"The Red Hand Of General Dragutin, part 4"
by Wil Alambre
With a hand over my ear, I blindly fling x-ray signals
upwards. "Vaso! The situation's getting out of hand
"I've no clear sight lines to your location, General!
Repeat, I have no shot!"
Looking up, I can't see the moon through the observatory
dome's slot anymore. Can't even see the *night sky* anymore.
Great roundish horrors crawl on the ceiling, on the walls.
Stripes of gold and black and flesh. 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.
Vaso's doing a piss poor job of keeping his panic out of his
broadcasts. "The enemy's piling on top of the building. On
top of the whole mountain. You've got to get out of there,
sir! There's *millions* of them!"
I hear a crumbling cracking. I'm certain its the structural
supports of the dome. The weight of them all is going to
bring the whole thing down on us! "Stay bright, solider. I'm
going to need suppressing fire."
"No one'sz coming!" Sybilla's wrath is so great that it's
distorting the honey-gel of her transmission. Its all jagged
and sharp, the constructed avatar can't keep up with her.
"When you need them, when you want them, when you beg for
szZomeone. Anyone! They don't come! You face it alone and it
crushesZZz you and they DON'T COME!"
Ignore her. There's no getting through to her like this.
I pull the shield in tight and raise its temperature. I
think hot fusion thoughts and bring the projected surface up
to a thousand kelvin. Some of the beasts are brave enough to
approach; they pay dearly for it. A couple stingers jabs at
the shield, but I pour on more heat to those spots, burning
away both the transformative toxin and its suicidal source.
But the stubborn animals, they ain't backing off! They keep
pushing against my shield, burning themselves up and using
the corpses as insulation to try again. They're all around
me, a squeezing ball of wrathful buzzing crazy! They're
either going to wear me down or they'll cool the shield down
enough for the stingers' poison.
I hold one hand up against the mass, throwing fire to keep
them from crushing me. I claw my other hand down at my feet,
grabbing the planet's magnetic field. The observatory's on a
mountain range, which means we got be on top of a couple
tectonic plates. I loop the field a couple times around my
wrist, make sure I've got a solid hold on it, and pull! Pull
at it with everything I have. Pull at the onerous, stubborn,
son of a bitch, come on COME ON!
The fault shifts. Its a shiver on the global scale,
but its enough.
The floor cracks and gets yanked out from under us. The
overwhelmed framework of the dome finally gives up. The
whole thing collapses with a rolling, deafening boom. The
bees that don't scatter in surprise get knocked aside. Or
are flattened by falling debris.
Steepling my hands above my head shapes my shield into a
pointed cone. A quick bend of the knees, a twist of the
waist, and I launch myself up. Up through the tumbling,
crashing bodies and concrete. Up, a spiraling bullet,
carving a way into the night sky.
As I climb into the atmosphere, all I can see under me is a
carpet of black and yellow. A shifting landscape of insect
horror, shifting and crawling on *every* surface in *every*
direction. Vaso wasn't exaggerating. They must've come
Speaking of which. I look up at moon and re-establish
contact. "Vaso, come in. I'm clear of the building."
A pinpoint of light on the moon's surface acknowledges.
"Roger, General. I have eyes on you. Be aware, the swarm's
reorienting itself onto you." Below me, the mass of
creatures are building up. The top layer's untangling
themselves from the rest. Wings shimmer and blur. A lot
To hell with this. "Suppressing fire, Vaso."
The surface of the moon intensifies. It gets so bright that
I have to look away. The light bunches up in the sky, then
comes slamming down in a fast, flat wave.
It hits that landscape of bees like a thunderclap! The force
slams the ground, hard enough to bounce the creatures. I
hear cracking rocks and splintering trees.
Then the night dulls. The moon's almost disappears into the
blue black of the sky.
"Damn fine shot, solider!" The swarm is instantly still.
Most'll be stunned, either from the blinding flash or the
hammer blow. Some might even be crippled. Can bees be
crippled? Do they just die if they're grievously injured?
"Eight minutes plus for light to reach Volsci, sir. Even
with whatever's reflecting up from the planet's surface, I
can't weaponize the moon again for at least twelve minutes.
You best retreat while you can, sir."
