USURPERS 5. The Machinist: Blind Loyalty
Added On: February 21, 2013 3:30 pm
Type: Prose
Community Series: MOTU Modern
USURPERS

Written by: M. Lawson Humble

5. The Machinist: Blind Loyalty

Trydor watched his body spin away as his head rolled across the dirt. A reflected explosion of light from the sword that had decapitated him seared his darkening eyes, casting his killer in silhouette. That was the last thing he saw. “Who has killed me?” he thought in casual detachment as blood flowed out from the raw stump of his neck and as his formidable brain, starved, began to shut down. “Who? Who…”

Upon waking, the first face he saw was the handsome face of his savior. The face of the alchemist. “Who are you?” groaned the machinist. His voice was raw and ragged, and he couldn’t hold on to a coherent thought for more than a moment.

“A friend,” replied the alchemist in a soothing voice as consciousness began to slip once again from the machinist. “A dear friend. And those who ambushed you have been… punished. Painfully. By my hand.”

“…Why?”

“You truly remember nothing?” asked the alchemist in a strained voice as he knelt to hold the machinist’s hand. “Because we are friends. The best of friends. Don’t you remember? As boys, we were once inseparable. As men, our bond only deepened. Your mother was a servant in my house. She was my nurse. We shared the same milk, Trydor. In all but name and blood…” the alchemist paused, fighting back agonized tears, “we are brothers.”

Weeks later, Trydor woke suddenly. He was completely lucid, and his memory had returned. “Keldor?” he rasped. “Are you there?”

On a small cot beside the sick bed of the machinist, the alchemist stirred. “Yes, Trydor. I’m here. I’ve scarcely left your side.” Keldor stood. “Have you--”

“Yes, friend,” said Trydor with a smile. “I have regained my memory. But… with memory also comes confusion. She killed me. The captain of the royal guard beheaded me with her serpent-blade. Why… why do I still live?”

“You live,” said Keldor in a low voice, “because I saved you.”

“My vision is… strange.” The machinist reached up to touch his eyes, but instead, his deft fingers brushed against cold metal and hard plastic. “Oh, gods,” he moaned. “What has happened to me?” His hands then strayed to his neck. Large pipes and small, external artificial vessels connected his head to his body. “No… no.”

“Yes, Trydor. I did what had to be done. With skillful magic and crude science. The work is sloppy, I know, and I did my best to restore your vision. Your eyes… I fear that the captain put them out after you… died. I tried to stop her. But… I was too late. I’m sorry. I tried. I’m sorry, Trydor. I have not your skill with machinery. But you live.” Keldor squeezed his friend’s hand tighter. “By all the gods, you live. And when you have recovered sufficiently, I have no doubt that you will improve greatly upon my work.”

A month passed, and finally Trydor was well enough to stand. And soon, much too soon for Keldor’s liking, for his concern for his friend was great, Trydor began to work. He began to repair himself. But Keldor was not concerned for long. When the machinist had completed his work, he stood before his friend.

Keldor gasped. “A work of art, Trydor. You have become a work of art.”

The visor that the machinist had constructed spun and clicked into place. “Better than my natural eyes,” he declared.

“Indeed,” agreed Keldor. “For what natural eye can see through stone or banish the darkness?”

“Or level a mountain?”

Trydor shrugged. “The captain… Despite her, I can see again. But she defeated me by the sword. She took my honor. That will not stand. Where is she now? You punished her. I remember you saying that. Am I wrong? Did you capture her?”

Keldor ran his fingers through his long black hair as he said quietly, “Escaped. She escaped.”

“Then we will meet again on the field of battle.”

“She will best you again.”

“How—”

“No.” The alchemist cut his friend’s words short. “Listen to me. The captain has trained with the royal man-at-arms- her father since before she could walk. Her sword is her arm. And although you are competent- more than competent, you cannot defeat such a warrior.”

“Then what do you suggest?” asked Trydor.

“You must train harder. You must improve. We both must. For like the captain, I too was born into a life- a culture that worshipped the sword. You know this. You were a part of it. But as you also know, my interests have always leaned more toward the… academic. And so. Now. I feel I must learn that which I spurned in my youth.”

“Who will teach us then? Who has skill enough to train us?”

“I know of a man. I have made plans to travel and see him soon. You may accompany me if you feel well enough. They call him Bronze-Lord-Jitsu.”

“I see. Will he teach us?”

“Time will tell,” replied the alchemist.

