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Issue Nine, Don't you know that you are a shooting star ...

Mike Henry knew the 'Parts, and so he knew there was something wrong with the boys heading in to Papa Joe's Salvage. They looked alright, like any of the boys that might hang in Little Puerto Rico, but something about 'em wasn't right. When a second or two later, the "CLOSED" sign went up, he knew his gut feeling was right.

These boys up for a little action today, Mike thought. He quickly crossed the street when a large Ford 150 truck loaded with scrap metal passed in front of him.

Mike tried to open the door but found it locked. He banged on it. A moment passed with no reply so Mike pounded again, "Hey Pops, open up."

The door opened a crack and a face appeared, "Pops is closed, come back tomorrow."

"No he ain't, fool, but you are!" Mike hissed, aiming a straight right into the punk's face. The man's head snapped back and he staggered into the shop. Mike followed him and took a look around.

Pops was pushed up against the counter with two punks gathered around him threateningly, one holding a chromed piece of pipe or something similar. One more punk was standing a little bit further off and the one Mike punched was just a few feet away.

The one with the pipe looked up and snapped, "Get rid of him." As one, the two not involved with Pops dipped their hands into their pockets and came up with guns of some kind.

"Don't be stupid," Mike warned them. "This ain't worth yo' life." His hands came to life with crackling energy. "Dig me? Leave while you can."

Mike allowed electricity to arc between his hands. "Shockwave gonna bring the pain you don't quit this mess." He smiled wickedly. "C'mon, chump, feel like a taste?!" he suddenly yelled just to make them jump and further take his point home.

"Destroy him," said the leader and the two fired. Purple energy leapt from the pistols toward Mike narrowly missing and blasting scorch marks into the front wall of Pop's shop.

Mike ducked out of the way of the freaky energy. "What kinda pimp guns you boys got? Everyone know purple ain't no man's color!"

Shockwave cut loose and a bolt of lightning arced from his right hand into the nearest thug and the man spun around and collapsed. Another bolt shot out from his left hand and slammed into the other gun-wielding thug. Electricity sparked from around his waist and the young thug vanished, in his place stood a seven foot tall creature that looked something like a bear. But then the boy was back, leaving Mike unsure of what he had seen. Man or bear, the figure collapsed to the floor.

"Back away, while you still can!" Shockwave said, his voice low and intense, electricity still playing across his hands.

Shockwave couldn't quite believe what he'd seen, but now wasn't the time to dwell on it. His attention was focussed on the chump at Pop's throat. What could they want with him? This certainly was no robbery....

"Get him," snapped the one with the pipe, as he vaulted behind the counter and ducked. The other one drew and fired.

"Whoa!" Shockwave yelled as he ducked, avoiding most of the blast.

Angry then, he leapt in and planted a fist in the face of the shooter. A second punch doubled the punk over and a third laid him out on the counter.

"Now, who's next?" Shockwave asked, picking up the punk's heater, which was like nothing he'd ever seen and fit oddly in his hand.

Three punks were out cold, and the leader was AWOL. Mike hopped over the counter to see what he could see. What he saw was nothing. He looked, there didn't seem to be any way out. He heard Pops gasp, and turned. The punk on the counter was gone. As he watched, the other two punks flickered once or twice, then vanished, still out cold. Mike nodded his head and smiled wryly in acknowledgment.

"Dude just up and disappears on me with out so much as a 'I'll be back'." Mike stood up. "I don't need this kind of aggravation, Pops."

"Why these dudes jackin' you Pops? You got a UFO stashed out back?" Mike absently pocketed the gun.

"I don't know, Mike. They came in here askin' me about that piece o' pipe. I sold it to Angel the other day, he thought it would look fine on his Mustang. Then these guys show up asking where I got it."

Mike shook his head in wonderment as he looked around the front of the room for evidence and then behind the counter, scrutinizing the cabinet and floors for signs of just about anything that seemed to stand out.

"They held you up for a piece of pipe." Mike said incredulously. "They got ray guns and they want a piece of pipe. Riiight. That pipe stick around or did they make off with it?"

"Whassisname had it, the guy who jumped back there. I gotta say, it was a funny piece of pipe."

"Where'd you get it, Pops? Offa that UFO you got stashed out back? Might help tracking these cats down."

"Johnny the Cat sold it to me last week, where he got it I don't know."

"Maan, that dude is bad news. He got more bad luck than any ten men. See? Now it done rubbed off on you." Mike frowned. "Me too. Damn."

"Yeah, he a nine-time loser, heh. But he's doin' good. You seen his new baby girl? Now, she's about the sweetest thing I've ever seen. Maybe his luck turned."

"Maybe he be cool now with a little girl to keep him mellow."

"The Cat still in town? Or is he placing bets for you down at the Indian Casino again?"

"He gave that up, man, you know that. He should still be in town, you know his place over on two-fifty-first."

Mike took the ray gun out of his pocket. "You seen anything like this before?" Mike asked, smiling. "Whatever you do," he said as he handed it over, "don't point it at anything you care about!"

Off of Pops wicked grin, Mike nodded at the joke, said, "Yeah, yeah. Just tell me what it is old man."

"It's a gun, man, who you foolin'?" Pops looked it over gingerly, "Never seen anything like it. Feels funny, don't it? Like it's too big. Guess it's made for Shaq-sized hands."

"'It's a gun' the fool says. You know any guns that shoot purple rays? Gimme that!" Mike swiped it out of Pops hands, grabbing the thing in a two finger, pincer-like grip, just to make sure the thing didn't go off.

"Alright, cool. You need anything? Want me to hook up some protection in case those freaks come back?" Mike asked.

"Nah, I'll be OK, thanks man," said Pops.

"Alright." Mike left and headed toward Johhny the Cat's place.

Johnny lived in a third floor walkup on 251st, and Mike headed up and knocked on the door. "Yo, Mike. I aint done nothing, I'm clean now, bro," were the words Johhny C greeted him with.

"It's all good, my brutha. I just wanta know where you got that piece of pipe you sold Pops. Want to get me some mo'. Pay top dollar too."

"What the hell you up to, Mike? You know that's just a weird-ass piece of pipe. Found it when me and the family was up in the mountains couple-three weeks ago." Johnny looks a little abashed, "My little girl, I don't think it's so good for her to be in the city all the time. I like to take her up into the mountans, you know? Let her see some trees and stuff."

"Whatchoo doing right now, bro? Take me up where you found that pipe."

"No can do, man. My little girl's asleep and her momma's at work. I'll tell you where I found it, though. Head up toward the Springs, then take that little state road toward the lake. There's a picnic area up there, but not the big one, just a little one that nobody much goes to. We went there, then walked along a creek. I found it on the edge of the creek."

"Alright, holmes, I can respect that. You need anything? I can hook you up after I get back."

Mike bailed from Johnny's crib, and climbed into his classic Chevy Impala, stock cherry except for a carefully hidden Alpine stereo with a multidisc CD player mounted in the trunk. He selected disc number one, Marvin Gaye's all-time classic What's Going On, and took a drive up into the mountains.

Just about the time the disc was over and Inner City Blues came to a close, Mike killed the ignition. He noted the US Forestry sign indicating he needed a permit to park, but he decided to take a chance on the ticket to investigate what's turning into the weirdest of cases.

And once again, he noted to himself, there doesn't seem to be a paycheck involved with this one either.

It was pretty easy to follow the directions. There was the picnic ground, mostly deserted, and a little creek heading up into the woods.

It was not incredibly easy going, but it would be attractive to someone looking to get away from it all. Johnny mentioned that he found it by a big rock and a little pool in the creek, and Mike found those without too much effort.

While Marvin Gaye's overdubbed harmonies still echoed in his head, Mike began his search. The pipe obviously belonged to something larger, he thought. Too bad I don't have it now, or a helicopter. Hmm, nothing beats altitude for a little surveillance.

Looking around for a suitable tree, Mike leapt up into it and began to leap from sturdy branch to sturdy branch, hoping to get the bird's eye view of the surrounding area.

Do you really think it's from a UFO, he asked himself. Stranger things...he answered. Why would a pack of idiots use force and high-tech weapons to fetch back a pipe? Easy answer: must not be a pipe, just looks like one. So why get it back? Either it was one of a kind and they needed it, or it was unique in some other way. Hmm. Alien metal? Super secret government project? Mike laughed out loud. You've seen too many straight-to-video movies, man, he told himself.

