Written by Alex Cora and Elizabeth Lang

Art by Manthos Lappas

CHAPTER I: BEEBOPTROPOLIS

Beeboptropolis may once have been a beautiful city. However, nobody who walked its streets could remember a time when windows weren’t broken and sidewalks weren’t cracked, the seedy underbelly of its citizens still lurking in the shadows instead of walking proudly in the streets -- operating business and presiding over its government. 

The airspace over the massive city buzzed with small, flying people movers. Sloppy and dented, their metal surfaces glinted in the sun. They cruised and circled continuously over the dark, urban cityscape below like flies over carrion decomposing and rotting in the hot sun.
If there was a particular alien race that was native to Beeboptropolis, you would be hard-pressed to know which one it was. Like a myriad of multicolored weeds growing in the same overgrown field and blowing in the same hot breeze; throngs of spectacularly diverse aliens bustled through the streets, filled the crowded walkways, rowdy marketplaces and the rancid cantinas of Beeboptropolis. The business of Beeboptropolis was dirty business. The city was a cesspool of paranoia and pandemonium. Everyone seemed eager to get to something or away from something or somebody.
If you ventured well outside the heart of this metropolis and walked until the heavy scent of spiced meat and fetid garbage no longer filled your nostrils and the cacophony of different languages faded in your ears, you reached a large, guarded wall. Hundreds of feet high and studded with watchtowers, this massive construct separated the criminal element of Beeboptropolis from the foreboding, forbidden perimeter beyond.
 

 

CHAPTER II: THE AKANI WORLD
Far beyond the imposing barrier of the giant guarded wall surrounding Beeboptropolis, was a landscape of parched earth and brittle rock where neither plant life, nor living creature survived. But far beyond what the naked eye could see, the landscape slowly morphed into something else entirely. The wasteland of dehydrated soil and dusty rock slowly transformed into a fecund forest kingdom teeming with plants and wildlife; and cradled deep within that fertile oasis is a village. There are no towering skylines to mark this city, only the soft glow of bioluminescent orbs that line stone pathways winding between hut and temple creating a nautilus shell of light in the darkness.

Here there are no lizard-like aliens with green and purple scales lurking at every turn, or dangerous, oversized arachnoid creatures with multi-faceted eyes. Unlike Beeboptropolis, this place is populated with humans. Dressed in carefully arranged rags, various men and women humbly and harmoniously go about their daily affairs -- tending to small goat-like creatures, gardening and preparing food while others play a spirited game with a small black ball that floats of its own accord. The tranquility of this, primitive-yet-modern city was in sharp contrast to the chaotic, criminality formed in the grimy mega-city of Beeboptropolis. These are the Akani people, and theirs was a world separated from Beeboptropolis by more than just a wall. 

In the center of the village, a multi-generational crowd gathered near the steps of one of the larger, more ornate buildings. Young ones sat at the front of the crowd and the older ones pressed expectantly around the edge of an ever-growing audience of captivated Akani. Standing on the worn, front step of the building is a wizened, raisin of a man. His face shone like a million suns as he spoke and his brilliant green eyes glowed with the energy and resolve of a great warrior less than half his age. 
A child’s earnest voice cried out, “Tell us of the great Nommo!”  
The Chief chuckled warmly, “These stories are well before my time young ones. But when I was young like you…? My Father…? And his Father before him…? And his Father before him…?  They passed down to me the legends, of the beautiful, blue creatures from the heavens. But that was so long ago…. Hmmmm? Let’s see…. I will try to remember a good one, but it has been a very long time…” 
“Please!” “Tell us wise one!” The earnest cries and calls from the excited onlookers became louder and more pleading. 
“Well, you are all very well-behaved. Maybe my poor old mind can remember a tale of the great Oannes?" The old man smiled teasingly as he paused for effect -- pretending to conjure up a long-forgotten memory as the crowd chanted and cried out for another fabulous tale.

A tall, slender young man stood proudly in the center of the crowd with his hands at his sides and his long black hair streaming down his back like a slick river of oil. Refusing to join the boisterous catcalling, he appeared rooted in the ground like a sentinel guarding a sacred tomb. He was Kale’.

The Chief locked eyes with Kale’ and pressed his palms together with his fingertips pointed upwards towards the deep turquoise sky. 

“I think we’ll save that tale for another day,” he said with a knowing nod to Kale’.
The crowd grumbled, but it was a cheerful protest because they knew it was time to say closing prayers and head home to begin their evening meals. The Chief always left them wanting more, and their daily prayers and rituals were a joyous time for the Akani people. Tomorrow they would gather again and there would be a new tale of the Nommo. Despite his teasing, the Chief forgot nothing his Father and his Father’s Father had told him. Wisdom and ancient lore flowed endlessly from his heart and mind. As the crowd slowly disperses, Kale’ finally moved from his fixed spot, and approached his old friend.

"Kale'! Much blessed is this day! It is a joy to see you. Have the Gods favored you this season?" The Chief’s voice is hoarse and worn – but his tone is joyous as he greets the young man. 

"Yes my old friend, I have been very well. I see you still have the energy for those stories just the same as when I was a child!" 

The young man and the old man hugged warmly. There was an unmistakable air of respect and familiarity between the two. The Chief was the first to break the embrace as he fixed his intense, emerald gaze deeply into the limped brown eyes of the young man. 
"The energy of the cosmos flows through me my young chief-to-be! And me? I feel better than ever! I could reach out and grasp the holy moon itself if I was more daring like our beloved Sahn! I swear I would grab it for myself and keep it in my hut for light, to read by at night."
"Sahn was indeed brave. He probably could have pulled the moon out of the sky if that is what his heart desired, said Kale’ sadly. Do you believe he is with the Gods now?” 

The Chief, now more melancholic, nods in the affirmative and looks pensively down.

"I swear to you, I have been training extra hard and doing everything in my power to honor him. I know Sahn was a worthy successor to your throne. I hope and pray I have the skill, courage and wisdom to also be worthy of the honor," said Kale’.

"Kale', there was a reason you two trained and educated together as brothers. We saw the same potential in you as in Sahn. He merely achieved it before you. He was gifted, but no more so than you my son. In time I hope you will learn to see this. Forget about the Airpirate, Kale', that vision will only hold you back. Revenge is never the right path. You know this. Sahn knew this."

Kale’ nodded respectfully in agreement, but his heart was full of revenge and rebellion.
 

 

CHAPTER III: THE NOMMO WORLD
Located in the massive Arcturian Galaxy, Beebop was the planet home to the chaotic urban decay of Beeboptropolis, and the mystic, forest dwellings of the Akani. But located 2000 light years away was the tiny Sirra Galaxy comprised of several small systems of stars lightly inhabited by intelligent beings. One system in particular was comprised of 2 suns and seven planets – of which only one was inhabited with life forms. It was a small, blue planet partially obscured by a cloudy orange haze surrounding its atmosphere. This was the planet of the Nommo people who were an ancient race of sophisticated, highly intelligent creatures evolved from porpoises. 

Most of the Nommo planet was covered with ocean and from the surface of the water, the Nommo world was almost imperceptible. To the uninitiated, it would appear as an uninhabited planet. However, if you had an especially keen eye, and knew exactly where to look, you might just be able to make out the transparent, tube-like pathways below the frothy waves. You might occasionally spot one of the water-filled flying pods called “Zeebos” used by the Nommo as they flitted from cloud to water and back to blue sky again. Their simple, round shapes and vapor trails of bright color made them seem like flying kites. However, these ferociously fast aircraft were capable of gut-wrenching dives and jaw-dropping ascents performed at speeds that defied the engineering skills of any other race. 

The only thing that limited the speed and dynamics of a Zeebo was the courage and tenacity of its pilot. Connected together by a neural bridge, the Nommo steered and navigated his Zeebo with his nerve and intellect. A true mind-meld of man and machine, there was nothing comparable in the galaxy.
Today was a brilliant day for Zeebo flying and Oannes wasn’t about to waste a moment of it. Like all young Nommo males, the chance to impress a young female with his flying prowess on a spectacular day like this was irresistible. Oannes was willing his Zeebo to top speeds as he navigated the nimble, orb-shaped craft millimeters above the waves. As he flew, the shadow of his Zeebo reflected on the water’s surface and he could just make out the vestiges of larger buildings lurking below the ocean’s surface that hinted at the massive structures hidden in the salty depths. 

Oannes was one of the finest of the young Nommo pilots. His muscles were tense and the sun shone through the milky-clear skin of the Zeebo and warmed his blue-grey skin. He felt a surge of adrenaline as he darted between the occasional spires and tops of buildings and structures that poked out of the ocean’s surface like shards of blue-green sea glass. He took secret pleasure in hearing his pretty passenger gasp in fear as he whipped his Zeebo between two of the outcroppings with just enough space between either side of his pod and the buildings for a splash of surf spray. 

With the sun beginning to set -- and Oanne’s passenger sufficiently impressed (and frightened) for the day -- he guided his Zeebo into one of the underwater tube-paths and began their descent homeward. 

    “Admit it Ri, you were scared,” teased Oannes.

    “I was not!” she exclaimed. But he couldn’t help but notice that perspiration was dampening her forehead and she looked more than a little queasy. 
    “That’s OK, little Nommo girl. You can admit you were afraid.” As the Zeebo begins moving on autopilot, Oannes leans over and mockingly pats her green-hued arm.

    “Who are you calling, little Nommo girl? Don’t you patronize me,” Ri’s words were defiant – but her smile and tone told Oannes that she enjoyed the excitement and the good-humored taunts.

As the Zeebo continued on its automated descent, the enormity of the surrounding Nommo world became apparent through the 360-degree view visible through the translucent skin of the spherical ship. Tube-ways wind and bend through endless miles of deep ocean water connecting vast systems of buildings. Once the shimmering craft came to a stop, Oannes and Ri exit the Zeebo and step into an air-filled walkway. Even though the Nommo made their home underwater, they were descendants of Cetacea and therefore breathed air, although they could remain underwater for long periods of time without needing to surface. 

Energy barriers blocked the entrances and exits to buildings and tube-ways keeping the ocean water from flooding in. These barriers had a violet - tinged glow to them that made them look warm and inviting. However, on the ocean floor, gravity and the force of the water’s weight was many times that of the planet’s surface. An immense amount of power surged through these energy barriers preventing the ocean water from flooding in, trapping and crushing the Nommo.

Oannes and Ri ceased their familiarity as they walked away from the Zeebo and they resumed the polite, albeit formal stance so typical to their race. Around them, sirens began to bleat and other Nommo dressed in stiff grey uniforms scramble towards the central tube-way. Oannes and Ri exchange concerned looks and each heads off down a different tube-path.

