Annihilation: The Guerilla War
The Lost Years Saga
I’ve been a Nova fan since 1976. As a long term fan and a completist, some things have always nagged at me. One of the most important of those nags would be the “lost years” of Nova’s life – the year he spent on Xandar during the Second Xandar-Skrull War and the year between the end of the Annihilation Nova mini-series and the beginning of the Annihilation event. We really don’t know much of what happened during those years – and, since it looks like Marvel won’t ever be filling us in on what happened during those lost years, I decided to fill in the blanks myself. Thus was born what I’ve been referring to as The Lost Years Saga. The set of stories making up The Lost Years Saga take place in the 615 Universe – a universe right next door to our familiar 616 Marvel Universe. So, much of the history of the 615 Universe will mirror that of the 616 Universe. Some things will be a little different. The 615 Universe is a bit grittier than the 616 – and Rich Rider will make some different choices in the 615 than he did in the 616. However, the differences are not so great that the elements that make Nova great in the 616 Universe become lost or unrecognizable. The 615 Rich Rider is very similar to the 616 Rich Rider – except that perhaps the 615 Rider matures a bit quicker in response to his experiences than the 616 version has to date. Most of the stories will take place during the time frame between the Annihilation Nova mini-series and the Annihilation event – with flashbacks to events in the Second Xandar-Skrull War. That being said, there will be at least two stand alone Second Xandar-Skrull War stories – one of which addresses another nagging question familiar to long term Nova fans – namely the mysterious Epyrus event. In the course of the stories, I’ll address some of the other nagging questions that fans debate frequently such as the nature of Nova Force and the nature of the Worldmind. Along the way, Xandar will be developed as a society and culture like it never has before. Now, before anyone jumps me – let me again repeat that this is an alternate universe from the 616. If the 616 ever addresses Nova’s lost years or the other concepts I’ve mentioned – then that’ll be the way it is for the 616 – but it won’t change the way things happened in the 615. And yes, for those of you who have been following my Nova: The Next Generation stories, these Lost Years stories take place in the same universe and all my Nova fan fics are part of a grand arc beginning with The Third Fall of Xandar, stretching through The Lost Years Saga and into The Next Generation – and ending with a story I’m calling, appropriately enough, The Last Nova Story. I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them. This first story of The Lost Years Saga begins immediately after the events of the Annihilation: Nova mini-series. – Timelord
Prologue: Adrift in the Dark
He floated in darkness. He shivered from the cold. There was supposed to be no sound in space, but he could hear the screams of pain – the pleas for help. He was a hero. He knew that. He was supposed to help – but his body wouldn’t respond. It was as if he was asleep – but at the same time not asleep – caught somehow in a dream where he moved in slow motion and everything around him – fleeting sounds and images – moved at near lightspeed. He tried to move – struggled – it was as if his limbs were too heavy to lift. He laughed – how could his limbs be too heavy to lift when he could control gravitons? With a mighty effort he forced his eyes open – blinking to clear the blurred images flooding his brain. He floated in debris, slowly spinning head over heels. His head hurt. Around him was a cloud of red frozen particles – his own blood seeping through his phasic shielding as the nanites from his uniform and within his body cleaned him, healed him, and discarded residue and waste products. The excruciating searing pain from his face and head began to make him nauseous. Combined with the spinning of his body, it was too much to bear. He heaved – but there was nothing to expunge. He could hear a voice at the edge of his consciousness. He didn’t like the voice. It annoyed him. Leave me alone dammit! Can’t you see I’m sick? The voice was insistent – demanding attention – telling him to do something. He strained to hear the voice. He didn’t understand it – couldn’t understand what it wanted him to do. His eyes fluttered and he slipped into the dream again. He didn’t notice the Xandarian scout shuttlecraft as it pulled up beside him.
A Story from
Nova: The Lost Years Saga
Part I of the Series Arc
Annihilation: The Guerilla War
Echoes of the Past – Portents of the Future
Chapter One: Rescue
Drax placed Richard Rider on the emergency medical scanning table located in the aft area of the Xandarian scout shuttlecraft. Rider had a deep cut across his face and looked pale; as if he had lost a lot of blood. Rider had regained consciousness briefly upon being brought aboard ship – just long enough to ask Drax to help him learn to fight the Annihilation Wave. Drax held little hope that Rider would survive the next hour – much less be able to fight again.
The nanobots making up Riders uniform shifted slightly and a portion of them broke loose and floated up to eye level with Drax as they reconfigured into a mini-bot holographic projection system. The avatar of the Xandarian Worldmind formed around the mini-bot and stood before Drax. “There is no need to utilize the ship’s emergency medical services. I am monitoring Richard. During his and Quasar’s fight with Annihilus, he sustained a deep tissue injury to his face, a fractured zygomatic arch, a basilar skull fracture, a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage over the occipital area of his brain, contusions to the frontal and temporal lobes of his brain, fractures of C-6 and C-7 cervical vertebrae, and various chest and abdominal internal injuries. I have placed him in a coma and have ordered the nanobots permeating his body to begin accelerated healing. He will be unconscious for several hours; but I expect a complete recovery.”
Drax had never liked AI’s and he was finding it increasingly difficult to tolerate the one standing before him. “How nice of you to go about your unilateral decision making while we’re all running for our lives together. In case you haven’t noticed, we have Annihilus’ entire battle fleet to evade. We need Rider conscious to form stargates in case we need to make a quick escape.”
If the Worldmind noticed Drax’s sarcasm, it did not acknowledge it. “I am well aware of our situation. I am monitoring the Annihilation fleet as we speak. They are unaware of our presence due to the cloaking technology on this scout ship. We will remain undetectable as long as we utilize the ship’s warp drive. If we start opening stargates, we will give our position away to the enemy. Furthermore, Richard’s medical condition renders him unable to fight effectively at this time. I am in the process of restoring him to battle readiness. In the unlikely event that the enemy should overtake us, I can form a stargate for a quick escape without need of involving Richard.”
Drax stared at the Worldmind avatar before finally sardonically saying, “So tell me then O wise machine, where you think we should go to escape the Annihilation fleet?”
As always, the Worldmind had an answer. “Please set course for the Tauron system. The Tauron are Xandar’s strongest ally and they have not yet been attacked by the Annihilation fleet. I have already been in contact with the Tauron government. They have mobilized their military and sent an escort to meet us.”
Drax was angry. “So again you made an important decision without consulting me. I have no intention of going to the Tauron system. The Tauron Syndicate has a price on my head.”
The Worldmind was prepared for Drax’s reaction. “I am aware of the price on your head. Please recall that you were in my custody before I ordered your release due to lack of evidence against you. I have persuaded the Tauron Syndicate to accept my ruling and drop charges against you. It really is the safest destination for all of us at this juncture.”
