straight trunk like a proboscis pointing straight at him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvHz2Vu5frJ

A noise from Megan behind him and the animal crouched slightly; muscles bulged and played along its body. Wyatt Earp suddenly had a dry throat and desperately wanted to cough but forced it back so furiously that his eyes watered with the effort. Blinking desperately he calmed his mind and focused on the animal just ten meters from him. From reasoning and observation, this was how he knew what Megan’s next moves were going to be with her sword.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8Vd6P9h1x0

Everybody on his planet was taught body language as a matter of urgency. Humans and animals were not so different in the scheme of things. Both gave off certain signals as to their intent. Muscles, appendage and eye movement. They all told their own story, combined or separately. All one had to do was listen and watch closely and the answers would be there.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡITaktD2TMh

He watched closely. The tip of the tail constantly flicked back and forth. Muscles  contracted and released. He knew the animal was waiting for something and again knew what it was and he was not going to be so stupid as to run. The sounds of exertion as Megan climbed the tree was ignored by both hunter and prey that only had eyes for each other. It was the slight ripple of muscle below the skin of the shoulders, the sudden lightning snap of the tail that said it all.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4iYDkU7qay

The animal had decided that waiting was not an option anymore.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaitnojxGl4

With a squeal of rage it launched its streamlined body forward off the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡG4YQprtrkg

Clawed front paws outstretched and churning helped propel its body forward. It was fast, ungodly fast as it barreled towards its target that unbelievably wasn’t squealing in fear and…simply wasn’t there where it was supposed to be. The creature tried to turn but its speed was such that it cannoned through the brush in a wide circle.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIozH1UB9kM

Clods of dirt, small sticks, stones and branches of low bushes flew in all directions.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIu4cStvp9R

Wyatt Earp stood lightly in a crouch, breathing evenly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuPVsGkU9Me

It had been a close thing and he almost hadn’t decided what to do. He had no history on this animal. Didn’t know its strengths or weaknesses. There were two options open to him, stand and fight or get out of the thing’s way. Its speed had decided the issue and he had leaped into the air as the animal rocketed towards him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡquDZcFTNPe

Hitting the ground as it passed him, he whirled around and with sword held lightly before him he watched the speeding creature complete its turn to come arrow straight at him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzxJEJB7f0g

There were a lot thoughts going through his mind, registering details. The animal’s biggest strengths were its compact muscular body, its snout was an unknown entity. Was it flexible? Could it grab and hold? It was thin and almost two feet long, held straight out from the head like a spear. Could it impale its intended victim? Though there were no thoughts milling about in Wyatt Earp’s brain. It registered that standing his ground would be the death of him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7v62XMnRW9

Though speed was this creature’s greatest weapon, it could also be its greatest weakness. Again he leaped into the air as the creature came upon him, dirt and gravel flying in all directions. Its proboscis lashed towards him and whipped against a leg.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6mEKmQpgEe

He tumbled awkwardly to the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡueMdSwP0LQ

Squealing in triumph, the animal again made a wide turn, barreling through obstacles. Wyatt Earp had moved.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhSlnVj9ia6

It moved like a guided missile and squealed its triumph again to the world.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGAPsOIYDIK

Dirt flew into the air. The thunder of its huge heart brought much needed oxygen to a system that was fast being depleted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuZDPny9wRj

Wyatt Earp knew he could not try another jump. That trunk like appendage had answered a few questions. His leg was still smarting from the grazing it had received. It was now or never. Timing would be paramount as he doubted there would be another chance. The creature had proved it could learn by its mistakes. He watched its swift approach with awe and wonder. Death came at him on feline paws that blurred with speed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDjB6pDVm41

The loud squeal went unnoticed as at the last minute he stepped to the left.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWKCMdqub4c

More concerned about its quarry, concentration riveted on its prey, expecting a jump which never came, the creature smashed into the solid young tree that stood its ground behind its intended target. It shuddered in protest but stood strong and firm.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWyczoz8x6Z

Megan lost her grip on the branch and tumbled, screaming in abject fear as she landed with a jarring thud beside a dead shark.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRJitPI6L4b

She passed out. Fresh blood soaked through the bandaged shoulder staining her robe. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡN1WpN9PilU

She came to as Wyatt Earp completed hacking the creatures head off.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvhsHRRhZpn

Cleaning the blade against the carcass, he sheathed it and stepped towards her to check her bleeding. His own heartbeat subsided and returned to normal as the adrenalin  flushed out of his body. While working on her bandages he breathed deeply and evenly trying to calm Megan down.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFHL8pDZGDp

She had a funny look in her eyes as she stared at him and he did not want to delve into that. The ways of woman were a mystery for him. As he finished he felt something wrong and froze.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4CGbVr9ViS

“We have eyes on us,” he whispered harshly. “No, don’t look. Act normal until I sort this out.” He held her arm tightly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1lo7jk2s5e

She frowned, “How do you know? I don’t see or hear anything.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWKWHTllT2Y

“I told you. Where I come from we have to know where the danger is. It’s the archer aiming at my back.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡi6BZiwqrsJ

“Im fast but not that fast.” He turned and said loudly. “Shoot if you must. Either that or give me fair chance to defend myself.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRMSOuL9PEb

“Quiet. And don’t move.” The voice belonged to a woman. “Im deciding whether the aggravation of having you around is detrimental to my health.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOXhpWzVn1o

“Well don’t take too long, my knees are starting to hurt. My name is Wyatt Earp. Sigal Wyatt Earp. ” He started packing away the bloody bandages and first aid paraphernalia.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7kRb2tA46q

“How can you be so calm?” hissed Megan.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbYd4MHPWxu

“Easy. If she wanted to kill me she would have done it already.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7lrpKoZGM0

“And if youre wrong? What then?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4TlW4npErw

“Im still alive aren’t I?” He stood up.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5DviIh0xdx

“I said don’t move Sigal.” The voice commanded.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2lStLDSKkE

“Sigal is my title. My name is Wyatt Earp. Are you such a coward…” he turned around to face a young, black haired woman wearing a short buckskin blouse and skirt. She stood almost in the same spot the creature had stood before it charged and held a drawn bow with the arrow pointing straight at him. “…that you won’t give a man a chance to defend himself? Is that what your Sensei taught you? To kill your enemies while their backs are turned?” He stared at her with a raised eyebrow.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLox6lCuLhV

“My name is Katya. What is a Sensei?” she asked. She trusted no man and this one, although around her age, was more untrustworthy than most. Extremely dangerous.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhmzNFh4FPi

“Your master or teacher. I sense your teaching. You have been taught by somebody who knew the old ways.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcRE5lpJe93

“The old ways. From before the Empire. From old earth. You have been taught but I sense your teaching was not completed. Oh, and another thing, can you please tell that shadow of yours coming up behind me that she moves as quietly as a mescaline bull in rutting season?” He turned slightly around and smiled at Adelia who had approached from between the trees. He grinned at her. “We meet again lady. You, on the other hand, are not trained.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrRH1EmjI29

“You are impudent young man. Be careful, I may teach you a lesson,” said Adelia.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1f0Fkm44Ae

“You are sure of yourself,” Katya said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7t9zUbnXHW

The grin that never seemed to leave his face broadened as he noticed she had lowered her bow.  “Not as sure as you are of yourself lady. May I ask a boon?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡh9NZbrluao

“You speak funny. What’s a boon?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDbDERY1V2C

Katya stared at him in shock. “You want me to shoot you? With this bow?” she said, shaking her head at the absurdity of the request. The man was relaxed and confident. Was he also crazy?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡc2iPDDjd1J

“Let me make it easier for you my lady. If you don’t shoot me I will kill you and your shadow. For you disgrace your Sensei and his teaching. You lack honor and one with your knowledge should not be left amongst the populace to cause havoc and grief. I will count to three and if you have not loosened that arrow you will die.” He closed his eyes. “One…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡP0jB5d6bDH

The bow came up and almost instantly the arrow sped forward. Wyatt Earp’s eyes were closed as he spoke to her and he felt the arrow fly and then another one. He twisted his shoulders from the hip and his sword flashed once and then twice. Opening his eyes he smiled at a dumbfounded Katya who stared at the pair of arrows that had been sliced cleanly in two so swiftly that his speed was almost blinding.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdglugOZOz4

“Training my lady. From the age of four. Our planet requires fighting knowledge and skill. Only the best become Hunt Chieftains and I wish to be one. And…” he suddenly looked down and flushed. “I ask your pardon for goading you to shoot those arrows. It was necessary.” He shook his head in mock despair. “Everything has changed.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡENnYotbvEP

Katya stepped closer and picked up the pieces of her arrows. She stared in wonder at the cuts. “You aren’t making sense,” she said, fitting the pieces together then tossing them aside. “What’s so special about being a Hunt Chieftain other than being in charge of some guys going out to hunt animals? And this honor thing? I don’t take kindly to you mouthing off at my teacher while he’s not here to defend himself.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdR6ymmnmbX

He laughed and pointed at the decapitated creature beside the tree. “This is but a gnat compared to our wild life. It would become extinct within months…,” he frowned. “I must admit it learnt fast, so I may be mistaken. A Hunt Chieftain is the next step to the ultimate goal. A Hunt Chieftain must know every animal, every shrub and tree. He or she must know the ingredients of every medicinal potion or poison. In this way, protection for those who look for guidance from the Hunt Chieftain is not misplaced.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqBIxjjhFef

“So what are you doing here? How is being in the race to become Emperor going to help you?” asked Adelia. “You cannot be both, as that would be illogical and Im sure I would rather be Emperor than a lowly Hunt Chieftain.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3T2qRrU3Wy

“As I said, Hunt Chieftain is the next step. I had no say in the matter,” he scuffed the dirt with one booted foot. “Im here to learn uh… temperament.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSaqYINl69w

“It seems I can be um, too irritable if mistakes are made by others when they should know better.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDbeFC56w83

“Uh… almost.” Embarrassed, he continued scuffing the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡR620T9s0xA

“Well spit it out for crying out loud. Today would be good.” Cried Adelia.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlaLzQnFXUO

“Uh…hurrmm… I uh… always seem to end up calling the person out to a duel you see. On my world mistakes cost lives and …”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0ZPevPaOae

He nodded. His face turning red with embarrassmentcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5AbR91fPZ9

“How many duels?” Laughed Adelia, picturing herself calling out the Matron and her son at the orphanage to a duel. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡD08seDipss

“Ah. Well. That’s the problem right there you see. That’s why I was sent to enter The Month of Reckoning.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDJvY3ydw3r

“This is like pulling teeth,” Adelia complained. “Will you get to the point?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw91I0bKf0J

His grin was markedly lopsided. “Sixteen. Sixteen duels.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoEJx6YbpoE

“Sixteen!” she cried. “To the death?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡR2nn0rVeXZ

He refused to look up but nodded his head. “It’s honour you see. But I have decided not to compete for the Emperors position. I cannot as I will be dishonoured should I win.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbWQzjR0f5Y

“Just like that?” asked Adelia. “You cannot pull out. Once youre in youre in. The Polrobs have your details, yours and everybody else’s. They will hunt you down and kill you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfLtotGxnEX

“Not so. Our world, our way of life is much more complex than any other. It is based on a system of honour. All I have to do is notify them and I will be given free passage home.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhlLPM7vcEz

‘Just like that? Now why would you want to pull out of the race all of a sudden?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0QwRpQJq5O

“Because nobody told me there would be women in it and Im not actually in the race.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpkASJ4zgre

“What? Now you have an issue with woman? Who the hell…?” she stopped as he held up the palm of his hand.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeIzZym74yM

“Women are untouchable. We may not hurt or in any way make war on women. I would be ostracized after my hands were cut off. I would be left in the wild to suffer and die. Without hands, and probably without eyes. Our women have no such scruples,” he said. “Some of them are good.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDzCar10as5

“Hey. I like your world,” said Adelia. “You must tell me more when we have time.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZRqAJ9Ejq5

Katya was not sure what to believe. A world where women were not the underdogs? A world where they were respected and held aloft? “And you expect us to believe this rubbish? On your say so?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡldvMNfWrym

“You are rude my lady,” he frowned. “My proof is that you are alive. I may be young and by no means the best, for my younger sister is better. May we leave it at that or…” he picked up the four pieces of the arrow shafts and without conscious thought or effort, the shafts of the arrows with their flights slammed into Katyas chest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡx61leGJHsa

Surprised, she looked at the broken arrows that fell to the ground and then at the two pieces in his hand. She rubbed her chest above her heart where the fletched shafts had hit. The two thrown shafts had hurt and the force of them hitting her told her without a doubt that were it the two barbed pieces thrown at her, she would now be in serious trouble.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡK0fmavqmKE

“We are taught to survive in a harsh environment with honour. For without honour there is nothing my lady. I speak the truth for why should I not? I have nothing to lose except my honour and before that happens I would rather die.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ06RvSFKO6j

“You are an intense young man,” said Adelia. “I can see why you were sent out into the Empire. You have much to learn.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbEpd0DTJll

He shook his head, “That is what everybody keeps saying but I cannot find anybody to teach me.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡT6m9swESTp

Adelia glanced at Katya and both women automatically looked at Megan. All three began to laugh.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxTvppn49cb

Light years from the happenings and doings of the Galactic Empire, the Annular assault plans had been drawn up and completed. It now required only the task force.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPsYcBrJfkC

“Commander, the last hunter has returned. We can now commence with re-animation and growth of tissue. Estimated time to completion, two cycles. All skeleton Borgs are complete and awaiting their Cy’s. Estimated completion of brains and insertion; fifty cycles. Outer flesh, nineteen cycles.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡERvagUyk4K

“There is news from the Empire Commander. The old Emperor has died and the new one should be taking office soon”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡP2bNeMeX2y

“Good. Let’s hope this is the one we have being preparing for. I am getting heartily tired of trying to teach these soft skins to stand up for themselves.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAHp6RG0p05

“There is more news Commander. A Message Torpedo was seen to leave Overlord on a bearing of… this torpedo was seen entering the Orion Belt on its way to Earth.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡawChR302Zd

The Commander came to life. Its Exo-skeleton turned and faced the messenger. It had decided long before that skin tissue was a waste of time as it was too soft, tore easily and became messy. The only thing that vaguely could be described as human was its humanoid shape. Arms, torso, head and legs, were made from Grayvite Steel with all internal workings of electrical conduits, pistons, chips and cellulose. Hundreds of processing units channelled electrical signals through conduits throughout its ‘body’. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLPfWCuIQsK

The Cy was divided up into two parts, the only human part and the rest of its torso. To be more specific, there was the human Cy-brain and there was the Borg body or chassis. The Cy also include reconstructed human skin tissue. The living skin tissue would be added to the Borg first. From there it was a simple procedure to connect the specially adapted Cy-brain.     copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡp2sP8jv9Jw

“Could this be?” The commander asked himself as he turned away. “Could this be what we have been waiting for?” He thought for a long moment. “Keep a watch on the Earthlings. The moment something happens, anything happens, notify me. Send out scouts to the region of the Rainbow Bridge. None are to approach closer than three hundred miles from it for then the god Heimdall will surely discover them. All scouts to sever connections with each other and their base. They are to remain so; I require information on those Valkyrie. Their comings and goings. Anything, everything, nothing can be left to chance.” He thought long and hard again but hesitated briefly. “As soon as half of the attack force is tested and prepared, send them out to attack the Empire according to schedule and planning. Then place the entire navy on alert. Place the reserve half of the attack forces with the navy. I believe the time for training is passing us by as events are escalating. Pray I am not wrong. Pray. For I long for death.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8CDAsMUYVD

Wyatt Earp taught the woman how to lay traps and to skin and prepare meat. He showed them which wild berries were edible, and which ones to avoid.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡb6PjJL5JRg

Katya and Megan realized that although Wyatt was young, he was a master swordsman.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0H8dErtjdG

Adelia, on the other hand, was extremely perturbed that a child could surpass her. Most of the time he stayed out of her sword’s reach until she tired of swinging the thing around. He stepped closer and his sword grazed her throat. He taught them certain sword fighting techniques to which they easily adapted. It was an effort to lift Adelia out of her habit of rushing in and pounding her opponent into the ground. He showed her the correct stances and how to hold her heavy sword. He explained its benefits and drawbacks. He showed her how to block and control the swing, but she soon tired and pounded away with loose abandon.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQoNGHxsNhj

She handled her long sword as though it were a toothpick. She would possibly be victorious with most if not all of the untrained contenders, but it was the trained swordsman that she had to worry about. The one who stepped aside, mock surprise showing on his face, yet in an instant strike to decapitate.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3eRC2J58Hl

He and Megan took walks in the forested area together but always stayed close to camp. It was during one of their sparring sessions that a Polrob suddenly appeared over their camp. It drifted about silently then, as suddenly as it came, it left, but stopped when Adelia called it back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvH2EVH6o0j

“How’s it looking out there Mr. Polrob? Are they still killing each other in droves?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5RHSypq0cH

“How many are left? And by the way, how many days are left?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkDknif4oE4

THIRTEEN DAYS AND THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE CONTENDERS STILL IN THE RUNNING. INCLUDING YOU FOUR.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHJWpCuO2u1

“Three. Only three contenders.” Said Wyatt Earp standing off to one side.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKPhG1bFW9N

EXPLAIN SIGAL WYATT EARP. DO YOU WISH TO WITHDRAW FROM THE MONTH OF RECKONING?  FOR WHAT REASON?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzurTRJ9W7N

“Somebody forgot to mention that females had entered. As you know, we were absolved of all collection points due to our phobia. You know our beliefs and politics. It is against our belief to hurt a female. That automatically disqualifies me.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0PwXe9r3bW

YOU ARE CORRECT SIGAL WYATT EARP. THOUGH IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BENEFICIAL TO ALL CONCERNED IF YOUR NATION HAD DECIDED TO INVEST IN ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY. BUSH DRUMS AND SMOKE SIGNALS CANNOT CONVEY THE FINE PRINT.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5WLnDNyjKI

YOUR RETRACTION HAS BEEN NOTED. YOUR PAST SIGHTINGS ARE BEING INTERPRETED… PLEASE WAIT… ALL INFORMATION CONFIRMS THAT AT NO TIME HAVE YOU COME INTO CONTACT WITH FEMALE CONTENDERS. SHOULD YOU ATTACK, INJURE OR IN ANY WAY IMPEDE OR KILL A CONTENDER, IT WILL BE CLASSIFIED AS ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON WITH THE INTENTION TO COMMIT MURDER.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ91eGYtPpx1

“Understood. How many from my planet have become contenders?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmCX7ZAVyTF

FOUR. THREE FEMALES AND YOURSELF. THEY ARE STILL ALIVE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡg0YsybwQxw

ONLY FOUR QUALIFIED TO ENTER. YOU ARE REQUESTED TO REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THIS PLANET AND TO RETURN TO YOUR OWN. THUS, THE POSSIBILITY OF ANY INFRACTION FROM YOURSELF WILL BE NEGLIGIBLE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdh8bp7LlFF

“I agree but for one small problem,” he said. “I have made friends with these contenders and wish to remain to instruct them in the art of sword fighting. Our culture insists that I protect them. This protection- as it is The Month of Reckoning- can only extend to a certain degree. This I accept.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0WGYofaV5H

THIS IS HIGHLY IRREGULAR SIGAL WYATT EARP.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡslo0PLwNXs

“That is my wish Polrob,” he said firmly. “Or do you wish to have a political embarrassment on your hands amidst all the killing and destruction going on here?” He stood with arms folded and stared arrogantly at the Polrob. This was a side of the young Wyatt Earp Katya and Adelia had not seen beforecopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjbJrm9z8uf

AS YOU ORDER IT SIGAL, SO SHALL IT BE. YOUR REQUEST HAS BEEN NOTED AND CONFIRMED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOvbvuAKEwQ

“And If I can put in my five credits,” said Megan. “Just what does Sigal mean?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0nOQXgb8ta

“I thought you knew,” Wyatt looked slightly surprised. “Sigal is  another term for Monarch elect.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPwwuLB82ci

“Wow. Damned blue blood in our midst is what we have.” Adelia laughed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8gonYccGQb

“And don’t you um me.” She stamped the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqyEOWC18jS

“I say what’s on my mind young man,” Adelia said. “And don’t get uppity with me boy, you are not too old for a spanking. Now answer Megan’s question. In fact, answer all of them. What’s a blue blood doing here?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz5TeUPQVYa

Wyatt smiled, “As I said previously, temperament. Mine is kind of on a short leash.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNi0wadXz1h

“Let’s put it this way, if the three of you were male you would have been dead ten times over.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGoqzClptgn

“Just like that? No exceptions?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡD4FDAQRypT

“None. If you live by the sword, then you must live by a code of honor. You die by them. Mistakes on Hades costs lives and before you make another mistake and kill more friends and family, the honorable thing is to step down. Stepping down is difficult and you not only lose your status but also respect. Insulting somebody is cause for an affaire d'honneur, a duel to the death, and for some reason everyone sees fit to insult me. I cannot allow an insult to be left unpunished.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡP1Pubh8SDX

“That’s the biggest load of codswallop I’ve ever heard,” said Adelia with a loud snort. “So you go along with the whole thing and kill the poor schmuck for making a mistake? You do realize why they insult you don’t you? No wait. You are only a man and we can’t expect you to understand the desperation some poor slobs have to go through.” She stared at him and shook her head. “Idiot.” She walked away  and sat beneath a tree.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdklEUXZjqg

The quiet nod was all the confirmation he gave.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsjEhNPzWId

“I don’t think I like your world  much Sigal Wyatt Earp,” she said and turned away from him. His eyes followed her as she disappeared between the trees. His shoulders slumped and he stared at the ground in disgust. “It’s the law,” he mumbled. “I didn’t make the law. The law is over four hundred years old.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUVxgArezLF

“Well, the law my friend, is wrong.” Katya said walking off.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQrJaOr610A

“How can it be wrong,” he shouted. “It’s stood the test of time. It’s more than can be said about many other things.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEtTiLH8kEQ

Katya stopped and  turned about. “Stood the test of time? Are you dumb as well as ignorant? Of course it stood the test of time you idiot. That’s because everybody that had a problem with it ended up in a duel and died for one reason or another. Why don’t you think about that for a while hotshot and while you’re at it, think about this; if a disgraced man goes into a duel and wins, what becomes of him then? Ask yourself why these men insult you. I bet you have never once given any man a second chance? And although you profess not to harm woman, I bet they don’t get a second chance. You men are more trouble than anything else.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyyM6Pmx3Vj

Two days later, while giving the women much needed instruction on the intricacies of swordplay, their cozy existence came to an abrupt end.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDfnwx8dGtS

“Wait.” Wyatt said, blocking Katya’s descending blade. The metallic clash of the two blades stopped and except for the scraping of Katyas blade off Wyatt’s, silence descended over the forest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw1qi7fFFjB

“What?” Asked Katya, breathing heavily and looking about. Workouts with Wyatt were intense affairs. He was relentless in his training and refused to move on until the technique of attack or defense he was teaching was repeated over and over to such a degree that it soon wore the woman out.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY1nJtjjmmU

They were in a small clearing which they often used for their sparring sessions. “There is … something…,” his head cocked to the right. Eyes closed and mouth wide open, he breathed evenly and turned his body  360 degrees. “A sound, more like a whine…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡg0aEwINKog

“I can hear it too,” said Megan looking up through the tree canopy at the clouded sky beyond. She darted towards a tall Ash tree and climbed. By the time she disappeared between the branches, the shriek got louder. “It’s a flitter.” Megan shouted from up high. “It’s in trouble and I think it’s going to crash. There’s a lot of smoke.” she shouted again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCVi3eqjT5C

“What direction?” he shouted back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡu4ERO8b7vy

“What did she say?” Wyatt turned and asked Katya. The noise was deafening. They stared up at the sky between the tree branches.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡusdMwscPli

“North I think,” said Katya over the noise. “I can’t make out … it sounds as if the  thing is right above us.” She turned as Megan jumped the last few feet to the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsPn7HbfTjK

“It’s heading for the road,” she said loudly,  and run in the direction she had indicated. They all followed  as a loud crash echoed through the forest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrlw0xW5saV

Adelia was a few meters in front of Megan and Wyatt shouted for her to be careful but she either ignored his warning or didn’t hear him. Her legs pumped and she held her long sword before her as she ran through the woods. Vaulting over a fallen dead-wood tree, she stumbled and noticed the gravel road in front of her. There were a few people staring into the dense forest on the opposite side and asking questions among each other. They were startled as first one skimpily clad woman and then another two darted across the road with a man following shortly after.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKEoYrVqEKM

For Adelia, her term as a contestant in The Month of Reckoning almost came to a short and swift end as she crashed through the forest and ran towards the crash site. The flitter pilot had tried to find the least densely populated area and had plowed into a small forest clearing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWdCkljwAcP

Shorn off tree limbs littered the area. The ground was deeply furrowed. The flitter had come down too fast. Failing air-breaks shrieked and seized up before impact.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkEbRFJOKbY

Pieces of Grayvite steel littered the area, plate rivets protruded like broken teeth. Thinner trees lay demolished while the thicker, more robust trunks fended off the flitter and ripped chunks out of it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGWC5V40mIL

Adelia burst into view and was knocked over by a woman stumbling away from the flame-wrapped craft.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8FYKZj4vUh

She gasped for air and came to her feet. The disheveled woman stood before her sword ready, only inches from Adelia’s nose.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡT2nw7iA8Ei

The others came into view and stumbled to a halt. Wyatt Earp, who had caught up to Katya, grabbed her bow and knocked an arrow.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUOlQkssAnO

“Desist warrior or you too shall perish,” he said loudly Eyes flickered towards them. Judging, measuring. The woman breathed deeply a few times. Adelia could not stop the surprise from registering in her own eyes as she realized the woman was going to go ahead and kill her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1gQoMYHm6m

Even with an arrow, not ten meters away pointed unerringly at her; the woman tensed her muscles  and the sword dropped three inches. A smile flitted across her lips.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡE09CSHz4k2

