April 14, 1995
Honey, did you see that?
It was a time of peace for the Meenzals. Something they hadn't known in all of their recorded history. It was not a thing to be enjoyed for the cats --whose long traditions embraced combative imperialism.
The High Council was in recess. A recess lasting the four years since the humans had departed. Their complete destruction of the Maal had made them both heros and villains to the Meenzals. With little to do and the fleet in destruction, the political maneuverings has ground to a halt and the warrior tastes had become stifled. There was new legend in the land; songs of heroic deeds and glorious victory still rang clear and strong. But there was no conquest _now_, and that didn't sit well with many of the warrior Meenzai. Meenzeii was a warriors planet.
From the midst of this frustrating period there emerged a faction of cats who longed for the days of conquest for the Empire. At first they were paid little heed by the many, but over time their numbers grew and they became a force to be recognized. When they sent word to Jasm, current Ruler of the High Council, that they meant to challenge the sitting government, she called for her chief strategist.
He was away on Earth with his human, and so that is where they found him.
Part 1. The cat's out of the bag.
Sitting in the Northern Lights bar and grill, Bob swore under his breath with each refrain of the country and western song blaring on the jukebox. Usually he tolerated the songs of love's woes and far-travelling eighteen wheel Peterbilts, but tonight he was nervous and short on patience.
He'd told the cat repeatedly that they had to be cautious of letting folks get a good look at him. Earlier contacts had resolved themselves over time when both police and civillians had seen not only a Meenzal but a Velan. Fortunately, no one paid much attention to what was thought to be the rantings of highly stressed people whose cookies had slid off of the tray. But there were those who were sure that aliens were among us, and in the small town atmosphere of rural America, that population was larger than in the city.
So it was angrily that Bob watched the Meenzal stroll down the street to do a little window shopping. The human shook his head as the cat moved away down the sidewalk. Fortunately, the cat was in it's housecat shape. At least he'd be fine for the moment --until he expanded to full height to make a purchase or something. Normally, Meenzals stood erect and were somewhat humanoid with feline features. The males have great manes like the lions of Terra's Africa, and incisors to match. Females have smaller manes, but their incisors are thinner and slightly longer. At their smallest, meenzals appear like large housecats with many attributes of the North American lynx. In this form they are quadrapedal. As long as Jab stayed small, he'd be pretty much ignored --except by the people who couldn't resist petting him. If Jab got big so he could talk to the clerk at a store, well...
It was almost a requirement to have a shotgun or a deer rifle hanging in the back window of the family pickup truck in these parts.
Part 2. They just stopped in to say 'Hi'
Aboard the Dreadnaught Kiiz, Captain Nestak M'aktee studied the strategic display and the large blue and white planet that was centered in it. Set against a grid which overlaid his view, Nestak could clearly see the glowing dot which represented the position of the cat he'd come here to find. "Status?" he asked in quiet tones.
"We are cloaked, Excellency. The ship is making for orbital insertion. We should be ready to launch the shuttle in fifteen minutes." The ship's First Officer stood directly behind the Captain and viewed the display with his superior.
"Very good, First."
"What method shall we use to obtain the attention of Nahn mal Eo?"
"The direct method. A landing party you shall lead will find mal Eo and bring him to me aboard the Kiiz."
"And if he wishes not to accompany us, Excellency?"
"Then you shall return without him and we shall have to find a way to convinve him to see us."
"We must not use force?"
"You must not."
"Understood, Excellency." The party shall not carry weapons.
The Captain nodded wordlessly and continued to watch the forward display. A new set of rectangular frames had appeared on the screen, overlaying the grid. They showed the orbital insertion path the onboard computer was using to achieve a geosynchronous parking attitude.
On the planet below, had any looked up at the full moon, they would have seen a distortion of the light cross the face of the luna. But as it just so happened, nobody did and the dreadnaught slowed and took the plotted position 250 miles above Earth's surface.
Deke and Darryl sat unmoving in their truck, which at that particular moment was stuck in traffic. Specifically, there was some odd vehicle --it might have been some kind of boat-- sitting in the middle of the street and Deke was waiting for it to move along.
"What the hell is that?"
"Dunno. A boat?"
There was a pause.
"Think it's gonna move?"
"I can go around it."
"Let's go see what it is."
This was, of course, a bad idea. The two men got out of the pickup and walked up on either side of the craft. As they stood there, the topmost two feet of the whole craft grew translucent, then transparent. The men looked in, and humanoid cats looked back out. Darryl leaned forward on the ship's roof and looked at Deke. "Do you see that, Deke?" he asked with great calm.
"I do. Yessir, I surely do. What the hell are they?"
"I think it's people in costumes or something."
"What should we do?"
"Talk to 'em."
But at that moment, the ship started foward and skimmed away down the road. "I think they were people."
"Yeah. Me too."
