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High-Noslead Risnes Sala scanned the report before tossing the sheets of thin plastic on his desk in disgust. “Inferior stock, without a doubt.”
“Agreed,” said First-Solicitor Cron Sinol, the other Sol-Kor officer in the room. “Yet the system is lightly defended and so the harvest should be uneventful.”
“It will take a dozen such crops to equal one from the choice worlds.”
Sala stopped there, not wishing to speak ill of the Queen’s decisions, and especially not in front of a subordinate. Yet Cron Sinol was a close confidant of the High-Noslead, having served with him in two other dimensions and through countless harvests. He knew Sala would welcome the opportunity to speak his mind without fear of reprisal.
“The Queen wishes the others time to fulfil her demands before proceeding to their core worlds,” Sinol said. “News of this harvest—as well as the others—will only serve to hasten their actions.”
Sala crossed to the huge observation window set in the bulkhead of his private compartment and stared out at the distant ball of light that was the target world. From this vantage point he could see at least a dozen of the hundred beam platforms speeding past his flagship on their way to encircle the planet. It would take another forty standard hours before the beam saturation could begin, and then another twenty before the harvesters would land. And that was when the truly tedious work began, the often weeks-long collection of the near-comatose stock. There was also a deadline to be met since the Sol-Kor preferred their food to be fresh, not spoiled. Most breeds would succumb to the elements within just a few days, their fallen bodies soon dying and with rot setting in; however, even after this the crop would remain in acceptable condition for several days thereafter, since most of the wild animals on the planet would have succumbed to the effects of the pulse beam as well. But the lower life forms, along with various forms of bacteria, would begin to take their toll on the crop.
That was why the reaper fleet was so large, with over ten thousand harvesters. Yet even with that number of ships, the job was never completed in time. The most High-Noslead Sala could hope for was a forty to fifty percent retrieval. The rest of the population would be left to decay, along with whatever signs of civilization the species may have achieved by the time of their premature extinction. Even with more ships concentrating on a single world, the most Sala could hope for would be upwards of sixty percent. That was why he chose to spread his four reaper fleets amongst four target worlds at a time and pull off the freshest stock without too much effort, rather than rush to salvage what was often a quickly decaying crop.
But now he was under orders not to pursue the richest stock yet found—in any universe! That, in itself, was inexplicable.
“You know I would concentrate all the fleets on a single world of the prime stock if given the opportunity,” he said to Sinol without turning from the viewport. “I could then deliver to the Colony a near one hundred percent harvest of the finest stock we’ve ever found. There are at least a thousand such worlds in this galaxy alone, and this is only the beginning of our excursion into this dimension. Imagine what other riches we will find.”
“I agree, and you know full well that once Panur is returned to the Colony that the Queen will give you the proper authorization. You need only patience.”
Now Sala turned from the window. “Patience?” he snapped. “You think I feel this way from a lack of patience? No, it is because I have read the reports—as have you, First-Solicitor. In the relatively short time we have been here, the natives of this galaxy have been able to defeat our anchor fleet and destroy two portal arrays. They have also managed to find a way to neutralize Panur’s supposedly impervious pulse beam. But worst of all, they managed in infiltrate our universe and attack the Queen! Never before in our history has such events taken place…at least not in respect to an assault on the Queen herself. Now each day that passes without us confronting the superior species of this galaxy they are afforded the opportunity to mount an even more effective defense, indeed, possibly even an offensive force to send against us.”
Cron Sinol shifted nervously in his chair. “Much of the blame for the earlier defeats was placed on Noslead Vosmin, as well as Panur’s collaboration with the food stock called Human. Only through his efforts could they have taken such an action against the Queen.”
“I care not where blame is placed,” Sala barked. “All I care about are results. We waste our time picking at the scraps along the edge of this field, while the true bounty is sitting right before us. And by harvesting the richest crops in this galaxy we would also eliminate the threat they pose. It’s the best solution all around.”
“I’m sure the Queen is aware of that as well, yet she desires Panur to be returned before advancing. Her overtures have been made to the superior races; she must let the process mature. If that fails, then she will make a blanket appeal to the entire galaxy. As in the past, Panur will be returned.”
“And why, Sinol? Why must he always be returned? We already have the means to travel between universes and subdue entire worlds with his trans-dimensional portals and pulse beam. In the time it takes the natives here to find and return the mutant, I could have harvested a thousand worlds, which would allow for even more growth for the Colony. Is that not our sole purpose for existing—for the good of the Colony?”
“And in the opinion of the Queen, having Panur once again within her Court also serves the Colony,” the First-Solicitor countered. “We are not privy to the goings on within the upper chambers of the hive; we do not know what purpose Panur will serve once he’s returned. Yet the Queen commands it, and so it shall be done.”
Sala turned back to the viewport. “Of course it will be done, Sinol. I have not achieved such a high ranking by going against my Queen, and I will not go against her now. Yet I, too, hold the Colony’s wellbeing as my main priority. So here are my new orders: Expedite the harvest of this inferior crop. Settle on thirty percent if need be, but have us out of here in eight standard days and on to the next target.”
“Thirty percent! That’s unheard of—”
“Just do it,” Sala commanded. “If the Queen wishes for the natives of this galaxy to return the alien, then we must give them the incentive to do so, and sooner rather than delay. We should harvest as many worlds as we can, as fast as we can, and make sure the powers here know of it. Let them fear us even more than they already do. Let them believe that their only salvation lies in Panur’s return.”
“I see the logic, High-Noslead,” said Sinol. “And if we move in closer to the core worlds, that will evoke even more anticipation on their part.”