She was ready. This is how she planned it to be from the first. She watched the decision being made behind the women’s eyes. She saw the slight withdrawal of the sword preparatory to being shoved down her throat- literally.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbfQx5bZxMm

“Debar warrior. Debar!” said Wyatt Earpcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmNDdcpbTLi

The woman stopped her fatal plunge with the sword. Her eyes widened in shock as she stared intently at the young man.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgqip3b7Dfs

“Where is the honor in this? For you commit murder. Does not the book of law dictate that there shall be honor in all combat? You shall be dishonored warrior and I shall pass judgment immediately. Murder that woman and your judgment shall be death. Death for you and all your clan. I have spoken.” he ignored the frowning looks from Megan and Katya. His attention was fully on the two woman in front of him. The bow drawn taught. The arrow aimed and ready. At this distance Tobor had a minimal chance of evading it unless of course, she was a master sword warrior.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGqHxXNIXlu

“The rules do not apply here,” Tobor said, her voice calm.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjHiXUum6o8

He lowered the bow. “Make your choices warrior, judgment has been passed. I have spoken.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡloDUK6rSiV

The woman plunged her sword deep into the ground. She dropped onto one knee and bowed before him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmYJyXuEqBR

“Arise warrior,” Wyatt said stepping towards her. “Yet know certain things, one…On our world you would now be called out to an affaire d'honneur, by not one but all the clans. Two, this is not our world yet honor is binding wherever one may be. Three, to win back your honor you will protect the one you wished to murder with your life. Four…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhRsMGMm7Y7

Adelia turned to him with a stormy face. “I require no protection from…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPjwsegzF9R

“ENOUGH.” Wyatt glared at her. He trembled with emotion. “You who do not wish to learn to protect herself, who cares nothing for the fears and qualms her friends will go through when eventually you come up against a stronger, better trained foe. A foe your friends cannot protect you from because they are engaged in protecting themselves. A foe that cares nothing whether you are male or female, trained or not. A foe whose only duty is to kill you and then kill your friends.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAwPj5MNJco

“You are selfish, childish and insulting. You wish to die? Then go die somewhere else. But while you are included in this band you will have protection.” He turned to the warrior who still had her head bowed. “Four. Your clan shall know of your attempted crime,” he saw her shoulders droop in despair. “But they also will know of your deeds from here on. Prove yourself. Protect the un-protected. Be her shadow and re-earn your honor, your pride.” He ignored the sudden gasp from Adelia. “Judgment has been awarded.” copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBuf3hVQD3P

The other women stared at him with different levels of surprise on their faces. “I don’t know about you but my way of thinking is that this is going to bring a lot of attention. I believe we should leave and leave quickly. And another thing,” he turned towards Katya. “We should leave for Overlord as soon as possible. Time is running out.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLS9hlnyU2I

“You do realize don’t you,” Megan said to him as he passed her. “That you have given a woman a second chance?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLCfBVkoJ3B

Fear and tension permeated the air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRmCXKlj3Uk

“Does anybody hear that,” asked Tobor as she stopped and stared into the distance, her ever-present blonde pony-tail bouncing about behind her neck.  “It’s faint but sounds like…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqj5GQ8hLKM

“…metal on metal.” Wyatt said. He had also stopped to survey the scene. “We may be near that village we were told about.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJ42jEUPxb5

“Out here in the middle of nowhere? Where will it be? I can’t see anything.” asked Megan looking about.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡv3s70cskgn

“Could be possible,” said Tobor. “We have been following a foot path for the last half hour and it seems to be taking us towards that large thicket.” She pointed towards the thicket in question ahead of them. All eyes followed the widely meandering footpath that lazily headed towards the small-forested area. “Whoever made this path must have been drunk.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEHGJnxSEjD

They had left the Mining spaceport after having had an early meal with the mining management some hours before and  trudged in the direction given to them. They were told that - as the crow flies – they were a few hundred kilometers from Signature, the capital of Overlord.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr2ItmmocUA

“Let’s  follow the path and see where it leads then.” Said Wyatt walking at the back of the group. Tobor was in front, her senses stretched to the limit. Her eyes darted about trying to come to terms at the scarcity of this world’s natural wilderness. Open plains with knee high grasslands stretched out in all directions and vied with farmed and irrigated patches that in turn vied with towns and villages. Progress was the order of the day when it came to Overlord as she had seen from the cargo carrier on entering the planet’s atmosphere. Overlord was a stable planet. Almost flat in its design with rocky mountains to the north that stretched thousands of feet high. Skyscraper metropolises hundreds of kilometres apart in all directions. Early morning sunlight glinted off the buildings. Smaller towns and cities dotted the area. From small woodlots to forests  and wide rivers and streams that ran like veins across the almost level landscape. As they descended from the stars, she had seen small villages and patchwork farmlands with what looked like thin pathways leading to each other. Overlord was a picture of settlement, of completion, of balance and permanency.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhpDJxDW0Yc

Signature, their ultimate destination, was situated somewhere between those mountains to the north.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnCU3miBeXU

An odd clump of trees stood forlornly here and there. A small group of animals grazed to the east not more than two hundred meters from where they passed. The animals ignored them except for one who stood some distance from the small herd and watched as they trudged by. In the distance, low, blue shrouded mountains packed together like sharp teeth. The air was clear, morning sunlight warmed them. The temperature would climb sharply come early afternoon. She noted the sounds of this world’s nature and wondered where the dangers lurked. Just what those dangers would be.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSoWASiWgvR

In Hades, one had to be on the lookout constantly. It was a world where nature had gone into overdrive. Where trees were tall and forests stretched from horizon to horizon and seemed to touch the heavens itself. Mountains with their white capped peaks stretched up into the heavens and valleys dipped deep. A world where animals evolved at such a rate that from year to year one could actually see small changes. Changes in ear shapes or  hide coverings. Animals and creatures that looked like figments out of nightmares to strange - almost humanlike – winged sprites that fluttered about, never alighting for long. Hades was a world of continuous change from the smallest insect to the largest snake. A world where humans were  another meal. One had to constantly be on guard for it wasn’t only the big animals - some with  large teeth - that wanted to chew. No, there were some  small buggers too. One of them was the size of a thumbnail that foraged in packs of a few hundred or more. Perfectly round in shape.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRMguwN8sO6

Some described them as simply a stomach with teeth. Though this stomach had six legs, they could only move about slowly. Somebody had named them Hoppers as it always seemed as if they wanted to hop from one place to the other but were hampered by their green, bloated bodies that dragged on the ground. Their legs were too short for some reason. Hoppers with their rounded soft green bodies and six legs while on the other end,  small and sharp teeth. Easily killed, but poisonous, they had no natural enemies of any kind.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFbJzf5SQkP

When they moved into an area, humans and animals alike, found other places to live. On Hades there were creatures that used shadows to hunt. Trees that gave off such a delicate smell that one became intoxicated within minutes of being in its immediate vicinity. It’s supple and sturdy root system, some that lay concealed above ground, were the opposite as they  twisted around their drugged meal, enveloping and then crushing it to suck up the juices and blood that nourished the parent tree.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKcdHM60Jnv

The dry, mummified carcass would be drawn  underground to nourish the rest of the root system as it decomposed into base elements, leaving no untoward signs of danger for the next unsuspecting victim. Animals ranging from the size of one’s fist to the size of a  large flitter.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAeiRIOFQht

Animals that moved on four or  three legs to the behemoths that outran anything smaller. Hades was an evolving planet. A planet that was made seemingly of teeth. It was a voracious and ugly planet that was not to be traded for any other. It was home, and to the humans that populated it; beautiful.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXXFGxULpL6

They entered the small copse of trees and followed the winding path, Listening to the rhythmic sound of steel on steel. It was not as dark between the thinly populated trees as it would have been on Hades, as there trees sought not only space to grow but also sunlight. In fact, there was hardly any difference from before entering the wooded area to after.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡewisd5yeOV

Sunlight was the only loser here although it still seeped through here and there, sending brilliant shafts of light between the branches. The trees were not so densely packed as those in Hades, neither the short brush and undergrowth so dense that a machete would be needed. It was these facts including the sour smell of unwashed bodies, the acrid smell of urine and human feces that gave away the hidden enemy.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJp92gSRVJ8

The “Whist….” Tobor said. The sudden sound of a sword being drawn. Wyatt stepped in front of Megan although he kept his own sword in its scabbard. Katyas and Adelia drew their swords immediately.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpG54mCZ81K

Katya held her breath, strained to hear any sound from the hidden enemy.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdsRnv7fm3Z

She turned towards Wyatt when suddenly a screaming man in tattered clothing came flying through the underbrush to impale himself on her sword. Lashing out with her left, she punched the man under his chin and withdrew her sword in time to ward off a wildly stabbing individual from her left.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡusFAx2dwbf

She split his skull without any thought and stepped forward to meet her next assailant. From the corner of her eye, she could see Adelia and Megan defending themselves against what looked like four more assailants.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgqwxXf2AxL

“Stand fast.” shouted Tobor, keeping an eye on Adelia.    “Stand fast and give them hell.” She had acquired a second blade and ducked a swinging stroke to her head. Her right blade met the return thrust while her left blade had the man staring in numb horror at the stump of his arm from which blood jetted out in a low arc.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1KeT7J0n54

Both her blades cut through the arcing blood and passed through the man’s neck. She turned and blocked a stabbing blow to her stomach from another screaming opponent. She swept aside his next attack with an easy flick of her left blade while the right followed through. He died clutching his throat. Blood sprayed through clenched fingers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmAw2b35pAg

Tobor turned, saw Wyatt ducking away from a swinging sword. Still not having drawn his own. She saw Adelia squaring off with a giant of a man clutching an axe. Megan and Katya were each finishing off their opponents. Katya’s thin bladed sword seemed to dance through a shaft of sunlight and bounce off her opponent’s much heavier sword forcing it to miss her shoulder by millimeters, bounce away only to make an abrupt u-turn to slice off the man’s thumb. Unable to clutch the sword without a thumb, the hand was soon empty and the sword joined the digit on the ground. Katya stepped forward and coldly brought her sword down in a slashing stroke that cut through the man’s ribcage to follow on down through his stomach.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEQGaoEqreX

Disemboweled, the dying man’s sneering features turned into surprised pain and horror. Sinking to his feet he stared up at her as once more the descending sword passed through the beam of sunlight to send his head toppling from his As if by some previous instruction, none of the attackers challenged Adelia. They gave her a wide berth and attacked her friends. That was fine by her as she caught one from behind who had forgotten that she was there and was being forced backwards by a fiendishly swift moving Megan. Megan had taken the extra lessons from Wyatt to heart and was putting them to the test. Her lightning fast riposte scraped passed his blade to cut through the bridge of his nose. Jerking his head back, Adelia slammed her blade through his spine.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcgHr9Paadg

She stepped forward to meet a large, grinning man bouncing a large axe in one hand. “Let’s dance my lovely.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeARLD3OIso

He ducked her wild swing. One of his men took a swipe at her with his sword while passing. The axe split the man in two from the base of his neck to his navel. “Get your own you miserable worm.” The giant’s voice rumbled. Jerking his axe free with ease, he suddenly roared in pain as a knee buckled.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY6fFhEjH5x

Adelia  got to her feet, fresh blood coating her blade from where she had cut his right hamstring. The large man came to earth with a thud, his axe held in the air, left hand on the ground. He stared at his right leg in astonishment.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEiOmJXcU8q

“There is one little problem,” Adelia hissed at him. “I can’t dance.” She swung her long blade and blood erupted from his bullish neck and the stump of a right arm. The axe, the limb that held it, and his head tumbled to the ground. The left arm buckled and the man’s body sagged to one side still pumping blood. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbm027D6Wmy

She took in the chaos of dead bodies lying about. The reek of blood and excrement. All was well with her friends except for Wyatt who danced about with both hands shoved into the back of his trousers. A large grin on his face told the four women that he was enjoying himself as a tired and annoyed swordsman took another swing at him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡklFA0WfjEk

The blade sang past where his body had been, unbalancing the exhausted swordsman who stood panting and eyeing him out in disgust.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRjDGFmEShM

“Well. Im not allowed to fight so I cannot kill this fellow. I thought I could use him for practice and keep him away from joining his buddies.” With an upraised chin, he indicated the silent Polrob hovering above their heads; its camouflaged underside had helped it to remain undetected.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡawEP7FMmZq

The man suddenly looked around and for the first time noticed his dead friends. He stared in astonishment and looked about for an escape route. The idea of escape was cut short at the same moment an arrow seemed to grow from his chest. All eyes darted to Katya who was in the process of unstringing her bow. “What?” she asked looking at them. “I have to keep in practice somehow.” She quipped innocently.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHRJkxpHbhZ

Tobor turned to Adelia who was cleaning her blade on the giant’s shirt. “You did well. Where did you learn that trick?” she asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYAs6UXmRzy

Adelia said, “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I once hurt my own hamstring and struggled to walk for a while. Always wondered what would happen should they be cut?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbJ4Qycvkzu

“It was a good idea non-the-less.” Tobor indicated the headless giant. “That axe would have brushed your sword aside and he would have killed you. Axe fighting is an art that only certain people master. They always appear to be large bodied and good at killing their opponents because none seem to be able to figure out  how to fight them.” She grinned. “You did.” She slapped the large woman on her shoulder. “Lucky.  lucky.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLgluBTTj5b

“I have a question or two,” said Wyatt staring at the dead littering the forest floor. All eyes turned towards him as he walked from one body to the next. “Anybody notice how thin these guys are? Almost emaciated. Moreover, their clothes are rags, ready for the scrap heap.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡi3MK9GIwyh

“And that ringing sound hasn’t stopped either,” said Katya. Her head cocked towards the sound. It was still rhythmic. Bang…tap…tap…bang…tap…tap… bang…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4J09zzl5UU

“What’s the story here Polrob?” asked Wyatt. The Polrob floated closer to the group.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzFbVaNP46U

THESE INDIVIDUALS WERE SLATED FOR TERMINATION EIGHT DAYS HENCE, SIGIL WYATT EARP. THEY DECIDED NOT TO PROCEED WITH THE MONTH OF RECKONING AND WE KEPT WATCH ON THEM TO MAKE SURE THEY DID NOT ATTACK ANY INNOCENTS, ALTHOUGH THEY HAD BETWEEN THEMSELVES CHOSEN NOT TO PROCEED TO THE VILLAGE CLOSE BY SO AS NOT TO REVEAL THEMSELVES. THEY LIVED OFF WHAT THEY COULD CATCH AND UNEARTH FROM THE FOREST FLOOR. YOUR PRECIPITOUS ARRIVAL CHANGED ALL THAT.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfpY2a7ITEg

“They believed we had food and clothing they could use,” said Katya. “On the other hand, dead contenders wouldn’t cause any problems, right? All they had to do was leave our heads close by for identification purposes and they had instant forgiveness.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbI0cRzLdFF

“Well, it’s lucky for us we didn’t meet with their expectations,” said Adelia, kicking a man she had stabbed between the legs. She pulled an arrow from his chest. “Yours I believe.” She threw the arrow at Katya who caught it out of the air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7fljav60zd

“Well, excuse me Mrs. Perfect.” Adelia said in a huff. She turned to the Polrob. “How many contenders remain?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVPDTSO1AHF

ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AND TWO CONTENDERS. ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED AND FORTY THREE…CORRECTION… FORTY TWO CONTENDERS ARE SLATED FOR TERMINATION EIGHT DAYS HENCE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRSnR4erQs6

“Termination? Does this mean that all those people are trying not to get themselves killed by hiding out and refusing to proceed with The Month of Reckoning?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwzlSTwn0wX

THAT IS CORRECT ADELIA MONTGOMERY. THERE ARE STILL THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY NINE…FIFTY-EIGHT…FIFTY-SEVEN… AWAITING RESULTS… FIFTY-THREE STILL IN THE RUNNING FOR EMPORER. THIS INCLUDES ALL PARTICIPANTS FROM PLANET HADES.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdrNRkFFmfn

“Over a million dead.” whispered Megan in horror. “In one month? Over a million?” she gazed at Wyatt in such anguish that he stepped over and hugged her tight. “Leave it Megan. Leave it or you will suffer many nightmares. This is not of your doing.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ17goYlDpc5

“But I am part of it. I condoned it.” she cried.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvIFRAznYzT

“That part we will have to live with.” He nodded. “It is the only way we know. The only true and honest way in determining our new Emperor. Nobody of feeble mind or body will or can be elected. There is  too much scope for fraud, or political high-jinx. He or she has to prove themselves should they want to be Emperor. Not only to themselves but to the Galactic Empire.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVNlJEGok2E

“But what about those that made a mistake and have realized that they don’t want to be Emperor?” she asked. “What if they realize that they don’t want to carry on?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI3LYsKk69w

THAT QUESTION IS ONLY ANSWERABLE BY THE NEW EMPEROR, CITIZEN MEGAN LETROP. IT IS HIS OR HER DECISION TO MAKE. ALWAYS THE ANSWER HAS BEEN DEATH. A CONTRACT MUST ALWAYS BE ADHERED TO. THERE ARE NO EXCUSES.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNKN9trPRMR

“That’s bullshit,” said Katya. “Things change. Circumstances. Events…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwuVhtn2Nub

THAT IS TRUE KATYA BEROTIVITCH. NEVERTHELESS, IT IS NOT FOR ANY BUT THE EMPEROR WHO HAS THE POWER TO EFFECT WIDE RANGING CHANGES.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjGRzyooZhd

“Ok. This is getting us nowhere  quickly,” grumbled Adelia, never one for playing footsie with a Polrob. “Just tell me this, what the hell is that infernal banging we keep on hearing? Doesn’t it ever stop?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ5XMeqe3i0

THAT IS THE LOCAL BLACKSMITH. YOU SIGAL WYATT EARP AND TOBOR MCINTOSH WILL KNOW THEM AS METAL WORKERS. THIS SPECIFIC SMITH IS WORKING ON SHIELDS…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVPvQ6Ye9LI

…IT IS A MOST DIFFICULT PROCEDURE AS HE IS USING GRAYVITE STEEL SHEETING.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXbNs2Uqg3c

“Let’s go.” said Wyatt, not waiting for the rest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYoinAXka1g

“I have not the slightest idea Megan, but the way Wyatt and Tobor are carrying on it could be something  important.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaMEXeGRFXV

THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES AND CATOGORIES OF SHIELDS, SQUARE, ROUND, STYLIZED OR RECTANGULAR PIECE OF ARMOR STRAPPED TO YOUR ARM AND IS INTENDED TO AVOID OR INTERCEPT BLOWS, ARROWS OR SPEARS. THEY CAN BE MADE FROM WOOD, ANIMAL HIDES, METALS AND SO FORTH. THERE ARE OTHER TYPES OF SHIELDS; FORCE FIELDS OR EVEN A CERTAIN PERSON PROVIDING PROTECTION TO OTHERS.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSWjajT8E4a

“I think we get the point,” said Katya looking about as the path they were on, soon led to a clearing. The first thing they saw was a large, unpainted off-white looking brick shed with its double doors wide open for ventilation. Even from the distance of nearly twenty meters, they could feel the scorching heat emanating from it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡU7s580XldM

The incessant bang…tap…tap…bang…tap…tap… was coming from inside and the group moved as close as they could to the forge which was not much closer than they already were. They noticed the dry, dead and wilted brush as they tried to maneuver around towards the open doors. Sweat pouring from their bodies and they became  uncomfortable in the heavy heat.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOoytmNaes7

“Is there metal worker in there?” Wyatt wiped his sweating brow. “No human could stand this heat surely?” He moved to get a better view and saw a figure dressed in bulky protective gear. The figure’s arms were shoved through two small padded openings and the man peered through a small, brightly lit gash of a window. Outside, a few round, oval Grayvite shields leaned against the wall. One or two still glowed with the heat of their recent forging.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9k3svnlD1q

“Just how long will this be carrying on for?” Wyatt asked the hovering Polrob who seemed to be unfazed by the enormous heat.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNVxg0FhY1u

ACCORDING TO CALCULATIONS, SIGAL WYATT EARP; ANOTHER TWENTY-ONE MINUTES AND EIGHT SECONDS.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLPSkjf7ttA

“That long huh?” he turned to the others. “Let’s stand off to one side people, this heat is killing.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡACUE5q1r33

“You can say that again.” Said Megan, as they moved further away. She tapped on Wyatts shoulder, “Are those the shields?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRRYp8Y5pX6

“That’s what’s worrying me.” He looked her up and down. “Our local Polrob said the metal workers making them out of Grayvite steel that is extremely heavy and difficult to work.” He glanced at the round shields. “You need a shield Megs. You need some protection but Im afraid this isn’t going to work.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2x11X902zX

“You can stop chewing your lip buster. Aah, this is so good…” she stood with her arms out wide and enjoyed the cool late afternoon breeze against her skin. Wyatt grinned at her enjoying the picture before him. “I would kill for a bath right now,” she said twisting her arms this way and that. “Aargh. Im covered in blood.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9tG5gIljT4

Adelia grinned at her from where she was sitting. “Get used to it girl, we still have eight days left and a few hundred people to kill.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPDnYjlcplS

“Would you really kill so many people?” she asked in a hushed tone.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyoqzpnJpqi

“Their time will come and it will be worse than you can  imagine,” Katya said softly to her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4bis9COm19

They discussed among themselves things that the new Emperor should change. Although whether he or she would exact changes, was up for speculation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfzxG9X4Tmu

The unremitting and persistent ringing of metal on metal suddenly stopped.,  The sound of birdcalls could now be heard As well as the faint laughter and cries of children’s voices.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcJ3YMI1xIn

All eyes turned towards the open forge doors.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdlIL2SJ6L5

Super-heated steam billowed out in huge white clouds.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBYOFXBoY97

The smell of worked steel and oil was almost overpowering. The billowing clouds of steam petered out and then was renewed. Finally the blacksmith walked out in his bulky protective gear. Large tongs gripped a perfectly spherical glowing shield. The bright orange-yellow glow of trapped heat made the scene look otherworldly. He placed the shield gently on the ground beside its stacked brethren. Grey smoke and flames suddenly erupted from where the shield touched the ground. Sand melted and formed red hot glass. The figure stepped back, turned and saw the fascinated group watching him. He was dressed in a full-body protective gear the same color as the forges off-white bricks. He entered the cooling forge. They settled back to wait.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmlUWRaFZeL

The waiting took only a few minutes as an old man, dressed in sweat-drenched, dirty, short-sleeved shirt and shorts walked towards them. Skinny and flushed by the heat, his sunken eyes passed over each of them, including the hovering Polrob. Judging, evaluating. His hair was short and almost non-existent. The old smith stepped through the dissipating heat waves and stopped before them without a word.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8s7QeaJXgv

“Please excuse us for bothering you Worker of Metal. We have need of your expertise,” said Wyatt, bowing deeply to the smith. Tobor followed suit but kept quiet.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3StSxqtVpC

“Hades? I thought so.” The Smith’s voice was little more than a whisper as his eyes drifted towards the sword pommel protruding out from Wyatt’s left shoulder.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3MYXIP8nOm

“Aye. It be so. The woman and I.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9WPgN4rw1H

The smith ignored the rest of the group. “What clan?” he whispered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ24AwW8Wq4m

Nodding, the man looked at Tobor who bowed again and said, “Clan Monumentus.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAoBpFpu6Wv

“Does Princep Margareta still rule?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOYAouxwrXA

“I wish to see your Lorshd.*” The smith held out a hand.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwBq815xvbu

“It was my birth gift Lord, presented to my mother by one of the greatest Lorshd makers of our time.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZvDqDEvb9H

The smith glanced at Wyatt with renewed interest. “Wyatt Earp wilt thou be?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFaG8M56U0w

Completely dumbfounded, Wyatt bowed. “Aye milord. Such were my birth names. The Lorshd was bequeathed to me at the age of four.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1vK7JUfLRe

“Ah,” he smiled. “And so the wheel turns and comes to rest once again at its beginning. And what does the engraved words on the blade tell you, Sigal Wyatt Earp?” the smith held the sword in both hands. The sun glinted off the words expertly engraved down its centre.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNRJqhn5Nzf

“An equires creates dos creates.’- The bearer will return to the creator - ” Wyatt said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuepbnbgu6g

“Who is the bearer and who the creator?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ17MLfwFvhx

“I am the bearer Lord and you milord, the creator.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJ4ptvGRAuq

The smith nodded. “It is almost indestructible and is the only one of its kind. It was also the first time I succeeded in blending Grayvite steel with other metals albeit only in miniscule amounts.” He looked up at the silent, fascinated group, “In the village there is a small, modern motel. Tell the owner that you are all my guests and that you will be residing there for three days. We have been expecting you.” He turned towards the forge carrying the sword with him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPZEfa2rrxy

“There is…,” he turned back to them, “another matter. Your shields and bows will be delivered tomorrow morning. I suggest you practice well.” His sunken, burning eyes gazed upon Katya. “The Empire will rest on your shoulders child. Death rides beside you on a black horse and you will carry more than any human upon your shoulders. Existence begins and ends with you. Hesitate, and you will lose more than any other.” He turned away and entered the forge leaving five confused and worried individuals behind.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIyFvjV2Zqj

They booked into the small Motel. No mention was made of money for as soon as they mentioned that the blacksmith had sent them, the portly owner fawned over them and this increased their bewilderment. Each to their own room, they all congregated together in Katya’s room and sat on the bed or stood about like lost furniture.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwaoVDUCuv7

“Who is he?” Megan asked .Wyatt who was deep in thought. He stood by the open windowcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVl6zAhC2J9

He turned to them and blanched slightly when he noticed that everybody was staring at him. “A ghost. He is a ghost.” Wyatt shook his head in uncertainty. “We had heard he was dead. Just after he brought the sword to my mother, he disappeared leaving his forge and all his belongings. We believed he had been killed by some creature. No trace of him was ever found.” He breathed deeply, “He was our clan’s metal worker and is touched by the gods. He would always mutter about a black horse and the gods that prepared for war amongst themselves.” He watched as Tobor agreed. She too had heard of the Prophet metal worker. She had never believed she would see, never mind meet up with him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡArIgX2cZ1C