And the fabled sword master, known as Bronze-Lord-Jitsu did indeed lend his sword and his services to Keldor. For years, Trydor and his brother who was not his brother trained with the master swordsman. Under his strict, ruthless guidance, they both improved. They improved so much in fact, that they both soon surpassed their teacher. But whereas Trydor’s character strengthened as his skill developed, Keldor grew bold and arrogant.

And so it was. One cold morning, in a fit of rage brought on by a perceived insult, Keldor insolently challenged the bronze-lord. The sword master accepted, and was soundly defeated.

Later that day, Trydor watched with artificial eyes as his beloved and feared master, the mighty Bronze-Lord-Jistu, whom he came to think of as a father, in disgrace, left the rough encampment where the alchemist plotted and his warriors trained, trailing blood from the ragged stump of his hastily cauterized severed arm.

At the end of the next year Keldor changed. He now had a new face. A new name. But Trydor didn’t much care. For he, too, had changed. The man who was once dead now felt more of a kinship with his sword and his machines than his brother who was not his brother. And besides, though no longer close, they worked well together. Together, they conquered a mountain, driving the slithering snakes that occupied it into lightless holes. Together they built an army. And together, the alchemist and the machinist tightened this grip around the throat of Eternia.

…………………

Trydor came into full consciousness then, vaguely disappointed by the fact that in the last few moments of his intense daily meditation, his mind strayed. That was unacceptable. He would have to try harder. But to try was to fail. He must try not to try.

He stood. Raising his hand to his visor, he flipped a series of switches. After a moment, his artificial vision was fully operational. He adjusted the complex system of tubing and wires that connected his once-severed head to his body. All was well. He breathed deep of the sterile air in his brightly-lit workshop. Today, there was to be a battle. He removed his emerald sword from its hook with reverence, and banished the residual thoughts of the bronze-lord that blossomed unbidden in his mind. Bronze-Lord-Jitsu had haunted his subconscious mind with increasing frequency for years now. But in his mind’s eye, the face of the master swordsman always changed. Always turned strange. Silver. It was the face of his father, he knew. His father, holding high a bright curved sword, as cold as ice, as sharp as death, speaking to his son, begging him to come home. But Trydor had no father. None that he could remember. But now was not the time to dwell upon such things. Some mysteries can wait. And with a mind as empty as a drained goblet and a heart as light as air, Trydor exited his clean, orderly workshop out into the filth and filthy company of the other damned souls that haunted the evil, rotten, Mountain of Snakes.

They lost the battle. His only friend, now that he and Keldor had grown apart was very nearly killed. But Trydor saved him. As so many times before, he saved him. Repaired him. And as his friend- Kronis the cybernetic madman came back online, one of their fellow warriors- the stinking ignorant beast paid them both a call. With his artificial eyes, Trydor could plainly see the countless parasites that called the matted fur of the beast home. He dared not magnify the thousands of microscopic creatures that fell to his polished, sanitized floor for fear of what he may see. “I must make the beast leave. And after he leaves, I must wash my workshop in radiation to kill these vile intruders. But,” he thought as Kronis threatened the beast, “there is something strange about him today.” He looked at Kronis, cycling through optical filters, searching for answers. “And Kronis too. What’s happening around here? I feel… odd as well. Like cold fingers are dancing on my spine.”

After the beast left, leaving behind his lice, ticks, and worse things besides, Trydor spoke his fears aloud. “What do you think he wanted, Kronis?”

Kronis answered with a question. “Who?”

“The beast.”

Trydor tried to articulate his concerns to the cybernetic madman, but it was hopeless. Kronis could not grasp the subtle implications. It was only at times like these he missed the bright intellect of his brother who was not his brother. He missed Keldor.

Kronis was called away. Trydor secured the blast doors of his workshop and waited outside in the gloomy, slimy corridor as pure unfiltered radiation scoured his sanctuary. He sat down on the uncomfortable floor and began to meditate. But as soon as thought left him, evaporating like soft dew on morning flowers, a presence entered inside of his mind.

“You want him dead, do you not?” it said in a voice of crumbling mountains. Trydor did not answer. He fought. “Let me stay,” teased the voice. “I can help you.”

“No…” grunted the machinist aloud. “I will banish you from—“

“Enough!” Trydor cried out as his brain caught fire. “It hurts, doesn’t it? Do you want it to stop? I will make the pain go away if you wish. Just listen to what I say and I will make it go away.”

Trydor submitted. The voice seemed to stretch out in his mind, making himself at home. “Who are you?”

“One with more power than your master.”

“Who do you think… is my master?” asked Trydor, thinking of the betrayed and armless Bronze-Lord-Jistu.