Drax’s posture became stiff and defiant as he faced the Worldmind avatar. “What I ought to do is throw both of you out the airlock and take this ship wherever I please.”
The Worldmind refused to respond in kind. “Remember, you were subdued and detained by the Nova Corps. You are currently in a ship owned by me, the Xandarian government. Even though Richard may be unavailable, I hold all the power of the Nova Force and I am far from defenseless.”
Drax smirked and relaxed. His respect for the Worldmind had increased slightly when it had not allowed him to push it around. He would never let the Worldmind know that though. Deciding to choose his battles, he merely replied, “I really hate prissy, know-it-all AI’s; but our choices do seem restricted and beggars can’t be choosers can they? The Tauron system it is then; but I give you fair warning – Nova Force or no Nova Force – if the Tauron try to take me prisoner, I will hold you directly accountable and nothing will stop me from exacting my revenge against you.”
The Worldmind nodded. “Understood.”
As Drax went to the cockpit to adjust course, the Worldmind turned its analytic attention to Richard. His life-signs were erratic and he looked uncomfortable. He was rather restless and was mumbling something incomprehensible. A scan of his cognitive functioning indicated that he was experiencing a troubling recollection from his personal history.
Chapter Two: The Once and Future Hero
Images and sounds assaulted him. It hurt more than the worst punch Diamondhead or The Sphinx had ever delivered. He was adrift in the dark void again – only this time there were no stars to see when he opened his eyes. Not that he wanted to open his eyes. That only made the pain worse. He curled into a fetal position – shutting his eyes tightly and placing his hands over his ears – trying in vain to stop the images and sounds. The images of destruction, the sounds of people screaming as they died, the explosions, the carnage – all too much to bear. A calm voice spoke to him – one he recognized – an old friend – Wendell? He opened his eyes and Quasar stood before him – reaching out to him to help. Relieved, Rich reached to take Wendell’s helping hand – but before he could touch him, Wendell screamed in agony as his body was consumed by energy and flame – reduced to ashes before Rich’s unbelieving eyes – leaving Rich alone again – screaming in horror as tears streamed down his face. Curling back into a fetal position, he felt sick. Bile rose in his throat and he gagged, fighting back the nausea.
Another voice spoke – one he recognized – a kind voice from the past. He opened his eyes and she stood before him. Petite, short black hair, black goth clothes, black make-up, eyes filled with acceptance and love. There was no mistaking the lovely visage of Ginger Jaye. He rushed to her – throwing his arms around her and burying his face in her hair. Her scent, the feel of her in his arms – it was beyond belief; but it really was Ginger. He opened his eyes to confirm what he knew to be true; but she began to fade – becoming insubstantial in his arms. “No!” He threw his arms around her again and together they fell through the void. His eyes fluttered and “reality” shifted to a very familiar time and place on Earth – a time only a few months before he became the man called Nova.
Mike Burley’s eyes burned with hatred and rage. The only thing that quelled his constant, pervasive rage and hate was hurting someone else. Before him was his very favorite target for pain infliction – Richard Rider.
Mike hated Rich’s father, Principal Charles Rider, as Charles Rider had been Principal at Mike’s school before Mike’s family had relocated to Rich’s neighborhood and Mike had begun attending Harry S. Truman High School. Mike had had behavior problems at every school he had ever attended; requiring frequent trips to the Principal’s office for disciplinary action. Charles Rider had suspended Mike from school on more than one occasion and had been especially strict with Mike. When Mike had learned that Rich was Charles’ son, he had begun picking on Rich as his means to settle the score with Charles.
Mike and his gang had surrounded Rich and Ginger on the street and hustled them into an alley. Rich was frightened for his and Ginger’s safety on the one hand; but tired of being Mike’s punching bag on the other. He was having a hard time controlling his anger. Mike got right in his face and sneered, “Hiya Dick. Dick Rider. They named you right. Are you a dick rider like your faggot father? Is the little Goth skank over there your beard? She looks like a fag hag.”
Rich was secure in his sexuality and harbored no ill will toward gay people, so Mike’s attempt to taunt him didn’t work. His only concern was to get Ginger safely away from this arrogant and cruel clique of bullies and bigots. “We don’t want any trouble Mike. Just let us go or at least let Ginger go. She’s never done you any harm.”
Mike affected a mock look of surprise. “You mean you want to leave? Well, all you had to do was say so. Please be on your way. We didn’t mean to detain you.” Mike bowed and stepped aside.
As Rich warily passed by Mike intent on collecting Ginger and getting away as fast as possible, Mike suddenly wheeled and punched him in the stomach. Rich went down to his hands and knees, immediately feeling sick to his stomach and gasping for air.
Ginger rushed toward Rich yelling at Burley “Leave him alone you son of a bitch!” Ginger was very petite. Mike’s girlfriend, Donna-Lee, and her friends had no problem restraining Ginger before she could reach Rich. “Rich! Are you all right? Rich!” Ginger struggled but the other girls did not let her get away.
The nausea passed and Rich was finally able to get his breath. He waved at Ginger and struggled to his feet. Two of Burley’s friends immediately grabbed his arms and restrained him. Burley smiled cruelly. “Listen Dick. Before you go, my friends and I would like to offer your faggoty-looking self and your skank-ass fag hag a make-over.” Burley’s gang laughed and cat-called.
Donna-Lee sneered at Ginger. “Honey, Goth is so out. You need some makeup, a new hairdo, and some new clothes in some other colors than black.” The girls giggled as Donna-Lee produced a tube of bright red lipstick and a pair of scissors.
Rich knew he had to distract Burley and his gang before they hurt Ginger. “Why do you have your buddies holding me Burley? Are you afraid to fight me all by yourself?”
Rich’s ploy worked. Burley turned to him filled with rage and hate. “Let him go!”
Rich’s captors released him; but before he could raise his hands to defend himself, Burley landed a punch on his jaw, felling him. Burley’s buddies hauled Rich to his feet and held him as Burley, nearly twice Rich’s size, stood before Rich. Burley punched Rich in the stomach, causing Rich to double over in pain. “That’s for your cocksucker father!” When Rich was able to straighten up, he spat on Burley. Further enraged, Burley punched Rich in the mouth. “That’s for you, dick rider!” Rich was dazed by the punch and would have fallen had his captors not been holding him up.
Burley sneered as Rich nearly lost consciousness from the punch. Burley turned and winked at Donna-Lee. Donna-Lee smiled cruelly. She would do anything to please Mike Burley. She opened the tube of lipstick and began smearing it carelessly on Ginger’s face. “Here honey. Here’s some color to liven up all that black and white. When we’re done with make-up, I’ll cut your hair into a new do. And honey, these clothes have got to go.” She grabbed Ginger’s blouse and ripped it, exposing Ginger’s breasts.
