One day a long, long time
ago, a species fought for survival. Not long before that day their survival had
been assumed to be infinite—they were the strongest and cleverest, had superior
technology, and controlled the universal traffic and economy.
space-bullies were a physically unique and intimidating species. The average adult
stood over twelve-foot tall, used all eight of their legs to walk, and any of
the eight could double as an arm. Their solid, smooth, and scaly upper bodies
culminated with the head of a snake—sharp, pointed teeth on bottom, four fangs
on top, a small slit for a nostril, and bulging, beady eyes with no eyelids. They
were hypnotizing in every sense of the word.
But just as seasons
change, so did their place in the hierarchy of races. Their overbearing methods
developed many enemies who rose up to overthrow their high-handed
Because of this
revolution, the towering creatures with eight legs that ruled the universe are now
no more than monsters that fill our horror stories and haunt our dreams. But
before their overthrow, they had one last mission, designed and fulfilled with
the purpose of providing an opportunity for a future return to dominance.
“Are you sure we can trust him?” Zryolk’s fourteen-foot
ten-inch frame was incongruent with the doubt in his voice. “If he doesn’t come
through for us we won’t survive the day, let alone complete our mission.”
Captain Criswal didn’t respond. Instead, the captain’s
mind seemed to be as far away as his gaze at the monstrous planet that lay in
front of them. Zentron was the largest planet among the known universes,
although very few were even aware of its existence. The inhabitants of Zentron had
gone to great lengths to keep their existence unknown.
Zryolk was about to repeat his question when the captain
said, “If he doesn’t, our last act as a species will be to obliterate their
The opportunity to destroy another species sounded
exhilarating; doing so at the expense of his own race didn’t.
Pharghtang’s previously unnoticed presence and squeaky
voice seemed to bring the captain’s focus back into the flight deck of his
“Yes, Minion?” The captain used the term degradingly,
but Pharghtang always took being called the captain’s minion as a source of
pride. Zryolk assumed Pharghtang and his dumb, scrawny, nine-and-a-half-foot-tall
body was so desperate for a connection with others that he created one in his
own mind by accepting the putdown as a sort of pet name.
It explained why Pharghtang seemed to enjoy being picked
on by the soldiers. Pharghtang wasn’t a soldier, but a gopher—primarily for the
captain, but in practicality for anyone who felt like abusing him at any given
As the primary pilot for Captain Criswal, Zryolk had
plenty of opportunity to be around the minion. At first Zryolk had tried to get
to know Pharghtang, to understand why he thrived on the negative attention. He
had had to abandon his attempt when Pharghtang was completely uncomfortable
with the positive attention and of being treated with respect. Although it
didn’t satisfy his inner curiosity about Pharghtang, Zryolk was happy to treat
him as an underling.
Pharghtang cleared his throat, which made his voice a
little less shrill, but it definitely still classified as squeaky. “The troops
are ready and on standby.”
“You are dismissed.”
Pharghtang bowed to the captain as if he were king, then
scampered from the room.
The captain paced the flight deck. Zryolk focused on
flying the spaceship.
“We’ll be in position in less than five minutes!” Talistian,
Zryolk’s co-pilot, spoke to the captain, but said it loud enough for everyone
on the flight deck to hear.
“Very well. Everyone be prepared.” The captain sat down
in his elevated chair, located in the center of the flight deck. “Charks?”
“Yes, Captain?” the quiet and unassuming lady in the
back corner replied.
“Get in contact with General Merkes immediately and give
him a status update. If one little thing goes wrong with this plan, we will let
him know and we’ll destroy this planet to the point there will be no evidence
it ever existed.”
“Yes, Captain.” Charks began talking into her
Zryolk knew Captain Criswal wasn’t excited about their
plan, and had made his disagreements known. He also knew the captain would
fulfill his orders, as much as he disagreed with them. For better or for worse,
this was now their best option to ensure a resurgence to power one day.
Talistian spoke again. “Captain—Xandor, our contact from
Zentron, is available.”
“Put him up on the big screen,” the captain ordered.