“Precisely. That way the Queen gets her precious mutant returned and we will be free to act sooner before the natives are able to mount a defense against us. Sinol, I am not about to let the finest crop we’ve ever detected go to waste, not when it is within our grasp. I will abide by the Queen’s wishes, yet I will also do all I can to speed up the process.”
Sinol smiled. “And that is why you have achieved the rank you have in such a short time, my High-Noslead. You are one to be admired and emulated.”
“Agreed,” said Sala without conceit. “Now go and coordinate the shortened harvest. Next we move closer to the core worlds of the Juireans and the Humans. And then let’s see how long it takes them to find the Queen’s elusive mutant.”
Adam Cain is an Alien with an Attitude.
His adventures continue…
“Dammit Panur! You can’t go around building trans-dimensional portals in a person’s garage without telling them first!”
Adam Cain was livid as he circled the twelve-foot tall, rectangular doorway that filled the center of his three-car garage. Because of the unwanted contraption and its clutter of supporting paraphernalia, his new Ford Escalade SUV sat in the driveway, exposed to the elements.
“I built the portal for you,” the tiny alien said, “as a reward for all you’ve done for me.”
“I appreciate the gesture, but what the hell am I supposed to do with it?”
Even though Panur had only been around Humans for a short time he had already adopted many of their facial expressions…and the one he now displayed was that of shock. “What to do with it? If I didn’t know better, I would believe you were being facetious. This is a doorway to all universes, a way to reach every star, and you can’t imagine a use for it? Personally, I find such portals to be quite enjoyable and mentally stimulating.”
Adam was about to say that what was enjoyable and mentally stimulating to a five-thousand-year-old mutant alien wasn’t quite the same for a flesh-and-blood Human being, but he held his tongue. Despite his outward show of anger, he was actually in awe of the device. Once activated, it would lead to any number of matching doorways located across multiple dimensions, a concept which to Adam was the very definition of a miracle. And yet here it was, built in a single week, and out of spare parts he had lying around his garage.
Panur may be an often rude, condescending, and even child-like being, yet there was no denying his genius.
Through the fog of anger, Adam couldn’t fault the alien for his creative enthusiasm. He truly was like a child who had just learned to ride a bike—and now you couldn’t get him off of it. His curiosity was so insatiable and his intellect so vast, that he couldn’t sit still for very long before rushing off to work on the next revolutionary invention or discovery. The quest for knowledge was his entire reason for being.
So if it hadn’t been a trans-dimensional portal filling his garage when he returned to Lake Tahoe, it would have been something else.
“I thought you were trying to keep the Sol-Kor from finding you? Won’t they be able to detect the doorway and trace it back here? And what’s to keep those flesh-eating bastards from coming through when you turn it on? As a matter of fact, I assume you’ve already tested it….”
“It is quite safe and anonymous,” Panur countered. “I assigned a micronomic wave signature to the gateway and then routed the signal through several other dimensional dipolar neutron sources. It will be quite impossible to trace.”
Adam wobbled his head at the pale-skinned alien, confounded by what he’d just heard. For his part, Panur was genuinely hurt—and upset. Obviously, he’d been expecting a different reaction from Adam, and now he met the Human’s angry glare with one of his own.
“You realize you are the only creature on the planet Earth of have such a device? I would expect you to be more appreciative.”
“This universe is large enough as it is. Why would I need a way to reach countless others?”
“I thought Humans were innately curious creatures, explorers and conquerors. Maybe my assessment was wrong.”
Adam shook his head. “Unlike you, we don’t have an eternity to check out every little nook and cranny in the universe. We have be pick and choose where we go and what we do. But the real point here is the danger the portal poses—for all of us. You say it’s safe and can’t be traced. Well, you obviously know more about these things than I do, so I’ll have to trust you on that one. But it is a link to any other doorway with the proper pin number. The Klin built a portal, too—a larger one for sure—and look what we got…the Sol-Kor. So be honest, you don’t know what’s going to come through that thing, do you?”
“It can link only with similarly-sized portals, and like I said, nothing can enter from other dimensions unless I give them access.”
“Is that what all that technical gobbledygook meant?”
Panur’s condescension was palpable. “And you Humans are supposedly the superior race within this galaxy.”
“We never said we were the most-scientifically advanced,” Adam shot back. “Just that we pack the most devastating right cross.”
“A reference to boxing terminology—meaning your race is the best at fighting—yes, I acknowledge that. Yet I see much more potential for your species than you obviously do. Humans should really begin living up to that potential.”
It was nearing nine in the evening and Adam was exhausted. Prior to his trip to Phoenix, he had been trying his best to keep the irascible alien entertained, ever since his unannounced arrival at Adam’s doorstep three weeks before. But since Panur never slept and his interests included everything, the task had proved to be exhausting, to say the least. The five days he’d just spent in meetings with the leadership of the Orion-Cygnus Union had come as a welcome reprieve. But now he was back home, and with Panur his ever-frenetic self again.
“Just do me a favor, don’t turn it on unless you tell me,” Adam finally said, wanting to end the conversation and get to bed. “And don’t go building anything else without giving me a heads-up. Agreed?”
Panur recoiled from the intensity of Adam’s question.
“My ship? What did you do to my ship?”
“While you were gone I made some needed improvements—”
Adam was out the garage a moment later and sprinting toward the huge hangar that housed his prized possession, with Panur scurrying close behind. The Pegasus II was already the fastest starship in the galaxy, incorporating eight focusing rings within its relatively small frame. What the insubordinate alien could have done to improve upon that was anyone’s guess.
As Adam entered the hangar, it didn’t take him long to notice the first of Panur’s so-called improvements. “What the hell are those?” he said, pointing to a pair of long tubes now attached to each side of the hull and running twenty feet forward to aft.