Oannes joined the surge of Nommo heading down the large path to the main military command center. The plaintive sounds of the warning sirens drowned out any attempts at conversation. There was no way they could have known what was going on and there was no time to think. After years of training, drilling and conditioning Oannes’ response was automatic. He staunchly marched forward – ready, willing and able to take on what lay ahead.

When the cadets reached the command center, they lined up in perfect formation – seamlessly stepping into place as they had practiced for so many years. As the final Nommo stepped into place, the alarm ceased its ear-piercing squawk and their commanding officer took his place in front of the sea of expectant Nommo faces. Flanked on his right side by the Chief Scientist and an Elder Nommo on his left, the three stood staunchly, if not entirely unified. 

    “Men! We’ve been attacked. Intelligence has confirmed that The Gears are gone!”  

On any given day, the Commander was an imposing figure, on a day like today he was terrifying. Standing nearly seven feet tall, a shock of platinum hair was slicked back from his deeply blue face and his bushy white brows furrowed over his wide-set eyes like a gathering of storm clouds. He was not a Nommo to cross and the entire corps knew it from experience. Everyone in the room stood riveted in shock and in disbelief – wondering what sort of retaliation would be carried out in reaction to this heinous crime. 

“The Gears Station has been hit by an unknown force and the great power crystals are gone!" The Commander’s voice echoed through the room. Oannes was startled.

     "Well…? Don’t we have back ups?" he asked in astonishment.

 The Chief Scientist glared at Oannes. He looked as unassuming as the Commander looked formidable. Without his uniform studded with ribbons and medals indicating his high rank, he would look like a food service worker -- or a tube-way cleaner. His skin was more gray than blue and he stood meekly with his vestigial fluke barely visible. The Nommo used their tails as fighting weapons and the Chief Scientist’s puny tail looked like it couldn’t have fended off an attack from a lone sea horse.

"You didn’t pay much attention in training, did you, Cadet?” His looks were bland and mild, but his bravado was that of a seasoned officer. "The Gears are impossible to replicate. Ours – like The Gears on every other planet – are unique and irreplaceable. The ‘Ones of Light” have entrusted each race in the galaxy with only one core and without it…?  Our planet will cease all functions and within 6 months, all life on this planet will be gone."  

     "Such is the price for our arrogance!" proclaimed the Elder Nommo. 
The Commander wiped his brow with the starched cuff of his uniform – inadvertently exposing the tension brewing beneath his expressionless, blue face. 

“Enough!” he bellowed. “We are trying to figure out just want happened and why it happened. Our surveillance records should help us with that. We are examining them now and we will update the situation as soon as we know more. Resume your responsibilities. We cannot have panic in the general population.” 

With that, the group disperses quietly and swiftly. Their actions were calm efficiency, but their eyes were full of wild panic. 
 
 
 

 

CHAPTER IV: SAVE NOMMOS!
 The following morning, the chime on his Leera awoke Oannes. The metallic necklace worn on his wet suit monitored his vital signs, nutrition levels, energy and immune system boosts. It also provided essential artificial intelligence that assisted him in everyday tasks such as navigation, communication and mechanical operations. As his pleasant dreams gave way to the harsh reality of the day’s circumstances, a sense of foreboding gripped his gut like a cold, metal vise. 

After performing his morning ablutions, Oannes -- along with a select few others -- was led into a small, windowless strategy room. He had never been in this room before. General Talin was seated at the head of the long, pearl table positioned in the center of the room, at the other end of the table was seated Admiral Beking.

     "Gentlemen, please sit down. Let’s get started.”

Oannes and the three other corps officers promptly pulled out coral chairs and sat down at the highly polished table. Admiral Beking cleared his throat and addressed the group.

    “We have additional information, but it hasn’t improved our situation. We are facing a dire emergency. Without The Gears, we cannot survive. There is no substitute for their power, and there is no plan in place for how to evacuate our entire population. The unprecedented mission at hand is how to save our world from extinction.” 
     “It’s true. Our investigations have yielded some intel,” said General Talin. “We have located the source of this heinous aggression. His name is Dralin. He is a mercenary of the Orro. As you know the Orro are not to be trusted because…”

Admiral Beking interrupted Commander Talin and received a chilling glare for his impudence.  

    “Gentlemen, until a few days ago, Dralin was working for us performing routine shipment and information tracking to Beeboptropolis which is one of our main, ‘offspring’ planets. He has been in our systems for some time. He was vetted and his performance has been impeccable. As a result, he unfortunately had been given our highest security clearances.”

Admiral Beking began pacing the floor with his arms clenched across his chest. Oannes had never seen any Nommo officer of this rank show any discernable emotion. The officer’s agitation was readily apparent and in and of itself, it troubled Oannes more than the news of The Gears disappearance. 

“The Orro have been at war with the Cyans for decades,” continued Admiral Beking “The Cyans are descendent from felines. As such, they are cunning and have managed to evade many of their attacks, but the Orro have proved more than a match for them with their sheer manpower. There are at least four of those sneaky reptiles for each Cyan soldier. But we have just received confirmed reports that the Orro homeworld has been destroyed -- which means Dralin is a man without a country. We suspect he’ll make his way back to Beeboptropolis to seek refuge and possibly try and infiltrate the city once he has regrouped. Beeboptropolis is rife with criminals and despots. There he could easily secure an ally who would aid and abet him.”

 The Admiral’s last word seemed to echo in the dead silence of the room and their reverberations hung over the small group like an ominous shadow. 

“How do you expect he can do that, Admiral?” angrily queried the Commander. “He doesn’t have any resources? He’s a lone mercenary. He doesn’t have any allies, and even if he did before, now that the word is out he will be hunted like the animal he is.”

The Admiral abruptly stopped pacing like a caged tiger and dropped his arms to his sides. Exhaling slowly, he spoke in a tone usually reserved for not-very-bright toddlers.

"Dralin. Has. The. Gears.” 

 It felt as if the ominous shadow looming over them suddenly turned into a bitter, cold wind. Oannes and the other Nommo seated at the table grasped the ever-increasing hopelessness of the situation before them. Not only was their planet seemingly doomed, but also the most powerful energy source in the galaxy was in the hands of a ruthless mercenary and on its way to the most debauched galaxy in the universe.

"Dralin worked for us. He knows that if he gets to Beeboptropolis, he will possess power in that sector that no one will be able to stop," said General Talin. "With The Gears at his disposal, he can construct the weapon he has been planning to build against the Cyans and use it on us, or anyone else he wishes. Because of his security clearances, he has intimate knowledge of high-ranking government officials, and much more."

“It should be spoken that myself and the other clerics opposed giving Dralin access to The Gears, in aid of his fight against the Cyans” said the Nommo elder. “Our visions told us he was not to be trusted.”

The Elders were typically included in government and military decision-making policy as a perfunctory measure. Their presence was traditional, and acknowledgement of a past hierarchy of old Nommo in long robes who claimed to see the future. But this time, it seemed their visions should perhaps have been heeded. 

"We have to let the contacts know he is no longer an ally!" said Oannes.

     "We’ve attempted communications, but we have not received any response. We fear that by now they are all dead and he has assumed their shape and the control that goes with it," said the Admiral. "There is only one option."

     "Dralin must not be allowed to achieve that kind of control or power, he will spread through that galaxy like a plague," said the General.

 The graveness of the situation was escalating with every sentence. Oannes’ mind could not stop reeling from one piece of information before the next sentence threw him into another miasma of confusion-tinged terror. 
"Hold on a minute, why would Dralin do anything like this? He was on our side…? Wasn’t he? This doesn’t make any sense," Oannes sputtered.

Oannes begins to lose any hope that there is someone in charge of the situation. The highest-ranking officers of their military and the sacred Elder looked like a group of guilty schoolboys caught with their hands in the cookie jar and crumbs on their faces. The General cleared his throat and fidgeted ever so slightly in what looked like a desperate attempt to stall, while he concocted an answer that could somehow instill some level of confidence in his men that there was some leadership in control of the chaos.

     "We cannot say that we had any indication or reason to anticipate…” The General paused – obviously at a complete loss for any words to mitigate the situation at hand. “Regardless of how we got here – we are here and we must come up with a plan of action.” 

While the Admiral paced like a caged animal, Oannes felt like a menacing jungle cat, ready to spring into action. His body felt like a tightly wound coil that at any instant might explode from all the tension.

     "Alright, then. What’s the plan so far? What have you come up with?” he demanded of the leaders.

     "We have selected a team, a small unit of our finest warriors, scientists, engineers and pilots, to go to Beeboptropolis, to recover The Gears, and eliminate Dralin,” said General Z’in. "Because of the nature of our relationship with the planets as co-founders, we cannot afford to draw attention to our mission. Regardless of the fact that a larger military strike is most certainly needed to overthrow a power source of this magnitude, we cannot risk destroying Beeboptropolis too. If we fail, our world will be sacrifice enough.” 

    “We are sending a team of twelve. Lt. Oannes, we are appointing you as the commander of this mission,” said the Admiral.  “Let’s discuss our plan of attack.” 
General Z’in, Admiral T’allee and the Elder swiftly took seats at the table with Oannes and the others.  

"On the surface there is a relatively small society that still retains -- for the most part -- the ways of their ancestors. They are called, the Akani," said General Z’in. "We were once praised as gods by their kind. We should begin with them. They know the landscape and the terrain of the area. Their ways may seem primitive, but they can be very useful. Drop your ship somewhere near the perimeter of their forest city. I don’t think it’s advisable to approach from the air. Land well outside and approach on foot. We have every reason to believe they will welcome you.”

As General Z’in spoke, Oannes was already running through his mission protocol in his mind. Mapping out supplies, planning the most effective arsenal of weapons to take – he would need to be nimble yet deadly. He forced his mind to stay in the moment to absorb all that the General was saying. 
     "The Akani haven’t seen our kind in thousands of years, our understanding is that we have become a part of their legends. Our reappearance in their midst will be shocking to say the least."

    “What language do they speak?” asked Oannes.

    “We will send a translator with you, but they should speak Saya.”

Oannes wasn’t sure if this was a vote of confidence in his leadership, or a suicide mission. Nommos was more than 2000 light years from the Arcturian Galaxy. They would have to cross two galaxies with only one ship to reach Beeboptropolis. There was no margin for error.

    “Oannes, we can’t stress enough the danger of Dralin. A man capable of carrying out this level of evil virtually unassisted, should be executed on sight,” warned the General.

    “I understand,” said Oannes.

Oannes couldn’t ignore the all-too-familiar feeling in his gut – the same preternatural instinct that had guided him through his training and told him exactly how close he could fly his Zeebo next to a coral reef without sheering off part of his ship. It gnawed at him now telling him that something was wrong with what the Nommo leaders were saying. Something was very wrong.

