Illustrated by Jim Garrison                    
 

Wolfeye looked up at Her Imperial Majesty, Most Sublime Ruler, The Glorious Empress Marlena of The Great Galactic Empire of Zhamon. Wolfeye had climbed a flight of half a hundred stairs--prodded on by a squad of Imperial guards armed with swords. They were not carrying beamers since The Empress allowed no firearms in her presence.

He now stood on a wide platform which formed a semi-circle around and seven steps below the throne upon which The Empress sat. He looked up at her. She was not at all as she was depicted on holovision. She was about fifty, he guessed. She had aged well, but she was not a beautiful woman. Her dark, piercing eyes gazed down at him.

Though chained and manacled, Wolfeye stood erect before The Empress as the guards went to their knees. He felt the point of a sword in his back.

"On your knees, dog."

"Leave him be," commanded The Empress. "He is an Earth man and a pirate, and knows no better. We will teach him manners later, but right now I want to talk with him."

"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty." The guard went back to his knees.

"You may rise," said The Empress. The guards stood up, but still with heads bowed.

 

"So you are the notorious space pirate, Captain Wolfeye," she said, in a voice almost deep enough to be a man's. "You have preyed upon my ships for too long now. I sent out an entire squadron of twenty ships, with my best intelligence agents, given the sole mission of capturing or killing you. Even then, it took them nearly five years to get you."

Wolfeye returned her steady gaze unflinchingly. "They still would not…"

"Silence!" a guard shouted. "Speak only when The Empress commands you."

Empress Marlena held up her hand. "Let him speak."

"They still would not have caught us if they had not used some infernal device that killed my engines. The device, whatever it was, also rendered our beamers useless." He smiled. "But before they got me, my sword sent a good many of them to meet their gods."

Her face remained passive. "You speak of the null-E beam, recently developed by my scientists," she said. She went on. "My original intention in going to such lengths to have you captured was to personally see you hang. However, a recent event has caused me to change my mind."

Wolfeye noticed a change of expression on her face; he couldn't tell if it was anger or sadness. "My daughter, Princess Ezina has been kidnapped. I want you to rescue her."

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Wolfeye was taken aback. "Me? Why in creation do you choose me for such a mission? Surely you have personnel in your forces who are trained for such tasks. And what makes you think I, a pirate and therefore an enemy of The Crown, would accept such a mission?"

"You are a most resourceful man, Captain Wolfeye. I have been sending my best elite forces out to get you for many years, and you have made them look like fools. Not until we developed the null-E beam were we able to catch you. And I suspect that if you had known about the beam, you would have found a way to evade it."

Wolfeye nodded. "It caught us by surprise, but if only I had known..."

She interrupted. " I have sent a team to rescue Ezina, but they were wiped out. I could send an invasion fleet which could easily capture Mars, the planet where she is being held, but her abductors would kill her. I also cannot pay the ransom for her return, for their demand is outrageous. She is being held by the rebel leader Konivus, who demands that I abdicate the throne and cede all of my territories to him.

"He claims that he will keep me and my daughter under house arrest, where we will be allowed to live a 'life of luxury.' I might be tempted to meet his demands to get my precious daughter back, but if I were to do so, I have no doubt that Konivus would have both me and Ezina beheaded."

 

Wolfeye had dealt with Konivus before, and he knew that the rebel leader was a scurrilous knave, completely without honor. Even though Wolfeye had lived a life of piracy--he and his kind flouted the laws of The Empress--but they were not without honor. The Empress was right in rejecting the rebel leader's demands. She had but two choices: She could give in to Konivus, thus risking the lives of both her and her daughter, or she could sacrifice the life of her daughter to keep her empire.

Obviously, she hoped that he, Wolfeye, would somehow help her to both regain her daughter and to keep her empire. He sensed that he, a lawless pirate, held the upper hand over Her Imperial Majesty, Most Sublime Ruler, The Glorious Empress Marlena of The Great Galactic Empire of Zhamon. And he would take full advantage of this situation to see what he could gain for himself and his crew.