The voice spoke the true name of Keldor.

“He’s not my master. He’s my brother. Or at least… he was.”

The voice snorted a condescending laugh. “Then you want him dead, do you not?”

Trydor was confused. Confused and offended. “No. Of course not. What business is it of yours? We have our differences, I won’t deny, and those differences have grown over the years, but we remain bound together. Bound by family and blood and honor. We grew up together. We will rule Eternia together.”

The voice did not speak. Trydor thought- hoped that it had retreated, but he was a mindful man. He sensed its alien presence. “Now. You know my mind in regards to your distasteful suggestion,” he said quietly, fearing the pain. “Leave me.”

Shifting rocks scraped. “You… I can scarcely believe it!” Trydor winced in agony as the voice shouted and began to laugh hysterically. “Oh, he has made me proud today. Such skill. Such… subtlety. He as earned my gift to him today, if nothing else.

“Leave me alone,” groaned the machinist. “What do you… want?”

“The question is…” said the voice as its laugh receded like a wave. “Listen to me. Ask not what I want. Ask yourself what you want. What you really want. Deep down. No? I will tell you. I will tell you true: You want him dead.”

“No! For the last time—“

“Listen. Remember.”

………………..

“We’ve lost Oppenheimer, Captain,” said the young galactic scientist in a strained voice. “He’s breathed his last. There… there was no hope, Captain. His head injury was too… severe. When we… When … it happened. Like the others, he wasn’t strapped in. Not like us, Captain. Not like Senior Astronaut Erwin…”

“What? Happened? Here?” demanded the captain in anger, turning her eyes away from the dead spaceman whose head had burst like a swollen, overripe fruit. “I swear to— Will someone tell me what on Earth happened? Surely you have a theory, Erwin?”

The senior astronaut stared at his captain. She was a perfect specimen of humanity- tall, strong, beautiful, brilliant and driven. Perfection. When she was a girl, growing up on the once-welcoming, now toxic shores of the New-Californian islands, Captain Marlena Glenn often dreamed of times past, far back, hidden deep within the veiled history and true legends of her home planet of Earth. She dreamed she harbored a secret in this secret world. She dreamed she was a queen. But time passed and her mind sharpened and her imagination began to die of starvation. She soon forgot her childish ways and her foolish fantasies. She was a woman. The woman, in fact. For in addition to her illustrious career as a captain of the Earth’s Space Defenders, she was also engaged in a one-sided struggle for the presidency of the Solar system. Only weeks remained before it would be put to a vote, but the results were all but in. The incumbent, it was reported, had already begun to pack.

But Senior Astronaut Erwin looked through his captain as she spoke. He did not see her. He saw only the spinning field of unfamiliar stars wheeling around wildly through the large, domed window behind her head.

“Erwin!” shouted Captain Glenn. She slapped him. I was not a gentle slap. But the senior astronaut did not blink. He only looked at the alien constellations in numb disbelief as his mind slowly unraveled.

“Captain, if I may?” said the young galactic scientist. He had pulled a sheet over the face of the junior astronaut. Blood and liquid gray matter immediately began to soak into the thirsty, crisp, white fabric.

“Speak your mind, Ito,” replied the captain. “Speak freely. What do you think happened? Since Erwin here won’t answer me, do you have a theory?”

Galactic Scientist Takeshi Ito nodded. “Thank you, Captain. Yes, Captain, I do.”

“Well? And don’t say ‘black hole,’ or I’ll open the airlock and throw you out.” She began to check the pulses of the collapsed astronauts strewn about the bridge. Dead. All dead. And Erwin would follow them soon, she knew. He had that look about him. A look she had seen far too many times. “Well?” she repeated.

“I’ll go prepare the airlock, Captain.”

Despite all, Captain Glenn laughed. But the laugh was bitter. Hopeless. After a moment, she stood and wiped the blood of the ship’s surgeon upon her thighs. Two smeared red handprints remained on the rubbery, light green, self-cleaning spacesuit that she had worn for the better part of the last decade. “Seriously,” she said. “A black hole. Jesus, Ito.”

“Captain,” said Takeshi nervously, “please forgive me, but… yes. Yes. That is what I believe has happened to us.” She looked deep into his light-brown almond shaped eyes, and he into the sparkling emeralds that were hers. “Captain,” he added suddenly before looking away quickly.

“Where are we then? The…” With a sigh, Captain Glenn threw herself into a padded chair and attempted to pull up their coordinates on the ocu-screen. “The mapping is all wrong.”