Part 3. Puddem uhhp, puddem uhhhp.
Harlan sighed contentedly and dropped two bucks worth of quarters into the jukebox at the Northern Lights bar and grill. He pushed the buttons to get Garth Brooks to sing the same song four times and turned to survey tge bar. Some lucky lady was going to have the honor of escorting him home for a little spin in the hay --or he was going to have himself a fistfight. Either one was fine with him, Harlan couldn't tell the difference between sex and violence. His mother would tell you it wasn't her fault... it was society that did in her little boy. Then she'd burp and toss her empty beer can in the general direction of the overflowing garbage can.
The vehicle that stopped in front of the bar caught Harlan's eye through the big picture windows in front of the Northern Lights. When a groups of cats climbed out, Harlan had no choice but to go see if he could get a verbal lick in at the boys in those suits.
So, outside on the sidewalk, Harlan gave a wolf whistle and pointed at the biggest of the Meenzals. "Hooo-eey! Would ya take a lookit this! What are you, boy? You a cat --or maybe jess some walkin' pussy?"
The cat ignored him completely, instead speaking to another meenzal who nodded and started using some hand held electronic device. "N'ish Tuk. Ky ma tse zik." he said, pointing down the sidewalk.
"Maybe you dinn hear me. I axed you a question. Are you a man or some kind of pussy?"
When the meenzal ignored him again and turned away, Harlan grabbed him by the bicep and tried to spin the cat around to face him. It was like trying to spin a building --the cat was unmovable. However, Harlan did attract the attention of the cat who swatted him back with all the effort and verve one might use to swat away a gnat. The cat's gentle push threw Harlan backward nearly 20 feet and down onto the sidewalk.
"Hey! You buttwipe!" Harlan was in an instant rage and was on his feet in a blink. He ran at the Meenzal with his hands outstretched. The cat saw him coming and stepped backwards just as Harlan was about to grab him. Harlan flew past the cat and ran gut-first into the cat's shuttle with a loud 'Bwoof.' Even still, the big cat appeared to ignore Harlan's assaults, going about his business... and this enraged Harlan even more. He didn't like the situation at all. He felt the driving urge in him, and knew the way to get attention. He stepped around the cat's vehicle and crossed the street to his pickup truck where he got the double barrel shotgun that hung in the rear window.
"Hey you! Cat Woman!" yelled Harlan, discharging one barrel of the shotgun into the air. "You see me now, Pussy Cat?"
The Meenzal turned and faced Harlan squarely, and looked him right in the eye. Even before the cat started moving towards him, Harlan knew he'd made an error. The cat snatched the shotgun from him and bent the barrels of the gun so it pointed backwards. Then he handed the gun back to Harlan and turned back to his squad. Harlan looked at the shotgun in his hands and felt the heat of his anger breaking his skull from the inside out. It was white hot and caused Harlan to make what he knew to be a second mistake as soon as he made it.
Harlan hit the Meenzal on the back with the shotgun. The cat turned back, grabbed Harlan by his left arm and right leg and threw the surprised redneck onto the roof of the Northern Lights bar and grill.
While Harlan lay on his back and contemplated his next move --and listened to the laughter of the small crowd that emtied out of the Northern Lights to see the fun-- the cats split up into three groups and went in search of Nahn mal Eo, Chief Strategist of the Meenzai Warriors. They found him in the Ace Hardware Store two blocks away. When they returned to their vehicle with Jab, they found a line of men blocking the sidewalk. In front stood Harlan who now wielded a baseball bat someone had cheerfully supplied.
"Ok, Pussy Boy. You wanna try that football hero crap again on all of us?"
Jab leaned to the big Meenzal and explained what Harlan was saying. The big cat first looked surprised, then he started laughing. He laughed hard. All this did was anger Harlan more, and his confidence bolstered by the fact he was in a group, the redneck meant to teach these obvious punks a lesson they'd never forget. "You die now, Pussy Boy!" he sneered at the chortling cat.
"DIE?" The cat laughed even harder and strode to Harlan, picked him up and threw him at his friends. The next moment was filled with the sounds of men shuffling to stand up and the metallic clacks of rounds being jacked into firing chambers. It only took a second, but equally fast the rest of the squad of cats lept into the group and disarmed it. In less than three seconds a pile of bent rifles, shotguns and pistols built itself on the sidewalk. One second after that, the majority scrambled backwards looking for the sanctuary of the interior of the Northern Lights bar and grill.
Bob sat at his table, held his complaining stomach and swore he had an ulcer. He also swore at Jab, otherwise known as the Meenzai Chief Strategist, for wanting to go shopping.
Part 4. Pssst! Puleeeze; Call the police...
Rising from his chair, Bob walked to the door of the Northern Lights and stepped through. He took Jab by the arm and started leading him towards the car, which was down the block and just around the corner. The Meenzai looked around uncomfortably for a moment and then followed suit. Halfway down the block Bob stopped and turned.
