"The Red Hand Of General Dragutin, part 1"
by Wil Alambre
Damn. Didn't notice his approach 'til he was right on top of
me. With so much of equipment is disrepair (or, to be
honest, completely non-existent as I hadn't bother to even
make half of it), its only luck that I spotted the warp
tunnel opening at all. Didn't have a chance to compose
myself. Barely had time to exit the House and lock up behind
me before he arrived. Hope he interprets my uneasiness as
"Petar," I say, extending my hand in greeting, "you're a
long way from Hoag. What brings a member of our super wizard
parliament out this far?"
His handshake's as noncommittal as I remember. "Hello
Dragutin. I wouldn't be here if things weren't desperate.
But things *are* desperate, and seeing as you're partially
to blame, I think it appropriate to give you the chance to
The plain speech does nothing to put me at ease. Have to get
control of this engagement. "Not a social visit then. Hrm.
Well then, care to accompany me on my rounds? The billet
isn't particularly spacious, nor is it in a state for
Petar raises an eyebrow, takes a quick inspection of the
House. Dwarf star. Old. Numb. Stubborn. The blue white
surface has patches of irregular brown light. The fusion
leaks loose gravity. "I'm disappointed, Dragutin. You were a
fanatic supporter of discipline back in the day. Its said
that you'd upbraid your troops if you found so much as a
scuff on their uniforms."
I bite my tongue. Should find out what he's here for. "Yes...
well, you'll have to forgive me," I say, starting toward the
orbiting asteroid prisons. "Penitentiary life has dulled my
He doesn't follow, the stubborn bastard. "You're the warden
here. You're not a prisoner."
I stop. And turn back to him. "I'm an exile," I jab back.
"The job title hardly matters. I'm trapped in this star
system, just like any of my frozen charges."
"Too bad. I'm not here to hear your grievances. I'm here to
reinstate the Red Hand."
Okay. I admit, that's caught me off guard.
"Have you been following current events?" Petar asks. "The
cosmic tournament we started?"
I drift back to him. My curiosity overcomes my concern. I
think... is he here looking for *help*? "I've been getting
reports. Matter of fact, our own super-champion was just
here. The boy's certainly managed to overcome the odds
against him. Already had five of the seven crowns."
"Five. Of seven," says Petar, disgusted. "Our calculations
had him faltering by the third. Even our outside projections
never had him succeeding past the fourth."
"Your projections were based on faulty intel. I tried to
warn you. We severely underestimated the power of the
crowns. And the effects they had on their bearers. The
profile drawn up for Rex was laughable."
"Perhaps we should have listened." Wow. That admission must
be killing him. He looks at me quizzically. "The super
wizard parliament still believes he'll be stopped at Planet
I try to not enjoy dashing his hopes. "They're still wrong."
He points an accusing finger at me. "Emperor M is above and
beyond the *fiercest* combatant in our known universe. Your
own accounts ranks him second only to the late Sidney
Dharma, and that was before the robot claimed himself a
"Oh yes, certainly. *Senator M* was. But he's been a wet
blanket since his 'elevation'. He's a figurehead now. The
fighting spirit's been drilled out of him. If he puts up any
sort of resistance, it's only 'cause of Buzz."
"And of the Queen herself?"
"Ha! Come on, be serious. This whole operation *started*
'cause the boy cracked a planet in half. She doesn't stand a
chance. I'd be surprised if her Swarm hasn't abandoned her
Petar nods reluctantly. He paces around empty space. One
hand rubbing the top of his head. I recognize the habit.
He's not here willingly. If anything, I figure he wants to
be here less than I do.
"I never understood why you did it." He says after a long
thought. "You went behind all our backs. You took the cosmic
crown away from Gavrilo, your own kin. You imprisoned the
entire Super Warlock race outside space and time..."
This again. It always comes back to this malarkey. "I had to
do something. *Someone had to do something.* Gavrilo was
advocating moderation. Moderation! As if we had the time to
research, the time to investigate, the time to formulate
hypotheses... damn it, man, the enemy had just released
space-greed into the universe. They were on the verge of
releasing a handful *more* infectious space-crimes. And us?
We were stuck in our laboratories and our parliamentary
debates." I wave a hand at him in disgust. "We needed to
act. So I took action. I didn't trick Gavrilo out of the
crown. He gave it to me. *He knew*. He knew we didn't need
him right then. We needed me!"
"But why did you give it up?" Petar presses. "That's what I
never understood. Why did you just surrendered after all
that. You had to know our parliament would never forgive
you. Not if they wanted to save face in front of the others
My hands feel warm. I'm dripping red fire. Wasn't even aware
I was. I'm letting him get to me. Deep breathe. At ease.