Galactic Scientist Ito moved another chair in front of the monitor. “Captain, all due respect, Captain, but…” He navigated through the menus of the ocu-screen with a series of practiced blinks and forced dilations of his pupils. “These are our coordinates, Captain. This… this is no known galaxy.”

“A black hole. Damn it all.” Captain Glenn sighed again. “We’re the first through. No one else has survived being sucked into a black hole… Am I correct?”

“Impossible to say, Captain,” said Takeshi, “because none have ever returned.”

“So we’re trapped?”

“I… would count that as a certainty… Captain.”

Captain Glenn asked quietly, “Can’t we just enter another hole?”

“To where would it lead, Captain? Not the Solar system to be sure. The odds of that would be… impossible. And that’s on top of assuming we would survive another passage.”

“No, Ito. No, of course not,” said the captain, shaking her head. “You’re right. I was just thinking aloud.” She removed her helmet and threw it on an empty couch. It rolled off and came to rest, nuzzling against the broken neck of a dead man. Her messy, but still beautiful copper-red hair tumbled down until it reached her shoulders. She pushed away a few loose strands and allowed the disguise of captain to fall away for but a fleeting moment. That time of vulnerability, however, was all the young galactic scientist needed to understand his heart. He was in love. “What are you looking at, Ito?”

“Nothing, Captain,” replied the scientist.

“See that you continue lusting after ‘nothing,’ Ito, and I’m sure you will come out of this ordeal without a broken nose. She tied her hair back. A microscopic smile was written across the attractive age-lines of her pursed mouth.

“What should we do about the cleanup, Captain?” asked Ito, attempting to regain his composure. “What should we do about the… bodies?”

“Freeze them,” sighed the captain. “We will freeze them. You must understand,” she said, reading his face. We may not find another inhabitable planet in this new galaxy. Dimension? Parallel realm? Wherever the hell we are. We may not set foot upon land again. Ever. But…”

“But? Captain?”

“But land or no, we must explore.” And despite the horror that surrounded them , the captain’s heart rejoiced, for such an opportunity- such a wonderful adventure was now laid out before her like a rich feast. A feast fit for a queen. She was a child again. Her imagination had returned from the dead. It was hungry. “Now step lively, Ito. Grab a leg. Grab an arm. Get those bodies in cryolock storage.”

As they worked, neither commented on the unspoken reasoning for the preservation of their deceased shipmates.

After a year together, the words ‘Captain’ and ‘Ito’ vanished from their vocabulary. Only Marlena and Takeshi remained. This was their paradise. This was their home. Naming stars. Conducting experiments. Theorizing. Inventing. Marlena shared her vast knowledge with Takeshi. Politics. Music. Fine Art. And he shared stories of his childhood with her. Fascinating stories of his father- the famous master swordsman that ruled the strange, feudal state of Hiroshima IV in the vast continent of the United States of Chi-Pan upon the Earth. But that world was far behind them. They were now in paradise. And they were the new Adam and Eve. The genesis of an old species in a new frontier.

The baby came early. It was weak, but Marlena, with Takeshi’s help, delivered their child with great skill even though neither of them had ever undertaken medical training.

“I… don’t hear crying,” whispered an exhausted Marlena in a dreamy, drowsy voice. “Is he… she unwell?”

“He is a boy, my love. And yes, something is wrong. He’s not breathing. He’s… gray.” With a racing mind, but with a steady hand, Takeshi unwound the cord from around the unresponsive infant’s neck. “He’s… He. Oh. Oh! There he goes! That’s it, son! Breathe!”

And the interior of the ship- named The Rainbow Warrior, then exploded with the happy, echoing sounds of new life.

Their son, still unnamed, began to put on weight over the following weeks, and his parents rejoiced. “But what kind of life will he have,” they thought in their darker moments, “when we’re gone?” But Marlena and Takeshi were both practical people. They lived in the present. They did not dwell upon such thoughts for long. And for that reason, they were happy.

“Marlena!” cried Takeshi on star-filled day that was as black as all the others. “On the ocu-screen! Come here! A planet! Life! I’m receiving evidence of habitation! Wait… Wait! Sentient habitation!” Marlena, with babe in arms, came running. She passed off the gurgling child to his father and immediately rechecked Takeshi’s readings. After a while, she looked up at him with watery eyes filled with hope and wonder. To Takeshi, she appeared more beautiful that he had ever seen. “How long do you think until we reach… our new home?” he asked.