"What the hell are they doing, Jab?"
"Come with us. Want talk to Jab."
"Tell them to take their own damn car. We can't have them leaving it here for all to inspect. Closely."
The cat nodded and spoke quickly to the Meenzai. They halted, glanced at one another, and then swung around and went quickly to their vehicle. It was in the air and lost in the night before they rounded the corner.
"Goin' somewheres, Punk?" The way was blocked by three gentlemen who had slipped into the bar to avoid the wrath of the cats --but had slipped out the back way in hopes of catching one of the cats away from the group. They found Jab, and they seemed to focus on him. The apparent leader was a fat man who looked to be about thirty-five and weigh 200 pounds. That would be a good weight for a six footer, but on this five and a halfer, it was just blubber. "We don't care about you, man. We want the dude in the suit. Him and his pals jumped us."
Bob looked at Pudgy and then at Jab. He shrugged and stepped off to the side. "If you want him, go get him."
The men started forward, but as they did Jab was expanding to his full humanoid height of seven feet. The group got a look at the four inch fang incisors the cat sported and decided that another drink was needed right away. They adjourned back to the bar.
As Bob drove Jab back to the house, the Meenzai craft fell in behind it and followed them closely, all the way. "This is one damn night that's gonna get some discussion." Bob said.
"Many human see Meenzai. Some see close. Yes, talk will be big."
There was no further discussion between the two. They rode the rest of the way home in silence. Like a trailer, the Meezai shuttle slid silently along behind them.
Equally quiet was the Sheriff, who sat in head-bowed silence considering the complaints that had been coming in. Was it a troupe from an off-Broadway production of Cats or some of the kids from North Idaho College out for a lark? He wasn't sure, and decided that it was something he could look into in the morning. Maybe he'd just go by the Northern Lights for breakfast and see what the grapevine was saying.
The Sheriff put great stock in the grapevine. For fifteen years, keeping his ear to it allowed him to stay in the good graces of the townspeople. Staying there meant staying in office --which he'd also done for fifteen years. He nodded to himself, heaved out of his desk chair and snapped off the light. Yes indeed. There'd be more to this in the morning.
Hey, wait. Did you hear...
The morning was illuminated by a gleaming sun hanging in a clear sky. Bob awoke with a headache almost as brillint. The demon rum, or in this case some good Canadian R&R, was collecting the toll for surfing on the Inebriation Super-Highway. From way back in his mind, a seed of recollection began to bloom, and with a feeling of dread Bob went downstairs. There, arrayed as if they were knocked unconscious and thrown into the living room, the Meenzai slept noisily.
On the west side of town, across the lake, the county sheriff was being wakened by the ring of his telephone. When he answered it, he was still groggy. It always took him a good 20 minutes to gain his senses after sleeping. Even through the haze, he could tell that the man on the other end of the line was upset. He could also tell that the man had a right to be --since he was at the Kootenai Medical Center with two fractured ribs and a sprained wrist. His back didn't feel all that great either. The part that the sheriff had a hard time with was the part about cats and throwing people off of a roof somewhere. He told the man that he'd get it all sorted out at the office, and no, it wouldn't be long.
Darryl slammed the receiver back onto the payphone's hook and winced at the pain that shot through his wrist. No bunch of cracker-ass faggots from a broadway play were going to come to town and... well, they were gonna regret the day their mothers met their fathers, that's what. His brother and about ten of his closest friends were coming to pick him up at the hospital, and we'd just see what was going to happen next!
Bob sat at the bottom of the stairs and looked glumly at the scene in the living room. Cats that weren't snoring were passing gas or burping, and the smell was horrific regardless of which end it came from. Movement caught his eye, and he looked to see Jab making his way towards him. "We have breakfast now."
It was a command, not a question. "Bite me, cat. I have a headache and I'm not going to play chef to a shipload of refugees from a Meow Mix commercial."
"Want heggs." Jab's fists balled up and he leaned forward as he spoke.
Bob stood up. "Then go get some eggs."
"Would you two shut up?" Ficus came thudding down the stairs, wiping his face with his hand. "You assholes woke me up."
"Watch your mouth."
"Sorry... What's for breakfast?"
Jab smiled broadly at this until Bob growled. "Jab is making eggs for breakfast." He would have said something, but the cats had roused from their sleep too, and had all started staring at Bob when they heard the word 'eggs.' "Fine! Fine! --I'll go, I'll go, I'll... shit."
Jab started smiling again.
"They were with that wierd guy." Darryl told the sheriff while eight other men nodded in unison. "They fella that has those weird boats and them real weird kids."
"Oh, him. You say these actors were with ...what is that guy's name, anyway?" Everyone traded looks and each of the shoulders in that room took a turn at shrugging.
"Well, we know where he lives, and we can just go ahead on over there."
