Space Invaded Series: Dar's Adventures in Space, Book 4 By K. Rowe


Robert hurried through the house. Something terrible must be going on. Outside, Krodus and Garnic were waiting with a hover shuttle. It was early morning on the planet Satiris, much too early for anything unimportant. Whatever it was, they needed Dar in a hurry.

Stopping at the guest bedroom door, he knocked loudly. “Dar? Dar? Get up!” There was a low groan from the other side. “Dar!”
Space Invaded      Series: Dar's Adventures in Space, Book 4

Space Invaded




“What?” Dar said, face down in bed.

“Get up, something’s wrong.”

“What?” He refused to move. Parnela was lying next to him and he was very comfortable right where he was. “Come on, we got in late last night from Jamarais.”

“Get up! Garnic and Krodus are outside. You’ve been summoned to the high council.”

Dar sat up rather abruptly. “Huh?”

“They said to hurry.”

He groaned and climbed from bed. “Okay, okay, tell ’em I’m coming.” Dar grabbed his black Catarin hide trousers and struggled into them. His head was fuzzy from lack of sleep. They’d pushed hard to get back to Satiris; Dar’s mother, Denrika, would be celebrating her Born Day and he wanted to be there for it. In a way, he felt guilty for all the times he’d missed it. Tucked in his jacket pocket was a beautiful gold necklace from Uyoninis. He’d spent a great deal of drig on it and hoped she’d like it.

Parnela sat up with a grunt. Her youngling bump was getting larger; she had perhaps another three months and they would be a family. “What’s wrong?”

“I dunno. High council needs me for some reason.”

“You?”

He shrugged his shoulders and put on a shirt. “Look, I’m just doing as told.” Turning around, he saw the mirror on the dressing table. His shock of green hair was nearly standing on end. He chuckled, pointing to his hair. “Looks like I got hit with a low-power phaser blast.”

“Knowing you, that would be true.”

Dar tried to smooth down his hair; it wasn’t being cooperative. The dark brown hair that covered the rest of his head seemed to be complying, but for some reason, the green had rebellion in mind. Finally, he gave up, went into the bathroom, and put some water on it. Once he’d wrangled his hair, Dar once again gazed into the mirror for a moment. His focus was on his right ear, the normally soft-pointed tip was cut and bent over from a fight long ago with someone he now considered a best friend.

“Dar!” Parnela called, “Robert says to hurry.”

“All right, all right.” He came out and finished dressing. Hurrying over to the side of the bed, he leaned down and pressed his lips to Parnela’s forehead. He could smell the Softsuckle in her lovely blonde hair. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Hopefully I’ll be back soon. I wonder what this is about?”

“Sounds important.”

He went out to see what was going on. As he opened the door, he was blinded by the early morning sun. Garnic and Krodus stood next to a hover shuttle.

“Can you hurry up?” Garnic said, climbing into the driver’s seat. He was larger than Dar in physical size, and as with all Satirens, had a full head of lush green hair.

“What in Carfidius is going on?” Dar asked as he took a seat.

“All males aged seventeen to fifty have been summoned to council,” Krodus replied as he struggled to get his bulk into the backseat. As Dar’s long-time nemesis, he towered over Dar. But the fighting between them had been put to rest years ago.

“Any idea why?”

Garnic started the craft. “Must be awfully important.”

Dar looked over his shoulder as they pulled away. The house that Denrika and Robert resided in had been abandoned when the planet fell into decay. After the successful implementation of the Plexus, the planet came back to life. Dar and Robert found the house in the early stages of planetary re-colonization. It was a beautiful home, situated in the settlement of Triggin. It sat on a hill that overlooked the city of Sartis. Close enough to be convenient, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle of what would eventually become a healthy, thriving city again. After a little fixing up, the house was livable. At first, Denrika balked at the idea of returning to Satiris. But with her new mate’s gentle prodding, she eventually gave in.





They drove three miles to The Garden, the geographical city center of Sartis, and also the home of the Satiren High Council.

Dar took note as they passed stores and shops. Some were open; others still appeared to be boarded up from years ago. “The place is slowly coming back to life.”

“Each month another ship brings more Satirens home.” Garnic turned left and continued. “Since the first load of passengers you brought, there’ve been seven ships.”

“What do you reckon the population is?”

“Krodus?” Garnic said, glancing back. “Aren’t you chief of repopulation?”

“Chief? No, I am simply the current record custodian.”

“Well, record custodian, what’s the population?”

“About three thousand.”

Dar rubbed his face. In his haste, he’d forgotten to shave. “That’s all? I figured once the word got out, more would be flocking to the planet. I mean, hey, it’s free housing right now.”

“Many are still skeptical that the Plexus can keep it habitable.”

“But the Neritians are here, right?”

“Yes, and the new compound for the Plexus is almost complete. It has a large pavilion for the device and six good-sized apartments built around it for the Neritians…Very nice place.”

Garnic pulled up to The Garden. “Okay, we’re here.” He shut off the engine and climbed out. “Gee, with no civil authority right now, it’s nice to park where I want.”

Dar chuckled as he got out. “I’m sure in time that’ll change.”

They went up the steps and into the building. Dar stopped when he got to the center of the large gathering room. “Looks a lot better than the last time I saw it.”

Krodus put his hand on Dar’s shoulder. “Minus the vulefs.”

He let out a tense little sigh. “Yeah.”

“I need to go down to the council floor. I guess you two can try to find room in the gallery; sounds busy in there.”

Dar nodded. “Right, see you later.” They took their leave of Krodus and headed to the gallery. Dar walked along, still a bit of hesitation in his stride.

“What’s wrong?” Garnic asked.

“I know they’re gone, but I’m still leery.”

“Vulefs gave you a bad time, eh?”

“Almost killed me.” He stopped at the door leading into the gallery. Everything about the creatures had been erased, but the memories still haunted him. Looking down, he saw a couple of seats near the front railing. The rest of the gallery was packed with male Satirens. What was this about? Dar wondered. Granted, he’d been given full rights as a purebred, but being a half-breed always made him skeptical. He led the way down to the seats.

“Ah, a good view,” Garnic said as he sat down. He looked at the male sitting next to him. “Have they said what this is about?”

“No,” the male replied.

“Hmm, very curious.”

Below, High Council Leader Schrig stood. He was an older Satiren, his lush green hair showed much gray. “Council is called to order!” he bellowed. The massive room fell silent. After a few moments, he continued. “You have been called here this morning for an emergency meeting.” He took his seat. “Late last night, a distress call came from our friends, the Neritians. It seems they are being invaded by an unknown species.”

There were hushed comments throughout the hall.

Dar leaned over to Garnic. “Did you know of this?” he whispered.

“No, if I did, I would’ve said something.”

Schrig pointed above his head. “If you would give your attention, we will replay the message.”

Above, on the white painted wall, a crackly image appeared. Dar recognized the small tan-colored alien to be a Neritian. Then the video began to play. “This is Yurnin of the Neritians. Our planet has come under siege by a species of alien not from this galaxy…As you know, our species is a peaceful race and do not possess many weapons to defend ourselves. I understand Satirens are peaceful as well, but we plead your assistance, if possible, to rid our planet of these invaders.”

Dar watched as the images changed to a battle. The Neritians were doing their best to hold off the alien invaders. It was difficult to tell what they looked like; the images were taken at a distance. And then he saw one. Dar sat bolt upright in his chair. “Squid Heads!” he said in English, not even thinking about the Satiren translation.

“What?” Garnic asked. “What are you talking about?”

Dar grabbed Garnic. “I need you to go back to the house and get Robert right now!”

“What? Are you mad? He’s above the age limit, and he’s not even Satiren.”

He gave Garnic a firm smack on the arm. “Go, now!”

“All right.” He hurried out of the gallery.

Schrig looked up to the commotion going on. “Is there a problem, Captain Meltom?”

Dar stood. He was hesitant to say something, but decided the fate of their galaxy might just rest on his words. “Sir, I’ve seen this species before.”

Mumblings could be heard.

“You have seen this species? Here, in this galaxy?”

“Uh, well, not in this galaxy.”

The mumblings got louder and eventually engulfed the room in a cacophony of voices.

“Silence!” Schrig hollered. The noise continued for another minute or two. “I said silence!”

The crowd refused to heed Schrig’s warning. It was obvious the meeting was getting out of control.

Schrig grabbed a gavel and banged it on the table. “Silence!!”

Several of the council members echoed Schrig’s cry. The room finally fell silent again.

“Ah, please continue, Captain.” He gestured. “And what galaxy were you in when you encountered this species?”

“The Milky Way Galaxy.”

The whole room burst into loud chatter. Schrig picked up the gavel and slammed it on the table again. “Silence!” He studied Dar for a moment. “Captain, I’m aware that you travel all over this galaxy, but what exactly were you doing in another one?”

Dar realized all eyes were on him. “Um, I, uh, wanted to go to Earth and find my father.”

“Am I to assume that you went through the wormhole near Erotis?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And could this species have followed you back?”

“No, Sir, I doubt that.”

Schrig folded his arms. “And why do you doubt that?”

“Because the ones I saw were dead.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, Sir. Dead and preserved in large glass tanks.”

“Pssssssssst!” Garnic hissed from behind.

Dar turned and saw his friend gesturing. “Uh, begging the council’s pardon. I have someone who may know more about these invaders.” He ran up the stairs, out of the gallery, and found Robert standing in the meeting area. He was wearing a black cloak with the hood pulled low over his head trying to disguise his aged and very Earthling features.

“Come with me!”

“Are you crazy? Can’t you get in trouble for having a non-Satiren here?” Robert said.

“I don’t think that’ll matter right now.” Dar hurried Robert down to the council floor. He pushed the door open and walked right into the middle.

“Captain Meltom!” Schrig barked. “You are not allowed on the council floor.”

“Apologies. But this is important.” He grasped the hood and pulled it back, revealing Robert.

The crowd gasped and chattered loudly.

“Captain!”

“I know, I know, he’s not Satiren, but he might be able to help.”

Council member Mailam stood. “He’s Denrika’s mate, Robert, the sub-species Kruelian. I’ve seen him in Krodus’s tavern a few times. How can he help?”

“Um, technically, yes, he’s sub-species Kruelian, but in reality…he’s Earthling.”

Once again the room burst into loud conversation. Schrig banged the gavel. “Enough! Silence will be had in these proceedings.”

“Robert is an Earthling scientist. His job was to study alien species.” Dar pointed to the wall. “Can you show the message again, please?”

Schrig studied Dar for a moment before motioning. “Ghrast, can you replay the message?”

“Yes, Sir,” Council Member Ghrast said as he pushed the button.

Robert quietly watched the video. When they got to the battle and he saw who the enemy was, he grabbed Dar. “Squid Heads!” he said in English.

“What is it that you said?” Schrig asked.

Robert paced nervously in a small circle. “Uh, Dar, what’s the Satiren words for Squid Head?”

“Uh, uh, narjallal tetna…That’s all you know them by?”

“Well, yes, not like we had a proper name for ’em on Earth.” He turned and addressed the council, speaking slowly in Satiren, since he was still learning the language. “On Earth, we called them narjallal tetna—or Squid Heads.”

“Squid Heads?” Schrig said slowly.

Robert shrugged his shoulders. “It’s what we thought they looked like.”

Dar pointed to the screen. “Robert, did any of the aliens have those when you found them?”

“Huh?”

“Those—those blue things on their heads. It seems to be some sort of weapon.”

He watched for a few moments. “No, the ones on Earth didn’t have those.”

“And look, in the background, a shuttle.”

“Yes, yes.”

Schrig stood. “Can you be of service, Robert?”

He bowed his head slightly. “I will do everything I can to help.”

“Captain Meltom?”

“Yes, Sir?” Dar replied.

“Stories of your clashes with the Soothians are well known…Since you are the only Satiren with any kind of combat experience, I task you to lead our army into battle.”

“What?!” His jaw fell open.

“We need someone with experience.”

“With all due respect, Council Leader Schrig, Satirens are a peaceful species, we’re not meant to fight. These males are no more ready to do battle than a new youngling.”

“An alliance has been made with the Neritians; we will do everything we can to assist them.”

“But, Sir, taking an untrained army into battle is like ladniks to the slaughter. Our species is threatened enough; we can’t afford to lose healthy males.”

“We don’t have much choice. Their pleas have gone unanswered from other planets. Satiris must help.” Schrig stood and walked down to the floor. “If this alien species is set on invasion, then we need to do everything in our power to stop them. The galaxy could be at great risk.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have much in our power…How many phasers are on this planet?”

“So far, we have counted fifty.”

“Fifty?”

“Captain, Robert, please accompany me to chambers. I will have Mailam assemble the troops at the spaceport.”

“But—”

“This way, please.” He motioned for them to follow. They went down a long dark hallway and into an office. “I need to show you something else.” Schrig sat at the desk and turned on a large reading tablet. “There was more to the message, but we felt it might cause fear in the eyes of our troops.”

“Fear?” Dar said.

Schrig turned the tablet around so they could watch. “The Neritians have reported minimal success in using phasers against the Squid Heads.”

“So what’s been working?” Robert asked.

“Nothing so far. The Neritians managed to seal themselves off in some of the old catacombs where they used to live. But they can’t stay down there forever.”

“And if the Squid Heads get bored because they can’t get the Neritians out of their holes, they may move on to another planet,” Dar said, watching.

“Exactly. And the next closest planets are Lanteris, Nouis, Newrillis, Kiburgis, and…”

“Satiris,” Dar interjected. “I doubt they’ll tangle with the Kiburgans, and the Newrillians are well armed, they might stand a chance. But the others aren’t. We have to stop them.”

Robert scratched his head. “So phasers don’t work against them?”

“No, they seem to suck up the energy pulse.”

“Fascinating.”

“What more do you know of this species?” Schrig asked.

“Unfortunately, the only living one I had to study was critically injured when their ship crashed on Earth. It survived a couple of days and was never conscious.”

Schrig looked at Dar. “So how can he be of help?”

“He’s a scientist. Maybe if he sees them alive and in action, he can find a way to stop them.”

“Fine. How long before you can leave for Nerit?”

“I need to lay in supplies for the troops; can’t eat air.”

“I know the Marsuian is in dock at the spaceport. Food and supplies are being brought this very moment.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Captain, you must hurry.”

Dar stood. “I understand that. But I’ll only have a little over four days to train them to fight. Sir, this is insanity!”

“Do the best you can. We know there may be a loss of Satiren life; that is a fact we have to accept.”

“Maybe I don’t wanna accept it.”

“I’m sorry.”

Robert got up and went to the door. “Sir, I haven’t known Dar very long, but he’s told me how rare and precious the Satirens are…Believe me, with Denrika as my mate, I definitely understand how priceless they are. I’ll do everything in my power to find a way to stop these invaders.”

“Thank you, Robert. And good luck to you both.”





“We’ll see you in a few hours,” Dar said as he closed the door on the hover shuttle.

“Okay, I’m going home to pack,” Garnic replied, pulling away.

Robert was already at the door, eager to get some breakfast, although it was nearly 11 a.m., and any sort of food substance was sounding good at the moment.

Dar jogged up the walkway and through the door as Robert held it open. The wonderful aroma of fried porcinis strips greeted his nose. He was starved. “Oh, food!” he gasped, hurrying to the kitchen. As he came around the corner, an enormous feast awaited them. Denrika and Parnela had cooked up something of a brunch. There were two or three kinds of meat, bread, various fruits, game fowl eggs, and juice. All was laid out beautifully on the large table.

“Thank you!” Dar went over and gave each a kiss. And he gave Denrika a hug, pressing his cheek against her fading green hair, he smelled Softsuckle. “Happy Born Day, Mother.” Reaching into his pocket, he took out the small box and offered it to her.