In a face-off with The Empress, Wolfeye was at a disadvantage. The Empress sat above him so that he, as well as anyone who stood before Her Majesty, would have to look up at her. Her throne appeared to be of solid gold, bedecked with emeralds and rubies. Her crown sparkled with encrusted jewels. She wore a silken royal purple robe embroidered with intricate gold and silver designs.

Ordinarily, Wolfeye prided himself on his dashing appearance, but felt disheveled before The Empress. He wore the traditional pirate

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garb: brief shorts of animal skin, and above that a wide belt around his waist with a large gold buckle. A beamer holster on his right hip was attached to a second belt running diagonally across his Herculean chest.. A wide shoulder strap was slung across his right shoulder which supported a scabbard on his left hip. He wore soft leather boots, and a red cloak showed his rank of pirate captain.

Although he was a chained captive, he was determined to present as commanding appearance as possible. He crossed his arms and stood with head high and feet apart. His tall, powerful frame, bronze complexion, and black curly hair reflected his Polynesian heritage. "To rescue Princess Ezina would be an extremely perilous mission," he said. "What would I and my crew have to gain?"

The Empress did not hesitate. "You and your crew will be granted total amnesty for every crime you have ever committed against The Crown." A subtle smile played on her lips. "I realize that you live a rather luxurious life from your piracy, and that you would not be prepared to earn such a lucrative living in honest endeavors."

He admired the empress for her bluntness. In spite of himself, he smiled and bowed.

"Therefore, as further incentive, I will make you governor of Planet Earth, your native world, and bring home the current governor, who is a Zhamonian." She shook her head. "For reasons that I do not understand, Earthlings consider you a hero."

 

Her offer was generous. Had she let him name his payment for such a mission, it would not have been nearly as costly to her. She had made an offer that he couldn't refuse. She must truly love her daughter to give up so much.

"Will you place your Imperial seal on a written agreement witnessed by the Twelve Priests Of The Imperial Galactic Court?"

Again, she did not hesitate. "I will. And will you place your blood oath on the same document?"

He was somewhat taken aback that The Empress knew of this oath of pirates. When a pirate nicks his thumb and presses it against a written agreement, it is a blood oath that cannot be broken.

"I will."

"Then it's settled," she said. "Let me know what you will need to carry out the mission."

"For starters," he said, "I will need your techs to install a teleporter on my ship."

***

Back aboard his ship, The Serpent, he called his crew of a dozen men together.

"You scoundrels are wondering why in tarnation you weren't

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hanged, and why you were allowed to come back to The Serpent. Well, me buckos, I made a deal with The Empress, and we're heading for Mars to free Princess Ezina."

After the uproar caused by his statement died down, Wolfeye explained in detail what had happened, including the payment for this venture. This announcement caused another uproar, only this one was of approval.

"It's gonna be great to settle into a life of luxury and grow fat," said the first mate, Hook, "but I'll miss the times we had chasing down the merchant ships--and being chased by the Imperial navy."

"Not me," said Snake, a crewman. "I'll be too busy with the women and booze to miss anything."

Doc, an ex-medic, spoke up. "Yeah, but it won't be easy to rescue The Princess. Konivus is one tough customer, and he's smart. He's a mean ripper that'll slit your gizzard in an eyeblink. We'll need to be on our toes."

"We're not gonna confront him," said Wolfeye, "we're gonna join him...or at least make him think we are. The word is out that he's recruiting any warm body available into his army, including outlaws, so we should have no trouble. My plan is simple. All you crew members have to do is to turn yourselves over to Konivus and sign up for his force. I've got special plans for myself, which none of you need worry about."

 

"What if he has us make a blood oath?" Said Snake. "And how are we gonna get back to the ship if we're under his control?"

"Konivus has his recruits to sign their name in blood, but it's not the true blood oath of pirates. He draws your blood with a needle, puts it in a pen, then has you sign your name with it. That's binding on Konivus' home world of Mars, but not with pirates. As for getting back to the ship, The Empress was kind enough to lend us a teleporter.

"The teleporter booth is installed in the secret compartment of our ship. The ship will remain in orbit while we're on the ground, and Inspectors are sure to give our ship a thorough going over. Our secret compartment is detection-proof, so they won't be able to find the teleporter.