"Negative. Just keep reloading. Do what you can to cut that
time down." I've a feeling we're going to need it. "Have you
had a chance to map the surface."
"Just what I can see. One hemisphere."
"I'm looking for a canyon. Probably a big one. A major
geographical feature. Somewhere the bees could've set up a
base of operations." I hear his hesitation over the channel.
"This is a confirmed afterswarm, Vaso. They have a queen,
they've named her Sybilla. A day or two old, at most. We
*cannot* pass up this chance!"
I don't want to pull rank on him. I bully him, I lose his
respect, and we're too small a group for that. So I've got
to with trust. Trust that I know what I'm doing. I hope
At first, I get silence. Then I get coordinates.
I rocket through the atmosphere, fast enough for the air to
catch fire behind me. We got a small window of
The canyon ain't hard to find. Its a massive fissure cut
into a red rocky landscape. Big enough to be visible from
space. And currently filled with waxy gold hexagons. A
geometrically efficient series vertical sheets, reaching
toward the sky. All this in two days? The size is... well,
definately impressive, but you can't miss all the rough
edges. Noo art to the construction. No guiding hand, no
expression. Its formulaic. Instinctive. Predictable.
"Sit rep, Vaso."
"Two more minutes. Maybe one."
"Wait for my signal." The drones have noticed my precense. A
detachment is being organized... a really big one. Wow. How
many people were there on this damn planet? Or was the
original invasion force really that big?
I do my best to ignore them and study the structure of the
hive. They'd have salvaged *something* for the queen's
larva, I'm certain. A house. Or a building. Or part of one.
They'd try to hide it, but they couldn't have built up
*that* fast. Where is it? Where...?
Ah! There! Where the individual cells look rougher and
smaller and quicker. The dull grey of concrete, buried in
the heart of the hive! I clap my hands in front of me and
form as large a plane as I can wield. Before the drones
figure out what I'm doing, I slash the plane down into the
canyon. Like a hot butcher knife, ti melts right through the
wax, reaching all the way to that building inside. Then I
spread my hands apart... prrryyyyiiing the hexagon
Oh, they're *not* liking that! The hive empties a flood of
furious wings and caustic stingers at me. I dive into the
opening I've made, yanking back the planes to close them
into a red hot wedge of solar fire. Can barely see in front
of me! Just ram it, straight ahead!
Thumps of bodies. Buzzing cries. Fatty acids and fatty
acohols, collapsing around me. Burn them. Push forward.
I hit the concrete wall with a pop. Rubble explodes, then a
hollow space... I'm inside! I cocoon the wedge around me and
signal out, "Now, Vaso! Target my position and fire!"
Everything goes blindingly white as Vaso weaponizes
the moon again.
I cover my ears as the thrown light smashes down around me.
The canyon walls echo the blast against the hive. Thousands
of hexagon cells flatten with the force, or catch fire from
As everything dims, I find myself in what used to be some
sort of apartment building? A couple floors of it, at least.
Torn up and moved here whole. Everything's been demolished,
gathered in one direction. Honey and jelly coat every
surface, growing thicker down the only hallway.
Some of it sparks and bubbles up into a familiar female
shape. Quickly, desperately. "MonsZter! Demon! You're
killing them! You're killing everyone!" Sybilla's
half-formed simulacrum screams. At me. To me. Can't tell.
"I ain't here for them. I'm here for you. To talk to you.
Face to face." Spill fusion from my hand. Catch it in a
loop. Pull the arm back. Unravel the arc. Snap to send the
The honey-built avatar boils away in black steam.
As I advance down the hall, another pile builds up. "I know
you! They szaid which one you are! Told me the titlesZ given
you! Red hand! PromiSZZe breaker!" I snap the whip at that
one too, burning it away.
Marching down the hall. More building bubbles. More snaps of
the wrist. The smell of sugar on fire. "No more masks, no
more hiding," I call out at her. A banshee wail comes from
the end of the hall. Furious and frightened.
Eventually, I come into someone's living quarters. Small.
Civilian. Humble. Probably hers. The swarm might've used its
familiarity to calm her. Now it's covered in wax and honey,
stinking of sweets and sweat and paper-mache. In the middle
is a mass of monster bees, all a tight ball. They're... oh!
