Kicking off September with an update on Parallax is a special joy of mine. Here is where we stand on the story:
1) Word Count: Parallax is now at 87,916 words, or 352 pages if you prefer. This is significant because it now exceeds my original target length by almost 500 words and keeps climbing. I am anticipating another 8000-9000 words until the story is complete and ready to go to Amazon.
2) Deadline: I’m well ahead of my September 30 Deadline and I couldn’t be happier. It’s no secret that I detest deadlines, but I’ve come to regard them as necessary inducements to achieving the results that I want, namely the completion of this project and on to the next story I want to tell. The end justifies the means.
3) Sequels: Yes, there will be sequels. The original storyline was way too much to cram into one book and I’ve decided to spread it out over three books.
That’s the Big Three and now on to an excerpt:
“I’m not buying that mystical stuff he layed on me back in M’Tat.” Pratt replied. “He told me that the device was disabled for a short time.” He tapped his wrist. “Tick Tock.”
“I don’t understand.”
Pratt rolled his eyes. “It means that we’re wasting time while this joker is about to make their escape.” He looked behind them. “I see an access tunnel behind us that looks like it links all of the escape exits. I’ll go at him from the front, while you circle around through the tunnel and catch him if he gets past me.”
Zeoko nodded and disappeared. Pratt took a deep breath. “Jack, my boy.” He muttered to himself. “It’s now or never.”
He was careful not to get too close to anyone, else his disguise come undone. Koren and The Hegemon were still debating below as he made his way toward the exit to block The Traitor. A part of his mind observed dispassionately how the scene reminded him of old movies where the Good Guy raced against Time to beat the Bad Guy and save the day. He reached the exit and blocked it.
“Sir, I think you should remain to hear the end of the speech.” He said, hoping that the disguise would enhance his voice to match the facade. He raised his hands, remembering too late that holographic claws were very different from real ones as he looked up. “I insist.”
The Traitor, Sartung, snarled and raised his claws. “Out of my way, Fool, do you know who I am?”
The words jarred Pratt and something inside his mind snapped. “I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are, Pal. All I know is that you caused a great deal of misfortune to come down on my friends and I won’t allow that. Turn around.”
Sartung lunged forward and although Pratt dodged the attack easily, one of the Locknar’s limbs came into contact with his holographic disguise and disrupted it to the point of shutting down.
The whole room went deathly silent as Zeoko appeared and attached a restraining collar around Sartung’s neck before he could struggle free. “Jack, I warned you.”
“Koren consorts with our enemy.” Sartung shouted, struggling against the collar’s influence. “He is the real traitor, not me.”
Koren shook his head. “I did not want to reveal John Pratt’s being here in this way. However, he is here and has been helping our people fight the unknown enemy hiding amongst us.”
“This is a severe breach of Protocol, Lord Koren.” The Hegemon said. “Tread carefully because your words and actions are suspect from this moment on.”
“I will make my case.” Koren turned and looked at Zeoko. “Bring him down here. Jack, you come with her. I need you.”
The Hegemon stopped the guards from detaining Pratt. “This human is very brave to come here. Let us hear what he has to say for himself.”
“Great. No pressure.” Pratt muttered as he followed Zeoko as she guided Sartung down the stairs with a handheld controller. As they passed the other delegates, Pratt realized from their expressions that many had never seen the face of who they had been told were their enemy. He kept his expression neutral. I wonder if this is one of those moments that go down in History, he thought to himself. He looked down at his clothes. If so, I hope the historians will embellish a little because I look like crap.
The tension in the room was fast reaching manic proportions as all eyes turned toward the spectacle happening below. I need to do something, Pratt thought. Then it occurred to him and he crouched into the start position for the Ritual of Greeting. His movements were a little clumsy, but competent as he swept through each step. As he finished the last step, he noticed Koren nodding his approval. The Hegemon blinked and gave a grudging nod.
“You have studied our ways well, Human. Your diligence and bravery in both learning Protocol and coming here speaks well of you.” He tapped the claw on the floor twice. “However, despite you impressing me, you are still an enemy of the Locknar Hegemony and must be dealt with.”
“He is the Lion of Pegasi.” Koren stated for the benefit of all, making Pratt cringe. “Let him speak.”