“They are beam disruptors,” Panur answered proudly. He stepped up to the hull and placed a hand on one of the foreign objects. “I’m aware my suppressor beam has caused considerable problems for those within your universe, and even though the primitive wave-interference system the Klin scientists developed is somewhat effective, I’ve created a passive device that requires no effort on your part. Although you are personally resistant to the beam’s effects, this device will protect others who do not have such an immunity.”
Adam had to fight hard to remain angry. Having a truly effective answer to the Sol-Kor mind-suppressing pulse beam would be a god-send and could save countless lives. And Panur was right. Adam’s implanted Formilian artificial telepathy device did keep him from falling completely under the beam’s influence; however, it still gave him one hell of a headache.
Despite all this, Adam couldn’t let Panur off the hook that easy.
“Okay, the beam disruptor thingy is cool,” he conceded, “but I didn’t ask you to do it. Did you do anything else to the ship?”
When Panur hesitated, Adam simply crossed his arms and leaned back against a workbench, glaring down at the four-foot tall alien. “Lay it on me,” he demanded. “I’m sure that whatever you’ve done will be fine…it’s just that I don’t like anyone messing with my stuff.”
“I do apologize if I’ve overstepped my boundaries, yet once I reveal all I have done, I’m sure you will be very grateful. Or maybe not, considering your reaction to the TD-portal.”
The mutant alien wasn’t used to having his inventions so easily discounted, and his anger matched that of his host. After a tense moment, he continued. “As I’ve mentioned many times before, gravity-well engines are very inefficient and consume far too much energy, so I added a secondary warp field—”
“You screwed with my engines? What the hell were you thinking? The Pegasus was fine just the way she was.”
“Yet I have made a substantial upgrade.”
“Again without permission.”
“You are being unreasonable, Adam Cain!” Panur barked. “Even the Sol-Kor do not possess this technology—you should feel privileged to be the only being in any universe with such a propulsion system. Yet you complain even before you know all the facts.”
“You are one obnoxious and arrogant alien,” Adam growled.
“The same can be said of you!”
The two creatures faced off in a glaring contest again. This time, Adam blinked first.
“Dammit, Panur…just tell me what did you did to my engines.”
“I converted them into what I call dimensional-phase shifters, which is a hybrid system employing wormhole technology and a refined gravity-drive. Theoretically, it should increase your maximum transit velocity by a factor of three.”
“Theoretically? You mean you don’t know…hell, does the damn thing even work?”
Panur’s eyes grew wide. “Forgive me, Mister Cain, but to me the word theoretical is merely a place-keeping term I use prior to confirmation. I have never achieved less than a ninety-six-point-two percent success rate on anything I have built. You must remember, I am the most-intelligent being in the universe.”
“I haven’t forgotten; you won’t let me forget.”
Adam looked around at the interior of the hangar and noticed a whole array of new parts and equipment scattered about. “So where did you get all the stuff to upgrade the engines…and also to build a TD-portal in my garage?”
“I admit, I did have to acquire additional items and construction tools, many of which were quite difficult to locate here on Earth,” Panur conceded.
“And I’m sure they also cost money.”
“You are correct, and a rather large amount, if I understand Human credits properly.”
Adam’s anger resurfaced. “You didn’t hack into my bank accounts, did you?” Financially, Adam was pretty well-off these days—thanks to his celebrity—yet he wasn’t that rich. A knot formed in his gut.
Noticing the panic sweep over the Human’s face, Panur quickly replied, “Calm yourself, Adam Cain. I used my own credits. Your finances are untouched and intact.”
Panur’s answer only made Adam more confused. First of all, he didn’t know the alien had any of his own money. And secondly, if he did, where did he get it?
Anticipating the next question, Panur continued. “In your absence I made a visit to the city located not far from here.”
“You went into South Lake Tahoe?”
“More correctly, the city of Stateline.”
“Need I ask why?”
“To engaged in your games of chance—gambling, you call it—although I must say the experience wasn’t very challenging.”
“And you won, of course,” Adam stated rather than asked. “How much?”
“Six million, nine hundred eight thousand…before I was restricted from participating any longer.”
Adam’s jaw fell slack. “You won over six million dollars…how?” he stammered.
“By calculating the odds and then employing progressive betting. I would have won much more, but I was only allowed approximately twenty minutes per establishment before being asked to leave, and then it took nearly a full day for your law enforcement personnel to verify that I had not cheated. I believe the fact that I am not of this planet made them very suspicious of my gains. And as a point of contention, they also made some rather rude remarks regarding my biological pedigree.”
“Can you blame them, about questioning whether you cheated or not? Those games aren’t designed for people will win. Just the opposite. And now you’ve gone out in public and caused a scene,” Adam scolded. “What about the Sol-Kor? You say they have spies everywhere, even on Earth. You do know there are security cameras throughout the casinos?”
“I took precautions,” said Panur with a devilish smile. “Please observe.”
As Adam watched, the pale skin of the alien began to turn several shades darker; yet as remarkable as his chameleon-like transformation may have been, it was when he grew in height—increasing by nearly two feet in a matter of seconds—that Adam was truly impressed.
“How the hell did you do that?”
“It’s related to how I can regenerate the cells within my body, allowing me to live as long as I have. I simply manipulate the amount and pigmentation in order to transform my appearance. It will be nearly impossible for others to recognize me. Yet as an added precaution, I also carried false documents.”
Panur resumed his normal appearance.
“It was still a risky move,” Adam pointed out. “If what you say is true, the Sol-Kor will pay any price to get you back.”