They're trying to smother her! Can't risk the whip! Rolling
the fusion loops around my hands, I raise their temperatures
as high as I dare and just start yanking the creatures away.
They cry in vibrating bass as I pull them off. Crystal
membrane wings catch flames. Dozen of legs pulled off. All
but two ignite and die under my touch. And the whole time,
they ignore me, instead directing their wrath inward. Into
the ball. Kicking and scrapping and clawing and beating at
the center. Trying to kill the small woman inside.
Or what... what used to be a woman. The *thing* they've made
her into is three times larger than what her original size
could have been. Most of it's made up of massive black
abdomen. Plates of carapace covering the back, narrowing up
into a jagged spine with way too many bones. The abdomen
melds into her waist with that onyx color staining the rest
of her skin. Like a dark rash over other dark rashes. Her
legs are larger and stronger and are more like a beetle's
than anything else. Arms are bent and long and end in almost
humanoid hands. And her head looks half crushed in a
malformed jaw that's acting as her neck.
The whole thing's terrifying and sick. I've never seen a
queen bee in the flesh before. I could go on with the rest
of my life without ever seeing another.
Sybilla covers her face. Shakes her head. Scurries backward,
into the darker corners of the room. This is...! Urrh!
Frustration's sweating out of me as visible light. I grab
her arms, drag her back out of the shadows. "No more
hiding!. *Look* at yourself! Look at what's happened here."
She tries to pull away. But she doesn't try very hard.
"Thisz isz your fault. You weren't there when we
"*I* didn't do this! I didn't kill your planet. I didn't
turn everyone you knew into terrors. And I didn't turn you
into a *freak*. They did that! They did that to *you*!"
"No. No no no, that'sz not... they're my..." Sybilla looks
at the twitching pair. "I'm their queen. They love me."
"You're their *hostage*. They *hate* you, and they hate
*needing* you." I let her go and point at the surviving
bees. "Go ahead, ask them about the name they gave you.
Ask them who 'Sybilla' is. Ask them what you're *for*."
She looks at them with terrified disbelief. Nothing's said
out loud, but she's getting a lot out of them. There's a...
connection the whole colony shares. Each individual
creature's a piece of a bigger brain. They can work
together, but its all base animal impulses unless they've
got something to focus it all. That's what their queens are.
Royalty and reason. Leaders and lobes. They turn these
dangerous animals into malevolent empires.
But animals don't know what makes a 'good leader'. They
wouldn't yet *know* what they *need* to know. So they make
something to gain that mental capacity, to make that
decision. And like animals, they pick something small and
weak and helpless and easily bullied.
Its a patch job. A temporary queen. Something to throw away
when they find something better.
And they always name them 'Sybilla'.
She flinches back from the bees as she absorbs...
everything, I guess. She turns to stare at me, all quiet and
slow and pathetic, "I'm... what? A szurrogate? A sztopgate?
Until they don't want me? They're going to kill me?" She
looks back to the pair, hands curled into fists. "You're
going to KILL me? Why? Why? Why keep me and then lie to me?
Why szave me and then depiSZe me szo much? You sZaid you
loved me! You sZZaid you needed me!"
"It's what they do. They're running on instinct."
"They're monsZterSZ! All monsZZterSZZ!" Oh! She starts
*beating* them! No finesse to it, just hot emotion. The bees
are too injured to defend themselves. There's wet cracking
sounds. Her hands turn crimson with blood and bits. "You're
monsZtersZ! And you *made* me a monszter!"
The others behind me. More of the swarm, finally making it
into the structure. They're not moving. They don't enter the
room. They're *scared*.
When Sybilla's anger's finally expended, she slumps on the
bodies. She sobs and hugs the corpse directly
Okay. Okay, now, here, I either say exactly the right thing
exactly the right way... or I get torn apart. In retrospect,
Vaso might've been right about this. Swallow. Clear throat.
"This'll be hard to accept right now, but I'm not your
enemy." Her eyes peel open and *glare* at me. "This doesn't
have to be the end. Not this. Not like this. There's a way
to help you. There's a way to *fix* this, I promise you...
"But you're going to have to help me."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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!"
"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.