“According to the metal worker, there is.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeRtkr4C37l

“And they are all fighting between themselves? So what is that to us?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdHNWYKYaKZ

“If it is true then everything. Should there be war between them - and if I can remember the odd mythological book I read, when the gods war, it always flows over into the realm of humans”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡN3yBM22p9Y

“Wait.” Katya lifted a hand. “Are we not getting ahead of ourselves ?” All eyes settled on her. “Look. As I see it, this smith knew we were coming. Had prepared weapons for us.” She turned to Wyatt, “Knew your mother. Lived on Hades and was well respected by everybody.” She counted the points off her fingers. “So, what the crap is he doing here on Overlord? What are the chances that we would stumble upon him?” She glanced from Wyatt to Tobor. “Just how old is he by the way?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxnP0Ih5klc

“He was old when I was born. He was old when my parents were born.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFzUsvSdt3X

“There are no such centres on Hades.” said Tobor. “They are expensive and from what I know, Life Enhancement has to be done yearly or not at all. Only the Mega rich are able to go for treatment. We would have noticed.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsKAiLiAQDV

“So what we have then,” frowned Katya. “Is an old blacksmith that can foretell the future…” she turned to Wyatt and Tobor. “How do we know he really can?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3iuXLZPYtT

“We can mention small things like births and deaths.” Wyatt said, looking at the ceiling. “Or we can go to who will marry who. This is of course before the infants are conceived or the parents married and this could go on into the third, fourth and the fifth generation. We can mention large storms,  larger hurricanes, and then there are erupting volcanoes and earth quakes.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWWKXYcL2GY

“He is the real deal.” Tobor agreed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡf9IPst82jL

A voice above their heads startled everyone. The forgotten Polrob drifted silently lower.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3KQNIOZtRF

CITIZEN GREGORI WYKSTRA IS 307 YEARS OLD AND IS THE OLDEST NON-LIFE-ENHANCED HUMAN TO DATE. THE SECOND OLDEST IS ONLY 167 YEARS OLD. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE OLDEST LIFE ENHANCED HUMAN IS 547 YEARS OLD.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr6O9WgD4jX

“Three hundred and seven?” whistled Adelia. That’s damned old.” She looked at Tobor. “The old bugger is still active though. What is the reason for his longevity?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQgjUIDK9Ny

They stared at the Polrob in surprise.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjVG85CpJHI

YOU MISUNDERSTAND. WITHIN THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN DOING EXPERIMENTAL TESTING ON GRAYVITE STEEL, IT HAS BECOME COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT ONE OR MORE OF ITS PROPERTIES MAY BE BENEFICIAL TO LONGEVITY.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7UvO3Brsk8

“What you’re saying is that because the smith works with Grayvite steel all the time, it prolongs his life?” asked Katya.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa0H90aQEnG

PROOF IS MINIMAL KATYA BEROTIVICH, EVERY HUMAN OLDER THAN 100 YEARS OF AGE RECEIVE FREE COMPULSORY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE ONCE A YEAR.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ68ApdomiVX

CITIZEN GREGORI WYKSTRA, THOUGH MISSING THE ODD MEDICAL DUE TO HIS RELOCATION TO HADES, AND THEN HIS SUBSEQUENT MOVE TO OVERLORD, IS IN PERFECT HEALTH.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS2SnRVZinj

THERE IS NO NOTABLE DETERIATION OF HEART, LUNGS OR OTHER INTERNAL ORGANS DUE TO OLD AGE. ACCORDING TO MEDICAL RECORDS, THE LAST TIME HE WAS SICK WAS 267 YEARS AGO. HE HAD A MILD CASE OF THE FLU.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡryk8Iliy0F

“So what was that clever remark on proper exercise then?” asked Katya.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡf6OPv2eSk9

BEING IN THE PRESENCE OR WORKING WITH GRAYVITE STEEL IS NOT ENOUGH. INITIAL INDICATIONS ARE THAT REGULAR EXERCISING WITHIN THE IMMEDIATE PRESENCE OF GRAYVITE STEEL ENHANCES THE SO CALLED BENEFICIAL PROPERTIES THAT PROLONG LIFE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPccHA3Dzl1

FOR THIS REASON, EVEN THE SPACE FLEET, COMPRISED COMPLETELY OF GRAYVITE STEEL, ENCOURAGES THEIR PERSONEL TO EXERCISE ON A REGULAR BASIS. IT HAS BEEN NOTICED THAT AFTER ONE OR TWO YEARS, FEWER OF THE NEW PERSONEL REPORT SICK. OF THE OLDER PERSONEL, LESS THAN TWO PERCENT REPORT SICK OVER A PERIOD OF FIVE YEARS. THESE HAVE BEEN NOTED AS  LAZY GOOD FOR NOTHING SHITS.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTNzeVhzdQz

“It does have the propensity for witticism, doesn’t it?” laughed Megan.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡT6FIWbKa34

“And did he always have this ability to foretell the future?” Katya asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjThvBRzerV

THIS FACT HAS NEITHER BEEN PROVEN NOR DISPROVED. WHETHER CITIZEN GREGORI WYKSTRA CAN FORETELL THE FUTURE OR NOT HAS INSPIRED MANY OF THE SCIENTIFIC AND OCCULT COMMUNITIES TO APPROACH HIM FOR TESTING, BUT HE HAS ALWAYS MAINTAINED HIS SILENCE, SPEAKING ONLY TO THOSE HE WISHES. HE HAS BEEN DEPICTED AS A QUACK.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡflIPzD78RY

“Then they should have been on Hades when he was there,” said Tobor. “They would sing a different tune altogether.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIK4os0zcaD

Wyatt Earp, staring out of the window into the deepening night, turned to face the gathered friends. “We have, as I see it, eight days left. Three of which we lose as we have to remain here for some reason or other. That lea…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhuxy08qznS

“Why?” chipped in Adelia. “Why do we have to stay here? Just because some wacky blacksmith says so?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuDddsMQzVI

Wyatt faced her. “Wacky or not Adelia, we need those shields. They will allow you to protect yourself while inflicting the utmost damage on your enemy. You can kill your enemy while using a shield, and  hamper him from getting too close to do the same to you. We have to practice with them.” He rubbed a hand through his short hair. “Then come the bows he spoke about. Handy if you all know at least the rudimentary means of killing your enemy at a distance.” He pointed to Katya and Tobor. “The two of you know the possibilities of bows. Accuracy and distance are only maintained by practicing. We have three days with bow and shield. Not nearly enough but time is something we do not have, as usual. Signature is not so far, a few hundred kilometers. A few hours by flitter.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyDsC1VDB8N

“I would advise everybody to listen to the Sigal,” said Tobor. “It does not matter whether you believe or not, although it does matter that we receive training. Three days could be a matter of life and death.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfphMYhUpRh

“I couldn’t have said it better.” Wyatt nodded his thanks.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhmVvznhqXd

“Ok. So we stay for the three days,” said Katya. “There is one more question that needs answering.” She looked at the Polrob. “Just what is a horse?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8vQB8SwLuE

PLEASE WAIT, RETRIEVING DATA… RETRIEVING… THERE ARE MANY TERMS TO DESCRIBE A HORSE, KATYA BEROTIVITCH. THOUGH I DETECT YOUR QUESTION, DUE TO TODAYS EVENTS, LIE IN A CERTAIN DIRECTION. IN LAYMANS TERMS; SCIENTIFIC DESCRIPTION IS EQUUS CABALLUS. A QUADRUPED, MEANING FOUR LEGGED. A HERBIVORE, MEANING AN ANIMAL THAT FEEDS MAINLY ON GRASS AND PLANTS. ON OLD EARTH IT WAS DOMESTICATED AND INITIALLY USED FOR CONVEYANCE PURPOSES. AT ONE STAGE THE AMOUNT OF HORSES ONE POSSESSED DENOTED ONE’S WEALTH.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzJ4Qv28qr0

“So where are they?” she asked. “Why have we never seen them?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIImDdV0vlY

APPROXIMATELY THIRTY THOUSAND INSECTS, ANIMALS AND PLANTS GENETIC CODES COULD NOT BE ADAPTED TO SURVIVE ON OVERLORD. HORSES, FOR WHATEVER REASON, WERE ONE OF THEM. THERE IS A DESTINCT POSSIBILITY THAT WITH THE SCIENTIFIC ADVANCEMENTS MADE IN THE PAST FEW THOUSAND YEARS INCLUDING THE GENETIC MODIFICATION DONE TO THE FAUNA AND FLORA OF OVERLORD, THAT HORSES MAY SURVIVE THIS TIME ROUND.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIuuz5CsBnW

DUE TO THESE MENTIONED ADVANCES, ONE THOUSAND AND SIX INSECT SPECIES HAVE BEEN RE-INTRODUCED INTO OVERLORDS FAUNA AND FLORA. FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY MAMMAL SPECIES FROM HERBIVORS TO PREDATORS INCLUDING TWENTY-SIX SPECIES OF VERTEBRATES HAVE ALSO BEEN RE-INTRODUCED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgWGkNbmWBO

THE INTRODUCTION OF ANY SPECIES IS HALF THE PROBLEM. THE OTHER HALF IS TO DETERMINE JUST WHAT IMPACT THESE INTRODUCTIONS WILL HAVE ON THE EXISTING FAUNA OR FLORA. IMPACT STUDIES ON JUST ONE CREATURE CAN TAKE UP TO ONE HUNDRED YEARS OR MORE IN SPECIALLY PREPARED AREAS WHERE THE SPECIFIC CREATURE CANNOT ESCAPE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWjxiXLeXgA

Katya turned and laughed at her. “Yeah. After all that, who could blame you? What say you all? Time for sleep. I, for one, haven’t slept in a bed for so  long that I don’t  know what it feels like.” The sudden round of yawning had the friends erupting in laughter.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ1nFlbQI8s

The next morning, not knowing where to go for breakfast, they milled about outside their rooms until all were present. Walking down the carpeted passageway, they came upon a thin wooden frame above a doorway saying, ‘Breakfast nook’ with an arrow pointing upwards.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxGcUly6cge

Of them all only Adelia looked upwards at the ceiling and frowned. Before she could say anything, Katya laughed softly and whispered to her that she was an idiot. Trouping through the open doorway, they encountered five waiters and the portly, apron-wearing owner rushing about the fifteen empty tables and placing cutlery. To one side were two tables pushed together. A white tablecloth with pink and blue floral prints around the edges covered both tables. Five sturdy wooden chairs were spaced around them and they automatically maneuvered in that direction.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFNisRGbGiT

“Good morning. Good morning. Please forgive me,” said the man. “It is still early and our customers usually come in at about six. But no matter…” he said quickly, as he saw their disappointed looks. “We were prepared, for we surmised you-all would probably be up and about before the others. Sit. Sit.” He gushed and waddled forward ushering them to their table. “We have a small menu…” he clapped his hands and a waiter stepped forward and handed out menus. “Just call James here when you are ready to order.” He beamed proudly at them, turned away and giving the other waiters instructions.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMuwSKAxaHf

Forty-five minutes later, as the friends finished off their breakfast, the first of the motel residents stumbled in. Without looking left or right, the man made his way to the closest table, scratched his hairy chest and looked up at the waiter that stood at his side.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlfVy9h6gun

“Ok people,” Wyatt said, moving back from the table. Breakfast was fast becoming something of the past. “What now? Should we go to the Metal Worker or…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡu9bNB3tNJM

“Please excuse me, sir and ladies.” Although it was morning, the owner perspired to such a degree that he continuously mopped his baldhead and neck with a sodden handkerchief. He smiled broadly. “Mr. Wykstra, the blacksmith, has delivered your weapons and is waiting for you in this gentlemen’s room.” He motioned towards Wyatt, “As you were still busy with your breakfast, I took the liberty to send him there as I believe we should be circumspect for …” he stared in surprise as spoons clattered onto plates and slid to the table. Chairs scraped harshly back and a small stampede occurred for the door.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGwgdo1OWcw

The friends gathered silently in Wyatt’s room. All eyes darting from the emaciated blacksmith to the unstrung bows and shields lying on the unmade bed. The room was small and overcrowded.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbyL76VpdbU

“Great Lord,” Wyatt and Tobor bowed deeply and the rest hesitantly followed suit.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBF3MtFPWtz

The blacksmith was bare chested, wearing only sandals and old, frayed, leather breeches. His gaunt appearance notwithstanding, the sunken eyes held their attention and passed over one face after the other. Assessed. Evaluated and judged.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJa5Znu1cqd

With bony arms folded across his fleshless bony chest, he nodded at Wyatt. “Choose your tools. There are three bows and four shields. You receive my blessing Sigil Wyatt Earp. Send my regards to your mother. Take care how you treat those around you. Listen before you judge. Think before you act and always be prepared to accept your own mistakes. We will see each other at the birth of your son.” He turned to Megan who blushed, “You will make or break your husband. It lies in your hands. Acknowledge his weakness and strengths. Guide him. Be the wall that will supply shade. Be the well that will slake his thirst. For when you fail, so will he. The choice is yours. You have strength and compassion, use them to your peoples benefit and you will be much loved.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡICMtKSpa6A

No one dared breathe loudly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTpqZoOtq0U

They watched the old blacksmith as his eyes settled on Tobor who unconsciously straightened and licked her dry lips. “You, warrior maiden, will be fruitful. Many children will come from your womb. You will establish your own clan and it will become a force to be reckoned with throughout the Empire for it shall protect the Emperor herself.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEJxqdhjCsp

“Always remember that honor above all else, is your strength, your guiding light. You will redeem yourself in battle and this alone will prove to all that honor can be redeemed.” He turned to Adelia who stood behind everybody else, casting sidelong glances at the closed door and wondering if she could somehow slip out without anybody noticing her absence. “Your hate has carried you this far. It will not carry you much farther. Your anger, your lust for revenge has destroyed you. But fear not, you have been noticed and reprieve will come in death.” As the blacksmith turned to Katya, Adelia pushed Megan and Katya aside.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcw7sEBbrWR

“A question old man,” she said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIPg9OFYi6Z

“There is no need woman. You will die the death you seek. Many will surround you and come up against you…they will perish. You will slake your thirst and glut your soul. But beware the pommel, therein lies your death.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdKIKbW2uyu

Adelia stepped back with a grim smile on her face, he turned to a concerned Katya staring sorrowfully at her friend. “I noticed you have a good bow. I believe a master made it and it is not my place to interfere with another’s work. The fact that you take good care of your weapons also tells me you know their worth and how to use them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUL02dFEp7A

“ Use them well for worlds and nations. The  gods, shall rise up against you. Three enemies will become your friends and a god will watch all that you do. For in you lies the seed of the future. In you lies the destruction of all. In the span of your long life, many will die and you will be feared, hated and cursed. Indecision, the fear to act, will destroy you. Trust none. Make your own counsel. Should you die all is lost. And beware…the black horse for it will either be your undoing or it will become your most prized possession.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhPpyZeeYxk

He stared at the silent group . “Training will see you through the dark days ahead. One and all, you will leave your mark no matter how small. Sigal, walk with me.” The group shuffled out of the way as the two men left the room. Almost immediately questions were whispered, answers sought. The two men reached the forge, shimmering in the heat. “Wait here,” the blacksmith said. The old man disappeared into the forge and returned shortly with Wyatt’s sword. “I have refashioned the new blade out of Grayvite steel. It is stronger than my first attempt, will not chip or ever need sharpening. This is the strongest blade in the realm and only Grayvite steel itself will stop it. Guard it with your life and before you return to Hades, you must present it to the one who shall be Emperor. Her life depends on it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXK5GugCxKa

“The one who shall be Emperor? Not the Emperor? How Lord, shall I know who she will be?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1FV2H9HmyO

“You will know. Even now, you know. Go, Sigal Wyatt Earp. Destiny awaits you all.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWQEmoEBDC8

Wyatt bowed deeply. “Lord…” when he straightened, the blacksmith had turned and walked away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXzS2fniRU3

For three days they practiced with shield, bow and sword.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPwZIyf5R7Z

Grayvite steel. Rust resistant, dense and able to withstand extreme temperatures. Throughout the Empire, Grayvite steel was used, from molded ship plating to heavy machinery. Unpractical for general use and unmanageable due to its large mass per volume.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡU9VE7U5eAS

Space expedition drill rigs prized the alloy. Many had tried to find its secrets; all had failed except for two. The reason for the failure was its composition and its strength.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡU5CreJn2qV

The only way to work effectively with Grayvite steel was with extreme heat. Only two people had succeeded and both had kept that secret to themselves. The first had, for whatever reason, a motive that would soon become obvious to the Empire, created the Annular and successfully integrated it into ship plating. The second was a scrawny, chicken chested blacksmith come fortune teller. Both had discovered Grayvite steels secrets and both would go to their graves with them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrgrrY0G4RN

For three days, Tobor and Wyatt taught them how to carry and hold their deceptively light and versatile shields. How to swing them in front of their enemies to block its advance. How to deflect blades and take advantage of an opening. How to force the enemies sword and arm upwards and outwards and stab him from underneath or over the top of the shield’s rim.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4MXZq4Tvju

It was not enough to carry a shield into battle. Like the sword, a shield was an extension of one’s arm. The bow was easier. Easier, but no less difficult to master in a short time. Speed, aim and distance would always be a problem for Adelia and Megan. Adelia became incensed when her long sword developed two chips after attempting to hack a shield apart held by Wyatt.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoez0FOK2Qb

The ringing clash of steel on steel was accompanied by such a vibration into her wrist and elbow that she nearly dropped it. She yelped in pain and surprise. She had made the same mistake twice before, trying other means of getting around the large shield. A shield only millimeters thick but large enough when held, to protect the wielder from neck to knee. A shield that absorbed every attempted stab, every slash, and in return, sent such intense vibrations up the opponent’s arms that the possibility of surprising and overwhelming him increased.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYirpJqpqvh

She would remember this, she promised herself.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡez3bytfsYz

For three days they practiced while the village people cheered them on. Groaning at their mistakes and cheering with every success.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXmNwnsk8va

Time passed quickly and before they knew it, the three days were over. They stood one morning taking their leave from the rotund motel owner who had handed each a packet of travel food wrapped in brown paper and a bottle of wine. They did not see the blacksmith for,  although his forge radiated heat, it was empty. With a shrug, Wyatt motioned that they should leave. Reluctantly, the group turned and waved at those villagers who had dared the morning cold to see them off. A few shouts of good luck sped them on their way.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjttLTcbjDH

They trudged on for hours. The Polrob that kept silent pace with them supplied directions. Hours more passed until…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡARgD2P6ih5

…four women and one man stood on a rise  outside a small town. Although a town may not be the appropriate description for the clump of whitewashed hovels. A large, dilapidated wooden signpost beside the dirt road leading off to the left of the rise was expertly engraved with the following;copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡResELQ76YC

THE CITY OF THE FUTUREcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVSrcwu1DMj

The wanna-be city of Hammer was a small community with large dreams and high expectations that over the years had to be lowered as the rest of Overlord’s population tended to disagree.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0amylESm3i

Hammer, the city of the future, was reminiscent of an Old Earth’s western town. White washed wooden buildings with hanging shingles lined the only dusty, rutted road down its centre. A road that petered out to either side of the town. Old men sat in rickety rocking chairs soaking up the sun’s rays  to loosen their aged bones and muscles. An old, flea-bitten dog would normally lie near the centre of the dusty road to catch the early morning sun but would saunter away to lie beside the back entrance of the only restaurant in town.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡl5ZCcrWjQv

They fed him scraps and offal although it was never enough. Instead of six-shooters hanging low on hips and steely-eyed patrons strutting up and down the wooden porches, small compact laser pistols were shoved down pockets, to be used  when needed. This was not the Wild West, but it was wild territory in the heyday of medical, technological, social and economic advancement. There were always those who were contrary to popular opinion. Vermin from the surrounding terrain sometimes wandered in looking for a quick meal and attacked residents. The feeling all round was to ‘rather be safe than sorry’. The drinking hole? That’s what it said on the shingle above the specially made bat-wing doors, was always a place to gather around a beer and play table poker,* voice one’s hopes for the future and slander neighbors not present.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJQZ2iFRfnj

Sleepy flies circled above the players never seeming to rest. Human nature would change all this in the  near future as the town of Hammer was, for the first time in its existence, abuzz with people. Not only people, but Polrobs flitted about, recording sword fights and deaths.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXnukWPYOb2

The populace of Hammer had increased almost overnight due to its strategic position of being the only small town within a 300 kilometer range of Overlord’s Capital, Signature. It seemed that all the Contestants throughout the Galaxy poured into Hammer. Contenders walked in or arrived by flitter or cart. They came in their numbers. Low flying flitters came in from every direction and encircled with groups of sword-bearing men and women who had decided it would be safer to combine their efforts than to go it alone.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6x75akx6Eo

Once a flitter landed its safety features kicked in and their pilots unable to take off because of the close proximity of the pressing mob. As soon as the blood-thirsty Contenders determined that the flitter’s occupants were also Contenders, hand held metal disruptors  cut through the Grayvite plating.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBofAqxgiND

Though the plating was only 1mm thick, it would still take hours for the metal disruptors to break through. There was no shortage of disruptors and there was always a willing hand to pass over one fully charged when those in use lost power. This was extremely nerve wracking to the occupants. Some decided not to wait but to meet the crowd head on and opened the bay doors.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCK065XV4L7

Swords flashed, men and woman died. Now and again a laser beam cut down an opponent and the over excited warrior was immediately terminated by a watching Polrob. The law was the law. Swords, knives, open blades of any kind were allowed, but the use of a hand laser was an immediate death sentence.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6RFeXPyvVd

It was a town  of chaos. Bloody, broken bodies lay where they fell or crawled off to die. Limbs lay scattered about. Contenders ran between the parked flitters and buildings as they hunted and chased their opponents down. The din of battle was deafening  The slight breeze turned and Megan gagged as the smell of loosened bowls and unwashed bodies wafted towards them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7uCMJABi5x

“Do? That’s easy,” Wyatt said. “Stay here and watch. Wait for the fighting to die down and then take care of the rest. This may only be possible if we are not noticed and I don’t believe we will be for much longer. On the other hand we could move off as a group and join in the fun.” His voice was grim but his eyes registered fear. “I cannot protect you lady. I must stand to one side and watch.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhCsvFwPFwd

She smiled timidly at him. “I am not without my claws.” Brave words but he saw the awe and fear in her eyes.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqDI3prE1JJ

“There is another option,” said Katya thoughtfully.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyfIDnPPxDr

“On the one hand we are handed a way out –for free, they say. And on the other hand your position is traded away to any that are looking for you because with funds you could hide from your enemies. No weapons are allowed except knives and swords and a bow and arrow. I know, I checked. They carefully neglected to mention that fact too many times in case Contenders came in their hundreds with other  weapons.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtQacTADyCn

“There is no fun in seeing people die from a distance. Mom and dad at home want to see all the gory action close up thank you very  much,” she said bitterly. “We were hamstrung from the beginning. How many out there have  thought of using a bow? As a long distance silent weapon there is nothing to beat it. Take shields. Have any of you seen any shields other than ours? No? Ill tell you why. Because the fine print says that shields are illegal until the last week of the contest. The last week? You couldn’t carry one with you until the last week. Where the hell are people supposed to find shields in the first place? And when they could the  things were so  expensive nobody could afford them. With the one hand they give and with the other they take.” She kicked the ground and watched as a small stone went flying. “We could by-pass this trap and make our way to Signature,” she finished.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhbD0O0QExu

Everyone turned in surprise. Adelia fingered her sword. Her left arm shoved through the carrying straps. “Let’s  go down there and get this over with. Why prolong the ending?” she ignored their questioning gazes and watched as hell continued to descend on the small town.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEz9PL3qpB2

Groups of swordsmen collided. Swords clashing. Hoarse shouts. Screams and curses. Then, as if by some agreement, the two groups withdrew, leaving their wounded and dead. Moments later they stormed towards each other and the hacking and slashing began again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNTdqT2qKGY

“What do you think, Tobor?” Adelia asked, turning to the silent warrior woman who never left her side.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeMyDWEtPLz

“I concur.” Tobor said eagerly. “This is what we of Hades are born  and trained for. I would not like to avoid this.” She turned and glared at Adelia, “You must remember what I taught you. Our time together is short, but remember I will be close.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8q9ifUlGkW

Adelia laughed. “Ill try.” At first she had resented this woman, designated her bodyguard by Wyatt. She had tried to ignore her but was continually goaded and badgered into fighting to stop the harassment designed to get her off her butt and teach her the basics of sword fighting.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI7QWxKZYuG

The three days they spent on a cargo carrier from Chicago to a mining town on Overlord was spent in the cargo hold that offered enough space to vent her annoyance and fury on the smaller, wiry and extremely tough bodyguard. Three days in which she grudgingly came to a small understanding of how inflexibly tough Tobor was.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXIswmoaQeW

Three days of curses as she missed her target no matter how she slashed and hacked. The woman bounced off walls onto packaging crates and, with clawed fingers, swung from the corners of larger crates to hang from cargo-nets. The woman was never where she was supposed to be. It was all Adelia could do to defend herself as Tobor attacked from every angle as they clambered over tied down metallic drums of all shapes and sizes, crates and huge machinery.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpnmyFCt0iO

It was a continuous, never-ending punishment that only stopped when exhaustion took over and she slumped to the deck panting in fury and despair. The grueling punishment continued on and on, day and night . The hours bled into nothingness. She was never allowed more than three hours sleep for once again, she would be harried until reluctantly she would pick up the cursed sword, judge the distance to the  monkey and with a scream of hate, attack. If she took too long to eat, her plate was slapped out of her hands with the flat of a sword and cruel taunting laughter echoed throughout the cavernous cargo-hold, goading her to pick up her sword. Anger and hate kept her going until she flopped down like a rag doll.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡX1VNYtxXs2