But he kept looking. For what, he wasn't sure. But he looked none-the-less.

He manouvred around a broken branch and tried to get a better view. Then stopped. He turned back and looked at the broken branch. He was on one of the highest trees, and the branch was one of the highest on the tree. It had been shattered as if by violent impact. He visualized where the branch would have been, and then looked at some of the other tall trees. Now that he knew what he was looking for, it was easy to find; if an object had been moving fast and come through the space where this branch was, it could have moved that way and broken a branch there. He looked and was rewarded by the sight of a shattered branch roughly where he thought it would be. He calculated trajectories. It came in over the lake from that direction which means it was headed ... that way, into the deep overgrown forest.

Plane crash? he mused. Or it just might be that UFO he'd been joking about all along. Oh boy.

Mike stayed to the trees, alternately climbing and leaping from tree to tree like some giant squirrel. He'd debated with himself about traveling by the forest floor, but he didn't have a compass (and he kicked himself for not thinking of that before he'd left) and would just have to climb back up to get his bearings repeatedly. He also wished he worn clothes more suitable. He soon had streaks of dirt embedded in thick, gooey strands of tree sap on his pants and he actually managed to tear his leather jacket. But he persisted. He was intrigued by what he might find. Then he said aloud, "This better not be a wild goose chase," as he leapt to the next branch.

The damaged branches were appearing lower and lower on the trees, so Mike felt that he must be on the right track. He was deep in the forest now, far away from the beaten track. He paused for a moment and took a sighting, if the trail continued straight it would impact somewhere over there, by the base of that mountain.

Mike's confidence was buoyed up by seemingly being on the right track. He'd withhold judgment until he actually found _something_, but until then he'd keep on keeping on.

With a little more bounce to his step--probably from anticipation--Mike, made a beeline for the base of the mountain.

	*		*		*		*
Ka-Sador soared gracefully high above the trees. It was fortunate that they had managed to land their escape pod so far from any habitation, since they would be hard pressed to hide it very well.

His hunter's eyes moved continually back and forth across the terrain below him, unconsciously searching for prey. Movement caught his eye. There it was again!

Now that he knew what he was looking for, Ka-Sador could easily track the man, if it was a man. Dark-skinned, the man leapt from tree to tree in bounds of up to 3 kra! (Ka-Sador forced himself to translate the units of his homeland into those of the new planet; bounds of about 30 feet.) Was this normal, he wondered? He had never seen anyone bound so far on earth, except for Colonel Steve Austin and Wonder Woman, and he was not completely convinced that those leaps had been real -- the trajectory was wrong.

These leaps were real, though, and more disturbing, they were taking the man directly toward the spot where the escape pod was hidden, with Princess M'Krell inside!

Ka-sador took a sharp turn and with a great flap of his wings set off on an interceptory course ahead of the bounding man to 'head him off at the pass' like Hopalong Cassidy. There, he would find a darkened spot and wait for the game to approach.

He chose his location with a hunter's eye and folded his wings. He dropped like a stone then opened his wings to brake himself. Then he moved against the trunk of a large tree and waited, motionless.

Cocking his head to the side, Ka-sador listened for a creaking branch, a rustling leaf, a soft exhalation of labored breath. The gentle evening breeze carried forth a cornucopia of aromas but he had spent many days and nights in this strange land and had catalogued them within his head, not by name but by smell. There was something out there that was new...different...and coming his way.

After a few moments, he saw the man leaping through the trees toward his hiding spot. Large, black, with a torn leather jacket and pants which had seen better days, the man leapt between the trees with great energy if not great agility. His path would lead him close by where Ka-Sador lurked.

Ka-sador crouched low and pulled a bolo from his bandoleer, folding his wings into what they called 'Battle Posture' in the arena. An unnatural rustle in the trees told him that the target was near and this started the bolo spinning in his right hand as he readied to launch the missile at first sight.

	*		*		*		*
Mike leapt out from a tree and heard more than felt something whistle by his feet. Looking back he saw a strange weapon of cable and weights tangled in the branches behind him. Landing and looking at the direction from which it had come, he saw a strange creature in the shadows at the base of a nearby tree. Nearly ten feet tall, the creature was dark skinned with pointed features, and was difficult to see in the shadows. Mike saw wings, he thought, which added to the creature's size. Of more immediate interest, though, was the second bolo in the creature's hands.

"Sweet mother, what on earth are you?" Mike noised mostly to himself, peering into the shadows. He raised his hands to shoulder height, palms facing outward. "Yo, my brother, I ain't gonna hurt you. Uh, you want to come on out and rap with me, or you just wanna brawl?"

Cautiously the figure stepped from the shadows into the moonlight where a beam of luminescence struck his dark jet skin. With a wing raised high the bolo continued to whir. [VACHGT LGCS NAGTHAKN] croaked out in a guttural tone from the sleek face. Upon completion of the phrase a universally recognized emotion of embarrassment washed over the form as he shook his head side to side. Ka-sador thought to himself how pleased the Krai would be that their indoctrination was so complete that the first words from his mouth on this new world was the instinctual battle cry of the arena -- "Surrender or Die."

Fortunately, this man did not speak he had a second chance [FRENDT OOR FOH?] came out harshly as the bolo stopped and a gesture of non-aggression was assumed.

"Yo, man, you one funky lookin' dude. But it's cool, we all can't be as good lookin' as me." Mike smiled. What on earth was this cat saying? Nope, no universal translator in his pocket. Have to play it by ear.

Play it by ear. Hey, FRENDT OOR FOH almost sounded like "friend or foe." No...really? Mike cocked his head. "You speak English, bro? I'm a FRIEND." Mike stepped closer. "FRIEND."

Ka-sador relaxed a bit and approached, extending his hand like he had seen on the intercepted visuals he had been monitoring since his arrival. This human identified himself as a friend, which meant two things -- one, Ka-sador could communicate with the denizens of this world; and two, the brutality and disregard for civility he had been observing for weeks was not as widespread as he had feared.

[YESS...FRENDT] he said once again, gently thumping his chest [ME KA-SADOR...YOO HUGEE BEAR?] a conclusion arrived at from the appearance and speech patterns of this human based on his planetary research.

"Ha ha ha, very funny, motherscratcher," Mike said. "I got yo' Huggy Bear right here." He scowled at the large...alien, yep, that's what this cat was.

Mike extended his hand and they shook. "MIKE," he said indicating himself with a hand to his chest.

"Great, we gonna one-syllable this mess all day long," Mike mumbled. "Uh, WHAT'S YOUR PLAN. YOUR MISSION?"

Ka-sador listened attentively, paused, and formulated his response in this strange language, [MISSHUN? NONE.] He looked skyward longingly and extended a long finger into the inky blackness of the night to a series of stars [HOME.] The extraterrestrial turned his attention back to Mike and continued, [ME STRANNDID, LIKE GILLYGAN AND THE RESTE. CRASH ESCAPE POD, FLEE KRAI -- NO LYKE BEEIN SLAVE INN AREENA.]

Mike nodded his head, actually understanding where this cat might be coming from, well, figuratively. "My people used to be slaves too. We're mostly free now, but the Man still try and keep us down, but we just have to out-smart them and we be cool." Mike paused to see if he got what he was saying.

"You seem cool, so I'm going to tell you why I'm here. You ever seen somethin' like this before?" Mike withdrew the ray gun from his jacket pocket, held it low and un-menacingly. "Some guys tried to use this on me. Against me."

Ka-sador eyed the pistol but closer inspection was not necessary. The chiseled barrel and grip bearing the seal of the Krai Empire was enough to convince him that his nightmare had come to pass. [ME KNOH IT. IT BEE KRAI BLASSTR. WHERE MYKE GET? HOW MANEE?] croaked out of the alien's voicebox, as he held his head aloft appearing to sniff the gentle woodland breeze.

"A couple of fools tried to use it on me and an old guy. See," Mike began, "there was this piece of 'pipe,' well, that's what they say it looked like, and these guys tried to take it...using this." Mike hefted the ray gun for emphasis and then stowed it back in his pocket.