"A small device, about half the size of your thumbnail, that will stay constantly linked with the teleporter will be issued to each of you. Keep the link on your person at all times, and when the time comes, I'll activate the controlling device--which I'll keep with me--that will teleport all of us back to the ship. As soon as the link touches your skin, it will automatically attune itself to your body. The process will take about ten minutes."

"Cap'n I can implant the link under the skin of each member," said Doc, "and that way they'll be sure not to lose it, even if they get roaring drunk--which they're sure to do."

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Wolfeye chuckled. "Good idea, Doc. I was thinking of hiding it in their earrings, but your way is better."

The meeting ended, and the crew began returning to their duties.

Doc approached Wolfeye. "Do you want your link implanted, Cap'n?"

"No need, Doc. I have mine tucked in a hidden pouch on my belt, along with an extra link for The Princess. The control device is hidden in another belt pouch.

"Aye, Cap'n." Doc turned and left.

"Cap'n, I'm curious," said the first mate. "What's in that crate that you brought aboard? I had it stowed away in the ship's secret compartment as you ordered. Is it a component of the teleporter?"

"I'll tell you and the others what it is when the time comes. But until then, I'm keeping it under wraps. So just forget about it."

***

As the ship approached Mars, Wolfeye had the comm team to send out the truce signal. Moments later Wolfeye established contact with Konivus.

"What do you want, Wolfeye?"

"I've decided to join up with you, Konivus."

 

After a pause, Konivus replied, "Why the sudden decision to join me--and what makes you think I'll accept you?"

"The Empress has half her damn navy after me now. It's becoming less profitable to do business these days. Whether or not you accept me is entirely up to you. But I do think I can be a great asset to you with my knowledge of the Imperial fleet.."

There was a pause of a few seconds. "Very well. I think you know the routine. Leave your ship in orbit, and you and your men come down in a lander. You are to land in an area designated by the port commander. Bring no firearms with you; only swords and knives are permitted. You will be issued beamers when I feel that you are ready."

"Aye, General. We're preparing the lander to come down."

While descending in the lander, Wolfeye noted that the city of Rynn, Konivus' stronghold, was located at the edge a large expanse of hilly plains. To the west a range of mountains rose, and to the south a heavily forested area, where lay the ruins of another large city. Wolfeye guessed that it was the ancient city of Cali, which was built during the early colonization of Mars, right after the terraforming of the planet.

If he had to make a run for it, he thought, Cali would be an ideal place to go. Lots of places for a fugitive to hide.

***

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Wolfeye was met as he stepped from the lander and escorted directly to the headquarters of General Konivus. The crew was taken to the induction center to be sworn in and trained as soldiers in The Rebel Army.

He was led into Konivus' office, and after the two exchanged greetings, he was seated. He noted that the rebel leader, a short, stocky black man, was dressed in a rather flashy uniform sporting five stars on his collar. So, Wolfeye


thought, Konivus had made himself a five-star general. Actually Konivus had served as a colonel in the Imperial Army of The Empress, but after deserting and organizing a rebellion against The Crown, he promoted himself to General.

At the outset, Wolfeye had thoughts about joining the rebels, but

 

knowing Konivus to be a scurrilous scumbag, he decided he'd stick to piracy.

"I've heard much about you, Wolfeye, and I'll confess that I've followed your exploits and have had a dossier made up on you."

That gave Wolfeye pause. Wonder if he knows of my capture--if he does, we're cooked. He grinned. "I had no idea I was so famous. In my profession being famous can be a liability. But at any rate, I feel flattered that the celebrated General Konivus would see fit to keep a dossier on me."

Konivus smiled, showing several gold teeth. "Dossiers are kept on enemies, too, you know." He quickly added, "But such is not the case with you. Wolfeye, I'm having a complete background check made on you. If you pass, I'll make you a squadron commander in my battle fleet.

"The fleet's not battle ready yet, but I expect to have it organized and ready in another six months. The army is growing, and I expect it, too, to be ready in a few more months." "I'm amazed that you've managed to keep the Imperial army at bay while you organize your forces," said Wolfeye.

The rebel leader smiled broadly. "Ah yes. I have an ace in the hole." He rose.

"Come with me. I have a little surprise for you."

