(Author’s note)… I am still posting chapters of the fourth book in my epic, action/humor science fiction series: The Otherwhere Chronicles. These are the adventures of a lazy, sarcastic, under-achieving old dude from another dimension… okay, it’s me, I mean, not this me, another me, are you happy now?… who, through luck and the virtue of having really good friends, both human and alien, goes from being a janitor in a Texas-style saloon on an alien space station, to being the darling of the universe, CEO of the biggest corporation in the history of any universe, and is now the Supreme Commander of the allied fleets that is trying to stop an invasion from yet another dimension from the Black Empire, which outnumbers them by about a million to one.
This other me never wanted to do or be any of these things. I mean, he tries to do the right thing, but he isn’t big into plans. He just makes it up as he goes along. But he has managed to get the first waves of the invasion fleet to switch over to his side, and gotten them all back through the gate into the other dimension, and, in this chapter he has even managed to infiltrate the throne room of the ruler of the Black Empire… then, as you will see, things begin to go wrong… again…
The Doraimee Fahh sat on his throne and fretted over the unsettling reports he had received concerning his invasion of ‘the other place’. He most likely would have been far more troubled if his Ministers had not been watering down their reports, but this is not an uncommon situation when everyone in a vast empire reports to one person that they are all terrified of and who has the power of life and death over all.
It all came down, the Doraimee concluded, to that one pesky human, that Arthur Blacke. It had all started with the news that David Glassaway, one of his most trusted and highly trained agents, had been captured. The Doraimee had sent a new spy to free Glassaway, not out of concern for his agent, but to find out what had gone wrong. The spy had bribed a guard to smuggle a transport remote to Glassaway in his cell, allowing him to beam to a spy ship in low orbit and thus escape. Fahh had given Glassaway a chance to get even, more than one chance in fact, but all his attempts to eliminate Arthur Blacke had failed. Fahh was very unforgiving of failure, and he had been surprised at how long he had been patient with Glassaway. He glanced over at the floor nearby where David Glassaway lay, naked, filthy, and bruised. A neck collar with a long chain attached Glassaway to his throne.
Now Fahh was receiving vague and disquieting reports that things were going wrong with his invasion. Incredibly, the only information that had seeped through the filter of terrified Ministers was that the first wave of the invasion was meeting unexpectedly stiff resistance. Yet still Fahh was feeling edgy and nervous. He lashed out at anyone who came near him, which only made his Ministers more afraid to deliver any bad news.
Fahh was not stupid, not for a Keelar anyway, but he was not particularly bright either. Like many sociopaths he was crafty and sneaky. He was also paranoid. So, he didn’t just intend to let some super brainy science guy beam into his throne room without taking any precautions. He ordered extra guards to take up station on the raised balcony circling the large, round room. He also flicked open the cover that protected a pair of buttons on the arm of his throne.
He glanced around at his throne room, his seat of power, and drew strength from the symbols of his awesomeness. The curved walls were made of solid bloodstone, a delightfully somber red, harder, and shinier than any marble. The walls were hung with trophies of his family’s conquests; flags, banners, the skulls of enemy rulers, weapons of all sorts. One frayed, tattered old flag had once flown over the capital city of the first race the Keelar ever crushed. Fahh, unlike most of his people, still knew the embarrassing story of that first conquest.
Fahh fondled the armrest of his throne, absently caressing it with his two finger-pads, being careful not to touch the buttons. The throne was made from the giant skull of a monster that had once roamed his Homeworld. The jaw was gapping open and Fahh sat inside the mouth where the tongue once rested. The fourteen-inch-long upper teeth hung above him like stalactites, while the lower jaw circled before his feet, the lower teeth forming a neat picket fence. He was indeed imposing and powerful. So why, he wondered, did he feel so fidgety?
Back on the space prison, Arthur left Number Five and the Reaver to lock all the prisoners in one room and keep them under guard. Then he explained to the scientists what he intended to do.
There is one flaw in your plan, human man,” explained Fawsanth. “I do not have a transport remote. Only the troop leader of the guards has one. He would be expected to accompany me.”
“No problem at all,” Arthur said positively. He went and grabbed the unconscious troop leader before the Reaver had a chance to toss him in a room with the others they were picking up. Arthur tucked the peacefully resting Keelar under his left arm just like a football he so resembled. Then he beamed back to the spy ship carrying his prisoner. It took just two minutes to set the plan in motion.