Hands behind my back and my chin up. "I purged a threat from
the universe. I saved the our race and countless others. I
didn't think I'd done anything that needed forgiveness. Or
"Would you do it again? If you knew you'd be exiled out
here? Or worse?"
"I won't act false to my nature, if that's what you're
asking. Then or now. I remain the wizard I am."
"But would you act the same way?"
"The point is I *acted*."
"I guess someone had to," Petar says with a small smile.
"Someone had to," I agree.
Petar rubs the top of his head again. Staring at me in
silence. He's pensive. Uneasy. Trying to come to a decision.
Hrm. No, that's not it. Coming here, he's already decided.
Now he's trying to justify it. Trying to tell himself there
wasn't another way. "You think the boy's going to turn on
you," I let slip in realization.
"On us," Petar corrects. A quiver to his voice he's fighting
to hide. "On you, on me, on all of us who were there. On
everyone who allowed this tournament to happen."
"You believe, after Buzz, after he's free of the crown's
compulsion, he'll take revenge on the super wizard
parliament? You think he'll march on Hoag itself?"
Petar nods. "Some are less pessimistic. We're crunching the
probabilities right now, running simulations, but...
well..." He looks at me. Right at me. "You said he was here.
You talked to him. What's your take on it? What would you
Here we go. Now we're getting to the point. "What are you
*asking* me to do?"
"You're our best chance at stopping him."
"Is that why you're here? You want to put me in front of the
boy, hope for the best? The parliament was willing to
sacrifice one solider, now they want to throw another on the
"Our parliament... hasn't agreed to anything," Petar admitted
with a frown. "They haven't authorized anything yet. They
don't even know I'm here."
Oh. Oh wow. Of all people, I never expected this of him.
"Petar, what you're suggesting..."
"This is why you first formed the Red Hand! To be soliders
when everyone else wanted to be diplomats. To take action
when action was needed!"
"You're asking me to commit treason. I'm an exile. I'm
forbidden from leaving here."
"You've acted without approval before."
"And look where it's gotten me. Abandoned to a dying star
system. What you're asking is *worse*. To act against my
own. A high crime against my people. Against my home."
"If you don't do this, you may not have a home. Not the way
we know it. Maybe not at all."
I wave off the hyperbole. "You don't need me. The Red Hand
doesn't need me. Track done any of the others. Find Trifko.
Or Vaso, even. Both fine soliders."
"Oh, I tried. I definitely tried," the arrogant prick, as if
I'm the one insulting *him*. "I started looking soon after
Brody was defeated, but your small company has dwindled to
near extinction. Trifko and Vaso have disappeared; no one
knows where either of them are. Danilo went a little mad and
is now chasing the edge of the universe, or so I heard.
Nedeljko is trapped along with the Super Warlock race. And
Cvjetko died when his House collapsed in on itself. All
that's left of the Red Hand is you. And the boy."
"And... what, you didn't even *bother* with Gavrilo? Are we
that ashamed of him now?"
He's struck silent. Petar, of all people. Has it really been
so long since anyone's thrown mistakes back at his face?
Back at the parliament as a whole? Hardly believed it when I
was told how imperious they'd gotten. Hardly believe it now.
Maybe it *is* long past due for Hoag to face its failures.
Petar closes his eyes, just for a moment, then opens them
heavier than before. "Has no one told you?" He doesn't wait
for my frustration to resolve itself into sarcasm.
"Dragutin, Gavrilo is gone."
"Our super champion went to him shortly after the tournament
started. There was an incident of some sort. A bad one.
We're not certain of the details, but we've intercepted
reliable reports from Buzz's Swarm."
I... I don't... this isn't...
He pauses. "I'm sorry. Your brother is dead."
I think... I don't know what I think. I don't know how to
My chest feels empty and heavy at the same time.
When was the last time I saw him? What was the last thing I
said to him?
A hand on my shoulder. Petar's looking at me with a
politician's mask. Feigning concern. Practiced words of
condolence. A mechanical empathy.
It's... all somewhat appreciated regardless.
Then he starts talking. About who's to blame. What needs to
be done. He throws around words like sacrifice.
Responsibility. Patriotism. Duty. I can't hear him. I'm not
listening. Him and his kind don't know the meanings of those
things. Its just leverage to them.
I make some semblance of an answer that satisfies him. He
makes promises he can't keep. He makes assurances that have
He shakes my hand. "You're doing the right thing, Dragutin."