“Yes, they are accustomed to my inventions…as well as most-appreciative, unlike some other creatures I know. The Queen will be quite focused on reacquiring me.”
“If you keep taking chances like you just did, that’s going to happen sooner rather than later.” With a sigh, Adam stepped over to the alien and placed a hand on his thin shoulder. “The upgrades you’ve made to the Pegasus are fine, thanks. And if there’s anything else you have to tell me, let’s save it until in the morning. I’m exhausted and I’m going to bed.”
“I accomplished all I could in the time allotted, yet there are many more improvements I could make—with your permission, of course.”
“In the morning, buddy. And since you don’t sleep—and I do—please try to keep the noise down to a reasonable level. And don’t go building any Godzillarific Mega-Death-Ray kind of thing without letting me know first.”
“That I promise,” Panur said as the pair left the hangar and headed along the forest path towards Adam’s huge log home. “Now that you are here, I will brief you on all my future projects.”
“Groovy,” Adam said with a weary smile.
Confusion crossed Panur’s face—briefly—before his near-perfect recall summoned up the urban definition for the term. “Yes, groovy…dude,” he said, finishing the phrase as his memory dictated.
The pair parted ways; Adam to the house and his beckoning bed, while Panur returned to the detached garage to see what more trouble he could get into.
After all, the night was still young.
“That’s him, without a doubt,” said the square-jawed, uniformed officer as he watched the security feed from the casino. “He changed his appearance somehow, but that’s Panur.”
The other man in the room wasn’t so sure. “This creature is taller and with darker skin.”
“I’ve seen this before. The damn thing can change its shape,” replied the stern-faced commando. “That’s how we lost him in Key West. Besides, we tracked him back to Cain’s place after leaving the casinos. There’s something going on between those two that makes me nervous.”
“His papers have him listed as a Crionean.”
“What the hell’s a Crionean? That’s a new one.”
“Some obscure race from the other side of the galaxy. His passport was in order.”
“So how do you explain someone—anyone—winning so much money in an hour-and-a-half?
“But that’s not why we’re tracking him, Cap.”
Captain Victor Noone, U.S. Army Special Forces Assault Group Alpha, studied the frozen image of the alien on the screen. “I wish it was. I’d sleep better at night in that case.”
The other man shrugged. “The team’s in place, just waiting your call….” Then his voice trailed off. “Are you sure we can even do this?” Lieutenant Steven Thomas asked. “This is supposed to be some kind of super-alien, like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”
“It’s not a question of if we can, lieutenant, it’s that we have to. You’ve seen what the Sol-Kor can do. This may be our only chance of saving the Human race.”
“Cain’s not going to like this.”
“Tough shit. The stakes are too high to let him get in the way. And if it comes down to it, I chose the survival of the species over the life of any one individual, even if that person is the famous Adam Cain. Saddle up, Mr. Thomas. We move out in fifteen minutes.”
Adam was asleep nearly as soon as his head hit the pillow…but he wouldn’t remain that way for long.
He wasn’t sure if it was a vibration he felt or a hum he heard, but he was jolted from his slumber, straining to identify the source of the interruption. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the garage.
Adam fumed, convinced that Panur must have activated the TD-portal—and against his specific orders not to do so. Now dressed only in boxer shorts, he slipped out from under the covers and began to search the darkened room for his shoes….
That was when the entire right side of his house imploded.
It takes a lot to knock down a log home, especially one built of thirty-six inch diameter members with twenty-foot long steel rods threaded between them. Yet the force of the massive explosion did a decent job, sending several tons of round cedar logs and pillars tumbling in and crushing the bed Adam had been in only seconds before. And then the roof gave way, freeing two huge cross beams to cascade down from their crumbling supports.
Adam dove for the bedroom door, managing to slip through just as one of the huge logs slammed against it. Then like a house of cards—not logs—the structure began to crumble; yet even as he ran for the nearest exit, he detected the sound of flash weapons being discharged outside, along with a torrent of traditional automatic machinegun fire. There was a battle taking place on his property, and his precious mountain home had just become its first fatality.
As a former Navy SEAL, Adam was never far from laying his hands on a weapon. Most of his arsenal was locked away in his gun safe; however, he also had a fair assortment of smaller handguns, knives and even a couple of MK plasma weapons stashed throughout the house—just in case. So without noticing from where, he suddenly had a SIG-Sauer forty-five caliber semi-automatic pistol in his hand and was sprinting for the kitchen and the door closest to the garage…and just ahead of his pancaking home.
Once outside, a brilliant mountain moon lit up the forest, aided by the fire engulfing the east side of his garage, as well as blinding flashes from energy weapons streaking through the air. He slipped in behind a huge granite boulder set next to the path leading to the garage and assessed the battleground. His brand new Ford Escalade was a crumpled mass of twisted metal in the driveway, having been caught in the crossfire between two forces, one inside the garage and the other in the forest. The flash bolts were coming from the garage, while the echoing gunfire coming from the tree line was in the form of traditional projectile weapons.
He could see the combatants positioned in the forest; they were Human, dressed in black and green camo combat fatigues and with military-grade weaponry. There were bodies scattered around, and it appeared as though the commandos had already taken quite a beating.
Yet their prospects only turned worse when Adam saw a pair of truly massive alien beasts suddenly emerge from the open garage door and charge the Human’s position. An onslaught of precise gunfire ripped into the creatures, yet they kept coming, seemingly impervious to the damage being caused to their bloodied bodies.
