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THIRD PLACE WINNER — Submission by Richard Papp

Darwin Denied — Part 3 of 3

Prax shuddered. The quantum detonator was a device standard aboard every Antaran warship. In the event of engine failure, invasion or loss of life by all Antaran crew, the ship would initiate a self-destruct cascade. The resulting explosion would serve to protect Antaran technology from falling into enemy hands and hopefully take out any ships that had caused the self-destruct to be initiated in the first place. Once initiated by the computer there was no turning it off. "Yes, please by all means modify our attack vector," Prax croaked.

"Starting attack run now Lord"

Tkar sat atop the command deck of the Vengeance. Most of his crew lay dead or dying. The acrid stench of burnt insulation and ozone hung in the air. "The transports Glirron. Where are the transports?" Tkar called.

Glirron clutched at his side. A large gash had been torn by shrapnel during the last attack run. "The transports have cleared the far side of Sharra's moon Captain."

He grimaced in pain from the effort of speech. "They should be docking with the alien ship now."

Tkar felt relief. At least his people would survive. He had done his duty and protected the clans. "Is the human in the escape pod yet?" he asked.

"Yes," Glirron replied.

"Then launch her and prepare our final run."

"As you order Captain," replied Glirron.

Slowly the battered Mrshann cruiser turned to face its nemesis.

Prax smiled at the read out. It had been a tough battle indeed. Much tougher than he had expected, but in the end victory would be his," as it should be," he thought smugly.

"Lord the enemy ship is severely disabled now. Scans show no offensive capacity remaining. Shields and armor are destroyed. Your orders?" asked the computer.

"Target them with a final salvo then set an intercept course for the transports. I don't know what they are thinking. Do they hope they can hide behind that moon? Oh well, we shall teach them the folly of their ways soon enough."

"Lord I am detecting a Mrshann escape pod launch. Scans reveal the inhabitant to be a human. The human is hailing us Lord."

"How intriguing, a human onboard a Mrshann starship. One wonders what it was doing there. Well, since we are not currently at odds with the humans, put her broadcast through."

"….. This is Commander Varja Patel requesting the aid of any Orion Senate vessels in the area. I have escaped from imprisonment aboard a Mrshann cruiser and am in need of assistance. I repeat, this is Commander Varja Patel….."

"It repeats like this Lord. Shall I respond?" inquired the computer.

"Yes, I guess we should. Her species is entitled to the usual diplomatic rules of the senate. Tractor her pod as we fly by and have her report to the bridge. I wish to see this human."

Varja watched the final explosion rock the remnants of the Vengeance from the window of her escape pod. Tkar, Glirron, they were all dead. How many more mrshann had died this day throughout the sector? There was a sharp jolt as the Antaran tractor beam locked onto her pod. "Well this is definitely turning into one hell of an adventure," she thought.

Prax stirred at the sound of the bridge doors opening.

"The human is here as you requested Lord," said the computer. "We are also under way to the moon of the second planet. We should have sensor contact in less than two minutes."

Prax turned and stared at the human. He remembered reading somewhere that they had two sexes, but he had no idea how to tell them apart. "Not that it matters," he thought. "This one looks spindly enough. Why it's a wonder they function at all. Still, human kind did dominate this sector in our absence, so they must be somewhat competent."

"I greet you human. In the name of the senate I offer you refuge aboard my vessel from the miscreants who would do you harm. As you can see I have dispatched them for you and am even now attempting to eliminate another vile nest of the creatures."

"I thank you," Varja responded. Her eyes swept over the entire antaran bridge. Never had she seen anything more alien. "It is doubtful I would have survived much longer at the hands of those savages." It hurt her to lie even though she knew it was a fiction necessary to maintain her secret.

"Lord we approach the second planet. Our trajectory will take us around the moon and provide the mrshann ships with minimal warning of our approach," stated the Antaran computer.

"Ah, excellent. Finally something seems to be going right," responded Prax.

"Lord ships from the White Fleet have entered the section and are hailing us," the computer said.

"We will ignore them for the time being. I will not be denied my trophy."

"We are passing into sensor range of the Mrshann transports. I am also detecting a disturbance not previously noticed Lord. Shall I provide a visual for you?"

"Yes, give me the visual," Prax demanded.

For one instant Varja saw the image of the alien doom star suspended above the Antaran holographic display tank. She heard Prax inhale and then suddenly the bridge was washed in the blinding white light she had experienced previously. Just as the glow was beginning to fade she saw the alien figure again.

"Goodbye my child," she said and smiled at Varja. "And you brother," the figure said turning toward Prax," you should learn to pick on people your own size." Then with a wink towards Varja the image faded.

Varja stared at Prax. The Antaran sat motionless, but seemed stunned. "An Orion! We have to tell the senate," he finally sputtered.

"Tell the senate what Lord?" Varja asked slyly.

"Why about the Orions of course. That they're still here and about that doom star we saw."

"I'm not sure I follow you Lord," Varja said. "You said you saw an Orion? I thought they were all dead."

"Computer track the Orion doom star at once." Prax demanded shooting a withering look in Varja's direction.

"I am sorry Ship Lord, but I detect no doom star on my sensor net. I should also inform you that I can not detect any evidence of the mrshann transport ships either," replied the computer.

"But it was right there. Search your logs you must have a record of it in your sensor data." Prax began to sound desperate. He looked accusingly at Varja, who did her best to look totally confused.

"I have no evidence of any alien ships in my sensor logs since we last engaged the Mrshann cruiser Lord," the computer reported. "I also have an incoming communications from Fleet Element Leader Nerat of the White Fleet."

"Play it" Prax croaked.

"Ship Lord Atha'HeptaPrax I demand your immediate reply! I repeat what is the status of the Mrshann transport ships that entered this system? They were last reported at your current location."

"What will I tell them?" asked Prax to no one in particular.

"Lord I am now detecting a debris field in orbit around the moon. It is possible that the transports were somehow destroyed before we arrived," suggested the computer.

"Yes, that must be what happened," said Prax knowingly. "The Mrshann were always unstable. Knowing they couldn't escape I'm sure they destroyed themselves rather than wait for me to do it for them. Computer hail Fleet Element Leader Nerat. Tell him we have eliminated the Mrshann in this sector and that I expect full credit for the encounter."

Varja watched from behind the Antaran command chair. Could she believe what she had heard? Prax had called the alien an Orion. Had that been true? Could the Orions still really be around? It did seem to match the story the alien had told her. But then again, perhaps Prax was only seeing what the alien wanted him to see. Still the plan had gone off without a hitch and now the Antaran Prax was claiming responsibility for allowing ten transport ships full of Mrshann to escape. Even if the Antarans believed the ships destroyed, Varja knew the truth. The duplicity was rich. She smiled. Then, for the first time ever in recorded history, the sound of human laughter filled the bridge of an Antaran war ship. Orlu looked up inquisitively from their stations. Prax, Varja noted with some pride, looked visibly disturbed.


[ THE END...   Back to the Beginning of the Story ]

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