Welcome To Earth
Written by M. Hadley
It came from amongst the stars, a hulking, massive thing that stalked its prey across innumerable parsecs. Sleek and spherical in design, the immense silver and red object slowly drew near the third planet of the Sol System ever so leisurely, ever so threateningly, ever so cautiously. From the front it resembled a human eye with a piercing laser-red iris and several rusty gray tentacles that dragged numerous miles behind it. Silent jets of white steam erupted around the iris, halting its momentum just above Earth’s highest orbit. It could progress no further.
Before it was a deadly cloud of discarded satellites, spent rocket stages, and other defunct pieces of human space technology, forming a makeshift barrier around the planet. If the artificial intelligence guiding the eye was advanced enough, it would have guffawed. This was a tapestry of how primitive the Earthlings really were. On the planet of its origin, Oya, rocket travel was literally ancient history, quickly replaced by zero energy-powered engines and warp gates that enabled interstellar travel. In fact, Oya’s orbit had been cleared of space debris many centuries before, and its natural resources replicated and replenished. This was in stark contrast to the human race, too busy opposing each other over such meaningless things as skin color to actually solve their problems.
Of course, that was the extent of what the intelligence could “think”; the rest of its duties relied solely on programming. With no sound, tiny portals slid open clockwise along the body of the “eye”, releasing fleets of miniscule duplicates. Like tiny tadpoles in a pond, the weightless eyes wiggled their way downward through layers of space debris, until they arrived near the various communication, weather, observation, and television satellites that orbited closer to Earth. Making straight beelines to them, the tiny eyes adhered to the assorted surfaces of the satellites, sprouting a vertical line of spikes to hold them in place. Like sentient marbles, the eyes rolled about the surfaces of the satellites until they found the various control centers of the devices. Suddenly, in unison, the tiny eyes began to pulse rhythmically, before thick infinitesimal tentacles erupt from their bodies, resembling black, uncontrollable plant growth. These bizarre living cords connected to and seized control of the command centers.
When each tiny eye succeeded, its iris changed from blood red to ice blue. Above the field of space debris, the giant eye loomed, its red iris mirroring its miniature counterparts. Thanks to the human satellites, it was able to create a net of information around the Earth, narrowing down its prey’s whereabouts. While absorbing various streams of data, the eyes simultaneously broadcasted false information and erased any indications of their arrival.
The last thing needed was human intervention.
Bizarre weather patterns. Strange calls to the local purveyors of the law. Military alarms of foul play. These were some of the signifiers the intelligence was searching for. Alien invasion. Spaceship. Female humanoids in strange costumes. These were some of the words that would initiate the second phase of the program.
A weather satellite above Tennessee picked up a strange phenomenon five minutes before the eye’s arrival.
The tiny “eye” controlling that satellite retroactively erased the data. Above the metal debris barrier, the icy blue iris of the giant eye turned black as void. Slowly it opened lengthwise, like a clamshell, revealing a silvery humanoid lying inside, curled in the fetal position. The figure was motionless, and only moved when it exploded forward towards the Earth’s surface in a blaze of silent blue fire. Projected onward with extraordinary speed, the silvery thing was a glittering bullet, carving a path through the space junkyard with the ease of a red-hot knife through butter. A floating old satellite was unfortunately rendered slivers as it strayed into the thing’s path. Likewise, a discarded rocket booster was punctured, engulfing the silvery egg in a terrific explosion. However, thanks to the near invisible force field protecting it, the silvery object continued undeterred on its voyage towards the blue planet.
The tiny “eyes” controlling Earth’s satellites retroactively erased the explosion from all databanks. While there was the idea that some humans could have witnessed it on the surface, the giant eye’s artificial intelligence did not foresee a problem. After all, besides their petty squabbles, humankind was among the most skeptical and self-centered people in the cosmos.
They still thought they were alone in the universe.
They were alone in the universe.
It was that horrifying thought that brought her screaming back into consciousness. Or she would have screamed, if her vocal cords were not frozen from the shock of impact. As her turquoise eyes snapped opened, the first image that greeted her was a flickering, one-inch tall holographic woman on the white pilot console. Dressed only in elegant white robes, the beautiful ethereal creature was doubled over in pain, near collapse. A typical Viragon design aesthetic, she was the humanoid representation of the spacecraft; if she was dying, the ship was of no further use.