Immediately two large green faces appeared on the front
window of the flight deck.
“Greetings, and welcome to Zentron,” said the man with a
large nose and wrinkled skin.
“Dispense with the insincere formalities,” the captain
bellowed. “We know you don’t want us here anymore than we want to be here.”
“We have been able to keep our existence hidden from all
other species for thousands of years. Of course we don’t want you or anyone
else here.” The woman’s tone of voice was as fiery as her long red hair. Set
against her green skin, her hair was stunning. In fact, Zryolk thought she was
about the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. “You threatened our family
and our existence as a species,” the woman continued. “What are we supposed to
“Exactly as we require,” said the captain slowly. His
eyes locked for several tense moments with hers.
The man squirmed in his seat and cleared his throat. “I
am Xandor, and this is my daughter, Limon. I apologize for her directness, but
your presence puts our family in a dangerous position. If any of our people
find out we are helping you, well, they won’t be understanding.”
Captain Criswal seemed to lack sympathy for their
precarious position. “My assistant will keep General Merkes updated on our
progress. If at any time this mission goes bad, he will order an assault on
your planet. All our troops throughout the universe will be contacted with your
location and given instructions to abandon their current battles, locate your
planet and destroy it beyond recognition.
Limon scowled. “You can’t afford to abandon your
battles. You’re on the verge of defeat as it is.”
Zryolk gasped in shock at her irreverent boldness.
Captain Criswal roared. “Understand, greenie! If you
betray us, our last act as a species will be to eliminate yours.”
An awkward silence followed, and Zryolk could swear that
Limon’s face now matched the color of her hair.
Captain Criswal broke the silence. “Now, do you have the
facility prepared so we can hide our merchandise?”
“Everything is as you requested,” Xandor said
Neither Xandor nor Limon wanted to help the Snaders
secure the means by which they could regain dominance in the future, but the
man didn’t show his discontent.
Zryolk would have felt the same way were they in
opposite places. The Snaders were used to—in fact, preferred—that others didn’t
like them or want to cooperate with them. They prided themselves on instilling
fear in order to get what they wanted.
“Good.” The captain stood and began to pace as he spoke.
“We’ll be landing in a few minutes. We need to transport our package into the
secure area as quickly as possible to ensure not being detected.”
“Understood,” Xandor said before the screen went blank.
Half an hour later
Captain Criswal and Zryolk stood outside the spaceship on Zentron. Charks was
with them maintaining contact with General Merkes on the radio. They wore
special bodysuits that covered every inch of their skin to protect them from
the cold. Although the bodysuits were thin, they were impenetrable by the cold.
didn’t understand how, but even with his face covered by the bodysuit he could
see through it clearly and could breathe without restriction.
distinguishable only by his small size, drove a large ten-wheeled vehicle out
of the spaceship and stopped just short of where the captain and Zryolk stood. The
red, rectangular vehicle required two engines to haul the trailer and the weight
of the load it carried.
The trailer was thirty
feet long and twelve feet wide. With the weight of the cargo, it traveled less
than a foot off the ground.
shuddered as his gaze froze on the trailer’s freight, a box thirty feet long,
seven feet wide, and five feet high. It was made of a special metal that was two
feet thick on all sides. The rectangular metal box had several slits on each
side, with red and white smoke constantly flowing out.
marched behind the trailer, each wearing identical black bodysuits as the
captain. They split formation—half going on each side of the trailer—and lifted
the heavy coffin-shaped box. Pharghtang carefully pulled the vehicle forward so
the trailer cleared the box, then made a U-turn back toward the spaceship.
the vehicle back into the spaceship, then returned to join the others.
Although it was
night, three bright moons—two half and one full—lit the sky. The land was flat,
the ground frozen, and they could see for miles. There wasn’t anything in
Where were their
“Are you sure we
have the correct spot?”
double-checked his hand-held computer. “This is the exact spot Xandor
instructed us to meet them.”
“Well, where is
that no-good s—”
Pharghtang pointed. “They just came out of nowhere!”
hear what Pharghtang said because he had seen exactly what Pharghtang and the
rest of the crew saw—Xandor and Limon appearing out of nowhere.