“Oh, you didn’t have to,” she said.

“Yes, I did…I’ve missed far too many of your born days.”

Denrika opened the box. “Oh, it’s beautiful!” She gave Dar a sloppy, motherly kiss.

He laughed, wiping his cheek. “You’re welcome, Mother. After putting up with me, you deserve the best drig can afford.”

“You weren’t that bad. Probably the hardest part was doctoring you up after all the fights.”

“Now I get to do that,” Parnela said.

“Is he still getting into fights?”

“Probably more than ever!”

Denrika looked at Dar and shook her head. “Dar!”

He held up his hands. “Hey, it’s not easy being a freighter captain.”

Parnela stood next to Dar. “And why were you called to council?” She stood nearly as tall as he did, her long blonde hair falling loosely about her shoulders.

“Come, let’s eat. We’ll explain once we get some food in us.” He pulled out a chair and helped Parnela settle into it.

Robert got the chair for Denrika. “You know, my sweet, Dar and I were planning on taking you out for dinner…And you shouldn’t have slaved to make us such a fine meal.” He took his seat and leaned over, kissing her.

“It was nothing. I know you’d probably be hungry after being called out so early.”

He smiled and quickly filled his plate. “Yes, yes, we are.”

Dar wasted no time. He crunched on a porcinis strip, savoring the rich, fatty, salty flavor of the meat. He wasn’t sure when he’d get a home cooked meal again. Schmuff was a fantastic cook, but breakfast was not one of his specialties.

“So what was it all about?” Denrika asked as she plucked a fluffy roll from a plate.

“It seems, Mother…” Dar put down his fork, “that your son has been—Robert, what was that word you said on the way home?”

“Drafted.”

“Yes, your son has been drafted into the Satiren Army.”

“What?!” She sat up in surprise. “Satiris doesn’t have an army.”

“They do now…And I’ve been named their commander.”

“Satirens don’t fight.”

“Evidently we do now.”

“Against who?”

Dar took a sip of juice. “Aliens from another galaxy.”

“Attacking us?”

“Attacking Nerit…But they may spread out and start invading other planets.”

Denrika rubbed her forehead. “Why Satirens?”

“Because we have an alliance with the Neritians, and their cries for help have gone unanswered by others.”

She looked at Robert. “Are you going too?”

“Yes. This is a species I encountered on Earth. I’m to be the scientist and hopefully find a way to stop them.”

“Are you going to fight?”

“Not if I can help it,” Dar said. “I want him safe on Marcy as much as possible.”

“But you, my son, will fight?”

“Look, Mother, I’m going to do everything in my power to keep Satirens from getting killed. Our species needs to be preserved.”

“At the expense of your life?” she asked.

“Trust me, I don’t intend on doing anything stupid. I’d like to be around for the birth of my youngling.” Dar reached over and gave Parnela’s tummy a little pat. “I’d like for us all to come home in one piece.”





Later that afternoon, Dar, Robert, Krodus, and Garnic pulled up to the spaceport. Their bags were packed, and bittersweet good-byes to their families said. It was now time to prepare for war.

“I still think this is crazy,” Dar said, grabbing his bag.

“I agree, but we must do as we’re told,” Garnic replied.

Robert slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder. “Can’t call me a kill-joy, I’m excited.”

“Kill-joy?” Krodus said as they walked down a long corridor.

“Yeah, kill-joy: party pooper, spoilsport, sourpuss, wet blanket.”

“Huh?”

Dar shook his head. “You’re excited because you get to see the aliens alive.”

“Well, yeah…Come on, I’ve studied their inanimate corpses for the last forty or so years. About time I get to see a living model.”

“A living model bent on the destruction of our galaxy.”

“Sadly. But if I can find a way to stop them…”

Garnic held up a finger. “That would be a good idea.”

“…Then my research isn’t a waste.”

Dar rounded the corner into the main hall of the spaceport. Several hundred males turned and looked at him. “Shit.”

Krodus stopped behind Dar and put a hand on his shoulder. “Your army awaits, Commander.”

“This is fucking nuts,” he said in English, knowing only Robert would understand.

“What did you just say?”

Dar stepped forward. “Nothing, Krodus, nothing.” He walked to the edge of the group and addressed them. “I’m Captain Dar Meltom of the Marsuian. The high council somehow saw fit to appoint me commander of this army that will be facing the alien invaders on Nerit.”

“We have no training and very few weapons,” someone called from the middle of the group.

“I’m aware of that. First and foremost, I intend on getting reconnaissance of the battles and the alien species that we’ll affectionately call Squid Heads.”

There were numerous murmurs in the group as they pronounced the foreign words, trying to memorize them.

“Furthermore, I have with me Robert Cirolli; he’s studied these aliens. He might be able to help us figure out a way to stop them.”

“A good blast from a phaser!” another hollered.

“Not necessarily.” Dar didn’t want to frighten them. It was better to wait until they were in space—no place to run. He knew sooner or later he’d have to tell them the truth. And he had no idea what kind of weapon would stop the aliens. He hoped he wasn’t leading the majority of the Satiren race to their doom, but it felt like it.





2





“Course laid in for Nerit 2,” Dar said as he pushed buttons on the control console. He looked out the window and saw nothing but the blackness of space. Moving the throttle forward, Marcy quickly jumped to warp. He sighed, feeling as if their fate had just been sealed.

“Four days, right?” Krodus asked.

“Yeah, four days,” Dar replied, walking around the bridge. “Four days to try and teach them nearly a lifetime’s worth of fighting skills.” He stopped and scanned the area. Robert had been up there a while ago; Dar wondered where he had gone. “Where’s Robert?”

“Oh, he found one of your smaller aft cargo bays and is setting up his laboratory.”

“Mmm, I suppose that’s a good idea. Stout walls, sturdy locking door…It’s only a matter of time before we’re going to have to try to capture one or two of those creatures.”

“Capture?”

“They’re an alien species. We gotta know how to stop ’em…Phasers don’t work.”

“What?!”

“Oh.” Dar realized he’d let the kitten out of the bag. He hadn’t told Krodus or Garnic about the Squid Heads being immune to phaser blasts.

“Dar, where’d you hear that? Phasers don’t work on them? How can we stop them?”

“Schrig told us. That’s what the meeting in chambers was about.”

“Shit! We’re all gonna die!”

“Now you understand my reluctance about taking this mission. We must fight, but with weapons that are useless.”

“What are we going to do?”

Dar rubbed his face. “I’m hoping Robert can figure something out.”

“You’re resting the entire fate of this galaxy on some Earthling?!”

“And what do you know of that species? Huh?” His voice got louder.

Krodus was silent for a few moments. “Nothing,” he said softly.

“All right, this is what I propose: we send a small team down to the planet with the intent of first observing the aliens, then formulating a plan on how to capture and bring at least one to the ship.”

“Can they be captured?”

“I dunno. We’ll have to give it a try.”

“And what of that weapon on their heads? That blue-ray thing?”

Dar walked over and rested his hands on the back of the captain’s chair. He was sad Parnela was not occupying it; the mission was far too dangerous to risk her and his unborn youngling. “I took a closer look at the Neritian transmission. Those blue things look like they come off. I saw a wide, brown band going around the creatures’ heads. Robert said the ones he encountered on Earth weren’t wearing them. Maybe if we can get behind one and disarm it, we can capture it.”

“Sounds risky.”

“Krodus, this whole mission is risky. I’m trying my best not to get too many killed.”

“I know, I know. Sorry, my friend.” He went over and stood next to Dar. “It’d be a shame to see what you’ve worked so hard for exterminated.”

“All we want is peace, love, and prosperity.”

“The three foundation stones of Satiren society…You remember.”

He gave Krodus an elbowing. “I may be a half-breed, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything in school.”

“On the contrary, I think you’re one of the smartest males I’ve ever met.”

“I don’t feel like it right now.”

“You’ll figure something out, I know you will.”





“Hey, Dar?” Robert said as he opened a box in his “laboratory.” They were in cargo bay 2 in the aft of the ship.

“Yeah?” He looked at the pile of boxes that had mysteriously appeared. “Where did all this come from?”

“I had a brief chat with the Satiren science minister. He scrounged up this stuff so I’d have something to work with.” Robert took out a piece of equipment that resembled a microscope. “Uh, if we catch some of those aliens, I’m gonna need a way to contain them.”

“What do you propose?”

“Do you think we can find some sort of glass or heavy plastic container? I don’t think a cage would work.”

“Why not?”

“Tentacles. They look quite adept at using them. And they may be skilled at unlocking things.”

“Mmm, let me think about it. Pretty certain I don’t have anything like that on the ship.”

Robert approached Dar. “So when are you going to start training them?”

He put a hand on his head. “I don’t know if what I’m going to train them in will even work.”

“You gotta teach ’em something.”

“I’d like to teach them to run away.”

“That’s not an option and you know it.”

Dar leaned against a counter. “Satirens are made for love, not war. Fighting’s not in our genetic make-up.”

“Maybe so, but look at yourself. Shit, you got more scars than a Mexican fighting bull…You’ve been in more battles than most soldiers.” Robert walked around. “You fight for your very survival; that should be second nature to any species.”

“Do you think my Earthling half makes me a fighter?”

“Half of this and half of that has nothing to do with it. You were brought up to fight—you had to because you were different.”

“After being on Earth, and seeing how brutal Earthlings are, I began to wonder.”

“No, you’re that way because of your upbringing.” Robert opened another box. “If you were a purebred, you might’ve had it different. For all you know, you might’ve been like Krodus—the school bully.”

“I kinda doubt that.”

“But you see, Satirens are capable of violence. Look at all the times he beat you up.”

Dar reached up and touched his right ear, feeling the flap of skin and cartilage. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

“Your job might not be training them to fight, but to harness the inner rage and teach them how to use it.”

“Interesting concept.”

“I don’t suppose you ever heard the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make ’em drink?”

“No.”

“In this case, you can train a soldier to fight, but it’s useless if his heart isn’t in the fight as well.”

Dar nodded. “I see your point.”





That evening, as Dar was getting ready for bed, he went to the cupboard and opened it. There was his normal bottle of Malikin port, but next to it, another, unfamiliar one. “Where did you come from?” he asked, taking it down. The bottle was still sealed and he looked at the label. “Lanterian wine?” He thought for a moment about where it might have come from. “Oh, I bet the princess picked it up when we were there last.”

Taking his knife, he peeled the seal from around the cork. He rummaged around his desk, finally finding the opener. Gently, he worked out the cork. As it came away with a resounding “pop,” Dar took a sniff. “Hmm, smells pretty good.” He grabbed a glass and poured some. It was a deep burgundy red wine. Tipping the glass to his lips, he took a sip, savoring the rich flavor. “Oh, nice! Good pick, Princess.”

Dar poured his glass quite full. He debated about sharing it with his friends, but they were in the crew quarters and he didn’t feel like tromping all the way down there. The rest of his “soldiers” were calling the forward cargo bay home. Marcy seemed way too crowded for his taste. He liked it when there were a few on board. As it was, his mind felt cluttered from all the chatter. There seemed to be males everywhere. The strangest part was, they were treating him as an equal; or in some cases, superior. It definitely felt odd.

He put the glass on the nightstand and commenced removing his boots. Dar still pondered Robert’s issue of a containment tank. Where would he find something like that? There was no place he could just pull up to a planet and have it made to order. There had to be an item out there that would work.

With his boots off, he lay on the bed and picked up his glass of wine, taking a swallow. Yes, it was very good wine; he’d have to remember to get more. He held the glass to the light, appreciating the beautiful color. A thought crossed his mind and Dar closed his eyes. Where had he seen that image? It was on the tip of his brain, yes, yes, he’d seen it, but where?

After a few more sips, Dar felt his mind begin to relax. The image still floated in his brain. “Where? Where? Where did I see that? Was it on Lanteris?” He emptied the glass and got up for more. As he picked up the bottle, he stopped. “Wait a minute.” Setting it down, he opened the cupboard and took out the bottle of port. He eased out the cork and poured some into the glass. Turning, he held the glass to the light. “Yes! That’s it!”

Not wasting any time, he hurried to the bridge. He found Robert gazing into the blackness.

“I figured you’d be in bed,” Dar said, grabbing his reading tablet and searching for the coordinates to Lanteris. It wasn’t far from Nerit. He punched in the new coordinates. The ship gently changed direction.

“Can’t sleep,” Robert replied. “And I doubt you could either.”

“Nothing that a glass or two of Lanterian wine can’t fix.” He went back to his cabin, grabbed another glass, and brought everything onto the bridge. “Here, have a snort, as you say.” Dar poured a glass and offered it to him.

“Thanks…You may not realize it, but you use a lot of Earthling words now.”

“Only around you.”

“Are you trying to make me feel at home?”

“No, but sometimes Earthling words fit the mood.”

Robert chuckled. “Fucking nuts, huh?”

“Yeah.” He took a sip. “Really fucking nuts.”

“You got a plan?”

“Try not to get too many killed.”

“Obviously.”

Dar walked around the bridge. “I think we should send a small unit down to capture a couple of them.”

“Have you figured out something to contain them in?”

“Yeah. That’s why I came out and changed course. It’ll take an extra day to get there, but I think they’ll have what you need—or at least close to it.”

“Where are we going?”

He held up his glass. “Lanteris.”





Five days later, the Marsuian sailed into Lanterian space. Throughout those five days, Dar did his best to prepare the army for battle. Most were scared, really scared. After he told them about phasers being useless against the Squid Heads, many wanted to go home. Dar knew Satirens weren’t fighters; he’d even called in Krodus to help teach them some aggression. It seemed pointless. No matter how hard he tried, the vast majority of the males couldn’t fight. He guessed that out of the nearly three hundred in his army, only a dozen or so might be able to muster up enough courage to fight. There would have to be a different strategy employed.

“Come on, get him!” Krodus hollered, trying to get a couple males engaged in combat. Dar stood by watching. He observed for a few minutes before his headset crackled and Schmuff’s voice came over it.

“Kaptaw, eegae narrin Lanteris.”

“Ah, good, thank you. I’ll be on the bridge shortly.” Dar then headed there.

Along the way, Garnic caught up to him. “Hey, Dar?”

“Mmm?”

“Are we there?”

“Nerit?”

“Yeah.”

“No, we’re approaching Lanteris.”

“Why are we going there?”

“I need to get Robert some sort of containment unit for the aliens.”

“And Lanteris has one?”

“Something that may work.”

“Okay, that sounds strange.”

“And I plan on picking up a dozen or so cases of wine and port for the army.”

“Sending them into battle drunk?”

Dar sighed. “Liquid courage may be the only courage they have.”

“Krodus and I will fight by your side.”

“I know you will. But the others…” He climbed the last of the stairs to the bridge.

Robert was waiting. “Lanteris?”

“Yup.”

“It’s beautiful. Kinda reminds me of Earth.”

“Just about every planet we go to reminds you of Earth!” Dar stopped at the console and worked on dialing in a frequency. “Lanteris control, this is the freighter Marsuian.”

“Greetings, Marsuian. Are we expecting you?”

“Umm, no, you’re not. Actually, I’m on my way to Nerit. But I need to stop by one of your winemakers.”

“Stocking up on Malikin port?”

Dar laughed. “You know me too well!”

“We think this planet sometimes runs on your commerce.”

“Then I shall be a good customer today; I need several dozen cases of port and wine.”

“A celebration?”

“A war,” Dar said, powering down the engine and getting the ship into stationary orbit.

“War?”

“Siege has been laid on Nerit by a species not of this galaxy.”