Adam had never seen this particular species before—if he had, he would have remembered. They were true giants, measuring easily ten feet tall and weighing a ton or more each. They wore basic black pants that reached to mid-calf on their tree-trunk thick legs, along with burnished metal chest plates covering the upper torso. Then to Adam’s relief, one of the giants keeled over, overcome by the dozens of bullets penetrating its tough hide.
At least they can be killed. And with that thought, Adam glanced down at the solitary handgun he carried and winced. Although this won’t do much good—
Suddenly, a massive hand grabbed his right arm and tossed him into the air. He landed hard on the other side of the pathway, before rolling to his left and coming up with the .45 aimed at his Goliath-like attacker. He opened up, emptying the entire 15-round magazine into the alien. The charging beast ignored the shots and planted a thick fist onto Adam’s left shoulder. He rolled with the punch to lessen the impact and was up and at the creature’s side in a flash, unleashing his own series of solid blows to the alien’s exposed mid-section.
As it was with most aliens—big or small—Adam was much quicker than his adversary. Yet the beast took Adam’s hits in stride, and instead of succumbing, used its catcher’s-mit-sized palm to sweep a powerful slap across Adam’s face. The Human absorbed the blow with relative ease; however, the first slap was followed quickly by another, and then another.
“Will you knock it off!” Adam yelled at the creature. But the thing just kept slapping, sending him a step back with each impact.
And that’s when Adam decided to go for broke.
With the alien towering above him, he had a clear shot at the junction where the legs met the groin. Not knowing the creature’s anatomy—or even whether it was male or female—Adam took the shot anyway, sending his bare foot directly up and into the ‘V’ where—hopefully—the beast’s family jewels were located.
Adam had tried this maneuver on extraterrestrials before; it worked about fifty percent of the time.
Fortunately, this was one of them.
The giant let out an ear-piercing scream, before buckling over and grabbing at his private parts. Then without hesitation, Adam picked up a basketball-size boulder from along the walkway and brought it crashing down on the back of the creature’s thick head. It dropped to the ground with a decisive thud.
Now free of distractions, Adam looked to his left and noticed that the Human force was down to only a handful of desperate survivors. The lone attacking giant had done a number on them before eventually succumbing to the commando’s relentless automatic gunfire. Yet plasma bolts still streaked out from the garage.
And that was when Adam saw something within the flickering light inside the building that made him gasp. The image was gone a second later, making confirmation his new priority.
The impossibility of what he thought he saw sent him scrambling to the side of the garage, oblivious to the gunfire splintering the thick logs that made up the structure. Instinctively, he ducked down as a series of lead rounds traced a path just above his head, but then he fell on his belly and crawled the rest of the way until he could look around the corner of the open garage door.
His stomach drew into knots when he received the confirmation he sought.
It was a Klin, with its distinctive body of shimmering silver skin encased in a black exo-skeleton contraption, allowing it to move more easily within Earth’s oppressive gravity. Now two Klin were visible, along with three more of the ten-foot-tall giants.
Just then a glowing ball of light arched out of the garage and landed in the middle of the remaining Human combatants. A brilliant flash followed, along with a fiery explosion and concussion. The powerful blast threw Adam away from the doorway and against one of the granite boulders, knocking the air from his lungs. A moment later, he looked to the spot where the Humans had been positioned and could detect no movement.
He staggered back to the garage door, falling again on his belly, unarmed and unsure what to do next. By then, the Klin and their surrogate muscle had retreated further into the building and away from the burning eastern wall, no longer concerned with an attack from outside; however, standing next to the TD-portal, the Klin appeared agitated, waving their mechanically-enhanced arms and shouting out commands to the giants. A search was being ordered.
Panur’s not in the garage! Adam realized. And if not, then where the hell is he?
Adam jumped up and moved quickly along the side of the garage, avoiding the lancing flames, until he reached the dirt path that led to the starship hangar. As he sprinted over the tiny rocks and pine-needles on bloody feet, he glanced back and saw the three giants emerge from the garage and head his way.
The beasts were large and strong, yet they weren’t very fast and Adam reached the hangar well ahead of them. The side hatch to the starship was open—it had been closed earlier—and now he barreled straight through, bouncing off a facing bulkhead before turning to his right and stumbling into the pilothouse.
Panur was seated at the co-pilot station, appearing calm and composed.
“I was expecting you thirty seconds ago,” said the tiny alien. “In another twenty I would have launched the ship myself.”
Adam ignored him, and had already pressed the chemical lift-off control button before dropping into the pilot’s seat. When nothing happened, he panicked and slammed his fist down on the ignition once again. “What the hell?”
“You don’t need the chemical thrusters any longer,” Panur explained.
“So how do we launch?”
“Like this.” Panur grasped the control stick and pressed a button on the right side of his panel. The move was met instantly with a thundering crash from above, along with a swooshing sound as outside air swept over the hull of the accelerating Pegasus II.
“We just crashed through the roof of the hangar!” Adam cried out.
“Your delay in arriving did not afford me the opportunity to open the canopy. I did not want to give away my position to the Klin—or to the Humans—before you arrived.”
Adam stared down at this control panel, not sure what to do next. It was obvious the alien had reconfigured the panel, so he didn’t want to take a chance of hitting the wrong button at the wrong time.
Sensing his trepidation, Panur leaned over and tapped the upper-most engine select button. “There, now you have gravity-drive under your command. Later, I will show you how to engage the hybrid function I’ve installed.”
“Thanks,” Adam said, although he wasn’t feeling very thankful at the moment. He looked out the front viewport and noticed that the Moon had just swept past. Normally, this kind of speed would be reserved for travel outside a gravity-intense stellar system, but a quick glance at his command screen showed that they were already traveling at nearly twenty-times light speed.
