Raccowrimo

The Super Wizard From Space #49

"The Red Hand Of General Dragutin, part 6" by

Behind me, millions of monstrous bees are on the verge of
slaughtering their apprehensive Queen. On the far horizon,
millions of fossilized machines form the one of the most
dangerous armed forces in the known universe. The lot of us
have been here almost a week. Two armies staring at each
other across a desert of rust and sand. Waiting.

Vaso's the first to spot the warp tunnel unfurling outside
the atmosphere. I didn't know who Hoag would send, but I
knew they'd send *someone*. Of course they'd send someone.
To put things right. To put things the way they need to be.
Hmph.

The radiation signature is... Petar's? Ha. Yes, unmistakably
Petar's. This is perfect. I couldn't ask for a more
appropriate choice. Wonder if he'll surprise me, if he'll
come talk to me first. No, there he goes, straight to the
middle of the machine camp instead. Off to play the good
diplomat. Shouldn't be long now.

"Vaso, can you handle the swarm on your own?" I ask.

He looks up at the sun, judging its strength and distance.
"Hmmm. Yes sir. Should have the clout to keep them in line.
For a short while. Just try not to agitate them more than
they already are."

"No promises. Sybilla, you're with me. Lets go."

She jumps at the sound of her name. She's been distracted
for the last day. The talks we've had pover the last few
days have been overwhelming for her. "What? Where?"

"To parley. With them."

"I'm not sure if I can do it. What you want. Even if
everything you've told me is... *true*," her brow furrows as
her temper challenges her timidity, "it still goes
against... I mean... I know what you said, but I just don't
think I have it in me."

"I think you'll surprise yourself." I take her arm and all
but drag her toward the sandy tract. As we start, Petar and
one of the machines break off from the opposite side. It
takes over an hour for us to walk the open distance
separating the two armies, to meet in the middle.

Petar's robot companion towers over the rest of us. Four
comically long limbs holding up the massive face of a
mechanical lion. It's built of shiny brass clockwork and
mirrored glass, all swathed in reams of white cotton. It's
gigantic! Its paws alone are three times my size! What a
magnificent machine! "I-am-a-Maws-Holloway-self-propelled-
command-unit, head-of-these-assembled-military-units-
of-Planet-M."

I let Sybilla introduce herself. Except Sybilla doesn't
introduce herself. She's struck silent, amazed at the size
and grandeur of the lion.

"You-are-not-Genovefa."

I elbow her hard, and she snaps out of bewilderment. "Oh!
No, no, sir, I'm not. I am Sybilla Buzz of the, uh, the
Volsci Swarm." After a moment, she adds, "I'm new."

I put my hands behind my back and clear my throat.
"Maws-Holloway, I'll be negotiating on Sybilla's behalf. Do
you know me?"

"Affirmative, we-recognize-the-wizard-general-red-hand.
For-this-program-initialization, we-have-designated-a-
wizard-senator-from-your-own..."

"He damn well knows who I am!" Petar barks, marching right
up to me. There's that stubborn arrogance I remember. Of him
and all his kind. "What are you doing here? And what are you
doing with a sybillian swarm?"

"I found them on Volsci. The bees had completely overwhelmed
the population. This is all that's left."

"Volsci?"

"The monitoring station you established just outside machine
space. I wasn't expecting to find it neglected."

"Him...?" Sybilla whispers through gritted teeth. I give her
a quick nod, but her  attention's not on me. Her focus is
entirely on Petar.

I don't think Petar even notices. Or cares. "What were you
doing in that backwater system?"

"Vaso and I went to gather intellegence on the boy's
progress. To find out if he was still here or if he'd moved
on. We almost got cut down."

"And I assume you learned our super wizard champion *isn't
here anymore?*"

"That's correct. From the observational data available, I
figure he left Planet M right after defeating M. Headed out
to planet Genovefa, no doubt. Her swarm's lost confidence in
her. As I predicted. They've already splintered off, forming
separate colonies." I look up at the lion and ask,
"Maws-Holloway, if you're here representing your pyramid
gods, does that mean Emperor M didn't survive the
tournament?"

"Our-divine-mainframes, the-Pyramids-of-Ka, have-been-
destroyed. Emperor-designated-M-has-been-cast-down-for-his-
part-in-the-blasphemous-crime. Our-machine-populance-is-
system-prioritizing-its-resources, and-are-currently-
rebuilding-in-wake-of-these-losses."

"You have my condolences, Maws-Holloway. Emperor M was a
fierce leader. He had my respect, on and off the field."

As much as he wants to explode at me, Petar manages to keep
his voice level. I doubt this conversation would be nearly
as calm in private. "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."

"Sure I can. The Red Hand can do anything. That's why
we started it."

Petar grabs my arm and pulls me close. "This isn't what we
talked about," he says in a low voice. His face is painted
over with frustration. He feels betrayed and doesn't
understand why. Would he recognize that look if he could see
it on himself? The same look I had, when my own victory was
rewarded with exile.

No. No, not exactly the same. This close, I can see it. In
his eye. An edge of searing green behind the pupil.
Brightening up just as he risks losing everything.

I push him away. "No, this isn't what *you* talked about."

He rubs a hand over his head while looking me over. Might
even be honestly looking me over for the first time. And not
recognizing a single thing he's seeing. How could he; I am
so far removed from his ilk. I walk a world where words
still have immutable meaning.

In the end, he shakes his head and calls up to
the lion, "Machine!"

Maws-Holloway tilts his head-body to stare down at Petar. If
the metal were capable, I'd swear it was crinkling its nose
at him.

"This stubborn man does *not* represent the will of my
government. He i's exiled from Hoag, home of the Super
Wizards From Space. He's a disgrace to us, and we do *not*
condone his actions."

"Another on the altar, then?"