Tears of rage and humiliation streamed down Ginger’s face as all eyes turned to her. Ginger raised her head and with defiance and hatred looked Burley straight in the eyes. Through gritted teeth she vehemently snarled, “Fuck you Burley!”
Burley laughed. “Thanks for the offer skank; but those mosquito-bite-sized tits could never satisfy me. They might old dick rider here though cause he might mistake you for a boy!”
As Burley’s gang laughed at Burley’s cruel joke, Rich recovered enough to realize that Burley’s gang were all distracted and that he now had a chance to get Ginger to safety. Remembering some moves from a self-defense class he took during childhood, he stomped a foot into the ankle of one of his captors, causing him to howl in pain and collapse to the ground. With one hand now free, he punched his other captor in the nose, causing him to double over in pain, trying to stem the gush of blood flowing from his nostrils. Rich charged a surprised Mike Burley and landed the greatest punch he could muster to Burley’s exposed jaw; dazing and staggering Burley. As Rich charged by Burley and ran toward Ginger, her captors scattered. Rich grabbed Ginger and they both fled from the alley; not looking back to see if they were being pursued.
When they reached the street, Ginger yelled “This way!” and Rich followed her. They ran several blocks and cut through several alleys before finally arriving at Ginger’s apartment. They rushed inside and locked the door behind them.
Rich looked at Ginger’s torn clothes and lipstick smeared face. “Oh God Ginger. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that they hurt you!”
Ginger was more angry now than afraid. “I swear to you that that bastard Burley and his bitch girlfriend are gonna get theirs! Just you wait and see what I’m gonna do to them.”
Rich wasn’t listening to her. “Are you okay? This is all my fault. They wouldn’t have hurt you if you hadn’t been with me. I’m really really sorry.”
Ginger rolled her eyes. “Hey Rich, it’s not your fault. They’re the assholes, not us. We were just minding our own business. I think you’re sweet for feeling so unnecessarily guilty; but you’re forgetting that you saved me from getting hurt at the cost of getting yourself hurt. No one has ever done anything like that for me before. You’re an honest to God hero!”
Rich smiled, then winced in pain; having forgotten his busted lip until that instant.
Ginger noticed Rich’s expression of pain and suddenly realized their condition. “Oh my God! You’re still bleeding and I can only imagine how I look. Come on, let’s get you fixed up.” She led him into the bathroom and began searching through the medicine cabinet. She found some alcohol and some swabs and began preparing them to cleanse his wounds. “This is gonna sting.” Ginger swabbed Rich’s facial wounds with the alcohol.
Rich drew a quick breath and flinched as his head snapped back from the alcohol swab. “Shit! That hurts! No more!”
Ginger giggled. “So you can take a punch to the face to save me; but you’re afraid of alcohol sting?”
Rich grinned and again winced in pain. He pointed to the mirror. “You may want to save some of that alcohol for yourself.”
Ginger had forgotten the lipstick smears on her face. She looked in the mirror. “That fucking bitch! I am so going to get her back.” She wiped the red lipstick from her face. “I hate red lipstick. Why couldn’t she have used my standard black?” They both laughed. “The bitch tore my favorite blouse too! Come on, I need to change clothes.” She led Rich to her room and began searching through her closet as Rich sat down on her bed. She finally found a blouse and jeans she was satisfied with and began to remove her torn blouse and unfasten the jeans she was wearing.
Rich held his breath for a moment – unable to believe his eyes. “Uh – Ginger? Would you like me to wait for you in the living room?”
Ginger smiled, having made her decision even before inviting Rich into her room. “No. I would like for you to stay right where you are.” She removed her blouse and jeans.
Rich admired her small but firm and shapely breasts; and the contrast of her black thong panties against her pearl white skin. Her body was slim and lithe – the body of the gymnast that she was. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He had fantasized about this moment for months, but never really thought his fantasy would come true. At that instant, he thought she was the most beautiful and desirable woman he had ever seen.
She smiled, pleased that he obviously found her appealing. She approached him and pulled off his shirt before sitting in his lap and wrapping her long legs around his waist. Rich kissed her passionately, the pain from his lip injury masked by heated sexual desire. Their tongues explored each others mouths as passion rose between them. Rich tentatively touched her breasts; and was rewarded by her moan of pleasure and her more impassioned kissing.
She began to unbuckle his jeans; then suddenly stopped as if remembering something. “Hold on.” She got up and left the room. Rich cursed – wondering what happened to ruin the moment and hoping she would return.
She slipped back in the door, locking it behind her. “My mom won’t be home from work for 3 more hours. I got this out of her nightstand. She and her boyfriend use them when he spends the night.” She handed him a condom. “Now where were we?”
Rich smiled. “You were about to remove my pants and I was about to remove your thong.”
“Ah yes,” she breathed, as she embraced him and they together surrendered to the passion that had been building between them for months.
Chapter Three: Entangling Alliances
Vice-Admiral Ga’Noth of the Tauron Syndicate’s armed forces watched the approach of the Xandarian scout shuttle with dread. The old Minotaur shook his head. The shuttle’s arrival could not bode well for the Syndicate. The Syndicate had received Xandar’s distress call and had dispatched scout missions as it prepared its military to assist. Ga’Noth was haunted by the images of a devastated Xandar transmitted by the scouts. Xandar had the strongest military this side of the former Skrull Empire and had been utterly destroyed in a matter of hours! What hope could an independent star system like Tauron have against such an enemy? The Tauron had always relied on Xandar for protection against aggressors. Now, they were on their own and were ill prepared.
The Xandarian shuttle had dropped to sub-light speed and would rendezvous with his battleship in less than an hour. He hoped he would receive instructions from his government before the Xandarians arrived. He understood that the Syndicate was in negotiations with the beings from the strange-looking ship he had been ordered to allow to approach the homeworld.
Chapter Four: Debates and Agreements
Drax was once again frustrated with the Worldmind. “We should re-supply, get a faster and more heavily armed ship, and head for a militarily stronger and more trustworthy potential ally such as the Galadorian, Shi’Ar, Spartoi, or Kree Empires!”
The Worldmind was resolute. “The Tauron have been our allies for centuries and require our aid and advice if they are to survive against the Annihilation Fleet. We will make contact with their military, be escorted to the Xandarian Embassy, and a suitable quantum mainframe will be prepared for me so that Richard will no longer have to carry me within his Nova Matrix. Richard will remain with me as my protector; and we will organize Xandar’s allies into a force to resist and attack the Annihilation Fleet while the Annihilation Fleet is distracted with engaging The Skrull Empire. You and Cammi are free to take this or any other ship you may acquire wherever you like once proper arrangements have been made with the Tauron Syndicate.”