I hold it firm, so that he remembers it. "Yes... someone has
I watched him leave, flying free of my penitentiary. When
he's beyond the orbit of the asteroids and the systems
gravity, he peels open a tunnel under spacetime and warps
I float outside my small drab House for a long while
afterwards. I stare out into the black where he' ha'd gone.
Somewhere that way is an infinite number of stars. Countless
planets swinging around them. An impossible variety of
creatures and their cities and their empires. The mighty
super-races of the universe. Super Wizards From Space. Hoag.
It seems so emptier now.
There's a knock from inside the dwarf star. A coded banging
of neutrons against the fusion surface. I toss back an
all-clear. A spiralling darkness splits from the bottom as
the House opens. Trifko and Vaso come out. Both wearing the
same style red uniform as myself. Both scanning the visible
spectrums for hostiles, watching the subtle radiations for
eavesdrops. Trifko has a loop of fusion in one hand, armed
and at the ready. Good formation. Good discipline.
"What was he doing here, General?" asks Vaso, nodding out at
that emptiness. "What'd he say?"
"Very little," I reply.
"Sir. Does this change anything, sir? Are we still doing...
doing all this, sir?"
I set my jaw. I stare right at him. "Oh yes. More so than
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wil Alambre. Follow me at http://twitter.com/wilalambre
"Hurry, uni-scribe! We have less than one space-hour to get to the
negotiating table before the Great Disaster arrives!" The desperate uni-diplomat paced back and forth in the room. He kept
looking at the space-clock, watching the moments tick away and
whinnying quietly under his breath. The light in the room was starting
to fade away as ominous clouds rolled in, covered up the twin suns. It
was as if the very planet understood the impending doom and was losing
"Very well, we agree. A tournament, then, to end this rampage. But you have witnessed the power at his disposal. He has a billion billion years of our science-sorcery at his command. Will all you great super-civilizations commit your super-champions to this?"
On a distant world, a mummy-robot and a brown-robed monk silently made their way to the center of a blasphemous cathedral. Though the robot lurched ungainly, it's servos making an uneven whirring sound as they moved the broken machine through black-stone hallways, it held it's bandaged head high, the ghostly
Cocytus the demon-glacier had the Super Wizard From Space engulfed in its icy grasp, forever to be a frozen prisoner of the ninth circle of Hell. Meanwhile the victorious Devil stood atop the massive field of ice, grateful to be back home. The Devil tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and just basked
On a filthy cobblestone hell-road outside the infinite walls of Double-Dis, the Super Wizard From Space stared up at the triumphant face of the Super-Devil. The monster's massive grin dribbled thick lava as he shouted out "Hey there, jerks! Welcome to Double-Hell!"
In the ruins of an ancient city of pillars, an alien octopus pointed eight dangerous looking ray-guns at a white-bearded hermit. "You best be giving me that there data-cylinder, Gavrilo, or I'll vaporize you right where you stand, I done swear it!"
Two figures hurtled through a scarred green warp tunnel underneath the skin of the universe toward the lost planet of the silver skull machine. The Super Wizard From Space was leading the way, encased in a cocoon of hard light that protected him from the rigors of space travel. His companion, a filthy bearded hermit,
The Super Wizard From Space and the Hermit Wizard From Space were trapped in an asteroid belt by a swarm of gigantic space-bees! As it's fellow drones circled uniformly, one particularly grusome space-bee broken from the formation. It was as massive as any of the drifting asteroids, it's gigantic yellow black body big enough to drag smaller free-floating
A monstrously giant bee made of hollow electricity used its clawed legs to peel open the hull of the crashed rocket-ship. It glowed brightly with a pale light, partially transparent and seemingly fragile as it opened up the armored cockpit as if it was made of tinfoil. The ship's two occupants didn't even have a moment to shake off the shock before
The two super wizards stood stock still as the two floors of the building above them were eaten by the ghost of a cosmic megalodon. Bigger than a rocket-ship, it nonetheless hung effortlessly in the air, it's fifty-five rows of cleaver-like teeth surrounding their room as it floated vertically above them. The daylight of the alien sky shone
I am Theodor. I am a rainbow blue fish. I lived on a planet far away. Then I died. But that is was not the end. That was the beginning. I became a ghost. I became part of the infinite school. Thanks to wise Rex. This is the story of Rex. He is big fish. A big shark. Many sizes big. From a far away blue
It took nearly every ghost fish of the infinite school to confidently herd Sharkasaurus Rex into the depths of the invisible galaxy. The megalodon's monstrous instincts were near impossible to fully understand, a hundred million space-years of predatory instinct and insatiable hunger. The spectral school's entire telepathic concentration
"Oh dear me!" shouted Brody Dharma to the marble diamond hall, his gecko eyes spinning in shock as the ghostly forms of Geisel and Theodor circled over the sticky yellow remains of Queen Buzz. "Fish! Please! Contain yourselves!" "Tyrant!" flared out Geisel angrily, telepathically sharing horrific
"Master hero! Master hero!" cried out the young boy, frantic enough to ignore his disciplined training. "A terrible occurrence! The infinite school have lost their hold on their grisly teacher! The cosmic crown reacted suddenly and cut off their psychic leashes! Sharkasaurus Rex is loose!". The young boy wildly rang the same small gong all the monks in this
Geisel was gone, his phantasmal form torn apart in savage fury by the recently de-crowned Sharkasaurus Rex. The equally ethereal Theodor watched the entire sudden rending in still shock. As did the rest of the infinite school, millions of fellow ghost fish that had all gathered to psychically leash the mighty megalodon.