With that, the officers dismissed themselves and made their way out of the room, leaving Oannes to speak with his team and assess each one’s preparedness and capabilities. With only four pilots, three commandos, two scientists, a linguist, an engineer and one navigator, the team aboard the Tauris was almost a skeleton crew by most mission standards. Oannes blanched at the thought of the possibility that they might very well all be reduced to skeletons if this mission failed. Then he girded himself for his first official inspection as the leader of his elite, but very limited crew.

As Oannes approached the flight deck, the three pilots – one female and two males --  stood in a small circle conversing softly. As he approached, they all snapped to attention.

 “Are you prepared for takeoff?” asked Oannes.

    “Yes, Lieutenant,” replied Pilot First Class B’ok. “We’ve run all our control tests and we’re fully ready to launch.” B’ok was a keen pilot and he took no chances. Methodical and steady, Oannes knew his demeanor and flying acumen would be essential in negotiating their precarious mission.

    “If I may sir,” said the co-pilot Ri. “We have taken the liberty of checking all systems including the back of protocol just to be safe.” Her cool, green eyes glowed with determination as she spoke. Oannes knew that Ri’s diminutive size and feminine appearance belied her fearless nature. She was undaunted in their flight training – pushing the envelope of speed and daring.
    “Good work,” said Oannes.

    “Lieutenant? When we reach Beeboptropolis, will the flight crew remain on board? Or will we be part of the reconnaissance team?” asked the third pilot by the name of Sta’zra. Oannes wasn’t as familiar with him, but his reputation was that he was a stalwart flyer.

    “That remains to be seen,” replied Oannes. “We have to assess the situation when we reach our target.  Where is the navigator?”

    “Here sir!” replied So’tee. “I was just reviewing our flight plan. I’ve cross referenced our coordinates, and I was hoping I could tweak our speed and trajectory a little more to conserve as much fuel as possible on our entry to Beeboptropolis’ gravitational pull. But I think it’s about as good as I can get it.”

    “Understood,” said Oannes. 

Oannes continued his rounds checking with the onboard scientists, Captain Selin and Captain Do’ree, Chief Engineer Lee’ra and their translator, Corporal Ku’vaa and found their stations to be similarly in order. The ship was tight as a drum. But it was the Nommo commandos that would ultimately decide the fate of their mission. With only two males and a female commando to carry out the swift and merciless coup de main. They would only get one chance at Dralin. 

 

 

CHAPTER V: DRALIN 
 Dralin wasn’t taking any chances. He had disguised himself as soon as he entered Beeboptropolis. As he checked his reflection in the battered surface of a metal cupboard, he shook his head in disgust at the repugnant visage staring back at him. A pugnacious human face, with deeply set brown eyes, red lips and a square jaw under a mop of dirty blonde hair... Revolting. But it would keep him safe. Nobody expected much of humans, and most made it a policy to simply avoid them altogether. He couldn’t trust anyone now, so better to be an outcast. For now, his only contact was Perkins - a great hulking oaf of a man who was all too happy to follow Dralin’s orders. Muscle-for-hire and little more, Dralin found him to be a necessary evil. The only thing worse than being disguised as a human…? Was associating with one.

"We have the final necessary parts for the "Ark" sir, this one gave us a particularly hard time," croaked Perkins.

An old man lay on the floor. Perkins had shown him no mercy and had beaten him severely. Gravely wounded, he was curled in a fetal position, moaning softly.

     "Your friends will pay for what they've done,” said Dralin. “I’ll make sure that every last Nommo is obliterated from the universe. Now…? I’ll be taking THIS back!" 

 With both hands, Dralin picks up a skull-sized mass of geometric crystals from the desk in front of him and stared at it intently.
The old man was badly hurt, but he mustered the last of his strength and reached under the long sleeve of his filthy coat and whipped out a menacing-looking blade. Shrieking like a banshee, he deftly swung the blade at Dralin aiming for the jugular. Just as the blade almost connects with the soft spot at the nape of Dralin’s fragile, human neck, he morphed into a sinewy reptile with oily, grey scales and menacing talons on his tactile, five-fingered hands. 

In his reptile form, the old man was easy pickings for Dralin. With only one hand, he snapped the man’s neck like so much dry timber. Dralin let go and the old man’s dead body dropped limply to the dusty floor. Dralin’s bodyguard stood stunned against the wall. 

“What the hell do I keep you around for, Clayn,” said Dralin in disgust. 

    “Sorry boss,” simpered Clayn(Perkins). “I just…”

    “Shut up. I don’t pay you to talk. I pay you to fight.”

Dralin and a sufficiently chagrined lummox of a bodyguard made their way out of the dank office space. The filthy room they walked out of seemed immaculate compared to the trash-filled corridor beyond.  

“Clayn…? This place sucks. We’ve gotta get out of here.”

 

CHAPTER VI: MISSION BEGINS 

The pearlescent white of the enormous seashell-shaped hangar gleamed against the tawny sand on the beach. Nestled like a pearl in the center was the Tauris – an enormous, slender, blue ship capable of carrying a team of 12 across the Sirra galaxy and beyond into the far reaches of the Arcturian galaxy to the planet Beeboptropolis. With its reflective metallic exterior, the sun’s heat shimmered off it like a blue gas flame.  Nommo crew entered and exited the ship in a flurry of focused activity. Just outside the entrance to the ship Leera sat by a monitor staring at the data flashing on the large, curved display. 

"Everything seems to check out sir,” said Leera. “She’s running just fine. Just need to get the rest of the supplies and gear into the back and we will be ready to go!"
 Oannes stood over Leera’s shoulder looking intently at the monitor screen at the Tauris’s coordinates.

“Make sure we have a fully charged portable fuel cell on board. I want enough power to get there and back home – assuming there will be a ‘home’ to come home to," muttered Oannes. “I know So’tee has done his best with the coordinates, but I’m willing to take the risk of traveling with a portacell. If we have to detour, or outrun any counterattack, we’ll need everything we can get.”

     "High command outfitted us with some fancy new upgraded gear, all the top of the line tech. It should come in handy for communications and travel on the planet," reports Leera.

"Good to know, hard to think how you could beat a good old fashioned Zeebo though," said Oannes.

     "Oh the Zeebo hasn’t been upgraded, its the only thing they haven’t found a way of improving since it was designed, apart from our little "mod,” chimes another pilot. “We figured out how to route power from the Zeebo’s base discs so it can harness energy from the surrounding environment. It focuses the energy to the front of the craft releasing it as an energy projectile – effectively turning our trusty Zeebos into a pretty impressive ship for use in battle, should we need them.” 

"Very nice," marveled Oannes.

 The crew finished up the loading and with that, the last of the Nommo boarded the ship and began to take off. The ship rose smoothly from the ground without much noise except for a slight hum coming from what appeared to be an electromagnetic energy source. The ship began to glow in vibrant colors as they initiated launch sequence. They exited the fluted opening at the mouth of the hangar bay, and the ship leapt forward at breakneck speed as they began their perilous journey through space.
 
 

 

CHAPTER VII:  REUNION
The wind blew gently through the trees surrounding the placid village of the Akani. The scent of wild, summer flowers was in the air. In the village, a group of young Akani children are playing with one of the floating, black balls. The children amused themselves by chasing the orb and catching it as it glided smoothly through the air. Like a frisky puppy, it seemed to tease the youngsters by staying just a head of them and occasionally letting one of the children catch it -- only to be released again. 

However, the ball suddenly began to pitch and jerk in the air as though it was convulsing. Then it sped off to the side as if being controlled by some unseen force. The children gave chase as the ball sped off, disappearing in the thicket of trees beyond the huts of the village. Undaunted, the children pursued the ball through the trees; branches whipped at their faces and they scrabbled over giant roots. Hollering and shouting, the children relentlessly tried to keep up with the ball that was swiftly becoming little more than a black pinprick in the distant sky.

After an exhausting run, they came to a clearing, more desert-like than their home. They stood poised and panting as the ball hovered, motionless in the air. 

“Is it broken?” said one child.

“I don’t know… Um…? Should we touch it?” queried another.

“You guys…? I’m kinda scared,” whispered one of the smallest children.
The ball remained motionless -- suspended in the air like a period at the end of a silent sentence. Just then, a bright beaming light appeared from overhead, appearing to grow larger with every moment. As it loomed closer, it glowed ever brighter. The children shielded their eyes with their hands as they tried to make out its shape. The Tauris dropped its landing rig right above the children’s heads. As the ship descended, dust and debris whipped through the air and the children scrambled to find hiding spots among the large rock outcroppings. The black ball continued to hang motionless, as if it were waiting for instructions. As the ship touched down, its large, metal doors opened. The air was silent and heavy. The children held their breath and buried their faces in their hands in fear. What terror awaited them? 

Nommo began to walk out, as they did, they began to survey the surrounding area.

"Right. Lets make sure this place is secure," said Capt. Selin.

 The crew began to unload their equipment after taking measurements and securing their perimeter.

 Selin approached the hovering black ball for a closer inspection.

"Lieutenant Oannes! It’s a Comsphere! I thought these were extinct?"   

     "Interesting… Our elders must have left some of our tech behind to help these people survive," said Oannes.
 Just then, a small pebble struck Selin in the back of the head. 

    “Ow!” exclaimed Selin. “What the…?” 

Selin turned around to see one of the Akani children standing defiantly with his hands on his hips. 

     “Give that back! It’s mine!” declared the child. 

The other children remained in their hiding places, terrified of the strange blue creatures standing in their midst. Oannes approached the lone, brave child standing in the open.

     "These must be Akani. They sure look smaller than I expected." 

     "Sir? It appears these are not fully grown," said Corporal Ku’vaa as he referenced a small, handheld device.

 The boy showed no fear, as he stood face-to-face with the two Nommo who towered over him. With their high tech suits, slick blue skin, vestigial tails and fins – they could not have looked more different than the tiny, brown human children in tattered rags and bare feet. 

     “Is this what you want?” said Oannes to the boy as he motioned to the black orb. 

The sight before him mesmerized the boy. While at first, his naivety and childish petulance made him brave – now the reality of the situation petrified the tiny Akani child and he stood silently with eyes like saucers as the black ball obediently floated into Oannes’ hand. 

"This is a Comsphere,” said Oannes as he studied the ball in his hand. “It was used by our people as a sort of long distance communicator and general artificial intelligence to assist in small tasks.  Watch this!”

     Oannes whistled sharply as the Comsphere took the form of a staff. The little boy responded with a gasp that was somewhere between terror and delight.

    "They can change shape to adapt to whatever tool is needed,” said Do’ree. “I guess now they’ve just become playthings.” 

     “What are you?” the boy asked in wonderment.  

Oannes stood silently as he contemplated his response. He knew the Nommo had become little more than a myth to the Akani.  How exactly does one go about confirming that you are essentially a “god?” 

    “We are from the planet Nommos,” said Oannes solemnly. 

The boy eyed Oannes and his crew skeptically.  

