Swinging around to face Burdlit sent beaded streams of water spiraling away from Janette’s damp hair like a lawn sprinkler would do. She looked him in the eyes and took that superfluous moment to mentally recount a ‘how did it ever come to this’ sensibility. And yet, her estimation of the proceedings was correct: It had all come down to this.
“There’ll be a ship,” Burdlit announced, “so you can accompany me aboard that ship of your own volition. Otherwise -“
“There is no ship,” Janette countered – much to the surprise of the confidence-waning operational general.
Things were going about as well as could be expected (considering the circumstances) before Burdlit heard that, and he openly wondered, “What,” could the botanist have possibly meant by it.
Perhaps, the best possible explanation lay in the ensuing visual which had shown the powerful downpour of rain either let up partially or slant to an unnatural, sideways pelting – both as a result of the intruder’s ship approaching. It continued to hover in the air via its vertical takeoff and landing thrusters while maintaining a cautionary distance of about fifty yards away from the nonexistent entrance to the Power Authority and the stationary positions of Janette and Burdlit. When its canopy rose, Boyd emerged from the cockpit by standing up, draping his legs over the side, and dropping down at least twenty feet to the soft, fertile soil. He absorbed the impact of a rapid descent with the cushioning of bent knees. Upon righting himself to a normal standing posture, the LUNC was revealed to have accompanied him on this anxious approach.
The surroundings of trees and really anything plant life seemed to quiver with an eerie coincidence of proximity that even the heavy rain could not take credit for when Boyd used conservative crisscross steps to travel the forested area. Any bristle in the woods was instinctively felt by him since jungle warfare during the campaign against the Slorgs, all those many years ago, had heightened his senses to every kind of disturbance in the foliage – establishing it as the precursor to a death threat. This time around though, hordes of the powerful Crabmartians from Xenos were not going to be the enemies rushing out the camouflage of the surroundings to swarm either his splinter group’s covert position or the extended footprint of those Space Force soldiers who he was assisting in trying to push through (via a sniper’s means) to the destination of whatever their mission objectives happened to be back then. Strange but, the terrain was the enemy – and much more so than the inconvenience of having to traverse its usual and requisite dangers.
Up ahead, Janette and Burdlit could not exactly be classified as friendlies, so Boyd kept his LUNC trained on the operational general who still held a laser rifle as the botanist appeared to be unarmed. And those were not famous last words since the point of the Class V Fighter hanging around was to keep her in its sites. This was a meeting that the Enforcer had sought all along and all the way back to when he first learned that a member of the Carriveaua was involved. If for nothing else, the aim might have been to open up Galaxy Bloc eyes to the potential for increased peril. After being embroiled in the thick of madness however, the unincorporated planets would have a hard time at trying to convince him that they were simply a set of lone victims in this matter.
“I should’ve known that you Humans would stick together in the end,” Burdlit said while bringing his laser rifle up to a waist-high level in bracing to accept whatever challenge that the intruder planned to pose.
Quick to deny the accusation of cahoots, Janette set the record straight, “Believe me, I didn’t ask for any Space Force intervention.” She knew that such a request and (furthermore) the acceptance of its ensuing aid would have come at a steep, interest-bearing cost.
“Janette’s right,” Boyd confirmed as his procession concluded at an approximated range of five yards away from either the botanist or Burdlit. “She turned down every offer that I made to help, but I also find that peculiar because her impassioned plea about Galaxy Bloc’s plight was designed solely to lure me back here without having to ask for the assistance outright.”
No stranger to Janette’s manipulations, Burdlit added, “That sounds just like the person who could’ve ended all this by allowing a specially-formulated dispersant that the Carriveaua had designed to be administered to the Deew during the earliest stages of its rampage but decided to disable the sprinkler system.”
Boyd’s eyes swung on over to Janette as he questioned, “Is that true?”
“Oh it’s true,” a biased Burdlit took it upon himself to confirm. “She left not only me but a contingent of ten Humans down there to die along with all the rest who perished, and I know that you witnessed the carnage firsthand.”
“You guys aren’t going to put this shi- on me,” Janette refused to accept the blame. “I didn’t saddle the unincorporated planets with a series of sadistic world mortgages that featured biological weapons in their planetary cores! What was that about?”
With a roll of his beady eyes, Burdlit assailed, “Don’t you dare try to change the subject in order to justify your he–ish antics after the fact! You could be Carriveaua for all I know because you sure don’t and certainly didn’t give a da-n about the Humans on Dio Qze. Look at how far this has gone!” He raised his free left hand up to emphasize the abysmal change in scenery from industrialized cityscape to an all new, all green landscape. Ironic, the operational general might have cared more about the planet’s inhabitants, and the very notion caused him some momentary concern and a reflective pause in his tirade.