He led Wolfeye to his private air skimmer and ordered the pilot to

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take them to "the villa."

As the skimmer was landing, Wolfeye saw that "the villa" was a large country manor located in a clearing inside the forest, not far from the ruins of Cali.

"This is an ideal location," Konivus boasted, "Would-be rescuers would never think to come out here. And if she tried to escape, the beasts of the forest would quickly devour her."

Wolfeye was unaware of any creatures in the forest. "Beasts?"

"Ah yes. The ancient colonizers brought in some creatures from other planets with the idea of using them for sport hunting. Many of the beasts adapted well and since they haven't been hunted for centuries, they have quickly multiplied."

Wolfeye noted a high thick wire mesh fence surrounding the building, probably to keep animals out.

They entered the villa, went through a large reception room, then walked down a hallway until they reached a room with an iron-barred door. An armed guard standing on either side. "This is the guest room," said Konivus, his voice drenched with sarcasm, "where we keep our royal guest."

Wolfeye peered through the bars to see The Princess Ezina. She was watching holovision. She rose and turned to face them. Even in

 
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her drab surroundings she was breathtakingly beautiful. She did not have the rough, rawboned looks of her mother, but she had an exquisite, enticing beauty.

Her features were as those of a Greek goddess, with soft, hazel eyes, a straight nose, and tantalizing lips. Her figure was trim and well-proportioned. Around her hips, below her small waist, she wore a gold-colored wide belt with a heart-shaped, bejeweled buckle. From the belt hung several decorative strips and a slitted skirt of sheer, white material. The same sheer, white material covered her breasts.

She still proudly wore her bejeweled crown: the front piece rising high above her forehead.

He pretended to be surprised. "By the Seven Demons of Vorga! Is this truly Princess Ezina, or some look-alike?"

Konivus laughed loudly. "No look-alike. She's the real princess. And she's the reason I'm able to build up my forces without being hindered by the Imperial Army. It's no secret that The Empress dotes on her daughter, and she knows that if her forces attack her daughter will die."

The princess spoke up. "I hope that she does decide to attack. You may kill me, but I'll die with the satisfaction of knowing that mother will see you hang." In spite of her anger, her voice was soft and

 

almost musical. She looked at Wolfeye. "And I hope that your pirate friend hangs with you."

Konivus scowled. "I'll bet you do. But it won't happen." He turned to Wolfeye. "The Empress sent a team of commandos to rescue her. They were experts. Disguised as maintenance workers, they had searched nearly every place in Rynn where The Princess might be hidden before we finally caught them. They never thought to look out here in the forest.

"I had all of them executed except one, who I sent back to The Empress with a message that we would kill her daughter if she tried such a thing again."

Princess Ezina gave him a look of scorn, then resumed watching the holovision.

"How in creation did you manage to capture her?" Asked Wolfeye."

"It's ironic that I had her captured by a team of my own commandos disguised as servants." He turned to go. "We'd better get back now. You can join me for dinner and then I'll have you shown to your room."

***

A low-ranking officer escorted him to his room. A guard armed with

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a beamer was stationed near his door, and the officer explained the guard was there for his protection.

"Lieutenant, I would like you to relay a request to General Konivus for me. Tell him that if he allows me to keep a beamer that I can better protect my self."

"Very well, sir. I'll call him." The lieutenant went down the hallway, out of hearing range, and called Konivus. Moments later, he returned. "Sorry, sir, but The General says he regrets that this is a rule that must be enforced until a complete background check is accomplished. He expects to have the results on you by tomorrow morning." The officer bid him goodnight and left.

At least he was allowed to keep his sword, but little good it would do against a beamer.

Wolfeye paced the floor of his room, assessing his situation. He would have to be careful about what he did, since his every move was certain to be monitored by hidden holovision cameras. He immediately quit pacing, turned on the holovision, and sat down. Try to act normal.

Konivus would have a complete background check on him by tomorrow morning. If it was a thorough check--and it probably was--it would reveal that he had been captured by Imperial forces and taken before The Empress. He had no choice. He must act quickly.

 

He knew that the two guards outside his door were not there for his protection; they were there to watch him. He must make a plan to escape and then free The Princess. He had no time to make a detailed plan, so he would start with the sketch of a plan and then improvise as he went along. He had no choice, for time was running out.