"I thought Nommo were just in the stories the old ones told us,” said the boy. 
 
Oannes smiled. It seemed the boy wasn’t afraid of him and the child’s candor amused him. 

    “No little one, as you can see we are real,” replied Oannes warmly. “We would ask you though to take us to your elders – to the grown ones.” 

    “Only if you give me my ball back,” retorted the child. 

Oannes laughed and whistled again. The staff reverted to a black orb, and floated within reach of the child. The boy grabbed his treasure from the air and clutched it tightly to his chest.

 “The Akani seem to be quite fluent in Saya,” said the Nommo translator. “I was not entirely prepared for them to use the universal language so fluently. I’m impressed.”
 
Seemingly satisfied that he had his ball back, the little boy gestured for Oannes and his crew to follow him. The Nommo followed the child as he made his way through the foliage to the village where Akani young and old went about their daily lives – completely unaware that their lives were about to change forever. In a small clearing in the village, Kale’ trains for combat in the manner of the Akani – a combination of energy manipulation and physical tactics. Occasionally, the Akani used a long staff in hand-to-hand skirmishes and they were as deadly as any race on Beebop.

Kale’ was sweating profusely as he went through his morning training ritual. Completely engrossed mentally and physically in his exercises, he almost didn’t notice the commotion emanating from the village center. He made his way over to where the crowd of Akani were gathered. He was stunned at the site of the crew of blue and green, porpoise-like Nommo peacefully standing in the middle of a small group of baffled onlookers.

The Akani Elder was ushered to the front of the group. There was a solemnity about his demeanor that was unfamiliar to the Akani. They were so accustomed to seeing him smiling and sharing stories and blessings with his people. This was a new peculiar visage – that of a diplomat and leader. The Elder bowed and gestured to the Nommo to follow him to the temple.

The inside of the temple was a stark contrast to the breezy, leafy Akani village. The temple was as brown and dank as the outside was green and fresh. The air seemed stagnant and smelled faintly of exotic spices and smoke. As directed by the Elder, the Nommo sat on the floor and waited patiently for the old man to speak.

    “For what have you returned?” asked the Elder solemnly. 
    “We need your help,” said Oannes. “Our leaders on Nommos sent us here to retrieve the Gears which were stolen from our planet. Without them, our world will perish.”
 

 

CHAPTER VIII:  THE RETURN OF THE “GODS”
Oannes and his crew waited aboard the Tauris. The Akani Elder had listened to their plea for an allegiance to help retrieve the Gears, and he had given the Nommo his word that by sundown, he would reply. Without the help of the Akani, their mission would be exponentially more difficult, but it would proceed. Oannes steeled himself for the worst.

As the violet sun set in the sky, as promised, the Elder approached the ship with his reply. He had consulted with his people, and they had voted to pledge their help to the Nommo. As confused as they were, that their “gods” were returning in need of mortal help, it was their nature to give and be of service. 

    “The Nommo people thank you, and I thank you,” said Oannes bowing slightly to the Elder.

The Akani tribesmen eyed the situation with disdain. It seemed strange and sacrosanct to have their gods bow to them. 

    “We ask first that we be allowed to stay among you,” said Oannes. “We must conserve all energy and resources aboard our ship for our return home.”

In the following days, the crew of the Tauris set up camp within the Akani village. Their strange shimmering bodysuits were bizarre juxtaposed against the rough-hewn cloth of the villager’s garb. Everything about the Nommo fascinated the Akani – from their slick grey skin mottled with subtle stripes of turquoise and aqua – to their strange equipment and communication devices. Even their delicate, high-pitched voices were a stark contrast to the guttural voices of the tribe. The Nommo went about their preparations with their usual dispassionate efficiency, whereas the Akani responded to each seemingly magical event – the flash of a lighted sensor, or the bleat of a wireless transmitter – with wonder and awe. It was all so foreign to them that they began to view the Nommo less as god-like creatures, and more like sophisticated people

 Oannes sensed the change in their midst and attempted to mitigate the situation by explaining that the legends are wrong, that the Nommo were never gods but merely another race from another planet where they dwelled not on terra firma, but beneath something called an “ocean” which the Akani had never seen. The Nommo could breathe both on land as the Akani, but also could breathe under water. Many of the Akani were angered and confused by the assertion that their gods were among them, declaring their mediocrity and the descriptions of “water” and “oceans” were completely foreign concepts to them. 

 Oannes and the other Nommo are intent on their mission to demystify the legends of the Nommo ‘gods’ and win the Akani over. The crew showed the tribe how to use their “magical” equipment and told them the dramatic story of the evil Dralin and the peril faced by the Nommo. 

 Oannes also explains that without help, their world will plunge into darkness and the Nommo will no longer have a home. He urges them to consider what the Nommo have done for them in the past. The Akani seem to come up with a plan that will aid the Nommo, but with so much to process in such little time, the Akani must decide quickly. 
 

Play: “Crossing Into the Unknown"
 
 

CHAPTER IX. IT IS DECIDED
The Akani apprehensively agree to help in the Nommo quest, and the Elder assigns Kale' as the guide and protector of Oannes – an honor Kale’ did not take lightly. The Elder Chief explained to the entire expedition that if anyone knows anything about information or smuggling going on in Beebop, it is the legendary Airpirate.

    “Make no mistake, the Airpirate will not be easy to find,” said the Elder. “He must keep moving, or he dies and he will happily step over dead bodies in order to keep moving.”

“Father, is there anyone else?” questioned Kale’ in a low voice. 

“Kale, I understand your trepidation. It is wise to be cautious, but it is foolish to be afraid,” cautioned the old man. “The Airpirate is the only one who can help you now. You must seize the moment and make it your own. Put aside your anger, Kale’”

“How do you expect me to forget?” said Kale’. “The Airpirate is more than my enemy! He is…!”

“No Kale,” interrupted the Elder. “The Airpirate is not your friend and he never will be. But you can use him to your ends to do good for these people. That, in and of itself is its own revenge – but your true revenge will come in time.”

Kale’ blanched at the thought of any sort of alliance with The Airpirate, no matter how temporary. Kale' bristled with anger at the thought of what The Airpirate had done and the anger made his throat ache and his vision blurred around the edges. He struggled to control his hatred using the mental exercises he trained in so vigilantly each day.
Kale' breathed deeply and nodded at the Elder. He would control his temporal rage and seek immediate justice followed by inevitable retribution.  

“I’ll make sure the Nommo are safe,” said Kale’. 

Oannes towered at least two feet over the sinewy young man with the long, dark hair and it amused him to think of this small, slight creature as his protector. More likely, he would have to keep his companion out of harm’s way. 

 
 

 

CHAPTER X.     THE HUNT FOR THE AIRPIRATE
The Nommo search party sets out to comb the seas in their quest to locate the Airpirate before all is lost and they wasted no time getting to their Zeebos. When their Zeebos weren’t in action, they collapsed in on themselves into a small, almost flat, black disc about twelve inches in diameter. When Kale’ and his crew stepped onto their Zeebo discs, the rings comprising the small platform separated and began to expand – then revved up to spin around like a gyroscope. Contained within the spinning rings, were a buoyant water bubble and the Zeebo’s pilot. In less than ten seconds, the Nommo search party was ready to scour the ocean for the Airpirate’s massive ship. 

Navigating their Zeebos, Kale’ and his crew fearlessly willed their ships to reach maximum speed. Wind, cloud and surf spray whipped around their Zeebos as they dauntlessly pushed the limits of their ships’ capabilities. Ahead, Kale could just make out what appeared to be some sort of aggression between three large ships and The Airpirate’s spaceship, The Bermuda. 

"That’s his ship! It looks like an ambush!” shouted Kale’. 

No surprise to find The Airpirate under vicious attack. Loathed by smugglers across the galaxy, his ship was kitted out with the galaxy’s most advanced security warning systems designed to keep him abreast of any looming threats and affording him ample escape time. The Bermuda was a massive airship, capable of long haul flights and carrying large amounts of purloined cargo, but it wasn’t fast or sleek on water. When it was on the seas, it was a massive zeppelin of a boat, and had no chance of outrunning attackers. But its alarm systems gave the Airpirate ample time to take to the air and evade attacks. Should that fail, The Bermuda’s artillery battery could fend off most any attacker. What the ship lacked in speed, it made up for in firepower and sheer size. It could withstand a lot of damage before the lumbering tub would ever begin to take on water and sink. It was like a Kartari ringfighter who could take countless punches to the head without going down on the mat.

The three airships were unleashing a full-on assault against The Bermuda and The Airpirate was returning fire. How long could this continue? How much damage could The Bermuda take before she toppled like a giant tub of metal and sank into the depths? To Kale’ – this battle looked as though the Airpirate was finally outnumbered and outgunned. Kale’ felt a sense of satisfaction at seeing the odious Airpirate’s ship flanked on all sides by powerful, alien space crafts. He felt no mercy towards the man who murdered his best friend, Sahn. 


Kale’ didn’t like to think of Sahn. The pain was still too fresh and the circumstances around his death at the hand of The Airpirate went beyond adding insult to injury. Sahn was an innocent! Sahn was upholding tradition and had no weapons with which to defend himself! Kale’ fixed his gaze on the dread Airpirate ship and thoughts of Sahn’s tragic death came to him again in full color.

As was the Akani custom, when every young man came of age, it was a right of passage to venture out into Beebop to humbly undertake a task that would benefit humanity. To give without expecting reward or praise, was the Akani way. Cloaked in a disguise to shield his identity, Sahn enlisted to assist in the transport of rare and endangered animals from one city sector of Beebop to another. While moving his live cargo across the ocean, Sahn navigated through what was known as “the attack zone” – a section of the ocean that was well-traveled by the Airpirate. Despite the fact that it was an aid transport mission, The Airpirate tried to overtake Sahn’s ship.

Finding themselves under attack by the massive ship, Sahn and his crew immediately surrendered to The Airpirate – raising the ghostly white flag of mercy announcing themselves as a humanitarian transport -- not a commercial vessel. They had no weapons and nothing of value to The Airpirate. Seeing the white flag fluttering over the ship, the Bermuda retreated, but its powerful artillery had dealt a crippling blow to the aft of the cargo ship crushing a section of its fuel tanks and decimating its communications core. 

Sahn and his crew were trapped in the rubble of a dying ship. With no ability to radio for help, there was no hope. Mercifully, the ship burst into flames before all the souls on board suffered the anguish of death by drowning. Ignorant of the scale of devastation left in his wake, the Airpirate was long gone before the last of the tongues of orange flame that licked at the ship’s bow fizzled out and the last of the battered ship sank into the cool, blue sea. 

All Kale’ knew was that the Airpirate killed his brother and since his death, he had fantasized about watching the flaming remains of his ship, The Bermuda sink into the sea. It seemed like righteous karma. But there was something greater at stake and the Akani and Nommo fighters would have to act swiftly to save the Airpirate, or risk never finding The Gears again. 

