Somewhere in orbit around Sirius (2342, about noon Galactic Admin. Chronometric Standard)
Mr. and Mrs. Jones were floating in a small vessel in stellar synchronous orbit around Sirius. They stared out of the windshield at the flares as they coughed up the nuclear mass. Mr. Jones handed Mrs. Jones and smoldering joint and she handed him a near-empty bottle. They nodded in unison to the thumping of the music bouncing around the pod.
“That one looked like a cow,” Mr. Jones said pointing out the window.
“I think I saw a cow earlier,” Mrs. Jones replied, “But it was in orbit so that may have been the mescaline.”
“Mom? Dad? We got a…,” a voice said over the music before being switched off by Mr. Jones.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones continued to nod.
‘Wu-Tang killa’ beez, we on a swarm.’
“Should probably see what that’s about,” Mrs. Jones said relighting the joint with a small laser.
“Uhhhh...yeah,” replied Mr. Jones, “In about five more orbits.”
“DAD,” the voice returned.
“Holly,” Mrs. Jones grumbled, “What did we say about overriding the coms when mommy and daddy are thinking?”
“It’s something that may interest you,” Holly answered, “Personally.”
“What?” Mr. Jones sighed letting his head drop against a console.
“I intercepted a Galactic Administration security communique,” Holly replied, “Yaldabaoth escaped custody during transfer to the prison asteroid Hel.”
Mr. Jones pinched the bridge of his nose, “Fuck’s sake. Why didn’t I just shoot him in the face.”
“Alive was a better price,” replied Mrs. Jones.
“Dead was half. Half was fine. Alive is for bureaucrats that still think the system works.”
“Any ideas on where he’d be heading, Holly?” asked Mrs. Jones.
“Not much to go on at the moment,” responded disembodied Holly, “But even with a fully powered near light drive he could only be within a 3.41 parsec sphere around Rigel.”
Mr. Jones looked at Mrs. Jones, shrugged and turned his palms up.
“Wolfy, we’ve found smaller needles in bigger haystacks,” said Mrs. Jones pulling on an owl mask and fastening it.
Leo rubbed his bloodshot eyes and strapped on a mask resembling that of a plague doctor and a black wide-brimmed hat.
“Once more unto this bitch, dear Luna?”
“Yuh-huh, fly,” replied Luna.
“Yes’um,” said Wolfram.
“I’ll keep you guys updated when I am,” Holly’s voice said.
After a few quick switch flips, Wolf yanked the flight stick and their vessel peeled away from the white star.
“Computer. BoC, please,” said Wolf.
“The other BoC.”
‘You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars’
Several gruff aliens sat around a long table and shouted, buzzed and gurgled at each other. A hair-covered humanoid, encased head to toe in glinting armor stood up and slammed his hands on the table.
“I’ve heard enough,” he bellowed.
The gaggle of sounds ceased.
“Yaldabaoth expects us to carry out his plan even in his absence,” admonished the creature.
“Yaldabaoth isn’t here,” gargled a small blue mollusk, “He went and got himself captured by the Galactic Administration. Rotting away in Hel as we speak.”
“You would count him out after getting us this far?” snapped a reptilian, “Our Demiurge has a plan. The Draco Confederation stands firm.”
“The man’s a buffoon,” shouted a tentacled mass through a small device.
“The Zeta Reticulans remain loyal,” a hairless, grey humanoid piped.
“This is ridiculous,” rumbled a large yak, “You can go down with this ship if you like. I’m getting out before this a bigger loss than it already is. I say we split up what we have and walk away.”
“I can only imagine what Yaldabaoth would do if he were here and heard such disloyalty,” said the hairy, armored humanoid.
“Wonder no longer,” said a lanky man with wings entering the room, grinning, “Or did you say ‘imagine’? I always fuck up an entrance.”
The room was silent with thick air. The aliens around the table exchanged glances.
“Yaldabaoth,” gasped the yak as he lowered his head.”
“Oh you remember me?” asked Yalda, clasping his hands under his chin, “I thought you had written me off? Well, that’s what I heard. But, you know, gossip.”
Yaldabaoth flicked his index fingers at the dissenting blue mollusk and yak.
“But at least I know where you both stand,” Yalda said.
The hairy humanoid stood and moved aside. Yalda sat in his chair.
“Vijeda,” Yalda said to the humanoid.
“Yes, my Demiurge,” replied Vijeda.
“What’s your favorite song?”
“On the Shores of Blood River Zelnix.”
“A little old fashioned, for me,” Yalda said, “Not really into jingoistic anthems, either. Unless they’re about me.”
Yalda looked around the table with a dopey grin. A few scattered chuckles emerged from the gathering. Yalda frowned and shook his head at them.