He doesn't bother answering. It's enough of an answer in of
itself. So be it.

I address the lion, and I try not to sound *too*
complaisant. "Maws-Holloway, if I may... the Red Hand hasn't
come to Planet M with ill intentions. We've attacked no
cities. We've harmed no citizens. We've made no aggressive
actions since arriving."

"Affirmative. You-have-acted-in-good-faith."

"Your race only joined the cosmic tournament in hopes of
aquiring a new power source. To generate more of the blue
electricity that preserves life on Planet M. On Sybilla's
behalf, I propose an alliance: join my Red Hand, help me
finish my mission, and I'll give you what you need."

The lion's gears are turning in his head. Literally. I can
hear them clicking as he considers my proposal. Petar, on
the other hand, looks incredulous. "Wait, are you serious?"

"I am."

"Then... you're not invading?"

"No, of course not."

"But you came here *in force*."

"I didn't *expect* to find monster bees on Volsci. But when
I did, I couldn't just abandon them." Sybilla's fist are
tight balls. Her arms are tense and tremoring. All that
nervousness is gone. She's a cable pulled taunt. "I'm out
here making *allies*, not enemies."

"You wasted days staring across this rusty field at each
other! You could have sent over your proposal at any time.
You could have resolved this yourselves. If this wasn't
meant to be a transgression, then I didn't have to travel
all the way out here to mediate... anything at all. What was
the point of this?"

"You were, Petar."

He doesn't get it. He's just confusing himself, trying to
suss out what my angle is. To understand what I said

Then he *realizes* what I said. He stares at me. In shock.
His face goes pale.

Sybilla makes a vibrating growl. The sort of vicious sound
you can feel in your abdomen. He makes a short yipping and
scampers back from her, throwing his hands up in front of
him. Daylight flattens out into a protective sheild.

A blur of vertical metal above. The lion *slams* a foot down
on him. The ground rattles and Petar's *bashed* to the
ground. Pinned under a massive paw.

He claws at the great weight, one arm barely free. May as
well be scratching at an anvil.

He bunches up white-hot fusion. A ball of heat and light in
his palm. The air crackles like paper on fire. He slaps it
against the metal surface. Thunder *crashes*, The desert
sand instantly fuses to brittle brown glass.

But the force washes over the rest of us without effect.

Sybilla climbs onto his prone form, her deformed shape a
series of black angles moving with insect menace. "You're
the one?" she snarls, "You're the one that came to Volsci?
You're my szolar god? You're the sztarsz and heavensz we
were promiszed? You taught usz? You taszked usz? You LEFT
usz?"

Only his head and one arm free. Makes an effort of it
anyway. Another deafening *thundercrack* as he throws
stellar fire at Sybilla's carapace.

Nothing. She doesn't even notice. That's when the pleading
starts. "Machine, please! Please! Let me go! This monster's
going to KILL me!"

"I'm-not-a-tool. I-have-a-*name*." The heavy paw presses
down harder. "And-you-will-feed-our-preservation-batteries-
for-many-space-cycles."

Sybilla's grabs Petar's head with one outsized hand. His
skull creaks in her strong wide grip. "MonszzZzter? *You*
did thiZZzz! *You* were szZupposZed to be there! *You* were
zZuppozZed to watch uzZZ! YOU DID THIZZ TO ME!"

He looks at me with a coward's look. Fear dribbling out of
him, from his eyes and from his mouth. A hand stretches
out...

Oh. Oh damn it, he's going to call out to me! "Sybilla! Now!
Do it now!"

Sybilla's long sharp fingers plunge at his jaw. His cry's
choked off. His mouth's slashed open. She grabs hold. And
tears.

Oily blood pools up. He gurgles and he spits and he sobs.

She's slow letting him go. She stands up. Shivering. The
storm of fury having crashed and been released. "I... oh
godsz, I didn't think. You told me and you warned me, and
sztill, when I szaw *him* and heard *him*, I just..."

Maws-Hollaway lifts his paw. "Is-the-senator-wizard-
fatally-damaged?"

I kneel down to examine Petar. Hands cover his ruined jaw.
Unintelligible whimpering. Black fluids staining his
uniform. So far, far from the safe comfort of handshakes and
politics and posturing. "He's only wounded. He's lucky to be
alive, though he won't say so himself."

"This-is-acceptable. Sybilla-Buzz, on-behalf-of-the-
motortheocracy-of-Planet-M, I-formally-renew-our-alliance."

"..."

She's in shock. First time, I see it a lot. I stand up and
take her shaking hand. She looks at me but doesn't see me. I
speak slowly, trying to draw her back to the now. I need her
to keep it together. "Shh. Look at me. It's all right."

Her hand tightens under mine. I can feel the wet muscle in
her fist. She can't bring herself to look at it. Her voice
trembles when she finally speaks. "I didn't believe it'd
come so easzily."

"I know. It gets simpler. Trust me."

A compartment opens in the back of the lion's head and a
dull grey radar dish rises into the air.
"Our-long-range-systems-tracked-your-super-wizard-champion-
when-he-departed-Planet-M. We've-calculated-his-trajectory-
and-are-ninety-one-point-five-percent-certain-of-his-
destination. We-can-have-our-forces-mobilized-for-long-
distance-excursion-within-the-day." I can't repress a smile.
Only a day! Despite all the damage their civilization's
just gone through, the machine efficiency has only improved
since I last encountered it. The things we'll
accomplish *together*.

"Thank you, Maws-Hollaway. With Planet M at our side,
the Red Hand is assured swift and certain victory. But
we won't need the tracking. We're not going after the boy.
He's not our mission objective." I look down at poor, broken
Petar. "He never was.

"We're going to Hoag."


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Wil Alambre, follow me at http://twitter.com/wilalambre