Drax could no longer hold his anger. “For the most sophisticated computer in the galaxy, you are a farking fool! The Tauron are cowards and always have been! They evolved from herbivorous herd animals! Their instinct is to run away at the first sign of trouble! So, they go whichever way the political wind is blowing as long as it benefits them! If they are your strongest ally, I shudder to think of your weakest!”
The Worldmind responded calmly. “I am well aware of the Syndicate’s history, Drax. I am merely fulfilling treaty obligations and seeing to the best interests of Xandar and our allies.”
Drax and the Worldmind continued their heated debate; and the Worldmind agreed to meet several of Drax’s demands. Cammi quickly lost interest in the argument and wandered to the rear of the shuttle.
Cammi looked in on Richard Rider as he lay tossing fitfully on the medical scanning table in the back of the shuttle. She thought he was handsome and secretly had a crush on him; but would never let anyone know that. In fact, she would act as if she didn’t like him in order to hide her true feelings. She always hid her true feelings. It was a necessary survival strategy in her family. At least with Drax it was easy to hide feelings as he was insensitive to them. He apparently had few feelings himself unless obsession with killing his longtime foe, Thanos, counted as a feeling. She looked again as Rich’s body shook and he mumbled incoherently. She hoped he would recover soon. It was comforting to her to have another human close by.
Chapter Five: Recollections of Love and War
Rich awakened but didn’t open his eyes. Fantasies came true sometimes. Making love to Ginger proved it. He couldn’t stop smiling. He rolled over to kiss her and wake her up. They had to get dressed and be out of her room before her mom got home. He opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by darkness. Ginger was gone. He was alone. Panicking, he looked about wildly and in so doing broke the protective barriers of the memory of his time with Ginger. Images and sounds once again assaulted him. Fleeting images from his past swirled around him. The screams and pleas for help overwhelmed him.
Desperate to find Ginger again, he grasped at a fleeting image of her as it passed by him. He missed, instead brushing an indistinct image of a beautiful woman with auburn hair.
The image coalesced and the woman stood before him, beaming in delight at the sight of him. She stood before him wearing the uniform of a Nova Centurion. Her helmet was neatly tucked into her belt. She playfully said, “On your feet soldier! We’ve got work to do! And – if you’re very very nice to me – we might find some time for a little play later.”
Rich was puzzled. She seemed so familiar. He should know her – but he couldn’t remember how he knew her. She was obviously Xandarian – and was wearing a version of a Nova Corps uniform from the time of the Second Xandar-Skrull War – but he didn’t remember ever meeting her. Not surprising – since he strangely remembered very little from that time in his life. “Who are you? Do I know you? Have we met before?”
The expression of delight left her face; and was instantly replaced by an expression of profound sadness. The bitterness was evident in her voice. “So it’s true. Of course it’s true. That bastard, Prime Thoran Rul, was telling the truth for once in his life. The memory wipe made you forget all about me – and all about us.” She turned to go, becoming indistinct as she faded into the black void.
“Wait!” Rich demanded as he dived toward her, touching her fading image and drawing a deep breath as his “reality” once again shifted.
Basic Nova Corps training was finally over. For his first mission, Rich was assigned to a special ops detail investigating an anomaly on Nu-Xandar. Nu-Xandar was a cold, arid planet that lay at the edge of the habitable zone of the Tranta system. Nu-Xandar reminded Rich of the pictures he had seen of Mars when studying astronomy in school. Terra-forming efforts had been underway on Nu-Xandar for some years before Zorr had destroyed Xandar. Nu-Xandar had been abandoned after Xandar’s destruction when all resources had been redirected to Xandar’s restoration within the newly formed Xandar Cluster. No one lived on Nu-Xandar now. At least, no one was supposed to live on Nu-Xandar now.
They were approaching Nu-Xandar in a cloaked troop transport ship. Staring out the porthole, Rich could see the large mirrors orbiting the planet; directing light and heat from Tranta to Nu-Xandar’s surface. Small patches of green could be seen dotting the planet – the beginnings of large forests seeded to help thicken the atmosphere. In the northern hemisphere, he could see a large sea. Nu-Xandar had a thin but breathable atmosphere; and while cold by human standards; it was tolerable for anyone wearing a standard issue Xandarian military uniform.
Some of Rich’s classmates from basic Nova Corps training – Sevilica, Corinus, and Farona – were also assigned to this, their first special ops mission. All native Xandarians and all about the same age as Rich, they delighted in good-naturedly teasing Rich about his backwater Earthly origin. They were all very different from each other. As competent a soldier as she was a beautiful Xandarian female; Sevilica was auburn-haired, medium height, and blue-eyed. She was the only one with a royal background, coming from House Dru, the royal house that ruled Xandar. She was completing her first year of Law School when the war started. She immediately applied and was accepted to the Nova Corps, Xandar’s elite military unit. She was a natural leader and was well-liked by all her classmates at the Nova Corps Academy. Corinus was a brash young Xandarian male. Handsome, dark-haired, brown-eyed, and charismatic; he exhibited confidence and an air of swaggering bravado. Farona was the strong, silent type. She was attractive with short-cropped blonde hair and blue eyes; and she took her job as a professional soldier very seriously. These were among the first of those Xandarians coming of age to join the military from among the survivors of Zorr’s attack on Xandar; and among the first new recruits for The Nova Corps.
“Being a tourist again Rider?” teased Sevilica Dru.
Rich turned from staring out the porthole and grinned at Sevilica. “Can’t help myself. There’s just so much to see out here.”
Sevilica smiled back. They were developing a friendship.
The door to the crew deck snapped open and Corinus jumped to his feet. “Commander on deck!”
Richard, Sevilica, Corinus, and Farona snapped to attention as Centurion Commander Calvinus Nor stepped into the room accompanied by battle-hardened veteran Centurions Tyeverus Tul and Jarinus Fel. “At ease Centurions. We will achieve planet-fall within 20 units. To review your earlier briefing, this is a black ops stealth mission. Intelligence drones have recorded activity on Nu-Xandar when Nu-Xandar should be abandoned. The Worldmind wants to make sure that the Skrulls have not established a secret base on Nu-Xandar from which to conduct intelligence gathering and to launch attacks. It is our mission to find the base if it exists. We are not to engage unless we are attacked. This is a recon and target identification mission only. We need to do this without attracting the immediate attention of the Skrull fleet orbiting just outside our perimeter; being held at bay by our fleet. We don’t want to bring a major Skrull rescue mission down on us for our fleet to contend with while our fleet’s resources are already stretched to the max. If we identify a threat to Xandar, we will withdraw temporarily to confer with the Worldmind and our military to decide how to neutralize the threat. We do not want to alert any potential enemy to our presence, so no use of Nova power unless you are attacked; as gravimetric energy would be detectable by an enemy scan. When we have achieved planet-fall, we will divide into two squads to begin the search for the base. Sevilica and Rider will be under Tyeverus’ command; and Corinus and Farona will be under Jarinus’ command. I will stay with the ship to direct the mission and provide air support and rescue if necessary. Good luck and good hunting. Prepare to disembark.” Calvinus left the crew deck while Tul and Fel stayed to prepare their squads for the mission.