It all changed suddenly when she realized that she was getting absolutely nowhere with her normal mode of attack. It came suddenly to her that instead of swimming about like a shark and getting absolutely buggered in the process; she should stalk the bitch into a corner. Her body was one big bruise with every muscle feeling as if it was systematically pounded into rubber. She decided to change tactics.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEqL6W7v7XK

It was close. So damned close. She had nearly caught Tobor by surprise, or she would have if she had planned it correctly. As it was, she had taken too long and the warrior had caught on when she had not taken a controlled slashing swing at her. Maybe the warrior had not come to realize the change of tactics in the beginning and maybe it would have worked on a level surface and not in a packed cargo hold. Maybe…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3n7qWM2qNl

Adelia had almost cornered the warrior between a large packing crate and some sort of thin, flat metallic sheets that were stacked from the deck to ceiling. If only she had at least attempted to shout or scream as usual. If only she had parried some of the warriors thrusts and stabs instead of ducking and twisting out of the way. The warrior was extremely fast and it was another reason why Adelia got pissed-off.  She knew that the warrior never used her full speed or strength. And she got royally pissed-off when,  as she threw her long sword at her opponent, the  woman seemed to make a back-flip into the air where she grabbed onto the packing crate to hang upside down from the  thing with out-stretched arms and legs. Then, like a spider, she turned her head to stare at the embedded sword two inches from her left cheek, her single hair braid hanging two feet from the decking. Another back flip off the crate and she stared at Adelia and nodded.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeLmaylE6i7

And so it went. No more wild swings and dashing about like idiots. Now it became a matter of deadly earnest. Stalking, trying to corner the enemy and planning ahead. It didn’t help when the lights were dimmed and she had to judge whether the shifting shadows were lethal or not as the flat of a blade descended out of the least expected direction to slap against every part of her body. She learnt to judge depth, to be patient and not rush into an opening. Bruises and burning, angry red splotches on her body forced her to cast away her previous habit of rushing into any place that looked safe. There were no safe places. She learnt to look up. Something she hardly ever did. Something nobody ever did. To the front, to left and right or behind yes. But who would have thought danger to come from above? She learnt not to make a sound and cursed under her breath as she realized how noisy she really was and how difficult it was to move silently.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkEnr4je7J2

On the other hand, the warrior was like a ghost.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsYNP9maOss

She flitted about, never in one place longer than a few seconds. She used every ounce of the deep shadows that permeated the hold.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVBptvtXx3y

And then, it all came to an end. They stood glaring at each other. Adelias breath coming fast and hot. Tobor’s hardly noticeable.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxndUPid4pX

“I have only had a short time to teach you something that our children are taught while suckling their mother’s breasts. It is not enough. Will never be enough.”   Tobor shook her head. “You are going to die in the next few days and there is only one question that needs answering. That question is whether you are going to have me killed as well.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6SWTH6gRUJ

“Then keep out of my way.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkQkKjQdhoh

“I cannot. Honor is involved.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQVF3Pul3yK

“Honor? What honor? Just because you nearly killed me? He is a child and you an adult. You should have killed me when you had the chance. Honor….” The hand that slapped her face came from nowhere. The sound reverberated through the hold.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0FCXzk3PbY

“Yes. Is it so difficult to comprehend that there are some people who believe in it. Live by it and in the end die by it? You stupid woman. Without honor there is nothing. Do you hear me? Nothing.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyvOTf8Ktq8

Adelia rubbed her hurting cheek and fingered her sword. Would she be fast enough? “You speak of honor? Where was your honor when you nearly shoved that same sword by your side down my throat? Where was your honor then? You are so quick to judge. You know nothing.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLg3qjSUEVt

She was surprised and gratified  when the woman hesitated and looked away. When she spoke, it was with a soft, but firm voice. “I was with three men and two women in that flitter. Five other Contenders. Scum. Murderers. Dregs. Offal.” She stopped and breathed deeply. “They turned on me because I was different. I had to defend myself. They died.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpW92UImXyy

“All of them? Five against one?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡW73K0jTKNj

Tobor nodded. “They weren’t all that good. The flitter was damaged and I do not know how to operate them. When I crashed, I somehow found myself outside and while I was moving away from the burning wreck, you appeared.” She cocked her head to one side and stared intently at Adelia. “Place yourself in my shoes. What would you do? I had defended myself against murderous scum. Walked away from a crashed flitter on a planet that I did not know. What would you do? I did what I was trained to do. Protect myself. You could have been one of them. Your body is large. You carry a long sword. Was I to give you a chance to kill me like your countrymen? On my planet you react by instinct and apologize later. On my world there are no second chances.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSyAWYTPTyL

“Honor is overrated,” said Adelia. “Where was honor when I was a child? When Katya was a child?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnYHx1CfnAO

“I do not understand. But on my planet, without honor everything that we have worked for, for hundreds of years will fall apart. Honor is having pride in all that you do and in yourself. It is the respect you earn from your family and neighbors. It is a mark of distinction.  Your reputation, standing, status and character all depend on your honor. Where your word is your bond, honor is everything.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWwV0hWjbG7

“I think I may have liked your world,” said Adelia, thinking somberly on what she was  told but then shrugged it off. “It is too late now. What’s done is done. Katya will see to it that they are all punished.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuzF4vEYlyw

“Mine?” Adelia laughed. “I don’t have any. It was taken away when I was a child. Now I will honorably kill anyone that steps in front of me. My honor will be redeemed by Katya when she becomes Emperor. She will take our vengeance and shove it down their throats. Then my honor will be restored.” She swished her sword to and fro and then brought the blade up to her squinting eyes. “This needs sharpening. Katya’s going to win this thing. You know that don’t you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxPxtQOp9Z5

“It matters not to me,” Tobor said. “For should she come against me she will die.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡguFWzbBxw9

“I know. Come. It is time for a shower and food and then we must get some sleep for we have almost arrived at our destination.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRPPoiFdHOc

“The decision must be yours alone. The four of you must decide from here on in. The Polrobs will be keeping an eye out for any fault or indiscretion from my side,” said Wyatt. “Though I will stand to one side and try to warn you where I can.” He undid the leather straps that held his sheathed sword in place and reluctantly placed it on the ground. “Already I feel naked,” he whispered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvXzklSZyAN

“I am afraid and believe I should not have entered this stupid race,” she said. “But I am here and as Adelia always says, what’s done is done.” She looked at Wyatt with apprehension and foreboding. “I agree. Let’s get this over with. We live or we die.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGmnugOJIkO

“That’s it then,” nodded Katya taking a deep breath. She had seen enough of death. She would have liked to  carry on walking and push this day somewhere into the future.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsPL297V8Gv

The four woman silently clasped hands. “So what’s the plan?” asked Adelia, breaking the somber moment and gleefully rubbing a thumb across the edge of her sword’s blade.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWrTQTKMBgl

“Idiot,” said Katya with a slight smile.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7XIurYibGC

“It will not be a good idea to walk into that storm,” said Tobor as they stared at the chaos of screams, curses and fighting.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ9sLcBT7Kz

“There are more Contenders coming in from the East,” said Katya. Indicating a group of nine men and two females staring at the slaughter before them. They seemed to converse amongst themselves for a while, then as a tight knit group, drew their swords and entered the fray.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCH1wxUgjww

‘They had it right in the beginning,” said Tobor shaking her head in disgust. “They had it right but then threw it all away.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFDtn8Vlq62

‘Because should they have been fifty or  a hundred they could have rushed the enemy but they were only ten. With ten they should not have moved forward but waited for the enemy to advance. In that way the dead and dying would not hamper the smaller group. Side to side, ten against whomever attacked them. They may have lasted longer and killed more of the enemy.” She turned to the rest, “There are a few items you must remember,” she said, gazing at each in turn. “When your opponent falls, make certain he is dead. He or she may be wounded but  a wounded enemy has teeth and if you don’t want a blade to stab your legs or slice open your stomach from below, you had better dispatch them before moving on. Always keep an eye on the ground. When moving between buildings, remember the enemy may come from above. Always look up. Always keep your shield handy.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡl7AmD7hUrN

“How are we going to do this?” asked Megan, gnawing her bottom lip. Her eyes were huge with fright and she turned often to stare at Wyatt behind them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡq6rUtzPP0W

“We get close so that you and Adelia can start with the bows until your arrows are done. Katya and I will attack directly.  Perfect aiming here for you will not be an issue. 25 arrows apiece give us a hundred,” she said. “Of that, one can hope for a quarter doing some damage and another quarter disabling or killing somebody. The enemy is closely packed and one can only hope. Shoot off as many as you can. Time will be of an essence for when the enemy discover what is happening they will attack us to save themselves. That is what I would do.” She looked at Katya, “That’s when you and I start. After our arrows are gone, we go in as a group and stay tight. We stick together and protect our partners.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡR432AVqIGV

“Adelia and I will be together while Megan and Katya protect one another. Should one fall, the other will move over to the other two and lend protection to them. Katya, you are the strongest so you proceed ahead with Megan behind to protect your flanks and back. Adelia will do the same for me. You and I Katya, will be the front rank and protect one another as the need arises.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡB13boHjFBL

“Rely on Adelia and Megan but do not trust them with your life. There is a difference. Always make sure that our shields are interlocked. That will stop the enemy from cutting us off. Stab from the sides and, over the top of your shield as well as from the bottom where the enemy expect it the least. Keep your eyes open, and now I am speaking to everyone. Keep your eyes open. See everything. Watch your opponent’s eyes and body while seeing those close to him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡs2RUWluMau

“The more packed they are the better for then they have limited space to move. You will at some stage feel anger or joy or a multitude of feelings rushing through your body. Grasp those feelings to your breast and they will lend you strength and power. When you feel you need to take a break, shout it out to all of us then step into the middle, we will form a tri-angle. Conserve your strength, do not rush in. This is going to be a long day. Make your attack and defense as economical as possible and if the need to urinate comes, do it. Are there any questions?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJ1zM4aIuTp

“You are hopeless.” There was a slight smile around Tobor’s lips. “Fine. Then do what I do. Don’t rush in. Stick together and kill all that come at you. Is that better?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLXOCSLXmy8

“Better. Much better. Especially that last part.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRh9q4dBMIu

Excitement coursed through her body. This was why she had volunteered to enter The Month of Reckoning. Their enemies had always been nature or wild beasts. Hades had no criminal elements. Well, almost none. This was a once in a lifetime event to test one’s training, one’s will and strength against more than one opponent. Animals became predictable after a while, but humans? Humans were the best predators anywhere.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzqUn3M908H

“Megan.” Wyatt gripped the young girl’s shoulder. “Trust in your training. Trust in what we taught you and you will survive. This I promise.” They looked each other in the eye and suddenly they stepped into each other’s arms.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8ZZiq3w1Pe

“I don’t want to do this, she said in a muffled voice. |Her eyes thick with tears of fright.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡv1muEY96LP

“You must. A Sigil’s future wife must be proven in battle  to protect her husband.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2kfWIiIRjR

“What?” she looked up in surprise as he kissed her. Sudden hope and joy flooded her breast.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡysRxLiBhjr

“You heard me wench. Now go out there and show them what you can do.” Looking above her head, his eyes met with Tobors. She nodded acceptance to his unvoiced appeal.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvPsSk6RudD

“Katya.” Wyatt called her over. “Your swords will not be effective out there.” He handed her his own as she reluctantly traded hers. “It is a special sword Katya,” he whispered. “It will serve you well.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjfXzcGSVxc

Standing back, he watch forlornly as the four women strode forward to meet their destinies. Around him lay their packs containing their meagre belongings. How he longed to join them. How he wished he could protect the woman he had come to love. Was it not for those Polrobs flying about.  Adelia tapped Tobor on the shoulder as the four of them walked towards the hell ground seven hundred meters in front. “Is it true?” she asked in a loud whisper.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡN6EEEpWfGg

“Yes. He will marry her.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRESwixVeMC

“I see. No, that part was a fabrication on his side. It’s untrue.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡms840V0fBR

“Why? Look at her. She is in another world and she will fight better than she ever has before. He gave her strength and a dream for the future.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxyHm8jh9c9

Adelia glanced at Megan and saw that the young girl walked with a dreamy look in her eyes. Where moments before she was cringing like a scared dog, she now walked with head held high and a spring in her step. Adelia grunted. “Love?” she asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4yBdDC9ERK

“Love,” Tobor affirmed. Katya glanced at Adelia and Megan and with a grim shrug, turned and looked away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvTd1NcPe6S

Tobor brought them to a silent halt some two hundred meters from the closest fighting.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡV2r84fkTtr

They stared aghast at the sheer brutality before them. The overpowering smell of loosened bowels and spilt blood. Swords flashed as death descended. Duals sprang up seemingly in all directions. Wherever they looked there were bodies lying about. The dead and the dying piled up one on top of the other. Human gristle lay where they fell or were kicked. Limbs, arms, legs and hands trampled underfoot and unnoticed by the fighting humanity.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMW5c66MAow

The wounded tried to crawl out of the way or slashed at those close by with their blood encrusted swords, trying to take at least one more person with them. The screams and cries of the wounded and dying interspersed with curses and the  resounding clash of steel on steel.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhQkwUlpBwW

“Adelia, you and Megan step forward between Katya and myself.” She and Katya made space for them. “It’s time. Remove your arrows and stick them in the ground where they are easily grasped. Yes. That’s perfect. Not too close together.” A short moment later all was ready. “This is not something we would have done were you trained but it will have to suffice.” She said, keeping an eye on the fighting, cursing melee. “Remember now. Your first arrow to get the distance and from there try and get as many arrows in the air as possible. Ready? Then … Fire.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9rZAz3PUXj

Two arrows sped away. One flew into the fighting horde at an enormous speed as the other fell some fifty meters short. “Again. A stronger pull Megan, and aim higher.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlJgrWnxJXW

Two more arrows sped away. The one disappeared once more between the fighting Contenders. Megan’s arrow, although slower, rose higher and fell short of two battling men.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡffMzLHVbir

This time the two arrows sped true and both entered the killing ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbJTsaQPHAM

“Ok. Fire off all your arrows as quickly as possible then dump your bows. The shit’s going to slap us in the face. Soon. Faster. Faster. Get those arrows out. Don’t aim,  knock and pull…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDP2qpN8kZr

A slow stream of arrows sped away and slammed into unprotected arms and necks. Unseen by the four women, a descending arrow punched through the left eye socket of a man who was in the process of dispatching a challenger. The arrow sliced through the nasal cavity to exit the base of the skull and the man fell dead at the feet of his would be opponent who stared at the arrow in exhausted, numb surprise. That surprise lasted only seconds as the churning legs of other fighters pummeled and kicked him as they sought better purchase. The man ducked between fighters and clashing blades seeking a sword. Finding one, he rose to his feet  in time for a double bladed axe-wielding fighter that had cleared a path around himself to cut half his head off. The axe-wielder swung his axe all the while moving forward into the knot of fighting humanity. A large blood bespattered man with brush-cut iron-grey hair. A fixed grin plastered his face as his axe clove into the back of a another fighter. The axe blade passed horizontally through the man’s back and chest with ease and took the wrist off another. Blood flew through the air as another scream joined the cacophony.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡM8SFgV8sNv

A sword thrust from the left. Blocked. Swept aside with so much force that the swordsman lost his balance, and his life, as the axe made a reverse sweep. A sudden round-house sweep with the double bladed axe sliced unhindered through the neck and left shoulder of the woman creeping up behind him. Cries of danger.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3KM5abTjwT

People pushed and shoved to get out of the way of the death dealing double bladed axe only to step into the blades of those ahead. The ghoulish grin on the axe-wielder’s face did not  change as an arrow pierced the fleshy part above the elbow of his left arm. Unnoticed. He swung the axe from overhead sweeping away two swords and  as quickly dispatched their owners. He ripped out the arrow, tried to move forward, but corpses lay one on top of the other. He clambered over them to get to his opponents. Large sausage sized fingers grabbed a corpse that was missing half its face and swung it with ease out of the way. It flew four feet through the air to come to rest in a bloody tangle. More bodies followed until, like a battering ram, he ploughed into a shocked and scrambling group of fighters who, within  moments, lay pumping their life’s blood over the dead underneath them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBmmPSNef4k

The axe-wielder turned, looking for the next opponent but they avoided him. He breathed in haggard gasps as he spied the next group a few meters to his left. A quick look about. Noting but not seeing. Instinct guiding the brain. Adrenalin strengthening the body and speeding up the reflexes. Nicks and shallow sword cuts went unnoticed as he stalked his intended targets. At first he did not notice the arrow that stuck out of a meaty thigh. An arrow that moved up and down with the pumping of his legs as he clambered over the dead strewn like chaff before him. . That changed when one of his intended targets shrieked as a descending arrow punched through his neck. The target dropped his sword and clutched ineffectually at the shaft. Eyes wide with shock and pain, the man slumped in a kicking, jerking heap.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡb74Ydf96yF

The axe-wielder blinked, his brain backtracked. Dropping a foe eager for bloodshed was an automatic gesture. His reason, lost in the chaos of dealing out death,  reasserted itself.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZjY1WViv12

A man toppled over with an arrow through the skull. He blinked again and stared uncomprehendingly at the dead man. It took a few more seconds for him to realise that it was an arrow protruding from the man’s head and that the angle of the arrow meant that it would have had to come from above.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSCoesh2Gw6

He glanced up  in time to glimpse a swiftly descending arrow that ended up in the stomach of a decapitated corpse. He tried to determine the direction the arrow had come from but it was next to impossible. Shrugging his massive shoulders, he took a spiteful swipe with the axe at a passing foe that collapsed when his right leg was sliced off  above the knee. Dispatching the man brought his attention to the arrow embedded in his upper thigh. He stared at it with incomprehension and surprise. Just when did this happen? copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0Ie5GrkPyT

He fingered the shaft and plucked the arrow from his thigh. His head jerked around as he saw another man clutching at an arrow that stuck almost vertically from his shoulder. The scream cut short as a thrusting sword punched through the man’s mouth and slid out the back of his neck. The axe-wielder took note of all the arrows protruding from all the corpses. A quick count and three swipes of the axe reminded the foe to keep a fair distance. He glanced upwards again and waited.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvydtz9pSFq

Following the direction  of the arrow, he saw another rising into the air. He followed the second arrow as it descended and disappeared between thrashing, cursing fighters. Heaving the axe, he clambered over a body and moved swiftly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVcP9iwBCl9

“There,” Tobor said, pointing at a burly figure that had emerged from the  chaos below. The last three foes blocking his path were dispatched in as many seconds.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwRIJkhTKaz

Katya struggled for a few moments to catch one person between the seething crowd. She found him. He stood glaring at them And she noticed the double-headed axe he pointed in their direction.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6E7WOqsp3O

Adelia had heard Tobor and saw the axe-wielder pointing his axe at them. She grinned and turned to face Katya. “I do believe we pissed him off something seriously.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzzFij0AcKK

They watched as the burly figure turned away from them. A few seconds later another figure flew out of the melee and landed in the dirt at the axe-wielders feet. The man saw the four women. Another man joined them, disregarding the foe behind him, and paid the price as he was cloven in two from a descending sword.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMVOT9cNSbw

From where the women stood, they could not see the finer details, but they did see the man join the one he had killed on the ground. Something round that must have been his head rolled a few yards away. Another took note of the men standing off to one side and staring at the women.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNibVeZlGpo

He sidled towards them. Then another joined the small group while they discussed the matter between themselves. A few more Contenders taking well-earned breathers looked up, heaving for breath.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvYYaghbQuV

“This is it ladies,” mumbled Adelia who took aim with her second last arrow. It sped towards the group but missed. It missed the living but not the headless corpse the axe wielder had dispatched moments before. “Did anybody see where that one went?” Adelia joked as she knocked the last arrow.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBgQpaZCXSO

“You’re an idiot, have I ever told you that?” Katya grinned as suppressed excitement and fear gripped her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuF7FBlEX23

“Possibly, but I’m an idiot that  ran out of arrows.” She glanced at Megan who still had a bunch of arrows stuck in the ground before her. Aiming, she let fly and watched as the arrow brought down one of the Contenders standing about watching them. As the arrow jutted out of his left arm, the man stared at it in surprise. Moments later, somebody stepped forward and broke the shaft off close to the arm. An altercation occurred and the wounded man joined the dying on the blood soaked ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlx2jIjBTa6

“Nope.” She shook her head grimly as she massaged her stiff shoulders. “I'm never going to be any good at this.” She watched as Adelia knocked the arrow and let fly. This time they all saw the arrow fly true and bring down one of the Contenders who sank to the ground clutching at the shaft jutting from under his left arm.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCYdJDO5iL8

“Heres another.” Megan passed the arrow along.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡl7FnroH3hR

“This is it boys and girls.” Tobor said urgently as a group of almost twenty Contenders rushed them. “Adelia. Megan. Pick them off. Take your time. Breath and...” she stopped as Adelia’s first arrow punched through a Contender’s neck. The man stumbled and fell. She became like an automaton as she plucked an arrow from the ground in front of her and without pause she let fly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ96CvLN2rBw

Every arrow brought down a Contender. One or two tried to crawl away to safer ground. Both women noticed the burly axe-wielder who harassed and cajoled the Contenders from behind with his double-bladed axe. One or two seemed to object, the result spurred the others on to greater speed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYevcY813qN

Two arrows sped towards the axe-wielder almost simultaneously. Adelia’s arrow embedded itself through the right eye socket of a Contender who stepped in the way. Megan’s arrow shattered against the wide axe head the man held.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbMVRamfRpx

“They’re getting closer,” Adelia shouted. She dropped her bow and pointed her long sword at the leader of the charging group She stepped forward to meet him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJyDl4p97QK

“Adelia, get back,” shouted Tobor as another arrow cut a shallow groove alongside the burly axe-wielder’s throat. “You will kill us all. Follow the plan. Stay tight! Megan, take out the front runners. Leave that man to me.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEPY91Wi20J

Megan did not reply but changed her aim so much so that Adelia hissed angrily as her target grabbed at the arrow jutting from her chest. She picked up her bow and angrily plucked an arrow from the ground. Both women fired their next salvo but only Megan’s arrow found  its target.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQcwL4G7kyx

The large axe-wielder discovered he was a target and hid behind the men he was cajoling. He was large and  skillful but struggled to keep up with the more fleet-footed men in front of him. Lagging behind, he almost tripped as another of his minions stepped before him and took an arrow in the shoulder. The man stared aghast at the arrow, his attention completely lost; he stopped too quickly for the burly figure behind him to avoid the clash. The wounded man was hit by what felt like a battering ram for he suddenly flew forward to come down face first driving the arrow completely through his shoulder. There was no time for a scream as he passed out from the sudden pain and shock.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRh6vCbULjK

Disgruntled, the axe-wielder lumbered forward and dropped the heavy axe onto the man’s neck, crushing it. Looking around and blowing like a steam train, he realised that his plan had not worked out the way he thought it would. The distance was too great. He still had almost forty meters to go.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwXzv7BsqDt

He was still trying to catch his breath when an arrow smashed into his left knee.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9uFFfKmn4U

He shouted to the sky in pain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUWb1rOclzv

The next arrow punched through his bull neck and protruded halfway out behind him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ66tGCAh40U

Still, he refused to fall.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxapdQEXc12

He took a step towards the women as  pain shot up from his knee every time he applied pressure on it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6WYiXq6aMG

His throat was one ball of fire and he could not spit. His mouth was dry. It was bull headedness that forced him on through the pain. Somewhere along the way, he forgot why he was labouring so. Harsh gasps sent pain running up and down his spine.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFSM9yoJPtK

It was the woman with the bow.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡK0V9eLObYP

The one that watched him like a hawk.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡd5LcnJCtTo

She stood there like a cold, cruel goddess with her bow drawn. He saw the arrow leave her bow as in slow motion and wondered whom she was shooting at.  He needed to get closer to her. His large, double-headed axe slipped through unfeeling fingers. He needed to worship her. Another excruciating step.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdqP8z3UnfT

“I thought the bastard would never die.” said Adelia as she watched the man, only meters away from Tobor, sink  to his knees.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdtYZFlIiPB

He stared at her and it sent a shiver down her spine. On his knees, the bull of a man smiled as he fell forward onto his face. Arrows pierced throat, chest and knee through flesh and cartilage.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGZaYWSNhkt

Tobor gazed at the man at her feet.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6xTVGsZBQe

The look on the man’s face had disturbed her to such a degree that she broke rank and stepped closer. Bending down, she tried to turn the massive dead weight over. Adelia stepped around her and grabbed a shoulder and heaved. She had to step back smartly as she pulled the man onto his side.    copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡu4Is3nOMGD

Eyes fluttered open and a halting, shuddering breath was drawn. Fresh blood seeped past the arrow shaft in his neck and chest. “Lady…” a soft gasp, almost a whisper. Air bubbles past the arrow shaft in his neck. The man died without being able to say anymore. The smile never left his lips.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnmDykzr8QM

“Creepy,” mumbled Tobor as she stepped back. “It’s as if he knew you.” She looked at Adelia with a frown.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBWkvS0YSBO

“You’re wrong,” said Adelia “He did not know me. We have never met but..,” she shook her head in doubt. “It was as if he thought I was somebody else.” She stood up and did a quick glance about but found no present danger. “How many are there Katya?” she asked loudly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ76TPyWdmJT

“Oh, not more than thirty-five or so. I may be out with a couple here and there as they keep moving about. They’re still killing each other off but seem to be slowing down. Look. They’re all staring at us.” ”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ06fDFAc6J3

“Now were in business,” said Adelia with a happy smile.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSl0cQTdOLP

She stepped back into her slot and picked up the long sword that lay on top of her shield. She banged the sword tip on the shield and it skittered off to one side unexpectedly. “Damned shield,” she muttered. She slipped her arm firmly through the straps and heaved the shield high then turned to the gathered warriors some forty odd meters away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDSVwHttUQc

Catcalls and whistles echoed towards them as she stepped forward between Tobor and Katya. With her shield raised as high as possible, she slapped its rounded surface with the flat of her blade. As the loud booming sound echoed across the plain, she screamed her war cry. A cry of rage, of pain and utter hopelessness. It was a pain from deep within her being.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNQj3uYEG4o