"They just disappeared, too. Uh, you come down in a ship or something? Maybe they was after you. Cops or bounty hunters, you know?"

[YESS, ME COM IN SHIP. CUD BE AFTR KA-SADOR.] thought the alien aloud. Turning back to Mike he queried, [MYKE SAY 'PYPE', YOO TAKE KA-SADOR TO PLAYCE AND OLD GUY?]

Mike shrugged. "Yeah, we could go there, but I'm not sure what good it'll do. The bad guys made off with the pipe. It might have been from your ship. Did you crash or something?" Mike looked around, peered through the trees. "Your ride somewhere around here man?"

[YESS, KA-SADOR CRASH. POD THERE.] with a generic point off into the darkness. Ka-sador turned to Mike with an inflecting [YOU WANT TO SEE?] And it appeared as if the avian creature smiled when he followed up with the following proposition [THEN YOO SHOW KA-SADOR PORETA LEZANDER?]

"Yeah, let's go check yo' ride out. Then you want me to show you what, holme?" Mike arched his eyebrows as he tried to figure out what this strange dude was talking about. "Think you gonna need some help if these motherscratchers are after yo butt, you know what I'm sayin'?"

Mike walked a few steps toward the general area Ka-Sador had pointed. "They on to you, man, but that's cool. I could kick some slaver butt--a little payback for my gramps...."

[BUTT KYCKIN IS GOOD... LYKE WALKRR, TECHAS RAINJERR,] concluded Ka-sador at this offer of assistance. This was a strange representative of this world, unlike many he had seen in the picture box yet similar too. Friendship was important as he had heard many songs about this on the soundwave band, and with there being Krai here -- there was also danger.

Ka-sador fell into step with Mike and suddenly the pair was airborne as Ka-sador took flight supporting him in the grip of his massive hands. [QWICKER THIS WAY] chided the alien at Mike's intial protests, but the view of the Port Alexander light display in the distance was an awesome, calming view. The twosome streaked into the night air and circled broadly the terrain before landing in a clearing of trees.

A short walk later and they came upon the wrecked escape pod hidden under a makeshift canopy of branches and leaves near the foot of the mountains.

After they set down, Mike said, "Yo, man, why don't you ask before you going putting your hands on a man? I was fixing to put the hurt on you, but then you ain't from around here, so maybe you don't know what's up." Mike realized this cat probably didn't know what he was crying about, not knowing the customs and all. "Look, man, never mind, you know. It's cool. Just...ah, forget it."

Ka-sador looked at Mike with confusion, struggling to comprehend until the last few words which caused him to smile and repeat [COOOOOOLLLLLL] with a dove-like coo.

Mike peered into the darkness under the branches. "Can this thing be traced? You know, some kind of beacon? Cause if it do, they gonna be up yo' backside real quick. We better turn it off and get outta here."

[HAD WUNE, YES. ME DISABULL, THAUT ABOUT USING AS TRAP SUMDAYE. GOOD TRAP NEED BAIT, YA KNOH WHUT IM SAYIN SOHL BRUDDA?] he confided with a tinge of pride at quickly mastering the language of this world.

There was a sound at the door of the pod and what sounded like words in some completely alien language. A lithe figure appeared at the door to the pod, speaking the harsh words of the Krai tongue. The girl, for she was clearly a girl, even if alien, stopped at the sight of Mike. She was humanoid, with slightly elongated features and slightly elongated toes. The effect was striking and beautiful for all of its alienness. She looked to Ka-sador in some confusion.

In what even the most uninformed observer would consider a paradox, Ka-sador briefly dropped to a knee and bowed his head before quickly rising to his full height and firing off a litany of harsh words (harsh by even Krai standards, as the scolding tone implied). Realizing the newness and fear of it all, he knew she was homesick, scared, and bored. However, survival on this new world demanded adherence to what was best for them both and Ka-sador had told her a julga times (*much more than a million) that she was to remain at the cave and not return to the pod. If she were spotted, her royal lineage on this world would mean very little to whoever happened to make the discovery. Now more than ever, with the appearance of the Krai things were not safe -- and would get worse.

A sharp tone carried the unfamilar words as the alien girl responded to the tongue-lashing. Ka-sador nodded. Then the girl turned to Mike and spoke haltingly but clearly, "Ka-sador tells me that you are friend ... _a_ friend. Is it true the Krai are here?"

Mike had remained in silent shock while the two aliens argued. When the female alien spoke perfect English, Mike just about whizzed.

Mike looked to Ka-sador suspiciously. "You been holding out on me, huh?" He checked the chick out. Something about her 'tude said she was important. Maybe he had his reasons then, like protecting her.

Mike turned back toward the girl. "Yeah, they here. Probably after him"--he aimed a thumb at Ka-sador--"or, maybe they after you." He nodded assessing the situation. "Whatchoo folks wanna do now? I'll help you out if I can."

Then--as he was prone to do--added under his breath, "For no fee, I'm sure."

With a tone of admiration, Ka-sador said [MYKE VERY NICE. ME WANT TO BE LYKE MYKE, BUT TOO DAYNJERUS. REWQWIRE TOO MUCH IN STRANJE LAND.] Flattered by Mike's generosity, Ka-sador wandered off dejected. This was a strange land, generosity such as this was foreign in the Krai Empire. He had almost forgotten that virtue even existed, it had been taught him from an early age by the elder Orionids as part of his heritage. But like so many of the joyful things learned, the crack of the Whip of Obedience drowned out its sweet sound.

It was this dejection, no doubt, which allowed the Krai to get so close before Ka-sador detected them with his hyper-alert senses. He thought to cry out a warning, but it was unneeded as the sound of Krai blasters announced their presence.

Out of the woods came a swarm of Krai, tall bear-like aliens. Harsh words in the same alien tongue that M'Krell had used earlier were exchanged and three Krai turned to Ka-sador while the remaining six, and the leader, closed in on Mike and M'Krell.

In one smooth motion, Ka-sador pulled a bolo off his belt and tossed it toward one of the Krai. The bolo struck and wrapped around the oncoming alien, pinning his arms and legs to his body and then bashing him nearly senseless as the weights in their turn slammed into his body.

[KLIREQ M'KRELL JUTYLA!] screamed Ka-sador at the sound of the first blaster. Hopefully M'Krell would heed his advice and baricade herself within the escape pod. The locking mechanism was still functional and the hull could easily withstand hand blasters.

He leapt into the air and spread his wings, flying forward into a flying Negev kick, Bantier style on the next Krai. The blow struck the Krai high on the chest and sent him sailing backwards and down to the ground.

Mike figured that since they were attacking Ka-Sador and not the girl meant that she was important to them alive. Cool, maybe he could use that to his advantage.

Mike leapt to close any distance between himself and M'Krell, grabbing her up and aiming the alien ray gun at her temple. "One funky move and I'll mess her up!"

In her ear, he whispered, "Quick, what do they want?"

Panicked, M'Krell screamed and struggled, the Krai leader barked something in Krai and his troops leveled their blasters and fired. M'Krell screamed as the purple energy lanced into her body again and again. She slumped, a dead weight in Mike's arms.

Mike blinked and in that partial second, he knew that he'd seriously underestimated the aliens. There were no words that could form in such a short amount of time. He laid M'Krell's body down and only hoped as he leapt at the closest aliens that he could somehow atone for her death. The first to pay would take the brunt of his rage. He couldn't afford to think what Ka-sador might do, but that reckoning would only come if they got out of this alive.

Mike unleashed a bolt of electrcity at the nearest alien and the victim screamed as the charge surged through his body. The gun in his hand exploded and a smell of burnt meat filled the air as he/it collapsed to the ground.

[RULIOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPP!!] screamed Ka-sador upon hearing the wash of blasters firing and turning to see M'Krell slump in Mike's arms. Feuled by rage, he dove into his remaining adversary with a lunging double thrust and follow-up rake with his right wing. Both blows were directly on target and the Krai went down.

The officer barked another command in the harsh Krai language, and again the blasters fired. One of the Krai cut his targetting too fine and hit the Krai nearest Mike, rather than Mike.

Ka-sador curled his wings in front of him and deflected the energy blast off their armour. Mike simply ignored them, other than to scream in pain as he charged.