With a shake of her head, causing her long, shimmering silver ringlets to fly about, Oya Planetary Protector Crystal Century struggled to regain her bearings. Her body and mind seem to move on one accord, with one single word dominating their actions.
Her body had been covered up to her neck in a thick clear gel, deployed by vents in the cramped oval chamber to protect her from the impact of the crash. Frantically, she tried moving her slender arms through the transparent muck as it leisurely drained. However, it was useless; it was as if her body was in freeze-frame, moving only half an inch at a time.
She did not know how much they had, because it all depended on their insignificance. Were she and her partner considered actual threats to her? Before their mission went south, before she even became a Planetary Protector, she, like all of her Viragon sisters, believed in two constants. The first was that the Viragon race was an invincible people, the warrior elite; the “Space Amazons” respected and feared by many a galactic civilization. The other was that she…the Chaos Queen, the Obsidian Curse, the Commander of the malevolent Silver Horde…was nothing more than myth, a boogeyman crafted by Viragon mothers to frighten wayward daughters.
Sadly, both firmly held beliefs were shattered in the span between heartbeats. Investigating a planetoid that had idly drifted into orbit around Oya, Crystal and her fellow Protectors expected to encounter anything, from the reptilian fighters of Zyr to the armored jellyfish of Dimension T. Never, in all the millennia, did they expect to find the denizens of their childhood nightmares onboard, with an all too- real vendetta against the Grandmother Council and the Queenmega, the ruler of the Viragon Empire.
She squeezed her eyes shut, the screams of her fallen comrades assaulting her mind mercilessly. They never stood a chance. The Silver Horde was just as terrible, swift, relentless, and vicious as their legends dictated. Even with all of the skills and talent at their command, the group crumbled and fell like old columns. While each of her teammates was dragged kicking and screaming into the darkness, she herself was drawn a little closer to the brink of madness. If it was not for Ishtar-
“Ishtar?” she croaked, her throat parched, her voice tinged with worry. The level of gel had gradually drained to her knees by this time, letting her quickly rise to her feet and stoop slightly below the low ceiling. The ship’s bridge, although very old, was like that of all other Viragon spacecraft, small and circular in design. The pilot’s chamber and the co-pilot’s chamber were each separate and self-contained. They sat back-to-back, each with their own instrumentation in glowing multi-colored consoles. As Crystal whirled behind to face her partner, the holographic woman on her console fell down dead, suddenly plunging the bridge into darkness.
“Ishtar?!” she cried out in the black, now very anxious. What if the gel had not been released in her chamber? The ship was very abandoned when they had found it in the lonely bowels of the planetoid. It was astounding (and Goddess-sent) that the rust-bucket worked, and even more astounding that it was space worthy. But what was most astounding was that it could transverse the warp gates; initially, archaic ships, not built for the stress of faster-than-light travel, would shatter into atoms at any attempt at entry. But thankfully, for some reason, they were still alive and even able to make it to the Earth’s surface in one piece.
In truth, the great risk would have been unwarranted if their homeworld would have simply listened. While escaping the horrid place, Crystal had sent simultaneous emergency transmissions to Protector’s Citadel (Planetary Protectors’ HQ), the Grandmother Council, and the Queenmega. She told them that their greatest enemy not only existed, but had returned to attack their beloved planet. She begged them to hold a crisis summit, and to assemble all the other Planetary Protectors as a first line of defense against the threat. She gave them the coordinates of the planetoid, and implored them to bomb it into oblivion.
The responding transmission was a jumbled collection of laughter, scolding, and threats of discharge from Protector duty.
Crystal and Ishtar could only listen in barely muted horror when they were told that the very maniac they had just escaped from… was simply a figment of their imagination.
They were also told that upon arrival on Oya, they would be escorted to the Psychiatric Temple for mental reprogramming.
“Ishtar…please…” Crystal said, her voice wavering. The very thought of being alone, the only Viragon on a barbaric frontier planet, frightened her even more than the Silver Horde. Blindly, she reached towards the co-pilot’s seat, groping about to touch her partner.
“Crystal, wait!” a tiny, high-pitched female voice suddenly shouted. A multi-colored orb suddenly lit up a few inches before Crystal’s eyes, washing the interior of the small bridge in dazzling colorful light. Upon closer inspection, the young warrior could make out a tiny, but well-developed female body with glowing butterfly-like wings.