“One second there
was nothing, and the next those two greenies were walking toward us,”
Pharghtang explained to the troops holding the front of the box.
Xandor and Limon
approached the group walking on two legs and casually swinging two arms. The
captain had always thought it strange that other races could balance so well
with only two legs. He couldn’t imagine functioning without eight
With their green bodysuits
on, at first the captain couldn’t tell Xandor and Limon apart. As they neared, he
saw how Limon’s hair puffed up her bodysuit on top, where Xandor’s bodysuit fit
snuggly over his bald head.
stepped forward. “I am Captain Criswal. I thought your people didn’t have the
ability to teleport.”
Xandor nodded his
head. “That is correct; we are not able to teleport.”
Zryolk stepped up
beside Criswal. “But the two of you appeared out of nowhere!”
“We are using the
same technology to hide the building behind us that we use to hide our solar
system,” Xandor explained. “The building is there, but a bubble shield causes
anything looking at it to see the landscape in its natural surroundings.”
“Why bother hiding
the building?” Zryolk asked. “Our radar indicated there isn’t anything living
“Yes, the size and
rotation of our planet makes living conditions on much of the planet
impossible,” Limon said. “Our home is one the other side of Zentron. By way of
land, it is over three hundred thousand miles away.”
“Even so,” Xandor
continued, “we can’t risk this facility being discovered. Otherwise our, uh,
arrangement would quickly be compromised.”
“Shall we proceed
inside?” Limon offered.
“Just so we are
clear,” Captain Criswal said as he nodded to his left, “Lieutenant Charks here is
responsible for keeping General Merkes periodically updated. If at any time our
plan is compromised, he will immediately issue a command for all our troops to
attack and destroy your planet.”
Limon glared, but
to her credit held her tongue. She turned and walked with Xandor behind her.
General Criswal motioned for his men to follow.
When Xandor and
Limon reached the spot where they had appeared, they disappeared. Everyone in
the visiting party stopped.
sensed the reluctance they all had about passing the point of disappearance. He
swallowed hard and took the last three steps quickly, before he could consider
what other options he might have. As soon as he crossed into the invisible
bubble he saw Xandor and Limon, thirty feet ahead, waiting in front of the
building that had been invisible to them a few seconds before.
looked like a domed roof. Xandor pressed a code into a number pad on the side
of the building and the whole front wall (at least from their angle) began to
lower. Once everyone was inside, Xandor shut the wall.
Captain Criswal, Zryolk,
Charks, and Pharghtang stood at the far end in the center of the room with
Xandor and Limon. The peak in the room allowed them to stand up straight. The box
took up the remaining length of the room. The accompanying entourage on either
side holding the box had to bend over because of the sloped ceiling. The troops
set the box down on the ledge that ran down the center of the long room.
Once the door had shut,
a steady hum began and the floor slowly descended. After several minutes they
came to a sudden and jerky stop. A few seconds of quiet, and the humming noise
began again. A ceiling crossed above, gradually entrapping them in a boxed
this next part could be rather disturbing, as—”
“Yes, Xandor, we
all know exactly what to expect.”
and Captain Criswal smiled at his frustration. He was tired of Xandor’s proud
touting of his innovation. He just cared that Xandor did what the Snaders
required. How he did it didn’t concern the captain.
He gave the captain
a nod, which the captain hoped meant that he understood the time pressure they
were under, and began typing in a code to the transmitter he carried with him.
Air began to blow
into the room from all directions. The pressure of the air pushed on all sides
of his body. It was unpleasant, but expected.
In spite of their
preparedness, several of his troops complained. Their panic was short-lived,
because within seconds they couldn’t move a muscle. The extreme air pressure
was necessary to keep everything and everyone from being tossed around during
descent, and to keep them from imploding from the force of the drop. Nothing
would be able to move.
Even though he
didn’t have eyelids, the captain wasn’t able to see much. His gaze was frozen on
the box. As the air continued to thicken, visibility decreased. There was
virtually no peripheral vision, and seeing straight ahead was quickly becoming
impossible as well.