Kale’ ordered the team to split up and board all the ships hoping to divide and conquer rather than hoping to win with a phalanx of fighting ships. Kale’ boarded the Bermuda in search of his sworn enemy. 

 


PLAY “THE AIRPIRATE”

 

 

CHAPTER XI.    THE BATTLE FOR THE AIRPIRATE

As Kale’s Zeebo plunged into the water and made its stealth approach towards The Bermuda, Kale’ listened to the others’ communications via his onboard transmitter.
            
            “Here’s the plan,” said Oannes. “Kale is going to board The Bermuda and spearhead the attack from that position. I need an engineer. Leera? You’re on. Commandos? Ku’vuu and Jo’vaa…? You two are with me too. Sta’zra…? We need you to pilot the ship. OK team, we’re taking the last ship at the end after we drop off Kale’.”
 
Oannes’ crew boarded their ships swiftly and efficiently. There was no time for talking now. As each crewmember fell into step, Oannes continued parsing out his small team into even smaller attack crews. If he had a skeleton crew to begin with -- he now had three smaller crews that were little more than bone fragments.

 “Ri and Bok – you pilot the third ship and So’tee will serve as navigator,” Oannes barked. “Sa’kroo…? You’re my lead commando and you’re going with them.” 
 
 With each team in place, they race off at full speed, triangulating around The Bermuda. Like wild animals circling wounded prey, Kale’ hoped their onslaught would be enough.

            “Well now great protector,’” smirked Oannes at Kale’, “Time to make good on that promise and get that ship back!” 

Kale' gives Oannes the “fins up” sign to let him know everything is locked, loaded and ready to go. Then the Zeebo made an abrupt, 90-degree maneuver, and shot straight up and exploded out of the waves. The little craft continued up about 100 feet into the air until it reached the same height as The Bermuda. From this vantage point, Kale’ was able to clearly see the metallic exterior machinery on the ship. The entire body of The Bermuda was covered in chrome-colored machine parts. Cogs, wheels and pulleys whirred in an interlocking frenzy of sinister power -- it looked almost like an ant colony teaming with life. It was hypnotic. 

Suddenly, gunfire rang out and an explosion rocked the starboard side of the ship. Kale’ could see men dressed in scarlet robes and turbans holding back strange, six foot tall crab-like warriors. The scene was horrific as the crab creatures hacked and chopped at the men in red turbans as they tried desperately to keep them at bay. Armed with long-barreled weapons fitted out with razor sharp scythe-like blades, the red-robed men could either shoot or slash their enemies at will. Confined to such small quarters, they opted for hand-to-had combat rather than risk hitting one of their own with stray bullets. The fighting was bloody and intense. Oannes looked to Kale’ desperately for some intel that could make sense of the bizarre scene.

            “What the hell?” yelled Oannes to Kale’. “Who is who? What are these bloody things? What the…?”
            
“Those are the Red Royals,” said Kale. “They’re mercenaries serving The Airpirate. Those disgusting giant crab-things…? Those are Cruti.  I’m betting they are the first line of offense for whoever is on those ships out there. They send them in to wreak havoc and cause as much collateral damage as possible before they board the ship themselves.”

"You've got to get moving, Kale',” said Oannes. “I gotta fly.”

 The lower half of the spaceship was comprised of a cross section of beams and rods forming part of some kind of propulsion and balancing mechanism. If you were low and parallel to the ship, you could actually see the whole aircraft.  The Zeebo neared the edge of The Bermuda and Kale' jumped out of the Zeebo’s liquid encasement and pulled out his retractable staff. A relic from the ancient Nommo days, it didn’t look like much to the naked eye, but it was a lethal weapon in a skilled fighter’s hands. 

 Suddenly, two of the six-foot-tall, Cruti crab-creatures descended upon him. Balancing themselves on their six hind legs, their massive pincers snapped dangerously in Kale’s direction. Covered with a mottled grey exoskeleton that was as hard as any armor, their dead, black eyes fixed on Kale’ and they advanced. In his shock, Kale’ released his grip on his fighting staff and the weapon clattered to the floor. 

Kale’ nimbly jumped towards one of the overhead beams. The Cruti were deadly, but every enemy has a weakness and Kale’ quickly assessed that theirs was their lumbering gate and sluggish responses. They were all sheer, brute force and their exoskeleton protected them from bullets and blows. 

Kale' saw his chance to leap down between two of the massive crustaceans and retrieve his staff. He gauged the distance and the timing and made the leap. He managed to deftly grab his weapon, but one of the creatures made a wild swipe at him with his claw and managed to graze his lower, left calf -- just as Kale’ tried to swing to safety. It was a glancing blow, but it still opened his flesh and the blood dripped thickly down onto his foot. 

 With his staff in hand, Kale’ shook off his initial shock and pain and went on the offensive. Suddenly, the pain in his calf dissipated and the blood oozing into his shoe didn’t matter. Kale was singularly focused, the staff in his hand came alive in his experienced hands. Kale’ lunged at one of the crab-creatures – his staff almost invisible as it spun ferociously. Kale’ quickly found a weak spot on the monster’s exoskeleton and drove in a blow that splintered the crab’s shell. Pus-like gray flesh oozed out of the massive crack and the first of the creatures collapsed onto the ship’s floor. The second Cruti sensed its imminent doom and tried to scuttle away, but Kale’ made short work of him as well. 

Standing amid the fetid remains of his attackers, Kale’ breathed heavily. The putrid stench of the dead creatures filled his nostrils as he struggled to catch his breath. Suddenly, he sensed another presence and turned around. Standing behind him was one of the Red Royals. Tall and deeply muscled, his unwavering gaze was transfixed on Kale’. Kale’s usually preternaturally keen senses failed him. He had no read on the man in the blood-hued robe and turban. He didn’t sense danger, yet he felt no safety. It was as if in that moment, the man was making up his mind. Kale’ readied his weapon just in case the decision was to attack him.  

The moment passed and the Red Royal nodded almost unperceptively to Kale’ and unholstered one of his guns and handed it to him. Kale’ suddenly knows which side the Red Royal was on… His. Or maybe Kale’ was on the Red Royal’s side? Whatever the case, they were fighting together from this moment on.  

A violent explosion rocked the ship, knocking Kale’ and the Red Royal to the ground. Clearly the attack was far from over. Kale’ could hear voices screaming out orders. Through the smoke and falling debris, he tried to make out who was shouting commands. As the wind cleared the smoke slightly, he could make out men with yellow, mucous-covered skin dressed in long, heavy coats boarding the ship.  They were Jaundi! Suddenly, Kale’ realized what was going on. The Crutis were just attack dogs sent ahead of the masters. 

            “Those are the ones piloting those ships,” shouted Kale’ to the Red Royal. “We’ve got to get out of here now!”

 The Red Royal gestured for Kale’ to follow him.

 
 

 

CHAPTER XII. THE STRUGGLE IS RAEL

Aboard one of the three enemy ships, chaos broke out among a race of creatures resembling a human-bird hybrid. With dark, glossy feathers, sharp, pointed beaks and glowing red eyes, the Nevar were descended from crows. 

The mercenaries scrambled to adapt to the situation. They hadn’t expected to face an elite fighting force aboard The Bermuda. They expected to stealthily approach the Airpirate’s vessel and send their vicious crabs on board to kill everyone on the ship. The Airpirate’s ship was extremely well-armed, but he had only a few crewmembers actually onboard. It was common knowledge that most of The Bermuda’s stealth and power came as a result of its technical advancements and artillery; all of which were automated and needed very few actual live bodies to operate them.  

The Nommo ejected themselves from their Zeebos and the small crafts reverted to small, black discs that remained hidden underwater; then they jumped up to board the ships. The battle began in earnest. Strangely, the Nommo didn’t carry any sort of weaponry on them. As the Nommo boarded the ship, seven mercenaries descended on them immediately and rushed in for the kill. Instead of responding by brandishing weapons – one large, extremely blue Nommo let out a deafening shriek!  The amplitude and frequency of the cry instantly vaporized one of the bird-like the mercenaries.  

 More of the porpoise-like Nommo boarded the ship and faced off against the avian creatures in a bizarre fish-versus-man fight on the high seas. The Nommo’s high-pitched battle cry was only one of the Nommos secret weapons unleashed upon the unsuspecting Nevarian fighters. One of the crew’s linguists Ku’vuu took a small, silver orb from her belt and deftly rolled it under the marauding bird-men almost as if she was playing a child’s game. But as soon as the seemingly harmless ball hit the deck under their enemies’ feet, it exploded into a massive water grenade, which enveloped the Nevar in a liquid vortex that simultaneously crushed and drowned them. The water then dissipated almost as quickly as it erupted, leaving only their broken carcasses strewn across the deck of the Nevar ship.

The fight was on! Oannes swam underwater just off the ships starboard side. Gathering all of his momentum, he swam powerfully and aggressively -- preparing to surface near his target. Rearing up, he blasted out of the water and his body arced like his porpoise ancestors of old. His body tensed into a ball and he somersaulted in the air -- gaining even more speed and power as he whipped his vestigial tail over his head and then arced downward to land on the side of the ship.

Oannes exploded into action. Expertly trained in the ancient art of Nommo Combat, he used his tail, fins and legs in sweeping, powerful moves that were as elegant as they were deadly. He moved as if swimming on land, but his moves carried with them lethal force. He was precise and he landed nearly every blow giving the Nevar no time to think or react to the onslaught. 

With the immediate danger dispelled, Oannes radioed his team to assemble in the main hull to take control of the ship. Their team is almost no worse for wear as they assumed their positions behind the navigation systems. The Nommo crew took their respective positions and reviewed their data and navigation systems. They were all feeling confident that they had already overcome one significant obstacle in a mission fraught with overwhelming obstacles and very little in the way of odds in their favor. 

The hull was quiet. The Nommo spoke only in whispers to each other. The soft humming of the ship’s computers was punctuated only by the occasional click or beep. Oannes sat back in his captain’s chair and breathed deeply for a moment. Now was the time to focus on the next…. 

Boom! 

A blinding blast shook the cockpit’s ceiling and one of the pilots Sta’zra is struck in the head by falling debris. His head lolled onto his chest as hot, thick blood flowed down his back from a massive wound. It is clear he was killed instantly.

Furious and discombobulated, Oannes leapt to his feet. His eyes quickly scanned the room and he saw a surviving Nevarian perched on one of the steel beams supporting the roof. He sprang forcefully into the air. He was capable of leaping on land almost as powerfully as he was able to spring from the water. He arced into a flip and drove his tail lethally into the bird-creature’s skull. The Nevarian fell to the ground like a squashed bug. 
            
“Damnit!” shouts Oannes. “Jo’vaa!  Ku’vuu! Secure the room! Make sure there aren’t any more of those things in here!”