“As much as I’d like to drag this out, I’m really busy. Swamped even,” Yalda started and pointed at the blue mollusk, “Vijeda...crush his skull.”
Vijeda looked askance.
“Pfft,” Yalda giggled and slapped the mollusk on what sufficed for a shoulder, “I’m just kidding. You ugly fuckers don’t have bones, do you?”
Yalda led the table in an open-mouthed guffaw.
“But he does,” Yalda said pointing to the yak man.
Vijeda walked behind the squirming yak. The two aliens on either side held him down.
“Yaldabaoth,” the creature said, struggling, “Forgive me, my Demiurge. Forgive me.”
“Vijeda,” Yalda whined, “It’s still talking.”
Vijeda placed his hands on either side of the yak’s head and pressed. He cried and fell silent. Its eyes bulged and tongue lolled. It fell forward. Its elongated head hit the table split open.
“Oh,” Yalda lit up, “I got myself a hankering for sweetbread. I haven’t had fresh sweetbread in ages.”
Yalda turned to the mollusk and leaned in.
“I’m hungry,” Yalda stage whispered to him, “I make rash decisions when I’m hungry.”
Yalda grinned and rang a bell. A man dressed in white entered the room and leaned over to Yalda.
“What can I be getting sir for his supper?” the man asked.
Yalda sat looking at the mollusk.
“Escargot,” Yalda said with a big grin, “Two plates. I’m famished.”
“Very well, sir,” said the man.
“Oh,” Yalda interjected grabbing the man by the sleeve, “See what you can do with the dead cow on the table. And can you bring the large shaker of salt? I like my mollusks all salty.”
Yalda raised his eyebrows, nodded and grinned at the blue mollusk.
“Now where were we?” Yalda began, “Right. We were talking about which one of you chicken shits is thinking about bailing.”
Half the aliens lowered their eyes.
“I know it’s been a long time,” Yalda said, “But great plans are like great wine, they take time to mature.”
“How is the plan proceeding at this time,” chimed the little, gray alien, “Not to imply any doubt, my Demiurge, but generations of us have sat on this council. Many of us are eager to see it come to fruition and not remain an heirloom to be passed down.”
“Look, man,” Yalda said, “Trust me, it’s almost go time. Earth is the last piece and it’s almost ready to go. They just gotta get through some sham election bullshit and they’re good. Believe me, you’ll be handing your kids down whole planets. Not just a seat on some lousy council.”
The man in white returned with a serving cart. He placed two plates of escargot in front of Yalda.
“Thank you, Wren,” Yalda said to the man.
“Look, fella,” Yalda said to the blue mollusk, “I’m going to chalk up your earlier shit talk to an empty stomach.”
Yalda slid one of the plates to the mollusk and smiled.
“Eat up,” he said.
The mollusk’s flesh began to ripple.
“What’s matter?” Yalda asked slurping his meal, “You recognize him or something? I didn’t know who it was. He was hanging around in the parlor. Did you bring him?”
“My son,” the mollusk shuddered, trusting himself from the table and tipping his chair.
“I go out of my way to have my chef prepare a meal especially for you and this is how I’m treated?” Yalda stood, his wings twitching.
Yalda took the shaker of salt, unscrewed the top and threw it on the mollusk. The creature began screaming flailing as his skin puckered. He fell to the ground in a foaming mess.
“Then dude leaves a mess,” Yalda sighed and flopped back in his chair.
“Vijeda, could you get the blue guy getting slime all over my couch in the parlor,” Yalda said, “Tell him he’s got a seat to take on the council.”
Yalda looked around the table at staring aliens.
“I’m not an idiot,” Yalda snapped, “I still need his house on the council. Wouldn’t eat those greasy motherfuckers anyway.”
Wolfram made frustrated motions at the buttons and switches on his side of the flight console.
“Where the hell am I supposed to be going?” Wolf groused.
“Holly,” said Luna.
“Yeah, mom?” Holly replied over the comm system.
“Any word on Yalda’s movement?” she asked.
“None,” Holly sighed, “It’s like he vanished.”
“There’s probably some places we can check in the meantime,” Wolf said.
“Aren’t we in Forzen Kahl’s neighborhood?” asked Luna.
“Oh yeah,” Wolf sang.
“Worth a shot,” said Luna.
“Here’s some fun facts,” interjected Holly, “Forzen Kahl recently sold a fleet of 400 pirated warships to Admiral Vijeda and a ton of blacklisted munitions stolen from a Galactic Administration security outpost to an as yet unidentified buyer that dealt through a proxy. The proxy was a Parthi seraph.”
“Both those things have Yaldy’s stink on it,” Luna said.
“Forzen it is,” declared Wolf.