“The atmosphere is breathable,” she said. “The temperature… perfect. But... Don’t get ahead of yourself, Takeshi. Weeks. Perhaps a month. And who knows what will meet us when we land? Death, more likely than not.” But as she said this, her smile did not shrink.

Five weeks later, all preparations for a landing had been made. The alien planet was now set before them like an iridescent pearl upon a jeweler’s black cloth.

“Hush, baby. We will land soon. Tomorrow, perhaps? Maybe we will find some friends for you to play with.” Even though she didn’t truly believe what she was saying, it made Marlena feel good to speak the foolish hope aloud. The baby burrowed into his mother’s arms, cooing and grunting by way of reply. “Now, my love. Bedtime. Sleep well, for soon, you will be home.”

Their little family would indeed find a new home, but not together. Never again together. For not two days had passed before their tentative hopes and careful plans were extinguished. Smothered.

“What’s happening, Takeshi?” barked Marlena- reclaiming some of her old edge from when she was captain.

“The heat shields!” groaned the former galactic scientist. “We’re losing them.”

The baby began to cry.

“There’s no hope, then?” Dammit, Takeshi! Talk to me! Options! What can we do?”

“Strap in and hope for a miracle…” he said in barely a whisper.

“The baby?”

Takeshi bit his knuckle in agony and spoke these horrible words. “He will die. He will not survive the entry. He’s too little. Too… brittle.” The ship began to shake violently. Marlena held her baby tighter. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Marlena. And it… it’s far too late to turn back now. Gravity has taken hold. We’re stuck in the final descent. And the controls. The controls are beginning to melt. With any luck ,” he added as he choked back tears, avoiding the wild, confused gaze of his son,” we will die with him…”

Marlena was silent and closed her eyes as she listened to Takeshi speak. Her eyes shot open in fear as the turbulence grew in intensity. And then, once the shaking had subsided for a moment, and after she had steadied herself, she lay their screaming baby down in his crib and turned to face Takeshi. “No,” she whispered. “No!” She grabbed him. She lifted him out of his chair and threw him back down in it with unexpected strength and violence. “No, Takeshi! It will not end like this for him! It will not end this way!” She kicked the chair between his legs, fracturing three of her toes, even through the padding of her heavy space boot. She did not feel the pain. “Now!” she barked. “If you’ve finished giving up, you coward, stand and help me think of a solution!”

Ashamed of his weakness, Takeshi immediately rose and said, “Marlena. Forgive me. This is no time for despair.”

She smiled sadly. And then she ship jerked with such force that the two lovers fell into each other’s arms, one supporting the other. “Think. What do we need? What can we do?” hissed Marlena into Takeshi’s ear with an urgent whisper.

Takeshi suddenly untangled himself from his love and sprinted to his small workshop. Half a dozen projects lay strewn about in various states of completion. Due to the turbulence, much of his equipment lay shattered on the floor.

“What’s your plan?” called out Marlena, who was now attempting to pacify the infant.

Takeshi’s voice rose over the death-groans of their doomed spaceship. “We will jettison him! I’m building an escape pod- an artificial womb!”

“But our shields are dissolving! He will burn up!”

“Dissolved, Marlena. Our shields have already dissolved. But we’ve come through the worst. We’ve punched far enough into the atmosphere, so the effects on the pod—” He grunted as another shudder of the ship forced him to crack his head on a low-hanging shelf. He cursed, and then continued. “The heat related effects on the pod will not be a concern. He needs padding, though. And oxygen. The womb needs armor.” The grating sound of sheared metal and an explosion of crackling sparks followed his words.

“Hurry!” pleaded Marlena, though her lover did not hear.

After five excruciating minutes, Takeshi finished his desperate project and ran to Marlena’s side. She investigated the small black pod. It looked like a coffin. A coffin for an infant. “Oh, Takeshi,” she moaned. “Is this truly our only chance?”

“Yes,” he replied grimly. “It is his only chance… We need to get him away from the ship.”

“Will we explode?”

“Yes. We will wear blast suits, but…” Takeshi did not finish the thought. He said, “We must be strong, Marlena. We can’t wait any longer. Put him in and seal… seal him. Seal him up.”

Along with the baby, his parents were also crying hysterically. Takeshi and Marlena both kissed the baby’s brow, nearly drowning him in tears, and secured the pod. That would be the last time they gazed upon their child for many decades. It was easier to work, now that the cries and screams of the baby were muffled by cold black metal.

“I trust you attached a homing device,” said Marlena as she attempted to compose herself and become the captain she once was.

“No time,” replied Takeshi. “But don’t worry. We’ll find him.”