“And Satirens are going to fight?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “The best we can.”

“Lanterian control received a partial message from the planet; it was only a second or two long and nearly unintelligible. Attempts were made to contact them, but all have failed.”

“Can you help?”

“As you know, we are a relatively peaceful species. I can inquire and see if any of our military reserves will assist.”

“I appreciate it.” He removed his headset and tromped off the bridge, Garnic and Robert following. “Uh, Garnic?”

“Yeah?”

“Is Krodus down in the forward hold?”

“Yes. I believe he’s still trying to teach them to fight.”

“Thanks. I could use a few strong bodies to help load my purchases.” He went down several flights of stairs and catwalks to the floor of the main cargo hold. Ahead, the troops were lined up row after row, practicing various movements. To Dar, it looked like a choreographed dance. Krodus stood atop a large crate calling instructions and demonstrating.

“Well, it looks like they’re learning something,” Robert said.

Dar climbed up next to Krodus. He watched for a little longer. Krodus finally stopped and held up his hand. “Attention, your leader wishes to address you.”

“Thank you, Krodus…We’ve arrived at Lanteris. We’re here to pick up some supplies and possibly a few more troops to join the fight. I need five strong bodies to help me.”

Without prompting, five males stepped forward.

“You five, meet me in the shuttle bay in ten minutes.”

“Yes, Sir!” they shouted.

Dar turned to Krodus. “Carry on.”





Schmuff waited by the shuttle holding a shopping list. He would have Dar do the shopping for a change, since he was going down to the planet. There was work to do in the engine room, and Schmuff knew they wouldn’t be stopping very long. He watched five males come down the catwalks and form a line next to the gangplank. Schmuff eyed them curiously, and they eyed him curiously in return.

The sounds of boots clanking above got Schmuff’s attention. Dar and Robert came down and stopped. “Need something?” Dar asked.

Schmuff presented the list. “Shokwa lich.”

“You want me to do the shopping?”

“Ga, Eg hekt yurrk tek dok.”

Dar took the list and tucked it in his jacket pocket. “Okay, I’ll leave you to your work.”

“Ka goo, Kaptaw.” He hurried back to the engine room.

Looking across the gangplank, Dar sized up the volunteers. Most were of substantial size and obviously older, except one. “Youngling, what are you doing here?”

“Sir, I am no youngling. I’m an adult.”

Dar folded his arms. “Okay, who are you and what are you doing here?”

“I am Sygel, son of Schrig.”

“Schrig? As in High Council Leader Schrig?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Fascinating. The high council leader saw fit to send his son to battle.”

“No, Sir. I joined the army on my own.”

“How old are you, youngling?”

“Seventeen, and I’m an adult.”

Dar chuckled. “No, you’re a youngling. You don’t become an adult until you’ve experienced life.”

“And how do you do that, Sir?”

“Not by getting tangled up in a war, that’s for sure.” He walked on board the shuttle, the others following. Taking his place at the controls, he motioned. “Sygel, come up here.”

Robert was just about to take his spot in the copilot seat when he had his mind changed for him. “Uh, I guess I’ll sit in the back.”

“Oh, sorry, Robert, thanks.” Dar flipped a few switches. “Is the door secure?”

“Yes, Sir,” came the reply from one of the males.

Sygel settled into the copilot seat. “Yes?”

“Where did you grow up?”

“Ozbok, on Erotis.”

“I grew up in Aknarra.”

“Mmm.”

Dar started the engine and lifted off. “My mother apprenticed me to a freighter captain when I was about your age.”

“Are you saying that’s what I should do?”

“No, but running away from home and joining the army wasn’t a very smart move.”

“I wasn’t running,” Sygel countered.

“Then what was it?”

He sighed and looked out the window for several long moments. “Father wanted me to become a member of junior council.”

“That’s considered an honor.”

“No, it’s not. Not when your father is the high council leader.”

“I guess that takes away the pride of working for the position.” Dar changed course and made preparations to enter the atmosphere. “How are you in science?”

“I liked it, a lot.”

“Good, then I want you to work with Robert.”

“The Earthling?”

“Yes, there’s nothing wrong with him; he’s highly intelligent and is the only one around that knows about our enemy. Learn what you can and help in any way.”

“But I want to fight.”

“Your time to fight, youngling, will be another day.”





3





The door of the shuttle opened and Robert peered out. He’d never been to Lanteris. Much of his time in the Ontarrin Galaxy was spent in the loving arms of his mate, either on Erotis or their new home on Satiris. In a way, he was happy to be exploring. He was a scientist, and there was no getting that out of him. Only in his dreams had he imagined traveling to another galaxy and meeting alien species. Now it was real. And a real, imposing Lanterian stood looking at him.

“Uh, hi,” Robert said tentatively in Universal Ontarrin.

“Greetings,” the Lanterian replied in a deep voice, giving a polite nod. He stood close to seven feet tall, was big, broad, and very strong in appearance. Sprouting from either side of his head were spiral-shaped horns. Robert thought they resembled ram horns. The Lanterian had large, green eyes and green skin. He had no hair, but a few scaly plates in place of it. Two short, fleshy tendrils hung from his chin. Essentially, Robert thought he was rather humanoid in appearance.

Dar nudged his way past Robert. “Ah, Borjig!”

“Hello, Captain. Good to see you again.”

“I wish it were on better terms.” Dar turned to Robert. “This is Borjig, he’s the port master.”

“We kinda met.”

“Borjig, this is Robert; he’s my mother’s mate.”

Again, Borjig nodded. “Kruelian?”

“Uh, not exactly. He comes from a little farther away.”

“Oh?”

Robert squared his shoulders. “Earth.”

“Earth? I have never heard of that planet.”

“Oh, it’s in a galaxy far, far, away,” he said with a little chuckle. “But we’ve traced Earthling genetics back to Kruelians; so, in a way, I guess I’m a distant cousin.”

“I welcome you to Lanteris, and I hope you find everything you need.”

Dar gave Robert another nudge. “Thanks, Borjig. We can’t stay long, but there are a few things I need.”

“May I be of service?”

“Uh, not right now.” He turned around and whistled. “Come on, everyone out! We got supplies to get.”

The five males walked cautiously off the shuttle. None of them had been anywhere besides Erotis and Satiris. This was a new world for them too. They quickly fell into place behind Dar, who led the way out to the transport area.

“Now to get us a ride,” Dar said, watching the seemingly endless parade of vehicles going by. He saw a large vehicle approaching. Sticking out his hand, he waved.

“Is this how you get a ride?” Robert asked.

“Yup.”

“What if that vehicle is privately owned?”

“Drig talks.”

Robert watched as the truck of sorts pulled over. The window went down and a male stuck his head out. “Yeah?” he said.

“I need a ride to the Churvian Winery.”

“All of you?”

“Yes, and we’ll be returning with quite a lot of stuff. I’ll give you five hundred drig.”

The driver pondered for a moment. “Sold!”

“Thank you,” Dar said, opening the door and climbing into the cab. Robert squeezed in next to him; the others piled in the back.

“Churvian Winery, huh?” the driver pulled into traffic.

“Yes, I need to pick up some cases of port, wine, and perhaps other items.”

“My brother works there.”

Dar turned slightly. “How fortuitous.”

“He’s been the chief port maker for the last twenty years.”

“Then I owe him high praise.”

“You favor a good port?”

“Of course!” Dar smiled. “It’s gotten me through many good times and bad times.”

The driver laughed. “The elixir of life.”

“In my case, definitely.”

The driver offered his hand. “I am Eyrish.”

“Dar Meltom, captain of the freighter Marsuian. And this is Robert.”

“And what of the purebred males in the back?”

“We’re heading to Nerit.”

Eyrish rubbed a horn. “What for?”

“War. Some alien species from another galaxy attacked them. We got a call for help.”

“Satirens fighting?”

Dar waved his hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know…But I spoke with someone in Lanterian control who said they might be able to get a few of your army to help.”

“I have not been notified.”

“You’re in the reserves?”

“Yes, a sergeant.”

“Dar, so far, this seems to be your lucky day,” Robert said, watching the scenery pass. They were out of the city and crossing wide expanses of farmland, much of it terraced for wine making. “Hmm, this area reminds me of Sonoma.”

“Where is that?” Dar asked.

“California.”

“Oh, someplace I wasn’t.”

“No, you didn’t exactly get to do much sightseeing.”

“I would’ve liked to.”

Robert shook his head. “Naw, this galaxy is much prettier.”

They continued on for another twenty minutes. Finally, Eyrish pulled into a long driveway. “Look familiar, Captain?”

“Oh yes, very. Many a hangover has started at this place.”

Eyrish laughed as he stopped in a large parking lot. “Then you know the way.”

“Yes, I do.” Dar gave Robert a shove. “Come on, out you go.”

He opened the door and climbed down. “Very nice.” In front of him was a massive gray stone building. It looked like a château, which could’ve come from the lush winemaking regions of France or Germany. It was obvious this winery was quite profitable. Robert found it curious how architecture could be so similar, yet in different galaxies.

Dar jumped out. “This way!” The other males clambered from the truck and followed. He opened a large wooden door and held it while they entered.

A Lanterian stood behind a sizeable bar with a black stone countertop. “Dar!”

“Alrik!”

Dar bellied up to the bar. Before he could say anything else, Alrik had a glass up and was pouring him a port. “Good to see you.” He looked at the rest of the crowd. “Friends?”

He took a sip. “Ah, too much to explain.” Dar pointed. “But this is Robert.”

“Greetings, Robert.”

“Hello.”

“So, Dar, what brings you here? A shipment?”

“No, this is personal.”

Alrik put five more glasses on the bar and filled them. He motioned to Sygel. “Is that youngling old enough to drink?”

Dar nodded. “Yes, he is.”

“Doesn’t look it.”

“He said he’s seventeen.”

Alrik eyed Sygel a bit more. “Okay, if you say so.” He put another glass out and poured a small amount of port into it.

Sygel picked up the glass and studied the dark ruby liquid.

“Drink up, you’re an adult now,” Dar said, taking a long drink.

“Corrupting the kid already?” Robert asked, deciding to speak English.

“Walk like a man, talk like a man, drink like a man,” he replied in English.

“And fight like a man?” He found it odd that Dar would even use the term “man” in conversation due to his utter dislike of the human race.

“No, he’s going to be working with you.”

“Trying to save him?”

“If I can.”

Alrik gestured to Dar. “What language is that you speak?”

“English. Robert taught me. It’s one of the languages on his planet.”

“Ah, I see.”

Dar finished his glass, and before he could say anything, Alrik filled it again. “Hey, can you do me a favor?”

“What?”

“Can I get a quick tour of the pressing room?”

“Certainly. To show your friends?”

“Well, Robert mainly. There’s something in there I saw on a previous visit that may suit our purpose.”

Alrik rubbed the tendrils on his chin. “Purpose?”

“Is the owner about?”

“Yes, he’s in the house. Shall I get him?”

“Please.”

He topped off Robert’s glass and left the bottle sitting on the bar. “I’ll be right back with him.”

“Thank you.” Dar took the bottle and refilled everyone’s glasses. He looked at Sygel. “What’s the matter? Drink too strong?”

“I must admit, Sir, I’ve never partaken.”

“Well, if you wanna be a soldier, you better learn to drink like one.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sygel replied, a bit of a squeak in his voice. He picked up the glass and did his best to drink.

“Now, Dar, that’s just bein’ mean,” Robert said.





Fifteen minutes later, Alrik returned to find the bottle of port empty. The owner, Tonig, was with him. “Dar, this is Tonig, owner of the winery.”

Dar offered his hand. “And a fine winery it is, Sir.”

“Thank you.”

Alrik took his place behind the bar, opening a bottle of red wine this time. “Dar is one of your best customers.”

“You are? How come we’ve never met?” He motioned to Alrik for a drink.

“Dunno, timing?” Dar tipped down the last of his port. “I’m usually on a tight schedule when coming through here. I think the last time I finally got to see more of your operation than just Alrik.”

Tonig chuckled. “So, what can I do for you?”

“Could we possibly see your pressing room?”

“Certainly.” He waited until Alrik had rinsed out the glasses and refilled them with wine. “Come with me.”

“You five stay here; Robert, come on.” Dar picked up his glass and followed Tonig. They went through several sets of doors before finally ending up in a room filled with large metal tanks and pipes running all over the place. In the middle of the room sat a large machine used for pressing.

“The pressing room,” Tonig said with a little flourish.

Dar walked over to a tank. This one was different; it was clear and about ten feet tall. “What do you use this for?”

“Clarifying tank. The juice goes in there after we filter it the first time. It’s clear so we can check the quality.”

“What’s it made of?”

“Lexanite.”

He ran his hand up and down the smooth surface. “Is it strong?”

“Oh, very.”

“Robert, would this work?”

“Uh…” He walked over and got a closer look. “Um, yeah, I think it would.”

“Work for what?” Tonig asked.

“To hold an unfriendly alien species,” Dar replied. “Do you have any others?”

“Actually, yes, I do. This tank is new; I have two old ones in a warehouse…but they are a little smaller.”

“How much smaller?” Robert held his arms out, trying to measure the circumference.

“A foot shorter and a few inches smaller around.”

“That would work.”

Dar reached into his pocket. “How much for them?”

“Uh, well…”

“I’m also purchasing a dozen cases of port and a dozen of wine.”

“And you need them to hold aliens?”

“Robert is a scientist. We’re hoping to catch a couple so he can study them. Nerit is under attack by a foreign species. And they may threaten other planets.”

“Oh, well, in that case, please, take them, no charge. I apologize; they are a little stained with port residue.”

“Thank you, Tonig, we appreciate it.”





It was a tight squeeze, but seven adult males, twenty-four cases of alcohol, the grocery shopping, and two clarification tanks made it onto the shuttle. Dar almost thought he’d have to make two trips, but after a little rearranging, everything fit. Fortunately, the flight back to Marcy was a short one, so no one was uncomfortable for long.

During their return trip from the supply store to the spaceport, Dar discussed the plans for war with Eyrish. To his good fortune, the sergeant had rounded up a dozen members of his platoon and they would soon be joining them on Marcy.

Dar hoped the term “war” was overstated. Truly, he didn’t want to get involved in a major fight. The battle for Kruelis had been enough to whet his appetite for any kind of conflict. His desire was to see the invaders exit their galaxy with haste, with as few casualties to his army as possible.

Once back in the shuttle bay, the Satirens began unloading the wine and groceries.

“Hey, Dar?” Robert called. He was trying to get one of the tanks to his lab.

“Yes?”

“Where’d my assistant go?”

Dar chuckled. “Oh, he’s been carted back to his bunk. It seems the youngling can’t hold his liquor.”

“A lot of good he’s doing to assist me!”

“Hang on; I’ll get you some help.” Dar went to the forward cargo bay and found Krodus busily working at a desk. “What are you doing?”

“Creating you a better troop manifest.”

“For what reason?”

“So you know who you have and also know their capabilities. The one that high council sent was nearly worthless.”

“Oh.”

Krodus slid a piece of paper over to Dar. “I hope you don’t mind, but I organized them into platoons and appointed leaders.”

“You did?” He picked up the page and read it. “Thank you.”

“They’re broken down into units that can fight, and those who will support.”

“Excellent…Who are my fighting units?”

“Your fighting unit is the one led by Iquan.”

“Unit? Just one?”

“Unfortunately.”

Dar looked over the other units. “And you put most of the older males into one; your reason?”

“Four of them are doctors; the rest, capable hands to treat wounds.”

“Ah, good.” He tucked the paper into his pocket. “I need a couple to help Robert. We got some containment tanks, he needs them set up.”