The large group of Contenders stared at the woman that dared them to fight. They answered with howls of their own and advancing in slow measured tread.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKXJKaADnoo

“Are you happy now?” Katya asked. Her own heart beating faster in alarm.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡc2h7zYB2Tr

She pointed her long sword at the advancing group. She lowered her sword and shifted her feet. Set the shield more comfortably and sighed deeply, not seeing the pain in Katya’s eyes. “Come death,” she whispered. “Come death. A maiden brings you offerings.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfGiyKMxptC

“Ok. This is it ladies,” said Tobor. The advancing tide was almost thirty meters from them and spreading out. “They are going to rush us. Try to swamp us with their weight. Adelia, change places with Katya. We will need your strength. You two, Megan,” press your shields into our backs and stop us moving backwards. Watch for those that are going to encircle us.  Shortly, it’s going to be back-to back. Use the shields. Stop them from getting through. They are going to crowd us and swamp us with bodies. If one gets through we are dead.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNdzwXJ7B7w

“You can then  kill them as quickly as possible. How’s that?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡupPNYzzvZ2

“Much better.” Her eyes darted towards the advancing foe that was almost on top of them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8MgHjdrqOz

As if by some unheard command, the foe gave vent to war cries and the rush Tobor had predicted, was sudden and furious.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWOSv5kCknM

The clash of bodies on the two front shields was atrocious.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡykoqPuLsP8

The four women were pressed backwards as their centre of gravity broke. Swords flashed and clanged against the shields narrowly missing the women’s heads.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfi0rCFDvUk

The shields, interlocked, stopped or hampered the tide of human bodies but the crush from behind the forward attackers forced the shields against the women’s bodies. Adelia shoved her sword through a screaming throat. The attackers, in their frenzy, made mistakes no professional soldier would have.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnb91IGZuFn

“Brace your back foot.” shouted Tobor as she attempted to seek purchase with her own. “Brace. Brace!” She made short, economical stabs at the faces in front of her. Some crazy bastard on her left screamed in passionate frenzy as he attempted to stab her. He howled in frustration as Katya blocked his sword  with her shield. The howl turned to a scream of pain as his thrusting sword hand fell to the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4dIsEyXq1M

Stabbing him in the chest, Katya sidled closer to Tobor to cover her back and sides more efficiently.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyg5zIHelc8

The attackers were in each other’s way, making it difficult to use their swords. “Brace. Brace!” Tobor shouted as Adelia used her long sword to good advantage. Too long for close quarter work, its reach and sharpness would hardly have compensated were it not for her zeal. She was swiftly clearing the area in front of her when, through the grey mist of eye searing sweat and blood droplets, she saw a man standing well behind the others with a head cocked to one side as he watched her closely. Her racing heart skipped a beat .copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFAkPC2vBwb

Behind her, Megan’s shield was being forced back against her body. The rounded edge pressed painfully against the bridge of her nose. Applying almost depleted force, Megan was able to give herself a few millimeters breathing space and moved her head aside in time to allow an enemies  chipped blade point pass without any damage.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡN3yTChARDN

Leering faces and foam speckled lips screamed incoherent words. She stabbed into those faces. Spearing eyes, slitting throats and cheeks when she intended to stab them and missed her real targets. Her sword hand was sweaty, her shoulders painful. Her shield moving continuesly to protect her partner in front or to protect herself from flank or backcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZinj8ZmEBT

Kill. Kill. Kill. Mindless and monotonous.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQAufiykzzP

Her shield vibrated continuously as swords and shoulders slammed against it to be withdrawn and replaced by others. She continuously ducked or moved out of the way of a thrusting sword. An idea flashed through her mind and was gone. It was enough though, and through the turmoil of heaving and shoving and clashing blades, she  forced her shield upwards, all the while trying to keep the enemy at bay by stabbing blindly at them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRnSqgvIRml

Ducking her head again and bracing her back against Adelia’s own vigorously thrashing posterior, she stabbing her foe from underneath her shield. Changing position, she stabbed to the right of the shield then changed again.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEmE1GM13qC

Legs, arms and shoulders, fingers. She stabbed and stabbed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWgdrww0R6z

Her sword had long since lost its silvery sheen. It dripped blood and gore. It was as she tried to change once again while  trying to maintain her footing as her shield rang with the continuous pummeling her foe rained down on it. The milling legs and booted feet she glimpsed from the bottom edge of her shield sped her reactions and it was then that she caught  a glimmer of a twisted, glowering face.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGYXyod465q

In a split second, her sword descended into the gaping mouth to smash teeth backwards and slice through tongue and throat. The agonized scream was lost in the general clamor. She was more tired than she had ever been but there was no respite. With mouth agape, her breathing was harsh and raw as her lungs inflated like a bellows.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsJN6LtTMwj

Beside her, Katya screamed in fury as her sword blade was grabbed by a pair of bare hands close to the hilt. She bore forward with all her strength, the sharp blade slicing through the clenched fingers. As they slid away, she jerked her sword back across the top of her shield and stabbed a cursing, screaming fanatic in the throat. Her blade passed through skin, flesh and bone to flay another’s cheek that stood directly behind her target.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡptACU79UYf

The surrounded women became more hard-pressed with every passing second. There were enemies on all sides of the four women who had  sustained cuts and gashes as their failing strength gave way.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuEdsdBGhIL

A crazed looking foe, eyes blazing with fire and foaming at the mouth, stood before Tobor and slashed at her head, but missed as she drew back, allowing the blade to travel in a short, uncontrolled arc to smash through another frenzied attacker’s upper lip and teeth.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIbuvhfZa2v

She ducked behind her shield. Shifted it a fraction. Stabbed the man in the groin. The man fell  and another took his place and promptly shattered his sword on the edge of her shield.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡurY54TcdOa

Laughter erupted from her throat as her blade passed through his left eye socket .Were it not for the press of the bodies and their eagerness to overpower the women, she may have had a serious problem dislodging her blade.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsjPFL2hsk0

It was then that a thrusting blade sliced cleanly through her sword arm above the elbow.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡd3bIytYxE0

The shock inadvertently opened her hand and she released her sword but because of the press of the foe it stayed before her bouncing up and down while still embedded in the man’s eye socket. The hilt bumped against her shield as she gritted her teeth and made a daring grab between thrusting, descending blades. She grasped the sweaty, bloody hilt and the blade slid out smoothly from the gory wound to rebound from a slashing cut. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ38s2dwWqKK

The axe descended with a crashing blow against the curve of Adelia’s shield and was deflected off to the right, plunging deeply into the thigh of another. Were it not for her enormous strength of will and self-purpose, the shock that spread along her shield arm would have caused her to drop the shield. As it was, she felt one of the straps tear but ignored it. With teeth bared in a grimace of hatred, she stabbed the axe-wielder below the right ear. Blood gushed and the screaming foe dropped like a stone to be dragged down and away as others took his place. A sword passed a hairs breadth from her brow as a taller than usual opponent with a longer reach edged closer.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAd4qTQtbiN

Megan’s shield resounded with a sudden painful bang, forcing her back. Her knees trembling with the effort to keep her upright. The shockwave travelled up her arm and shoulder. Desperate and weakened by the continuous fighting, she screamed. Adelia, who heard the scream above the clamor of battle, took a lightning strike at the attacker’s eyes, missed and caved in the head of another to his side.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcwRnepRcXv

The attacker warily eyed Adelia’s long sword. His hesitation allowed an exhausted Megan to regain composure and right her shield. Her eyes were wide with despair as she saw the war hammer raised once more. The hammer came down, gathering speed and force. She knew she was dead but lifted her shield. She was unprepared for the force of the descending hammer against her shield and her knees buckled.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡc0EF2RcYhW

Dropping her sword, she hid behind her shield and waited for the end.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJS9Nj3EMeW

Large boned and not much to look at, she fought like a woman possessed. The sword in his right hand was crusted with dried blood.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTAS3nb62Xl

He watched as she swung that long sword of hers to cut off both hands of a man wielding a war hammer. Instinct must have made her duck a blade descending upon her head. The blade shattered against her shield as she decapitated the sword-less man. Timing. It was only a matter of timing. Her shield dropped about four inches every time she swung that large sword of hers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYyLrZz8Qf1

He watched her for a few seconds more and made up his mind.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEr7tgSlYPb

He waited for two men to attack her simultaneously  then  rushed forward between the two men. Her attention not on him but rather on the two men that first attacked her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfaw0BwAKmQ

Drawing a short sword with his left, he rushed between them, ducked her swinging blade that sliced cleanly through both necks and hooked the pommel of the short sword over the rounded edge of her shield and pulled sharply backwards. Caught by surprise, her shield tilted away and she felt an excruciating pain in her breast. Stunned by the pain and sudden weakness, she glanced down to see a bloody sword thrust deep inside her chest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡL1hTuyMPwB

Her eyes travelled up to the triumphant face before her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1tlNj8Wk28

“Got you,” he said as her sword dropped from her grasp.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH6y3TRbPcd

She lowered her shield and let it fall between them and it went unnoticed as it rolled to one side coming to rest against a corpse.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYvvglNaHGP

“What kept you?” she whispered as a trickle of blood poured  from the corner of her mouth.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqogaoApXGu

She stepped forward locking the man’s wrist so that he could not withdraw his sword. The man frowned, not understanding her meaning. Her left arm snaked around his neck and she pulled him closer. The frown turned to surprise and then to pain and shock as she  forced a long, thin blade under his ribs.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1oAArtsDjE

He tried to step away, but thrashed in her grip. She held him tight and close and smiled as the fear and pain registered on his face. He jerked his head away at the visible blood-coated teeth that looked like fangs.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRhamyvaJdQ

She held onto him with strength she had not known she possessed until the man’s struggles diminished and the spark of life left fear-filled eyes.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyDePODpdB6

Tenderly, and for the first time in her life, she kissed a man willingly, and laid him on top of a corpse that had defecated in its death throes. She did not notice the smell as she fell forward onto her face.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHCuidWMFz5

A long incoherent scream of anger and loss echoed across the battlefield.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNcQ22FGrTh

Tobor watched as the woman she was commanded to protect, the woman who had tried to kill herself, the woman that became a friend, keeled over with a short-bladed sword sticking from out of her back.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxAU2T7YFNy

The scream went on and on and she realised it was coming from her own throat.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡK7Y8BM3BJH

Smashing her shield violently into the face of an attacker, pulverizing nose, mashing lips and thrusting uprooted teeth backwards. She thrust her sword into the shocked face and grabbed the man’s falling sword. Discarding her shield, she became a whirlwind of death. Twin swords cut, slashed, and blocked. Her assailants were forced backwards, tripping over bodies, slipping on pools of blood and died.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOxUFzWkgod

Step, parry and kill. Step, parry and kill.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxWOsYIzXnn

Her blond ponytail dyed red with clotted blood had come undone in the fray. Blood and gore coated her visage. Glaring eyes. Bellowing harsh breath. Bloody swords held apart. She stared at the carnage about her. A movement caught her eye. She stepped over to a man clutching a hand that was missing forefinger and thumb. Death descended upon him as a blade punched through his naked throat. The death rattle went unnoticed as Tobor sought out the living and dispatched them with grim efficiency.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡv8utg6fjHZ

Katya bent down and turned her friend’s body over. She gripped the sword and pulled it out. The sucking wet sound filled her with nausea but she swallowed it back down. Tears streamed over her dirty, blood spattered face as she stared at the smiling, angelic face.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1vwVb6Rwmf

A groan. A shield moved slightly as dirty, blood-smeared fingers sought the edges. Suffocating pressure, unable  to move until …copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjCMN63TmmB

“Megan...”  A cry of pain. A cry of hope.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡln7SjiYbOk

Her sweaty, bruised left arm slid out of the shield’s constraints and flopped numbly onto the ground.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqyeC7ANowU

“Megan.” Wyatt lifted her body into his arms and his cry was heart wrenching. He hugged the blinking girl to his breast. “Never again. I swear to you. Never again will I stand by and do nothing.” Tears of sorrow and joy ran down his face and splashed onto her cheeks.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2QxPDDSxZf

“Wyatt?” she whispered. Her eyes struggled to stay open. “It hurts Wyatt. My legs. They hurt.” She gasped.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9kDgdWyb7n

His heart skipped a beat. Both her legs were broken half way up to her knees. Lowering her to the ground, he inspecting the breaks. No splintering and almost in the same places. He glanced at the shield then back at her legs. The markings under the swelling were almost identical. His eyes took note of the bodies strewn about and realised that in the frenzy of combat what had saved her was the shield. Her legs on the other hand stuck out from under the shield’s rim. Legs, flesh and bone that had to give way when heavy sword wielding men stomped with all their weight onto it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvyWKb3lYrS

He smiled with relief at her worried gaze. “Nothing to worry about love.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTuIqjm3bU3

“Nothing to worry about?” her voice climbing an octave. “They’re broken and you say nothing to worry about?” A tinge of the old fiery spirit entered her eyes which she closed as a sudden wave of pain made her gasp.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡq3o3jB0SM7

“Uh-huh. You’re going to be out of action for a while until your legs mend. Enough time for you to rest and recuperate your strength.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgiGc2RgoQH

“They aren’t going to leave scars are they?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgJbY9vldGf

“They’re broken, not ripped off,” he quipped lightly, bringing much needed levity. “That on the other hand, will definitely leave scarring.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡg7iEbCfbu2

A trembling smile tried to break through the grimace of growing pain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡV1q70ADlNj

He turned at the softly spoken voice behind him to see a nightmare figure  covered in dripping gore and blood.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYuwpof2UdP

The two swords slid from hands that had wielded them to such perfection only minutes before. Tobor sank to her knees and bowed. Coagulated blood hung in darkening strings of matter. Pieces of unknown flesh clung to one cheek. She reeked of sweat and blood.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWeXJA3tj1s

“I have failed in the task you ordered me to perform Sigal. I regret that I could not protect the one called Adelia. She is dead.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkv9heKlH3n

“Dead?” he stared numbly at Katya who was  clearing the area of corpses and hacked off limbs from around Adelia’s body.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9S4wdQU5iY

“I remember,” he said softly as he watched Katya mourn. “You are mistaken warrior,” he said, looking at the nightmare figure bowing her head in supplication before him. “You are seriously mistaken. Adelia wanted to die and there was nothing you could have done to protect her. All you did was prolong her existence by supplying her with extra training . There is a difference, warrior, to following instructions or commands and serving one’s sentence. Neither of those were applicable here were they?” The silence indicated either she understood what he was saying or maybe not.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQc16EuJkZi

“Let me clarify. You reluctantly performed your sentence. A sentenced judged by me - whether right or wrong - that would entail you seeking an honor that you discarded as so much rubbish.” Her shoulders seemed to shrink at his harsh words. “That reluctance soon turned into something else, didn’t it warrior McIntosh of the clan Monumentus? I know, for I watched the two of you closely. Your honor was redeemed long before this day. It was redeemed the moment she became your friend. Today you confirmed it. Your clan shall hear of your exploits here this day, this I promise.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfkNoC29XJc

“There is one other matter I wish to discuss,” he stood up from where he had crouched at Megan’s broken legs. “Rise warrior, for what I have to say has much import to your future.” Tobor stood proudly before him. Her head no longer bowed in dishonor. A new look had entered her eyes, pride.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjdKljoP3JP

“I place before you a choice, a choice of two worlds. Either choice shall have my blessing. The Princeps Margaretas and mine. The choice is yours to make. You can go home, and replenish our world as the Metal Worker said you would. Take a husband and be happy. Have your offspring by the dozen and be happy until your dying days, or… and I do not give this acknowledgement lightly, you have my blessing to commence with your own clan.” She gasped in surprise. For permission to start one’s own clan was seldom given if at all and, when it was, it was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmY9anLcwJW

“There is a catch to this which you must consider carefully Tobor McIntosh, for your clan will not be a family but a warrior clan as in ages past. Do you understand?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJ4POtf6Jzt

The silent, wide-eyed nod accompanied by a pearly-toothed grin said it all. “You will swear blood oath to the Emperor, you and your clan. Your clan will consist of one hundred females in one year and five thousand in five, no males whatsoever. Tenure will be five years. You, including your sensei, will train your clan members for should they be as disciplined and skilled in the arts as you are, they will be formidable opponents.” He stared at her and his face became stern. “Only the best of the best will do, those who fail a test will not be accepted, for your life and your clan’s depend on it. War is coming. When?” he asked. “We do not know but I believe the Metal Worker for he has never been wrong.” He gazed about the battlefield. “There is no time. I require your decision now.  What will it be?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgSH1d0p348

She was looking towards Katya as emotions roiled within her. The world had opened its doors wide. This was more than a dream come true. “The Metal Worker?” she said, nodding at Katya.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSq71BvMN1w

“Then I accept, Sigal Earp.” She went down on one knee and bowed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ83hP5vQuyV

Wyatt drew Katya’s sword and tapped Tobor on each shoulder as he spoke.  “Tobor McIntosh of the clan Monumentus … due to exceptional conduct on and off the field, I, Sigal Wyatt Earp release you from your clan’s affiliation. From today, your clan status will be elevated to War Princeps of the clan Centurion. Arise, Princeps.” They smiled at each other. “One hundred in one year Princeps. Five thousand in five, only the best of the best.” At her nod, he pointed a finger at her then at Katya. “From now onwards, you do not answer to me but to the Princeps Margareta of Hades and most of all, to your Empress. I require your blood oath within ten days from today.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDrmLsXgfLi

“I will deliver it personally ten days from today Sigal, possibly sooner. It depends on our new Emperor.” She lifted her two swords. “But receive it, you will.” She walked off towards Katya.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLu3m4CpTic

“Princeps Tobor?” Wyatt called after her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhqgygm37RC

The easy answer would be – to have a clan of her own. That was the easy answer, but she knew the Sigal was not interested in easy answers. “Because she mourns Sigal.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxReOpvatC1

“Explain if you will, for they were childhood friends.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6Ewa3NGpkt

“Yes. So I was told.” Tobor said whilst gazing at Katya walking towards a flitter parked close by. “Because she not only mourns a friend but also the death of the weakest of us all. If she could accept a weakness such as hate, and without that person realising that she is being manipulated into a certain direction, then this woman is going to be a formidable Emperor.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw9182WOxgo

Wyatt nodded his acceptance of her reasoning. “Does she not also hate then?” he asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlOfzCF4N9H

“She does Sigal. It is channeled in one direction. She has set her mind on becoming Emperor.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPfllpo96Nt

“She will be a cruel master, Princeps.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzjCBrFygdP

They watched as Katya worked her way over or around the corpses strewn across the battlefield. She carried in one hand a fold up shovel and in the other a pickaxe. “And because I am a warrior.” The Princeps Tobor said, “Motherhood is for another time, another place.” She mumbled softly to herself as she stepped over a bloody armless corps, “Whats done is done”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEyDT8gzd3I

“I have to get you out of here,” Wyatt said to a whimpering Megan.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ29VG33WCh0

“You think? She asked in a small voice as he bent down and shifted his arms underneath her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkbTir8F7w9

“This is going to hu..”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAodnSSB167

PARDON THE INTERRUPTION SIGAL WYATT EARP, BUT AS A NON-COMBATANT YOU ARE IN GROSS VIOLATION OF THE TENETS OF THE AGREEMENT REGARDING THE PARTICIPATION OF ALL MEMBERS OF THE PLANET HADES. YOU WILL CEASE AND DESIST ALL ATTEMPTS OF REMOVING CONTENDER MEGAN LETROP FROM THE BATTLE FIELD. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡo8hjOknLXE

“Her legs are broken. She cannot continue as a Contender.” Wyatt froze. He knew that to stand up with the girl in his arms would be tantamount to suicide. Polrobs were not known for their leniency.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLiQFAiNgpk

THEN SHE MUST EITHER BE ELLIMINATED, LEFT TO DIE ON THE FIELD, OR TO BE LEFT TO FEND FOR HERSELF. SHOULD SHE SURVIVE SEVEN DAYS HENCE AT THE BEHEST OF THE NEW EMPEROR, THEN SO BE IT. IT IS NOT YOUR PLACE TO MAKE SUCH DECISION.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpZIDnBwZCC

“There is another way,” he said, giving her a wink as he stood up and turned around to look up at the hovering Polrob. “There is another way but it would entail the services of a minister. And as there is no minister available, I will proceed to hire one as soon as her legs are taken care of.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡn7YeMyxAPW

NEGATIVE SIGAL, ACCORDING TO SAID AGREEMENT, THAT WOULD ALSO BE A VIOLATION. NO CONTENDER MAY LEAVE THE BATTLEFIELD UNLESS THEY BE FROM THE PLANET HADES AND ALL CONTRACTS FOR THE MONTH OF RECKONING ARE ADHERED TO.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVfWESjfoiS

Wyatt was worried. “Question; how many Contenders still survive then?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1oUMMfmuYI

THIRTEEN SURVIVE SIGAL. THAT INCLUDES THE THREE CONTENDERS FROM HADES. THERE ARE ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED AND TWO SLATED FOR TERMINATION SEVEN DAYS HENCE. CONTENDER MEGAN LETROP SO FAR HAS NOT BEEN INCLUDED IN THIS GROUP. SHOULD SHE BE INCLUDED IN THE LAST GROUP?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡamQ8BDH8dw

He ignored the last question desperately. “Have all contracts with the Hades Contenders been accomplished?” Wyatt squinted as sunlight danced off the Polrobs carapace.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ49M1NEl33E

“And which two will that be?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWuqMC1pk9D

“And  how the hell do you expect me to accomplish that?” he glared at the Polrob. “I will not leave the woman I love to die here.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfAqirh8wvs

THEN YOU SHOULD MARRY HER AND REMOVE HER FROM NOT ONLY THE CONTENTION BUT ALSO FROM OVERLORD.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBsW1fz3FUd

“Bugger,” he exploded. “Are you stupid or something? That’s what I have been trying to do the whole time.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjLs6oIHGkm

NEGATIVE SIGAL WYATT EARP. YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO REMOVE MEGAN LETROP FROM THE CONTENTION. YOU MAY ONLY REMOVE SIGAL MEGAN EARP.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2AXsTpK1Wf

Wyatt dropped his head in disgust. They spoke in circles. “So what do you suggest, Polrob?” he asked, trying to hold his temper.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtxIqzY0CDU

POLROBS ARE ORDAINED MINISTERS SIGAL WYATT EARP.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQWFi341LKm

Wyatt lost his temper again. “You stupid, dumb idiot. You flying jackass of a misbegotten...” he stopped and fumed in exasperation. The sound of girlish giggling made him frown and turn towards Megan. “And you too, woman?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8NW6fPvZRr

“It’s got you there Sigal Wyatt Earp,” she said, grimacing in pain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡflYYMxWMaz

“But how was I supposed to know if the thing keeps its mouth shut? It could have said so in the beginning.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH1wnjArllc

IT IS GENERAL KNOWLEDGE SIGAL WYATT EARP. HOWEVER, ALL MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF THIS AND OTHER SUBJECTS COULD BE ELIMINATED WITH THE CESSATION OF BUSH DRUMS AND THE INCORPORATION OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHtZEAfu5fl

“And you, woman. Surely you knew?” he glared at her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwuGust2pfd

She smiled up at him through the beating pain in her legs and nodded. “I did, but you never asked.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYXevky5MTr

Wyatt threw his hands up in the air. “I give up. You have both ganged up on me.” He brushed fingers through his hair. “What now?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ57YMCrfEQv

“I have this sudden feeling of stepping into quicksand,” he said as he knelt down at Megan’s side. “Will you perform the marriage rights, Polrob?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡif1h1DIhiz

“It requires both parties to request the marriage vows Wyatt.” Megan said softlycopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4Xq5esJXJ1

“That’s where the dilemma comes in Sigal Wyatt Earp, for you haven’t asked me yet.” Megan said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwNTLpJBqTf

“I thought…, I uh, umm...”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBXc13ruMpd

“ Uh… will you uh… marry me Megan Letrop?” he was suddenly  nervous.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoWzhIZ1jpV

“Why, yes Sigal Wyatt Earp. I do believe I will, if only to finish your training,” she said, smiling impishly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz1TL3WdxJC

“Will you perform the marriage rights, Polrob?” she asked, ignoring him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIoqiF9hHsH

CERTAINLY. PLEASE ANSWER THIS QUESTION. DO YOU, CITIZEN MEGAN LETROP LOVE SIGAL WYATT EARP AND WISH TO MARRY HIM?copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡC1IvNMs1jb

DO YOU, SIGAL WYATT EARP LOVE CITIZEN MEGAN LETROP AND WISH TO MARRY HER?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbS2CbILspe

THEN I PRONOUNCE YOU MAN AND WIFE. YOU MAY REMOVE SIGAL MEGAN EARP FROM THE BATTLEFIELD AND OVERLORD, SIGAL WYATT EARP.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbJ4TXG7Cmi

“That’s it?” asked Wyatt in surprise. “All this nonsense and then it’s over before it started? I feel cheated somehow.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhxbjam2VOr

“It cuts down on expenses,” said Katya behind him. “Congratulations both of you.” She stepped forward and hugged Wyatt. Kneeling down, she gently touched Megan’s shoulder. “Train him well.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9ZtpS1tx1y

“Oh, I plan to. Thank you. When you are Emperor, don’t forget us. Come and visit.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwciB6fheSE

“I won’t and I will.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw9cHtm3vhS

“What’s this about training?” asked Wyatt, releasing Tobor from the hug she gave him. “It is common knowledge Sigal,” Tobor laughed. “That one woman has more common sense than ten males put together.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWrRqQJskht

He turned to the silent Polrob and walked towards it. “Any advice?” he whispered.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTNGbpNrG1j

It seemed to dip into the air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlxsxeVUirc

I TOO AM OF THE FEMALE PERSUASION AS DEFINED BY YOU HUMANS. The metallic voice returned softly. MY ADVICE SIGAL IS THIS, LISTEN. THINK BEFORE OPENING YOUR MOUTH. WHAT YOU FEEL NOW FOR YOUR WOMAN YOU SHOULD STILL FEEL THE DAY YOU DIE. OH. ONE MORE THING, PLEASE TRY TO GET RID OF THOSE BUSH DRUMS, THEY CAN BE  IRRITATING AT TIMES.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaoD2OuMhO3

The Polrob shot into the air and silently drifted away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKHRrTgfkWg

He glared at her and bent to pick up Megan. “I know when I’m beaten. I will say nothing more on the subject.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXwSByH5kYU

He walked away towards the same flitter that Katya had entered a short while before. A few minutes later, it took off and disappeared.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoJCfawvpRs

“Now?” Katya stopped and watched as Tobor grunted and picked up a corpse by its hands and dragged it away to one side. “Now we finish this grave and then grab a flitter. I want this over and done with as soon as possible and of course you can answer some questions like what is the contract Hades has that the normal rules of The Month of Reckoning does not apply to its people.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRKqCe4dLLy

Tobor swung the pickaxe. Her muscles were tired and she desperately needed to rest but knew that the quicker they were done, the quicker rest would come.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDWR10LYLLg

“Our world is unique Katya. So unique that bush drums are actually still in use. It is not a lame joke. We still have thousands of years to go before it will be safe for human habitation. It is a cruel world where we are the intruders. A world still evolving. A world that gives no second chances. Nature has run riot. Animals, creatures big and small change or evolve almost from one generation to the next. It is hot. It is humid. It is cold and wet and sometimes all in the same day. It is the youngest member of the Galactic Empire.” She stopped and wiped her forehead of sweat and blood.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuGVXdQBhgF

“You realize that you look dreadful. And you smell,” said Katya wrinkling her nose.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡc8pDKDHXos

“Have you seen yourself in a mirror lately?” Tobor smiled.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw2pn3p92aU

“True. We need to get cleaned up.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiFAeDO4e5l

Tobor leaned on the pickaxe handle and looked her up and down critically. “I would suggest not. It would be more intimidating this way.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTitjVeWDcl

“Are you crazy?” Katya asked lifting her arms away from her body. Bits of dry gore and blood flaked from her skin.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6Jnv6qVgt5

“Think about it for a second ok? The survivors are going to be good. They have survived due to training and skill. Let us not forget trickery and downright fraud. They want to win and don’t care what or who they have to walk over to get the ultimate prize. What you want is for them to think twice about confronting you. You are small and comely. A prize for any man who wants to wet his dick, what with that leather skirt and blouse you like wearing.” Katya gave her a look of disgust. “Don’t act the innocent girl. You knew what you were doing when you chose that outfit. It worked for you all the way, but now it is time to change once more. These men are going to be the worst of the worst. Scum. Survivors. You will need every weapon you possess to outwit them. Hide your figure. Hide your beauty and become what you look like at this moment; a walking horror right out of a nightmare. In fact,” she thought awhile and looked about at all the corpses. She nodded and grinned at Katya. “I have  had a brilliant plan.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaLLLZpz4DF

“I don’t think I’m going to like it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqxXTQT8Nxl

“If you say so. It is that you still have not told me about the contracts. Let me take over while you talk.” Katya was trying not to think or look at Adelia’s corpse while she climbed into the shallow grave.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaBaWmalWfZ

“The contracts are basically simple agreements,” began Tobor. “Because of our exceptional training and skill, we from Hades who volunteer, go through a rigorous and intensive selection program. It is so bad that only the best are chosen and it has been known for some to die. The elite, always women, may not exceed a total of ten. At any one time there should be on average seven to ten woman available for The Month of Reckoning,” she said. “We were caught off guard I think. We did not have enough time or not enough well trained women. Men may not enter as they are prohibited from lifting a hand to any woman.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBFwyznsHaZ

“I do not know. I believe the Princeps Margareta knew what she was doing and that the Sigal would withdraw from the Contention as soon as he realised  what it required him to do. It is a strange situation, as I believe it has never happened before. This time there were only three of us that succeeded the selection. I'm not sure  how many applied but I know it was in the thousands.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ92lkYHvjDK

“Why have a selection so stringent and difficult,” Katya asked as she shoveled dirt out of the grave.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡifpPOZcgGn

“Because our job is to thin out the competition as soon as possible but not too soon. The possibility of having hundreds or  thousands of Contenders arriving en mass in Signature on the last day and destroying the Capital of Overlord in their eagerness to become Emperor is unthinkable.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgJGTRvG9fy

“Yes. That is something all the higher-ups agreed on. For that reason, the elite of the Hades warriors are sent out to reduce that possibility. We have the opportunity to hone our skills against an almost never-ending foe although we may not become Emperor. We have to step aside and leave Overlord when the tally of Contenders reaches ten. Ten armed and dangerous people in Signature at one time is something easily handled. Ten thousand?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0bOq0CpdT6

Katya frowned at Tobor, “The obvious question is why you haven’t left yet?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBaQh4HNKQ2

“That was the Sigal’s doing.” She held out her hand for the shovel and jumped into the hole, taking here turn. She worked a few minutes without speaking then took a breather. “We, the Sigal and I, believe you will be the next Emperor,” she said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjJsTXdsStl

Tobor nodded. “For that reason I have accepted the honor of being your bodyguard. The first of five thousand.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqlXhD1YqMP

Surprise registered on Katya’s face, “Five thousand!?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡt5zWZw9spC

“Yes. We will all swear blood oath to you and deliver it to the Princeps Margareta within ten days of the oath, or sooner.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNR5j80Q2kB

“I don’t understand. Deliver what?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡPLWN2AO11B

“The blood oath consists of us slicing off the tip of our left hands smallest finger and handing it to the Princeps as proof of one’s commitment.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQvGqrGWA8l

“Now I understand. But why a blood oath?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcVdhflh5nC

She waited while Tobor started digging again. When it looked like she was tiring, Katya took over.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHdnD0pePqg

“Why a blood oath? Because all that we do, we do with honor in mind. I have been honored by the Sigal to start my own clan of warriors specifically for your protection. Protection not only for when you become Emperor but also when war is declared.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqhL7HcNEMV

“War? You believe what the blacksmith said?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZYRdg6zxcX

“But why so many?” she asked after a while. She stopped to gaze at her hands. She could feel the blisters forming.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2rFNymZl0L

“How much do you think your life is worth?” grinned the Tobor.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡh0K8e0fNxs

“You have a point. But five thousand bodyguards?” she shook her head at the enormity of it all.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKIlVfT6cF7

Tobor smiled thinly, “That is only the beginning.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzIyev6BvsC

The Polrob unnoticed and  more silent, hovered above them and sent a live feed throughout the Empire. Billions watched as the two woman turned sadly and walked away to collect their belongings. It was a time to mourn dead lovers and brothers. Dead mothers and fathers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLwnoxggzoV

“Choose a flitter and wait for me,” said Tobor.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8YkpVEWL5F

“Because I have a plan. Choose one and park it close to the village.” She looked up at the late afternoon sky. “I may be a while.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzp1XOyd57C

“No. Though I could be classified as one.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvnugIxHzzK

“Is there more than one god?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHH4nxC8OUa

“Some like to believe so.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtA044Fz9Gc

“It is of no matter. I have need of you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVyfZWMC4Aw

Adelia Montgomery. Lately of the human race and now deceased, bent down and picked up her long sword where it lay on her stiff, dirt-covered corpse. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgmavl6hXaS

A wraith carrying a sword, rose unseen and unnoticed out of the earth to follow another.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡupWCF4NAM9

“What’s that? Asked Katya as Tobor stepped up the ramp carrying a pale with a dark red and thick looking substance. As the smell hit her, she gagged.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz81JDnQUk1

“Are you insane? What the devil for? That stuff stinks.” Katya moved away from the bucket with its heavy, cloying smell.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoRjPPuZ4rR

“Told you I have a plan. This is it. You are going to be the star attraction in a few days’ time. Now then, let’s get out of here and if the smell bothers you, switch on the air conditioning.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJ0ZKKC8Bxs

“I have been trying to do that but this piece of scrap doesn’t seem to have one. Either that or its bust.” She had been punching buttons but nothing seemed to be happening.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCli25K9UZP

“Here, let me have a go.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvoGPdwjcAL

The would be city of Hammer had cut its teeth. In a short while, people would will be flocking to this small village, telling any who would care to listen that their husband or sons had died there. Proudly they would describe how they stood up to the would-be Emperor and were it not for the dismembered arm or that sword laying sandwiched between two corpses with its sharp edged blade pointing upwards, things  may have been slightly different today.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4jM34xGc8e

In time, a small, insignificant tombstone would be erected over the grave of Adelia Montgomery with the following inscription:copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFKAYNFIWzH

The inhabitants never figured out who had erected the tombstone. One morning somebody noticed it was there and walked over to inspect it. The slip of paper weighted down by a clod of dirt caught the eye and the person picked it up and shook it clean. On it in neat handwriting that every one of the villagers swore they could not recognise, were written these words:copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIEKBqozJJK

My friend died here. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbjBmtqliYh

Disturb this grave at your own peril for I will raise this village to the ground and all within. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIdYdy8Dchi

You have been warned. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmZX6Bnua7e

“That means nothing to me. Why are we here?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCcmzPjcteQ

“That doesn’t mean anything.” She said again as she gazed about her in total wonder.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡs84mgwCIvJ

“Outpost? What outpost?” she gazed about at the darkest blackest night she had ever seen. In the far expanse, she saw bright glimmering stars from the size of pinpricks to some the size of a man’s head. There was no means to judge distances and she felt the weight of the universe descend on her. “I don’t like it here. Why did you bring me to this place?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKEEy3LCHBm

“The enemy is coming. I require warning prior to their arrival. When you see them, come for me.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡs4vwqL32ty

“Enemy? What enemy?” she turned and raised her sword.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡL7GH8otriI

“You know them as Old Earth. They will declare war on the Empire.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ03nECrpe81

“So that string bean of a blacksmith was correct?” she mused.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAB558vRbyl

“When will they be here then and how will I find you?” she watched as the small entity before her coalesced like sparkling fireflies. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡd2bAHN262a

“You are part of my essence. Trust it and it will guide you to me. The enemy will not be here for some time, possibly years.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7DLdJUIA5h

“Years? I am not going to stay here for years. What if I get hungry or tired and need to rest? Years,” she fumed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVPAogCZ472

“You are dead, Adelia Montgomery. The dead have no need for food nor rest. You will stay here as my outpost for the simple reason that there are more enemies, not  Old Earth. The Annular have their own agenda but worst of all, the one to be feared the most are the Valkyrie. They will come not in spaceships, like the Annular or Old Earth, but on winged horses. They will follow the humans undetected until they discover the whereabouts of the Galactic Empire and then, destroy it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡck5nVMaXTd

“I don’t understand. What is a winged horse?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ80QUezOWaT

“Look not with your eyes, Adelia Montgomery, but with my essence within you. That part of me has all the answers. Moreover, before you ask, the sword you carry for a reason, use it and kill the outrider that follows the first one. It will give us more breathing space if she cannot report. They will notice that she is gone but I require that  time to complete my preparations.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡd6JOuZru4y

“You forgot something, I’m dead, remember. I couldn’t hurt a fly if I wanted to.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxgTCEPoPMh

“The answers lie inside of you. Do what you are paid to do and come to me when you are done.” The entity moved away in a colourful, sparkling display.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2ViSPwsDtC

“Wait. Am I being paid for this? You said I was going to be paid. I don’t understand.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡxHIhwdgXIl

“Yes.” Came a faint reply. The next was fainter as the small group of sparkling lights disappeared into the blackness. “It is of no matter.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvfBpRgeg51

“Whoa.” Katya exclaimed as she grabbed the flitter’s yoke. “There is the saying that one shouldn’t fly when tired. You nearly put us into ground there.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRw0tWRJa8O

“Sorry. I've been trying to reach a place where we can rest for a few days.” She rubbed her eyes and checked the GPS tracking above her head. “A few minutes more and we can freshen up.” She nodded at Katya and took control of the yoke again. Something caught her eye outside the dark flitter windshields. Other than the two monotonous flashing red flight lamps on either tip of the flitters stubby wings, she could see nothing in the gloom of night. Again, she saw something. “There.” She pointed a grubby hand to the bottom right of the windshields. Standing up from her flight seat, she tried to get a better look. “What the hell is that?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcFW9wXVSqm

Katya moved tiredly towards the large windshield and tried to see what Tobor was pointing at. At first she couldn’t see anything in the dark until one of the flashing flight lamps revealed the rounded features of a Polrob pacing them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIvkgkzjm6k

“We have company it seems. Our local Polrob is keeping tabs on us.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7XQ7rMZbX7

“I wonder why that bucket of bolts...” both woman jerked as klaxons shrilled their warning. The sudden quiet as Katya’s thrusting fingers found the shut of switch was like a miracle come true.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0aNWjjTfcj

“What the hell was that?” cried Katya, her heart racing in top gear.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBVPVbavuxB

“Proximity meter. The thing has kicked in at last, otherwise we would have known about that flying robot out there before now. Look, there it goes.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOEzFM1sMcq

Katya turned  in time to see the last of the Polrob as it accelerated into the night. “Does it know where we are going?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUcAH9U139e

“It should. There is only one place this close to Signature that we go to for peace and quiet. We don’t adapt well in the Plascrete jungle of cities and towns. It’s called Hadespeace. Just a few small chalets built between a small grove of trees and then left so that nature can do its thing.  Rustic.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmLacGlmcQT

“Hope you people thought of running water.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOFyoklpN7C

“I didn’t say it was that rustic,” laughed Tobor.  copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡd1ONJYHL1R

“The auto landing has kicked in. Thirty seconds or so.” Tobor answered. “I’ll switch the head lamps on so we can at least see. Well, there you have it. No  lights.” She flicked the headlamp switch up and down with no results and eventually gave up.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRk1qImL79S

The flitter landed and the large bay door swished open. Flicking a switch at the edge of the bay doors lowered a long sloping walkway to the ground. “What do you say we get cleaned up and rested?” Tobor asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJmUyaEwRpy

Late the next afternoon both women sat in camp chairs. Wrapped in long fluffy towels, they waited for their clothes to dry. In their haste to shower and sleep, they left their stinking clothes where they dropped them until the next day. Getting up late and with towels wrapped around them, they hungrily rummaged around in the larder that was stacked with tinned food. Dried veggie packets and an assortment of unmarked boxes of all sizes lay in orderly rows.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqmusMdOykY

“You sort out the food,” said Tobor. “And I’ll get the drinks.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr4llDvZanp

Katya grabbed two tins without looking at the contents of the wrappings. She pulled both tabs in the center of the tins and pealed the lids off. Placing them on the table, she watched hungrily as within seconds, they bubbled  with steam. She upended the tins into two plates and dumped the tins into a compactor. She heard the tins being crushed and compressed, then whisked away to some unknown destination.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡI6OErnc6sH

Katya took a bite of the mush in her plate. “Looks and tastes like meatballs and gauss,” she said with a mouth full of food.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9Qouc1Zbbm

“Out of all the food in the larder you pick meatballs and gauss?” said a glum Tobor as she placed two cold beers on the table. She dove in and cleaned her plate.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBUtpyVNL1g

Katya came up for air and looked askance at the sweating beers. “Where the hell did they come from?” she asked, taking a long swallow and sighing with satisfaction.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsiax4wo4HN

“We have a cold room downstairs.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoQEMkQOk20

“I need some more sleep but first another shower,” Katya yawned.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHDUa3t5Qe7

Tobor disagreed, “Washing first, we need something to wear.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7HqhevODzv

Katya pulled a face, “Guess you’re right. Please tell me you have a steamer here.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqXm4KGVz1X

“We have a steamer here.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAIBuTEYZvd

“Thank goodness for small mercies.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6CVxU92INC

They went to the shower stalls that reeked of blood. Collecting their stiff, smelly clothing, they carried them to the Steamer and dumped them inside. Tobor set the timer for two minutes. “What fragrance do you want?” she asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡedAAilgeUi

Pressing a few more buttons, the cleaner moved through its cycle while they waited.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbZy6wtgzb3

A few minutes later while their clothing hung in the dryer, they sat drinking another beer. “I'm buggered,” said Katya once more as she placed the empty can beside its mate. She unsteadily rose to her feet.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcphMZA7gO2

“We start training tomorrow. So get enough rest.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz0xzNwteum

“You sure know how to dump cold water on a girl don’t you?” Katya said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaFmJLSc1so

“No. Step back and let him come to you and when he does, then do the unexpected and shove the shield as hard as possible towards his face.” Tobor suggested. “Then follow through and cut the tendons to the side of the knee.”  She blocked the shield before it hit her face and felt the wooden sword - a Balkan – slash her to the side of her knee. “Good. Again.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3XOpHziTAL

They had been at it the whole day. The day before as well as the previous three days. Tobor had to admit that Katya was a force to be reckoned with. Still lacking in the finer details, she was, never-the-less, damned good with the Balkan. They did not spar with real swords as Tobor was afraid not only of serious damage but after testing the sword that Wyatt had given to Katya on a metal post, she was  more afraid for her own swords.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiFq61RUXrZ

“Tomorrow is the last day of The Month of Reckoning,” Tobor said as she stepped back from the swiftly descending Balkan. Off balance, Katya swept by in a rush, and ducked Tobor’s blade that swept towards her chest. She turned swiftly, the Balkan blade knocking Tobor’s own blade aside and upwards. Stepping as swiftly past Tobor, her Balkan slid down ’Tobor's blade to slice across her lower stomach. Tobor gasped and stumbled backwards, dropping her own sword and falling to her knees in pain.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH2DsbR0QyM

“Are you all right?” Katya asked as she stepped closer and helped the gasping warrior to her feet.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZCKN2rnllY

“You sneaky bitch,” gasped Tobor. “Where did that come from?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6DDxKEpFCQ

“It was something I've been working on in my mind for some time now. What do think?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEkSiM39MUI

“Let me get my breath back and then show me that move again. Are there any other tricks up your sleeve?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzTljHnK4J6

“ I have one or two. I am thinking of keeping a knife I found stuck in one of those buggers back at the village. Any help would be welcome.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2PJGnulM9X

Both dumped their Balkans and ran off to pick up their swords on the table. “The buggers could have decided that waiting for us is not in their make-up and have come looking.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZqmkK4Iv8r

“They know where we are?” asked Katya as the familiar whining sound of the flitter got louder and louder.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBbglREPcqY

“Our familiar would have kept the Empire in the loop. It’s what they do.” She glared at the silent Polrob hovering in the air some way off.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa2MrxTv69m

“Here it comes,” said Katya as the flitter came into view and its landing automatics kicked in and it sank towards the clearing.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz8MVtwZb18

As the flitter settled on its landing skids, the bay door opened almost immediately and two warrior woman dressed similarly to Tobor and with swords drawn, stepped leisurely off the walkway and surveyed their surroundings. They stepped towards the two waiting women and sank to their knees in front of Tobor. “Princep. We were notified by Sigal Earp that you will have use of our abilities.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCDjTYbxNnX

“And what else did Sigal Earp tell you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLx0xZxruDA

“Nothing Princeps. We came immediately upon hearing from him.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQcJD8d98ob

“Yes, Princeps. There is a woman with him in a Medco-floater. Word is that she is his wife. He said to notify you that Princeps Margareta is gathering the clans for … the first hundred?” The last part ended as a question but the woman still did not look up.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpmHpUHXlbB

“Im impressed. Whist?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡW2OFFWSP5h

“Joan de Ark, Princeps, clan Perimeter,” the other warrior declared.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡT3ABtvjqQv

“Aquas and Perimeter? Only three of us selected for the Month of Reckoning?” she shook her head in wonder. “Rise warriors, for there is much to do and only a few hours in which to do it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2MxQsdNl2S

Katya had been watching the two warriors who were completely different from each other in looks and size. Whereas Pauline Comrad, a beautiful brunette with a body any woman would kill for, stood tall and muscled, Joan de Ark was short and almost pudgy with short, spiky black hair and the usual brown eyes that seemed to be the norm. Joan de Ark would not look out of place in a kitchen with a bunch of kids hanging on to her apron strings.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡC4fUUc6yWJ

They turned and stared at Katya inquisitively. “This is the reason we three will swear Blood-oath tomorrow when she defeats the last Contenders for the crown.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgJwOzY1mj4

“Blood-oath?” the surprise was palpable as the two warriors looked at each other and then at Katya with new respect.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfV8uP2HVBE

“Blood-oath,” confirmed Tobor and then dropped the bomb. “Tonight you relinquish your clans for another. Tonight you become the first members of a new clan, a Warrior clan. I am War Princeps Tobor of the Warrior clan Centurion and she,” Tobor pointed at Katya beside her, “is your reason for Blood-oath. Katya Berotivich, meet the first of your bodyguards. ”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFnutLXJEIq

Katya nodded and smiled shyly at them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnZ9TNIRO5b

“Blood-oath?” the two warriors asked again, gazing from Katya to their new Princeps. “We accept the honor, Princeps.” Joan de Ark said, and they both bowed their heads.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSk71PX4xTF

Tobor nodded. “For two hours you will spar with her. Balkans only, for she is tricky, do not be bluffed by her youth. You may proceed when ready.” Tobor threw the Balkan at the short pudgy warrior, and it was whisked out of the air as if by magic. The woman advanced threateningly towards a back-peddling Katya.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡby3G2ODLtm

All four women sat silently in the slow cruising flitter nursing their own thoughts. Katya’s was more in the line of  how to find some fresh air as the stinking bucket of Porcine blood had found its way back into the flitter.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡB2kFJmun7X

“Katya,” Tobor called. “Come look at this.” She waited for the girl to step forward. “What do you see?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡJjO5EyeIab

The gasp of incredulous surprise from the slim girl said it all.  ”What the hell is that huge monstrosity?” Katya asked, pointing at what looked like the mother of all flitters.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSY1mTTGLPx

“A carrier. They come in all sizes and can transport up to two thousand people. Look. There’s another. And there’s some rich guy’s yacht and it’s a big one by the looks of it.” With sails unfurled, the grossly expensive looking yacht sailed gracefully towards its destination. The air bristled with flitters of all sizes, enormous passenger carriers and vehicles that she had never seen before. One type that stood out as they were usually painted a bright red, were small and extremely fast. They darted back and forth between the slower moving traffic.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwrAQ7kcBHk

“There are literally thousands of them. Where are they all going?” she asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzrDnwiVK16

“Most will not land,” said Tobor. “This, funny enough, is where we can be extremely grateful that we have Polrobs to keep the chaos at bay. Without them there would be pandemonium.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWT5YgYRWKH

“But why are they here?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuh948gplS6

“It’s the last day of The Month of Reckoning. They have come to see you Katya.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFrxjO4CKPD

The sudden sick feeling was like a punch to the stomach. It engulfed her and she staggered away from the large windshield.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQLxVJNUBKE

“Use the bucket,” Tobor said loudly and laughed at the retreating girl. “A little more to the mix won’t hurt.” The other two warriors glared at the retching girl.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡieWsj4JIpB

After a short while, Katya stepped unwillingly to the fore again. “Fear Katya, has to be crushed.” Tobor removed a hand from the flitter’s yoke and clenched a tight fist for emphasis. “Otherwise you will lose and join the ranks of the dead. forget about the screaming, shouting ghouls. Remember why you are here. Build up your anger and hate. Let them carry you forward.” The instructions came steadily with the knowledge of past experiences. “You will be Emperor in a few hours, girl. Start acting like one. Every one of those people out there are your subjects. Prove to them that you hold their lives in the palm of your hand and are capable of the job. Today you will not only be judged by the Empire but you will judge yourself.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡP42moQr0Ag

Two red lights flashed on the dashboard and Tobor tapped on the small comp screen. She read the instructions and tapped some more and a slight shudder ran through the ship as the automatic landing gear was activated. “We will land in three minutes,” she said softly, turning towards a decidedly pale looking Katya staring at the mass of flying ships converging on one point out in the distance.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDr2bnLYhnI

She took note that the airway along the path of their decent was clear of traffic. She noticed that ships of all shapes and sizes and color were turned about and she could see into the cockpits. Hundreds of cheering people waved at her. “I feel sick,” she said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWGWT8gXRYm

“It is fear, should you care to think it over,” she turned to smile at the retching young girl. “If you think it over, this is nothing compared to what we had to go through in Hammer. There, you were up against over a hundred. Here…” she indicated with a thumb. “Here you only have three. You can dispense of them in a few minutes and still have the rest of the day to get cleaned up.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsNrvaQlCQW

“Thanks, I think.” Standing up from the bucket that she refused to look at, she held onto the back of the flight chair and tried to still her heaving stomach.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSuoVFLGE33

“What the hell.” Katya screamed in furious anger as she spluttered. She stood there, arms apart, glaring at Tobor in anger and hurt.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdcmFHxv39m

“Almost,” said Tobor who bent down to scoop clotting blood off the flitter’s deck. She rubbed it into Katya’s hair and scalp as the shocked girl  stood there without so much as a word. “I mixed some other ingredients with this lot back at camp so it could stay thick and liquid for  a while longer and I must admit that Im  pleased with the results. Aah, perfect.” She turned to the two silent and decidedly green looking warriors. “What do you think ladies…No? you girls are  jealous.” She turned back to Katya, “Where’s your swo…aah. Thank you, Joan.” Numb fingers closed around the grip, repositioned themselves and relaxed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ02RpXwaEae

“Bitch,” Katya whispered her anger and disgust.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIxfsQ9kq04

“This is not a game girl,” Tobor pointed outside. “People are going to die. Three against one it’s going to be Katya Berotivich. You will need every ounce of help I can give you. Now this is what I want you to do…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZehlUZSq32

Today would be one of the few times in its illustrious history that the Sky Arena was bursting at the seams.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpEEui6wtKc