"Hold on, Darryl. We don't know that he's got any connection to the out of towners. Bob --that's it, Bob... he's been a good fella, helps people out and everything. I don't want you to charge on over there, raisin' Cain and starting trouble."
"We didn't start nothin. We was just in town for a few beers and these guys picked a fight."
"Let me get this straight. You're telling me that a few 'faggot actors' came to town, got out of their car and kicked your ass?" There was some mumbling, but no one really spoke out. The sheriff shook his head and admonished the group again to stay in town. With that, he left to drive on over to see this Bob, and ask what he knew about it. Maybe he did know the actors, and maybe they'd just have left town, gone on to play other roles in other towns. Wouldn't it work out well if that happened? Case closed. The sheriff made a mental note to close the case this way no matter what. Keep things nice and quiet. Yeah, that was it.
Bob burned his finger on a pan while trying to make room for a larger bowl to put eggs in. There was only a dozen, so he was trying to make a little go a long way by scrambling the eggs. The cats preferred the eggs raw, but they'd happily eat them cooked too. Since he planned to make just one breakfast, and he knew that he and the kids weren't about to eat raw eggs, that pretty much decided it. Cooked it would be...
Except that even a dozen eggs doesn't go very far when entertaining a group of meenzals. Two of them got eggs and the others looked at Bob expectantly. "Need more heggs." said Jab.
"We're out of eggs... those two hogs over there took all of the eggs. Now none of us gets any." Three of the unfed cats instinctively reached for their sidearms --Bob expected they'd kill the two lucky egg-getters, but they were unarmed. All of the eggless meenzals were looking pretty grumpy.
"Need more heggs."
"You said that."
"Who the hell died and made you god? Look Jab, My head hurts and I..." The doorbell interrupted me. One of the meenzai was near the door, so he went to it and opened the door.
"Human have hegg?" snarled the Meenzai. The sheriff stood in the doorway with widened eyes and stared at the humanoid cat in front of him. "Hegg?" snarled the cat again.
The sheriff reached and pulled his 44 magnum from the holster. He pointed the gun at the cat and told it "Don't move!" He almost didn't see it, it happened so quickly. The Meenzai snatched the pistol from his hand and tossed it out into the yard where it disharged loudly when it landed.
"No gun human. Hegg! Hegg!" The meenzal was holding the sheriff by the biceps and was shaking him.
"Hegg! Hegg!" chanted the rest of the hungry cats. They'd come to the door and stood there cheering their comrade on. The sheriff didn't speak, he just stared at the cat who was holding him. The cat let go, exasperated. As soon as he did, the sheriff was at a dead run away from the house. He was in such a hurry that he left his gun behind.
"Who was that at the door?" asked Bob --there was a tentative quality to his voice.
"Not heggman. Go away." replied an indignant meenzal.
Away, and away quickly. But the sheriff had presence of mind, and he was calling the state patrol as he guided his car back toward town. "This isn't a joke. dammit. If you'd seen this thing, you'd be asking for help too. Now I need some assistance here, you gonna send it along or what?"
Yes, they would send it right along.
In the Boise office of the ATF, a routine communication came across the console. The agent on duty scanned it without great interest until he saw the words "unknown equipment and possible weapons." Of course, the phrase came from a form used by the sheriff's office for just about every single matter that came along. Since the sheriff was a bit pressed to identify just what it was that grabbed him, he checked off the box that was marked "Threat: unknown equipment and possible weapons." The loyal ATF agent didn't see a large cat-like beast when he read the communicattion, he saw atomic --no, hydrogen-- weapons and swarthy terrorists who were seeking to destroy his way of life. A button was pushed and all the way throughout the nation, the wheels of the justice machine creaked to life.
On Rockford Bay at Lake Couer d'Alene, an argument over who was going to have to go to the store for egss was interrupted. It needed interrupting, the discussion had raged for nearly two hours. Long enough, that even the two meenzals that got eggs were demanding more. The interruption came as the sound of someone speaking through a bullhorn.
"Attention in the house. This is the police. You home has been surrounded by officers from the special weapons and tactics division of the state patrol. You are ordered to come out of the house with your hands in the air."
"SHUT UP!" yelled Bob. "Did you just hear that?"
"Hear what?" asked Jab.
"Attention in the house. This is the police. You home has been surrounded by officers from the special weapons and tactics division of the state patrol. You are ordered to come out of the house with your hands in the air."
"I told you I thought that was the sheriff."
And then there were...
Bob thought a while before acting. When he finally did, it was to walk to the front door and open it wide. Stepping outside, he raised his hands and called out to the police. "Ok, here I am. Now what?"
"Where are the others?"
"Inside, I guess. I'm out here."
"We want you all to come out at once. Single file and no funny business."
"Just a minute." Bob stepped back inside and closed the door. "You heard 'em. They want us all." The meenzals shuffled and looked at each other. Jab repeated it in Meenzeii and that brought an shout from the other cats.