The Jones’ ship rotated a quarter circle and raced off. After a time, the vessel approached a deep green planet. The ship slid into the upper atmosphere and began to descend. The clouds whipped and eventually parted revealing a lush, green, forest coated landscape that rolled away in all directions, periodically etched with blood red rivers. The ship found a clearing large enough to descend.
Once on the ground, a side panel slid open and Luna and Wolfram stepped onto the surface. The air was so humid the Jones’ leather suits began to collect droplets of water. Wolfram and Luna produced energy blades from the cuffs of their long coats, one attached to each wrist and began slicing their way through the dense foliage. A mammalian creature with the mouth of a lamprey came screeching out the endless green and leapt at Wolf. Wolf stepped out of the way as Luna perforated the side of the beast. The beast wailed and waddled off to disappear into the verdant mesh leaving a crimson trail behind it.
“Don’t want to know what that was,” Wolfram said.
“It’s a bedix,” Holly said though the comms in their helmets, “An apex predator found in the forests of Acamar three.”
“I meant I didn’t care,” Wolf replied.
“Pfft,” Holly retorted, “Well maybe I’ll just go take a nap while you raid Forzen Kahl’s hideout.”
“Daddy didn't mean it, Holly,” said Luna.
“I really don’t care what that thing’s called,” Wolf said, “But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it.”
An audible raspberry came through the communication system. Luna chuckled.
They continued through the forest until they came to a rock outcropping.
“Abnormal heat signatures coming from that rock formation,” Holly said, “In fact, that isn’t even rock.”
Wolf leaned into the formation and turned his head so one of the red eye lenses in his plague doctor mask was facing it. The red lens began to whirr.
“It’s steel,” Wolfram started, “With a shitty paint job.”
“There’s a rectangle of aluminum over here,” Luna interjected from the other side of the formation, “Ten bucks says it’s a secret door.”
“I’m picking up fourteen life form readings,” said Holly, “Eleven draconians, two parthi seraphim and one emelian.”
“The partridge in the pear tree is Forzen,” Luna began, “The eleven draconians are probably security, it’s two seraphim that got my attention.”
“Yalda’s kind of a dipshit,” said Wolf, “But is he this obvious?”
“If one of the seraphim is him,” Luna grunted as she kicked in the aluminum hatch, “The other is even more curious.”
Luna and Wolf retracted their energy blades and drew rifles from under their coats. As they entered the ground dropped away into deep chasm accessible via a makeshift staircase. The shaft down was dotted with intermittent pools of light. The steps creaked as they descended, occasionally dropping bits of rock and dust from its loose moorings. Once at the bottom of the shaft, they saw that it opened into a tunnel that stretched in either direction.
“Take the tunnel North,” Holly said over the comms, “That’s where the life reading is coming from.
Wolf and Luna passed through the tunnel under alternating fields of light and dark. A low whine could be heard echoing further down. The whine was joined by another from behind and another until a chilling choir filled the tunnel from both sides. Several betix passed under the floodlight in front of the Joneses. Luna turned around and saw the same scene. They raised their rifles. For each betix a Draconian soldier emerged into the light with their rifles trained on the Joneses.
“Hey, Holly,” Wolf said, “You didn’t say anything about a zoo down here.”
“What do you mean?” asked Holly.
“There’s about twelve of those skeksis or whatever you called them,” Wolf replied.
“They’re wearing infrared cloaking collars,” Luna said.
The soldiers barked in Draconian for the Joneses to drop their rifles and raise their hands. The Joneses complied. Two Draconians stood behind the Joneses and jabbed them in the back with their rifle butts, ordering them to start walking.
Once down the hall, the Joneses were shoved into a dingy, but well-lit room. There was a serpentine alien with multi-colored plumes of feathers starting at his head and following along his spine, down to his tail, standing in front of a row of crates. It was flanked by two seraphim who looked at each other askance when they saw the Joneses. The serpent slid forward.
“The Raven and The Owl,” the creature purred, “I figured it was a matter of time before you two came to see me. I doubt you’re here to do business. Though I'd be delighted if you’re interested.”
“Hey, we have some mutual friends, Forzen,” Luna nodded her head toward the seraphim, “Raziel. Abaddon.”
“Luna,” Raziel said, nodding back, “And Wolfram. He hasn’t gotten you killed yet?”
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” said Abaddon, lifting an oversized weapon out of one of the crates and pointing it at the Joneses, “We can’t let you walk out of here. I’m sure you understand why.”
“Wouldn’t want the G. A. finding out their two most decorated agents are doing business with a known black market arms dealer, would we?” grumbled Wolf.
“Exactly,” Abaddon replied, “Don’t worry. It’ll will be quick. Can’t promise painless, but quick.”
“Thanks,” said Luna.