"Sharkasaurus Rex is feeding on the simple people of this planet," said the
Super Wizard From Space, pointing to where a sticky-looking red hue spread in
the red mist for a space-minute before the fin moved on. "He's converting their
psyches into spiritual mass, growing exponentially. This incredible instrument
is our only hope."
He was lying on the ground. Still at the top of the mountain
monastery. Yes, he was certain of it. There was no mistaking. He
remembered the feel of these particular stones. And the scent of that
particular moss. But he could not remember how he had came here. It
was like his mind was rattling around in his head while at the same
time trying to swell larger than his skull could contain.
I warned him not to use the Gong Ago, as the volume required from that sacred instrument would have unintended side effects. But like an old mule wearing ragged blinders, he rung it out anyway. And that powerful pitch has freed me and my like-minded brethren. My name is Andy Dharma. I am the master villain of the Invisible Monks.
In a clearing at the center, a nine-foot lizards bowed respectfully to his duplicate. He dressed the same way. He moved with the same simple grace. He stood with the same relaxed posture. And he looked back at him with the same calculating eyes, measuring the short distance between them, judging the smallest of movements.
"You are unbalanczed. You cannot be truszted with coszmic power." Her hand closed into a fist and squeezed. From every direction, the spectral fish tossed out their determination in crisscrossing grey lines, trying to ensnare his mind.
"Andy, don't do this," whispered Brody, "You can't." "Yes I can! Yes I will!" he shouted back at him. "No more bad habits disguised as tradition! No more of yesterday's rules deciding today's fate! I will show you what change can accomplish!" He spat on the floor in disgust, and backflipped off the balcony.
On the side of a small lake, a simple man was fishing off the end of a rickety dock. The lake was usually a clear blue, filled with many delicious fish. It was not so now. It was murky, tinted pink and red, the fish preferring to stay closer to the bottom, where the water was cleaner and lines could rarely reach. It meant the man would be lucky for even a small catch, but that would be enough. He lived alone on this shore, in his cabin up the hill, and had only himself to feed.
He wiped his hands on his bloody apron, then stroked his long grey beard with a smile. It was with great experience that he could judge the quality and balance of a blade and in all the experience, he had never worked with such magnificent instruments.
A portion of empty space bubbled and bulged, like plastic melting in a fire, then peeled away to reveal the spitting green end of a warp tunnel. Wrapped and protected in a cocoon of pale starlight, the Super Wizard From Space blasted out of the tunnel opening at incredible speed. The wound in black reality mended behind him with a practiced flick of
Sharp super-lightening split across a sick dry sky as a lone yellow cab pulled up in front of a long abandoned university. The pale driver scratched at his unkept beard. Hunched over the steering wheel, he got a better look through the windshield at the derelict campus. "You sure this is where you wanna to be?" he gruffly asked the passenger in the back seat.
"I will not tolerate your
presence here. Nor your trickery. I will burn away every molecule. I
will crack every atom. I will unravel your infernal form down to the
minimalist components and grind the remains under my boot."
"Once upon a time, five dark lords of multiple underverses made the mistake of signing a series of magical contracts in an attempt to insure some level of trust between them. Inevitably, all five of them went back on their words and now the tangled wording of those contracts have trapped them in the stone sepulchres of Quinto-Hell."
The ashen remains of the gorgon sunk into the circling river of molten rock and disappeared down the sinkhole in reality, pulled toward the punishments of Triple-Hell. A bleating car horn sounded. The Devil tugged at the wizard's shoulder. "Come along, guv. Our ride awaits."
