Compliments of the Travelling Tyrant
Maleus looked at his comrades. The soldiers in black uniforms, their bodies protected by armored breastplates and in their hands clutching the latest high powered weaponry available in the galaxy, sat side by side, strapped into their seats by stout restraint belts. The drop craft bumped lightly and the interior lights flickered as a result before the descent smoothed out.
“You know, I sometimes wonder what it’s all about,” Maleus said in an offhanded fashion.
“Simple,” Darkoon grunted. “We land. We kill all resistance and crush this place in the name of Mordid. He’ll then give it back to whoever lost it in the first place and-“
Maleus shook his head. “No, no. I know what the mission is. Don’t vary much do it?”
“Nope,” several of the men answered.
“I mean the end result. Like, we tromp about the galaxy and we pillage and plunder and bring to heel rebels, strikers, and malcontents and what not, right? But why? Ever wonder the deeper purpose of it all?”
Silence greeted him.
“Oh, t’hell with you lot,” Maleus said, “you don’t think beyond the next payday.”
Humbradax chortled. “Not true. I think about lots of things other than payday. Like, why is this the smoothest drop we’ve ever been on?”
Maleus tilted his head. Humbradax was right; the drop ship had nary a bit of turbulence battering at its hull, and there were no sounds of anti-air ordinance detonating all around. Normally, combat drops involved the pilot dodging and weaving to such an extent that half the platoon painted the walls and floor of the vehicle in vomit. Maleus jerked his head towards the sealed doorway which led to the pilot’s cockpit.
“Remind me to buy him a round soon as we’re through,” Maleus said. A chorus of agreement followed soon after.
“Quiet!” Squad Commander Raspilon barked. “We land in two minutes. Let me see your mean faces!”
Maleus and the rest put on charming smiles as best they were able. Given the amount of scars many of them bore, and the red, glowing bionic eye that Ullorin sported, the effect was somewhat lost.
Raspilon narrowed his eyes. “Funny.”
Maelus felt his stomach churn and a pressure in his bladder as the drop craft slowed its fall dramatically and then landed. The landing was gentle, without the usual rough thud followed by the whipping of necks. Maleus smirked and unfastened his restraints. His comrades did the same and a few hollered and jostled one another in pre-combat excitement.
Raspilon strode to the rear door and touched a button on the wall. Nothing happened. He smacked it harder and the door hissed and slowly opened to reveal a ramp that led to yet another alien world ripe for punishment at the hands of the Travelling Tyrant.
“You know the drill. Move it, move it, move it, or I’ll see your pay cut in half for this one!” Raspilon waved his pistol in the air and ushered the men down the ramp.
Boots stomping, Maleus followed the rest of the squad. The air was warm and the sun shone brightly upon a field of grass decorated with bizarre alien totems. There was a brightly painted metal ramp, a strange dome made from interconnecting rods, and a series of metal bars that supported pairs of cables lashed about plastic-looking sheets. Beyond the field of grass were towering buildings, some of which were already blazing.
A pair of company fighter-craft streaked through the sky and contrails of smoke leapt from their wings. Moments later one of the alien buildings exploded, showering the city with hunks of rock and flaming debris.
Screams, sirens, and the steady chatter of small-arms fire intermixed with explosions resounded. To Maleus, it sounded like a good day’s work. He bounded after several of his squad-mates as they charged towards the city, firing like mad. Other drop ships, their hulls painted gray with dramatic red and black symbols etched on their wings landed. From their hulls the ships disgorged black-clad soldiers who, like Maleus, raced towards the urban center of the alien city.
A small, pale, spindly creature with an oversized head and black, glossy eyes darted from under the strange dome. Maleus took aim and squeezed the trigger of his weapon. A bolt of red light leapt across the field and the being’s head burst in a most satisfying manner. Scattered about the field Maleus saw other small creatures, their corpses twisted and contorted in writhing and grotesque shapes.
“Nice shot!” Darkoon hooted.
Maleus nodded and continued running. He followed his squad as they stormed across a road and took cover behind alien vehicles. Taller, more graceful creatures with white skin and even larger heads raced about, arms weaving like reeds in the wind. They appeared to be directionless and had not armed themselves yet. The attack on the rebel world must have come as a complete surprise.
“Blast them! Blast them!” Raspilon ordered. The commander took precise aim with his pistol and sent one of the aliens sprawling in the street.
Maleus didn’t need to be ordered to do his job. He opened up on the creatures, spraying them with heated bolts of energized death. He advanced along a sidewalk, hugging the wall of burning buildings for cover.
The aliens screamed and died in droves.
The echoes of boot steps on pavement had Maleus glancing over his shoulder. Humbradax took cover beside him. The big soldier nodded and then nudged Maleus in the shoulder.
“What did you mean?”
Maleus fired off a few more rounds towards a group of fleeing aliens. He couldn’t help but smile when one of them continued running several feet with a large hole burned through its pasty torso. Even dying the things moved with an almost admirable grace.
“Huh?” Maleus glanced at Humbradax.
The other soldier charged past Maleus and said as he ran, “That whole thing in the dropship.” Humbradax shouted in alarm as one of the thin creatures emerged from a doorway. The big man swung his rifle’s butt into the being’s large cranium and when it collapsed he gave the thing a swift kick.