When his vision
reached the point he couldn’t clearly make out anything through the thick air
the captain heard a loud roar, sounding not unlike his spaceship when it roared
to life. The roar meant they were already moving toward the core of Zentron,
quickly picking up speed. In less than a minute the rumble reached its peak and
they were moving at top speed. They would cover the ninety thousand miles in
about twenty minutes.
The captain had
done the math when they’d first learned about the mission. They were traveling
at forty-five hundred miles a minute, or two-hundred and seventy thousand miles
an hour. That was not fast for an interstellar spaceship, but completely
unheard of for planetary travel. He remained frozen and could not tell at all
that they were moving. The thick air secured them during the journey, protected
them from being hurt at the extraordinary fast take-off and speedy travel.
The one question
the captain never got a satisfactory answer to was what they would do if there
was a problem during their travel to the core of Zentron. The answer given him,
which he didn’t like, was that there was nothing they could do. They had been
assured, however, that Xandor and Limon had done everything possible to ensure
there would not be any issues. Being frozen by the thick air prevented them
from reacting to anything that might go wrong. In reality, there wasn’t
anything that could be done at these speeds, and he didn’t want to trouble his
mind over a very unlikely event. But now that he had twenty minutes of nothing
but his own mind, that’s all he could think about. Well, that and peanuts. He
hadn’t had any peanuts since they left on their journey nearly a year ago.
At the end of the
journey the roar slowly faded until it went silent altogether. The air
immediately began decompressing and within a minute everyone had full control
of their bodies again.
The wall nearest
the captain lowered. Xandor and Limon led them into a room that was about the
size of the captain’s flight deck. The room was completely empty, except for a
long slab of stone in the center. The captain knew from his training that the
core of Zentron was twenty times the temperature of the hottest sun of his home
planet. Without the invisible protective barrier—he couldn’t fathom how it kept
such heat safely and securely out—they would have disintegrated early into
their journey downward.
The heat would not
bother the casket. It was frozen with a special chemical that would protect it
in any conditions, even the most extreme heat and cold.
was impressed with the arrangements. He would never admit that to Xandor.
The troops walked
their cargo to the center of the room and set it carefully onto the foot-high slab,
built to be the perfect size to hold the box, then stepped back and a curved
tube rotated from below, encasing the box on the table within glass. The tube
melded, and within seconds was seamless. Although a few slits allowed smoke to
roll out, there was no visible means of opening the glass tube.
told them all to stand back. A glass case lowered from the ceiling and encased
the tube. The glass was three feet thick on all sides, including the top.
would take a pure-blooded Snader to open the glass cage and release the box and
directly in front of the captain. “It’s done.”
She handed him a
square box half the size of Captain Criswal’s humongous hands. “We call this The
Key because it is the only way to open the glass case around your casket.”
“How does it
work?” Captain Criswal asked.
“In order to
activate The Key it needs to be in contact with the glass case.” She pointed
out the faint outline where the box was to be placed. “One of the sides of The
Key will open. A Snader must insert a finger…”
“Or toe or
tongue,” Xandor quickly added.
“Yes. Then The Key
will poke the finger, or toe or tongue, and test the blood. If the blood is
pure Snader blood, then the transfusion can begin.”
“What happens if
the person isn’t a pureblood?” Zryolk asked.
“They don’t get
their finger back,” Xandor said.
Some of the men
cringed, but Captain Criswal smiled and nodded his understanding. He admired
the box with a reverent awe. This had been a surreal assignment and now that
they were near the end, he was overwhelmed with the magnitude of what he held.
the procedure for releasing your item?”
thought she meant it as a statement, but it came out as a question.
“Yes, of course.”
He looked up at Limon, then over to Xandor. “And you understand the
consequences if we return and are not able to access this box.”
The captain meant
it as a question, but it came out more as a threat.
“Of course.” Limon
didn’t try to hide her disdain of the threat. “What’s in the casket that is so
“Only the most
valuable item in the universe,” the captain shot back. “And it isn’t a casket.”