"They not go out. They go back ship --needed on Meenzeii."
"Fine, let them go... but they have to go out to get to their ship so they may as well stop and talk to the cops. If they don't, this is just going to get ugly."
"No cop. Know take long time. Can no stay, we go soon."
"Like I said, ok by me. Let them go... what did you say? We?"
"Jab go Meenzeii. Jasm need help --people need help. She call, I go."
"Again, fine let's just deal with the..." He didn't finish. The Meenzai started to file past him, each touching a fist to their breast in salute. Bob nodded to each of them. "What's this about?"
"Time to go."
"Ok, I'll go tell the cops that we..." he stopped midsentence as the cat's shuttle decloaked itself on the back patio area. There was no doubt that every cop out there was staring right at the ship, and that they'd start shooting about the time the first meenzal showed his head. He started to warn the cats that they were at risk, but was too late. The leader of the Meenzai was already on all fours, gracefully and blindingly bounding to the shuttle.
A few gunshots rang out, and dirt chucked up in little eruptions in front of and behind the sprinting cat. Those gunshots were answered by a caucauphony of sudden small and medium arms fire. Everyone in the house hit the floor, and waited for the shower of debris that would follow the barrage of gunfire they were expecting. It didn't come.
The machine guns and other assorted weapons were being fired at the SWAT members. "Who the hell is THAT?" hissed Bob. Ficus said to wait and took a sprint up the stairs. He crawled to a window and found a good vantage point.
"There's some military-like guys behind the SWAT guys."
"What are they doing?"
"Nothing --there doesn't seem to be anyone hurt though. Everybody that I can see is just looking around like they're trying to figure out what happened. Oh, and it looks as if all the meenzals are in the ship."
"What?" Bob turned to where Jab had been standing, only to find him gone. The room was empty, except for Aron and Megan who were still laying on the floor. "Son of a bithch. He left. The damn cat just left."
"Someone's coming this way, Dad!"
"I don't know but --wait, there's some guys in black jackets chasing him."
There was a loud thud as something big hit the door, then a man burst in and slammed the door behind him. "Whooo-eeee!" he said. "That was a real squeaker, that was."
"Who the hell are you?" asked Bob.
"I'm Bill. Bill Freshette with the Citizen's Regular America Militia. We got the ATF boys to let up on you."
"Militia? What... What do you mean, ATF?"
"Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Elitist military arm of UN. You know, man. The bad guys."
"Don't be melodramatic, Fleshette."
"Whatever. I thought the state patrol was out there."
"They are, but they're unhappy and standing back since the Feds took over."
"Christ. All this over some fucking eggs."
"This is about eggs..." Bob explained to the militiaman that a foreigner, misunderstanding customs, had laid his hands on a sheriff because he was under the misguided idea that uniformed men were servants --or something like that. He was wide eyed to discover through Bill that the foreigners were considered to be terrorist extremists from the arabic gulf. He was even more surprised to learn that they were probably armed with a nuclear weapon.
"You've got to be kidding."
"Sure and god is my judge, Bob. That's what's going on out there. They have you bottled up like a can of spam."
Bob decided to go talk with the federal agents surrounding his home. He knew that when they saw what was really happening --or, at least a reasonable explanation for it, everything was going to be fine. He believed that right up to when he stepped out the door and called to the agents, only to retreat in a hail of gunfire.
"Safety tip. I better not do that again." He was talking to an empty room. Everyone was behind something, ducking. Everyone except Ficus, who still occupied his roost in the upstairs window.
"That wasn't the feds, dad. It's some other guys who've showed up."
"Who are they?"
"Don't ask me... no uniforms though. The feds are sending someone over to talk to them."
"Bill, go up and look and see if you know who else just showed up."
Freshette popped his head up from behind a bookshelf and looked around nervously. He made a breaking run for the stairs and shot up them like a frightened rabbit. Sliding up next to Ficus at the window, he peered around the lace drapes at the yard below. "That's John Englehart... He's with the fellas over at Hayden."
" It's a bunch of racists, dad. Some guy named John something."
"They aren't racists," said Freshette. They're separatists, and a good bunch of boys." He was walking down the stairs now.
"Why are they here?" asked Bob.
His question was answered. A bullhorn crackled through the crisp December air and echoed across the lake. "Hello the house. We're sending a couple of men up to talk. Don't shoot."
"What shoot? We haven't shot anybody... and I wish you would send somebody up here and get this straightened out!"
Bill carefully looked out the living room window. "Well, well, well. It looks like they're sending in John and a couple of the boys with him."
"Nope ...better open the door. Here they come."
The shuttle pulled up behind the Meenzai Dreadnaught and was slowly tractored into the girth of the ship. The mission commander greeted Jab as he stepped from the airlock.