Somewhere in the dank musky darkness swamp, a single snapping growl was followed up by a chorus of hungry grumbles and hollers and howls. Jagged trunks of twisted trees creaked and cracked as something massive pushed through. Huge lungs filled up and expelled, making for a thunderous breathy bass echo.
Black glass and brittle shale and oddly shaped boulders all bashed against each other in the tornado ferocity of the space between conceptual realities. Every small piece was both nonexistant and an immense solidity to itself, dragging and throwing and colliding with its surroundings as the entire mess fell through infinite layers of fractal
Looking about, he could see endless desert interrupted by black stone squares, similar to the one they were taking refuge on. A long wind was blowing, picking up loose dunes, shifting them up and over and around in an ever-moving landscape. It gave everything a burnt look, a rising sea of sand that just faded without an horizon. The only thing cutting through the leather-colored sky was the sun, massive and oversized, ten times larger than it should be.
The Devil, The Secret Living Language, and the Super Wizard From Space stood upon a massive square of black stone half buried in blistering desert sands. "This is it, end of the line," the Devil announced.
In the seedy bowels of a seedy mining camp, Cephalo Paul roused from blurriness to found himself at the mercy of an unkindness of anthropomorphic ravens. The lot of them stood on four clawed talons, spoke through horrifying beaks lined with serrated edges, and had too many ruby-coloured eyes.
"My name is senior lieutenant Yuri Gigan Topithecus, last survivor of the once-mighty space-sasquatch race. I was a hero of my people and a triumph of my government, becoming the first of my planet to journey into outer space... and as I completed my first orbit in my prototype capsule, I helplessly watched the Super Wizard From Space destroy my world."
The Super Wizard From Space towed his wounded prisoner to a dying system in a lonely constellation. It was a place that had been full and vibrant when the universe was young, a very long time ago. Now, it's small, dense white star bled away its diminishing heat and weak light into empty space.
Across the vastness of galaxies, a nameless forager bee achieves a stable geosynchronous orbit with distant Planet M. The ladened insect has been in contact with appropriate representatives, has deposited it cargo. It now maintains a microwave relay with the surface, and only awaits permission from the Hive to open communications.
In the clarity of the desert night, a single point of light smolders against the blue-black curtain. And it slowly grows the closer it gets, falling toward Us through immense distances. The Super Wizard From Space is coming to Planet M.
Emperor gestures back to the great monolith and declares, "At-the-behest-of-our-electronic-ennead, I've-entombed-the-Super-Wizard-From-Space-within-the-Pyramids-Of-Ka! His-power-will-feed-our-preservation-batteries-for-countless-cycles."
"The Szuper Wizard From Szpace is sztill alive. And He sztill has Hisz coszmic crown." We say it aloud. Not to anyone. To ourselves, as swirling shaking thoughts become cold and real. This is real. This is happening. "Why? Why have you done thisz?"
If you'll indulge me, I'll tell you a story about how some people ( who were much too smart for their own good, I'm afraid ) tried to find an easy, quick solution; by doing so, they doomed countless lives to AGES of suffering.
Now, I was halfway through a tale about countless doomed lives... and yes, my friend, I do know the difference between 'countless' and 'seven'. Those tragic academics were only the first direct victims of these newly formed cosmic crowns. What happened next was intended to prevent more loss of life, but it actually placed the entire universe in peril.
"A swarm! A monster swarm! Oh! Oh gods, they were everywhere. They killed everyone. They stabbed them and killed them. And the dead changed into more and went to do the same. Stabbing and changing and stabbing. Everyone's gone!"
Long spear-length stingers, glints of wet toxin at the tips. Wide crystal wings banging against torsos, making thrumming thunder. It's a *blanket* of angry buzzing. Getting thicker as they crawl over each other. At me. Looking to smother me. Kill me. If I'm lucky.
"What I'm doing, it has to be done. Because someone has to do it. Because no one else is doing it. They're scared of what might happen. Scared of what they could lose. Scared of things they can't change. We can't live like that."
Do you have any idea how this looks? We aren't at war anymore. The tournament is supposed to *prevent* this exact sort of conflict from flaring up again. You can't just go around dropping armies on the *home planets* of the universe's seven super-races."
His ancient race long ago unravelled the laws of physics, and they then learned how to redefine them. They harvest fusion fire to sustain themselves, and they hollow out suns to build their private strongholds. They are guardians of the spaces they know and explorers of the spaces they don't.
Reality stretches like canvas pulled taut. Time stutters and scratches and skips, between moments and months. The Wizard takes refuge within the umbra of the system's innermost planet, little more than a corner to be backed into.