“Rider!” yelled Tyeverus, clearly not pleased with being stuck with the human in his squad. “Get your alien ass in gear and load up your backpack! In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re leaving in a few units!” Tyeverus sourly watched Rider rush to his locker. Tyeverus was preoccupied with many ill thoughts. What was that idiot, Dey, a jumped-up to Nova Prime commoner and former Xenopology professor, thinking when he deputized such a backwater primitive? At least the alien rabble Rider brought with him had their own powers and could be put to use as scouts or mercenaries. He was galled and disgusted that a little alien schmaug like Rider carried a Nova Prime matrix, the ultimate power of the Xandarian people. At least Dey had not been so foolish as to activate all the Nova Prime powers. If the Worldmind and Nova Prime Valt had any sense they would have powered down Rider’s matrix to minimal, wiped his memory, and sent him home as soon as he had arrived. To double his bad luck he was also stuck with House Dru’s contribution to the Nova Corps. He shook his head. He hated House Dru almost as much as he hated The Worldmind Hegemony. As far as Tyeverus and House Tul were concerned, it was House Dru’s fault that Xandar was in its current predicament. In his eyes, House Dru was just as guilty for Xandar’s fall and it was this war with the Skrulls.
As Rich retrieved his already packed and provisioned backpack, he ordered his uniform to modify itself for night operations. The familiar navy and yellow-gold colors of the uniform faded to a shade of black to match ambient light conditions on the night side of the planet where they would soon land. His helmet modified its shape from the traditional Nova Corps helmet to a star-less, smooth, black, form-fitting configuration with night-vision eye lenses and slits under his nostrils to allow him to breathe ambient air. During the day, the uniform could be modified to camouflage in forest or desert conditions; or to render the wearer “invisible” via a clever method of 360 degree projection of the surroundings. The uniform also masked body heat and other functions including gravimetric energy from both active and passive sensor scans. Rich noticed Tul staring at him. Rich was not happy at being assigned to Tul as Tul had made it abundantly clear how he felt about aliens. Earlier, Sevilica had explained that Tul was nearly 1000 years old and was a member of a small religious sect that worshiped the ancient Xandarian god of war, Gamil. Superstitious, racist, and xenophobic, this sect was dominant for a few decades in Xandarian history about 900 years ago; but had long since fallen into disfavor and was followed only by a few religious and reactionary fanatics such as Royal House Tul. Tul’s royal house was a rival to House Dru. House Dru had ushered in a new era for Xandar about 850 years ago; rejecting superstition, racism, and xenophobia. Rhomann Dey had been loyal to House Dru and when it became necessary to select a new Nova Prime, Dey, a commoner, had been selected even though Tyeverus was the more senior Corpsman and from a royal house. Tyeverus had harbored bitterness toward the Worldmind Hegemony and House Dru ever since. She explained that Tyeverus would not now be considered proper Corps material; but the Worldmind could not find a legal way to retire him from the Corps. Sevilica made it clear that she despised Tyeverus and his sect of reactionary fanatics.
Tul and Fel checked each Centurion in their squad as they issued each their sidearm, a mass-driver-based automatic hand weapon that silently fired adamantium pellets. Each Centurion’s uniform automatically formed a holster and automatic re-loader for the weapon as soon as it was issued.
The cloaked troop ship silently sat down on Nu Xandar’s surface in a clearing of new growth forest. Passive scans indicated no life forms in the immediate area; and the Centurions disembarked and quickly scrambled to the cover of the forest as the troop ship lifted off to maintain geosynchronous orbit above the landing site.
The squads gathered in the forest to review their mission assignments. Intelligence probes had indicated that there were possibly two areas of activity on the planet. To avoid detection, the Xandarians had landed halfway between the two areas of suspicious activity. Tul’s squad would head toward a nearby mountain range where one area of activity was detected. Fel’s squad would head deeper into the forest to investigate another area of reported activity. The squads departed with plans to rendezvous at the landing site within 24 hours.
The trip to the mountains was uneventful. Rich found Nu-Xandar rather unappealing. There had been no attempt to introduce animal or insect life to the biosphere; therefore there was no noise in the forest other than that made by wind as it passed through the limbs of the genetically engineered trees that absorbed the harmful gasses in the atmosphere and released a breathable gas of nitrogen and oxygen. As stealth was central to the mission, there was no verbal conversation; and Tul quickly quashed an attempt by Rich and Sevilica to carry on a “virtual conversation” through their tactical quantum link.
As they neared the foot of the mountain range just prior to dawn, Tul signaled an alert and the squad took cover in the boulder field. With night vision, they were able to make out a Skrull commander and two younger Skrulls in an encampment in a clearing within the boulder field leading to the base of the mountain range. The Skrulls had not detected the approach of the Nova squad. Through the tactical link, Tul silently ordered the squad to withdraw to a safe distance to observe the activity in the Skrull encampment. As the Nova squad withdrew, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by four Skrull Hellcat Androids.
Rich had received briefings about the Hellcats while attending the Nova Corps Academy. Hellcat androids were used by the Skrulls for sentry duty. The Hellcats were about the size of a terrestrial lioness and they hunted in packs of four. They were constructed of a durable metal alloy and possessed deadly teeth and claws. They were a danger to even the most experienced Nova Centurion as they were programmed to adapt to each attack in order to render a follow-up attack of the same type ineffective.
Tul was the first to react. “They know we’re here now! No need to hold back!” He flew into one Hellcat bouncing it off a boulder; and directed a collimated beam of gravimetric energy at another, destroying it. The Hellcat he had tackled recovered quickly and engaged Tul. Gravimetric energy would now be useless against it as it would have already modified its shields to repel such an attack. Tul would have to destroy it through some other method. It scratched and bit at him as they warily circled each other; each waiting for the other to make a mistake that could be exploited. Tul feigned an attack to distract the Hellcat – then took flight – landing on the Hellcat’s back and tearing its head off.
Rich and Sevilica engaged each of the remaining Hellcats. Their strategy had been honed in simulations of battle with Hellcats during their training at the Nova Corps Academy. They simultaneously tackled one Hellcat and used their energy absorption ability to drain the android of power. They then simultaneously directed the energy they had stored from the Hellcat into a massive focused concussive blast aimed at the remaining Hellcat. The concussion cracked the Hellcat’s armor plating and disrupted its defensive shields; staggering and confusing it. Tul capitalized on this sudden advantage; flying in and shattering the last Hellcat upon impact.