It was odd to hear himself referred to by his given name, and even more strange to be spoken to in meenzeii. But the these observations faded qucikly. The commander was brisk and right to the point in describing why Council Leader Jasm had asked him to come. Nahn mal Eo was on his way home at 90 percent of the speed of light, and by the time the trip was half over, he understood the threat to his family and to his race.
Zoe Ni Aa stood in his chamber and looked out the window. He stood in warrior stance, elevated to humanoid bipedal posture. His powerful arms were crossed behind him at the wrist and he looked much like an earthly sea captain surveying the seas from his bridge.
It was not the sea that Commandant Aa was looking at; he was staring at the capitol city with its spires and structures surrounding the great chambers of the High Council. "Are you spending your power prematurely, Lord?" asked his aide. The Meenzai Guardsman was reverent and not mocking in his tones. To do so would show disrespect, something no member of the Guard would do. First, it was unthinkable. Second, it would have been punished by immediate death.
"No. No, I was not. I was contemplating the time past and the days yet to come."
"And what, my Lord, did you see?"
"I saw glory. I saw the birth of our Empire and the bricks of its making. I saw the result of our dedication and the fruit of our skill. What is unclear, Warrant, is the future."
"The future is never clear, Lord. It is always obscured by the whimsey of time."
"A good soldier, Warrant. You recite the Zsi Mak very well."
"Truth is unavoidable, my Lord."
"And what is truth, Warrant?"
"Truth is a thing which is."
The Commandant nodded. "You know the meanings of our teachings as well. When were you last promoted?"
"I ascended at the Prime of the Maal. I assumed the command of Ji Mak in the moments just before victory."
"Then you were there? You saw the humans?"
"I was and did, my Lord."
"What was your assessment of them?"
"They have an abundance of what the Terrans call luck."
"And the strategem consort of the non-Mage?"
"You refer to Nahn mal Eo."
"Capable, my Lord."
"And if I told you that Leader Jasm had summoned him home?"
"He comes, my Lord?"
"He is here."
"Then, my Lord, you are honored."
"Yes, my Lord. It shall be seen if your efforts shall be victorious."
"How do you assess the probabilities?"
"It is not for me to comment, Excellency."
"There are some who say that opposing the sitting council is cowardice. Suicide is a death without honor."
"Sometimes, Warrant. Sometimes."
* * *
Jab stood on the soil of his home planet and looked about him. His mind was filled with memories that flashed and gleamed. Some were faint and plaintive whispers and some bore the force of a plasma cannon at two meters. The latter were unavoidable, the former almost unattainable. It was plain to Jab that there was great history for him on this planet, and if the speakings of the Guard Escort were true, then he had no choice but to help find a solution. His home could not be wrended and wrenched again. Meenzeii was a fragile flower whose only destinies were to bloom or die.
Moving inside his quarters, Jab went to the closet and fetched out the uniform he'd not worn since he and his counterparts crashed on Velar. This memory caused a shudder to ripple through him. He remembered the long years of mere survival, the disdain of the planet's inhabitants. Looking into the dressing glass of his chambers, a large and powerful being stared back at him. In full battle armor was the Chief Strategist of the Meenzai Empire, a warrior with a mission.
* * *
The lake rippled gently against the shoreline, and a million ghosts of light reflected and danced on the wavetops. Bob was watching this from the upstairs of his home on Rockford Bay. He saw it by peering carefully from beside the window, lest he be seen by the gathering of force surrounding the home. He had thrown his impromptu guests out. Neither of those who came to help had actually wanted to help. Freshette merely wanted to press his agenda of anti-government, and that lunatic Aryan had come to kill the Meenzals. Neither of them would succeed, that was for sure. Bob had no intention of being either a headline or a statistic to benefit ideals and attitudes which weren't his.
Bob went downstairs with practiced quiet. His sons were asleep on the floor, each wrapped in blankets pulled from their beds. "Sometimes, the best offense is a good defense." he thought to himself. Then he stopped short and screwed his face up. "Wait a minute. Doesn't that go... Screw it."
The closet held what he was looking for, and as silently as he could, he put on what he found there. He was almost fully suited when he realized that his sons were awake and looking at him. "That armor has no weapons on it, Dad." said Ficus. There was question in his voice.
"It's merely insurace, son."
"You're going out there, aren't you?"
"I'm coming too."
"No, boy. You're going to stay right where you are. You stay here and make sure your brother stays safe."
Father and son looked at the youngest Kirkpatrick and smiled. Aron's face was a mosaic of fear and question, but he didn't say anything. He rested his head back on the carpet and closed his eyes.
"COMMANDER!" Barked the SWAT member. "Someone's on the porch." Immediately, the skullcaps of twenty team members were pulled down as ski masks to hide their identities, and twenty heads snapped around to see who was on the porch of the house they surrounded.