Hucksters plied their shoddy goods to everyone. Pickpockets did a roaring trade, not to mention the prostitutes. Families brought their children for the event. This was a day of joy. A day of sadness and a day of hope for the future. A thick air of excitement enveloped the Arena. Excitement had stirred the thousands of expectant spectators when a single flitter, accompanied by a Polrob, landed in the center of the well-maintained, sizable lawn. Speakers blared and huge comp screens alerted the crowd that the last Contender for the crown had  arrived.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOCBHKrq2DA

The Arena erupted into a loud and prolonged noise of clapping and cheering. A few meters away from the flitter stood the last of the Contenders watching the hovering Polrobs and the sealed bay doors of the flitter. Every move they made was broadcasted to every comp screen throughout the Empire.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkTJSrdkZBc

The three men stood close, whispering to each other. Two were lean, well-proportioned and athletic but overshadowed by the hulking figure of the third man. Low brows. Close, mean eyes. He ignored the cheering All three were shirtless and women gasped in wonder at the large man’s suntanned, rippling muscles. A few men compared their own physique.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz1Qdv9k2C4

The three Contenders whispered between themselves. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeqHQ8riyuV

The flitter’s bay doors swished back into their receptacles.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9PPSHh61gH

A hush fell over the Arena as the three Contenders spread out, calling encouragement to each other.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeQI44eeogQ

The slight figure that jumped out of the flitter caught everybody by surprise.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡtvhalpCEX6

A woman spectator staring up at the huge comp screen screamed and fainted. A man chewing on a hot dog suddenly choked to death. Children screamed or laughed depending on their age. A collective gasp of astonishment surged through the crowd as Katya approached the three men.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz7VpZDG6FX

Katya stared at them. Sword held loosely in her hand. To her left stood a mountain of a man with a long sword.  Centre and to her right were two men that she knew in her heart would be the death of her should she show the slightest sign of weakness.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOTOwYSLch1

“A fucking woman,” said the one on her left. “All this for a woman? Gerry, get the bitch!”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2KxkUTJwxH

Gerry charged with his long sword held high. He covered two meters when a long blade knife cut through his neck. He came to sudden stop. Darting to the left and changing the sword to her right hand, Katya met the second attacker and deflected his sword. The third Contender stood his ground, watching her like a hawk.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡD7OzwOcdUR

“What the hell,” shouted Tobor, staring at the man on the ground as he managed to pull the long knife from his throat. He tried to stem the spray of blood with his large hands but it forced its way between thick, sausage-like fingers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3YTAjOt2l1

He stopped moving as more and more blood pumped from his wounds.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKY8yxEnKRi

“I taught her that,” said Pauline in a satisfied voice. “She’s a fast learner, although I must admit she had been trained to throw knives from somebody who knew what they were doing.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡC21n2h7Ui3

“She couldn’t sleep, Princeps,” said Pauline unrepentantly. “So, instead of allowing matters go to waste, Joan and I gave her extra lessons. Lessons not normally taught by any self-respecting Sensei.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr83zGBe4l6

“Well good for you both, I believe we are off to a perfect start.” Her attention turned to the clashing swords. “Tricky.  Tricky,” she mumbled. Behind her, the two warriors grinned and gave each other a high-five.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmY9nlbEs5X

Skillful sword blows rained down on Katya from all directions.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡw8iy4eTPEh

She turned them aside just as skillfully, but the man’s experience and speed was such that she knew she would be in danger as her muscles tired.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡU6pYF6ATaW

She struck at the man’s arms and neck hoping to sever the sword hand, or with luck, his head.  Sparks flew from the two swords as they made contact.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZxU9VgkzJp

The clash of steel ended abruptly when Katya’s sword sliced cleanly through her opponent’s blade. The man’s eyes involuntarily followed the flying piece of metal. Searing pain ran through his right thigh as Katya’s blade sliced effortlessly through his flesh. He parried her blade twice more with the stump of his own blade. Trying heroically to force her back with a sudden flurry of blows, his eyes darted to the silent man standing to one side. He caught the slow headshake from the man and suddenly lost the will to carry on. He screamed and rushed at Katya who ducked and stepped into the blow so that it passed over her shoulder while her own sword cut deeply and exited the man’s back. She bore his weight for a few seconds. Stepped back. Gasped for air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYmOnluuVoE

He sank to his knees and toppled over.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRocMx72RHL

She stared at the man before her. Short cropped blonde hair and blue eyes watched her every move. His tanned skin showed the passage of the last thirty days. Multi-colored blotches of healing bruises covered his body while shallow cuts and scrapes covered the rest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhd0P3Ns7uV

“You realize, of course,” he said. “You have killed both my brothers.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQshFQD9kyy

“Same mother different father. Michael always was a muscle bound idiot who believed size was everything.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0Dd0thOWoj

“How do things get so bad that three brothers would ultimately end up killing each other?” she asked, keeping a wary eye on him.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡReM9TCM3Wl

“Being poor forces people into situations otherwise never considered, and you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBWMx7Z1qen

She ignored the question, “You would have killed each other if I had died?” surprise registering in her face.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqe0EftV4qj

“Only one survivor right?  Only one Emperor. In any case, our parents would be well taken care of for the rest of their lives.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnhy9rrMdvJ

“Only one problem with that plan, don’t you think? Im still alive. Unfortunately.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡz6FmENlFdz

“Von Brandt from the planet Queens-Light. Why?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9u8PQMCbsQ

“I have nothing to lose; you, on the other hand, have a family.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9uoijf5Wqx

“Then I succeed either way, don’t I?” he smiled.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMc3gLB2oI1

“Yes,” she said. “I am rested now, thank you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8Mxn68h6gC

“My mother tried her best to bring us up correctly but she never succeeded with Michael no matter how much she tried.” He drew his sword, “shall we?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1q6qIqFNm6

It was then that she realized he had not mentioned the second brother’s name, nor his own, but it was too late.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡl8ioo40rsI

His advance was swift and sure. Katya parried and blocked. He was quick. Sure-footed. Attacking continuously.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsBv0ZC9hIp

Driving her backwards, one of his thrusts slipped through her guard and cut deep into her sword arm. Crying out, she stumbled and fell to one knee.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTKP0byqRmN

Her mind screamed a warning as she sensed his swiftly moving blade heading for her neck.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXHVg6kl6LN

The shock of both blades meeting in a clash of force shuddered up her wrist and into her shoulder. Slowly getting back to her feet she watched as the man eyed his shattered sword in disgust. “I thought it was a fluke that first time, but now Im starting to believe otherwise.” He looked at the sharp blade inches from his face. “Well, that’s that,” he finished.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMzqCzBbZsy

“Not this way.” Katya said loudly and stepped back. “Tobor,” she shouted at the flitter some meters away.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMqfIHm32sO

Tobor appeared immediately. “What are you up to girl?” she asked, frowning in anger. “Kill the man and claim the crown.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQi2fDhEAEj

“No. This man honored me by allowing me to catch my breath although I killed his two brothers. You would have me throw honor to the wind?” she shook her head. “Give him your sword Tobor. A crown without honor is worthless to me.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgrSG4sigrL

Tobor stepped forward and handed her sword over hilt first.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOec4XUq0WS

Katya attacked him with a lightning strike to the eyes. His parry was predictable. His return thrust surprised her and would have seriously injured her should she still have been in the same position. Collapsing to her knees, she shot her right leg out and hooked it around his left ankle as her left foot shattered his knee. The man screamed as he buckled and fell backwards.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡONaR2O8GoN

Katya rolled to her feet, stepped forward and thrust her sword into his chest.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0EeTljlEzN

“Im sorry,” she said, going to her knees beside his body. “Im so sorry.” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she held the man’s head in her lap.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqn2DrZxRZt

“That was clever,” he gasped. “Never…saw it…coming.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡKOgVFjJO08

“They will be taken care of. My …” his eyes rolled up into his head as he died. “…honor on it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQaT76zrPnr

The Arena erupted into chaos. She cared nothing for the jubilation of the Empire that seemed to rise as one and pour over the safety wall and onto the cultivated lawn.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXYsKOnSXEE

Tobor screamed, “Polrobs protect your Emperor.” But Katya didn’t hear that. She cared only for this man, other than her Sensei whom she had ever truly liked. She cried for everything she had lost. She cried tears of longing until the floodgates ran empty and a cry of raw emotion erupted from her throat.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡFJRLQHjW4I

“I am tired. Can it wait?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8ZC1VE0r8P

NO SIRE.  A PROMISE WAS MADE TO THE DEPARTING EMPEROR.  IT MUST BE KEPT.  OUR INSTRUCTIONS ARE TO HAVE THE NEWLY CROWNED EMPEROR TAKEN TO THE HALL TO VIEW A VIDEO REPRESENTATION OF A HOLOGRAM.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡl3Bdr8Udyz

She was exhausted. Covered in blood and dirt. Stank to high heaven. What she wanted now more than anything else was to refresh herself, then sleep. She stumbled after the Polrob, her brain feeling dull and befuddled and did not notice where it guided her. A few minutes later she passed a group of heavily armed guards but was too tired to do anything more than nod at them. One opened a door and she entered a large, empty hall. Its wooden flooring gleamed as sunlight reflected from it. A single chair in the center of the room drew her attention. What looked like an old and thin but large comp screen stood on a table a few meters from the chair. A guard stood at attention next to it and saluted her as she entered. Beside the ridiculous looking comp screen was a compact, square, black and silver-faced box like object.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSyKuzF9A7i

EQUIPMENT FROM OLD EARTH SIRE. DATING BACK FROM THE FIRST PLANETARY MIGRATION OF HUMANITY.  BEFORE YOU IS WHAT WAS KNOWN AS A TELEVISION SET, WITH A MAXBUILD1000 DVD/MP3/MP4 COMBO PLAYER.  SPECIFICS ELUDE US BUT IT WORKS AND IS ANALOGOUS TO A COMP SCREEN IN A FEW WAYS.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9Gl3vT3j4t

She sat down after removing her weapons and placing them on the floor. The chair was as comfortable as it looked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4X2PsBvBcC

PROCEED MR. BABOO. THEN LEAVE. The Polrob instructed the guard who nodded and pressed a few buttons.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUB4gCK4Nl7

A blue screen with the name MAXBUILD 1000 in green lettering appeared. The lettering moved diagonally across the screen to bounce off the edge and move in another direction only to bounce of the edge again. It was hypnotic to Katya. Her head nodded and her eyes struggled to stay open. The picture on the comp screen flickered and rolled twice. The screen went dead then flickered to life. The camera panned out and in again until it focused on an old man sitting in the floater in the middle of a large unfurnished hall. It looked suspiciously like the hall she was in right now.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvuNQyiKCCO

“Are you about done?”  The voice came from the speakers. She sat up and stared at the screen as the old and sick looking man glared at somebody not in the picture.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5HM8weK1QW

She sat alone in the huge hall and thought of what she had seen. The Tele whatever-it-was showed the old man snoring loudly with head bent and chin resting on his chest.  The old Emperor was probably turning in his grave right at this moment, she thought. She had seen and heard all that he said on that antique comp screen.  She was alone here; it was she and the Polrob. Tired and exhausted, she stood and looked up at the Polrob.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdtk0kSj4uW

“Record this please … I would like the one called Guardian to be relieved of all duties as of right now. He is to be my personal bodyguard. You and two others of your choice shall take instruction from the Guardian. Do you understand?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡTADFIaTscJ

The Polrob dipped to waist height and an arm’s length from her. SIRE.  AS YOU ORDER IT, SO SHALL IT BE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡoQuWAv74B4

“Then have the treasury pay for your upgrades. Whenever new upgrades are available you will notify the treasury and the four of you are to be upgraded. Do you understand?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbLWFHwaOBM

“Your name shall be Protector from now on. The two others will be known as Sentinel and Guard. You four will answer to none but to me. You have no alliance or allegiance with any other Polrobs, government officials, humans, or your own kind. You answer to me and me alone. Do you foresee any problem or personal dilemma with these instructions?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpDaAmIuf9R

“From now on you four are above the law. You will work outside of the law. You profess to be Judge, Jury and Executioner of the law? You are mistaken. From this moment on you are Executioners only. Do you understand?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡX2TxuCXQrv

“Understand this as well,” she stuck out her hand and placed it underneath the saucer like shape of the Polrob’s cold metallic belly. She drew the machine closer. The camera lens focused on her. “You will protect my life and if I say you, I mean all four of you. You will protect my life with yours for if I am poisoned or killed, you will self-destruct. You will commit suicide immediately. Do you understand?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡN5xqmxK9JT

SIRE.  AS YOU ORDER IT, SO SHALL IT BE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyGVreq4cgv

She nodded and smiled. “Good. I want to sleep now. When I awaken I wish to have all four of you present. I am the only human you are to protect unless otherwise notified by me. Secondly, have the entire Empire’s governing body present and waiting in this hall. Should it be too small then prepare another, suitably equipped with refreshments and finger food only.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHqmQKOlNK6

SIRE.  A NOTIFICATION HAS NOW BEEN SENT TO CALL BACK ANY OFFICIAL THAT HAS ALREADY LEFT.  NONE HAVE LEFT.  THEY ARE STILL CELEBRATING.  ALL WILL BE NOTIFIED IN DUE COURSE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZybxYx4IHO

“Once the meeting is in session, I want the hall surrounded by Polrobs. No human is to leave unless I personally instruct it. Any who attempt to leave are to be captured and brought to me immediately.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCfvxHKYLWf

“The meeting is to be recorded and sent to broadcasting centers throughout the Empire with instructions that it may not be broadcast until I personally give instruction. It may interfere with my other plans. Then have a list drawn up of every single orphanage in the Empire, especially the ones on Chicago. The City will be Graeco and the Orphanage is called the ‘Mistress of the Helping Hands.’ Get me every piece of information you can on this orphanage. I want to know who it belongs to. Information on every single person that ever worked there. Who is alive and who not? Information on every child that ever entered that devil’s hellhole. Do not approach any orphanage for information. Go through public records for now. We can do an in-depth investigation later.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡXdK8LJFQsm

She took a breath and wondered what she had forgotten? The Empire could wait. Her day of revenge was at hand. She wished Adelia could have been here to enjoy it with her. “I need sleep Protector, otherwise I’m going to fall down and make an ass of myself.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQltwYYWqPa

FOLLOW ME SIRE.  NOURISHMENT SHALL BE PREPARED AND WAITING WHEN YOU WAKE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCNomV96BZy

They stood and cheered as she entered the hall from a side door and climbed the steps to the large Podium.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjmDIJySPaS

The four bodyguards circled her in a wide radius a few feet above her head. She had slept for nearly 48 hours straight. She had tried the bed but found it too soft and had simply passed out on the more comfortable sofa. Bathed and refreshed, she wore the same dirty, blood encrusted clothing. There was no need for a change as things were going to get messy soon.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡo9w1KkgE16

She tried to eat but could only nibble on the gourmet presented to her. Was it possible that one could get addicted to energy bars and Sun Fries? There was no easy answer and she decided not to order. She needed to sort out this vipers nest first. An enemy at her back sent shivers of fear running down her spine. Grim excitement made her stomach churn. Picking a cocktail tomato from the bowl of salad, she popped it in her mouth and stood up from her chair. She bent down and picked out a few more and held them in one hand as she walked out of the room. The four bodyguards patrolled the air and corridor ahead of her. “Tell me Guardian, what nature of upgrades did you receive? I cannot actually see any modification to your exterior or body or whatever you call it.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEzMZAZjA83

CARAPACE SIRE.  THE CARAPACE HAS NOT REQUIRED ADAPTATION FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS BUT HOPEFULLY THAT WILL CHANGE WITH THE NEW DRIVE.  WE WOULD ALL FEEL A LOT MORE COMFORTABLE WITH A THICKER SHELL. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqrq3a9C2ZN

ONE MM GRAYVITE STEEL, NO MATTER HOW TOUGH, JUST DOES NOT FEEL SAFE.  THE UPGRADES ARE ALL INTERNAL SIRE.  EXCEPTIONAL SPEED INCREASE, BUT STILL ON THE OLD SUB-LIGHT-DRIVES.  BETTER COOLING FOR THE NEW DRIVE SPECIFICATIONS WITH EXTRA MODIFICATIONS SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE. MOST OF ALL ARE THE UPDATED AND INCREASED ARMAMENT.  TWIN LASERS RANGE INCREASED FROM THIRTY FEET TO FIFTY. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡUnWqpGKGlM

WE NOW POSSESS ONE HUNDRED ULTRA-MINIATURIZED INTELLIGENT TORPEDOES THAT ARE ABLE TO PENETRATE TWO MILLIMETERS OF GRAYVITE STEEL.  UNFORTUNATELY, DUE TO SPACE RESTRICTIONS AND MODERN DAY ADVANCEMENTS IN MINIATURIZATION, THE TORPEDOE A.I. CAN ONLY ACCEPT SO MANY INSTRUCTIONS WITHOUT ITS CRYSTAL PROSESSING UNIT OVERHEATING.  IT WOULD THEREFORE REQUIRE A MINIMUM OF TWENY-SIX TORPEDOES TO CREATE A BREACH IN THE HULL OF A WAR SHIP.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNZlAYWziwH

IN REALITY, THREE WOULD BE REQUIRED BUT DUE TO FACTORS BEYOND OUR KEN, TWENTY-SIX TORPEDOES INTO A RADIUS OF ONE HALF METER WILL SUFFICE. EACH TORPEDOE TAKES AND SENDS PHOTOGRAPHS BACK TO US FOR RETARGETING BEFORE DETONATION.  THIS ALL OCCURS IN NANO SECONDS.  THEY CAN REACH MACH 3 IN TWO MINUTES AND MACH 5 IN FOUR.  HAS A ‘DISTANCE TO SELF DESTRUCT’ OF FIVE HUNDRED MILES UNLESS OTHERWISE PROGRAMMED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlX8L1jVElU

MILITARY COMP HAS RECEIVED SOFTWARE UPGRADES AND THE COMPUTER PROCESSING UNITS ARE NOW TOUCHING ON MACH 1 THOUGH I PERCEIVE NO REAL INCREASE IN THOUGHT TO ACT.  WE HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED THAT IT IS ONLY GOING TO BE DESCERNABLE WHEN THE NEW DRIVE IS INSTALLED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrfioGH5roq

“Interesting. And where exactly would you use this miniature intelligent torpedo?” she asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdbpzLowkG2

“Space!” she stopped and stared at the Polrob.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡD75WvLDBc2

“For what reason would you have of going to…Oh. I forget. Some  enterprising human may decide to do some sort of escape off planet or something. How long can you survive in space?” she asked as they came to a T – Junction in the corridor.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzlzzxnA17g

“And could you not be used against the Annular? Would you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnwkAYkzOQT

POSSIBLY SIRE.  HOWEVER, THIS REQUEST HAS NEVER BEFORE COME UP.  A MEETING WOULD HAVE TO BE ARRANGED SO THAT A MEGA-BOND COULD FORM AND NEW CONTRACTUAL AGREEMENTS ADHERED TO.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlpfVZMjzNq

THE MOST SIMPLIFIED EXPLANATION SIRE IS THAT IT IS OUR GOVERNMENT.  WE DO NOT HAVE A RULING BODY AS DO YOU HUMANS, WE OF THE WURM RULE EACH IN HIS OWN CAPACITY.  THE MEGA-BOND CONSISTS OF EVERY SINGLE WURM CONJOINING TO FORM A MEGA-BOND.  WITHIN THIS MEGA-BOND, ALL LIFE THREATENING DECISIONS ARE MADE AND STRICTLY ADHERED TO.  A MINOR-BOND ON THE OTHER HAND, IS CALLED AS OFTEN AS IS NECESSARY AND IS ON A VOLUNTARY BASIS THOUGH ALL DECISIONS AND AGREEMENTS ARE FORWARDED AND AUTOMATICALLY AGREED TO.  NOT BEING AVAILABLE FOR A MINOR-BOND OR NOT CONJOINING, INDICATES THAT THE RESPECTIVE WURM WILL, BY LAW, ACCEPT THE OUTCOME OF ANY DECISION MADE IN HIS OR HER NONATTENDANCE. IT IS HOW WE HAVE SURVIVED THROUGH THE AGES.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbBavb8QLWH

Two Polrobs had gone ahead to either side of the junction and waited for them on high alert. Katya felt safer now than ever before. She fingered her sword that Wyatt had given her and felt slightly naked for leaving her other weapons behind. “We must speak more about this when we have time Guardian. You have given me some ideas. Remind me when we start dealing with the navy will you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEi6Td6FwFt

They approached a double door where another Polrob floated on guard.  She placed a hand on the doors and a loud buzz of conversation and laughter came from inside. “Just one question. How do you communicate with each other? Satellite?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡwcRGI3OyOL

“By thought?” she was astoundedcopyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvKEDTpmVjn

OUR THOUGHTS CAN ENCOMPASS THE WHOLE PLANET. WHATEVER ONE WURM HEARS OR THINKS CAN BE PICKED UP OVER ONE THOUSAND OF YOUR KILOMETERS.  IT CAN THEN BE PICKED UP AND RELAYED FURTHER.  A  CONVENIENT FORM IN WHICH TO CONVERSE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbQz2wh5lQU

“I'm sure it is. And to your brethren on other planets?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ75mbsIsUKg

“Shit.” This wrinkle may require more thought. She took a deep breath and stepped through the swing doors.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡD2hd4Ovaal

Prime Minister Wilhelm Hollard copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡbSacA47JkY

“Gentlemen and ladies.” She held up a hand and the clapping subsided.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaX0sb5hGgr

She stood on a large and hastily erected podium. “I thank you all for coming and I apologize for making you wait so long. I was tired as it’s hard work trying to stop a million people or so from taking your job away from you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2kJtMcoW8d

Laughter. Fresh cheers. Clapping. She lowered her hand and everyone took to their seats. “Firstly. Those at the back, can you hear me? I have been assured that the acoustics in this hall are excellent. You can? Perfect. Now then, I have called you here because although I am new in this post as Emperor and still trying to find my feet, in the next few days I have to consider each and every one of you. Your qualifications. Your previous performance. Are you the best person for the post you occupy? There is much to consider and my time is going to be in short supply. Therefore I have instructed the law Polrob to do the necessary investigations.” The immediate protestations caught her by surprise. Calls of arrogance and overstepping the bounds of proprietary. Women should stay at home and have babies yelled across the hall. She waited as the flood of joy and cheering changed to anger and dismay.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQj51wG5Eqp

She held up her hand  and the heckling  subsided. “You are all under a misrepresentation if you believe that, because I am a woman, I will be a pushover.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDAnD3yJkfZ

Heckling at the back again and spreading. Katya turned to one of her bodyguards. “Kill the one who started that.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLhkvL6I92Q

The Polrob shot out in a blur of movement. It was so swift that few noticed. It returned to its position above Katya’s head before any realized there was something wrong. Screams came from those close to the dead official who lay slumped over his plate of finger food. A precise, cauterized cavity the size of a hundred credit chip had suddenly appeared in his back. Material surrounding the blackened, seeping crater glowed here and there from the sudden intense heat from moments before. Smoke curled lazily upwards and the smell of burnt flesh permeated the air.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡnTasUH90lz

Where the dead man lay, officials had moved far back to form a wide area around the cooling corps.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkkTEPFLxON

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said in a calmer voice. “Never interrupt me again and never steal from me. The Empire is mine and I am jealous of my property. Never lie to me and above all, never make false accusations. Never abuse your positions. All of these things I have mentioned will seal your fate.” She stared over their heads, meeting eyes widened with horror and fear. Here and there, she saw a knowing smile or somebody sitting back with folded arms and nodding.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡobHyECfOCB

“I am not your friend. I am not going to be your friend. You will see to it that I am obeyed at all times. When I require advice, I will ask for it. If you should have a suggestion or believe you have a better idea than mine, say so. As long as you respect me, I will respect you. Disrespect me and you die. Are there any questions?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡo2AzPdNcym

Officials whispered in hushed voices to each other from behind a hand or ducked behind the person to say something that only those closest to them could hear.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOTGHywmj4b

“Good. Then we can get down to business.” She paced the floor fingering her sheathed sword. “You will have noticed by now I'm sure, that I'm not going to be the pushover you possibly thought I was. I would advise you to do your homework on me and you will discover that I am the worst choice you could ever have had as an Emperor. When I ask you a question, you will be short and concise in your answers. You will be truthful and not try to pass the blame to the next. Before I proceed further, somebody please bring me a chair, I'm tired of walking up and down.” There was a short scramble for an empty chair.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ7snO11rgQ3

She sat down and noticed how the men’s eyes darted to her naked legs. The name of the game was to keep them off balance. “Now then, what is this I hear about some of you being dissatisfied with the way things are done in the Empire?” she looked from face to face and noticed the stoniness on some of them. “It seems that some of you have seen fit to destroy equipment in the Palace library.” Faces went white as blood drained from them. Others asked questions of their neighbors. Heads shook in denial. Others refused to answer or take their eyes off their new Emperor. Katya turned to one of her bodyguards, indicating it should come closer. She whispered  and it shot back up to its comrades and carried on circling.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSf5sOVFC8e

“Six people have died and two more have disappeared. Emperor Prolit was poisoned.” She stopped and waited. The murmuring and questions grew intense. She held a hand up for silence. “It gets worse. Much worse; Some of you have seen fit to contact old earth!”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYW8FDGc00g

The hall erupted into chaos. Rubbish! Where’s the proof? Members argued with each other. Chairs flew across the room as accusations turned to pushing and shoving and then to fists and kicking. Those not wanting to be involved moved away. Nobody really noticed as a corpse with a hole in its chest slipped silently to the wooden floor.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡb7JyWKAn1r

Katya sat quietly with a slight smile on her face and watched as some men pulled the scuffling brawlers apart.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡrTGwmvs27B

“Sire.” A large man stood separate from the rest. He held up a hand. “Sire, I object!” he said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡh6xpLb5Xb5

“Sire, this is a heinous accusation. In fact they all are. Eight people dead or missing. The Palace library ransacked. Old earth. Forgive me for saying this but, you have only been Emperor for approximately seventy two hours or so.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYYEEv0aY3h