“I’m going to have to back off,” Adam said. “We could really screw up the system with a gravity-well this deep.”
“Please check your readings first,” Panur said calmly.
Adam did, and then he checked them again. “This can’t be right.”
“Why do you continue to deny the fact that I made improvements to your propulsion system? The readings are correct. The well is of minimum depth, so there will be no disruption of nearby solid bodies. If you wish, I will allow you to engage the hybrid system, however please have the autopilot activated beforehand. Your reactions may not be quick enough to respond to objects appearing within our path.”
“Why are we heading out of the system in the first place?” Adam asked. “We’re safe now.”
“On the contrary, those were Humans—as well as Klin—attacking your home tonight.”
“The Humans were probably there to protect you…or me.”
Panur smiled. “Unfortunately, that is not the case. They were there on the same mission as the Klin, to apprehend me for eventual return to the Sol-Kor.”
The comm speakers suddenly came to life. “Calling the Pegasus. Calling the Pegasus, please respond.”
Adam recognized the voice immediately. He toggled a switch to activate the voice-only link. “Andy, what the hell’s going on?”
“Adam, I’m glad you’re aboard,” said a serious-sounding Admiral Andy Tobias. “If the alien answered that would mean you were still back at the compound…and probably dead by now.”
“No, I’m very much alive and mad as hell. The Klin destroyed my home, and now Panur says Humans were also involved in the attack.”
“Return to the planet immediately. We’ll talk when you get back.”
The Pegasus was just passing the orbit of Mars, and proximity sensors were picking up at least twenty ships closing on their position. “Is it true, are the Klin after Panur; are we?”
“Just bring him back, Captain. That’s an order.”
Adam raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t been active in the military for over eight years, and so Tobias was no longer his commanding officer. “What’s going on, Admiral. This isn’t like you.”
Panur leaned over closer to Adam. “Do not trust him,” he whispered. “They do not have all the information they need to make an informed decision.”
“Just bring him back,” Tobias ordered again. “If not, then I’m authorized to destroy the Pegasus and recover his body from the debris. He’ll survive, but you won’t.”
Adam was stunned. This was Andy Tobias, one of his oldest and dearest friends, and his former senior officer when Adam was with SEAL Team Six. And he’d just said that he would order Adam’s death if he didn’t comply.
“Okay, Admiral, I’m turning around, but you better have a pretty good explanation when I get there.”
Just then Panur reached over to the pilot’s command console and fingered two buttons. Instantly, the star field through the forward viewport turned a hazy green color and a strange looking tunnel appeared before them, sending thin streaks of light bubbling away from the tunnel. Adam felt like the air was being sucked from his lungs, even though it was only from his reaction to the visual effects through the viewport and not from any actual sensation of movement.
“What did you just do?” he asked once he regained his composure.
“I activated the dimensional-phase shifter. We are now safe and well-beyond the reach of your military vessels.”
“But I have to take you back to Earth.”
“I cannot go there. If I do your people will turn me over the Sol-Kor.”
“Bullshit! We don’t have anything to do with them, except the desire to kill every last one we can find.”
“Yet your race, along with the Klin—and more than likely the Juireans as well—
have all been offered immunity from Sol-Kor attack in exchange for my return to the Queen.”
Adam was suddenly overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts, not the least being the revelation that the Human race could avoid becoming a harvest crop of the Sol-Kor simply by returning Panur to the Queen. He cast a furtive glance at the tiny alien and noticed an amused smile on his face.
“Before you begin devising ways of restraining me for our eventual return to Earth, allow me a moment to give you all the facts. Will you grant me that?”
“But Humanity can be saved, with no more fear of becoming the latest addition to the Sol-Kor dinner menu.”
“Unfortunately, that is not true. If it were, I would gladly surrender myself. I like the Humans—and you in particular. Please give me five minutes. If at the end of that time you are not convinced that I should never again join with the Sol-Kor, then I will allow you to take me back.”
Adam eyed the pale alien with suspicion. Besides using his incredible intellect to create new and revolutionary inventions, Panur also had the ability to essentially read minds simply by studying body language and other subtle tells. He could also think several steps ahead, making any debate with him nearly a foregone conclusion. So Adam wasn’t sure he could trust the alien to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. He would make it sound convincing, but the very concept of reality was often what Panur made it out to be. How Adam could tell whether or not he was being manipulated, he didn’t know, but entering the conversation with a healthy dose of skeptisim would be a good start.
“Okay, five minutes. But be honest with me, Panur. I consider you a friend, and friends don’t lie to one another.”
“Which in itself is an untruth,” said Panur, “yet I will allow you that. I will tell the truth, after which you will see the logic in my actions.”
“All right, the clock is ticking. Get talking or I’m turning the ship around.”
Panur spun around in the co-pilot seat until he was facing the Human and then his face grew placid. “You may believe this is the first time I have parted ways with the Sol-Kor, when in fact this is the sixteenth such event.”
“Why do you keep going back?”
“Please allow me extra time if you are going to interrupt with questions.”
Adam leaned back in the seat and crossed his arms. “Well, excuse me,” he said. “By all means, continue.”
Panur nodded. “As I was saying, this is the sixteenth time, and in none of the previous departures did I return to the Sol-Kor of my own choosing. Each time I became the subject of a massive search and was eventually located, subdued and repatriated.”
Adam went to say something, but instead snapped his mouth shut.
Panur smiled. “I know what you are thinking: I am Panur, the super-being, immortal and of unsurpassed intellect. So how is it that I can be successful caught and returned? The answer lies before you.” He swept his hands over his body. “Look at me, I am small and relatively weak. Physically, I am no match for countless species, so it is quite easy for me to be to restrained against my will.” He nodded again. “Yes, in the past, I have built defensive weapons, yet even they proved inadequate against overwhelming force. The Queen has often made galaxy-wide proclamations, which then set me against trillions of creatures, all seeking survival through my capture and return.”