"Team Two," said the SWAT leader into his mouthpiece. "Get ready. We have activity on the porch." His reply was a quick burst of ststic from the second team.
When Bob stepped off the porch and strode towards the largest gathering of police, he did so in the sights of every officer on the scene.
* * *
"Have you come to serve, Nahn mal Eo?" asked the Commandant. "You wear the uniform of a Meenzai, but you have also absented yourself for a long while. So tell us, to what are you loyal?"
"N'ish Ta so Meenzai." It was spoken like a quiet explanation to a child. Of course, this angered the Commandant.
"It is twice on this day that I have heard recitation of our codes. For the second time I will ask for clarification. Are you loyal to the Meenzai?"
Jab considered the meenzal before him and sniffed. "Are you loyal, Zoe Ni Aa?" At this, the Commandant leapt forward, drawing his weapon. He came to rest nose to nose and pressed his gun against Jab's chin. Unmoved, Nahn mal Eo looked at the Commander with an expression of mirth. In a second, both cats erupted into screeching guffaws and embraced each other by the biceps.
"It is good to rest my eyes on you, Eo. You have been missed."
"Have I, Excellency?"
"Yes. Yes and yes. Now, come sit and eat with me and tell me of yourself. What is it about this place you have been and what have you been doing?"
"I have been ...resting." said Jab. This brought more howls of laughter from the Commandant. "But, my Lord, my resting may be over for a time." This caused an immediate change. The laughter stopped and the Commandant grew at once serious.
"Your niece has had good reign, Nahn. But there are some who feel that her ways are not the ways of a warrior."
"Are you among those who think this way, Excellency?" The two looked at each other, eye to eye.
"Yes, Eo. I am. Does this surprise you?" Jab shrugged. "We are falling stagnant, we are losing our sense of honor. Our kits rebel against their families and we have violence and predation in our towns and cities. We are losing our way, Nahn."
"And what is the solution, Excellency?"
"It is time for ascention, Eo. Surely you, of all of us, must understand this."
"You are speaking of the assasination of a member of my family. Would you have me betray..."
"No, Eo. I know you could not, and this is why I have." The Commandant stepped backwards and drew his weapon again. "Must we now duel, Eo?"
"You have killed my niece, Aa?"
"I have had it done, yes. Leadership which stagnates must be purged in favor of leadership which doesn't."
"Then we must duel. Honor demands it. Your rash acts have set friend and Guardsman against friend Guardsman. Your choices must be tested." The Commandant nodded without taking his eyes off of Jab.
There would, or would not, be time for mourning later.
"Not another step, Mister." commanded the SWAT leader. Bob complied, but with his usual attitude. he stood so that the sun gleamed off of his mirror finish armor and into the eyes of the policeman. "Move to the side."
"You said not another step." The SWAT leader grimmaced and moved himself.
"What is it you want, Kirkpatrick? Are you surrendering?"
"I was never resisting. You're boys here shot at me when I tried to come out and talk to you, then you let those two travelling circuses in and they shot at me too. Now that things have calmed down on their own, I came out to do what I tried to do in the beginning. So, officer, what is it that _you_ want?"
The police captain considered this a moment. "I have to place you under arrest."
"On what charge?"
"For now, resisting arrest."
"Arrest on what charge?"
"Aiding and abetting the flight of fugitives from justice."
"And who did I aid and abet, Captain?"
"Those costumed characters that attacked the townspeople. You know that."
"No, I don't. All I know is that some of the yayhoos in town jumped some others who came to speak to a friend of mine. They defended themselves and simply left to go home."
"And who were these others?"
"I don't know their names, they weren't my friends, they were my friend's friends. If you hadn't been such a damn buch of cowboys yourselves, you'd have known this a long time ago and spent the night in bed instead of my yard. --Which, by the way, I expect you to clean up before you leave. You're also responsible for some very significant damage to my home, and I hope you have plans to fix what you've broken."
"Look, Kirkpatrick. I don't take orders from you. If you'd simply come out, you wouldn't have forced us to go through all of this, and yes, I would have spent the night at my home. As it is, you didn't and so now you're under arrest."
"No, sir. Now I'm resisting arrest. I choose not to recognize the logic you're using here, so I'm going back inside." Bob turned to leave.
"You won't get to the door, Kirkpatrick. Turn around and come back here now." The SWAT leaders words went unheeded, and the captain nodded to one of his men.
"Stop, or I'll shoot." yelled the man. "Stop!" Bob didn't stop, but continued his slow plodding stroll back toward the house. "Stop!" he was commanded a last time.
The bullet struck Bob in the center of his back. The force of its impact drove him forward, but the bullet glanced off the battle armor and plowed harmlessly into the ground behind him. Balance regained, Bob continued towards the house.
A second bullet found the same mark as the first, and the scene was repeated. The third bullet missed Bob altogether. The SWAT member was shaken by the fact his bullets weren't having the expected effect. "What the hell is he wearing?" he called to his commander.