Krodus stood. “Rhynar, Joram! Go with Dar.”

“Yes, Sir!” they called in unison, hurrying over.

Dar regarded Krodus. “You seem to be whipping them into shape. Thank you for all your help.”

“At this point, my friend, you need all the help you can get.”

“Kaptaw!” Schmuff hollered from high up on a catwalk. “Shoota narrin!”

“Yes, that’s okay, let them board,” Dar called.

“Who?” Krodus asked.

“Reinforcements. I have a dozen Lanterian army reserves joining us.”

“Excellent! I hope they can fight.”

“Me too.”





4





“Ho-ly shit! Would you look at that?!” Robert said as he looked at the scanner screen. He stood next to Dar on the bridge.

Dar immediately stopped the engine. They were five thousand miles from Nerit. Orbiting above the planet was a massive, shiny silver ship. He guessed it to be well over a mile long and probably a third of a mile high. The bottom was flat, and the rest looked like one of those airships he’d seen on television while on Earth. There didn’t appear to be any windows or ports on the ship. Everything was smooth, almost liquid-like in the way it reflected light.

“Yes, shit, I’ll second that,” Dar said, wondering if he should bring the weapons on line. Just to be safe, he raised shields and decided to keep his distance.

“Reckon that’s the mother ship?”

“Probably.” He punched a few buttons on the view screen, magnifying it several times. They watched silently for several minutes.

“Hey, look!” Robert pointed. “A shuttle, just like the one on Earth.”

Dar magnified the screen some more. “Sure looks like it.” He observed as the shuttle approached the underside of the ship. “They must have a way in there.” The shuttle disappeared inside through some portal in the skin. “Yup, I’d say so.” Adjusting his headset, he tried to dial in a Neritian frequency. “Planet Nerit, this is the Marsuian, do you read?” He waited a few moments and tried again. “Planet Nerit, do you read?”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.” He switched to the internal channel. “Schmuff, can you come to the bridge?”

“Ga, Kaptaw.”

“Robert? Can you round up Krodus, Eyrish, Garnic, Iquan, and two from his platoon?”

“Certainly.”

“We need to plan our first mission.”

“Where are we meeting?”

“The galley. We’ll have enough room and the table’s big.”

“Right, I’ll go round up the troops.” He hurried off.

Dar turned his attention back to the view screen. He continued to study the alien vessel. To him, it didn’t appear menacing, but deep inside was a growing fear. Confronting a supposedly invincible species worried him. How could they even attempt to catch one? Would his sorry army of Satirens and Lanterians be wiped out? And would he ever see Parnela and his family again? In a few months, he’d be a father. Dar wondered if he would live to see his youngling. Battle was ugly; he’d known it all his life. Somehow he’d managed to stay alive. Now it came down to keeping not only himself alive, but the troops in his charge.

“Kaptaw? Je nagta seh mekka?” Schmuff said softly.

Dar held his gaze at the view screen. “Yes. I need you to man the bridge. Keep watch on that ship. If it, or anything comes this direction, alert me immediately.”

“Ga, Kaptaw!”

“I’ll be down in the galley having a meeting.”

“O-K.” Schmuff took his place at the controls. Dar headed to the galley. As he reached the crew quarters, Garnic came out.

“Robert said we’re having a meeting?”

“Yes,” Dar replied, trying to gather his thoughts. “Strategy meeting.”

“Ah, right. Would you like me to take notes?”

“Please.”

“Okay.”

“Thanks.”





After two hours of planning, Dar looked at the timepiece on the wall. It was still fairly early in the day, there should be enough light for them to do some reconnaissance. He studied the notes Garnic had taken and thought long and hard about what they were attempting to do. Catching a Squid Head or two was going to be a challenge. Robert suggested various methods, but Dar thought the best was using a snare pole to catch the creatures. It was simple, and afforded some distance between the one doing the capturing, and the one being captured. Once under control, they could be wrangled into the containment units and safely loaded in the shuttle.

Everyone on the recon team had been shown the video; some were seeing it for the first time, and others were getting a refresher on the dangers of the Squid Heads. The ray lenses on their heads were the most feared of all. Dar figured that even when disarmed, the Squid Heads would put up a fight. Their tentacle-like appendages had been shown to be vicious when they defended themselves. And Robert added one more problem to the equation: his research found that at the ends of the tentacles were sucker pads, each with twenty to thirty little teeth that contained poison. Getting hit with one could possibly kill.

“All right, is everyone clear on their duties?” Dar asked as he closed the notebook.

Eyrish raised a hand. “How are we going to make the catch poles?”

“I have some supplies in engineering. It won’t take long to make them.”

Iquan looked over at Robert. “Uh, Sir, do you know how strong they are?”

“No, I’m sorry. The only living one I had access to was severely injured and died a couple days later…Judging by the video, they look quite strong.”

“Wonderful,” Krodus said as he got up. “How about we not think any more about them and go get some?”

Eyrish stood as well. “Yes, Robert needs as much time as possible to study them.”

Dar eased himself off the bench. “All right, I’ll go make the catch poles. The rest of you go back and make sure you’re dressed warm enough. The average temperature on Nerit hovers about fifty degrees for most of the year.”

“I thought they had a Plexus? Why is it so cold?” Garnic asked.

“Because they still lost their solatride, and the device can only deal with the planet, not its source of light,” Dar replied.

“Sir, have you been there?” Joram spoke up.

“Yes, a few times. Much of the surface is rock and dust. Only where they get some light from the Ontarrin sun can anything grow…The Plexus keeps them stable. It will never be a truly living planet ever again.”

“Oh, and the several layers of clothing may help protect against those tentacle suckers,” Robert added. “If you got Catarin hide, wear it!”

“We have body armor of sorts,” Eyrish said. “Perhaps we Lanterians should do much of the catching work.”

“Body armor?” Dar looked at his notes. “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

Eyrish lowered his eyes. “Because I forgot we had it.”

Robert and the others laughed; Dar just shook his head. “All right, you got the job. And I think Lanterians are stronger than Satirens anyways.”

“Fairly confident,” Garnic said as he reached up and gave Eyrish a playful jab on the arm.

“Let’s meet in the shuttle bay in one hour. I’ll have the poles made by then,” Dar said, heading out the door.





The reconnaissance team stood around waiting for Dar. They talked quietly, discussing plans and duty positions. Eyrish and the rest of the Lanterians were clad in their body armor. Robert went up to Halvarn, one of Eyrish’s troops, and prodded at the armor. It was dark green, heavy looking, with broad shoulder plates and a single breastplate. The arms and legs were also armored with plates. Their helmets were large and boasted a down-turned “hook” on the front, just about at chin level.

Robert thought the Lanterians looked like giant snapping turtles. “Does this protect against phaser or disruptor blasts?”

Halvarn shook his head. “No, but it’s good against getting beaten on.”

“But don’t most species in this galaxy have energy weapons of sorts?”

“Yes.”

“Then why wear it if you aren’t protected?”

“’Cause we’re told to. And when you’re in the army, and they tell you to do something, you do it.”

Robert chuckled. “Well, perhaps today it will be worth the wearing.”

“We will assist you in any way possible in the capture of these Squid Heads.”

“I appreciate it…I may be new to this galaxy, but I understand there’s a delicate balance, and if that balance is knocked askew, things could get ugly.”

Dar came from the engine room carrying three long poles. They each had a loop of stout cord hanging from them and were roughly ten feet long. “Think this’ll work?” he asked, stopping next to Robert.

“Yeah, I think so.”

He looked at everyone standing around. “Eyrish?”

“Yes?”

“I thought only half of your troops were coming?”

“After seeing the video, I thought it best to bring everyone.”

“Uh, they can’t all fit in my shuttle. We still got the containment tanks to load.”

“We’ll take ours.”

“Okay, that’s fine.”

Eyrish turned around, facing his troops. “I need four volunteers to help load the tanks.” Four quickly stepped forward. “Robert, can you please direct them to the tanks so they can load them?”

“Sure, thank you.” He started to walk off, but stopped next to Dar. “I like these guys, very helpful.”

“It’s their nature,” Dar said with a slight smile.

Robert continued to his lab, Lanterians in tow. He opened the door and pointed. Without a word, they easily picked up the bulky tanks and carted them out to the shuttle. As the last one left, he leaned against the door. “Hmm, kinda like the Incredible Hulk meets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…Interesting galaxy.” He shut the door and went back to the shuttle bay. The Lanterians had the tanks loaded and were strapping them down.

“Robert?” Dar asked.

“Hmm?”

“Did you get enough time to do the modifications to the tanks?”

“Yup. Sygel was very helpful after he sobered up.”

Dar laughed. “Well, as you said on Earth: ‘Let’s get this show on the road.’” He paused for a moment, noticing something odd sticking out of Robert’s waistband. “What’s that?”

“Huh?”

He pointed. “That.”

“Oh, that’s Mr. Colt forty-five.”

“An Earthling weapon? Why?”

“Well, sure as shit phasers don’t work. But who knows if this will.”

Eyrish poked his head out the door. “Sirs, we’re ready to leave.”

Dar and Robert walked up the gangplank and found seats in the rear of the shuttle. Eyrish closed the door. “Uh, Captain, is there any place you want us to land?”

“I’d like to set down near the capital city of Nerin.”

“You’ll have to show us.”

“Okay, just give a holler when we get closer to the planet.”

“Yes, Sir.” Eyrish went forward to the cockpit. A few moments later, they lifted off and left the shuttle bay.

Robert turned so he could look out the small window. “God, this is so damned amazing.”

“Still stuck on the fact that you’re in another galaxy with a bunch of aliens?”

“Yeah. Like a dream come true.”

“I hope our encounter with the Squid Heads won’t turn into a nightmare.”

“I hope not.”

Dar watched the others. The Lanterians were chatting away and the Satirens were dead quiet. He knew they were afraid, they were all afraid. Each and every one knew the risks they’d be taking. In a short matter of time they would be facing their enemy, an enemy of relatively unknown strength. And it would be up to him to lead them into battle. This was not at all how he thought his life would go.

“Sir?” Eyrish called. “We’re closing in on the planet.”

“Right.” He got up and went forward, leaning through the doorway into the cockpit. “Any sign of alien attack ships?”

“No, just the mother ship.”

“Good.” Dar studied the planet, looking for landmarks. “Okay, see that lake over there?”

“Yes.”

“Aim for that. Nerin is just to the west of the lake. You’ll see it when you get lower.”

“Yes, Sir.”

He watched as they got closer to the surface. The area around the lake was green and laid out for farming. Much of the planet, however, was dark brown color with occasional craggy peaks jutting up. Clouds streaked across the landscape and Dar thought it looked like bovidis cream swirled with Darminian chocolate. His stomach rumbled and he tried to remember if he had eaten anything for lunch. It didn’t matter. Soon he’d be preoccupied with reconnaissance and capture of Squid Heads; food was going to wait.

As the shuttle dropped in altitude, Dar saw several dozen shiny objects on the ground. They were oval in shape. “Shuttles,” he said softly.

“What, Sir?” Eyrish asked.

“Those shiny objects are Squid Head shuttles. I was in one on Earth.”

“In one?”

“Yes, they had one that crashed many years ago. Robert and I were tasked with making it operable.”

“Did you?”

“Almost. He helped us escape before we finished. But I think I can fly one.”

“Why would you need to do that?”

Dar shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “You never know.”

Eyrish pointed to an open area just south of the city. “Should I set down there?”

“That’s fine. I don’t want us to be too close to where the Squid Heads are massed.”





Once on the ground, Dar organized them into three teams. Each was given a comm headset in order to maintain contact. They set out in search of their quarry. If Squid Heads were sighted, the teams were instructed to notify the other groups and do nothing until the others arrived. Dar felt it was too dangerous to try to capture them with smaller teams.

As he walked along with his team, Dar kept a keen eye out for the enemy. Despite knowing that phasers were useless, he still had a rifle slung over his shoulder. The Lanterians carried theirs as well. They had been on the hunt nearly an hour when static crackled in his ear. “Dar, it’s Robert.”

“Go ahead.”

“We got a group of four Squid Heads. Looks like they’re doing a patrol.”

“Where are you?”

“Best guess is a quarter mile to your east.”

“All right.” He could feel his heart pounding. “Krodus, did you hear that?”

“Yes, Dar. We’ll meet up with you.”

“We’ll hold our position until you get here. Robert, can you safely tail the group?”

“Affirmative. We’re doing that now…Looks like they’re headed toward the city.”

“Understood.” Dar took a deep breath and tried to settle his nerves. It felt like an eternity before Krodus’s team showed up. Once together, they hurried off in the direction of Robert’s team. It didn’t take long before they found boot prints in the dust. Near them were the strange triangular prints of the Squid Heads.

“Robert, do you copy?” Dar said. There was no response for several moments. “Robert?”

“Hold,” was the reply he received.

Krodus came up next to Dar. “Do you think they’re in trouble?”

“I hope not.” He picked up the pace. His heart was beating so hard it was making it difficult to breathe.

“Dar, Robert. Sorry, we had to take cover. The patrol must’ve heard us and turned around. We’re okay and still tailing them.”

He sighed. “Where are you?”

“About half a mile from the south wall of the city.”

“We’re on our way.”

“Hurry, I think they’re heading toward the location of the shuttles.”

Dar started jogging, the others kept pace with him. “Moving faster now.” It wasn’t long before he was at a dead run. Behind him it sounded like a herd of hegorrians running wild over an open plain. He almost wanted to laugh at the commotion, but things were far too serious for that.

“Dar, I hear you!” Robert called over the comm link.

“Whoa!” Dar said, holding his hand up and skidding to a halt. The rest of the group nearly ran over him. “Shhhh!”

They crept along until they met with Robert’s team. “Where are they?” Dar asked.

“Ahead maybe fifty feet,” Robert whispered.

“Plan?”

“We only got three poles, and there’s four of them.”

“Are they wearing those blue things?”

“Yup,” Robert replied.

“Shit.”

“Sir?” Eyrish said.

“Hmm?” Dar glanced over at him.

“May I make a suggestion?”

“I’m open for anything at this point.”

“I can take half my troops and try to get around in front of them. If we can find cover, we’ll open fire and distract them. Then the rest can come in behind, catch three of them and perhaps disarm the fourth.”

“Don’t forget about their tentacles.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And what of the rest of us?” Krodus asked.

“You don’t have any armor,” Robert said.

“Perhaps we can join the attacking group?”

Eyrish looked around. “A few extra phasers may be of help.”

Dar nodded. “All right. Krodus, Garnic, Iquan, Joram, come with us,” he said, slipping the phaser off his shoulder and adjusting it to maximum setting.

“I’m staying back,” Robert said.

“Be careful.”

“Oh, trust me, I will.”

“If we catch three, what will we do with the third one? We only got two tanks.”

“Uh…”

Eyrish waved his hand. “Don’t worry, we’ll think of something. Let’s go before they get too close to the city.”

The teams split up, Eyrish leading the attacking group. They hurried along, taking a more eastern path hoping to get ahead of the enemy. Dar almost had a hard time keeping up since the Lanterians were much bigger and had a longer stride.

As they ran, Dar kept looking to his left. Just as they passed an outcropping of rock, he saw them. They were scurrying along in something of a diamond formation. One was in the lead followed by two, and another brought up the rear. Their tentacles supported their bodies as they walked upright, making them appear quite tall. And he noticed they were the same shade of gray as the ones in the tanks on EaSPACE

INVADED





BY

K. ROWE





Copyright 2014 by K. Rowe at Smashwords

All rights reserved. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.

The final approval for this literary material is granted by the author.





First printing





All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.