“I’ll tell you what that was about,” Boyd decided, “although I really shouldn’t,” but he was hoping that these three disparate parties might somehow be able to put aside their differences in order to save Dio Qze (at least) or positively affect the greater battle (at most) by representing an end to a badly-fated division on this smaller level. Things had to start somewhere, so the Enforcer leveled with Janette and Burdlit, “It’s the New Alliance.”
This intruder’s forthrightness was met with a thorough rebuke on the part of the botanist, “Here we go again. Can you come up with anything more original? It’s like you Space Force-types have the New Alliance on the brain.”
Boyd defended his assumption, “For good reason but for the wrong focus. It turns out that Galaxy Bloc…wasn’t the first stop for the New Alliance. The Carriveaua were.”
“How so?” Burdlit demanded clarification from the intruder. He even felt Janette’s haunting gaze brush across his demeanor to see how the operational general would react to the next statements by the Space Force operative. She continued to size him up for weakness, but those failed attempts did not go unnoticed during the perplexity of the levied charge.
“Your buddies up there,” Boyd stated while pointing toward space, “were flying around in mecha that’s not native to this universe. I don’t know what whoever called it when they sold the ships to you and your scientists helped them add the Carriveaua stealth technology in return, but those vessels are called NA Destroyers – aptly named after the New Alliance.”
In obvious denial, Burdlit shook his head and uttered, “No.”
“What does this mean?” Janette inquired in an attempt to satisfy her own curiosity and a partial attempt at urging the rubbing in of the bad news into the proud operational general’s freshly opened wound.
“It doesn’t mean anything!” Burdlit shouted in the botanist’s direction before turning back toward the intruder to argue, “Where’s the proof, Human? I’ve never seen anyone from the New Alliance on any of our homeworlds. No mention had ever been made of a military deal to purchase these ships because that would’ve been huge news for all Carriveaua to indulge in – our rightful resurgence to a place at the table of megapowers.”
With a smile, Boyd downplayed the sentiment, “Right – Carriveaua ingenuity…. Are you kidding me? The Space Force barely tells its own civilians anything.”
Nodding in deference – Janette conceded snidely, “For once, I agree with him.”
“And I’ve already been down this road with her,” Boyd pointed his left thumb dismissively toward the botanist, “and many, many people like her, so I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you either Burdlit. If the higher-ups in your government have been converted to Dorans, the Space Force’s retaliation for this Deew debacle is going to be the least of your worries.
It’s easy for you to see Humans versus Carriveaua and let your eyes be the guide of your hate. But a converted Doran could look like Humans or Carriveaua. Racism doesn’t work against them because they can potentially be every race incarnate. That’s what makes their advance so scary,” he made sure to say while staring in Janette’s direction. “You’ll never know they’ve made their move until it’s too late and you’re either a converted minion – and wouldn’t care at that point or dead, and then everything’s moot…at that point.”
An earnest question was called for here, so Burdlit asked it, “What if you’re wrong?”
Simply put, “This biological weapon plan is asinine,” Boyd analyzed: “The Space Force doesn’t care about hostages during this lead-up to war. Heck, I’m empowered with standing orders which allow me to call in the destruction of any Galaxy Bloc world as I see fit. And these are Humans – former citizens. What in the universe do you think they’ll allow me to do to the Carriveaua? Actually, the question should be: Is your hate for me greater than the love for your people?”
“Regardless, they die,” Janette added coldly.
“There’s a third option,” Boyd prefaced.
“If I subordinate myself to you,” Burdlit surmised, “you’d be inclined to help the Carriveaua.”
Again, it was worth Boyd correcting, “I was thinking more – if you…helped me.”
Burdlit had almost been sold but, “There’s still no guarantees that you can hold up your end of the bargain and actually save my people.”
“No,” Boyd agreed, “there’s never any guarantees, but at least you’re starting to realize that the magnitude of this upcoming war is far-reaching. I don’t expect you to trust me. It’s too soon for any of that, but this doesn’t mean that we’re precluded from sharing mutual aims.”
As the constant voice of skepticism, Janette struck like a nagging conscience which added a significant measure of validity to the discussion, “What’s in it for you?” She still had no idea what made the intruder tick. Why did he even care? How was it that the spacestation that accompanied him back to the planet did not follow through on the more destructive edicts of his orders? This not so mere fact proved to her that there was some truthfulness to the severity of the Big Brotherism claim.
“I’m much more interested in finding out what’s in it for you,” Burdlit refused to allow Janette to get away with being so insipidly innocuous during this conversation. “The intruder’s at least laid a card on the table. He likely has others to play, but you’ve shown none of yours.
Conversely, my entire hand’s been divulged. We know why I’m here, what I’ve done, and how I’d planned on leaving.”