Charging was in Ka-sador's mind as well. The two closed on the Krai officer, but Mike got there a step in the lead and plowed into him. The officer tried to get away, but Mike shouted, "You goin' down, sucka!" at the same moment as Ka-sador shouted something in Krai. The officer was sandwiched between the blows and dropped like a poleaxed steer.

The two angry warriors turned to the remaining Krai. Electricity arced from Mike's outstretched hand and another Krai crumpled.

Ka-sador reached down, ripped off the belt from the fallen commander and turned to the remaining Krai. [VACHGT LGCS NAGTHAKN] boomed out from the alien as he assumed Battle posture and dug in. A pregnant pause was shattered as Ka-sador launched himself into their midst with a great flap of his wings. A side kick sent a Krai spinning into a tree and down.

The Krai could see no mercy in the faces of their foes and fired their blasters again, hopelessly. One struck Mike a glancing blow but then the two were all over their foes and in another few seconds the remaining Krai had been battered into unconsciousness.

Ka-sador rushed to the fallen body of M'Krell to check on her. The blaster charred body looked so tiny in his arms as he whispered words in a chant with a mourning timbre.

Suddenly his song stopped. There was life still in the body. The warmth was that of living flesh not residual blaster radiation.

Ka-sador whispered a praise to the Creator as he brushed aside a lock of M'Krell's hair and listened closely for the beating of her hearts and tell-tale sign of atmospheric compression within her small frame. Gently, he asked her if she could hear him; could she respond; reassuring her that the immediate threat was over -- for now.

Mike leapt to M'Krell's body, but Ka-sador was already there. He couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't trite. He'd played craps with another person's life and crapped out, yet she was the one who'd lost. "She gonna make it?"

Even as they watched, M'Krell's breathing stabilized and became a little deeper.

Ka-sador gave thanks for the answering of his plea, and looked up to Mike. [ME THENK SO. HOW HAPPEN MYKE? KA-SADOR NO SEE, ONLEE HEAR BLASTRR] queried the alien.

"I blew it, man, plain an' simple. Coulda cost her her life, but I guess they wanted her alive." Mike shook his head. "That's why I'm askin' you all these questions, bro; I wanna know what I'm gettin' into, y'know what I'm sayin'? Don't wanna pull a dumb stunt like that again."

Confident of M'Krell's recovery Ka-sador steadied her, surmising that despite their charges and subesquent charred material, the Krai had had their blasters on stun. M'Krell was indeed worth more alive than dead, the same could not be said with surety of him, he thought.

The Krai would not stay out much longer -- time was of the essence. Their makeshift haven was no more, this area was thoroughly scouted and mapped, if Ka-sador knew the Krai. He and M'Krell must gather whatever supplies they could and move, quickly.

Turning to Mike, Ka-sador said [MUST LEEVE, MYKE HELP US CARRY?]

"Yeah, man, of course. What they want with you two? Ain't they just gonna follow you to the next place you hole up?"

[PROBLEE, BUT NO CAN QWIT. KRAI MAYBEE NOT COME THERE,] said Ka-sador with a point off into the valley where the dancing lights of Port Alexander shone through the haze. The alien entered the pod returning with whatever minor provisions he could carry and handed them off to Mike.

Ka-sador set off collecting the Krai blasters, ejecting their power packs for storage and securing a couple of the weapons themselves. M'Krell would need some means of protection, he thought, she may as well learn the Krai blaster. With a matter-of-fact coldness Ka-sador delivered a swift kick to the Krai encased by his bolo to assure his unconscious compliance with removal and storage of the weighted weapon.

Surveying the area, Ka-sador turned to Mike with a [FOLLOW ME} before picking up M'Krell and taking to the skies further into the woodlands to their cave.

When Mike caught up with them, Ka-sador had already piled up their meager collection of belongings outside a small cave.

Mike had had some time to think about all this and it wasn't making any sense. He'd already misjudged these aliens once, and he didn't want to do that again.

"You can't keep running for ever, bro. What they want with you?"

Busily, Ka-sador prepared their belongings for travel answering between tasks. [KILL...CAPTOOR...EETHER WAY BAD] half-heartedly revealed the alien. Inside Ka-sador knew he wasn't be completely open to this friendly earthlander, safety for his new friend was important. But could safety exist in unpreparedness? Mike had been helpful, and more than held his own against the Krai, as such he deserved to know so Ka-sador began to speak.


Time was fleeting and he continued on his way distributing the looted Krai technology to M'Krell and Mike. Handing a Krai belt to Mike with an attached button array and clip he cautioned, [KRAI HERE-NOT-HERE DEVICE. KRAI SIGNAL WITH BUTTON AND SHIP BRING THEM BACK. DO NOT PUSH OR BEECON GO OFF, MORE KRAI. MAYBEE WE USE LATER.] A small handheld device no bigger than a standard deck of playing cards was the next treat handed to Mike, [TALK BOX TO SPEAK MANY, MILES.] And of course, the trio knew the Krai blasters all too well from their last encounter.

Hoisting the packs up, Ka-sador tended to M'Krell as she withdrew into her quite fashionable (even by Earth standards) cloak making her seem passable as a human in the Port Alexander night. [NOW WE GO, WHERE MYKE?] questioned the eager alien.

"That is some story, man. But you cool for saving her." Mike raised a fist for solidarity. "I'm down with you, bro...let's didi on up out of here. You can crash at my crib."

Mike was about to turn when something else occurred to him. "She ever tell you what they wanted with her? Might come in handy to know if we run into these mothers again."

[THAT, FRENDT MYKE IS NOT KA-SADOR'S STORY TO TELL] said Ka-sador with a sly smile and glance to the majestic M'Krell.

"A'ight, but it might help to know sooner than later, if you know what I'm sayin'...?"

[ME ALMOS FORGET] exclaimed the alien as he dug within his satchel to retrieve a small metallic device which he then clipped to his bandoleer. A button push later and the very atmosphere around the alien began to crackle and sputter with junctions of light and images until there in front of Mike stood a bald, dark-skinned man of average height with smooth features and almond-shaped eyes. From a distance he looked quite ordinary, it was upon closer inspection that his features became somewhat extraordinary in a disjointed manner. With what could be described as a sub-Saharan Africa skin tone and almost Asiatic facial features the man was a blend of cultural diversity, and then there was his fashion sense. There, stood a man dressed in a rumpled beige raincoat, brown bell-bottom pants, scuffed leather shoes, a wrinkled white shirt with brown necktie, and a smoking cigar clasped between the fingers of his right hand. A practiced scratch over the brow with the cigar armed hand brought forth a wide grin and enthusiastic [YOO LYKE, MYKE?]

At this precise moment it dawned on Mike that the Ramparts' newest resident was an alien inspired by Lieutenant Columbo.

"Bro, you crazy." Mike shook his head in disbelief, began to chuckle lightly. "And here I thought you was gonna get some strange-ass looks lookin' like you was befo'. But you cool. Got yo' own style, that's for damn sure."

Mike checked out M'Krell. "What about her? She got one of them things too?"

[ONLEE ONE, MUST SHARE.] answered Ka-sador for the rather stoic M'Krell.

However, in her cloak and with a hat pulled down over her head, Mike saw, M'Krell could pass for human in a bad light. At least she's the right size, not like the giant Ka-sador.

	*		*		*		*
Ka-sador, Mike and M'Krell drove through the late afternoon shadows back toward Port Alexander. M'Krell had recovered enough to accept the blaster from Ka-sador, and was preparing to tell her story. "My people have been at war with the Krai for many years, and for many of those years we were at war also with the Bolusci. The Bolusci also fought the Krai, and no one race could gain a decisive advantage. Slowly, though, the Krai began to gain against us. So a peace was arranged and to seal it, I was to be married to the Meg of the Bolusci. I ... what?"

A quick shimmer passed before the eyes of the three passengers, and when it vanished, they found themselves looking into the eyes of six very startled Krai.

They were on a raised platform at one end of a small room. At the other end, perhaps 10 meters away, was a group of Krai. Two of them looked very similar to the Krai which Mike had seen on Earth, but the other four were smaller and frailer looking -- and unarmed.

"Ah, man!" Mike groaned. "Someone messin' with us." "Yo, fools, whatchoo want?" he called down to them. "Best put my ride back on the motherlovin' road, less I come down there and start baggin' on you, SHOCKWAVE STYLE!"