ISBN-13: 978-1497350526

ISBN-10: 1497350522





Sturgeon Creek Publishing

Editing: Joyce M. Gilmour

www.editingtlc.com





Front cover design: Duncan Long

http://duncanlong.com/





“Every living being is an engine geared

to the wheelwork of the universe.

Though seemingly affected only by

its immediate surrounding,

the sphere of external influence

extends to infinite distance.”





—Nikola Tesla





Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

About the Author





1





Robert hurried through the house. Something terrible must be going on. Outside, Krodus and Garnic were waiting with a hover shuttle. It was early morning on the planet Satiris, much too early for anything unimportant. Whatever it was, they needed Dar in a hurry.

Stopping at the guest bedroom door, he knocked loudly. “Dar? Dar? Get up!” There was a low groan from the other side. “Dar!”

“What?” Dar said, face down in bed.

“Get up, something’s wrong.”

“What?” He refused to move. Parnela was lying next to him and he was very comfortable right where he was. “Come on, we got in late last night from Jamarais.”

“Get up! Garnic and Krodus are outside. You’ve been summoned to the high council.”

Dar sat up rather abruptly. “Huh?”

“They said to hurry.”

He groaned and climbed from bed. “Okay, okay, tell ’em I’m coming.” Dar grabbed his black Catarin hide trousers and struggled into them. His head was fuzzy from lack of sleep. They’d pushed hard to get back to Satiris; Dar’s mother, Denrika, would be celebrating her Born Day and he wanted to be there for it. In a way, he felt guilty for all the times he’d missed it. Tucked in his jacket pocket was a beautiful gold necklace from Uyoninis. He’d spent a great deal of drig on it and hoped she’d like it.

Parnela sat up with a grunt. Her youngling bump was getting larger; she had perhaps another three months and they would be a family. “What’s wrong?”

“I dunno. High council needs me for some reason.”

“You?”

He shrugged his shoulders and put on a shirt. “Look, I’m just doing as told.” Turning around, he saw the mirror on the dressing table. His shock of green hair was nearly standing on end. He chuckled, pointing to his hair. “Looks like I got hit with a low-power phaser blast.”

“Knowing you, that would be true.”

Dar tried to smooth down his hair; it wasn’t being cooperative. The dark brown hair that covered the rest of his head seemed to be complying, but for some reason, the green had rebellion in mind. Finally, he gave up, went into the bathroom, and put some water on it. Once he’d wrangled his hair, Dar once again gazed into the mirror for a moment. His focus was on his right ear, the normally soft-pointed tip was cut and bent over from a fight long ago with someone he now considered a best friend.

“Dar!” Parnela called, “Robert says to hurry.”

“All right, all right.” He came out and finished dressing. Hurrying over to the side of the bed, he leaned down and pressed his lips to Parnela’s forehead. He could smell the Softsuckle in her lovely blonde hair. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Hopefully I’ll be back soon. I wonder what this is about?”

“Sounds important.”

He went out to see what was going on. As he opened the door, he was blinded by the early morning sun. Garnic and Krodus stood next to a hover shuttle.

“Can you hurry up?” Garnic said, climbing into the driver’s seat. He was larger than Dar in physical size, and as with all Satirens, had a full head of lush green hair.

“What in Carfidius is going on?” Dar asked as he took a seat.

“All males aged seventeen to fifty have been summoned to council,” Krodus replied as he struggled to get his bulk into the backseat. As Dar’s long-time nemesis, he towered over Dar. But the fighting between them had been put to rest years ago.

“Any idea why?”

Garnic started the craft. “Must be awfully important.”

Dar looked over his shoulder as they pulled away. The house that Denrika and Robert resided in had been abandoned when the planet fell into decay. After the successful implementation of the Plexus, the planet came back to life. Dar and Robert found the house in the early stages of planetary re-colonization. It was a beautiful home, situated in the settlement of Triggin. It sat on a hill that overlooked the city of Sartis. Close enough to be convenient, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle of what would eventually become a healthy, thriving city again. After a little fixing up, the house was livable. At first, Denrika balked at the idea of returning to Satiris. But with her new mate’s gentle prodding, she eventually gave in.





They drove three miles to The Garden, the geographical city center of Sartis, and also the home of the Satiren High Council.

Dar took note as they passed stores and shops. Some were open; others still appeared to be boarded up from years ago. “The place is slowly coming back to life.”

“Each month another ship brings more Satirens home.” Garnic turned left and continued. “Since the first load of passengers you brought, there’ve been seven ships.”

“What do you reckon the population is?”

“Krodus?” Garnic said, glancing back. “Aren’t you chief of repopulation?”

“Chief? No, I am simply the current record custodian.”

“Well, record custodian, what’s the population?”

“About three thousand.”

Dar rubbed his face. In his haste, he’d forgotten to shave. “That’s all? I figured once the word got out, more would be flocking to the planet. I mean, hey, it’s free housing right now.”

“Many are still skeptical that the Plexus can keep it habitable.”

“But the Neritians are here, right?”

“Yes, and the new compound for the Plexus is almost complete. It has a large pavilion for the device and six good-sized apartments built around it for the Neritians…Very nice place.”

Garnic pulled up to The Garden. “Okay, we’re here.” He shut off the engine and climbed out. “Gee, with no civil authority right now, it’s nice to park where I want.”

Dar chuckled as he got out. “I’m sure in time that’ll change.”

They went up the steps and into the building. Dar stopped when he got to the center of the large gathering room. “Looks a lot better than the last time I saw it.”

Krodus put his hand on Dar’s shoulder. “Minus the vulefs.”

He let out a tense little sigh. “Yeah.”

“I need to go down to the council floor. I guess you two can try to find room in the gallery; sounds busy in there.”

Dar nodded. “Right, see you later.” They took their leave of Krodus and headed to the gallery. Dar walked along, still a bit of hesitation in his stride.

“What’s wrong?” Garnic asked.

“I know they’re gone, but I’m still leery.”

“Vulefs gave you a bad time, eh?”

“Almost killed me.” He stopped at the door leading into the gallery. Everything about the creatures had been erased, but the memories still haunted him. Looking down, he saw a couple of seats near the front railing. The rest of the gallery was packed with male Satirens. What was this about? Dar wondered. Granted, he’d been given full rights as a purebred, but being a half-breed always made him skeptical. He led the way down to the seats.

“Ah, a good view,” Garnic said as he sat down. He looked at the male sitting next to him. “Have they said what this is about?”

“No,” the male replied.

“Hmm, very curious.”

Below, High Council Leader Schrig stood. He was an older Satiren, his lush green hair showed much gray. “Council is called to order!” he bellowed. The massive room fell silent. After a few moments, he continued. “You have been called here this morning for an emergency meeting.” He took his seat. “Late last night, a distress call came from our friends, the Neritians. It seems they are being invaded by an unknown species.”

There were hushed comments throughout the hall.

Dar leaned over to Garnic. “Did you know of this?” he whispered.

“No, if I did, I would’ve said something.”

Schrig pointed above his head. “If you would give your attention, we will replay the message.”

Above, on the white painted wall, a crackly image appeared. Dar recognized the small tan-colored alien to be a Neritian. Then the video began to play. “This is Yurnin of the Neritians. Our planet has come under siege by a species of alien not from this galaxy…As you know, our species is a peaceful race and do not possess many weapons to defend ourselves. I understand Satirens are peaceful as well, but we plead your assistance, if possible, to rid our planet of these invaders.”

Dar watched as the images changed to a battle. The Neritians were doing their best to hold off the alien invaders. It was difficult to tell what they looked like; the images were taken at a distance. And then he saw one. Dar sat bolt upright in his chair. “Squid Heads!” he said in English, not even thinking about the Satiren translation.

“What?” Garnic asked. “What are you talking about?”

Dar grabbed Garnic. “I need you to go back to the house and get Robert right now!”

“What? Are you mad? He’s above the age limit, and he’s not even Satiren.”

He gave Garnic a firm smack on the arm. “Go, now!”

“All right.” He hurried out of the gallery.

Schrig looked up to the commotion going on. “Is there a problem, Captain Meltom?”

Dar stood. He was hesitant to say something, but decided the fate of their galaxy might just rest on his words. “Sir, I’ve seen this species before.”

Mumblings could be heard.

“You have seen this species? Here, in this galaxy?”

“Uh, well, not in this galaxy.”

The mumblings got louder and eventually engulfed the room in a cacophony of voices.

“Silence!” Schrig hollered. The noise continued for another minute or two. “I said silence!”

The crowd refused to heed Schrig’s warning. It was obvious the meeting was getting out of control.

Schrig grabbed a gavel and banged it on the table. “Silence!!”

Several of the council members echoed Schrig’s cry. The room finally fell silent again.

“Ah, please continue, Captain.” He gestured. “And what galaxy were you in when you encountered this species?”

“The Milky Way Galaxy.”

The whole room burst into loud chatter. Schrig picked up the gavel and slammed it on the table again. “Silence!” He studied Dar for a moment. “Captain, I’m aware that you travel all over this galaxy, but what exactly were you doing in another one?”

Dar realized all eyes were on him. “Um, I, uh, wanted to go to Earth and find my father.”

“Am I to assume that you went through the wormhole near Erotis?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And could this species have followed you back?”

“No, Sir, I doubt that.”

Schrig folded his arms. “And why do you doubt that?”

“Because the ones I saw were dead.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, Sir. Dead and preserved in large glass tanks.”

“Pssssssssst!” Garnic hissed from behind.

Dar turned and saw his friend gesturing. “Uh, begging the council’s pardon. I have someone who may know more about these invaders.” He ran up the stairs, out of the gallery, and found Robert standing in the meeting area. He was wearing a black cloak with the hood pulled low over his head trying to disguise his aged and very Earthling features.

“Come with me!”

“Are you crazy? Can’t you get in trouble for having a non-Satiren here?” Robert said.

“I don’t think that’ll matter right now.” Dar hurried Robert down to the council floor. He pushed the door open and walked right into the middle.

“Captain Meltom!” Schrig barked. “You are not allowed on the council floor.”

“Apologies. But this is important.” He grasped the hood and pulled it back, revealing Robert.

The crowd gasped and chattered loudly.

“Captain!”

“I know, I know, he’s not Satiren, but he might be able to help.”

Council member Mailam stood. “He’s Denrika’s mate, Robert, the sub-species Kruelian. I’ve seen him in Krodus’s tavern a few times. How can he help?”

“Um, technically, yes, he’s sub-species Kruelian, but in reality…he’s Earthling.”

Once again the room burst into loud conversation. Schrig banged the gavel. “Enough! Silence will be had in these proceedings.”

“Robert is an Earthling scientist. His job was to study alien species.” Dar pointed to the wall. “Can you show the message again, please?”

Schrig studied Dar for a moment before motioning. “Ghrast, can you replay the message?”

“Yes, Sir,” Council Member Ghrast said as he pushed the button.

Robert quietly watched the video. When they got to the battle and he saw who the enemy was, he grabbed Dar. “Squid Heads!” he said in English.

“What is it that you said?” Schrig asked.

Robert paced nervously in a small circle. “Uh, Dar, what’s the Satiren words for Squid Head?”

“Uh, uh, narjallal tetna…That’s all you know them by?”

“Well, yes, not like we had a proper name for ’em on Earth.” He turned and addressed the council, speaking slowly in Satiren, since he was still learning the language. “On Earth, we called them narjallal tetna—or Squid Heads.”

“Squid Heads?” Schrig said slowly.

Robert shrugged his shoulders. “It’s what we thought they looked like.”

Dar pointed to the screen. “Robert, did any of the aliens have those when you found them?”

“Huh?”

“Those—those blue things on their heads. It seems to be some sort of weapon.”

He watched for a few moments. “No, the ones on Earth didn’t have those.”

“And look, in the background, a shuttle.”

“Yes, yes.”

Schrig stood. “Can you be of service, Robert?”

He bowed his head slightly. “I will do everything I can to help.”

“Captain Meltom?”

“Yes, Sir?” Dar replied.

“Stories of your clashes with the Soothians are well known…Since you are the only Satiren with any kind of combat experience, I task you to lead our army into battle.”

“What?!” His jaw fell open.

“We need someone with experience.”

“With all due respect, Council Leader Schrig, Satirens are a peaceful species, we’re not meant to fight. These males are no more ready to do battle than a new youngling.”

“An alliance has been made with the Neritians; we will do everything we can to assist them.”

“But, Sir, taking an untrained army into battle is like ladniks to the slaughter. Our species is threatened enough; we can’t afford to lose healthy males.”

“We don’t have much choice. Their pleas have gone unanswered from other planets. Satiris must help.” Schrig stood and walked down to the floor. “If this alien species is set on invasion, then we need to do everything in our power to stop them. The galaxy could be at great risk.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have much in our power…How many phasers are on this planet?”

“So far, we have counted fifty.”

“Fifty?”

“Captain, Robert, please accompany me to chambers. I will have Mailam assemble the troops at the spaceport.”

“But—”

“This way, please.” He motioned for them to follow. They went down a long dark hallway and into an office. “I need to show you something else.” Schrig sat at the desk and turned on a large reading tablet. “There was more to the message, but we felt it might cause fear in the eyes of our troops.”

“Fear?” Dar said.

Schrig turned the tablet around so they could watch. “The Neritians have reported minimal success in using phasers against the Squid Heads.”

“So what’s been working?” Robert asked.

“Nothing so far. The Neritians managed to seal themselves off in some of the old catacombs where they used to live. But they can’t stay down there forever.”

“And if the Squid Heads get bored because they can’t get the Neritians out of their holes, they may move on to another planet,” Dar said, watching.

“Exactly. And the next closest planets are Lanteris, Nouis, Newrillis, Kiburgis, and…”

“Satiris,” Dar interjected. “I doubt they’ll tangle with the Kiburgans, and the Newrillians are well armed, they might stand a chance. But the others aren’t. We have to stop them.”

Robert scratched his head. “So phasers don’t work against them?”

“No, they seem to suck up the energy pulse.”

“Fascinating.”

“What more do you know of this species?” Schrig asked.

“Unfortunately, the only living one I had to study was critically injured when their ship crashed on Earth. It survived a couple of days and was never conscious.”

Schrig looked at Dar. “So how can he be of help?”

“He’s a scientist. Maybe if he sees them alive and in action, he can find a way to stop them.”

“Fine. How long before you can leave for Nerit?”

“I need to lay in supplies for the troops; can’t eat air.”

“I know the Marsuian is in dock at the spaceport. Food and supplies are being brought this very moment.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Captain, you must hurry.”

Dar stood. “I understand that. But I’ll only have a little over four days to train them to fight. Sir, this is insanity!”

“Do the best you can. We know there may be a loss of Satiren life; that is a fact we have to accept.”

“Maybe I don’t wanna accept it.”

“I’m sorry.”

Robert got up and went to the door. “Sir, I haven’t known Dar very long, but he’s told me how rare and precious the Satirens are…Believe me, with Denrika as my mate, I definitely understand how priceless they are. I’ll do everything in my power to find a way to stop these invaders.”

“Thank you, Robert. And good luck to you both.”





“We’ll see you in a few hours,” Dar said as he closed the door on the hover shuttle.

“Okay, I’m going home to pack,” Garnic replied, pulling away.

Robert was already at the door, eager to get some breakfast, although it was nearly 11 a.m., and any sort of food substance was sounding good at the moment.

Dar jogged up the walkway and through the door as Robert held it open. The wonderful aroma of fried porcinis strips greeted his nose. He was starved. “Oh, food!” he gasped, hurrying to the kitchen. As he came around the corner, an enormous feast awaited them. Denrika and Parnela had cooked up something of a brunch. There were two or three kinds of meat, bread, various fruits, game fowl eggs, and juice. All was laid out beautifully on the large table.