“Well then. Let’s hurry. Send him away.”

And they did. The tiny escape pod- the metal womb- the baby coffin was jettisoned. They watched through a porthole as the infant screamed downward toward a heavily forested area upon the face of the unknown alien planet so much like the Earth. And in on a handful of hours after he crash landed, the baby would be discovered by he who would raise him with love as his own. He would be discovered by the ancient green guardian of the verdant forest. In time, the boy’s adventures would become legendary- his triumphs undying, but those are tales for another story.

“Let us prepare ourselves,” said Takeshi wearily.

Marlena nodded and squeezed his hand. “What will happen…” she began.

“Will happen,” added Takeshi.

Marlena and Takeshi held hands and looked into each other’s eyes as the ship- The Rainbow Warrior- once the proudest ship in the fleet of planet Earth’s Space Defender force slammed into the foothills of a great snow-capped mountain range and immediately exploded.

Many of the inhabitants of the planet witnessed the fall of the alien ship and its breathtaking end. A handful of them set out to investigate.

Marlena was paralyzed when she woke. Takeshi could see the fear in her wild eyes. He longed to call out to her, but he too was crushed and mangled. A pile of smoking boulders pinned him down, crushing the very breath from his body. He struggled to stay conscious, even though the promise of painless oblivion tempted him greatly.

Marlena began to wail. Like a dying animal, she moaned until her voice was raw.

“Look at me,” he pleaded quietly in a bloody wheeze. But even if she could hear him, or even if she could turn her head, she would see nothing but the remains of the charred spaceship and a thousand, ash-smeared sandy rocks. The top half of Takeshi’s face was the only part of his body that was not buried, but it was shrouded in deep, hot shadows.

He was sure she had died. She made no sound for many hours.

“Very well,” thought Takeshi then, making up his mind. “She is gone. So I will give in and greet the absolute nothingness by her side.”

But she was not dead. And two men approached. She twitched and gurgled as they lay gentle hands upon her. One wore dented, dull orange armor that protected him like a carapace. The other was a huge man. A mighty warrior by the looks of him. His chestnut-brown beard was streaked with shocks of bright white, and despite the map of old scars that traced paths across his face, he was still handsome. There was a noble look of equal parts compassion, suspicion, and kindness in his dark eyes. It was a kingly face.

The men spoke to one another. Then to Marlena. They both began to search the area though they stayed close to Marlena the whole while.

“Are they looking for me?”

At that moment, Takeshi would have given anything to utter a single word. A single syllable. But his dry, swollen, and bruised mouth would not obey.

The strange men quickly abandoned the search. Takeshi didn’t blame them. There was Marlena to think of. And with great care, they lifted her into their odd vehicle and sped off, leaving the former galactic scientist to die on his own, so far from his home.

“Steady on, fools! Careful!”

Takeshi pulled himself out of a horrible nightmare and then quickly realized that the nightmare was his new reality.

A two headed monster loomed large over him. Its heads argued. Cream colored pus oozed from the ragged, infected, sewn-up seam that connected the two mismatched creatures. Not far off, a giant humanoid lobster pulverized rocks with his formidable right claw. And standing next to the two headed horror, a being more dinosaur, more lizard than man, lifted great boulders from the cairn that was to be Takeshi’s tomb and threw them a hundred yards away. As soon as another boulder broke into thousands of pieces, the creature hooted and cracked his long green-scaled tail like a whip in near-mindless ecstasy.

“Get him out, idiots!” shouted a commanding voice- clearly the voice of the leader of this colorful cabal. His frustration was evident. “Hurry!”

“I got him, boss,” said one head of two-head.

“No, I got him!” argued the other head.

“Just! Be! Careful!” shouted the leader. “I can’t believe Captain Randor passed up this prize. A pity we were not here in time to take the woman…”

“Sorry, boss,” said a head of two-head. “Tuvar entered the wrong coordinates.

“I did not!” growled the other head- Tuvar apparently. “You did!”

“It appears that I must enjoy surrounding myself with idiots,” sighed the leader theatrically. “But that will change today. Hello,” he said to Takeshi. “I am Keldor. Unsurpassed master alchemist and rightful ruler of planet Eternia. I am king here.”

“You’re not king, boss,” said the twenty foot tall lobster-man. “Miro is.”

“He’s right,” agreed the reptilian monster with whip tail.

Keldor sighed again and continued speaking to Takeshi. “Do you see what I must endure, alien? My own warriors do not even acknowledge their rightful king. Fools. Incompetent wastes. But…” Keldor touched the Earthman’s fevered brow. Takeshi cried out in sudden pain. “Oh, yes. You’re a bright one. I can already tell. You’ll do.” Keldor smiled a warm, reassuring smile.