Mike did a double-take, turning to look at Ka-sador and M'Krell in puzzlement. "What in the...?" Once he recovered, he rolled his eyes. "Someone messin' with us, and I had just about enough of these MOTHERLOVIN' FOOLS!"

He took a step toward the Krai. Electricity crackled over his body in swirling, psychotic patterns as it interacted with the air and his body. "Whatchoo punks want with us, huh? You gonna stand there lookin' stupid, or you gonna BRING IT?!" Mike motioned toward himself angrily. "C'mon!"

As Mike was gearing up for combat, Ka-sador instinctively leapt from the platform with a great flap of his wings, switching off the holoprojector in mid-flight toward the two startled Krai. He knew a quick strike before any containment field could be erected would be imperative if they were to escape the chains of Krai enslavement.

Both Mike and Ka-sador were suprised to hear a shout from behind them followed immediately by the flat crack of a Krai blaster. M'Krell had recovered from her stunning and was not amused to be back in the clutches of the Krai. Her shot zipped between the two men to slam into one of the large Krai, who staggered back from the impact.

Mike pounced on one of the Krai with one mighty leap, delivering a straight right into the alien's face. "Shockwave here t' bring the noise!" And he slammed the alien in the face for a second time. "You kidnapped th' wrong black man, FOOL!"

The alien crumpled under the fury of Mike's assault.

Overshooting his quarry, Ka-sador righted himself and engaged the second large Krai with a flurry of strikes. A backhand left to the head was quickly followed by a sharp right to the midsection, culminating with a fluid back spin seeing his right armoured-wing come crashing into the target.

One of the remaining Krai reached for the control panel. M'Krell shouted and shot at him. She missed, instead striking the control panel. A shower of sparks rained out as the panel exploded, startling Mike, singing Ka-sador, and sending the remaining Krai cowering into a corner.

Mike glowered at the cowering Krai. "What we gonna do with this fool? You get him to talk, tell us how to didi on up outta here?"

Ka-sador approached the frightened group and spoke soothingly. He had seen the good-cop/bad-cop routine work on the earth picture box, and Mike's imposing figure with coarse sounds was a horrific combination of sight and sound to the Krai workers. Calmly, Ka-sador asked where they were? how was it they were brought here? and subtly dropped a hint at Mike's insatiable appetite for Krai flesh.

The poor drones cowered before the manifest might of the warriors facing them, and one stammered out that they were aboard the Krai Strike Corvette "Renegotiator" (which name has fearsome connotations to those familar with Krai "diplomacy").

"Don't hurt us masters, we shall do as you desire," replied one drone, perhaps less fearful than his comrades. M'Krell translated for Mike.

"These motherscracthers sure do roll over fast enough. I ain't buying it," Mike said. "Watch yo' butt."

Ka-sador thought about the physical contortion one would have to perform in order to fulfill such a request and dismissed it with a curious shake of his head as not prudent for the impending task at hand. Focusing one's attention on their posterior seemed inappropriate for combat, these earthers were odd indeed. Rising to his full height, he cut an imposing figure as he demanded an account from the drones as to the number of Krai Warriors on board and where they could be found.

M'Krell shook her head and said, "Mike, wear this for now." She lifted a pendant from around her neck, pressed the stones around it in a complicated pattern, and dropped it around Mike's. To his surprise, a soft voice began speaking inside his ear, and he realized the words were a translation of the Krai prisoner's words.

"The crew has three officers, and the mission team has fifteen, master. Three are on the surface of this cursed mudball manning the transport station, two are here. Ten were sent to recapture the," he shot a sidelong glance at M'Krell, "the Princess and her sla ... helper. They have not returned. The Captain is on the bridge. I do not know where the other officers are, master," the prisoner cowered.

"I got your mudball, motherscratcher!" Mike yelled. "Keep makin' cracks like that an' I'm gonna dope-slap yo' @$$ hard enough yo' next generation gonna feel it!" Mike clenched his fists and started for the drone in a made-you-flinch sudden movement. "Now bust a move toward the bridge, fool. I'm tired of playin'."

Weighing this information Ka-sador turned to M'Krell for any insight she could shed on the situation. After a brief exchange Ka-sador came to the conclusion that returning to earth the way they came would solve little, even if they could trust the drones to send them back -- that would only delay the inevitable, the Krai could snatch them whenever they wanted. There was only one way to prevent these Krai from bothering them.

[COME, WE TAYKE SHIP,] he said matter-of-factly to Mike and M'Krell. Turning to the drones, Ka-sador offered a choice -- their freedom, or a ride on the Barge of Fiery Torment. Impatience greeted their watchful eyes as the Orionid gladiator reached for a bolo hanging from his bandoleer.

"'We take ship'," Mike repeated. "Bro, I like my rides big, but this takes the cake. Let's go, bro...time to get this show on the road!"

Ka-sador half-heartedly extended a hand to intimate that his attempt at restraining Mike was feeble at best, and matters became more dire when he informed the obstinate drone that Mike hadn't eaten in quite a while. A jerk of his head toward the portal left the drones with little choice but to lead them to the bridge. Ka-sador repeated his offer to provide freedom in exchange for their assistance as the yoke of servitude was heavy, as he well knew.

The Krai drone spokesman gave Ka-sador a quizzical look at the offer of freedom, was he not, after all a Krai? Ka-sador had not really expected much, loyalty was bred into the Krai just as obediance was.

The drone shrugged and led the other three toward the door, with the heroes close behind. He opened the door and went out.

The heroes now stood near one end of a corridor. The drone pointed to the door at the near end. "Engine room." He continued pointing his way up the doors, "Infirmary. Quarters. Galley. Officer's quarters. Lift to lower deck. Gun cupola." At the far end of the corridor. "Bridge. Below us is storage and modular units, including the warrior's quarters."

Mike grinned as energy coruscated around his body. "Well, you wanna bust a big ol' nasty su-prise on the captain? Gonna laugh my butt off when he realizes he effed up kidnappin' us!"

Ka-sador nodded and readied himself as they made their way down the corridor. Stopping at the Officer's Quarters he gave a nod to Mike inquiring here or the Bridge. A low whispered, [WHERE YOO FEEL LUCKEE?] set the tone for their first assault wave at surprising the Captain.

After an indecisive pause, Ka-sador looked toward the bridge and decided to begin at the head. Beckoning his associates to follow, he stalked down the corridor to the entry portal. Locking eyes with Mike, Ka-sador whispered [ULU CHA MERGWE] and then took a deep breath looking skyward. The translating device M'Krell had given Mike relayed the arena devotional, "Toward Death We March," as the twosome readied themselves before activating the touchpad.

The door slid open and the motley crew found themselves looking at the startled bridge crew. The bridge was small, only four or five meters wide and slightly narrower. Two drones were manning stations to the left and right, and further in, in front of the viewscreen which dominated the far wall, stood two of the larger Krai that Mike was already beginning to think of as the warrior class. Both of the two warriors were armed with pistols, and one was wearing some sort of heavy outer garmet.

As the door opened, one warrior turned, saying, "It's about time, report ..." the question trailed off.

Mike knew better than to unleash any electric jolts on the bridge. He pounced on the closest of the warriors, delivering a driving punch into the alien's face. "Say good night, sucka! Earth here to rep-re-SENT!"

As he leapt in, one of Ka-sador's bolas whistled past him toward the other warrior. The bola struck the warrior solidly, but could not entangle her in the tight space.

Behind them, M'Krell's blaster barked once and one of the drones slumped over his console.

The thud of the bolo landing solidly on Krai flesh was followed by a close-fighting technique of the arena wars based on the T'gleth, a boar-like creature whose job it is to destroy the prey's mobility so the travelling pack of hunters can make an easy kill. Ka-sador leapt into the room in a slide delivering a kick to the inner knee of his target.

This was no harmless L'thegn, though, nor a drone; the warrior deflected the blow with a kick, and retaliated with a brutal kick of her own.

Ka-sador dropped a wing into the path of the Krai warrior's kick, deflecting most of the impact away. The Krai pressed the attack with the strange combination of grace and brutality which marked the trained Krai warrior.

"Bring it to ol' Shockwave, baby, bring it ON!" Mike yelled as he clobbered the last drone.