First, he must deal with the guards, both armed with beamers. He tested the door and found it unlocked. Apparently Konivus didn't want to antagonize Wolfeye. After all, Wolfeye would be a high ranking officer in the rebel leader's forces by tomorrow--or so Konivus expected. He went through the door and approached the nearest guard. "Excuse me, but can you tell me where the bathroom is?"

The guard sneered. "Didn't you see the bathroom in your quarters…" That was as far as he got before Wolfeye's sword pierced his throat. The guard started to yell, but only a gurgling sound came out.

The second guard was already drawing his beamer, but in one smooth motion, Wolfeye drew the beamer from the holster of the first guard, wheeled around and fired.

He ran at top speed toward Konivus' private skimmer. The pilot saw him coming and drew his weapon--but too late. Wolfeye was faster, and the pilot was dead before his beamer cleared the holster.

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He jumped into the skimmer and sped toward the villa. He glanced at his chrono. Only five minutes had passed since he left the room, but by now they had surely seen him exit the room and sounded the alarm. He had given them no reason to connect him with a rescue of the princess, but he took no chances.

He did not approach the villa from the front. Flying in at treetop level to avoid detection, he landed in a small clearing behind the building. The clearing was smaller than he thought, however, and the skimmer brushed against a large tree, landing on its side. The craft was damaged, but luckily Wolfeye was unhurt.

Using the beamer, he burned a hole in the wire mesh fence. He approached the building and found a rear entrance. It was locked, but he again used the beamer to burn the lock He entered and found himself in a large kitchen, which was obviously no longer in use. Wolfeye deduced from this that there was no one in the building except The Princess and her guards.

He made his way through the building searching for the hallway that led to The Princess's cell, holding his beamer at ready. He rounded a corner and found himself in the hallway, but as he did, he spotted three guards standing in front of the cell. They spotted him at the same time, but he gunned them down before they could draw their weapons.

He sped to the cell door to find Ezina staring at him in amazement. "What…who are you? I thought you…"

 

He finished her sentence. "You thought I was the pirate Wolfeye. I am, and your mother sent me here to get you. But I've no time to explain now. Stand away from the door so that I can burn the lock." His first attempt at burning the lock only succeded in fusing the mechanism. The lock was frozen now and wouldn't move. "Damn. I'll have to burn through the bars now." He pressed the stud on the weapon, but nothing happened. He looked at the charge indicator and saw that it was empty.

He picked up one of the guards' beamers and started burning the bars. But the metal was of a tough alloy and difficult to cut. He used two of the guard's beamers and part of a third before he had a space large enough for The Princess to crawl through.

She had no sooner emerged from the cell than two guards rounded the corner. One of them had a blaster. Wolfeye fired, bringing both men down, but the one with the blaster managed to get off a wild shot before falling. The shot hit the thick wall, sending chunks of concrete flying. One small chunk grazed his left shoulder, causing a minor wound.

"You're shoulder is bleeding," she said, "You're hurt."

"Only a scratch," he said. "No need for concern."

He started to holster the beamer, but noticed that the charge was now empty. He discarded the now useless weapon. "Let's get out of here before more guards show up. Follow me."

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He led her through the hole in the rear fence and headed toward the Cali ruins. He looked up to see two skimmers heading toward at the villa. He grabbed her and pulled her out of the open and under the cover of the branches of a tree.

"Sorry, Your Highness. The skimmers might have spotted us."

"You needn't apologize," she said. "I have much to thank you for. And under the circumstances, we can skip formalities. Just call me Ezina."

To his complete amazement, she kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you, Captain Wolfeye" she said. "The news on the holovision always paints you as a demon." She smiled. "That's far from true."

He returned her smile. "Maybe I'm not a demon, but I'm far from being a saint."

They reached Cali, and paused to rest near a pillar of what was once a Greco-Roman style building of fine Martian marble. He handed her the extra teleporter link. "Here, hold onto this and let it attune to your body."

She was surprised. "You have a teleporter?"