 The two commandos check the room and give Oannes the “all clear” fins up. 

 

 

CHAPTER XIII:  TAKE NO PRISONERS

Aboard the second Nevar mercenary vessel the ship’s captain, Tevoo tensely paced in his quarters. He should have heard from his commanders by now. With their stealth capabilities and coordinated, multi-ship ambush – The Bermuda was a sitting duck. Before heading off to the ship’s bridge to get a first-hand status update, Captain Tevoo stared at his reflection in a small looking glass hung to the side of his cabin door. His red eyes gleamed as he gazed approvingly at his reflection. His ebony feathers were smooth and slicked back like a river of ebony flowing back from his forehead. He gave the mirror an appreciative smirk as if to thank it for treating him to such a pleasant visage – then he abruptly marched out the door and down the long, dank hallway to the bridge.

Captain Tevoo scanned the bridge and everything seemed in order. His crew was in place and there were no worrying communications from his advance team of crack commandos. But his instincts told him otherwise.

            “Men…!  I believe The Airpirate has something up his sleeve,” squawked Tevoo in his raspy, bird-like voice.

With the sound of his squawk still echoing in his beak, a shriek of epic sonic ferocity rang out and instantly vaporized Tevoo and three other squad members. Outside the confines of the bridge, Nommo warriors began jumping and arcing out of the ocean and landing on the ship’s deck like lethal, blue rain.

Nevarian fighter-birds took to the skies to mount an aerial assault on the Nommo. One of the smaller Nevar dove directly towards Sa’kroo and stabbed the commando viciously with his sharp beak. While the Nommo could leap to great heights, they were unable to compete with the natural avian in the skies.  Quickly, the Nommo commando lay dying on the ship’s deck – his chest bleeding profusely.  

The flock of bird-fighters was now without a leader. Like the creatures from which they descended, the Nevar were not a species of great intellect. They lacked any sort of pack mentality and were useless without a relentless leader like Tevoo who had mercilessly kept them in check – squawking orders and preempting even the slightest dissention with his overdeveloped sixth sense for danger and discord. 

The Nevarian crew squawked and fluttered like an agitated pack of field crows when a scarecrow suddenly appeared in a field of wheat. They pecked through the fallen debris on the bridge in an attempt to assess the damages, but mostly because they lacked the ability to regroup and formulate a plan for defending themselves against the mighty Nommo commandos that now dominated the ship’s deck. 

The Nevar grabbed the gravely injured Nommo fighter, Sa’kroo and dragged him upright and held him by one arm in front of them like a shield – hoping that a prisoner of war might give them some leverage with their attackers. But the Nommo could clearly tell that the commando was already a lost cause. 

            “Drop your weapons, or this one dies!” shouted the larger Nevar.

Sa’kroo locked eyes with his compatriots and as the last glimmer of life faded from his gaze. He reached into his belt with his one free fin and pulled out a small, silver orb and dropped it. The water grenade exploded in a hurricane of water crushing Sa’kroo and his five captors. The Nommo are never captured alive.  

CHAPTER XIV: RED ROYALS

Back on the Bermuda, Kale' and the Red Royal were making their way through a maze of corridors leading deeper into the center of the craft. Deep in the bowels of the ship, a cadre of Red Royals gathered to reload their weapons.

            “Where is he?” asked Kale’. “Where is The Airpirate.”

“Near the ship’s main deck,” replied one of the Royals. “That’s where ‘he’ was last seen. But it’s anyone’s guess at this point.” 

Another explosion rocked the ship.

            “Here! Take this!” shouted another one of the Red Royals as he threw a gunsword to Kale’. “If you’re going to stay, you’d better stay and fight!” 

A wave of mercenaries boarded The Bermuda from one of the three attacking ships. With their strange, glowing yellow skin and milky gray eyes, this was not a race that had descended from any ancient, Animalian species. The Jaundi were different -- but Kale and the Royals had no idea exactly how different. 

            Kale’ grabbed the gunsword from the Red Royals and prepared to fight. He braced himself in a defensive stance and the Royals flanked him on all sides. The Jaundi brandished their weapons and opened fire. Kale’ hastily covered himself with a large, jagged piece of metal that fell from the ceiling in the earlier explosions. He used the sheet like a battering ram and ran full force into the Jaundi hoping to crush the creature against the ship’s wall. He bashed its body into the hull and felt its brittle bones crunch beneath the metal sheet. Then suddenly Kale stumbled forward as his shield crashed into the wall. 

            “What the…?” stammered Kale’.

Capable of liquefying and then reforming, the Jaundi had collapsed in a puddle at Kale’s feet and reformed behind him. Several Jaundi then wasted no time in tackling Kale from behind and pummeling him. Although he was caught off guard, his instincts and training swiftly took over. Even though he was pinned on his back -- under two Jaundi -- he was able to draw his knees up quickly and connect with the underside of their jaws. The blows were ferocious and now Kale’ had the advantage of the element of surprise. 

With two of the Jaundi stunned, Kale’ leapt to his feet and lunged for the third creature. But before he could land a blow, the Jaundi dove onto his fallen comrades and his body seemingly liquefied into the body of the dazed fighter on the floor – forming one, much larger Jaundi that began to rise to its feet.

The two combined creatures merged to create one much larger monster that stood at least eight feet tall. The adrenaline pumping through Kale’s veins suddenly waned and he could feel the gash in his calf pulsing hotly. His mind scrambled to overcome the sudden pain and dread welling up in him – his brain felt like it was short-circuiting as he prayed for the subconscious hard-wiring that came from years of training to take over. Before it did – a small object whirred by his ear. In a concentrated flash of sound and fury, the giant Jaundi was incinerated leaving behind only a small cloud of acrid, yellow smoke. A shrill peal of laughter rang out behind Kale’.

            “Welcome to The Bermuda!”

Kale’ spun around and saw a lithe woman dressed in elegant all-black body armor emerging from the wreckage of the room. Her long blonde hair was tucked behind her earlobes, but tangled strands of it swung wildly about her face and stuck to beads of perspiration on her forehead. She wiped the hair and sweat off of her face with the palm of her hand as she approached Kale’. 

As she strode closer to him, he could see that her armor was as fine as any he had ever seen. It was cut to look like clothing, but was actually finely woven strands of merle – a highly sought-after metal found on Beebop that could withstand incredible force, yet was as light as gossamer. Kale’ knew this was the armor of someone very wealthy – and dangerous. 

As she strode towards him, the blonde woman calmly reloaded her rocket weapon. Cat-like, she darted behind a pile of rubble that had fallen in the doorway. As she crouched on the ground, she locked eyes with Kale’ and gave him a wry grin. Then she jumped to her feet, spun around and popped off a quick shot at an unseen target. 

            “Got ‘em,” she said smugly.  “Two down. And six to….”

She ducked quickly down again behind the small mound of metal and rock she was using as a shield, Threw away the empty rocket launcher and pulled out two small, silver blaster pistols from holsters on her back. She jumped up again and fired three rounds from each hand.

            “…go!” 

She paused for a moment and fired one more shot.

            “Sorry about that, I meant seven,” she gloated.
 
Kale’ stood rooted in his spot. For once in his life, he was completely at a loss for what to do, or say – or even think. Suddenly, one of the Jaundi on the ground began to move and make deep, guttural sounds.

            “Oh crap,” said the woman calmly. 

Unsheathing a long, translucent green blade, she deftly reached down and severed the creature’s head from its body. Holding the greasy, yellow head aloft for a moment, she tossed it to the side. 

            “If you cut their heads off, they don’t bother you anymore,” she said. 

She then proceeded to wipe clean the three-foot-long blade of her jade-colored saber on the headless Jaundi’s coat. She held the blade out in front of her in the light to inspect its condition. In the dimly lit room, the extravagant blade seemed almost bioluminescent. It shimmered and glowed.
    
“Incalite,” she said.
    
“What…?” 
    
“The sword,” said the woman. “It’s made of incalite. Ever seen one before?”
    
“No,” replied Kale’.
    
“You’re damn right you haven’t seen one before and you’re not likely to ever see one again.”

The woman slid the sword back into its sheath, strode over to Kale’ and stuck out her hand.

            “Ran Kez,” she said.

            “Ran Kez to you too,” Kale’ responded sternly.

            “No, you idiot. That’s my name.  I’m Ran Kez. But you probably know me as, ‘The Airpirate.’ If you came on my ship looking for a job, you’re going to have to prove you can fight better than that.”

Kale’ felt like time was in slow motion. He stared at The Airpirate as his brain tried desperately to recalculate every thought, image and legend he had heard about this infamous, odious, deadly mercenary. The Airpirate was a woman?

            “If you stand there with your mouth open like that for one more second, I’m gonna put my fist in it,” said The Airpirate.

 Kale' closed his mouth and continued to stare at her as the overwhelming urge to stab her in the heart enveloped him. His arms stayed at his sides. He was not about to shake Ran Kez’s hand. Kale’ glared at her instead as his hand itched for the knife at his waist.  


CHAPTER XV: STRANGE UNION
            
“Ran! Get over here, quick!” shouted a voice from the ship’s corridor.

As much as Kale’ wanted to drive the blade of his knife into The Airpirate’s heart and kill her where she stood, he stepped aside and let her run past him and out of the room.  He sauntered after her, then picked up his pace and began running towards the short flight of steps at the end of the hall that led up to the deck and into the bright sunlight. 

Four Red Royals stood pressed against the ship’s rails. The men leaned over the metal barriers -- pointing and gawking at what was going on below. The wind whipped at their turbans, which were now more gray than red with all the dust and debris that had fallen on them in the explosions. 

Kale’ joined them. Craning his neck over the rails, he could see two of the mercenary attack ships had maneuvered into position to attack the Jaundi ship. He could see that the ships belonging to the Nevar had been overtaken by the Nommo! 

            “Friends of yours?” asked Ran Kez.

            “They are,” replied Kale’.

            “Interesting bunch,” mused Ran Kez. “What do you call those things and what are they doing here?” 

            “They’re the Nommo,” said Kale’. “And let’s just say they are here to help.”

            “I don’t need anyone’s help,’ said the Ran Kez. 

Ran Kez smacked her hand down on the rails for emphasis before turning on her heels and marching off. She paused for a moment and shouted over her shoulder to the Red Royals.

            “Keep an eye on that one. I think he fancies himself a mutineer. Or worse … A hero.”

The Red Royals gave her a loyal nod as she departed. Next to the burly Red Royals, Kale’ felt like a willow amongst giant redwood trees – but for now…? They weren’t out of danger from the Jaundi and he sensed she knew they would have to fight together, or possibly fall apart.  Kale’ felt helpless where he stood penned in by the Red Royals. All he could do for now, was watch the scene in front of him unfold. There was no way to disembark and go aid the Nommo. Was he a prisoner? Or was he now in league with The Airpirate at least temporarily?