Mike grinned "Turn this crate around or we gonna see how long you can do the funky chicken!" Some electricity arced behind his thumb and index finger for emphasis as he turned to face the warriors.

His grin turned to concern as the warrior that was not engaging Ka-sador drew his sidearm and fired, Mike heard the short Krai epithet translated as, "Die, dirty descendant of tree-dwelling primates!"

"You best not be talkin' 'bout my momma, fool!" Mike shouted as the blaster bolt struck his force wall. Mike blinked in surprise as the energy overloaded the wall and it collapsed. He leapt across the bridge at the warrior, who fired again.

Mike's mouth formed a little O as he mouthed the word "Whoa." Not too many things could bring down his force wall. That was one bad piece that was aimed at him. Don't think I want to feel that on my skin, he thought as he promptly rolled out of the way.

He had forgotten the tight quarters and sidestepped into a wall, then the energy bolt slammed into him. He bounced off the wall and ended close enough to take a punch at the warrior facing him. Again the warrior's head rocked back and again he smiled through the pain as he fired again.

Mike took the blaster bolt and shrugged it off. "That what you got to offer, chump?" Mike declared as her unleashed one of his own. "Have some of this!" ZZZAAAAP! Mike's electric bolt arced into the Krai, whose hair stood on end. He shook off the shock and fired back.

The pressing attack saw Ka-sador give ground as he sought to deflect each raining blow with arm or wing waiting for the right opening to counter.

His bobbing and weaving gave M'Krell the opening she had been waiting for. The first shot slammed into the Krai warrior, but the second and third were wide, sending a shower of sparks from a console.

Maneuverability was lacking and Ka-sador had been stung too many times to his liking. This wasn't the arena and there was no extra greble worms for food on the line pending an exciting battle. Lashing out with a front kick to the midsection, Ka-sador began to fight back, and came around again with a double thrust to the Krai's head.

The Krai dropped below the second attack, and fought back.

Ka-sador gave ground parrying as best he could in the confined space. His armoured wings, such an advantage on the plains or in the arena, were almost a hindrance here. He caught the first shot, then stumbled over the slumped form of a Krai drone. The Krai captain saw the opening and delivered a ringing palm strike. The Orionid folded down to the deck.

"No!" shouted M'Krell and launched another energy bolt into the captain.

M'Krell fired again at the Krai captain, sending energy coruscating around what was clearly an armoured spacesuit.

The Krai captain had her prey in her sights. She pounced over to the princess and cuffed her mercilessly. But the High Illani are tough and the plucky princess held on to consciousness and fired again, missing as the captain batted her arm aside.

The captain pressed the attack on M'Krell, and another hard blow dropped her to the floor.

Mike leapt up to the ceiling of the bridge attempting to dodge the blaster bolts. The blasts washed around his feet before he swung them up to the ceiling. He clung to the ceiling first with hands and feet, then relaxed and let his feet alone hold him fast. Seemingly hovering over the Krai warrior, Mike poured a good couple thousand volts into the alien, or at least *at* the alien. The bolts arced into the wall near the alien's chest, sending another spray of sparks.

The warrior facing Mike, raised his blaster and fired again, but he was clearly rattled by the sight of the (to his eyes) alien hanging upside in front of him and missed.

Mike dropped back down on the alien warrior and electricity arced again. The Krai screamed and staggered back a step.

The warrior lashed out at Mike, trying to kick him clear.

Mike brought up an arm to block the warrior's kick as he sent his fist flying into the alien's face. "Gonna make you regret EVER takin' me on, chump!" Mike made sure he went down and stayed down with a flurry of punches.

At the door to the bridge, the Krai captain bent over the fallen M'Krell and made sure she was not shamming. Then she turned to Mike, and, with a feral gleam in her eyes, closed in.

"Woman, you ain't got nothin' to back that look in your eye. Sit yo' butt down or get smacked down!" Mike snapped at the Krai captain.

"Filthy mudcrawling ape, your females may cower before you when raise your voice, but mine is a warrior race that was conquering planets like yours when your race was hiding in caves and howling at the moon," replied the Krai captain as she feinted high. Despite her words, she was treading carefully and not overcommitting to an attack. She took a moment to discard her pistol belt, perhaps thinking that it was inhibiting her motion. Then she struck! A leaping roundhouse kick snapped Mike's head to the side.

Mike turned back to look at her as though he didn't feel it. He scowled at her and pointed to her chair like she was some disobedient child. "Oh, you enlightened. My bad." Mike mock-sniffled as if wounded to the core, his lip quivering. "You really put me in my place with that load."

This enraged the captain and she struck again, slamming a fist into his gut.

Mike straightened up quickly after the impact, and raised a hand glistening with sparks. "Want some of this? See what it did to your boy over there? Sit yo' butt DOWN!"

Where before the captain was enraged, now she was nearly berserk.

Mike started laughing at the effect he was having on her, despite the fact she could hit pretty damn hard. But, play time was over and he had to get this ship turned around.

"Well, as much as I like messin' wit' you, I'm gonna sit yo' butt down with some of ol' Momma Henry's patented medicine! Here it comes baby! Hold on to yo' hat!" Mike waded into the alien captain with a flurry of rights and lefts, saving the uppercut--as always--for last.

The captain slapped aside a few of the blows, and one glanced off her spacesuit, but several more landed solidly.

Mike kept slugging, landing a solid uppercut. The captain fell back a step. Up from the floor surged Ka-sador! He leapt forward and slammed a knee into the captain's back. She staggered forward.

"You? Did you not learn your lesson, slave?" She kicked back wickedly at Ka-sador.

"Who you callin' slave, biotch?" Mike said coldly.

Ka-sador leapt back, but had no room to move and the captain's combination of kicks drove him back down to the ground. In a smooth motion, she jumped high to attack Shockwave.

Ka-sador leapt back, but had no room to move and the captain's combination of kicks drove him back down to the ground. In a smooth motion, she jumped high to attack Shockwave.

Mike sprung up like an uncoiled spring, aiming to slam into the captain and spoil the momentum of her kick. He let his own trajectory take him where it might as he knew he was tougher than she was and could suck up their collision. The two crashed together then landed on the deck.

Mike felt the surge of energy within him and wasted no time unleashing into the captain. "Nighty night, woman. You done."

The shock rocked the captain back. She dropped to one knee, then amazingly staggered back to her feet. "You shall not triumph," she slurred and swung wildly at Mike, who easily avoided the blows.

"Woman, yo' fate was sealed as soon as you kidnapped the wrong folks! You you out!"

Mike reared back and delivered a mighty punch right into the captain's face.

"Never said I didn't believe in a woman's equality 'n' all."

The captain's head snapped back, then came down and she stared right into Mike's face ... for about one second, then slumped down and out.

Mike took in the bridge, the unconscious Krai and his companions on this crazy ride.

He set about trying to wake M'Krell and Ka-sador. "Come on, come on." Nothing; they were out cold. He tried one of the Krai who looked like he might be part of the bridge crew. "Get up, punk." Nothing.

"Man, this ain't funny," he said as he sat in the captain's chair and stared out into space.

A groan startled him and he looked around. The giant bird-alien, Ka-sador, was shaking his head and blinking. M'Krell, too, was twitching slightly.

Slowly Ka-sador rubbed his head and struggled to a sitting position, Mike's translator chimed with a groan of "Excedrin Headache" from the alien.

"Yo," Mike said. "Welcome back. You two through shamming? We gots to get this ride back on track, y'know what I'm sayin'?"

M'Krell got slowly to her feet and looked around the bridge. With an almost visible straightening her royal nature asserted itself. "There are only two officers here, that means a third is at large on the ship. We must bind these two, or kill them, and then find the third and disable him as well." She looked at the consoles. "Very efficient. A single person can fly this ship if need be." She flipped a switch, regarded a read-out, then tapped out a few commands. "It could be much worse. Most of the higher computer functions are burned out, it seems." She smiled, "Between the blaster fire and your own innate charges that's not surprising. FTL is down, and so is navigation. But, we're still in orbit, so that's not too bad. I should be able to land the ship," she concluded.