“Neith!” the Protector squealed joyfully, leaning over to kiss the floating miniscule woman with her green-hued lips. How could she forget Neith? How could she forget the one person even more important than Ishtar? A Symbiotic Fairy from Oya, she and Crystal shared a very close bond, thanks to Crystal’s Orgone Factor. A unique genetic feature of most Viragons, the Orgone Factor bestowed strange talents and abilities to individuals. It once served as the greatest asset of the “Space Amazons”, in times past as galactic conquerors. But now, in modern society, Viragons with the Orgone Factor often joined the Planetary Protectors, their world’s champions of justice.
“Come on, I think she’s asleep!” Neith said shrilly, fluttering over to where Ishtar was. Quickly, Crystal scrambled over the pilot’s seat, and through the small bell-like opening between the two chambers. Cautiously, she stepped over Ishtar’s head, climbed down, and gently landed between her spread legs. For a minute, the Protector was paralyzed, spellbound by her partner’s beauty and serenity. Ishtar lay asleep in the co-pilot chair, oblivious to the dire situation. Her head was slightly tilted to the right with her shimmering purple domino mask skewed in the same direction, cushioned by her lengthily emerald tresses. Her well-defined bosom rose and fell gently, stretching the fabric of her skimpy purple halter top. The ubiquitous chain, made by Crystal from silver meteorites, glowed as it dangled above her undulating chest.
Crystal could do nothing but chuckle as she brushed a wayward green strand from Ishtar’s brown face. It was an uneasy chuckle, a titter of realization; she had been wired for so long that the present calmness was nearly disorienting.
“Crystal…we need to do something!” Neith startled her larger companion from her thoughts. “Someone native might come…and they might not be friendly.”
“Right.” Crystal agreed with a curt nod. She had forgotten that Neith had a huge stake in the present undertaking as well, if not greater. Just like the two Protectors, the fairy had abandoned her home, thrown caution to the wind, and embraced the idea of an archaic Earth’s assistance. However, unlike them, she was not human-looking, or even human-size; she could not eat any Earth material or exist for long in Earth’s atmosphere. Her entire survival depended on returning to Oya.
“Close your eyes.” Crystal ordered, her jade lips pressed in a grave line.
“Oh!” Neith exclaimed bashfully, covering her tiny eyes with her hands.
Placing her left hand on the co-pilot’s armrest to steady herself, Crystal took her right hand and grasped Ishtar’s chin tenderly, positioning her face forward. Then, she leaned forward to her partner’s face, initially brushing her inviting lips with her own, before enveloping them in a kiss. Ensnared in the pinnacle of romance’s touch, time lost meaning for the Protector. She did not know how long it took before Ishtar responded to it, or when their arms and bodies intertwined with each other. But soon, reality regained definition. Ishtar pulled back reluctantly from the kiss, licking her own ruby lips seductively, her light brown eyes a mixture of mirth and mischievousness.
“How can I deserve such splendor from the Goddess?” She said joyfully. “I wasn’t that good a Viragon…”
“What are you talking about?” Crystal whispered softly, sneaking another peck on her companion’s lips.
“The Celebration Realm of the Goddess?” Ishtar beamed. “Our Essences made it in.”
“Ishtar…” Crystal started.
“Can I open my eyes, now?” Neith asked warily.
“Aw! Little Neith made it in as well!” Ishtar grinned at the floating glowing fairy with a thumbs-up sign. “Even though I thought the Fairies had their own little Afterworld…”
“Ishtar, there-” Crystal started again.
“Actually, no.” Neith interrupted, still covering her eyes. “We are simply reborn in new bodies…we have forever souls…infinite as stars!”
“Alright, there’s-” Crystal tried again.
“That’s so propagandist, obviously!” Ishtar chuckled. “If you’re supposed to be all ‘infinite star forever souls’, then why are you here? Are you saying the ‘Afterlife Officials’ shuffled you off the mortal coil to the wrong address?”
“It’s not propaganda!” Neith squealed, peeking through her fingers cautiously. “It’s true…really, it’s in the Great Fairy Tomes!”
“Ishtar …you’re not-” Crystal tried to explain.
“Arguing is useless, fairy.” Ishtar shook her head firmly, her green bangs bouncing. “You are here. Your body is back on the other side. Your soul is here. End of story.”
Crystal opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. As Neith dropped her little arms to her sides, the two of them exchanged stunned glances in silence, not knowing what to do next.
After a few Earth minutes of uneasy quiet, Ishtar bowed her head with a defeated sigh, staring at her clasped hands in her lap.
“It wouldn’t last. Pretending.” She said quietly. “I’m not incompetent. I know where we are.”