“Good work” begrudged Tul before turning to engage the Skrulls now descending upon the Nova Corps squad. Retreat was not an option. Tul ordered triangular formation as their fighting strategy. Rich and Sevilica immediately closed ranks with Tul; and the Centurions arranged themselves into a triangular fighting unit; each protecting the others back. Their orders from Calvinus Nor were to capture for questioning if possible; and use lethal force only if necessary for defense.
The three Skrulls from the encampment attacked with adamantium bladed weapons as energy weapons were useless against the Corpsmen’s phasic shields; and adamantium projectile weapons would simply invite the Corpsmen to use their energy projection capabilities against their attackers. The Skrulls hoped to use to their advantage the Corps preference for incapacitating and capturing enemies rather than killing them on sight.
Tul engaged the oldest Skrull, apparently the leader. Rich and Sevilica engaged the younger two Skrulls.
Surprisingly, the Skrulls were not very good fighters; and Rich and Sevilica easily dodged their clumsy attacks; landing punches that rendered the Skrulls unconscious. As Rich made to assist Tul, Sevilica held him back; pointing out that his intervention might endanger both Tul and the Skrull commander.
Tul and his assailant were circling each other; engaged in a knife fight. Tul sported a cruel smile. The Skrull was clearly not an accomplished fighter and Tul was toying with him. Tul would rapidly step in, inflict a wound, and step back before the Skrull could react or retaliate. The Skrull was bleeding from several wounds and was clearly near exhaustion; but Tyeverus Tul made a slight mistake and the Skrull was able to inflict a slash wound to Tul’s arm. Tul’s cruel smile turned to cold and bitter rage; and he rapidly stepped in and delivered enough slashes and stabs to incapacitate the Skrull Commander. The Skrull collapsed to his knees, closed his eyes, and began to pray; obviously surrendering to Tul. Tul smirked and stepped behind the Skrull. Before Rich and Sevilica could react, he grabbed the surprised Skrull by the chin, lifted his head, and quickly slit the Skrull’s throat. The Skrull grasped at its throat and writhed on the ground; gasping for air as it slowly and painfully died; drowning in its own fluids at the same time its brain was deprived of life-sustaining blood.
Sevilica and Rich were at first shocked; then outraged. Sevilica was the first to react. “Tyeverus Tul, I am hereby accusing you of war crimes and placing you under arrest for brutal, criminal mistreatment of a prisoner of war; as well as violation of standing orders to capture enemy combatants for interrogation.”
Tul laughed. “Try to make that stick. I used lethal force in self-defense against enemy combatants.”
Sevilica looked at Tul angrily and defiantly. “Rider and I saw what you did; and so will the Worldmind when we get it to read our memories back on Xandar.”
Tul sneered. “Of course. Once again House Dru proves its devotion to the cowardly ways that have brought our people to the brink of extinction. You are loyal to a traitorous and incompetent King and an AI that was meant to be a tool to help forge a Xandarian empire; not the lord and master it has become.”
Sevilica was furious. “House Tul fascist! How dare you insult our King and the Worldmind Hegemony! You will answer for your treason, your arrogance, and your crimes!”
Tul smirked. The Skrull Commander had stopped writhing and lay still and dead. Tul shifted aside the Skrull Commander’s robes to reveal a vest of explosives strapped to its chest. He smirked again as he looked Sevilica straight in the eyes. Sevilica clenched her teeth and set her jaw in frustration and embarrassment as her hands balled into fists.
Tul snarled, “Centurions, stand at attention and learn something about fighting Skrulls today!”
Sevilica and Rich snapped to attention, standing side-by-side as Tul approached them. Tul was deadly furious as he stood directly in front of Sevilica and stared into her eyes, his face so close to hers he was invading her personal space. She stood her ground, staring straight ahead and refusing to cower or flinch.
Tul’s voice was a low and deadly growl. “I was killing Skrulls 800 years before you were born. When your house still had some integrity about it, I fought side-by-side with some of your ancestors and they would be ashamed to call you kin today.” Tul then turned to Rich. “And you, primitive backwater Earth scum, I was fighting Skrulls when your ancestors still believed that your world was flat.” Stepping back, he continued to vent his rage. “What do either of you whelps know of fighting Skrulls? The reason we defeated these Skrulls so easily is that they are not regular Skrull ground troops. Look at their dress. They are Skrull Religious Police! Their only function is hunting religious fugitives that have escaped from their sphere of persecutory influence. They are never taken alive by non-believers. Their commander was not surrendering to me. He was saying his death prayer and preparing to detonate those explosives in an attempt to kill or injure all of us! We don’t need to interrogate them. We just need to find whoever they are hunting for and remove them from this planet.”
Sevilica would not be deterred. “You could have neutralized the threat without killing him. The truth is you were enjoying torturing him with your knife play.”
Tul stepped in front of her again. “Silence House Dru sycophant! You were not given permission to speak.”
Rich noticed that the Skrull he had rendered unconscious had regained consciousness and was groggily reaching for a weapon. He could easily disarm and detain the nearly helpless Skrull and he made to do so. Before Rich could act, Tul, not taking his eyes off Sevilica, drew his sidearm and fired a round into the Skrull’s forehead. The top of the Skrull’s head exploded; and it collapsed and lay still.
Tul sneered at Sevilica and with a voice full of sarcasm said, “I suppose you have a problem with neutralizing that enemy combatant too.”
Before Sevilica could respond, Rich heatedly yelled, “I have a problem with it! I could have stopped him without killing him! Again you acted cruelly and contrary to our orders. I am placing you under arrest.”
Tul reached into his utility belt and pulled out a small device which he activated before returning it to his utility belt. Rich and Sevilica felt their powers ebb.
Sevilica exclaimed, “A quantum link nullifier! Now you resort to illegal technology to sever Rider’s and my link to the Worldmind?”
Tul drew his sidearm and pointed it at Rich. “Both of you are under arrest for insubordination and failure to follow the orders of your commanding officer. Now drop your sidearms to the ground and cuff each other or I will shoot both of you right now.”
Rich and Sevilica reluctantly complied as they stared down the barrel of Tul’s gun.
The remaining Skrull regained consciousness and began to alter its shape into a ground-hugging lizard-like creature in an attempt to scramble away and escape. Tul shot one of the transformed creature’s legs off. As it writhed and screamed in agony, Tul stepped on its tail to prevent it from getting away; and placed the barrel of his gun directly against its head. It stopped trying to get away.
The terrified and traumatized Skrull begged for its life. “Please Centurion. We meant you no harm. We have no part in the war. We were searching for blasphemers against our true god, Kly’bn. Had we found them, we would have destroyed them and left your world. Spare me. Let me go and I will rid your world of the blasphemers and then peacefully leave.”
