(Author’s Note)… I have given up doing the author’s notes, because nobody is actually reading this… HA!
After a not-very-long nap, which his friends all knew he needed, and let go on for as long as possible, Arthur woke to find that things in the universe, indeed any universe, could and did go on happening without any help from him.
The General apologized for waking him, and then filled him in on what he had missed. The General actually waved his upper tentacles with excitement as he ticked off the good news. “The whole second wave has come over to our side. Once they realized they were surrounded by the enemy, the beacon ship on this side of the gate surrendered peacefully. Well, they were tempted to try to slip away utilizing their stealth capability, but Gup convinced them that he could track them easily enough, and that was that. I have no idea if he was bluffing or not. I took the precaution of beaming robot Number Three and a Reaver to the ship to take control of it.”
Arthur was too busy waking up to respond, but he nodded and smiled sleepily.
The General went on with his briefing. “The Obama came through the gate moments ago, and that’s the last of them. We are all on this side of the gate and forming up for battle. Oh, and the Orion is going to be arriving at any minute. They have a ‘special delivery’ for you, according to our young Captain Hulls.”
“We need to save the Earth here,” mumbled Arthur wearily. “I promised them.”
“As your tactical advisor,” said the General seriously, “I advise against any kind of assault. There are, no doubt, Keelar ground troops occupying the major cities. Any fighting on the ground will result in massive civilian casualties and take a very long time. We are not well supplied with infantry or support units. The good news is that the scanners indicate that the Keelar have no ships in orbit around this Earth. They seem to be marshaling all their ships together to fight us. The bad news is that there are two other Keelar fleets besides the original third wave of the invasion. These fleets each contain 300,000 ships.”
“Nearly a million ships,” Arthur moaned, “we can’t fight against that.”
“Of course not,” said the General sagely. “But we can lead them on a merry chase so they don’t take out their frustration on any of the planets they rule.”
“You have obviously given this some thought,” said Arthur with a fond smile.
“That is my job as you may recall,” said the General smugly. “And I needed something to keep my mind occupied while you caught up on your beauty sleep. So now, as you put it, we need to cut off the head of this rather large snake.”
“Right,” Arthur agreed. “We just need to take out Fahh, and they should fall into disarray.”
“Exactly,” said the General, sounding like a teacher who was pleased by his student’s brightness.
“I love it,” Arthur beamed. “It’s so Lord of the Rings. The good guy army challenges the armies of the Dark Lord while a select group of ring bearers sneaks in the back door and brings down the evil empire. We are the perfect small band of intrepid warriors for the job, well versed in sneaking and such.”
“Also, as it turns out,” said the General, as if Arthur hadn’t interrupted, “the great Fahh has grown rather fat and no longer leads the Black Fleet in person. He is back on the Keelar Homeworld, holed up in his palace.”
“So, a single spy ship should have no trouble sneaking up on him,” said Arthur in a conspiratorial way.
“That would seem to offer our best chance of success,” was the General’s response.
Arthur glanced around the cabin of the trusty little spy ship. In one corner Number Four the robot was doing repairs on Number One. Number Two and Number Three were doing duty on the other spy ships, along with Gup and the Qualm. But he had the General and the Warlord. And there was Oox, his big, loyal bodyguard, whom Arthur had finally come to realize was a bit clumsy for a Xxo. In fact, he had secretly been pronouncing his name as ‘Oops’ for a little while now.
Arthur spotted little Frodo leaning against one of the crates of needle guns. The Hand-Friend gave Arthur four thumbs up, and Arthur couldn’t help but smile back. And there were seven of Rubar’s Reavers. Rubar and one other were also guarding the captured spy ships. The Reavers were busy checking their own needle guns, no doubt for the hundredth time. This was the crew of his little ship that would go with him into harm’s way. He felt a lump in his throat.