As the admittance left her lips, the images flooded her mind’s eye frenziedly, horrible memories of color that would not stay buried. Blue was that of the Horde’s terrible weapon, the Neuro-Lancers, which stole the very control from your body. Gold was the villain’s gruesome throne room, with its crystal floor doubling as the ceiling to hundreds of defeated female warriors’ cells. Brown was the skin of the captured Viragon slaves that made up the Chaos Queen’s living, screaming, squirming throne. And Red? Red was the most haunting of them all.
Red was the talons that could easily shred Oya’s strongest metals. Red was the breastplate that could withstand the most potent of attacks. Red was the headdress that shielded ivory inhuman eyes of inescapable fury.
Red was the Nameless.
“Ishtar! Get a grip!”
Ishtar blinked her eyes frantically within the slits of her mask, not realizing where she was for a moment. “What?”
“You started trembling…and spaced out…” Crystal said calmly, kneeling between Ishtar’s legs and staring up into her eyes. “You’re still in shock. Calm down. Breathe. We’re going to get help. We’re on Earth. In the Sol System. Milkyway Galaxy.”
“Oh, Goddess!!” Ishtar gasped, tears suddenly overflowing her eyes. Relief of having escaped, survivor’s guilt, apprehension of new surroundings and culture shock…the concoction of emotions hit her like a colossal tidal wave. Gently squeezing Ishtar’s left gloved hand, Crystal kissed the back of it and caressed it gently. At this rubicon, she needed her partner more than anything.
“Look at me…crying like an Earth woman. How appropriate.” Ishtar tearfully reprimanded herself. “I’m so weak! Not fit to be a Protector…”
“It doesn’t matter-” Crystal wiped the tear streaks from her partner’s face with her thumbs.
“Curse it, Crystal! We have a reputation to uphold, to be proud Viragons…the Warrior Elite. Warriors…don’t cry! They don’t feel anything…”
“Sentient beings feel.” Crystal told her sympathetically. “Emotions mean we’re alive. Don’t believe in that traditionalist drivel.”
Ishtar parted her lips to reply, and then closed them. Wrapping her arms around Ishtar’s waist, the silver-haired Crystal laid her head in her partner’s lap, serenely closing her eyes. Fighting to contain her tears, Ishtar brushed Crystal’ hair away from her face, kissed her on the cheek, and laid her own forehead on that of her lover’s.
“I haven’t forgotten about you, Neith.” Crystal said softly. “Come here.”
The glowing fairy solemnly obeyed, floating down and landing softly on Ishtar’s bare leg, before Crystal’s face.
“Our planet might have abandoned us, but the Goddess never will.” The silver-haired warrior told them. “So from here on out, we are in her care. She is our guiding star now. Agreed?”
“Yes.” Her companions said solemnly.
“Let’s meet the locals.” Crystal rose from Ishtar’s lap and stood to full height, blindly feeling about the ceiling for a switch to open the bridge’s ceiling exit.
“You’ll have to stay out of sight, Neith.” Ishtar said sadly. “We don’t know how the humans will react to you-”
“She doesn’t have to.” Crystal interjected. “She’ll be fine…it’s just what we need-”
“These…humans are dangerous creatures, Cry!” Ishtar argued. “They…they fear what they don’t understand. And this being a frontier world…they don’t understand a lot!”
“The stranger, the better is what I’m saying.” Crystal gritted her teeth in frustration, her search for the switch increasing in desperation.
“Are you…wait an Earth cycle…” Ishtar’s eyes widened in realization. “This old standby had shields on it when we left…there. So, how did we crash?”
“That damn button is somewhere…” Crystal growled impatiently. “Hey, Neith…light it up for me!”
“Alright.” The fairy replied, glowing brighter as she flew up to where Crystal’s hands were.
“You heard me, Century!” Ishtar snarled, furrowing her brow and pressing her lips tightly together. “How did we crash?”
“Ah! Thanks, Neith!” Crystal cheered, successful in her search. Pressing the tiny white button above her head, she waited. A loud hissing, followed by a deep mechanical whirring, heralded the opening of the escape portal. The entire roof was suddenly thrust upward, and slid to the side, giving the otherworldly visitors their first unforgettable Earthly sight.
“Goddess…” Ishtar halted in mid-rant, awestruck by the glowing silver orb in the inky night sky. “I…I can’t fathom the words to say right now…”
“So they have one moon.” Crystal waved her off. “Oya has eight…”
“We have to appreciate beauty…no matter where we are.” Ishtar said quietly.