"Must be something he got for Christmas. How the hell should I know?" was his reply. "Somebody shoot that son of a bitch with something bigger!"
A sharpshooter with a fifty caliber sniper rifle complied. His round struck Bob in the left shoulder blade, and it spun him around and drove him down. Bob shook himself, and stood again. This time, he sprinted the remaining distance to the door of the house and disappeared inside. "Damn!" swore the SWAT leader. "We had him and we let him go."
* * *
"I do not wish to fight you, Eo."
"It is a choice you made when you attacked my family, Aa." replied Nahn. He stepped into the bright sunlight and took a position on one side of the courtyard of the High Council Chambers. The Commandant walked heavily to the other side, and turned to face him.
"It is your vendetta, it is your choice of weapons."
"Then let it be wits." Nahn would have said more, but the blast from the Commandant's Aide's sidearm struck him in the side. The wound appeared in an explosion of fur an a mist of blood. It was the last move the Warrant made, for the Commandant's sidearm erupted, vaporizing the Guardsman's head.
"Coward!" Screamed Aa. "What have you done!" It was no question. The Commandant ran to the fallen Nahn. "My life is yours, nahn mal Eo. I ...surrender. My guard acted for me, but not on my order. I am, though, responsible." The Commandant placed his sidearm in Jab's grip, then stood and called for medical.
"Is this the honor your reign would embrace?" asked Jab. "Look at what you have built here. You have assasinated the Leader of the High Council with plans to install yourself. You have degenerated the Guradsmen to a group of disciplined assasins --turning them from their warrior traditions. You have failed, Excellency, and you haven't even begun."
The Commandant leaned his head back and screamed long.
"Listen to me, Excellency. There is still a way. You cannot fix what you have already done, but you can change the direction in which you
"I will listen, Nahn mal Eo. Speak to me." As they medicats took Jab to the infirmary, he spoke.
Commander Prefect Nahn mal Eo, wearing the vestments of his new appointment from Chief Strategist, was impressed. He stood before the forward viewport on the flagship T'za Ki and mentally counted the dreadnaughts in formation orbit around Meenzeii. He gave up, there were just too many.
"They are all yours, Eo." remarked Commandant Aa from behind him. The old Meenzai had entered the room unnoticed. Even in age, the Meenzai was still stealthy and graceful.
"No, Aa. They belong to their Commanders. It is the Commanders who belong to us."
The old cat laughed heartily. "Always an argument from you, old friend. But I see your point. The metal is theirs --and as you say-- they are ours. I assume I will gain no argument that the metal is impressive, no?"
"No. You will get no argument. It is a ...glorious sight."
The old cat grew serious. "It is good to hear you speak as a Guardsman, Eo. There have been moments..."
"I know what you will say. Yes, there have been moments, and there shall be again. There is still a matter between us, and we must complete the path of honor later. But this is not the time." The Commandant nodded gravely at this.
"My life belongs to you, Eo. It must be so."
"Were I the Guardsman you wish to see in me, Aa, I would not choose Challenge, but would have killed you at the telling of the death of my neice. Do not forget old friend, that you have murdered in my family."
The old cat bowed deeply. "I shall leave you to your thoughts. The plan you have hatched here is one of great complexity. There are some who say that you are crazy in your plans."
A sound like the screech of a rusty hinge erupted from Jab. "Yes, I imagine there are those who believe I have lost my wits."
"I am not among them, Eo." With that, the Commander swept his cloak and left as silently as he'd arrived. Jab turned back to look out the viewport and let his thoughts drift to Earth, Bob, and the family he had sworn to protect. He hoped that none of them would dislike that he'd embarked on such a vast undertaking without them.
Somewhere belowdecks a klaxon began to sound. The mission was beginning, and it was time to bid goodbye to those who waited the return of the Meenzai who now were boarded and prepared. As he watched, the deck plates began to make the low growling rumble as the engines were dragged to life. In time, the noise would be lost to the ears of those aboard ship, as the sounds of the city fade from notice to the city dwellers.
There was a slight feeling of instability as the inertial dampers kicked on, and Jab knew that the show was about to start. As he watched through the forward port, all of the 44,000 ships in the fleet began to manuuver in a choreographed slow motion dance. They slid above and under one another with a practiced grace until the formed a giant ring --each of the ships facing inward. On the planet below, the ships would appear as a large terran sunflower, consuming a full third of the daytime sky.
As the sides of the ring closed and the ships aligned, a new sound --a kind of whine began to harmonize with the growing rumble of the engines. When the maneuver was complete, and all the ships were properly aligned, each of the commanders gave the order.
All ships fired their plasma cannons at once so their fire met in the center of the great ring. At their impact, all view was lost to the brilliance of the massive detonation and the ships jumped into hyperspace as one.
The skies above the slowly rotating planet were empty.