“Thank you!” Dar went over and gave each a kiss. And he gave Denrika a hug, pressing his cheek against her fading green hair, he smelled Softsuckle. “Happy Born Day, Mother.” Reaching into his pocket, he took out the small box and offered it to her.

“Oh, you didn’t have to,” she said.

“Yes, I did…I’ve missed far too many of your born days.”

Denrika opened the box. “Oh, it’s beautiful!” She gave Dar a sloppy, motherly kiss.

He laughed, wiping his cheek. “You’re welcome, Mother. After putting up with me, you deserve the best drig can afford.”

“You weren’t that bad. Probably the hardest part was doctoring you up after all the fights.”

“Now I get to do that,” Parnela said.

“Is he still getting into fights?”

“Probably more than ever!”

Denrika looked at Dar and shook her head. “Dar!”

He held up his hands. “Hey, it’s not easy being a freighter captain.”

Parnela stood next to Dar. “And why were you called to council?” She stood nearly as tall as he did, her long blonde hair falling loosely about her shoulders.

“Come, let’s eat. We’ll explain once we get some food in us.” He pulled out a chair and helped Parnela settle into it.

Robert got the chair for Denrika. “You know, my sweet, Dar and I were planning on taking you out for dinner…And you shouldn’t have slaved to make us such a fine meal.” He took his seat and leaned over, kissing her.

“It was nothing. I know you’d probably be hungry after being called out so early.”

He smiled and quickly filled his plate. “Yes, yes, we are.”

Dar wasted no time. He crunched on a porcinis strip, savoring the rich, fatty, salty flavor of the meat. He wasn’t sure when he’d get a home cooked meal again. Schmuff was a fantastic cook, but breakfast was not one of his specialties.

“So what was it all about?” Denrika asked as she plucked a fluffy roll from a plate.

“It seems, Mother…” Dar put down his fork, “that your son has been—Robert, what was that word you said on the way home?”

“Drafted.”

“Yes, your son has been drafted into the Satiren Army.”

“What?!” She sat up in surprise. “Satiris doesn’t have an army.”

“They do now…And I’ve been named their commander.”

“Satirens don’t fight.”

“Evidently we do now.”

“Against who?”

Dar took a sip of juice. “Aliens from another galaxy.”

“Attacking us?”

“Attacking Nerit…But they may spread out and start invading other planets.”

Denrika rubbed her forehead. “Why Satirens?”

“Because we have an alliance with the Neritians, and their cries for help have gone unanswered by others.”

She looked at Robert. “Are you going too?”

“Yes. This is a species I encountered on Earth. I’m to be the scientist and hopefully find a way to stop them.”

“Are you going to fight?”

“Not if I can help it,” Dar said. “I want him safe on Marcy as much as possible.”

“But you, my son, will fight?”

“Look, Mother, I’m going to do everything in my power to keep Satirens from getting killed. Our species needs to be preserved.”

“At the expense of your life?” she asked.

“Trust me, I don’t intend on doing anything stupid. I’d like to be around for the birth of my youngling.” Dar reached over and gave Parnela’s tummy a little pat. “I’d like for us all to come home in one piece.”





Later that afternoon, Dar, Robert, Krodus, and Garnic pulled up to the spaceport. Their bags were packed, and bittersweet good-byes to their families said. It was now time to prepare for war.

“I still think this is crazy,” Dar said, grabbing his bag.

“I agree, but we must do as we’re told,” Garnic replied.

Robert slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder. “Can’t call me a kill-joy, I’m excited.”

“Kill-joy?” Krodus said as they walked down a long corridor.

“Yeah, kill-joy: party pooper, spoilsport, sourpuss, wet blanket.”

“Huh?”

Dar shook his head. “You’re excited because you get to see the aliens alive.”

“Well, yeah…Come on, I’ve studied their inanimate corpses for the last forty or so years. About time I get to see a living model.”

“A living model bent on the destruction of our galaxy.”

“Sadly. But if I can find a way to stop them…”

Garnic held up a finger. “That would be a good idea.”

“…Then my research isn’t a waste.”

Dar rounded the corner into the main hall of the spaceport. Several hundred males turned and looked at him. “Shit.”

Krodus stopped behind Dar and put a hand on his shoulder. “Your army awaits, Commander.”

“This is fucking nuts,” he said in English, knowing only Robert would understand.

“What did you just say?”

Dar stepped forward. “Nothing, Krodus, nothing.” He walked to the edge of the group and addressed them. “I’m Captain Dar Meltom of the Marsuian. The high council somehow saw fit to appoint me commander of this army that will be facing the alien invaders on Nerit.”

“We have no training and very few weapons,” someone called from the middle of the group.

“I’m aware of that. First and foremost, I intend on getting reconnaissance of the battles and the alien species that we’ll affectionately call Squid Heads.”

There were numerous murmurs in the group as they pronounced the foreign words, trying to memorize them.

“Furthermore, I have with me Robert Cirolli; he’s studied these aliens. He might be able to help us figure out a way to stop them.”

“A good blast from a phaser!” another hollered.

“Not necessarily.” Dar didn’t want to frighten them. It was better to wait until they were in space—no place to run. He knew sooner or later he’d have to tell them the truth. And he had no idea what kind of weapon would stop the aliens. He hoped he wasn’t leading the majority of the Satiren race to their doom, but it felt like it.





2





“Course laid in for Nerit 2,” Dar said as he pushed buttons on the control console. He looked out the window and saw nothing but the blackness of space. Moving the throttle forward, Marcy quickly jumped to warp. He sighed, feeling as if their fate had just been sealed.

“Four days, right?” Krodus asked.

“Yeah, four days,” Dar replied, walking around the bridge. “Four days to try and teach them nearly a lifetime’s worth of fighting skills.” He stopped and scanned the area. Robert had been up there a while ago; Dar wondered where he had gone. “Where’s Robert?”

“Oh, he found one of your smaller aft cargo bays and is setting up his laboratory.”

“Mmm, I suppose that’s a good idea. Stout walls, sturdy locking door…It’s only a matter of time before we’re going to have to try to capture one or two of those creatures.”

“Capture?”

“They’re an alien species. We gotta know how to stop ’em…Phasers don’t work.”

“What?!”

“Oh.” Dar realized he’d let the kitten out of the bag. He hadn’t told Krodus or Garnic about the Squid Heads being immune to phaser blasts.

“Dar, where’d you hear that? Phasers don’t work on them? How can we stop them?”

“Schrig told us. That’s what the meeting in chambers was about.”

“Shit! We’re all gonna die!”

“Now you understand my reluctance about taking this mission. We must fight, but with weapons that are useless.”

“What are we going to do?”

Dar rubbed his face. “I’m hoping Robert can figure something out.”

“You’re resting the entire fate of this galaxy on some Earthling?!”

“And what do you know of that species? Huh?” His voice got louder.

Krodus was silent for a few moments. “Nothing,” he said softly.

“All right, this is what I propose: we send a small team down to the planet with the intent of first observing the aliens, then formulating a plan on how to capture and bring at least one to the ship.”

“Can they be captured?”

“I dunno. We’ll have to give it a try.”

“And what of that weapon on their heads? That blue-ray thing?”

Dar walked over and rested his hands on the back of the captain’s chair. He was sad Parnela was not occupying it; the mission was far too dangerous to risk her and his unborn youngling. “I took a closer look at the Neritian transmission. Those blue things look like they come off. I saw a wide, brown band going around the creatures’ heads. Robert said the ones he encountered on Earth weren’t wearing them. Maybe if we can get behind one and disarm it, we can capture it.”

“Sounds risky.”

“Krodus, this whole mission is risky. I’m trying my best not to get too many killed.”

“I know, I know. Sorry, my friend.” He went over and stood next to Dar. “It’d be a shame to see what you’ve worked so hard for exterminated.”

“All we want is peace, love, and prosperity.”

“The three foundation stones of Satiren society…You remember.”

He gave Krodus an elbowing. “I may be a half-breed, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything in school.”

“On the contrary, I think you’re one of the smartest males I’ve ever met.”

“I don’t feel like it right now.”

“You’ll figure something out, I know you will.”





“Hey, Dar?” Robert said as he opened a box in his “laboratory.” They were in cargo bay 2 in the aft of the ship.

“Yeah?” He looked at the pile of boxes that had mysteriously appeared. “Where did all this come from?”

“I had a brief chat with the Satiren science minister. He scrounged up this stuff so I’d have something to work with.” Robert took out a piece of equipment that resembled a microscope. “Uh, if we catch some of those aliens, I’m gonna need a way to contain them.”

“What do you propose?”

“Do you think we can find some sort of glass or heavy plastic container? I don’t think a cage would work.”

“Why not?”

“Tentacles. They look quite adept at using them. And they may be skilled at unlocking things.”

“Mmm, let me think about it. Pretty certain I don’t have anything like that on the ship.”

Robert approached Dar. “So when are you going to start training them?”

He put a hand on his head. “I don’t know if what I’m going to train them in will even work.”

“You gotta teach ’em something.”

“I’d like to teach them to run away.”

“That’s not an option and you know it.”

Dar leaned against a counter. “Satirens are made for love, not war. Fighting’s not in our genetic make-up.”

“Maybe so, but look at yourself. Shit, you got more scars than a Mexican fighting bull…You’ve been in more battles than most soldiers.” Robert walked around. “You fight for your very survival; that should be second nature to any species.”

“Do you think my Earthling half makes me a fighter?”

“Half of this and half of that has nothing to do with it. You were brought up to fight—you had to because you were different.”

“After being on Earth, and seeing how brutal Earthlings are, I began to wonder.”

“No, you’re that way because of your upbringing.” Robert opened another box. “If you were a purebred, you might’ve had it different. For all you know, you might’ve been like Krodus—the school bully.”

“I kinda doubt that.”

“But you see, Satirens are capable of violence. Look at all the times he beat you up.”

Dar reached up and touched his right ear, feeling the flap of skin and cartilage. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

“Your job might not be training them to fight, but to harness the inner rage and teach them how to use it.”

“Interesting concept.”

“I don’t suppose you ever heard the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make ’em drink?”

“No.”

“In this case, you can train a soldier to fight, but it’s useless if his heart isn’t in the fight as well.”

Dar nodded. “I see your point.”





That evening, as Dar was getting ready for bed, he went to the cupboard and opened it. There was his normal bottle of Malikin port, but next to it, another, unfamiliar one. “Where did you come from?” he asked, taking it down. The bottle was still sealed and he looked at the label. “Lanterian wine?” He thought for a moment about where it might have come from. “Oh, I bet the princess picked it up when we were there last.”

Taking his knife, he peeled the seal from around the cork. He rummaged around his desk, finally finding the opener. Gently, he worked out the cork. As it came away with a resounding “pop,” Dar took a sniff. “Hmm, smells pretty good.” He grabbed a glass and poured some. It was a deep burgundy red wine. Tipping the glass to his lips, he took a sip, savoring the rich flavor. “Oh, nice! Good pick, Princess.”

Dar poured his glass quite full. He debated about sharing it with his friends, but they were in the crew quarters and he didn’t feel like tromping all the way down there. The rest of his “soldiers” were calling the forward cargo bay home. Marcy seemed way too crowded for his taste. He liked it when there were a few on board. As it was, his mind felt cluttered from all the chatter. There seemed to be males everywhere. The strangest part was, they were treating him as an equal; or in some cases, superior. It definitely felt odd.

He put the glass on the nightstand and commenced removing his boots. Dar still pondered Robert’s issue of a containment tank. Where would he find something like that? There was no place he could just pull up to a planet and have it made to order. There had to be an item out there that would work.

With his boots off, he lay on the bed and picked up his glass of wine, taking a swallow. Yes, it was very good wine; he’d have to remember to get more. He held the glass to the light, appreciating the beautiful color. A thought crossed his mind and Dar closed his eyes. Where had he seen that image? It was on the tip of his brain, yes, yes, he’d seen it, but where?

After a few more sips, Dar felt his mind begin to relax. The image still floated in his brain. “Where? Where? Where did I see that? Was it on Lanteris?” He emptied the glass and got up for more. As he picked up the bottle, he stopped. “Wait a minute.” Setting it down, he opened the cupboard and took out the bottle of port. He eased out the cork and poured some into the glass. Turning, he held the glass to the light. “Yes! That’s it!”

Not wasting any time, he hurried to the bridge. He found Robert gazing into the blackness.

“I figured you’d be in bed,” Dar said, grabbing his reading tablet and searching for the coordinates to Lanteris. It wasn’t far from Nerit. He punched in the new coordinates. The ship gently changed direction.

“Can’t sleep,” Robert replied. “And I doubt you could either.”

“Nothing that a glass or two of Lanterian wine can’t fix.” He went back to his cabin, grabbed another glass, and brought everything onto the bridge. “Here, have a snort, as you say.” Dar poured a glass and offered it to him.

“Thanks…You may not realize it, but you use a lot of Earthling words now.”

“Only around you.”

“Are you trying to make me feel at home?”

“No, but sometimes Earthling words fit the mood.”

Robert chuckled. “Fucking nuts, huh?”

“Yeah.” He took a sip. “Really fucking nuts.”

“You got a plan?”

“Try not to get too many killed.”

“Obviously.”

Dar walked around the bridge. “I think we should send a small unit down to capture a couple of them.”

“Have you figured out something to contain them in?”

“Yeah. That’s why I came out and changed course. It’ll take an extra day to get there, but I think they’ll have what you need—or at least close to it.”

“Where are we going?”

He held up his glass. “Lanteris.”





Five days later, the Marsuian sailed into Lanterian space. Throughout those five days, Dar did his best to prepare the army for battle. Most were scared, really scared. After he told them about phasers being useless against the Squid Heads, many wanted to go home. Dar knew Satirens weren’t fighters; he’d even called in Krodus to help teach them some aggression. It seemed pointless. No matter how hard he tried, the vast majority of the males couldn’t fight. He guessed that out of the nearly three hundred in his army, only a dozen or so might be able to muster up enough courage to fight. There would have to be a different strategy employed.

“Come on, get him!” Krodus hollered, trying to get a couple males engaged in combat. Dar stood by watching. He observed for a few minutes before his headset crackled and Schmuff’s voice came over it.

“Kaptaw, eegae narrin Lanteris.”

“Ah, good, thank you. I’ll be on the bridge shortly.” Dar then headed there.

Along the way, Garnic caught up to him. “Hey, Dar?”

“Mmm?”

“Are we there?”

“Nerit?”

“Yeah.”

“No, we’re approaching Lanteris.”

“Why are we going there?”

“I need to get Robert some sort of containment unit for the aliens.”

“And Lanteris has one?”

“Something that may work.”

“Okay, that sounds strange.”

“And I plan on picking up a dozen or so cases of wine and port for the army.”

“Sending them into battle drunk?”

Dar sighed. “Liquid courage may be the only courage they have.”

“Krodus and I will fight by your side.”

“I know you will. But the others…” He climbed the last of the stairs to the bridge.

Robert was waiting. “Lanteris?”

“Yup.”

“It’s beautiful. Kinda reminds me of Earth.”

“Just about every planet we go to reminds you of Earth!” Dar stopped at the console and worked on dialing in a frequency. “Lanteris control, this is the freighter Marsuian.”

“Greetings, Marsuian. Are we expecting you?”

“Umm, no, you’re not. Actually, I’m on my way to Nerit. But I need to stop by one of your winemakers.”

“Stocking up on Malikin port?”

Dar laughed. “You know me too well!”

“We think this planet sometimes runs on your commerce.”