“Even back in that hell we escaped?” Crystal’s nostrils flared. “Was there beauty there?”
“Stop being such a joy-stealer!” Ishtar snapped.
Crystal glared down at her partner before looking away, exhaling deeply. “I…I just don’t want you to be distracted, that’s all. This is a mission-”
“Ha!” Ishtar snapped sarcastically, crossing her arms over her bosom in the slivers of moonlight. “Mission. I don’t do missions for those old maids anymore. And the Queenmega…I hope she gets captured…I hope so much…”
“What happen to all that posturing about being ‘warrior elite’ and ‘Viragon’?” Crystal prodded, holding her index and thumb before her face in a pinching motion.
“I…I don’t know…” Ishtar admitted in a beaten tone, bowing her head sadly. “I mean…we’re ‘swordfighting by heart’ now, aren’t we? Making it up as we go along. How do we approach the leaders of this world? Are we representatives of the Viragon Empire…or simply refugees?”
“Come on, Neith.” Crystal said, calling her fairy partner, who had retreated to the lowest depths of the co-pilot chamber to escape the inflowing atmosphere. A pulsating glow erupted from around Ishtar’s feet as Neith quickly emerged, her hands tightly clasped over her little mouth. Rocketing to Crystal’s face, she waited anxiously as the warrior widened the gap between her finger and thumb, creating a transparent oval in the process. When it was Neith’s size, the tiny woman quickly stepped inside the orb, sighing in relief as a self-contained Oya-like atmosphere was created around her.
“Thank you!” she shrieked cheerfully, buzzing about Crystal’s head like an overeager firefly.
“Of course, little one.” Crystal smiled slightly, before outstretching a hand towards her sitting lover.
“I don’t appreciate being considered whimsical.” Ishtar sniffed haughtily, frowning and looking away.
“Excuse me?” Crystal raised a silver eyebrow.
“Even after all this time…” Ishtar sighed. “All the years we’ve been together…and you still consider me a spoiled princess. It will always be the inevitable clash of classes between us.”
“I don’t think this is the time…” Crystal trailed off, rapidly glancing up at the night sky and back down at Ishtar’s masked visage.
“All I said was ‘Earth’s moon was beautiful’-”
“You’re doing it now!” Crystal snapped mildly. “Being ‘whimsical’ in a time of action. To answer one of your questions…we are escapees from the Horde. No Viragon Empire, no Oya. We don’t want to look like an alien invasion, and the very fact we look like them would probably fuel their overwhelming paranoia even more. We’ll meet with the leaders of the Earth Council-”
“There is no ‘Earth Council’, remember?” Ishtar replied. “The humans are too immature for such a concept. They’re still too busy fighting over land boundaries and other crazy things…”
“Like?” Neith floated down to Ishtar’s eye level.
“Religion.” Ishtar counted on her gloved fingers. “Skin color. Politics. Leisure time. Monetary gain.”
“Goddess…” Crystal rubbed her forehead, visually irritated. “And we need a united planetary force to fight Her. So where in the Dark Realms are we, ‘Tar?”
“If I remember my Interplanetary Studies…” Ishtar solemnly closed her eyes behind the slits of her mask. “I…don’t know.”
“What?!” Crystal exclaimed.
“Well, if…I don’t know, the ship was working, it would’ve been a simple matter for the instrumentation to pinpoint our position. But, since someone crashed the thing-”
“I had good reasons to!” Crystal retorted. “One, I wanted to make as much ‘noise’ in the least amount of time as possib-”
“Wait, you want the humans to find out about us this way?!” Neith squealed fearfully. “You realize calling them barbarians is an intergalactic in-joke, right? These madmen specialize in creating weaponized doom!!”
“Yes, I’m with the fairy.” Ishtar shook her head shamefully at her partner. “We took the same classes in Academy…I’m sure we studied the concept of ‘Fatman and Little Boy’ many times.”
The Silver-Haired Warrior said nothing, fearing that the anger and irritation building within her would explode. Narrowing her eyes in a glare towards her lover, her glowing green platform sandal thundered as she slammed it down on the seat between Ishtar’s well-defined legs. The other Viragon instinctively let loose a startled gasp, returning Crystal’s glower with one of her own. Sniffing in annoyance, Crystal pushed off with her foot, leaping spectacularly in the air. For mere seconds, Earth’s gravity relinquished its hold on her lithe form, letting her rise from within the ship and land on one of the transparent wings with the grace of a feather.