Maleus darted to his companion’s aid. He kicked the alien, growling as he felt bones beneath the soft flesh shatter. As he kicked again he glanced over to Humbradax. “What I meant is the purpose of life. Like, why we do all this work when all there is at the end of the day a bit of pay and more work to be done.”
“Yeah, I guess I understand.” Humbradax kicked the alien again. “You sound like you’re thinking of life after Mordid.”
It was true, Maleus was. “Yeah. He’s a good employer, don’t get me wrong, friend. But I can’t just be doing this forever.” He gave the alien a final kick then produced a grenade and tossed it into the open doorway. He and Humbradax took cover and braced.
The explosion sent a cloud of acrid smoke pouring from the open door and with it a few reedy cries.
“So, retirement?” Humbradax shook his head. He jogged down the road and slowed up. The big man tilted his head and looked over his broad shoulder at Maleus. “Notice anything, I dunno. Off?”
There was something strange. Maleus walked over to stand beside Humbradax and his gaze panned over the city skyline. Some things looked ‘right’. Buildings were blazing, sending up plumes of black smoke that joined to form a hellish cloud-cover that obscured the sun. Alien bodies were everywhere and the wounded wailed before merciful bolts of red silenced them. The corporate psychological warfare drones were beginning to dominate the skies. The blimps’ loudspeakers blared the usual phrases, slightly adapted for the situation at hand.
‘Mordid is your friend. Your illegal government has failed you. He has saved you.’
‘Rebelling against your rightful despot,’ Pause, ‘Arch-Deacon Korkis,’ Pause, ‘is wrong. Submit.’
‘Submit. Submit. Submit.’
Despite all the usual sights and sounds, there was indeed something ‘off’ as Humbradax pointed out. Maleus scratched his head. “This lot ain’t shootin’ back.”
There were no sniper rifles protruding from shadowed windows. No gargantuan tanks trundling down the road threatening to flatten them beneath iron treads. No hordes of armed aliens charging them and overall the creatures looked fairly non-threatening. The tall, pale, skinny and graceful aliens hardly seemed to be predisposed to violently overthrow their religious despot.
Maleus looked about through the throng of soldiers and waved at the Squad Commander. “Sir?”
Raspilon nodded. “I know, I know. Hold up boys!” He tucked his pistol in the holster at his side and held a comm-device up to his ear.
A nudge captured Maleus’ attention. Humbradax sniffed. “So, where you plan on going. I mean if you really mean on retiring.”
“I think I mean it.” Maleus let out a sigh. “I just don’t know what I want to do with my life. Maybe, I’ll get into the entertainment industry. I have lots of stories and ideas and I bet they’d make great shows.”
A grin split Humbradax’s mouth. “Like Space Cops?”
“Sorta. Like maybe it’ll be about all the strange things we-“
“Damn it all!” Raspilon shook his head and he flung his hands in the air. Several other Squad Commanders made similar exasperated gestures.
Maleus and the others of his squad shared glances then shuffled towards Raspilon.
“Right! Listen up.” He spat on the ground. “Slight mix-up from the company. We were supposed to land on the fourth planet from the sun and ended up touching down on the third.”
“Yeah, I know. This place is famous for some type of interpretive dance that they do and-“
“The Bagooli?” Ilzor chimed in.
The squad, Maleus included, stared at the trooper.
Ilzor pursed his lips. “Hey, just because I know culture don’t get mad at me. I knew these guys looked familiar.” He nudged one of the dead dancing aliens with the toe of his boot.
“Well, this planet is quite messy now and it’s on our tab,” Raspilon continued.
The blimps hovering in the smoke-choked skies changed their messages.
‘On behalf of Mordid, the Travelling Tyrant, we apologize for any inconvenience and will offer your government half off on the next insurrection that needs to be put down.’
“Back to the ships!” Raspilon shook his head. “Be sure to say sorry to the,” he rolled his eyes, “whatever they are.”
A few of the pasty beings emerged from shattered doorways, or peered out broken windows.
Soldiers of the company waved and muttered their apologies.
Maleus walked alongside Humbradax and waved merrily at one of the creatures. It made a face, tears streamed from its glossy eyes and it hooted in a low tone. Maleus frowned and marched on. Other aliens began to make similar sounds until the city was filled with their inhuman wails.
They reentered the grassy field with its strange religious icons. Alien beings bent over their dead and hooted continuously. “Must be their priests,” Maleus noted.
Humbradax halted, looked around and shook his head. “Nah, this isn’t a religious shrine.”
“What is it?”
He shrugged. “Looks like a playground. You know, for kids. Little, alien kids.”
Maleus took a quick look at the tiny, dead little bodies. “Oh yeah.” He strode towards the belly of their drop ship. “So, you ever think about life after this?” he asked Humbradax.
The large soldier looked over the destruction they had brought onto the alien world famous for its modern form of dancing. “Well, I didn’t plan on retiring like you. But I was thinking maybe I could get into the marketing division?” He waved a hand. “You know, take scenes like these and turn them into something good that customers will like?”
Maleus nodded and offered a smile. “That’s not much different than I want to do if you really think about it. I never knew you wanted to move on to corporate.”
Humbradax laughed. “Yeah, but not anytime soon! I think I need plenty more of this before I’m ready.” He waved to a collection of weeping creatures and entered the ship.
“Sorry,” Maleus said offhandedly to the beings and followed after his companion as he pondered the meaning of it all.
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