“I… want Ma… Marlena. Where?” rasped Takeshi.

“Marlena?” said Keldor. “The woman? The woman stolen by Randor? She’s a bit old for you, don’t you think? But,” he shrugged, “trapped in a cramped ship for gods know how long… Believe me. I understand. I didn’t get a good look at her face, but her form was… well, quite lovely now that I come to speak of it.”

“Kill… you…”

A practiced look of injury passed over Keldor’s face like a cloud. “You wound me, sir. I’m here,” he opened his hands in a gesture of peace, “to rescue you. If you can’t see that, I forgive you. I understand that you have been through much.”

“Go… to hell”

Keldor frowned. “I’m far from certain to where you’re referring, alien, but I know an insult when I hear one. Enough of this. I’ll either rescue you or I won’t. It’s your choice. I’m quite content to leave you here for the wild monstroids. They will swarm over you, pull the meat from your bones, and use it as organic fodder for their grotesque experiments. Would you prefer that fate, or should I rescue you?” Takeshi grunted. “I’ll take that as a yes.” Keldor turned and shouted. “Why are you standing around, morons? Move those rocks! Help our new friend!” Keldor’s warriors obeyed. “Now. Let’s see what kind of shape you’re in.” Keldor laughed with feigned embarrassment. “I’m sorry. I never asked your name. Well? What is it?

“Ta… Takeshi. Takeshi Ito,” said Takeshi through gritted teeth. One of the rocks had shifted and was pressing into the raw nerves of his lower back.

Keldor made a sour face. “That won’t do,” he said. “I’m sure I will be able to come up with something more… suitable.” The towering lobster-man picked up the last large boulder that rested upon the Earthling’s back. He threw it at whip-tail’s feet. It shattered and both creatures roared- one with laughter, one with anger.

“Tuvar. Baddrah. Help him to his feet.” Two-head picked up Takeshi. The Earthling shouted for mercy, but apparently, that was a virtue unfamiliar to the monsters. “Does it hurt?” asked Keldor, though of course, he knew the answer.

“Y… Yes. Help… me…”

Keldor smiled and approached Takeshi. “Let him go,” he said to his warriors. Takeshi swayed like a drunkard, but kept his footing. “Very good. So now—“

And without warning, before Keldor could finish his thought, the astronaut sprung. He slammed his shoulder into the alchemist’s neck, bowling him over. Keldor flipped head-over-heels, cracking his skull upon a rock.

Takeshi lowered his head and ran. He did not look back. He heard sounds of pursuit, but could not bear to catch a glimpse of their hungry, dull eyes.

He did not run far, though. He tripped. A hand, stripped of skin an muscle emerged from the very ground itself, greedily grabbing at his ankle. Takeshi succeeded in freeing himself, but soon, other hands burst through the hard ground. There was no escape. He was captured.

The alchemist caught up with Takeshi. Keldor’s blue face went a shade of bright purple and his polite manner fell off like cloak. “Ingrate!” he shouted, inches away from his prisoner’s face.

The Earthling grunted and slammed his forehead into the bridge of the alchemist’s nose. With a meaty crunch and a messy spurt, it broke. Keldor howled.

Takeshi kicked free of the hands of the dead and began to sprint once more. His destination was in the direction of where the two men took his Marlena. He traveled perhaps fifty yards before he was caught again. This time, he crumpled as his neck exploded. He had been shot. He faintly heard the alchemist scream as reality and consciousness began to slip.

“Fool! Idiot! I need him alive!”

In unison, both heads of two-head replied sheepishly, “Sorry, boss.”

“But it was Baddrah’s fault,” added Tuvar. “He pulled the trigger. I just held the blaster.”

Baddrah attempted to explain. “I… was just aiming for his leg, boss. I swear!”

“Then. You. Missed!” shrieked Keldor. He inhaled deeply, composing himself. “You!” he barked to whip-tail. “Go get him! And go about it gently! Maybe I can still salvage something from this… this… disaster.”

Takeshi had fallen to his knees. With shaking hands, he packed the gory hole with a dirty shred of his thick but destroyed blast suit and tied his leather belt around his neck in a desperate attempt to stay the flow of blood. And he was lucky. The flow soon stopped, for the intense heat of the laser-blast had cauterized the wound.

The humanoid dinosaur-lizard with the whip-tail then attempted to pick up the hunched astronaut.