M'Krell got slowly to her feet and looked around the bridge. With an almost visible straightening her royal nature asserted itself. "There are only two officers here, that means a third is at large on the ship. We must bind these two, or kill them, and then find the third and disable him as well." She looked at the consoles. "Very efficient. A single person can fly this ship if need be." She flipped a switch, regarded a read-out, then tapped out a few commands. "It could be much worse. Most of the higher computer functions are burned out, it seems." She smiled, "Between the blaster fire and your own innate charges that's not surprising. FTL is down, and so is navigation. But, we're still in orbit, so that's not too bad. I should be able to land the ship," she concluded.

Ka-sador staggered to his feet with a sway and then regained his balance. With a curt nod to M'Krell, almost apologetically for both his condition and performance, he calmly walked over and coldly ripped the throat out of the unconscious officer. With orangish gore dangling from his hand, Ka-sador pointed to the Captain and chirped through the translating medallion, "The Captain is your honor Mike, for you showed great valour."

"Naw, bro, it's cool, but she might prove useful 'n' stuff, know what I'm sayin'?" Mike replied. "We waste her now and we'll never know. Dig?"

Mike checked out the captain. "What about the other officer? We should find his butt before he starts causin' trouble." Mike punched his open palm. "Gonna have to give him a dose."

"Let live?" queried the alien through the mechanical translator, "I wonder if I'll ever understand you earthers." Ka-sador quickly gobbled up the extracted twin windpipes of the slain Krai, and nodded to Mike that he was ready to hunt the remaining officer.

"Everything relative, my man. That's why they every flavor of ice cream," Mike said philosophically. "Though everyone know chocolate the best," he added with a little smile. Then the smile turned to a grimace as he watched Ka-sador eat the Krai's raw flesh. "Dude, you ain't well, aight?"

"How should we restrain the Captain so she is no further trouble?"

"Um," Mike began, still troubled by Ka-sador's dining method, "what we need is someone to watch her, man. They too many people on board "Um," Mike began, still troubled by Ka-sador's dining method, "what we need is someone to watch her, man. They too many people on board that're gonna set her butt free. Since M'Krell gonna fly this ride back home, why don't she keep her tied up here with a gat." Mike noticed that M'Krell had already armed herself.

"She no fool," he said nodding approvingly.

"If it pleases M'Krell then I will concede," stated Ka-sador respectfully. "I insist, however, that the blaster be set on kill for her and our protection while we hunt the remaining officer," as the alien dragged the Captain's body to a corner of the bridge and began removing the armoured spacesuit.

M'Krell nodded, and clicked the blaster over to its more lethal setting. "I shall await your return here."

Ka-sador bowed to M'Krell and retrieved his thrown bolo. Returning to Mike's side, the alien readied himself and approached the door, pausing to listen. Ka-sador craned his head toward the plasalloy door searching for a sound or scent that would indicate life on the other side. "Sounds of battle may have warned our prey, no longer do we walk with surprise," he whispered.

Carefully the pair searched the ship, rapidly they determined that they were alone. Except for the two, er, one officer on the bridge, and the six drones, there were no Krai on the ship. Even the two warriors that had been left in the transmat chamber were gone.

"Escaped," murmured a disappointed Ka-sador, "so much for loyalty and honor, abandoning their Captain will mean certain death for them." Perhaps M'Krell could determine where the tranmat had sent the fleeing Krai.

Even to Ka-sador's eyes, the transmat has been sabotaged. Krai discipline was firm that materiel should not be allowed to fall into enemy hands.

Mike said, "Look, bro, this is starting to look grim. I say we make the captain tell us what time it is, get M'Krell to turn this boat around and get my black butt back on some ground! Can you dig it?"

As they walked back to the bridge, Mike asked, "Let me ask you something, holmes, you gotta do everything M'Krell ask you? Or you your own man? I ain't trying to dis you, hear, just wondering what we all gonna do when we do get back...?"

"I have learned much of your culture from the viewbox, M'Krell is how you would say, 'a strong sister that has it going on.' Her station is much higher than my own, and as such, has been privy to many knowledges withheld from me. I choose to listen and obey in matters which I know not," waxed the alien through the translator. "As for what to do when we return, it's your planet, bro'!" mused Ka-sador with a beaky smile and clap on the back. "Were it up to me, I say we stick it to the Man and lift up the oppressed brothers and sisters, solid?"

Mike laughed. "You a honorary black man, that for sure," he said, shaking his head in amazement.

"I am blacker than you," replied the jet-skinned alien in all his midnight glory.

"But we gotta work on your threads with that holo-thang of yours. Ain't fitting to go around looking like no TV character, hear?"

Ka-sador looked puzzled, he had spent hours calibrating the holoprojector to correctly mimic the great detective, and decided to let the matter drop convincing himself that Mike was merely jealous.

Mike turned back to the bridge, "Let's see what's up with the captain. Maybe mess with her mind a little...."

Upon returning to the bridge, they found the Captain awake and angry. M'Krell sat on the far side of the bridge with the blaster trained on the Krai. The drones cowered in a corner.

Ka-sador's long coal black tongue slid over his beak-like lips as he gazed at the Captain. "Feasting on the Wind to the Soul of your underling has whetted my appetite for an even greater taste of the Journey to Esaktar," hissed the alien as he eyed the captive while stalking over to the side of M'Krell.

Mike poked a finger at the Krai captain. "You gonna take us back to earth and land this bad boy. You argue, I smack you. You try anything, I smack you. You digging where I'm going with this?" he said, scowling.

"Of course," said the Captain. "I shall do as you say at once." She made as if to rise and approach the console."

M'Krell spoke, "I believe that I can fly the ship, but the Captain could perhaps watch as well."

"Do not trust the conniving Krai," warned Ka-sador as he readied himself for some form of trickery.

"Yes, as we saw with the transmat, Krai doctrine is to destroy equipment rather than let it fall into enemy hands," added M'Krell.

"Okay, look," Mike said, "let's just get this boat back to Earth, y'know what I'm sayin'?" He shook his head in frustration. "Don't want no kamakazi action by no I'm-too-proud-to-live captain, hear?"

Mike turned to Ka-sador. "Let's lock this chick up somewhere, man. The only problem is if she outta sight, she might get up to something, know what I'm sayin'?"

"M'Krell, if you can land we do not need this filthy oppressive rizanglead weed," observed Ka-sador. "She is useless to us and therefore disposable. If death is too good for her, then let's lock her away."

Mike added, "You think one of us should stay up here in case someone try to take the bridge back? I don't know how many more fools onboard this thing."

M'Krell looked at Ka-sador. "I suspect that these here," she waved at the drones, "and the captain are all that remain. The ship is quite small."

"Cool. Let's just keep 'em here where we can keep an eye on 'em and get back to earth...I'm sick a lookin' at these fools!"

M'Krell nodded, "Agreed." She regarded the controls for a moment, then flipped a few switches. She looked at the results and frowned. She flipped a toggle, then back. "Something seems to be wrong. I'm not getting the power I should be getting."

"Perhaps we can achieve the needed power by blasting the Captain out of an airlock," suggested Ka-sador with a gleam in his eye.

"I am ready to die for the glory of the Empire," spat the Captain with a gleam in her eye. Was it a gleam of triumph?

Mike shot the captain an evil look. "Damn fanatics," he muttered, "can't live with 'em, can't haul off an' smack 'em."

Ka-sador approached the Krai Captain and shoved her back a metre before saying "The Krai cowards must have sabotaged the engines, they obviously fear our survival. Where is someplace soft we can land, Mike? I wish to see the look on this zhatari's face when we walk away to freedom -- before I tie her to the Tree of Woe."

"Man, I don't even know where we at. All our astronauts land in the ocean back in the day."

"By the eyes of The Father, sabotage! You are right! Why did I not see it before," cried M'Krell. Her hands flew over the controls. "It is worse than that, the power-plant is set to overload! We must abandon ship immediately. We passed the escape pods on the way in."

Mike sighed and rolled his head around, cracking his neck. "Aight, let's get a move on. Guess this thing gonna blow like in every stupid movie I ever done seen." Mike shot the captain another evil look. "I know how this gonna turn out too. We gonna leave her butt behind thinking she gonna die when the ship explode, but she not. She gonna know how to turn it off, then when we get home and get all comfy 'n stuff, she gonna show up on my MOTHERLOVIN' doorstep and mess wit' me some MO'!" he finished by screaming the final words.