“I’m hoping you’re not going to imply that this is one of those situations where we all team up in the interest of working together for an overarching good,” Janette declined the invitation to out herself, “because that’s not about to happen.
I also find your recent candor to be very amusing, Burdlit. It’s comical that, after being completely outplayed in every aspect of your flawed plans, you’d become quick to ally yourself up with the intruder from a species that you’re self-professed to hate. It would appear to me that you still have a few cards to play yet.”
Calling this what it was as he saw things, Boyd disagreed, “That’s just desperation talking. Most people would feel the same way in a similar situation,” while turning his head slightly to the left in order to size up Janette, “so why are you so calm,” with his eyes shifting toward the canister in her hand. He might have originally thought that she should have been more appreciative by the prospects of his returning presence on Dio Qze, but the Enforcer knew better.
The intruder had already played his part in clearing the path for Janette’s escape. In case it was not just completely obvious that she was about as unconcerned about him as she was with any concept of saving this planet, the Deew slid a deceptively (not) soft, purple petal out the ground like an inverted guillotine chop which started from below – directly behind the catalyst which made all this possible. Honestly, the botanist could have thanked him for a ‘one in a million’ assist that saw her own set of secretive plans set into motion, realized, and very nearly achieved; but it made much more sense to use an uncanny, empathic ability (which seemed to stem from the canister) to command the biological weapon into dispatching the Space Force operative’s lingering albeit dwindling threat on her behalf.
Instantly out of position as Boyd dove forward and to his right, he had to take his eyes off that canister with very good reason ingrained inside a timely survival instinct. To his right, the Deew sought to cut off his dodge with a second plume poking itself out the forest floor. This time, its hues came into focus as the Enforcer tumbled to boot-skidding stop which placed him on his side directly facing in front the vibrant purple, pink, tan, and white swatches of healthy floral brilliance. Walled in, he peered over briefly at Janette and Burdlit – the lot of them, smug. Neither gave a da-n about Dio Qze, yet fault could also be placed on himself for caring too much.
With spite, Boyd gritted his teeth and tore his pointed vision away from the botanist and the operational general by default of a backward roll dodge which was initiated by digging into the dirt with his boots and pushing his legs over his head until he could push back to his feet and some semblance of stability via a more stationary center of gravity that could give him a much better chance at ascertaining the ever changing facets of this harrowing situation. The Enforcer did not have any sort of empathic ties to his transportation, but the ship had come to this meeting preloaded with a macro which gave the Class V Fighter an unbridled impunity for attacking Janette with whatever it felt like throwing at her. These waters were tested with a steady and unflinching burst of lasers which were promptly intercepted by the biological weapon’s third petal to enter into the vicinity of this skirmish, absorbing the blows and dispersing the attempt into numerous puffs of nothingness.
Now, Burdlit still clung close to Janette, so an opportunistic flinch sent him lurching behind her as the incoming lasers from the intruder’s fighter threatened, and he already knew the deal with the Deew’s protectiveness over the botanist. The operational general watched the ship pull off from the area when tentacles and foliage started to grow upward and outward to a swarming mass of greenery like tangled moss where the biological weapon tried to reach the previously hovering height of the vessel that dared shoot at its apparent mistress. Hopefully that vessel possessed a sufficient autopilot – he thought, because the occupant was now outside his view and completely eclipsed within the plume of petals.
Boyd’s LUNC did not fare all that much better than his fighter which was currently fleeing for safer, less congested skies plus the overall breathing room that could be used to circle the area as part of a preprogrammed holding pattern and potentially drop back in to retrieve him. Battling to the last possible moment, the Enforcer fired lasers at the sides of the petals while rushing to his left and the only opening within the dangerous floral enclosure. A pus globule of matter spurt up from the soil below, slowing his desperate trudge for gray daylight at first but becoming slippery as the material arose to be more pronounced. Growing from out the viscous pool, a lively set of filaments were defined and lashed at him – snagging his wrists, ankles, and neck before he found himself faced with the emergence of the fourth wall and then wholly yanked back into the center of the deadly plume.
Twitching in anticipation, the Deew’s petals flapped closed to complete yet another bulb from the many which had propped up in certain blossoming vicinities where Humans were once being used as appetizers to whet a famished craving. Its salivation for this long-awaited meal came in the form of a viral release of spores from a collection of pollen-producing stamen sacs, and the more that Boyd fought desperately to free himself by tugging at his binds, the tighter and more taut the biological weapon’s grip became until he was completely immobilized and quickly fated to a nonexistent mercy. Not playing around until the deed (of feeding) was done, it held more than enough control over the soil and opened up a cavernous sinkhole which allowed the flower to drag the captured Enforcer all the way down to the planet’s core and no further hope of escape.