“Crystal! I’m sorry!” Neith squealed, leaving a stream of multi-colored light as she flew out of the ship’s exit.
“Don’t you see I had no other choice?!” Crystal whirled around to face her, her voice echoing in the moonlit night. “Where were we to go? You think the Lagonians, or the Plethors…you think ANY of our neighbors would help US?! We’re the Viragons, the ‘Space Amazons’…the most hated race in all the known galaxies. Except here. Except here, where they don’t know us. They don’t know anyone. Here…where ‘aliens’ don’t even exist…”
She trailed off, staring at the massive path of destruction wrought by her crashed interstellar vehicle. It stretched behind for miles into the darkened horizon, highlighted by large columns of black smoke that billowed into the starlit night sky, and waves of giant trees that lay on their sides. The length of the crash had escaped her memories. She could only remember the one sensation of being tossed about the pilot seat, and then blackness.
She felt lean, dark-skinned arms wrap around her waist, and a head, cushioned by soft, long tresses, lay against her bare upper back.
“Go on.” Ishtar whispered, her hands gradually sliding up and down Crystal’s toned abdomen.
“‘Go on’?” Crystal spat softly, resisting the urge to shrug her partner off.
“You damn fool.” Ishtar chuckled. “I’ve followed you from the courts of my kingdom, through the Academy, into the duties of a Planetary Protector. I took up this identity, this mask, for you. You’re not going to get rid of me that easily.”
“You sounded pretty damn convincing.”
“I want you unshakable in your beliefs.” Ishtar pressed her lips to her lover’s shoulder. “When you’re indomitable, I am. Neith is. So continue. What is the other reasons you-”
Before she could finish, Crystal sprung forward elegantly, her lengthily silver tresses fluttering behind her like a small cape. She landed neatly a few feet away from the ship, and suddenly took off in a dead run into the darkened forest.
“Cry!” Ishtar and Neith screamed in unison. Leaping after her, the emerald-haired Viragon raced after her comrade, with Neith fluttering directly behind. After a few minutes of silent darkness, the two Earth newcomers found themselves lost within the forest. Even the moonlight was not allowed to venture here, blocked by numerous thick clusters of twisted branches that hung overhead.
“Goddess!” Ishtar hissed, trying to regain her bearings. Had Crystal Century abandoned them on this desolate border world? She stymied the very thought out of sheer desperation. No. She could not fall apart now. For her sake, for precious Neith’s sake…she had to remain strong, to continue the mission.
“Neith-” she began, before she heard a whisper, someone calling her name. A few feet from her, she saw a pair of neon green wristbands sparkle in the darkness, followed by a pair of glowing green platform sandals.
“We had to get away from the ship before I could continue.” Floating green glowing lips told them. “I’m sorry.”
“Crystal!” Neith growled, zooming about Crystal’s head, illuminating her gorgeous face. “I should pound you into the-”
“She said she was sorry, little one.” Ishtar dashed zealously up to Crystal, staring into her eyes. “So? What’s the rest of the plan?”
“The second reason I crashed the ship…” Crystal bowed her head slightly. “I…I wanted to make it look as if we did not make it. As if we perished in the crash.”
“But wouldn’t our bodies need to be in the ship for that to work?” Ishtar pointed out anxiously.
“I was hoping it did not get that far.” Crystal turned and walked a few steps, nervously fidgeting with her thumbs. “If the Nameless had sent something after us…the crashed vessel should’ve been enough to avert her search. I mean, we’re just two…lowly Viragons, right? And a Symbiotic Fairy. On an isolated frontier world. Too much effort, right?”
“I tried that earlier, remember?!” Ishtar strode over and whirled Crystal around to face her. “Deluding yourself isn’t going to work! You’re one of, if not the highest ranking Protector on Oya, remember? And me? Secretly Princess of the Anansi Kingdom! Any of our enemies would want a piece of us…we’re living symbols of Oya’s prosperity… pieces of Oya’s heart and soul! One of us go, and it’s a major blow to Viragon morale!”
“She’s not going to send anything.” Crystal waved her off, biting on her thumb anxiously as she paced around.