Miraculously fueled by raw adrenaline, grief, and anger, Takeshi grabbed a long dagger from whip-tail’s boot as the monster leaned in. He then plunged the chipped, rusty blade in between the horrifying creature’s green scales and into its belly. He twisted the blade. Warm guts escaped onto Takeshi’s hand and the creature howled.

“Give me that!” said Keldor as he grabbed a sword from two-head’s belt. Two-head watched with slack jaws as their master ran toward the Earthling. “Get up!” he screamed to Takeshi.

Takeshi rose as whip-tail fell. Dying and in unspeakable agony, the enforcer of Keldor exhaled his life away with one gurgling splutter.

Without warning, Keldor’s sword blazed downward. Takeshi parried the blow. A dozen more blows followed.

When the cold dust settled, much to Keldor’s astonishment, Takeshi still lived. He had succeeded in turning all of Keldor’s vicious strikes.

“How… How can you do… Where did you learn—“

“My father taught me,” rasped Takeshi in a shredded voice. He held the ugly entrails-covered knife-sword in front of his own eyes. The makeshift bandage and the belt around the Earthman’s neck had come loose in the clash. Keldor could see the golden horizon through the freshly burned hole in his opponent’s neck. “He was a master. Is a master.”

“So there are masters of the sword upon your planet?”

“There are in Hiroshima IV.”

The alchemist shook his head. “This gets better,” he smiled. “In addition to possessing technical brilliance, you have some skill with a blade. I do wish you’d cooperate… I really could use you,” he added wearily. “Though you could stand some more training.”

“When I fight… which is rare these days, I fight only for honor,” said Takeshi Ito in a hoarse whisper. “And although I hardly know you, Keldor, I can already see you have none.”

All trace of humor left the alchemist’s handsome face. “You… dare?”

Takeshi beckoned with his free hand. “Come at me again, and see what I dare.”

Keldor charged. They fought for several more minutes as the lobster-man and two-head watched on, eager to witness another death.

When the two swordsmen separated once again, both men were exhausted. Takeshi could barely stand. But he had suffered not a scratch by Keldor’s blade. Keldor, on the other hand, was bleeding from several small wounds. He was beginning to feel faint.

“I can find… Marlena for you,” offered the alchemist through gasps for breath. “I will rescue her and bring her to your side. To your bed.”

“You will not touch her!” shouted Takeshi. The inflamed walls of the hole that tunneled through his throat and out the other side split open and he gagged upon the released fluids. Coughing, he said, “Now go. Leave me alone. I’ve defeated you. Don’t force me to kill you.” Keldor stepped closer, circling the Earthling. “Leave me alone!”

“Never,” said Keldor. He dropped his sword and whispered an abominable incantation.

Takeshi could not move. He was frozen by a spell. But he wasn’t surprised by the reprehensible tactic. For it was as the Earthling surmised- there was no honor in Keldor.

The alchemist bent over and picked up his sword. He raised it. The lobster-man laughed and drooled stupidly. Two-head clumsily clapped his mismatched hands in anticipation.

And Takeshi Ito, galactic scientist of the Earth’s Space Defenders, son of master swordsman Bokken Ito, wielder of the magic sword ‘Invincible Frost Silver,’ lover of Captain Marlena Glenn, who, if fate had not had its way, would have won the office of the Sol Presidency- therefore becoming the ruler of the entire Solar system, lost his head.

Takeshi watched his body spin away as his head rolled across the dirt. A reflected explosion of light from the sword that had decapitated him seared his darkening eyes, casting his killer in silhouette.

From far away, a voice, the voice of the simple lobster-man said, “Can I have his eyes, boss? They look tasty.”

“Sure,” replied Keldor. “Why not?”

And the alchemist gouged them out.

…………………

Takeshi Ito- Trydor sat in silence until his racing mind and buzzing body began to calm. The memories were true. All of them. Of that, he had no doubt. There was no childhood in the court of Keldor’s family. There was only Earth. His father. The Academy. Swords and science. The crash. Marlena. Birth. Death. Lies. Marlena. His Marlena was now queen of all Eternia. Wife of King Randor. Mother of Prince Adam. “She has forgotten me,” he thought. “But why shouldn’t she? I am dead. Ito is dead. Only Trydor remains. Trydor. A fabricated name for a fabricated life.”

“Now,” said the rocky voice with a snort inside of Trydor’s head. “I will ask my question again: You want him dead, do you not?”

This time, Trydor nodded. “Yes.”

“Then go. Kill.”

End of Part Five.
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