“Koren, for Hades’ Sake.” Pratt sighed. “Your Majesty-”
“Whatever.” Pratt said. “I have guns pointed at me so semantics mean squat at this point. Sir, I was a member of my military until an encounter with The Signiferians put me on a new path.” He walked over near Sartung but just out of reach. “I can’t speak for this gentleman’s motivations but for me, I’ve learned to recognize my enemies.” As he spoke, Pratt noticed a muscle twitch under Sartung’s neck scales. It was imperceptible at first, but it didn’t match Sartung’s defiant body language. An idea came to him and he decided to run with it. “Zeoko, restrain his arms. I want to check something.”
“Hegemon, the human lies.” Sartung yelled. “Our intelligence on him shows that he is an officer in the United Earth Union Navy. What is the word of a man who has a history of murdering our people?” He snarled as Pratt drew closer, his fangs gleaming as he bared them. “Get away from me, Human, or I will bite you despite this twice-damned restraining collar.”
“Jack, I advise caution.” Koren said, holding himself back. “The restraint collar is not a foolproof device and Sartung is well-regarded for his martial prowess.”
“In for a penny, in for a pound.” Pratt muttered as he avoided Sartung’s snapping jaws and gently bent the Locknar’s head to one side to expose the neck scales. Once an evolutionary nod to an amphibian past, the neck scales became vestigial coverings for ancient gills. He separated the stiff scales with his hands until he found a spot at the base of the green skin. The spot had turned the skin around it to a sickly gray and he felt Sartung wince as he gently probed the wound site with a finger. Something hard moved under the skin. He released the scales and stepped back. “This man has been implanted.”
“Impossible.” The Hegemon stated. “My people outlawed the use of control implants long ago. You must be mistaken.”
Pratt pointed to Sartung’s neck. “Then how do you explain this?” He then pointed above them as Signiferian ships once again made their way down to Planet Chaos. “And this?”
The Hegemon’s wizened face darkened. “It took a human, of all the aliens in this galaxy, to undermine such a perfect plan.” He raised his claw. “I commend you, Lieutenant Pratt, on your powers of observation. I can see our mutual foe’s interest in obtaining you.”
“I don’t follow.”
“First thing’s first.” The Hegemon thrust his claw into Sartung’s abdomen and gave it a twist, severing the spinal cord and dropping him to the floor in a bloody heap. He pulled it back out and wiped it with a red cloth. “Sartung was a loyal subject, but he thought much as you do.” The claw’s point still had flecks of Sartung’s blood on it as he turned it on Pratt. “He didn’t understand that I enacted a compromise with The Signiferians in exchange for them to leave us alone when they were finished with us.”
“You struck a deal with them?”
The Hegemon nodded. “It is my duty to protect my people, even if it is to make an agreement with our most hated ancestral enemy.” He raised the claw. “They don’t really need all of your intact, Lieutenant. They only require enough of your cellular structure to complete their work and under the circumstances, I believe that a little of something is better than all of nothing.”
“My people will be jumping into orbit within a few hours.” Pratt said. “Your plan will not succeed nor will I agree to be sliced and diced for someone’s science experiment.” He watched Koren stir but didn’t allow that knowledge to register. “This will end badly.”
“Indeed.” The Hegemon’s neck gave up a familiar twitch. “As we speak, Signiferian ships are arrayed in orbit. They have a wonderful arsenal of devices capable of capturing ships of all classes and types. When the Earth Fleet arrives, they will be captured and convinced to aid the Signiferians. The war will be over, Mr. Pratt, but not the way you probably envisioned.”
“The Gorashto Invasion was a ploy to get us in your territory.” Pratt replied. “Damn, I would have never expected that given the level of resistance you put up.”
“Seal the Assembly Chamber.” The Hegemon commanded. “No one is to leave until our business is concluded.”
From the corner of his right eye, Pratt could see the glint and glimmer of several blades pulled from discreetly concealed scabbards and sheathes among the captive delegates. None would make a move toward the guards, but the tension in the air made it abundantly clear that it wouldn’t take much to instigate a riot.