He positioned himself in front of Xandor and Limon and stared them down. “Just
to make sure we have been clear, you are responsible for keeping our cargo safe
and secure. No matter how long it takes us to return for it—the days or years
that pass—you are to be prepared for our arrival to reclaim our package at any
time. And if you are not, or if something has happened to our possession, we
will destroy every living thing on this planet.”
“We were promised
that if you ever returned for your package and it helped you return to power,
that your people would allow us to live in obscurity.” When Xandor spoke it was
with a lot of doubt.
“Of course,” the
captain said without conviction.
Charks informed General
Merkes that the merchandise had been secured, and they were about to return to
minutes they were on the ship making preparations for take-off. Another ten
minutes and they were leaving Zentron. Charks gave General Merkes the all
The captain sat in
his chair on the flight deck, satisfied that their successful effort on Zentron
would provide them with the opportunity to someday once again conquer and rule
considerable distance they needed to travel and the necessity to avoid the
warring areas, it would be months before they would return to their home
planet. Most likely by then the war would be over and they would be facing a
They had only been
en route a couple of hours when the alarm on the spaceship started blaring. The
captain had returned to his bunk to update the ship’s log, and was deep in
thought when the alarm went off.
Before he could
call down to the flight deck, he heard Zryolk’s voice speak to him over the
intercom. “Captain, we have company, and they’re closing in quick.”
“Notify everyone to
prepare in case of an attack. Contact the spaceship and let them know we’re
friendly; we don’t want any trouble. I’ll be right there.”
The captain rushed
to the flight deck.
“Captain on deck!”
Captain Criswal was
quickly updated on their unexpected guest that was nearing.
“It’s like they
came out of nowhere,” Zryolk explained. “One minute the radar was clear, the
next we had a spaceship coming at us from the side only a few minutes away. I
can’t explain it.”
The captain took
his seat and pulled the overhead monitor down to eye level. “They aren’t the
ones that appeared out of nowhere, we were.”
“What are you
talking about?” Zryolk asked.
“We don’t have
time for that right now,” the captain said. “Have you contacted them? Do we
know their intentions?”
Zryolk looked at Charks,
who shook her head. “We’ve been sending out messages, telling them we don’t
want any trouble, but they aren’t responding. We don’t know what they intend.”
straight, but steer gradually away from them.”
Charks continued her
attempts at reaching the spaceship, with no response.
They veered away
from the other spaceship and thought their message had gotten through as the
other spaceship seemed to back off. But after a few minutes it started to
quickly close the gap between them.
As the ship neared
they could read the words on the side.
Freedom — Peace
It was one of the
The captain had a
feeling he knew their intentions. He stood. “Zryolk, I have to step away for a
moment. You are in control.”
He quickly left
the flight deck and returned a few minutes later with the council’s spaceship
almost upon them.
“Captain on deck!”
resumed his seat. “Full throttle!”
“Sir, we can’t
outrun them,” Zryolk said. “It’s a council-sanctioned ship.”
The captain looked
up at the big-screen monitor on the front window and saw the council’s emblem
on the front of the ship. He knew Zryolk was correct.
It was at that
moment the other spaceship opened fire.
The captain shouted again, this time with extreme urgency.
took their spaceship to maximum speed. They quickly created some space between
them and the council’s spaceship, but it wouldn’t take them long to catch back
“Charks, tell the
troops in back to open fire.”
“Yes sir!” Charks
abandoned trying to contact the council’s spaceship to call the battle room in
the back of the spaceship.
“Zryolk, I need to
speak to you outside.”
over the piloting duties as the captain led Zryolk through the door to the
hallway outside of the flight deck.
“Zryolk, I need
you to prepare the escape pod for me.”
“But captain…” Zryolk
The captain had expected
as much, but didn’t have time to explain. “I need you to trust me. The fate of
our race depends on what happens in the next few minutes.”
“Okay, sir.” Zryolk
nodded his head.