He got up to look over the Warlords shoulder, if I may be allowed to misuse that word, to study the screen. His fleet, so much bigger than before, was following the General’s orders and setting off slowly in the direction of the nearest Nexus Point. There were no Hubs in this reality, Arthur had been surprised to learn, but the Nexus Points would always be the focus of strategy for a war in space. He who controlled the Nexus Points could go where he wished. His fleet would not travel in a straight line, but rather in a zigzag that would keep the Black Fleet guessing about their final destination, or so the General and Arthur hoped.
The Orion is through the gate,” the Warlord passed on. “They are signaling that they are ready to receive us.” He then docked the spy ship in the Orion’s cargo hold.
Captain Kelsey Hulls was there to meet Arthur. She was calm and precise as she gave her report. “We had time to grab several thousand crates of the vortex energy weapons, as the Zitarans call them,” she finished.
“Good job, Captain,” Arthur congratulated her. “I will take a crate with me. We need to go. Catch up to the fleet and stay with them. Make sure my friend Jon gets on to the other Arthur’s ship. And keep safe. The beacon ships are shutting down and hiding, so no one is using the gate for a while.” Arthur climbed aboard the spy ship holding the crate of guns. He yelled back over his shoulder, “And Captain, pass these vortex guns out to the reaction-security forces on as many ships as you can. I suspect that the Keelar may be allergic to them.”
And the spy ship was off. They needed to hurry. The Warlord checked the scanner screen and reported, “The three enemy fleets are taking up pursuit of our units. Top speeds should be about the same for most of their ships and our ships, so as long as they don’t make a mistake and get boxed in, they should be able to stay ahead of them.”
It took three hours for the spy ship to reach the Nexus Point closest to the other Earth. That was remarkably fast. The engine was a Protek design. It seemed strange to Arthur that there was no Hub floating majestically by the Nexus Point. As they lined up to transit the point a ship, a small freighter, blasted out of it and missed smashing into them by less than a mile. This may not sound too close, but trust me, in space travel that is a very near miss.
The Warlord was not happy about using the Nexus Point with no traffic control from the Hubs, but they had no choice. Fortunately, this spy ship had traveled to the Homeworld before, and the General found the needed speed and vectors in the ship memory and they did a quick jump. They managed to transit without hitting anyone and shot out of the point closest to the Keelar Homeworld safely. And there they were, less than an hour later, in orbit over the birthplace of the Keelar race.
“How do they send communications across the universe without the Hubs?” Arthur wondered aloud.
“Gup figured it out,” responded the General. There are relay stations scattered about, another Protek device, evidently.
“What in the twelve Halls of Destiny is that?” asked the Warlord, flicking a tentacle at the screen. “It is in geosynchronous orbit over the capital, whatever it is.”
The scanner was picking up a large structure floating above the planet. “Switch on the camera mode and zoom in,” prompted Arthur. “Let’s get a look at it.”
Before the Warlord switched the screen from radar mode to camera mode he noticed something. “That is strange. Gup’s scanner, the one that detects the transport machine energy signal, he left it hooked up to our scanner. And it is picking up a very strong energy field. But it is continuous, not like the long pulses when a beam is used to move someone.”
The big screen mounted on the forward section of the pilot’s deck shifted from its blip and vector line mode used for navigation to a direct optical view. A strange gantry-like framework of octagonal metal braces supported by a spine-like beam appeared before them. It looked like a backbone with gleaming bare ribs still attached to it. At one end of the spine, like a skull on the neck, a modular rectangular environmental section had been mounted. Supposedly someone, or many someones, were living there.
“What the heck is that thing?” Arthur wanted to know.
“Maybe that is the booster station for the comm signal network,” suggested the General. “That framework may be antennas of some sort. Or maybe a small research station.”
“Zoom in on it,” said Arthur. He had a feeling it might be important. As the view expanded they spotted something green nestled in the ribs like a beating heart. The rib cage, thought Arthur, is a cage indeed.