The Hegemon lunged, with more strength than Pratt would have given him credit. Pratt dodged the thrust and caught the battle staff that Koren tossed to him. Staff met Claw with an audible crack, knocking it away and giving him several opportunities to land return blows. A stray swipe from The Hegemon’s Claw caught him across the abdomen, tearing across the fabric and leaving a small red stripe of blood behind. The wound wasn’t serious, but much too close for comfort.
The Hegemon smiled while wiping a thin stream of blood from the side of his head. “You’re quite good, Mr. Pratt. I won’t underestimate you again.”
“Talk is cheap, Sir.”
They readied themselves to go again when a loud commotion on the other side of the room brought them to a halt, breathing heavily as they began scowling at each other. The High Master strolled into the Chamber, limping slightly and leaning on a staff of his own.
“Q’Sok.” The Hegemon said. “This is a long way from M’Tat and you are interrupting matters of state. Take your leave.”
The High Master raised his staff and detached it into two separate pieces. “I know exactly what I am interrupting. You forget, Sen, that my position is more than a religious distinction.”
“Yes, yes, you are The Overseer to The Throne.” The Hegemon dismissed the proclamation with a wave of his claw. “I suppose you feel you must take Lieutenant Pratt’s place in his duel?”
“I will do as I must.” The High Master put a hand on Pratt’s shoulder and with surprising strength, moved him away from the fight. “End this now, Sen, or it will be a very short fight.”
“You know the rules. Once blood has been spilled, a duel cannot be suspended. That is Protocol.”
“You have been corrupted by those who you wished to accommodate.” The High Master removed his cloak and badge of office and reverently set them aside. The next few minutes were a blur as The Hegemon seized on the moment and lunged. The High Master spun and blocked the attack, flipping The Hegemon over his left shoulder and ramming both ends of his staff into the monarch’s chest cavity. He studied the fallen leader with sadness and regret for several seconds.
“Mr. Pratt is right.” He noted. “Talk is cheap.” He turned to the delegates. “Send a message to the Stellar Alliance and copy it to our military. Tell them that we are wishing for an end to all hostilities.”
One of the delegates found the courage to stand. “High Master, are we surrendering?”
The High Master let out a tired sigh. “No, we are reintroducing sanity in a universe suffering from dementia by warfare.”
Another delegate stood. “Our people will not understand this unexpected change in attitudes.”
The High Master reconnected his staff and turned to face the speaker. “Then make them understand.” Reassuming his cloak, he turned to the guards. “Release them. All of them.” Without another word, he walked over to The Hegemon’s seat of power. “Be at peace.”
Pratt, Koren and Zeoko followed him and began peppering The High Master with questions. The High Master raised a hand to silence them. “My Children, this is but one ending to one part of a very long story. I will take over as Regent until a new Hegemon is selected.” He waved his hand. “My duty is to manage, not to rule.” He turned to Pratt. “Mr. Pratt, it has been a singular pleasure to meet you once again, but it is time for you to go. Koren, would you please return him to whence he came?”
Koren bowed. “It would be my honor.”
The trip back to Koren’s ship took less time than anyone had expected. As the skies of Mitalum faded to now-familiar nebular colors, the trio took some time to relax and enjoy a few moments of relative peace. The Cease-Fire News spread across interstellar comm channels with a speed not even the original designers could have foreseen.
“You look troubled, Jack.” Koren noted as he watched Pratt finish up some work on the ship’s computer.
Pratt swiveled around in his chair. “The Locknar are some of the strongest, most proud warriors I have ever dealt with, and yet they were co-opted by an alien race that they knew hated them. I can’t wrap my brain around that.”
Koren brought two small black equipment cases over and set them at Pratt’s feet. “Political concepts are ephemeral things. These are gifts to you and your people from me and mine.”
Pratt opened the cases and stared at the rows of neatly spaced data chips in foam container trays. “Data chips?”
“I had two copies of the mining station’s data records prepared. One set is for your use and the other is for you to deliver to your government.” Koren explained. “My people will be working very hard to root out and eliminate the Signiferians in our space. Your people need to be made aware of the threat that has undoubtedly made its way to your home.”
Pratt nodded, closing the cases. He stood and began walking from the cockpit.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, with all the commotion gone.” Pratt said. “It occurs to me that I haven’t visited a bathroom in a long time.” His pace quickened. “Excuse me.”