"Yes. Your mother loaned it to me. It's on my ship, which is in orbit. After the link attunes to your body, I have the control which can take us--and my crew--back up to the ship." He looked at his chrono. Less than an hour had passed since his escape.

 

"Konivus doesn't know I have a teleporter, but he may have sent warships to destroy my ship anyway. If he has, I have a surprise in store for him. I programmed the ship to change orbit positions shortly after a boarding. His men have probably boarded my ship already to search it, so by now it has changed position. That will give us some extra time while they search for it."

Suddenly Ezina looked up and her eyes widened in fear. Wolfeye followed her gaze to see a huge cat-like animal perched on a ledge about thirty meters away, snarling as it looked down at them. He cursed to himself and drew the sword, his only weapon now.

"It's a koju, most feared animal of the forest," She whispered. "I heard the guards speak of it."

It was huge, about three meters in length. It had smooth, golden fur, and its mouth was more reptillian than cat. Without warning, it leapt, landing on a ledge about twenty meters distant. Damn! The thing cleared ten meters in one jump.

He checked his chrono. Ezina had the link in her possession for only three minutes. It would be another seven minutes before he could teleport them up to the ship. Too much time--the koju could be upon them in a matter of seconds.

Wolfeye looked up to see that the beast was still about twenty meters away. It was looking down at them, and seemed to be sizing them up. It had probably never seen humans before, and was trying to decide if humans were worthy prey. Suddenly it made up its mind.

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After two more leaps it was on a ledge just above them, and tensing its muscles to spring.

Wolfeye held the sword in a position where he hoped to pierce its throat as it fell upon him. But it did not land as he anticipated, and and the sword missed its target. The huge beast was now in front of him. One leap and it would be over. Wolfeye was quick, and his swordsmanship excellent, but he knew he was no match for this powerful, cat-quick beast. "Run, get away as fast as you can," he yelled at Ezina.

But she ignored him, and instead picked up a small rock and hurled it at the creature. It was a small rock, and not much force was behind the throw, but it was enough to distract the koju. It turned to face Ezina, and as it did, Wolfeye struck.

He thrust the sword, aiming at the creature's eye. His aim was

 

perfect. The sharp tip of the sword penetrated the animal's right eye, and Wolfeye's powerful arm drove the sword deep into its brain. A deafening roar came from the beast. It quivered, then dropped and lay still.

They embraced, and she kissed him--this time on the lips. In all his life as a pirate, he had never held a woman before, save for the rough, drunken barflies. He held her gently and returned her kiss, marveling that one so beautiful was attracted to him. His heart speeded up and he felt flush. A new experience for him.

"It would have killed us both," she said, "but you defeated it."

"We defeated it," he answered. "Had the rock not distracted it, it would surely have won."

He pulled the teleporter control from his belt pouch. I hope none of the crew is sitting on the can or in a compromising position, he thought. He chuckled to himself as he activated the control. ***

Back aboard the ship, he quickly yelled out orders. "Greasy, get to the engine room and power up the engines. Prepare for a hasty departure. Windy, man the detection screens and check for approaching warships. Snake, I want you and Bullet to open the crate in the secret compartment.

"You'll find a device called a null-E beam. It's the same device that was used to kill our engines and beamers when we were captured. Remove cannon beamer number two and replace it with the null-E beam and stand prepared to man it. No problem to operate, it works

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just like a cannon beamer, but with a greater range. Focus the beam on a ship for only two seconds and its power will be out for thirty minutes or more."

"So that's the device you were keeping under wraps," said Hook.

"Yes, and I gave my word to The Empress that I would not reveal its true nature until ready for use."

Wolfeye's communicator buzzed. "Cap'n this is Windy. I've got four ships on the screen closing in fast. They're coming from the direction of Mars." Snake broke in. "I've picked 'em up, Cap'n, and locked on."

"Good. Fire the null-E and kill their engines." Then to the engine room. "Greasy, full speed ahead to Zhamon."

Ezina was seated next to the captain's chair. She reached over and took his hand. Governor Wolfeye, I plan on making a lot of trips to Planet Earth. Perhaps Mother will later make you a duke…then, who knows?"

He squeezed her hand and winked.

The End

 

Donald Sullivan has his own online magazine at SULLIVAN'S SHORT STORIES