"Damn it, I ain't havin' a good day, T'DAY!" he yelled as he jumped the few feet to the captain's side and slugged her with all his might, square in the face.

The surprised captain started to rise, then collapsed back down into unconsciousness.

Mike picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder. "C'mon, let's get up on outta here!" As they passed through the bridge door, Mike added, "How we tell the escape pods where we wanna go? I don't wanna end up on no Krai homeworld...know what I'm sayin'?!"

Ka-sador, remembering the harrowing journey across the galaxy that landed him on earth, answered philosophically, "You don't." As Mike's eyes widened, Ka-sador add, "the gravitational pull of the earth will attract the pods sensors and internal gyroscopic survival will assist in a landing which we should live through -- unless the Krai dogs saw to that as well."

"Yeah, gravity a mofo, ain't it?" Mike said, sighing, wary of the alien contraption, but unwilling to admit to it.

M'Krell spoke up, "The pods seem untouched. I don't think they had time to override the safety features on them. There are two 3-man pods on this level to cover the crew. There are eight of us, counting the drones." She thought, "there might be extra pods or larger ones for the marines belowdecks."

"Yes, there are, Mistress," piped up a drone, obviously fearing that he would be left behind if push came to shove.

"You best not get up to anything, fool," Mike warned the drone. "All ashore who's going ashore, dig?"

"Princess," humbly stated Ka-sador bowing his head, "I must protest at the thought of saving any of the Krai. I, and you, know what they are capable of. We cannot allow more to arrive upon the earth. Think of your safety. Think of what a horde of Krai will do to an inferior world ripe for enslavement." Ka-sador glanced at Mike adding, "No offense, my brother," with a sheepish grin.

Mike glanced harshly at Ka-sador. Then quickly nodded his head. "When you right, you right."

"My people and the Krai at war, H'reej," M'Krell used the formal pronoun, "so you need not tell me. However, the captain, at least, is properly the prisoner of Ho'roj Mike, and her disposition is in his hands. However, Mike, I agree with Ka-sador. We have no facilities to keep the Krai as prisoners-of-war, practicality and the rules of engagement suggest they be left to perish with their scuttled ship."

"But y'all are cold, man, I mean downright cold." Mike shook his head and stared at his shoes. " No one gonna believe us anyway.... But look, it one thing to waste someone who shootin' at you, it another to...well, you know what I'm sayin'. What kind of mess they gonna get into without they ship and stuff. Probably end up on the street with they hand out!"

M'Krell stepped closer to Mike, "Mike, we are at war. The entire crew of my ship was killed during my capture. Millions have died. They may not be shooting at us at this moment, but they are honour and duty bound to shoot us. And we them."

"Whatchoo gonna have me do, just line 'em up and kill 'em? We aren't part of this war you talkin' about." Mike frowned. "Well, I guess we gonna be now that y'all brought it," Mike said angrily.

Mike took a step toward one of the pods. "And why do you think they only send one ship. They come all this way to drag yo' butt back to the altar, they gonna come again. Maybe we learn something from her."

Ka-sador looked at the shivering drones and inquired of M'Krell, "Can the planetside transports carry the them far enough so that they can contact a rendezvous vessel? They should not perish for the sins of the warrior caste. Perhaps they can tell the Krai the Renegotiator was destroyed along with yourself and Ka-sador?"

"Ka-sador, we cannot trust them. They must be incommunicado or dead. Away from us, they will tell all they know out of fear or to curry favor," replied M"krell not unkindly.

With a sigh, Ka-sador conceded M'Krell's statement of fact and glared at Mike urging him to reconsider. Mike was a good earthlander, thought Ka-sador, although he was the only one he knew but deep inside he felt the e'zhepalak within Mike -- the heart of good concerns. That was an important essence among all Orionids, something that could not be taught, nor extinguished as the Krai had tried for generations. Whatever Mike decided, Ka-sador would accept and do his best to assist in dealing with the inevitable consequences.

"Ka-sador, Mike has spoken, and the prisoners are his. Come." M'Krell strode to the door like the princess she is. She led the way to "marine country" below decks and thence to a large escape pod. She slammed the emergency button and with much blasting of warning horns the pod opened. She stuck her head in and looked around, "Good. This is a ten-man pod. That should be sufficient." She stepped in, "Mike, I hope you know what you are doing. Last chance to change your mind." Then she took the seat by the minimal control panel.

"Thanks fo' all your help!" Mike ran a hand over his face thinking quickly. "Look, I don't know what the hell is going on! Are you telling me that if these 'drones' all die that the earth is safe? The Krai won't come back? Or are we already screwed and they here. If that the case, then what difference do it make if some more down there? You see what I'm saying? I mean, I can let all these motherscratchers die if that gonna end all this noise right here and now! Dig? I ain't foolin' around. They die to protect us, that cool wit' me an' I can live with it. They die and nothin' change, then what's the MOTHERLOVIN' point in killin' them?!"

"I honestly do not know, Mike. The Krai want me. I don't know if they are certain that I am here or merely suspect. If these escape to say that I am here the Krai will keep coming. So much depends on how much they know, and how they learned it," said M'Krell looking suddenly vulnerable.

"Well, I wouldn't know nothin' about that, now would I?" Mike answered testily. "I say we get our butts on these pods, an' get the hell outta Dodge before we go down with the ship. You can do what you want with 'em once we back on the ground." He looked pointedly at her. "I don't want to know about it, here?"

"Mike can keep Captain alive to serve as qzethel, if he likes," said Ka-sador using a derrogatory term that caused M'Krell to blush and turn away offended. "But they are useless to us and will be slain by the Krai should they be found. Ka-sador will be the one to give them a warrior's exit to the Desert of Eternal Glory if it displeases Mike," offered the alien, trying to be helpful.

"It don't displease me, man, it ain't like I got served the wrong meal inna restaurant! I don't like senseless killing; it ain't never done anyone any damn good!" Mike was yelling now. He forced himself to calm down with tense outstretched hands. "I said my piece. An' I'm out."

Mike stared at the cowering drones. "You mothers can do what you want. I see your butts messin' 'round on my planet and I'll fry ya to a crisp. Get on a pod or die like brave little fanatics...I don't give a rat."

Mike stormed into one of the pods.

The drones cowered for a moment, then hurried after him, taking seats as far away from him as they could.

As soon as everyone was aboard, M'Krell punched the eject button. The doors slammed shut and a surge of accelleration pressed everyone back into their seats.

The craft rocketed toward the nearby planet, and M'Krell opened a split screen view of the planet ahead and the ship behind. "Where shall ..." she stopped cold as the ship behind exploded violently and silently into a cloud of rapidly cooling gas.

"We seem to have made it with little time to spare," she commented. "Where shall I try to land us, near our own escape pod, Ka-sador?"

"It would seem that the vicinity of our previous landing was sufficiently hidden from the earthlanders," answered Ka-sador as he adjusted to the changing motion of the pod. "Let us not forget there is a landing force of none-to-happy Krai infantry which has had its numbers increased by those fleeing from the ship. They may rendezvous at an established point around familiar ground, namely our pod," warned the alien. Ka-sador looked to Mike, "Where else would be a good place to land, away from prying eyes?"

"Man, I don't know. Does this thing land...or crash?"

M'Krell replied, "A little of both. It lands, but only once, and not too well."

"Ka-sador dislikes being ambushed," continued the Orionid.

"Yeah, word," Mike replied. "I don't know about y'all, but I'd vote for somewhere soft. We have this saying, 'Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing,' and I'm down with that!"

"The lake then, but on the other side from where our capsule lies," asked M'Krell?

"That is acceptable to Ka-sador," said the alien as he began to collect whatever emergency supplies were aboard the pod.

M'Krell adjusted the controls and the pod swooped lower and lower. Ka-sador took a moment to destroy the distress beacon.

Some minutes later, the pod made a long sweeping approach over the lake, then plunged in. It skipped like a thrown stone, then came to rest on the far edge of the lake.

Cut to a frame of the heroes watching the pod sinking in the lake, then to another of them walking back toward Port Alexander, leaving the Krai behind them.

Issue 10: Where Eagles Dare

Last Updated 20 October 2000