Tul laughed derisively. “We can rid our world and the universe of your pathetic species on our own.”
“In the name of all the true gods, let me go so I may fulfill my holy mission” begged the Skrull.
Tul was angered. “Your gods are false! Here, let me show you. If your gods are true, let them save you from me.” Tul then shot another of the creature’s legs off and laughed as it screamed in agony. “Where are your gods now?” he yelled as he pointed the gun at the Skrull’s head. The Skrull screamed in terror.
Tul was so distracted that he failed to notice that Rich and Sevilica had used their uniforms’ nanobots to free them from the cuffs restraining their hands. Rich and Sevilica attacked Tul even though he retained his powers and they were still powerless. Rich landed a punch that caused Tul to drop his sidearm; and Sevilica managed to land several blows to Tul before he could recover from their surprise attack. Tul recovered quickly from his surprise. Without powers, Rich and Sevilica could be an annoyance but could inflict precious little damage against a fully powered Centurion such as Tul. Rich tried to keep Tul in a choke hold while Sevilica pummeled his abdomen. Their efforts were to no avail. Tul easily freed himself from Rich’s grasp and landed several blows to Rider’s face and torso, before throwing Rider bodily against a bolder. Rich lay quiet and still, obviously seriously injured. Sevilica pressed the attack, landing several more blows to Tul’s abdomen and face. Her blows caused no damage at all as Tul had retained all his powers.
Tul smiled, “My turn.” Tul pummeled Sevilica’s face and torso before throwing her against a rock outcropping.
Seriously injured with multiple abrasions and contusions, eyes nearly swollen shut, mouth bleeding with teeth broken and cracked; Sevilica leaned against the rock outcropping to keep from falling to the ground.
“Ready to die?” Tul asked her.
She painfully grinned as she gasped for breath; a broken rib having perforated one of her lungs. She pulled Tul’s Quantum Link Nullifier from her utility belt. “Not yet you miserable House Tul bastard.”
Tul realized the attack by Rider and Sevilica had just been a distraction so that they could gain control of the nullifier. Before he could react, Sevilica smashed the nullifier into the rock outcropping. She was relieved to feel the nanobots from her matrix rush to heal and sustain her as Nova Force once again began to flow into her. She hoped Rider had not been killed as she was going to need his help to subdue Tul.
Tul was furious. “House Dru farking schmaug!” he cursed as he recovered his gun and pointed it at her head. Before Tul could fire, Rich flew into him and smashed him against a nearby boulder. Tul was dazed and Rich pressed his advantage, landing several blows to Tul’s face and torso.
Tul was staggered but not defeated. He cursed himself. He had forgotten that the little primitive Earth farker had a Nova Prime matrix implanted in his worthless carcass. The Nova Prime matrix had allowed Rider to quickly recover from what should have been devastating if not fatal injuries. He could see that Sevilica was rapidly healing and he would soon have to contend with her as well. Tul directed a gravimetric pulse at Rider, shooting him out of the air as he flew in to attack. He immediately had to dodge a pulse directed at him from Sevilica. Then Rider was on him, landing two powerful blows to his head in rapid succession before hammering him with simultaneous gravimetric pulses from both hands fired point blank into his torso. Tul was violently thrown back against a cliff from the impact of the pulses; and his upper uniform was shredded. He tried to stand but fell to his knees defeated, burned, bruised, and bleeding.
Sevilica was nearly completely recovered. During the fight she had made an emergency request to the Worldmind for a military tribunal to be convened. Tul looked up to find himself on his knees before the holographically projected avatars of The Worldmind, King Ferenus Dru, Queen Adora Dru, Nova Prime Valt, and mission Commander Calvinus Nor.
The Worldmind rendered the judgment of the tribunal. “Tyeverus Tul. After review of the facts of this case from your memory and the memories of Centurions Dru and Rider, it is the judgment of this tribunal that you are guilty of both war crimes and treason. You are hereby stripped of Nova Corps rank and powers; and remanded into the custody of Centurions Rider and Dru. Your physical body is to be imprisoned in stasis for not less than one hundred years; during which time your personality will undergo rehabilitative treatment in Cyber Prison.” As soon as the Worldmind had rendered its sentence, Tul felt his Nova Matrix reduce to minimal power.
Defiant, Tul snarled, “I do not recognize the authority of a King and an AI that have presided over the near extinction of our species! You trust an alien like Rider with our most powerful weapons! You have even allowed him to join the Nova Corps possessing no less than a Nova Prime matrix lost by your commoner rube of an errand boy, Rhomann Dey! You would like to forget that you granted the Lumphomoid asylum and your misjudgment cost us the destruction of our homeworld! You are weaklings who would rather use diplomacy with aliens than conquer them and impose our will upon them! You are the criminals and the traitors to Xandar, not I!”
King Ferenus shook his head sadly. “Xandar’s days of Empire are long behind us. We have found a better way and once this war is over, we will build a better tomorrow with our Nova Corps as our centerpiece in reaching out to the other species of the galaxies. As you well know, House Dru and the Worldmind were cleared of all negligence in the Lumphomoid affair by an independent council of investigators. But if I truly believed I had been negligent, your condemnation would not be necessary. I would have abdicated the throne. The tragedy that befell our planet could not have been foreseen. The Lumphomoids had always been friendly trading partners and no one could have known that a Lumphomoid could have acquired Celestial technology powerful enough to destroy a planet. Perhaps you will come to see the wisdom of our new ways during your long incarceration.” Then turning his back on Tul; Ferenus turned to Sevilica and Rich who immediately bowed their heads, fell to one knee, and placed their right fists over their hearts in the ancient sign of fealty to Xandar’s King. “Centurions. Today you have performed your duty with distinction. You have appropriately balanced the terrible realities and necessities of war with the laws and customs of our people. I commend you and my commendation will appear in your service records.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty” Sevilica and Rich said together.
Ferenus nodded and smiled in satisfaction as his avatar faded from view along with those of Adora, Valt, Nor, and The Worldmind. The troop ship landed nearby and Fel, Corinus, and Farona disembarked. Fel took Tyeverus Tul into custody. Corinus and Farona reported that they had captured an encampment of Skrull religious fugitives in the forest; and that preparations were being made to move the Skrulls to a non-aligned world where they could worship their Skrull god of peace without fear of persecution.
As Fel was leading Tul to the ship, the Skrull that Tul had tortured, now shape-shifted into the form of a snake-like creature to compensate for the injuries inflicted by Tul, surprised Fel and knocked him off his feet. The Skrull had recovered Tul’s sidearm and stood behind Tul with the sidearm pointed at Tul’s head.
All the Corpsmen aimed their sidearms at the Skrull; and ordered it to drop the weapon. Tul turned to look the Skrull in the eyes and smirked. He deliberately taunted the Skrull. “Your god is false. Only my god, Gamil, the Xandarian god of war, is true.”