“Proceed, sir,” she said. The slight smile never leaving her face.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzko6K9hP7t

“Sire, again, forgive my being so forward.” The hall had quietened down as the officials returned to their seats. “Of those seventy two hours, you have slept for forty eight of them and before that the ceremony was long and protracted.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVlQ8jMi2jP

The soft hear-hear from different areas could be heard. Others turned around and shushed them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMhOqWjr6hv

“Sire. Forgive my impertinence. We want proof of these accusations, Sire. That’s the bottom line.” He turned around and smiled at the members behind him. Their nods of agreement gave him strength.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡIlpzuJlMLF

Katya stared down at the man that dared to call her a liar in front of everybody. His smug smile said that he was now in charge and was showing this uppity woman a thing or two about politics.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCyWqYSKqY1

“Pardon me, sir. Is it not customary to state your name and position to your new Emperor before accusing her of fabricating a lie?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWmSM8Pm44M

He turned white as he realized his blunder.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8N8xmChIp3

He bowed deeply. “Forgive me Sire for I meant no disrespect.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡn2BktAcd0b

“No, you did not. You meant only to show the Empire’s Governing body what a stupid woman I am. Too stupid, too inexperienced and too immature to be an Emperor. You Sir, have still to supply me with your name and position. I am waiting.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeXy6JHW5M0

“An unintended blunder Sire, for I in no way meant any disrespect. In the heat of the moment I made a stupid mistake.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSUN0saDJS3

“You have made more of a mistake than you believe, sir,” she said softly. So softly that he could only just  hear her words.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡMg5oAzYNMZ

He blanched and swallowed repeatedly. “My name, Sire, is Lord Wilhelm Hollard. I am Prime Minister of Overlord.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ1Wx8Ff4L1

“Lord Wilhelm Hollard, since when is it customary for the Emperor to supply proof of anything? Am I not Overlord of the Galactic Empire? While you are a Prime Minister? I am your chosen supreme commander. You and every person here chose me not only for my skill with a sword but because I outwitted many stronger and wiser and more experienced people. Tell me, sir, why did you not enter The Month of Reckoning?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhzPd7XTm1F

“Do not bother answering Lord Hollard. I see you have difficulty in opening your mouth.” She looked up at the Polrobs above her, “How long?” she asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYELb74X8ly

IN MOMENTS SIRE.  SHE IS ON HER WAY.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWD8LQgIKCK

Men and women glanced at each other with uplifted eyebrows at this exchange.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡp0RJkRI2U1

“I wish to get one thing straight between us,” she said to the gathered Officials. “This time. And I repeat. This is the only time you will ever…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡSTGD4NH2V3

The swing doors opened and a young girl entered. She was out of breath. She bowed to the Emperor and held up small, silver and black diamond shaped container. In her other hand she carried a small portable table.  The Emperor motioned her where to place everything without stopping or hesitating.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡBRGJCxZlhC

“…ever have the luxury of questioning my words. You sir…” she pointed a finger at Lord Hollard. “You have used up the only chance you all had of questioning my word. You are Prime Minister of Overlord while I am its Emperor. The Emperor of all 29 Planets. The moment you decide that you would like an advancement in job description please pick up a sword and you and I can go at it.” She looked up at the silent Officials. “That goes for every one of you.” Wide-eyed silence greeted her words.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5HDXqXP90J

“Now then,” she looked down at the young girl who stared shyly up at her. She must have been all of fifteen years old. “Were there any problems?” Katya asked.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaSDQvHEdKz

The young girl shook her head, overcome with being in the presence of the Emperor. She remembered nearly too late to open her mouth. “Everything …umm… went well, Sire. Just a aah…little bit of distortion due to the age of the equipment used.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡhlqX43v4oM

“Thank you.” Katya smiled. “When I notify you, you may start it and then leave. This is no place for one so young.” She looked over the assembled officials. “What you are about to see will answer all your questions and I'm sure, provide new ones. There is only one thing I require you to remember ladies and gentlemen…,” she drew her sword from its scabbard. “There is one fundamental difference between myself and Emperor Prolit. He played by your rules. I will not. You will play by my rules!” the blade slashed through the air and pointed at the young teenager. “Begin the hologram and leave.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHuuksUih4i

The girl nodded and placed a finger on a blinking finger pad. Watched for a few seconds to confirm all was as it should be and then made a beeline for the swing doors. From the small silver and black diamond shaped container, a faultless ten-foot square outline sprang into being and…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1fbE6HmKU6

… the hologram flickered and seemed to roll twice …copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡjcsKaxNFBc

“Please forgive my laps in introducing myself. My name is Prolit or should I say Emperor Prolit. It doesn’t much matter as by the time you see this, I will be long dead.” He shook his head in thought and chuckled. “One can’t have two Emperors in one Empire now, can we?” he snorted with mirth.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsiHWDaRWrV

“Ah, but you, the new Emperor… Welcome. It has been long in coming and I have wished for this day for years. Welcome and welcome once more. I hope your reign will be long and as fruitful as mine has been.” He chuckled again. “Though I advise you on being extremely careful who you chose to call friend as you must have heard by now, I have… or is it had, a bone disorder.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡetaq7g7t02

Odd thing about most sicknesses,   most of them have been cured, except of course for what the medical profession terms ‘the common cold’. That bugger  doesn’t want to go away. Ah, but I digress. Through exhaustive experiments and investigation I have determined that I was poisoned with something alien, something not of our Empire. Possibly it came from some space mining site around the Deltaic belt or  from a  purposely undeclared microorganism found on some diverse planet in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately for the would-be murderer, I did not keel over and die. With our medical advances in this day and age, death was averted only barely.” He grinned at the camera. “Can you believe it took barely 9 months for me to look like this? I drool as I’m sure you’ve noticed. It’s vexing, but due to some side effects either from the medication or the poisoning, I have lost some feeling around my mouth.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAke24ozS4b

“Again I digress. I’m close to self-termination, my excuse is simply that I'm lonely. Don’t for one minute make the mistake in believing that I feel sorry for myself. Loneliness is one of the ‘perks’ of our chosen profession. My warning to you in this matter is simply to - ‘fuck your brains out’ every opportunity you get and not to get emotionally involved with a woman. It will be the death of you AND the woman involved.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5wuNs8Xj4o

“Her family and yours will be ostracized forever. So be careful in that regard. Forgive me; I'm being chauvinistic, for you  may be of the female persuasion. If so, I will rise from my grave and shout in ecstatic glee for you would be as a thorn in the legislative body for they have never been lorded over by a woman. Some may resign their posts. Hah. One may only hope….” Again he sat as one deep in thought.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡfjRpJZGQtH

“You who have reached the pinnacle of your life’s ambition,” he began. “…must now sit back and take stock of what you have achieved. With that last stroke of your sword, you became the single most powerful human the Galactic Empire has ever created.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS41765vGYz

“Your word is law. Your suggestions and advice become instructions and commands without you  realizing it. So be careful what you say to others. Just one word, one gesture, can uplift someone or have that same person lose their possessions and livelihood. You need for nothing. You have great power.  From this day forward you are going to be judged and evaluated. Those you believe to be sympathetic and supportive of your ideals and principles will turn out to be vipers with long fangs that will not attack from the front where you can see them coming. Always be vigilant. Always be ready to doubt the advice given. Always expect an ulterior motive and always have your sword ready.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡS36nQzvNSz

Katya stepped off the podium and walked towards the hologram, tapped a touch screen off to the side and paused the hologram when it seemed the old Emperor had fallen asleep. She looked up at the silent gathering who all stared at the frozen picture. She glimpsed the frowning Lord Hollard in his seat and indicated he should come to her.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡc8S4yC3esx

“Privacy,” she said to the Polrobs.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVlBWsI2Yp0

Immediately a rippling blue sheen encased them both as a Polrob activated its Pry-screen.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡyh4FEUe9I7

“Sire?” he was nervous. What went wrong? Everything went according to plan until this she-bitch entered the picture.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡY3A2IfWWpE

“Prepare to die Lord Hollard.” she said calmly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ38zjLy6ZB8

Her sword pointed downwards between them, slicing through the air in pendulum fashion.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHb6Km1ggYL

Alarmed and frightened, he stepped back. “Sire? But…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzWOaZxpVtO

CEASE AND DESIST. YOU ARE BEING JUDGED.  MOVEMENT IS INDICATIVE OF A THREAT TOWARDS YOUR EMPEROR.  THERE IS NO SECOND WARNING.  EXECUTION WILL BE IMMEDIATE. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡAxXaQIIXIj

Lord Hollard froze. He was a large man run to fat.  Large jowls hung from each side of his face.  Small, brown, close set eyes stared at Katya in panic.  “Sire…?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5puc9Rdp8c

“It all depends Hollard, on whether you die alone or not. I want the names of those that collaborated with you.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡaI9ZT8wj40

His mouth was dry. He couldn’t think straight. It was all so sudden.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡRrVmD4dRum

“Should you not give me their names Hollard, the moment your head hits the ground, Polrobs will execute your family. You are a traitor Hollard, and as such you will meet your end. Now, what will it be?  Your family or those names?” She stared at him with so much anger and hate in her eyes that he knew for a certainty that it was over. His jowls jiggled from side to side as urine ran down his legs.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3F5cEYkbho

Katya looked up at the Polrob. “We will both count off ten seconds silently. If there is no answer we will see between us who is the faster, you or I. Your laser versus my sword.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡcp3KuS9iqv

“On my mark. MARK….” She stared at the fat man. “Your Family or…,” she shifted her grip and…copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡewXjICi3OA

“I’ll do it.” he screeched, falling to his knees. “Mercy Sire. I beg you. Have mercy.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡs0ZvKuoUNP

“The names.” She drew her sword back in preparation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡpB6nkJY8Br

“Paul Vangel, Stephen Michaels, Evans Pope and John Bull.” He cried as he kneeled in his own urine.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡqPYo9G0rKO

“Pry screen gone.” she commanded. The blue screen lifted.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1cO1Izw7tj

“If he moves kill him.”  She turned to her other bodyguards. “Arrest those men.  Do not kill them.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡWTU2gfMfno

Her bodyguards continued circling her as four Polrobs entered through the swing doors and split up.  They darted across the hall in different directions and almost simultaneously came to hover above four men who gazed upwards in astonishment.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡHNdFcmmcO6

Their warning sounded as one.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1QiQR0po7T

PAUL VANGEL. STEPHEN MICHAELS. EVANS POPE. JOHN BULL. YOU ARE BEING JUDGED.  PLEASE REMAIN IN YOUR SEATS.  ANY ATTEMPT TO VACATE YOUR SEAT WILL RESULT IN IMMEDIATE SENTENCE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡH4MC63STjf

They glanced wildly about as men and women seated around them vacated their seats.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡh03uGfR2sF

“Please step forward.” Katya instructed them. They unwillingly left their seats.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9tvrjnsILA

“Now take Lord Hollard there,” she indicated the kneeling, sobbing man. “… and get onto the podium if you please.” The hall went quiet.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCtEp6LsYEM

“Ladies and gentlemen, I ask your indulgence,” Katya said to the gathered officials. “You will soon understand. I ask that none of you leave this hall.” Her smile was cold and deadly. “You have been warned.” She turned and stared at the five men on the podium. “Gentlemen, you are being judged by your peers. There is no need to plead your guilt or innocence . That will come later.” She turned to the hologram and tapped the finger pad.  copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡeWNhrtxiwZ

A few minutes passed by as it seemed the old Emperor had fallen asleep for his eyes had closed and his head had sunk low. Was it not for the floaters force field, he may have slipped off it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡYFsu7MSAvE

With a grunt his head jerked and he stared blearily around him, realized where he was and shook his head in disgust.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡa78PwfAZdf

“You must think me a complete fool. Forgive me.” The old man’s voice was barely audible. “There is much to say and not enough time for I tire quickly and the pain is intolerable. The meds are keeping it at bay but daily it gets worse and I need to take more and more doses to have the same affect. I long for the day when it is all going to be over.” He closed his eyes once more and seemed to draw strength into himself. When he next spoke, his voice was much firmer.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡLrcyJD2gWz

“I believe I am the first to leave a communication such as this for the Emperor elect. For thousands of years each Emperor had to start his reign with a blank page and make many mistakes before one-step forward in the right direction could be taken. The most important wisdom I can give is this; disband the government body as a whole. Every single one of them is either a rat or a viper and there is not much difference between the two in my mind. There is one and only one you may come to trust. Lord Winfrey. But make your own judgment in that respect. Your worst enemy will be Lord Hollard. Be wary of him and his cohorts for he will stop at nothing for more power. I have only given you two names. Two names out of a total of 2060 for I believe the rest to be lazy, pompous fools who deserve death. copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡgVeJqmviW0

“What I'm about to say to you is of the utmost urgency. Six of my spies and two  competent computer technicians have given their lives for this information. Old earth is coming,” he said in a grim voice. He stared at the camera fixedly. “It seems somebody believes it would be better if Old Earth was involved in our little corner of the galaxy. For what reasons I could not grasp, this individual, group or faction’s agenda is to somehow seek out Old Earth and have them pay us a visit.” He shook his head in disbelief at such folly.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡX775WEkxDy

“In the Palace library you will find every scrap of information we have on Old Earth. Nothing has been discarded. Even the original ship’s computers were placed there for posterity and safekeeping.  It turns out that some unknown individual or individuals, had gained the whereabouts of Old Earth from those same computers and then commenced to destroy all 15 of computers. This information of course was only discovered after my poisoning. Subsequent repair work and investigation turned up six trustworthy dead spies and proof of the deleted sections of what was described as hard-drives. It was these sections that were deleted so haphazardly that gave us our first clue as to the agenda of our enemy. An enemy I have been pursuing for the last 3 years and as Emperor, I was not without some considerable means of support and talent.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡNp0ZYJC00z

“In the end, all I had to show for meddling in unwanted muddy waters was a poisoning,  me, six  dead employees, and the complete disappearance of two Palace staff of no known affiliation to any legislative member what-so-ever. I suspect Lord Hollard and his cronies, but due to lack of proof, my hands were tied. That, my new Emperor, is the legacy I leave behind for you. A nest of vipers and a possible war with Old Earth. Do not be so surprised my new friend. I can see your eyebrows lift in astonishment as you try to determine my sanity.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡzguOZUavd6

“Our Forefathers had a legal and binding contract with Old Earth. It would supply the means and the wherewithal for us to reach and populate one or more planets thus providing ourselves and Old Earth with desperately needed Lebensraum. We would have 500 years, the contract  states. 500 years in which to settle, break ground and prosper. Thereafter we would supply Old Earth with so many tons of metals and minerals and other goods per year for the next five hundred years as stipulated within the contract. The interest alone for those five hundred years will today bring us close to bankruptcy. The real picture of course is a lot larger than that. We cannot pay what we legally owe Old Earth,” he sighed.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvadDfaiAHV

“Over 4000 years have passed and for whatever reason our forefathers decided not to pay, we are now sitting with the real possibility of forfeiture. The only way out of this conundrum is to prepare. Prepare for their arrival – for I believe that a message or messages, human or otherwise, are by now traveling towards Old Earth on swift wings.” He stared at the camera with a burning intensity.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8ul8ujS7kS

“We my friend, are in deep shit. We now not only have the Annulars to deal with, but we have an obsolete, outdated and old fashioned space fleet. We barely hold our own against the Annulars because of their strange tactics of not following up on our weaknesses. I guarantee you; Old Earth will not hesitate nor be so lenient…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGT9bI95SEj

The hologram was paused again and Katya looked over the heads of the Officials. Shock  compounded. Somebody fainted under the stress and was helped to the floor. First one then more stood up off their seats. Eyes darted from the hologram of the old Emperor to the five men up on the Podium. From silence to uproar took but seconds.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡZatdOJn6j5

“TRAITOR…. TRAITOR…. TRAITOR….” The chant escalated in pitch and tone. Anger turned to fury and fury to rage.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1rAnA4Gsb0

Katya turned to her guards and shouted, “Stop them.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡlSUv3CE9vj

Men grumbled and swore and threatened. Women swore and waved clenched fists at the five accused men.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡuOUojY1Y7w

“Ladies and gentlemen, quiet!” Katya placated them as they took their seats. They were afraid and angry. Some spat on the floor. Some softly voiced threats of retribution. The odd loud retort of, “You will die for this.” or “How could you?”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡiA1MxJ5cOt

With eyes closed in pain and exhaustion, the old Emperor spoke. “I have placed beside this recorded message, many, many other articles that will be of interest to you as you examine the truth of my words. Through whatever means at my disposal, through one channel or another, I have amassed a vast sum of Credits. Credits now at your disposal. According to my knowledge, you have over two years before Old Earth arrives in its hundreds, possibly thousands. That is to say if they have a decent navy already prepared. On the other hand, it could be as long as five to ten years. I beseech you, take heed of my warnings or all is lost. Old Earth will not be lenient with us as their history is full of war and conflict amongst themselves. Cut down on all expenditures. Every planet’s budget from welfare to policing must be cut. You must plough everything into the space fleet and training academies. New military advancement, armament development and improvement must be your new watchword. Encourage new ideas and free thinking. National and Racial pride, in their motherland, in their Empire and way of life must be incorporated. This war will branch out and become political. Destroy them. Make it public. Show the Empire what will happen to traitors. There is no time my friend, to sit back and pat yourself on the back. Over 4000 years of peace between our diverse cultures and worlds will be as naught. It is in your hands. Only you have the strength, the might and wherewithal for success. Will you be cursed forever or will you be revered as the Emperor that saved the Galactic Empire?” The hologram froze once more.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCGUw5ev6dD

Katya stared at her governing body. “We are at war. A war not of our creation. A war that was long in coming. A war created by our forefathers for whatever reason they deemed necessary.” The hall was silent once more as people suddenly realized the enormity of their Emperor’s words.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡCvdDiKmnXb

“I ask for calm right now.” She turned and pointed at the five accused men. “These men will be taken into custody and questioned. Should there be any of you involved in this traitorous action I ask that you step forward now. If, through our investigations, you are found out, you will be summarily executed. The choice is yours. Decide wisely, as I have no time for behind the scene games like Emperor Prolit. There is only time for action.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡQ8aKKVsmwD

Everybody was on their feet, clapping and cheering. Katya noticed that none stepped forward to claim the dubious right of traitor. She tapped the finger pad again and silence fell over the hall once more.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡs9kmGpAbvN

“There is another item of note. It has to do with my last topic. There seems to be some sort of hullabaloo over two fighter Pilots that have returned from being stranded on some unknown planet for the last ten years. That in itself is extraordinary. The difficulty that stems from these two Pilots have not only not aged a day, but more surprisingly, their fighter craft, from design to armament to drive, has been redesigned.  As impossible as it sounds, these two pilots swear that the planet upon which they supposedly crash landed, in their own words, they swear the planet is alive or sentient,” he said.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡO8j2LBN8ZK

“The captain is from Overlord and his lieutenant from Wurdon. One male the other female. Both were brought to me immediately on their surprise return as all believed they, with the rest of their flight squadron of fighter class ships, had been destroyed by the then latest Annular attack. I had great difficulty in believing their tale of fortune so I tried coercion, bribery and nasty threats.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡkPSvACq2ZX

“In the end I came to the conclusion that both speak the truth. Both Pilots I can assure you, do NOT have the necessary brain mass to have come up with this miracle of alteration for it is right at this moment, perplexing the hell out of our own scientists who believe heaven has come to them instead of the other way around.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡGr60OMqpYV

The old man’s head nodded and drooped with fatigue. It flopped down and he slept with his head bowed. Time passed and nothing happened except for the occasional soft snort or movement of the head. Drool dripped from mouth to shirt and collecting in the old man’s lap. The wetness spread.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡdM3wOP8BY7

Katya stared at the crowded hall and dared any to interrupt.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡmiXeNyReBQ

He was exhausted. This continuous talking had sapped his strength. The pain meds, unseen by the camera but attached first to one upper thigh and then to his right hand that pushed a release button with ever increasing regularity, didn’t help.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡchiii65Iv3

When he did awake, the old man carried on.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡEIQIfFxngw

“It is a strange thing to be in a quandary, something uncommon to me for I do not want to believe a word these two have said, but the overwhelming evidence presented before me confirms that I should. No matter how I personally feel about the situation … this could be a godsend, for here we have not only Old Earth coming to teach us a lesson on ethics, on the moral principles of why we should never have breached contract, but we suddenly have the means – probable means I should add – to give them a bloody nose and send them packing. Duke Alistair, the chief scientist it seems, professes high and low that with the preliminary investigations and testing of the changes purported to be made to the fighter ship in question, we could, once these new advancements have been implemented into other Fighters, stand our ground for the first time ever against the Annulars.” He shook his head in disgust.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvCOsRC0JRB

“For thousands of years we have fought and lost against the Annulars and I personally would like to give them a bloody nose. But it will take time and a huge amount of credits to implement these so called new advances.” His head sunk to his chest once more.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡA3TSlcYrVu

“I am tired and wish to depart this life,” he mumbled as his head lifted. “But before I do, I feel that I must urgently convey to you the dire consequences should you not proceed to strengthen it against the coming storm. Do what you must. Scrap the space fleet and rebuild it. Get rid of the pompous asses that warm their backsides and bluster and brag about past accomplishments and refuse to see the dangers confronting them.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡvzdlhs0PQh

“It took many years as  before I  heard of Old Earth. I had decided to reinvent the Navy from the ground up. The first of our new recruits, over 15 000 of them, all passed their training. Not one failure. NOT ONE.” The old man’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡq5HjY3wXvr

“I must admit that failure meant summary execution and so, I do believe that the possibility of losing one’s head had something to do with the unheard of pass rate.” He chuckled at his joke. “As soon as we have reached our target of naval personnel, one or more of the overabundant institutions can be converted to schools or universities. I wish I could be there when you cut the legs out from under the haughty, blustering and pompous old fleabags that at this moment are lording it over our armed forces.” The old Emperor found it difficult to keep his head steady for more than a few minutes at a time. With an immense struggle, his head lifted and wobbled slightly. He was weary and fatigued but had to finish what he started.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡr01Elj7m8X

“Your new recruits are ex-prisoners.” he said unperturbedly, as if that sort of statement was made every day. “Where else would I have attained such a large amount of ‘volunteers’ on such short notice? The prison system is overcrowded as it is and I can guarantee you there are no rapists or child molesters in that bunch of cut throats.” He stared at the camera, eyes grim and hard.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDuiyE6ksVQ

“Training and educating these men and woman has not been easy although it has been enlightening to many educators.” The old man was barely hanging on now. His head bounced as he tried and failed, tried and failed to keep his head steady. The continuous injections of Meds took their toll. He required immediate rest but his iron will drove him on.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6lWNFURbRm

“Use the two pilots. Don’t throw away...they valuable…be strong…remember legislative bodies…duty… curb your excesses of unrestrained behavior…offer well thought… planned advice…tired now…”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡDimEXIX546

The head dropped one last time and the camera continued to faithfully record until Katya tapped the finger pad.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3IAmhfsCHo

The silence again was deafening as people turned and looked at each other in wonder and consternation.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡsNJoBoisAa

“You have much to deliberate amongst yourselves.” Katya said after she switched off the hologram. “I leave you with this warning. Do not test me. Do not take me lightly. Do not misjudge me. I will have you removed from your post or executed, it depends on how bored I am at that moment.” She stared at them in anger. “I do not like you and I do not trust you. You allowed your Emperor to be poisoned and worse, you allowed five men to embroil us in a war that has the potential to totally destroy us. I warn you, one and all right now, if you have taken one credit from official coffers I will find out. Return what you have taken, every single credit and I will overlook your deed.” She pointed an admonishing finger. “ONLY if every credit is returned and you resign your post. If it were not for this approaching war, ladies and gentlemen, I would march you all outside and have you executed. You have one week to return that which is not yours. Thereafter you are fair game.” She turned to her bodyguards. “Commence with an internal investigation and audit on every person here. Financials, housing and possessions. Not only in their personal capacities but also anything transferred to family or friends. Find everything pertinent to fraud and theft. One week from today, if nothing is rectified, kill those responsible.”copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡOdtaRqTPwY

AS YOU HAVE ORDERED SIRE. TRANSMITTING TO SATTELITES YOUR INSTRUCTIONS.  DONE.  INVESTIGATIONS ON TWO THOUSAND AND FIFTY NINE PLUS ONE DECEASED MEMBERS ON OVERLORD IN PROGRESS.  RESTRICTED ACCESS TO ACCOUNTS AND PRIVILEGED INFORMATION CIRCUMVENTED RE-EMPEROR DECREE.  INSTRUCTIONS TO FARTHEST PLANET ‘LAURIE’ ARRIVED.  ALL PLANETS HAVE RECEIVED EMPEROR DECREE.  INVESTIGATIONS HAVE COMMENCED.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡVzGvVYLoAs

“You have one week people.” She turned and walked towards the swing doors. “Oh, one more thing,” she said into the terror filled silence. “None of you will leave this hall until I have a battle plan drawn up for the Empire’s navy. You heard what Emperor Prolit said; we are in deep shit. I want plans drawn up. I want Grayvite Steele production up. I want design improvements on every single craft in our navy. I want the old farts chucked out and replaced with new blood. Should you forget anything,” she pointed at the hologram cube. “Use it. Leave the two pilots alone. They will be my responsibility. I also want credits from every planet flowing into the war chest. If I judge that not enough is coming from your planet, I will have your own personal accounts transferred instead. Your property will be sold, your family will be destitute and then I will execute you. Understand me people, prove yourselves, resign, or even better; DIE.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡM2gwrRUJju

She turned to the Polrobs hovering above the five traitors. “Remove them. Interrogate them. There is no need to be gentle.  Make sure all information is obtained before they die.” She left the silent hall amidst alarmed and terrified whispers.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡT8ImjANcpk

She smiled as she walked down the carpeted corridor.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡakTRQPPBdp

So this is what it’s like to be Emperor. I do believe I'm going to like it.copyright protection30ＰＥＮＡＮＡ40skwTbrDv

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