“But, you know what’s the real gist of the tale is?” Ishtar kept in step with her, her apprehensive gaze unwavering. “The Nameless and her Silver Horde…they don’t care about our ranks. They want us. They want Viragons…any Viragon. Just like in the damn legends. They want to punish us, to make us suffer…for something we had nothing to do with! Do you know what this means? The legends and folklore…they weren’t just stories for entertainment-”
“They were instruction manuals. Warnings.” Crystal finished, her lower lip trembling as she halted in her tracks. “History. So. You’ve just added a countdown to our mission.”
“I’m hoping to add some confidence to you.” Ishtar placed her hands on Crystal’s shoulders. “There are cracks in my boulder, and I don’t need it crumbling to pieces.”
“That’s what I love about you.” Crystal sighed softly, staring longingly into her partner’s eyes. “I don’t have to wear the ‘Oya’s Greatest Warrior’ face. You’ve never came to me with your hands outstretched for anything.”
“My silver spoon has never left me.” Ishtar shrugged.
“Meaning?” Crystal cocked her head to the side, a bewildered look on her face.
“Meaning I’ve worn silk slippers since I was an infant, slept in the softest beds, and have had former bodyguards of the Queenmega herself as my babysitters. Even on our evolved planet, I am…was one of the social elite-”
“There’s a point in there?” Neith asked.
“What I mean to say, little one…” the masked Viragon threw her a dangerous glare. “Is that I’m no typical Viragon. Until I left those polish floors, the nightly feasts, and the limitless credits, I was ignorant of the average life…the life of wanting…of need. Those words did not enter my vocabulary until my twenty-fourth Oya cycle.”
“So you’re saying that credits can buy everything?” Neith’s tiny face fixed on Ishtar’s with a blank stare.
“She’s saying that being rich, she’s not all awestruck like the rest by me being ‘Oya’s Greatest Warrior’.” Crystal interjected, her attention intensely focused on her left emerald wrist bracelet. A holographic, three-dimensional map of the wooded area slowly materialized before her glistening eyes. Scarcely seconds later, a road appeared on the map, with an audible bleep announcing a representation of a long Earth vehicle traveling down it.
“Thank the Goddess…” the Silver-Haired Warrior wiped her eyes with her right arm and barely hid a smile. “I knew it.”
“Cry…” Ishtar trailed off, exchanging confused glances with the Symbiotic Fairy.
“We have sisters here.” Crystal could contain her excitement no longer. “Don’t you see? I just sent out a Savior Pulse with my bracelet, and someone responded! Someone very close!”
“No. No.” Ishtar shook her head. “How can there be Viragons on this planet, Cry?! So far away from the Empire-”
“Did you bump your head in the crash, Princess?” Crystal snapped. “They’re obviously Seedlings! It’s not like the Empire retrieved all of their agents back in the Expansion Era!”
The thought of encountering Seedlings, fanatical throwbacks to the time when the “Space Amazons” desired to conquer all of space, made the masked Viragon even more nervous. “Wouldn’t this warrior be nearly one hundred and fifty Oya cycles?” she asked anxiously. “How can one whose age rivals that of a Grandmother help us in this endeavor?”
“I don’t have all the answers, love.” Crystal admitted in a frustrated tone. “But we can’t squander options. Oya is being besieged by the Silver Horde. We have little time to waste in gathering allies and returning to free our sisters.”
“Besides, maybe the Seedling has an offspring-” Neith interjected before Ishtar whirled around and cut her off with a harsh stare.
“Inconceivable!” the masked Viragon snarled shrilly, her eyes blazing fire. “If she was true Viragon, she cannot reproduce without approval from the Matriarchs! And how can something be born from a union of Viragon and Earther…what a horrible, nightmarish creature that would be!”
So frightened was the little fairy at her companion’s reaction that she flew behind Crystal and hid trembling in her silvery locks. The multi-colored glow from her tiny trembling body caused a rainbow halo to radiate from her larger friend’s head.
“Be that as it may…” Crystal turned and began to walk deeper into the forest. “I welcome the help of monsters right now…human, half-breed, or otherwise.”
“Cry…” Ishtar’s gaze lingered for seconds on her lover’s retreating form before she followed. “Hold on. Where are we going?”
“Following the signal.” Crystal called over her shoulder. “If the Seedling followed her duties, she would have infiltrated some high position in the Earth Council-”
“You mean one of the Earth governments.” Ishtar corrected her.
Crystal nodded, pressing her lips tightly together in a line. “There will be a lot of lying involved.”
“How?” Neith flew out of Crystal’s hair and hovered around her left ear.