The Jaundi’s ship was a strange one. Craggy and gray, it looked almost like it was hewn from granite. It could be easily camouflaged if it was moored against a cliff, or when it was anchored in the water it could be mistaken for a large, rock outcropping. Kale’ could see the Nommo as they boarded one-by-one and disappeared into the hull of the ship. What would happen next, he could only imagine.


CHAPTER XVI:  FROM THE INSIDE

Three of the Nommo crew found themselves inside the massive Jaundi ship. While the outside of the vessel was cleverly forged to resemble roughhewn rock, the interior was gleaming white and hyper-modern. Seemingly, there were no hard edges in the twisting, turning corridors. The hallways and doorways all connected seamlessly together; ebbing and flowing as they led further into the bowls of the ship. The Nommo were prepared for a fight, but seemingly there was nobody on board the ship.

“Are they all dead?” asked Ku’vaa. “We can commandeer their ship. I can pilot anything in the air or on the water.”

“I’m not getting anything in here,” replied Ka’tar as she checked her Leera for non-Nommo life forms. “Something’s not right. It’s can’t be this easy.”

As the two pilots and their lead scientist Do’ree continued their exploration of the ship, no signs of life appeared. The ship was peaceful and serene. The three Nommo descended a long flight of stairs and Do’ree spotted a small puddle of thickly viscous yellow fluid seeping quickly over the edge of one of the steps.

            “What the…?” she exclaimed. “I just saw something!”

            “What?” asked Ka’tar.

            “I’m not sure. It could have been a shadow. But a shadow of what?” said Do’ree.

            “Not loving this,” said Ka’tar.

 The whole ship began to tremble violently as the three Nommo struggled to keep their balance.

“What is going on?” yelled Selin over the rumbling and growling of the ship.
 


CHAPTER XVII: FROM THE OUTSIDE

Kale’s eyes strained to make out any movement or sound coming from the Jaundi ship. It seemed like an eternity since the last of the Nommo boarded. At any moment, he expected to hear shouts and explosions coming from the ship. But it was as silent as a marble headstone on an ancient grave. He stood on the deck of the ship with the Red Royals where they watched intently like silent sentries.

At first Kale’ was uncertain of what he was seeing. It looked as though the rocky exterior of the Jaundi ship was growing moldy. A yellowish hue began to tinge the rough gray and white surface and it seemed to be turning exponentially more yellow by the moment. What sort of fungus or mold could grow at that rate? 

Suddenly, Kale’ realized this wasn’t some sort of hyphae. The oozing, viscous substance seemed to be pulsing out from the ship’s interior! He couldn’t believe his eyes, but it was true! A thick, yellow slime was slowly ebbing out and engulfing the entire ship!  To his horror, he remembered how when he attacked the Jaundi with the shield made of metal debris, the yellow creatures had dissolved into a glowing, xanthous mucous and reformed. 

 “Do you see what’s happening?” Kale’ said to the Red Royals. “The Jaundi can morph from a solid state into a liquid state and then reform as a larger creature. Ran Kez and I saw it happen. First there were two Jaundi – and suddenly there was a giant 8-foot monster. Two can combine to make an 8-foot creature. So what do you suppose an entire ship full of them can become if they merge into one being?”

The Red Royals suddenly seemed less like guards and more like comrades. He had to convince them that he was right about this – or all the Nommo would surely perish. Before he could rally and take action, the Jaundi ship erupted into a giant fireball! The force of the explosion knocked Kale’ and the Red Royal away from the ship’s railing and blew them like paper dolls all across the ship’s deck. The heat was so intense, Kale’ felt as though his skin might blister.

As Oannes struggled to his feet, he saw that the Jaundi ship was gone – and three of the Nommo with it. His heart sank. The smoke undulated through the air, roiling and boiling as though it were a living creature. Kale’ could almost see a leering face made of smoke and ash lurking in the giant column of soot. What was he seeing? His heart plummeted even lower as he realized it was a 400-foot-tall Jaundi!  All of the Jaundi on board the stone ship had morphed into one colossal monster that now stood before him!

 The giant Jaundi steeled its gaze on The Bermuda and took one enormous step toward the ship. As its massive foot crashed down in the water, it created a mini-tsunami that rocked the two remaining mercenary ships as well as The Bermuda. Kale’ and the Red Royals sprang into action. Calling out for Ran Kez and the entire rest of the ship’s crew to engage all points.

            “Everyone report to battle stations!” cried Ran. “We’ve got to unload everything we’ve got at this thing!”

Moving ever closer, the ocean undulated with each step the giant Jaundi took. The Bermuda rocked precariously and Kale’ and the crew struggled to keep their footing as they began firing at the monster. 

            Ran shouted out, “Engage the engines! Let’s try and get out of here!”

 The Airpirate climbed into the ship’s gun turret and began unloading round after round into the giant Jaundi. Kale’ and the Red Royals manned the cannons and RAEL guns mounted on the ship’s deck and below, the rest of the Red Royals launched short range torpedoes in hopes of slowing it down. Despite the massive firepower of The Bermuda, the massive Jaundi wasn’t deterred. 

Realizing these ships weapons are doing next to nothing, Oannes calls out to the rest of the Nommo.

“Let’s Zeeb up!”

The Nommo team all dove overboard – their blue bodies elegantly arced over the ship’s railings. Diving deep, they located the Zeebo discs still submerged nearby The Bermuda. Willing their crafts to maximum power, the Zeebos engulfed the Nommo inside their watery bubbles and Oannes and his men burst through the waves in their pods and begin to circle the Jaundi.

            “Open fire!” commanded Oannes.

The modded Zeebos emitted  powerful energy beams at the creature’s head. The violet beams of light and energy zapped at the Jaundi’s enormous skull and seemed to be little more than an annoyance. The creature lumbered forward unfazed. If they couldn’t kill the creature, perhaps they could slow it down!

            “His knees! Aim for his knees!” shouted Oannes.

The Nommo flew lower and focused their beams on the creature’s knees – hoping against hope that they could inflict some pain or damage that would keep the Jaundi from advancing. The creature began swatting at the Zeebos, but the swift, nimble pods proved to be too quick. Oannes flew between its legs and managed to blast the creature in the back of the knee.

            “It’s slowing down! Strike from the rear!” commanded Oannes.

Just then the giant swung its arm and caught two Zeebos in the air, swatting them like flies. Crashing down into the water, they were knocked out of the fight.  Back on the Bermuda Kale's RAEL gun was out of ammunition. He shouted out to The Airpirate and the Red Royals.

“I need to reload! Where is the ammunition hold?”

But nobody could hear him over the commotion of shouting and cannon fire. Kale’ watched as the giant swatted down two Zeebos and took another faltering step towards The Bermuda. Despite being slightly hobbled, the Jaundi was within reach of the ship. It stretched out its giant hand to pick up the crippled ship.

            "Grab onto something! This is gonna be a little rough!" shouted The Airpirate.

The Jaundi plucked The Bermuda out of the air like a toy. Kale’, Ran Kez and the Red Royals all clung on for dear life as the ship was hoisted higher into the air. The ship’s hull began to warp and bend in the giant’s forceful grip. Kale’ closed his eyes and focused his breathing. With all his energy, he began to attempt to send a telepathic message to Oannes.  When he was young, the old chief told legends of the Nommo’s telepathic powers – great stories of how they could command their flying ships with their minds. If there was any truth to it, now was the time to find out. Kale’ focused his mental energy and directed it toward Oannes. Remembering what The Airpirate told him, “”If you take off their heads, they don’t bother you anymore.”

Kale’ began to mutter the phrase over and over again like a mantra, “If you take off their heads, they don’t bother you anymore… If you take off their heads, they don’t bother you any more…”  Clinging desperately to the barrel of his useless RAEL gun, he stared out at Oannes’ Zeebo hoping desperately that the Nommo warrior could somehow tune in to his telepathic plea.

            “If you take off their heads, they don’t bother you anymore!” he chanted aloud, while The Airpirate gave him a bewildered look.

Piloting his Zeebo upward, Oannes was now flying eye-level with the Jaundi and nearly parallel to The Bermuda as the giant held the massive ship aloft. He tried shooting his energy beam into the monster’s eyes – hoping maybe to blind it. Nothing seemed to work. At least for now, the Jaundi’s attention was focused on The Bermuda and not on swatting away the remaining Zeebos and he had a few seconds to think of a plan. His heart pounded and his mind raced, surely the monster must have a weakness! Every enemy had one.

In that instant, Oannes knew what to do. The Jaundi dangled the broken and bent carcass of The Bermuda in front of his gaping maw and it looked as though he was prepared to unhinge his jaw and swallow it whole.

Gazing out one of the portholes on the side of the ship directly into the giant Jaudnis eyes, Ran Kez gave out what she believed to be her last words :

"Hell of a way to go!"

Oannes navigated his Zeebo slightly above the Jaundi and hovered high above its head. With every ounce of willpower, he forced his ship into a vicious 90-degree dive straight down on the monster’s head. As his ship screamed and shook under the stress of the massive G-force. Oannes flew fast and hard – coming down directly next to the side of the creature’s head. As he dive-bombed past the Jaundi, he lobbed a water grenade at the tender flesh of his neck. 

Oanne’s adrenaline pumped as he willed his Zeebo into another impossible 90-degree turn. The Zeebo shook with the force, and the bright colors shooting out from behind his ship turned from yellow to a deep purple. Oannes was undaunted and willed the ship to turn sharply and fly away from the monster as the water grenade exploded into the Jaundi’s neck, slicing through the Jaundi’s cervical vertebrae and severing the giant’s head from its torso.

Kale' seeing this happen, cheekily yelled out The Airpirates phrase back to her :

"...Grab on to something! This is gonna be a little rough!"

            Oannes’ piloted his Zeebo safely out of the way as the Jaundi’s head toppled from its shoulders and catapulted into the ocean. The giant’s body stood motionless for a moment, still holding The Bermuda aloft. It was as if the body hadn’t yet received the neural transmission that it was already dead. Then, almost as if in slow motion, the monster’s knees buckled and the body collapsed. Still holding The Bermuda in its lifeless hand, the Jaundi toppled slowly as gravity brought the great beast down.

All souls on board The Bermuda clung on for dear life as the Jaundi toppled. Kale’ knew it was only a matter of moments until the ship would hit the water. How much damage had it already sustained? Was there any hope that the ship was still seaworthy? Would the Jaundi release its grip? Or would it hold the ship in a death clutch and drag it down with it?

The Jaundi slowly crumpled into the water like a giant balloon that sprang a leak. Ran Kez, Kale’ and the Red Royals scrambled to brace themselves against ship for the fall. 

    “Everyone! Hang on!” shouted Ran Kez. 