“Take whatever damn time you need, but I’m going to ask questions,” Adam suddenly blurted. “Even if you do get returned, you’re still Panur, this hot-shot alien that can’t be killed. So why do you keep building weapons and devices that allow the Sol-Kor to exterminate entire species?”
“Because I must.”
That wasn’t the answer Adam had been expecting, but along with the statement he saw something in Panur’s eyes he’d never seen before—fear.
The alien noticed Adam’s reaction. “I know this may be puzzling to you; what can force a creature who cannot die into doing anything he doesn’t want to do? Yet you must realize there are many things just a terrifying as death, even for an immortal.”
“What could be worse than dying?”
“Not dying, Adam Cain,” Panur answered. “With such a cryptic reply, I know I must provide more detail for you to understand.” The alien appeared to gather his thoughts before continuing. “You have remarked how it is that I don’t sleep. This is not hard to understand when you realize my body doesn’t require it, yet even if it did, I would resist the need. Sleep is such a waste of time, especially for me. I do realize how unique I am, and every moment I live I appreciate the special gift I’ve given. That is why I am so curious of all things around me, and why I am always seeking new experiences. It’s the price I pay for this gift. I equate my need for activity—for creation and invention—to your need to breathe. And even though there may appear to be times when I am doing nothing, in reality I am always thinking. I do not experiment, Adam. I think, and through thinking I create. Turning my thoughts into reality is simply a physical and mechanical process, because by that time the project has already been completed—in my mind.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you help the Sol-Kor. I would imagine this unquenchable thirst for knowledge would go against all the Sol-Kor stand for. All they do is consume. They don’t colonize, they don’t invent, they do progress. They’re your direct opposite. Yet it’s your space engines, dimension portals and suppressor beams that allow them to do what they do. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“More than you can imagine.”
“So what’s this hold the Queen has over you?”
Panur hesitated before answering. “Do not be offended, but there is information that if revealed will give you—and those you tell—this same hold over me as does the Queen.”
“You brought up the subject, so don’t leave me hanging. Just being with you right now is a much bigger risk to me than it is to you. If you want me to help, then I need to know it all.”
“You must not relay this information to anyone.”
“Trust me, Panur. Now tell me.”
“Very well. As you know, I absorb energy directly to sustain my bodily functions, whereas other creatures must consume food and other nourishment that then gets converted into the requisite energy to sustain life. My way is simpler and more direct, yet have you considered what would happen if I do not receive the energy I require?”
“I hadn’t thought of that. You’d die?”
“No, and that is the quandary. I don’t die, instead my body goes into a dormant stage until an energy source comes near. I can get this energy from just about anything; electrical circuits, plasma weapons, even the innate electrical charge associated with all large objects, such as planets, including lightening that ionizes the atmosphere. In general, it is very difficult for me not to acquire the energy I need.”
“Yet the Queen has found a way?”
“But then your body just goes dormant. You still don’t die.”
“That is correct.”
The fear in Panur’s eyes was even more pronounced.
“I don’t understand.”
“It becomes complicated,” the alien said. “Let me try this approach. I have studied your Human culture, and I know some of you are very good at playing musical instruments. Imagine being threatened with never being allowed to play again. Would you not fear that?”
“Of course, but if the alternative was to build deadly weapons that would be used against trillions of innocent people, I’d consider that a fair trade.”
“I see I am having difficulty with my explanation. Let me try another tact. For creatures like you, death is your ultimate deadline…your ultimate escape. It is the same with every living being, and even with planets, stars and universes. You accept this, and therefore whatever you can achieve during the time you have available is satisfactory. You may regret not accomplishing certain things throughout your time, yet you realize you could not achieve it all, so you do not let it consume you. Yet what if you knew you had no time limit, that you could continue forever doing what gives you immeasurable joy and purpose? Would then the possibly of that being interrupted not scare you? Having a time limit on your life defines your boundaries and the scope of your endeavors. Without this limit, perspectives change. To you, I have all the time I need to accomplish anything I desire, so why worry about time? I will live forever. You may find it strange and incomprehensible, but the only thing an immortal fears is not being immortal.”
“Hey, I’m just a simple soldier,” Adam said. “I think you lost me on that one. You say you’re immortal, but you fear not being immortal. You mean not being immortal any longer? Is that it?”
“You are getting closer to understanding, Adam Cain,” Panur said. His mood seemed to lift considerably. “When I enter a dormant stage, I can no longer do all the things I must do to give my life purpose. Yet knowing that I am simply in a dormant stage and being prevented from fulfilling my destiny is—to me—the worst kind of torture.”
“You’re conscious during these dormant stages?”
“No, I am not. And if I never transformed back to a normal state, then I would not have the opportunity to regret my lack of activity during that period. Yet each time I go under the Queen revives me. The emotions associated with my revival are the most intense I experience. My addiction to creating has not been feed, and now I feel the need to compensate.”
“And that’s why you build the Sol-Kor weapons?”
“No, it is not. What I meant by compensating is that I do, indeed, begin to study, build and invent anew, and not necessarily just the items the Queen commands. It is everything.”