“We will have to convince her to reveal herself to her Earth compatriots, without revealing to her that…that the Empire had moved on, and had forgotten about her. That her mission, possibly the reason for her whole existence…was for nothing. Then…we have to convince the Earth to help us somehow…without them knowing that we were originally going to invade it.”
The extraterrestrial trio was silent as they continued to trudge through the shadow-drenched forest, each mentally lamenting the present uncertainty of their situation. None wanted to admit the seemingly pointlessness of their actions. Even if they managed the insurmountable odds of winning Earth to their side in the conflict, and even free Oya from the clutches of the Nameless, would they be accepted as Viragons once again? Would they even see their friends and family one more time?
Crystal Century mentally wrestled these thoughts into submission, and regained the single-mindedness that had served her well as Oya’s supreme Protector. Even without the support of the Queenmega and the Grandmother Council, this was a mission…a mission to regain her home from living nightmares.
Of course, the single-mindedness was a double-edged sword. She cursed herself for not realizing sooner.
From her academic studies, she had some working knowledge on Earth, including the strange animals that lived in the various “wilds” across the planet.
The forest was too quiet.
She came to a stop and glanced about frantically, her enhanced Viragon senses searching for anything out of the ordinary.
“Cry?” Ishtar whispered, whirling around back-to-back with her lover and mirroring her, inspecting where they had came from.
The Silver-Haired Warrior suddenly twirled around and shoved Ishtar, causing the emerald-tressed Viragon to fall to the ground. As the masked female landed in the dirt, her head snapped towards Crystal, her eyes wide in astonishment, her lips parting in the throes of protest. But her angry words stuck fast in her throat.
Crystal stood over her, her body limp, her arms dangling loosely at her sides, and her turquoise eyes glazed over. Her silvery head bobbed lifelessly from side to side, her brown face twitching uncontrollably. Ishtar’s eyes glistened with tears as they locked on to the reason for her lover’s bizarre state. It projected from her chest, a glowing, four-foot long laser blade colored dark blue.
Blue. Blue was the color of the Neuro-Lancer…the weapon of the Silver Horde.
Time and space seemingly froze as the jade-haired fighter leaped to her feet with blinding speed, dual kunai knives drawn from her purple utility belt. Her body reacted on instinct, the knives in both of her closed fists glistening in the weak moonlight as she lurched forward towards Crystal. The glowing blue blade was suddenly pulled from between Crystal’s cleavage, causing her flaccid, lifeless body to pitch forward. As Ishtar quickly returned the knives to her belt, in order to free her hands to catch her partner, she heard Neith’s tiny voice reach her ear.
“Watch out!” the tiny woman screamed.
The Masked Princess only had mere seconds to look over her shoulder, before an invisible wall of force slammed into her, taking her off of her feet. She smashed into a tree, steadfast and unyielding, and slumped droopily to its base, her body surging with agony.
Crystal’s own body thundered with pain as it hit the ground, unmoving. She tried to scream, but her lips would not quiver, her vocal cords would not vibrate. Her mind desperately sent commands to her various body parts, but nothing would obey. She was completely paralyzed, imprisoned within her own body. Still, somehow, when she landed, her head managed to face the direction where Ishtar had been thrown.
That was when her eyes met their worst nightmare once again.
It had a transparent silvery skeletal form, at least as far as its arms and legs were concerned. Its body was undeniably female and nude, with a glowing blue node on each metal breast. Shimmering wires of blue raced about its translucent form, mimicking the blood vessels of a living being. A hairless, fleshless skull head, affixed with a permanent grin of malevolence, projected blinding ruby spotlights from empty eye sockets. In its cold metal hands, a Neuro-Lancer, its’ ends blades of sapphire energy, was twirled expertly as the monster of myth stalked the unsteady Ishtar.
They are mockeries of us, child. Her mother’s voice abruptly returned to her thoughts, relating the horrifying legend of the Horde. They were created by Nameless to be Viragon warriors like us…but better. She…that creature…wanted to prove to the Goddess herself that she could build a better Viragon…
“Gbbbbb…” her throat creaked. Thirty seconds had past, and she could at least make sounds now. It would be a few more minutes before her whole body returned under her control.
TO BE CONTINUED!
It's All Jake With Me: New original Jack Cole art surfaces at auction! - Lot #93073 in Heritage Auction's 2018 May 10 - 12 Comic Art Signature Auction, featured a stunning example of Jack Cole's post-Plastic Man girlie magazine...