       "Full reverse thrust, give it everything you got!"

The ship pitched violently, Kale’, The Airpirate and the Red Royals obeyed Ran Kez’s orders and hung on for dear life applying full power to the brakes. When The Bermuda hit the water, it bobbed wildly like a cork and the creature released its grip as it sank into the sea. The ship was battered and completely depleted of energy– as was everyone on board -- but it was afloat. They were alive.

In the chaos, Oannes had been pitched overboard and his fluke tail pumped furiously to get him out of the way of the giant’s body as it fell. Suddenly, he spotted two of the downed Zeebos submerged in the water! He swam to them and realized that the pilots were still alive and only stunned by the giant’s blows. He quickly secured the Zeebo discs to his belt, and dragged the two pilots to the surface.

Oannes’ head burst through the water and he filled his aching lungs with air. He had made it! He wasn’t far from The Bermuda, which rocked and swayed in the tumultuous chop, but it seemed to be stabilizing and remained afloat. Anxiously he searched the surface hoping to see the others. Where were the Red Royals? Had The Airpirate and Kale’ survived? 

            Oannes saw The Airpirate waving to him from the deck of The Bermuda and he gratefully swam towards the ship with the two unconscious Nommo pilots in tow.  



CHAPTER XVIII: THE GROUP REGROUPS

Back on the deck of the battered remains of The Bermuda, Oannes took a deep breath. It had taken a significant amount of strength and stamina to swim back to the airship towing the two injured pilots. He was grateful for the solid feeling of the deck below him, it was warm and strangely comforting. Suddenly he realized, “Where was Kale’?”

    “What have you done with the Akani?” asked Oannes.

“Who’s asking?” said Ran Kez. 

“I am,” said Oannes. “I demand to see Kale’ immediately!”

“Is that so?” said Ran Kez. “I don’t think you’re in much a of a position to be making demands aboard my ship. But since you're so worried about your playmate, he’s right here.”

The Red Royals stepped aside to reveal Kale’. He was in one piece, but his hands were tied behind his back.

    “What’s going on here? Why is he in handcuffs?” asked Oannes.

    “Because he’s my prisoner,” said Ran Kez. “That’s what happens to strangers who board my ship in the middle of an attack. I’m a little funny that way. It’s not my custom to invite bounty hunters to tea and cake.”

    “We’re not bounty hunters,” said Kale.

    “Release him,” said Oannes calmly.

    “No chance,” said Ran Kez as she reached for the saber at her side. “If you want to cash in on that bounty on my head, you’re going to find yourselves in for a fight.”

In unison the Red Royals drew their weapons and took a defensive stance. Oannes knew that he didn’t have a chance against the Royals and The Airpirate – so he used his tail to propel himself at Ran Kez. He landed hard in front of her and pushed her back with all of his force, smashing her into the ship’s hull. He swiftly spun around and held her lithe body out in front of himself like a human shield. It happened so quickly, the Red Royals had no chance to react and now Oannes had a prisoner too!

    “That’s better. I’m feeling like things are a bit more equal now,” said Oannes. “Now what were we doing again? Oh yes, we were discussing releasing a prisoner. I’m sure you’d like me to release this one.”

    The Airpirate was stunned, but she was quickly regaining her composure.

    “If this is about money, I promise you’ll never collect a dime from any of those bounty hunters. If you think for one minute that if you turn me over to one of those scumbags they’re going to do anything other than kill you and then kill me? Then you’re out of your mind,” said Ran Kez.

    “I told you we’re not bounty hunters!” shouted Kale’.

One of the Red Royals punched Kale’ in the face. In return, Oannes punches Ran Kez in the face.

    “That is correct,” said Oannes. “We aren’t bounty hunters. We’re here because we need your help.”

    “Damnit! Ouch!” yelled Ran Kez. “You sure know how to go about asking for help!”  

The enormous Nommo towered over The Airpirate, and he could easily have killed her with one strike of his tail. Instead he gave her a glancing blow to the side of her head and continued to hold her captive, wrenching her arms behind her back so she had no chance of reaching any of her weapons. The Red Royals were on full alert and prepared to strike should Oannes try to truly harm their leader, but it was clear to all that if he wanted to strike to kill, there wouldn’t be anything the Red Royals could do to prevent him from ending Ran Kez’s life.

     “It’s quite simple. We have something you need, and we need you to help us get something we need. Nothing more, and nothing less,” said Oannes. “Release Kale’ and I will release you. I’m sure only The Airpirate can pilot this ship, so if you’re dead – I think we all know what will happen. We will board our ship and leave your corpse here with your men as food for the vultures that will be coming to feast on your bones. Or, you can help us find what we need and in return, we will give you something you need.”

Oannes slowly released The Airpirate’s arms, but staid very close to her should she try any tricks. Ran Kez pushed her tangled, wet hair out of her eyes and glared at Kale’ and Oannes.

            “Really? Exactly what ‘help’ do you think I am going to give you and what exactly do you have that I might need?” she glowered.

            “You need us to repair this rust bucket of yours,” said Oannes. “It’s not exactly airworthy. You’re a sitting duck out here. There’s a bounty on your head and judging by the crews that just showed up to claim it, there’s probably 50 more ships full of bounty hunters on their way here. Word travels fast in this part of the galaxy – especially when it comes to news about you -- and turning you in for a pile of cash.”

Ran folded her arms across her chest defiantly and begrudgingly nodded at the Red Royals to release Kale’s arms from the cuffs that held his hands behind his back.

            “Fair enough. But what exactly do I have that you want – and what makes you think I’m in any position to give it to you? As you can see – things haven’t been going so well around here lately.”

            “We need you to get us to Dralin so we can recover something priceless that he stole from my people,” said Oannes.

            “Don’t know any Dralins,” said Ran. “Tough luck.”

            “We didn’t say you knew him, we just know you can help us find him,” said Kale’.
           
 “Is that so…?” smirked Ran. “Well, glad to know you have such confidence in my abilities.”
            “I wouldn’t call it confidence,” said Kale’.  “I’d call it desperation – and desperate times call for …”

            “The Airpirate,” interrupted Oannes. 

            “Flattery will get you everywhere,” said Ran wryly. 

            “We're counting on that,” said Kale’.

            “So you’ll repair my ship if I help you find something?” said Ran Kez. “Exactly what is this mysterious something?”

            “The Gears of my home planet,” replied Oannes.

            “What’s that?” said Ran Kez.

            “They are the essential power source that fuels our planet. They were given to my people by, ‘The Ones of Light’ and without them, my home will wither and die and with it every single Nommo man, woman and child,” replied Oannes. “It was stolen by an Orro who goes by the name, ‘Dralin.” 

“I heard the Orro planet was destroyed by the Cyans,” said Ran Kez.

“Yes,” said Oannes. “We believe this makes him even more dangerous. He has no home to return to. Before the destruction of his planet, he was in the service of our military, but now he is a fugitive. He is a desperate man with nothing to live for except building a weapon that could destroy entire planets. We need you to help us find him and retrieve what is ours.”

            “What makes you think I’m the one to help?’ asked Ran Kez.

            “Let’s just say, I’m a man who now believes in legends, and The Airpirate is a legendary thief who knows every seedy operation and every notorious criminal in all of Beeboptropolis,” said Kale’.

Ran Kez smirked with pride. She was more than a little flattered and intrigued by the idea of the heist. Moreover, she knew full well that within a few hours, there would be boatloads of bounty hunters circling The Bermuda like vultures just hoping to peck at the bones of her crippled ship. With her cloaking devices disabled, they were likely already headed towards them.

            “So it’s me who gets to play hero in this story?” laughed Ran Kez. “That’s a new one. How quickly can you repair The Bermuda’s cloaking system? If you can’t get it back up and running in the next hour – we may as well all abandon ship.”

            “Lee’ra, my engineer finished five minutes ago,” said Oannes calmly.

            “So you already repaired it?” said Ran Kez. “You’re awfully sure of yourself. What if I had said, no?”

            “What is done can easily be undone,” said Kale’. 

            “Except when it cannot,” said Oannes. “That is why we have no time to waste and we must get to Beeboptropolis and find The Gears before Nommos is destroyed forever.”

            “You’ve got yourself a deal,” said Ran Kez.


CHAPTER XIX: THE DECISION

As Ran Kez made her way back to the solitude of her cabin, she silently surveyed the wrecked Bermuda. The giant Jaundi had crushed and dented the ship’s hull and the skin of the vessel and it was severely battered. The once intricate system of conductive tracks and gears that covered the exterior of the ship was stripped off in parts like old wallpaper – leaving bare the stark, grey metal beneath. 

Getting The Bermuda’s cloaking system back online was one thing, but restoring the entire ship was another. It was going to take a lot of money and a lot of manpower. Maybe finding The Gears was the answer to all of her problems? If these things were so valuable, maybe she could locate them and sell them herself. She didn’t owe Kale’ and Oannes anything. In fact, they were to blame for this mess.

Ran Kez settled herself on a small, golden settee in her cabin, poured a pale blue liquid into a small, crystal cup and drank deeply. She closed her eyes and leaned back as the liquor took effect and reality became only a soft-focus memory. Her private quarters were expensively decorated. Her furnishings had been plundered from some of the wealthiest merchants and traders in the galaxy. She liked nice things. Jace had taught her about luxury. He taught her how to appreciate the delicate porcelain plates made by the Ganonns and how to tell real Tapeerian crystal from cheap fakes. He taught her to savor only the best Kartarian liquors and wear only the finest merle body armor. She had soaked in his teachings and learned well. As she drifted into a state of deep relaxation, she thought of her mentor, Jace. The Airpirate rarely had warm feelings for anyone – except for Jace.

Ran Kez had never known a father. She actually didn’t seem to remember anything before Jace found her scrounging in the streets of Beeboptropolis. Why he noticed her, she would never know.  She liked to think he saw in her a kindred spirit, but it was more likely that he thought a tiny wide-eyed, blonde orphan girl might come in handy for smuggling. Who would expect a tender girl-child to be carrying a knapsack full of drugs or stolen weapons?

Jace quickly learned that Ran Kez was no innocent. Her angelic face belied her ruthless heart. It took no coaxing to indoctrinate her into his life of crime. She didn’t just adapt to her new circumstances – she thrived. Together they had plundered their way through the galaxy and she had loved every minute of it.  But she had taken to the air and Jace, now quite old, stayed close to the streets of Beeboptropolis. Perhaps he could help her with one more heist? A smile played on Ran Kez’s lips as she drifted off.

Meanwhile, Kale’ and Oannes join the remainder of their crew to assess The Bermuda for collateral damage. There is no time to mourn the dead – there was only time to fix the ship and hope to keep millions more from dying.

            “Do you think we can trust her?” asked Kale’.

            “Absolutely not,” replied Oannes.

END PART I