“Then I shall be a good customer today; I need several dozen cases of port and wine.”

“A celebration?”

“A war,” Dar said, powering down the engine and getting the ship into stationary orbit.

“War?”

“Siege has been laid on Nerit by a species not of this galaxy.”

“And Satirens are going to fight?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “The best we can.”

“Lanterian control received a partial message from the planet; it was only a second or two long and nearly unintelligible. Attempts were made to contact them, but all have failed.”

“Can you help?”

“As you know, we are a relatively peaceful species. I can inquire and see if any of our military reserves will assist.”

“I appreciate it.” He removed his headset and tromped off the bridge, Garnic and Robert following. “Uh, Garnic?”

“Yeah?”

“Is Krodus down in the forward hold?”

“Yes. I believe he’s still trying to teach them to fight.”

“Thanks. I could use a few strong bodies to help load my purchases.” He went down several flights of stairs and catwalks to the floor of the main cargo hold. Ahead, the troops were lined up row after row, practicing various movements. To Dar, it looked like a choreographed dance. Krodus stood atop a large crate calling instructions and demonstrating.

“Well, it looks like they’re learning something,” Robert said.

Dar climbed up next to Krodus. He watched for a little longer. Krodus finally stopped and held up his hand. “Attention, your leader wishes to address you.”

“Thank you, Krodus…We’ve arrived at Lanteris. We’re here to pick up some supplies and possibly a few more troops to join the fight. I need five strong bodies to help me.”

Without prompting, five males stepped forward.

“You five, meet me in the shuttle bay in ten minutes.”

“Yes, Sir!” they shouted.

Dar turned to Krodus. “Carry on.”





Schmuff waited by the shuttle holding a shopping list. He would have Dar do the shopping for a change, since he was going down to the planet. There was work to do in the engine room, and Schmuff knew they wouldn’t be stopping very long. He watched five males come down the catwalks and form a line next to the gangplank. Schmuff eyed them curiously, and they eyed him curiously in return.

The sounds of boots clanking above got Schmuff’s attention. Dar and Robert came down and stopped. “Need something?” Dar asked.

Schmuff presented the list. “Shokwa lich.”

“You want me to do the shopping?”

“Ga, Eg hekt yurrk tek dok.”

Dar took the list and tucked it in his jacket pocket. “Okay, I’ll leave you to your work.”

“Ka goo, Kaptaw.” He hurried back to the engine room.

Looking across the gangplank, Dar sized up the volunteers. Most were of substantial size and obviously older, except one. “Youngling, what are you doing here?”

“Sir, I am no youngling. I’m an adult.”

Dar folded his arms. “Okay, who are you and what are you doing here?”

“I am Sygel, son of Schrig.”

“Schrig? As in High Council Leader Schrig?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Fascinating. The high council leader saw fit to send his son to battle.”

“No, Sir. I joined the army on my own.”

“How old are you, youngling?”

“Seventeen, and I’m an adult.”

Dar chuckled. “No, you’re a youngling. You don’t become an adult until you’ve experienced life.”

“And how do you do that, Sir?”

“Not by getting tangled up in a war, that’s for sure.” He walked on board the shuttle, the others following. Taking his place at the controls, he motioned. “Sygel, come up here.”

Robert was just about to take his spot in the copilot seat when he had his mind changed for him. “Uh, I guess I’ll sit in the back.”

“Oh, sorry, Robert, thanks.” Dar flipped a few switches. “Is the door secure?”

“Yes, Sir,” came the reply from one of the males.

Sygel settled into the copilot seat. “Yes?”

“Where did you grow up?”

“Ozbok, on Erotis.”

“I grew up in Aknarra.”

“Mmm.”

Dar started the engine and lifted off. “My mother apprenticed me to a freighter captain when I was about your age.”

“Are you saying that’s what I should do?”

“No, but running away from home and joining the army wasn’t a very smart move.”

“I wasn’t running,” Sygel countered.

“Then what was it?”

He sighed and looked out the window for several long moments. “Father wanted me to become a member of junior council.”

“That’s considered an honor.”

“No, it’s not. Not when your father is the high council leader.”

“I guess that takes away the pride of working for the position.” Dar changed course and made preparations to enter the atmosphere. “How are you in science?”

“I liked it, a lot.”

“Good, then I want you to work with Robert.”

“The Earthling?”

“Yes, there’s nothing wrong with him; he’s highly intelligent and is the only one around that knows about our enemy. Learn what you can and help in any way.”

“But I want to fight.”

“Your time to fight, youngling, will be another day.”





3





The door of the shuttle opened and Robert peered out. He’d never been to Lanteris. Much of his time in the Ontarrin Galaxy was spent in the loving arms of his mate, either on Erotis or their new home on Satiris. In a way, he was happy to be exploring. He was a scientist, and there was no getting that out of him. Only in his dreams had he imagined traveling to another galaxy and meeting alien species. Now it was real. And a real, imposing Lanterian stood looking at him.

“Uh, hi,” Robert said tentatively in Universal Ontarrin.

“Greetings,” the Lanterian replied in a deep voice, giving a polite nod. He stood close to seven feet tall, was big, broad, and very strong in appearance. Sprouting from either side of his head were spiral-shaped horns. Robert thought they resembled ram horns. The Lanterian had large, green eyes and green skin. He had no hair, but a few scaly plates in place of it. Two short, fleshy tendrils hung from his chin. Essentially, Robert thought he was rather humanoid in appearance.

Dar nudged his way past Robert. “Ah, Borjig!”

“Hello, Captain. Good to see you again.”

“I wish it were on better terms.” Dar turned to Robert. “This is Borjig, he’s the port master.”

“We kinda met.”

“Borjig, this is Robert; he’s my mother’s mate.”

Again, Borjig nodded. “Kruelian?”

“Uh, not exactly. He comes from a little farther away.”

“Oh?”

Robert squared his shoulders. “Earth.”

“Earth? I have never heard of that planet.”

“Oh, it’s in a galaxy far, far, away,” he said with a little chuckle. “But we’ve traced Earthling genetics back to Kruelians; so, in a way, I guess I’m a distant cousin.”

“I welcome you to Lanteris, and I hope you find everything you need.”

Dar gave Robert another nudge. “Thanks, Borjig. We can’t stay long, but there are a few things I need.”

“May I be of service?”

“Uh, not right now.” He turned around and whistled. “Come on, everyone out! We got supplies to get.”

The five males walked cautiously off the shuttle. None of them had been anywhere besides Erotis and Satiris. This was a new world for them too. They quickly fell into place behind Dar, who led the way out to the transport area.

“Now to get us a ride,” Dar said, watching the seemingly endless parade of vehicles going by. He saw a large vehicle approaching. Sticking out his hand, he waved.

“Is this how you get a ride?” Robert asked.

“Yup.”

“What if that vehicle is privately owned?”

“Drig talks.”

Robert watched as the truck of sorts pulled over. The window went down and a male stuck his head out. “Yeah?” he said.

“I need a ride to the Churvian Winery.”

“All of you?”

“Yes, and we’ll be returning with quite a lot of stuff. I’ll give you five hundred drig.”

The driver pondered for a moment. “Sold!”

“Thank you,” Dar said, opening the door and climbing into the cab. Robert squeezed in next to him; the others piled in the back.

“Churvian Winery, huh?” the driver pulled into traffic.

“Yes, I need to pick up some cases of port, wine, and perhaps other items.”

“My brother works there.”

Dar turned slightly. “How fortuitous.”

“He’s been the chief port maker for the last twenty years.”

“Then I owe him high praise.”

“You favor a good port?”

“Of course!” Dar smiled. “It’s gotten me through many good times and bad times.”

The driver laughed. “The elixir of life.”

“In my case, definitely.”

The driver offered his hand. “I am Eyrish.”

“Dar Meltom, captain of the freighter Marsuian. And this is Robert.”

“And what of the purebred males in the back?”

“We’re heading to Nerit.”

Eyrish rubbed a horn. “What for?”

“War. Some alien species from another galaxy attacked them. We got a call for help.”

“Satirens fighting?”

Dar waved his hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know…But I spoke with someone in Lanterian control who said they might be able to get a few of your army to help.”

“I have not been notified.”

“You’re in the reserves?”

“Yes, a sergeant.”

“Dar, so far, this seems to be your lucky day,” Robert said, watching the scenery pass. They were out of the city and crossing wide expanses of farmland, much of it terraced for wine making. “Hmm, this area reminds me of Sonoma.”

“Where is that?” Dar asked.

“California.”

“Oh, someplace I wasn’t.”

“No, you didn’t exactly get to do much sightseeing.”

“I would’ve liked to.”

Robert shook his head. “Naw, this galaxy is much prettier.”

They continued on for another twenty minutes. Finally, Eyrish pulled into a long driveway. “Look familiar, Captain?”

“Oh yes, very. Many a hangover has started at this place.”

Eyrish laughed as he stopped in a large parking lot. “Then you know the way.”

“Yes, I do.” Dar gave Robert a shove. “Come on, out you go.”

He opened the door and climbed down. “Very nice.” In front of him was a massive gray stone building. It looked like a château, which could’ve come from the lush winemaking regions of France or Germany. It was obvious this winery was quite profitable. Robert found it curious how architecture could be so similar, yet in different galaxies.

Dar jumped out. “This way!” The other males clambered from the truck and followed. He opened a large wooden door and held it while they entered.

A Lanterian stood behind a sizeable bar with a black stone countertop. “Dar!”

“Alrik!”

Dar bellied up to the bar. Before he could say anything else, Alrik had a glass up and was pouring him a port. “Good to see you.” He looked at the rest of the crowd. “Friends?”

He took a sip. “Ah, too much to explain.” Dar pointed. “But this is Robert.”

“Greetings, Robert.”

“Hello.”

“So, Dar, what brings you here? A shipment?”

“No, this is personal.”

Alrik put five more glasses on the bar and filled them. He motioned to Sygel. “Is that youngling old enough to drink?”

Dar nodded. “Yes, he is.”

“Doesn’t look it.”

“He said he’s seventeen.”

Alrik eyed Sygel a bit more. “Okay, if you say so.” He put another glass out and poured a small amount of port into it.

Sygel picked up the glass and studied the dark ruby liquid.

“Drink up, you’re an adult now,” Dar said, taking a long drink.

“Corrupting the kid already?” Robert asked, deciding to speak English.

“Walk like a man, talk like a man, drink like a man,” he replied in English.

“And fight like a man?” He found it odd that Dar would even use the term “man” in conversation due to his utter dislike of the human race.

“No, he’s going to be working with you.”

“Trying to save him?”

“If I can.”

Alrik gestured to Dar. “What language is that you speak?”

“English. Robert taught me. It’s one of the languages on his planet.”

“Ah, I see.”

Dar finished his glass, and before he could say anything, Alrik filled it again. “Hey, can you do me a favor?”

“What?”

“Can I get a quick tour of the pressing room?”

“Certainly. To show your friends?”

“Well, Robert mainly. There’s something in there I saw on a previous visit that may suit our purpose.”

Alrik rubbed the tendrils on his chin. “Purpose?”

“Is the owner about?”

“Yes, he’s in the house. Shall I get him?”

“Please.”

He topped off Robert’s glass and left the bottle sitting on the bar. “I’ll be right back with him.”

“Thank you.” Dar took the bottle and refilled everyone’s glasses. He looked at Sygel. “What’s the matter? Drink too strong?”

“I must admit, Sir, I’ve never partaken.”

“Well, if you wanna be a soldier, you better learn to drink like one.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sygel replied, a bit of a squeak in his voice. He picked up the glass and did his best to drink.

“Now, Dar, that’s just bein’ mean,” Robert said.





Fifteen minutes later, Alrik returned to find the bottle of port empty. The owner, Tonig, was with him. “Dar, this is Tonig, owner of the winery.”

Dar offered his hand. “And a fine winery it is, Sir.”

“Thank you.”

Alrik took his place behind the bar, opening a bottle of red wine this time. “Dar is one of your best customers.”

“You are? How come we’ve never met?” He motioned to Alrik for a drink.

“Dunno, timing?” Dar tipped down the last of his port. “I’m usually on a tight schedule when coming through here. I think the last time I finally got to see more of your operation than just Alrik.”

Tonig chuckled. “So, what can I do for you?”

“Could we possibly see your pressing room?”

“Certainly.” He waited until Alrik had rinsed out the glasses and refilled them with wine. “Come with me.”

“You five stay here; Robert, come on.” Dar picked up his glass and followed Tonig. They went through several sets of doors before finally ending up in a room filled with large metal tanks and pipes running all over the place. In the middle of the room sat a large machine used for pressing.

“The pressing room,” Tonig said with a little flourish.

Dar walked over to a tank. This one was different; it was clear and about ten feet tall. “What do you use this for?”

“Clarifying tank. The juice goes in there after we filter it the first time. It’s clear so we can check the quality.”

“What’s it made of?”

“Lexanite.”

He ran his hand up and down the smooth surface. “Is it strong?”

“Oh, very.”

“Robert, would this work?”

“Uh…” He walked over and got a closer look. “Um, yeah, I think it would.”

“Work for what?” Tonig asked.

“To hold an unfriendly alien species,” Dar replied. “Do you have any others?”

“Actually, yes, I do. This tank is new; I have two old ones in a warehouse…but they are a little smaller.”

“How much smaller?” Robert held his arms out, trying to measure the circumference.

“A foot shorter and a few inches smaller around.”

“That would work.”

Dar reached into his pocket. “How much for them?”

“Uh, well…”

“I’m also purchasing a dozen cases of port and a dozen of wine.”

“And you need them to hold aliens?”

“Robert is a scientist. We’re hoping to catch a couple so he can study them. Nerit is under attack by a foreign species. And they may threaten other planets.”

“Oh, well, in that case, please, take them, no charge. I apologize; they are a little stained with port residue.”

“Thank you, Tonig, we appreciate it.”





It was a tight squeeze, but seven adult males, twenty-four cases of alcohol, the grocery shopping, and two clarification tanks made it onto the shuttle. Dar almost thought he’d have to make two trips, but after a little rearranging, everything fit. Fortunately, the flight back to Marcy was a short one, so no one was uncomfortable for long.

During their return trip from the supply store to the spaceport, Dar discussed the plans for war with Eyrish. To his good fortune, the sergeant had rounded up a dozen members of his platoon and they would soon be joining them on Marcy.

Dar hoped the term “war” was overstated. Truly, he didn’t want to get involved in a major fight. The battle for Kruelis had been enough to whet his appetite for any kind of conflict. His desire was to see the invaders exit their galaxy with haste, with as few casualties to his army as possible.

Once back in the shuttle bay, the Satirens began unloading the wine and groceries.

“Hey, Dar?” Robert called. He was trying to get one of the tanks to his lab.

“Yes?”

“Where’d my assistant go?”

Dar chuckled. “Oh, he’s been carted back to his bunk. It seems the youngling can’t hold his liquor.”

“A lot of good he’s doing to assist me!”

“Hang on; I’ll get you some help.” Dar went to the forward cargo bay and found Krodus busily working at a desk. “What are you doing?”

“Creating you a better troop manifest.”

“For what reason?”

“So you know who you have and also know their capabilities. The one that high council sent was nearly worthless.”

“Oh.”

Krodus slid a piece of paper over to Dar. “I hope you don’t mind, but I organized them into platoons and appointed leaders.”

“You did?” He picked up the page and read it. “Thank you.”

“They’re broken down into units that can fight, and those who will support.”

“Excellent…Who are my fighting units?”

“Your fighting unit is the one led by Iquan.”

“Unit? Just one?”

“Unfortunately.”

Dar looked over the other units. “And you put most of the older males into one; your reason?”