The Skrull smirked. “If your god is true, let it save you from me.” The Skrull fired, shattering Tul’s skull. The Centurions all fired at the Skrull and it was shredded from hits by multiple projectiles and gravimetric pulses.
Tul’s body was loaded in the troop ship and everyone boarded for the short journey back to the Xandarian Cluster. The typical post-mission raucous banter was absent on the troop deck, with each Centurion solemnly reflecting on the sad events of the day.
When the troop ship landed on the spacedock, Rich was looking forward to retiring to his bunk at Nova Corps headquarters in the Orienta Shard for some off duty time. Later, he wanted to see if Comet and Crimebuster were back from their scouting mission; and rendezvous with them for some dinner and conversation. As he disembarked, he noticed that Sevilica, Corinus, and Farona were standing outside the ship deep in discussion. Sevilica looked up as Rich passed by the group. “Hey Rider, want to go with us to the alien sector of the Oesta Shard for a little R and R?”
As it was the first time Rich had been invited to socialize with his Xandarian classmates, he readily accepted the invitation. “Sure. Lead the way!”
Sevilica smiled and took flight. Rich, Farona, and Corinus followed. They exited the spacedock and made the short spaceflight to the hub’s airlock. Once inside the hub of the great cluster, they made their way by foot to the entrance to the travel tubes connecting the shards before once again taking flight and intermingling with the air traffic traversing the tubes. In no time they arrived at the Oesta Shard where they took a mag-lev train to the alien sector. The alien sector was a community on the “seedy side” of Oesta City. It was called “the alien sector” as visiting non-Xandarians tended to congregate there for entertainment and “black-market” commerce that was frowned upon by the greater Xandarian society. It was a popular hang-out for young Xandarians as well as military personnel including both regular Xandarian Star Corps military and the elite branch of the Xandarian Star Corps, The Nova Corps. Though loosely patrolled by Star Corps military police, The Worldmind mostly turned a blind eye to the activity in the alien sector; recognizing the need for respecting the customs of other species, the need for black market commerce, and the need for Xandar’s citizens and soldiers to occasionally engage in some unseemly behavior as a means to relax and unwind. Sevilica apparently had a destination in mind as they soon disembarked the mag-lev in a run-down looking station.
The Centurions emerged from the station onto a street lined with ramshackle buildings from which raucous music and shouts could be heard. Street vendors were everywhere selling food, drinks, and anything else someone might be interested in buying. An incredible diversity of species lined the streets, engaging in commerce or looking for entertainment. It reminded Rich of a visit to Tijuana, Mexico he had made with his high school Spanish Class one summer. He couldn’t help but smile as he followed Sevilica down the street, marveling at the sights. Corinus and Farona stopped to haggle with a street vendor. Sevilica stopped in front of a small, dark building and waited for Corinus and Farona to catch up to her and Rich.
Sevilica looked at Rich. “First time here?”
Rich nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been mostly hanging with Comet and Crimebuster in my off-duty hours. We didn’t even know about this place.”
Sevilica laughed. “Best kept non-secret ‘secret’ on Xandar! The powers that be tolerate this sector but there are always those spoil-sports that want to ruin all our fun and jettison it into space.”
Rich laughed. “We have places like this on my planet too.” He quickly added, “Without all the other species of course.”
Sevilica smiled and turned to open the door to the bar as Corinus and Farona arrived. She narrowly missed the bar door hitting her in the face as it burst open and some human-looking people dressed in what looked to Rich like olive drab US Marine Corps uniforms crowded out. “Outta my way bendejos! We’re here for some fun before we go on a bug hunt!” shouted a tough-looking Hispanic woman as she pushed by Farona. Farona clamped her jaw in anger and started after the woman, but Corinus held her back saying, “Let it go. We’re here to have some fun, not get in a fight. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.” Farona relented even though she knew Corinus would not have taken his own advice if it had been him that had been accosted. Sevilica ushered her group into the bar.
The bar was loud, smoky, and crowded; but the four Centurions found an empty table and sat down. Rich removed his helmet and looked around. His group represented the only Nova Corps elite soldiers in the bar; but there were some regular Xandarian Star Corps ground troops and fleet troops; and some Xandarian civilians intermingling with an incredible diversity of other species. He noticed one table of aliens representing several species he had never seen before. The interesting thing was that each wore a green paramilitary-looking uniform with a strange symbol emblazoned across their chest; and each sported a glowing green ring. “So who are they?” he asked Sevilica.
Sevilica shrugged. “No one knows. They visit here sometimes. Some say that visitors from alternate universes come to this bar; but I find that hard to believe. Whoever they are, they mind their own business, drink to their fill, pay their bill, and disappear. As long as you don’t cause any problems, no one asks too many questions here.”
Rich shook his head knowingly as if he understood. Sevilica exhorted Farona to buy the first round of synthahol. Farona got up from the table but had to wait to allow passage by her of a large, human-looking, curly-haired man wearing a long brown coat, a floppy hat, and an extra-long knitted scarf that dragged the floor. Strangely, a human-looking attractive young lady dressed in what appeared to be animal skins rushed after him. The man made eye contact with Rich and Rich swore that he saw recognition in the man’s eyes. The young lady smiled in recognition of Rich and called to the man in perfect British-accented English, “Look! Here’s Centurion Ri-” before the man shushed her in mid-question and said, also in perfect British-accented English, “Quiet my dear, there are laws of time and space that even I will not break” before grabbing her hand and quickly leading her out of the bar.
Sevilica looked at Rich. “Friends of yours?”
Rich was puzzled. “I have never seen them before in my life.”
Farona had craned her neck to check out the animal-skin-wearing young lady’s shapely ass; and so distracted bumped into one of the green-uniformed aliens staggering back to his table carrying a full glass of synthahol. The synthahol flew all over the alien’s uniform, soaking the symbol emblazoned across his chest. Farona was embarrassed. “Pardon me sir. I apologize. Let me buy you a drink and pay for the cleaning of your uniform.”
The green-uniformed alien appeared to have trouble focusing on Farona as he was quite drunk. “So you are one of the famed Nova Corps and you dare accost me in such a disre- dispre- disrespectful manner.” He swayed and nearly fell but Farona caught him and helped steady him. Sevilica, Corinus, and Rich tensed; as did the three remaining at the table of green-uniformed aliens. Rich donned his helmet; noting that his companions had never removed theirs.
The green-uniformed alien was not ready to accept Farona’s apology. Slurring his words, he said “Corpsman, you defiled my uniform and the schymbol of my people and now you must anscher fur it.” He then began to recite a rhyme. “Through blackest – no darkest day – I mean night — Awww fush it — hav