And then Panur’s face grew a shade darker; Adam didn’t know whether this was intentional or not. “Yet I follow the Queen’s dictates just so she will not place me in the dormant stage again. Having experienced it, and then been revived—several times—I know what I have missed. I know the agony of regret I feel when I come out at the other end. I know of all the opportunities that have been lost. And I know the Queen can toy with me over centuries, reviving me briefly, only to send me back under once again after only an hour or so of consciousness. Death to Humans is acceptable, and often times even welcomed. Knowing what I know now, I would also welcome death, if it meant I would never have to live again. Yet I know I will not die, and that life—and the fear—will come again and again. I understand that our perspectives are so different that you may have trouble understanding this apparent dichotomy. I don’t fear death, just the possibly of it not being final.”
“Wow, that’s some heavy shit,” Adam admitted. “So she keeps you in a perpetual state of fear, the fear of dying—if only temporary.”
“It is the certainty of revival that makes my situation so unique and perplexing. Unless you’ve experienced what I have, it is very difficult to grasp the concept. And so I create for the Queen, lest I remember what it was like to be alive before and dwell on all that I have missed while I was gone.”
“Still, wouldn’t you sacrifice your life if doing so would save trillions of others? What if each time she revives you, you just say no to her demands?”
Some of the enthusiasm Panur had been showing now drained from his body. “Do you not believe I have tried that? Yet there is only so much even I can tolerate. After each series of protests, I would eventually succumb and do my Queen’s bidding. You may find this abhorrent, yet until you’ve experienced what I have been through, it is very hard to comprehend.”
Adam shook his head, trying to come to grips with the strange confession he’d just heard. He had no doubt Panur was sincere with his feelings. Yet having grown up in and around the military, Adam knew everyone had a point where they would sacrifice all for the greater good. And because death was final to Humans, they saw it as their ultimate escape from the bonds of another—the final up-yours to their capturers. Yet what if you didn’t die, and just kept waking up to go through it all over again? In a small way, Adam was coming to understand some of Panur’s anxiety.
He glanced at the nav screen and noticed that the Pegasus was already six light-years out from Earth and getting further way with each passing second. Panur’s admission had been interesting, yet it was off topic. The alien may fear being returned to the Queen, yet Adam had his entire race to consider, and so far he wasn’t convinced that placating Panur’s fears was a fair tradeoff.
“I’m sorry, Panur, but if I have to choose between saving the Human race or keeping you from suffering at the hands of the Queen, I choose mankind.”
“Understandable…and expected,” said the alien. “Yet consider what you just said. If I’m returned to the Sol-Kor I will continue to work on deadly weapons that may eventually be used against you and your kind. And here is a truth you had better accept: Never in the history of the Sol-Kor have they honored an immunity agreement.”
“You mean for returning you?”
“Yes, and why should they? I am back in their custody, which is all they desire. As you have said, the Sol-Kor do not colonize nor do they seek long-term accommodations with others. They are of a single purpose: the pursuit of food. Furthermore, the subject race granted the immunity often feel secure with the agreement and lower their guard against the Sol-Kor. And that is when they attack.” Panur’s face took on a sad expression. “I wish I could provide you with evidence of this, yet in every case the species that returned me was consumed within a very short time. Every time. So you see you have been given a false choice. Returning me will not save your species—or any species—yet it will increase the chance of me inventing other means of subduing even more worlds. As a fact, I’m nearing completion on a suppressor beam upgrade which can dominate an entire planet from a light-year away. As it is today, the Sol-Kor need over a hundred beam platforms and considerable set-up time to subdue a planet. With my new beam, a single platform is required with no units within close proximity of the target world. It will greatly improve the efficiency of the harvest.”
Adam rested his head on the end of the control stick. “Then just don’t finish the damn thing,” he said without lifting his head.
“I just told you why I must complete the project. Were you not listening?”
Adam turned his head toward the alien. “Yes, dickhead, I was listening.”
Panur furrowed his brow as the translation worked its way through his mind.
“Then you must not have understood the message. As I said, I go into a dormant stage—”
“Yes, I get all that,” Adam interrupted. “There’s no need to repeat it.” He sat up again and slumped back in the chair. “So this offer of immunity is all bullshit, and if you do get returned to the Queen, you’ll complete a weapon that will allow Earth—and countless other worlds—to be overcome even easier.”
Panur attempted a smile. “That is something I truly enjoy about Humans; you can condense a subject down to a single sentence or two if need be. That is a benefit of having such a simple mind.”
Adam stared out the viewport and at the strange looking tunnel the ship was plowing through. “So what are we supposed to do now? I could try convincing Andy that you should never be returned to the Sol-Kor, but I doubt he’d believe me. He’d look at it just as I did at first; as a way to buy us time to better prepare a defense. And I doubt the Klin and the Juireans will call off the bounty, either.”
“It is a perplexing situation.”
“No shit. I can’t hide you forever, and once word gets out that any race that returns you to the Queen will be spared, everyone and their alien brother will be out looking for you, regardless of what we say.”
“That is how it has been in the past, and why I have always been returned.”
Adam felt a sour lump in his stomach. “And I’ll be seen as the one who selfishly kept you from their salvation. Thanks a lot, Panur. I’m going from being a hero to a goat overnight. You know how many high schools will have to change their name as a result of this?”
“Twenty-eight,” Panur replied.
“Twenty-eight, are you screwing with me?”
“No, I have studied the records.”
“Only twenty-eight?” Adam was let down. He assumed the number was a lot higher.
“However, three more are opening up this year,” Panur said after studying his expression. “Does that make you feel better?”
Adam shook his head at the alien. “Feel better? Let’s see: My reputation is ruined, my home is destroyed, I’m the subject of a galaxy-wide man-slash-alien hunt…and I’m sitting here in my boxer shorts, bruised, cut up and freezing from the damn air conditioning. You’ll have to do a lot better than that to make me feel better.”