“Call me on the
secure phone when you reach the pod.” The captain referred to the phones that
he, Zryolk, Talistian, and the General carried that were dedicated solely to
communicating with each other, in case of emergencies similar to what they were
“Yes, sir!” Zryolk
said, then disappeared down the hallway.
returned to the flight deck just in time to see the council’s spaceship open
fire again. He hurried to his seat and buckled in.
He gave the orders
to retaliate, and the battle was in full force. They were sustaining a lot more
damage than they were delivering.
The captain felt
his phone vibrate, indicating that Zryolk was in the escape pod. He pulled down
the monitor suspended above him and connected his phone. A soundproof glass
tube surrounded him, giving him privacy so no one could hear what he was about
“Zryolk, are you
in the pod?”
“Yes, but there’s
a problem. The door has shut and locked. I can’t get it to budge.”
“I know. Listen to
“You know?” Zryolk’s
voice was filled with bewilderment.
The captain continued.
“I left The Key in the escape pod for you. I need you to take it and keep it secure.
That Key is the only way we can retrieve what we just hid in the core of Zentron.
Without it we will never be able to return to power. In fact, without it we
likely will not exist as a race in the distant future.”
can’t give up on this battle.”
“The fate of this
battle will be determined in the next few minutes and we both know that our
chances are slim, at best. We cannot take the chance of losing control of that key—or
worse, having it destroyed. It has to remain in our people’s hands. In a few
minutes you will be alone, carrying with you the secret of what we did today along
with The Key. Keep it. Pass it down to your children. Entrust it only to those
worthy of protecting and one day rescuing and unleashing our secret weapon. One
day we will escape from the oncoming exile and begin again at overthrowing the
corrupted forces of the universe. It’s now your responsibility to have in place
the method and the person capable of the sacrifice it will take to provide the
leadership we will need. I am not understating it when I say the future of our
race now lies in your hands.”
don’t know what to say…” Zryolk’s voice cracked from emotion.
anything to say.” The captain took a deep breath. “This is a time of action, and
now you know what is required of you. I can’t think of anyone I trust more for
this task. It’s not a small burden, but it’s now yours to carry alone. For that
I am sorry.”
“Sir, for you, for
our people, and for our Lord, I will dedicate my life and my descendants’ lives
to protecting The Key.”
“I knew you
would,” the captain said. “Are you secured?”
The captain programmed
a code on the screen floating in front of him. The escape pod disengaged from
the spaceship and started hurtling away, quickly putting distance between it
and the spaceships.
But the captain didn’t
have time to watch. He had to act quickly before the council’s spaceship could
send their own posse after Zryolk.
He removed the
tube from around his head and began barking out orders.
the controls of the ship to me.”
Immediately on the
monitor in front of him flashed a message that the co-pilot was transferring
all the ship’s controls to him. The captain accepted and began to steadily and
quickly slow the ship’s speed. The council’s spaceship behind them also slowed
down to avoid a collision.
remained intense and the slower speed was causing them to take more damage. The
captain wasn’t worried about the extra damage. He knew they weren’t getting out
of this alive. His focus was on preventing the council from sending anyone
after Zryolk, which he knew they were in the process of doing.
When the captain had
slowed down as much as he thought he could risk, he sped the ship up to full
power. He knew his crew would wonder what he was doing, but he didn’t have time
to explain, and in a couple of minutes it wouldn’t matter anyway.
He increased his
spaceship to full speed, and as he expected the council’s ship sped and began
making up the ground.
our intercom to the council’s spaceship.”
“But captain, they
have yet to respond,” she replied.
matter,” the captain said. “I know they can hear us.”
In no time Charks
told the captain, “Okay, sir. We are connected.”
When the council’s
spaceship had closed the gap, and before they could slow to a trailing speed
equal to his own spaceship, the captain slammed all of the engines into
reverse. This caused an immediate and dramatic decrease in speed—one which the
council’s spaceship had no chance of duplicating.
screamed into the intercom so the last thing everyone on both spaceships heard
was, “For the Snader Lord!”
spaceship plowed into the captain’s spaceship and both exploded, destroying all