“Four of them are doctors; the rest, capable hands to treat wounds.”

“Ah, good.” He tucked the paper into his pocket. “I need a couple to help Robert. We got some containment tanks, he needs them set up.”

Krodus stood. “Rhynar, Joram! Go with Dar.”

“Yes, Sir!” they called in unison, hurrying over.

Dar regarded Krodus. “You seem to be whipping them into shape. Thank you for all your help.”

“At this point, my friend, you need all the help you can get.”

“Kaptaw!” Schmuff hollered from high up on a catwalk. “Shoota narrin!”

“Yes, that’s okay, let them board,” Dar called.

“Who?” Krodus asked.

“Reinforcements. I have a dozen Lanterian army reserves joining us.”

“Excellent! I hope they can fight.”

“Me too.”





4





“Ho-ly shit! Would you look at that?!” Robert said as he looked at the scanner screen. He stood next to Dar on the bridge.

Dar immediately stopped the engine. They were five thousand miles from Nerit. Orbiting above the planet was a massive, shiny silver ship. He guessed it to be well over a mile long and probably a third of a mile high. The bottom was flat, and the rest looked like one of those airships he’d seen on television while on Earth. There didn’t appear to be any windows or ports on the ship. Everything was smooth, almost liquid-like in the way it reflected light.

“Yes, shit, I’ll second that,” Dar said, wondering if he should bring the weapons on line. Just to be safe, he raised shields and decided to keep his distance.

“Reckon that’s the mother ship?”

“Probably.” He punched a few buttons on the view screen, magnifying it several times. They watched silently for several minutes.

“Hey, look!” Robert pointed. “A shuttle, just like the one on Earth.”

Dar magnified the screen some more. “Sure looks like it.” He observed as the shuttle approached the underside of the ship. “They must have a way in there.” The shuttle disappeared inside through some portal in the skin. “Yup, I’d say so.” Adjusting his headset, he tried to dial in a Neritian frequency. “Planet Nerit, this is the Marsuian, do you read?” He waited a few moments and tried again. “Planet Nerit, do you read?”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.” He switched to the internal channel. “Schmuff, can you come to the bridge?”

“Ga, Kaptaw.”

“Robert? Can you round up Krodus, Eyrish, Garnic, Iquan, and two from his platoon?”

“Certainly.”

“We need to plan our first mission.”

“Where are we meeting?”

“The galley. We’ll have enough room and the table’s big.”

“Right, I’ll go round up the troops.” He hurried off.

Dar turned his attention back to the view screen. He continued to study the alien vessel. To him, it didn’t appear menacing, but deep inside was a growing fear. Confronting a supposedly invincible species worried him. How could they even attempt to catch one? Would his sorry army of Satirens and Lanterians be wiped out? And would he ever see Parnela and his family again? In a few months, he’d be a father. Dar wondered if he would live to see his youngling. Battle was ugly; he’d known it all his life. Somehow he’d managed to stay alive. Now it came down to keeping not only himself alive, but the troops in his charge.

“Kaptaw? Je nagta seh mekka?” Schmuff said softly.

Dar held his gaze at the view screen. “Yes. I need you to man the bridge. Keep watch on that ship. If it, or anything comes this direction, alert me immediately.”

“Ga, Kaptaw!”

“I’ll be down in the galley having a meeting.”

“O-K.” Schmuff took his place at the controls. Dar headed to the galley. As he reached the crew quarters, Garnic came out.

“Robert said we’re having a meeting?”

“Yes,” Dar replied, trying to gather his thoughts. “Strategy meeting.”

“Ah, right. Would you like me to take notes?”

“Please.”

“Okay.”

“Thanks.”





After two hours of planning, Dar looked at the timepiece on the wall. It was still fairly early in the day, there should be enough light for them to do some reconnaissance. He studied the notes Garnic had taken and thought long and hard about what they were attempting to do. Catching a Squid Head or two was going to be a challenge. Robert suggested various methods, but Dar thought the best was using a snare pole to catch the creatures. It was simple, and afforded some distance between the one doing the capturing, and the one being captured. Once under control, they could be wrangled into the containment units and safely loaded in the shuttle.

Everyone on the recon team had been shown the video; some were seeing it for the first time, and others were getting a refresher on the dangers of the Squid Heads. The ray lenses on their heads were the most feared of all. Dar figured that even when disarmed, the Squid Heads would put up a fight. Their tentacle-like appendages had been shown to be vicious when they defended themselves. And Robert added one more problem to the equation: his research found that at the ends of the tentacles were sucker pads, each with twenty to thirty little teeth that contained poison. Getting hit with one could possibly kill.

“All right, is everyone clear on their duties?” Dar asked as he closed the notebook.

Eyrish raised a hand. “How are we going to make the catch poles?”

“I have some supplies in engineering. It won’t take long to make them.”

Iquan looked over at Robert. “Uh, Sir, do you know how strong they are?”

“No, I’m sorry. The only living one I had access to was severely injured and died a couple days later…Judging by the video, they look quite strong.”

“Wonderful,” Krodus said as he got up. “How about we not think any more about them and go get some?”

Eyrish stood as well. “Yes, Robert needs as much time as possible to study them.”

Dar eased himself off the bench. “All right, I’ll go make the catch poles. The rest of you go back and make sure you’re dressed warm enough. The average temperature on Nerit hovers about fifty degrees for most of the year.”

“I thought they had a Plexus? Why is it so cold?” Garnic asked.

“Because they still lost their solatride, and the device can only deal with the planet, not its source of light,” Dar replied.

“Sir, have you been there?” Joram spoke up.

“Yes, a few times. Much of the surface is rock and dust. Only where they get some light from the Ontarrin sun can anything grow…The Plexus keeps them stable. It will never be a truly living planet ever again.”

“Oh, and the several layers of clothing may help protect against those tentacle suckers,” Robert added. “If you got Catarin hide, wear it!”

“We have body armor of sorts,” Eyrish said. “Perhaps we Lanterians should do much of the catching work.”

“Body armor?” Dar looked at his notes. “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

Eyrish lowered his eyes. “Because I forgot we had it.”

Robert and the others laughed; Dar just shook his head. “All right, you got the job. And I think Lanterians are stronger than Satirens anyways.”

“Fairly confident,” Garnic said as he reached up and gave Eyrish a playful jab on the arm.

“Let’s meet in the shuttle bay in one hour. I’ll have the poles made by then,” Dar said, heading out the door.





The reconnaissance team stood around waiting for Dar. They talked quietly, discussing plans and duty positions. Eyrish and the rest of the Lanterians were clad in their body armor. Robert went up to Halvarn, one of Eyrish’s troops, and prodded at the armor. It was dark green, heavy looking, with broad shoulder plates and a single breastplate. The arms and legs were also armored with plates. Their helmets were large and boasted a down-turned “hook” on the front, just about at chin level.

Robert thought the Lanterians looked like giant snapping turtles. “Does this protect against phaser or disruptor blasts?”

Halvarn shook his head. “No, but it’s good against getting beaten on.”

“But don’t most species in this galaxy have energy weapons of sorts?”

“Yes.”

“Then why wear it if you aren’t protected?”

“’Cause we’re told to. And when you’re in the army, and they tell you to do something, you do it.”

Robert chuckled. “Well, perhaps today it will be worth the wearing.”

“We will assist you in any way possible in the capture of these Squid Heads.”

“I appreciate it…I may be new to this galaxy, but I understand there’s a delicate balance, and if that balance is knocked askew, things could get ugly.”

Dar came from the engine room carrying three long poles. They each had a loop of stout cord hanging from them and were roughly ten feet long. “Think this’ll work?” he asked, stopping next to Robert.

“Yeah, I think so.”

He looked at everyone standing around. “Eyrish?”

“Yes?”

“I thought only half of your troops were coming?”

“After seeing the video, I thought it best to bring everyone.”

“Uh, they can’t all fit in my shuttle. We still got the containment tanks to load.”

“We’ll take ours.”

“Okay, that’s fine.”

Eyrish turned around, facing his troops. “I need four volunteers to help load the tanks.” Four quickly stepped forward. “Robert, can you please direct them to the tanks so they can load them?”

“Sure, thank you.” He started to walk off, but stopped next to Dar. “I like these guys, very helpful.”

“It’s their nature,” Dar said with a slight smile.

Robert continued to his lab, Lanterians in tow. He opened the door and pointed. Without a word, they easily picked up the bulky tanks and carted them out to the shuttle. As the last one left, he leaned against the door. “Hmm, kinda like the Incredible Hulk meets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…Interesting galaxy.” He shut the door and went back to the shuttle bay. The Lanterians had the tanks loaded and were strapping them down.

“Robert?” Dar asked.

“Hmm?”

“Did you get enough time to do the modifications to the tanks?”

“Yup. Sygel was very helpful after he sobered up.”

Dar laughed. “Well, as you said on Earth: ‘Let’s get this show on the road.’” He paused for a moment, noticing something odd sticking out of Robert’s waistband. “What’s that?”

“Huh?”

He pointed. “That.”

“Oh, that’s Mr. Colt forty-five.”

“An Earthling weapon? Why?”

“Well, sure as shit phasers don’t work. But who knows if this will.”

Eyrish poked his head out the door. “Sirs, we’re ready to leave.”

Dar and Robert walked up the gangplank and found seats in the rear of the shuttle. Eyrish closed the door. “Uh, Captain, is there any place you want us to land?”

“I’d like to set down near the capital city of Nerin.”

“You’ll have to show us.”

“Okay, just give a holler when we get closer to the planet.”

“Yes, Sir.” Eyrish went forward to the cockpit. A few moments later, they lifted off and left the shuttle bay.

Robert turned so he could look out the small window. “God, this is so damned amazing.”

“Still stuck on the fact that you’re in another galaxy with a bunch of aliens?”

“Yeah. Like a dream come true.”

“I hope our encounter with the Squid Heads won’t turn into a nightmare.”

“I hope not.”

Dar watched the others. The Lanterians were chatting away and the Satirens were dead quiet. He knew they were afraid, they were all afraid. Each and every one knew the risks they’d be taking. In a short matter of time they would be facing their enemy, an enemy of relatively unknown strength. And it would be up to him to lead them into battle. This was not at all how he thought his life would go.

“Sir?” Eyrish called. “We’re closing in on the planet.”

“Right.” He got up and went forward, leaning through the doorway into the cockpit. “Any sign of alien attack ships?”

“No, just the mother ship.”

“Good.” Dar studied the planet, looking for landmarks. “Okay, see that lake over there?”

“Yes.”

“Aim for that. Nerin is just to the west of the lake. You’ll see it when you get lower.”

“Yes, Sir.”

He watched as they got closer to the surface. The area around the lake was green and laid out for farming. Much of the planet, however, was dark brown color with occasional craggy peaks jutting up. Clouds streaked across the landscape and Dar thought it looked like bovidis cream swirled with Darminian chocolate. His stomach rumbled and he tried to remember if he had eaten anything for lunch. It didn’t matter. Soon he’d be preoccupied with reconnaissance and capture of Squid Heads; food was going to wait.

As the shuttle dropped in altitude, Dar saw several dozen shiny objects on the ground. They were oval in shape. “Shuttles,” he said softly.

“What, Sir?” Eyrish asked.

“Those shiny objects are Squid Head shuttles. I was in one on Earth.”

“In one?”

“Yes, they had one that crashed many years ago. Robert and I were tasked with making it operable.”

“Did you?”

“Almost. He helped us escape before we finished. But I think I can fly one.”

“Why would you need to do that?”

Dar shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “You never know.”

Eyrish pointed to an open area just south of the city. “Should I set down there?”

“That’s fine. I don’t want us to be too close to where the Squid Heads are massed.”





Once on the ground, Dar organized them into three teams. Each was given a comm headset in order to maintain contact. They set out in search of their quarry. If Squid Heads were sighted, the teams were instructed to notify the other groups and do nothing until the others arrived. Dar felt it was too dangerous to try to capture them with smaller teams.

As he walked along with his team, Dar kept a keen eye out for the enemy. Despite knowing that phasers were useless, he still had a rifle slung over his shoulder. The Lanterians carried theirs as well. They had been on the hunt nearly an hour when static crackled in his ear. “Dar, it’s Robert.”

“Go ahead.”

“We got a group of four Squid Heads. Looks like they’re doing a patrol.”

“Where are you?”

“Best guess is a quarter mile to your east.”

“All right.” He could feel his heart pounding. “Krodus, did you hear that?”

“Yes, Dar. We’ll meet up with you.”

“We’ll hold our position until you get here. Robert, can you safely tail the group?”

“Affirmative. We’re doing that now…Looks like they’re headed toward the city.”

“Understood.” Dar took a deep breath and tried to settle his nerves. It felt like an eternity before Krodus’s team showed up. Once together, they hurried off in the direction of Robert’s team. It didn’t take long before they found boot prints in the dust. Near them were the strange triangular prints of the Squid Heads.

“Robert, do you copy?” Dar said. There was no response for several moments. “Robert?”

“Hold,” was the reply he received.

Krodus came up next to Dar. “Do you think they’re in trouble?”

“I hope not.” He picked up the pace. His heart was beating so hard it was making it difficult to breathe.

“Dar, Robert. Sorry, we had to take cover. The patrol must’ve heard us and turned around. We’re okay and still tailing them.”

He sighed. “Where are you?”

“About half a mile from the south wall of the city.”

“We’re on our way.”

“Hurry, I think they’re heading toward the location of the shuttles.”

Dar started jogging, the others kept pace with him. “Moving faster now.” It wasn’t long before he was at a dead run. Behind him it sounded like a herd of hegorrians running wild over an open plain. He almost wanted to laugh at the commotion, but things were far too serious for that.

“Dar, I hear you!” Robert called over the comm link.

“Whoa!” Dar said, holding his hand up and skidding to a halt. The rest of the group nearly ran over him. “Shhhh!”

They crept along until they met with Robert’s team. “Where are they?” Dar asked.

“Ahead maybe fifty feet,” Robert whispered.

“Plan?”

“We only got three poles, and there’s four of them.”

“Are they wearing those blue things?”

“Yup,” Robert replied.

“Shit.”

“Sir?” Eyrish said.

“Hmm?” Dar glanced over at him.

“May I make a suggestion?”

“I’m open for anything at this point.”

“I can take half my troops and try to get around in front of them. If we can find cover, we’ll open fire and distract them. Then the rest can come in behind, catch three of them and perhaps disarm the fourth.”

“Don’t forget about their tentacles.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And what of the rest of us?” Krodus asked.

“You don’t have any armor,” Robert said.

“Perhaps we can join the attacking group?”

Eyrish looked around. “A few extra phasers may be of help.”

Dar nodded. “All right. Krodus, Garnic, Iquan, Joram, come with us,” he said, slipping the phaser off his shoulder and adjusting it to maximum setting.

“I’m staying back,” Robert said.

“Be careful.”

“Oh, trust me, I will.”

“If we catch three, what will we do with the third one? We only got two tanks.”

“Uh…”

Eyrish waved his hand. “Don’t worry, we’ll think of something. Let’s go before they get too close to the city.”

The teams split up, Eyrish leading the attacking group. They hurried along, taking a more eastern path hoping to get ahead of the enemy. Dar almost had a hard time keeping up since the Lanterians were much bigger and had a longer stride.

As they ran, Dar kept looking to his left. Just as they passed an outcropping of rock, he saw them. They were scurrying along in something of a diamond formation. One was in the lead followed by two, and another brought up the rear. Their tentacles supported their bodies as they walked upright, making them appear quite tall. And he noticed they were the same shade of gray as the ones in the tanks on Earth.





* * *

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