"The Red Hand Of General Dragutin, part 6"
by Wil Alambre
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.
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.
"Solider, can you handle the swarm on your own?" I ask.
Vaso 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-
I let Sybilla introduce herself. Except Sybilla doesn't
introduce herself. She's struck silent, amazed at the size
and grandeur of the lion.
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?"
"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."
"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?"
"My team 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
"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
"Our-divine-mainframes, the-Pyramids-of-Ka, have-been-
"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
"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."
"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?"
"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
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-
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
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
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-
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-
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.
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
"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."
"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."
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.
Playing tour guide's certainly been more agreeable than playing babysitter. As far as pointless distractions go. If nothing else, its been interesting visiting old haunts, if only to see what's left of them.