Fahh watched the Protek begin to appear about twenty yards in front of his skull throne. All seemed to be in order, the troop leader holding on to the green fur-covered hand at the end of the scientist’s long right arm. But wait a schmule, thought the Doraimee, suddenly more interested. It was the funny-looking green hairy science brain that held the remote in his free hand, not the troop leader. Someone would pay for this oversight. He signaled his goodshooters to be ready as he studied the materializing pair before him suspiciously. He had only to raise his eyes to see his snipers taking aim from the metal balcony. It occurred to him suddenly that all those guns were pointed sort of in his general direction, and that he could possibly be in danger from poorly aimed or ricocheting projectiles. He couldn’t help wondering why no one in his long family line had ever noticed the weakness in this defensive arrangement.
The science brain and the troop leader became fixed points in the universe, though obviously that is my phrasing and not Fahh’s. Fahh didn’t even have time to begin yelling at them when strange things began to happen. First, the troop leader let go of the science brain’s hand and crumpled to the floor. Fahh had scarcely begun to be concerned with this development when something much stranger happened.
The furry scientist kept one arm at his side holding the remote. His other arm still stuck out to where he had been holding the hand of the troop leader. Now this arm moved to the scientist’s hairy stomach, and the hand seemed to disappear. It then emerged holding a gun, seemingly drawn from within the scientist’s belly. The arm rose to point the gun right at the Doraimee’s face. And this all happened with an incredible rapidity. Fahh was about to signal his goodshooters when the strangest thing of all happened, although Fahh’s view was partially blocked by the wide green body of the Protek.
Four small, red arms suddenly sprouted from the Preotek’s back, and each of those red arms ended in a hand, and each of those hands held a gun like the one pointed at the Doraimee. Then each one of those hands fired those guns. This the Doraimee had a pretty good view of. Four expanding cones of molten-red energy shot out in a very accurate spread. The four beams struck the metal balcony holding his specially-trained soldiers with an impressive light show, and all his snipers went flying into the air, many of them to shower down upon the throne room floor like fat raindrops. Good thing we Keelar don’t have bones to break, the Doraimee couldn’t help thinking.
Let me take the time to tell you a couple of things about the small 3D holograph projector that might clear up these mystifying events, although you, being as wise as you are, have undoubtedly already figured out Arthur’s ruse. The projector, being small enough to carry, had a limited projection size. The other thing is that once you pick a projection, you must fit inside that projection in order for it to be convincing. You can move your arms and legs inside the projection, and the projector would move the arms and legs of the projection to mimic and conceal your movements, but there were limits. Once Arthur had scanned the Protek and projected his image, he had to keep from sticking out anywhere and thereby spoiling the illusion. He could have made the projection bigger and given himself more room, but a ten-foot-tall Protek would most likely have alerted the Doraimee that something was wrong.
What Arthur did have room for inside the life-sized Protek projection, was to strap Frodo to his back like a backpack. So long as Frodo kept his arms and the guns he was carrying down at his sides, he would remain concealed. Arthur had to crouch a little to keep from having his head pop out of the top of the Protek’s head, but so far, so good. And since there was no further need for the deception, he flicked off the projector where it was clipped to his belt, and he and Frodo became visible in all their unusual glory.
Fahh was a coward, but he could fight for his life like any cornered rat. His right arm still rested on the side of his throne where eons ago those two buttons had been placed. These buttons were the ancient last resort survival strategy of Fahh’s family, because he came from a long line of distinguished paranoid, psychotic tyrants who constantly worried about assassination attempts. And with good reason it turns out, because very few of Fahh’s family lived to a ripe old age. In fact, Fahh had ‘inherited’ the throne from his own father when Dank, Fahh’s pet assassin, had killed the last Doraimee. However, no assassin had ever breached the throne room before.
Fahh pushed those two buttons with one of his finger-pads, and two things happened simultaneously. Metal pins in the jaw hinges of the huge skull released, and the whole top of the skull began to drop as if the tremendous beast had come back to life and was ready for a snack. At the same time, triggered by the second button, a series of metal pins in the floor released. This caused the stone in the center of the floor to drop away into the dungeons below the palace, while the rest of the floor sagged down into a concave pit dug beneath it. This turned the entire floor of the throne room into a giant, slippery bowl.
These were the Doraimee’s last lines of defense, and they had never been used before. The skull was supposed to snap shut to protect the Doraimee, sheltering him like a bone bunker from any direct assault, while the sloping floor was designed to make sure the assassin would slide to the center and then fall to his doom on the spikes set far below the trap door.
These age-old mechanisms worked as they were intended, but there were a couple of flaws, weaknesses that had not been foreseen by their makers. To begin with, the jaws closed just a little bit too slowly, relying on gravity alone. Arthur had time to fire one vortex of energy from his weapon. In fairness, the floor dropping out from under him did spoil his aim. Fahh received a bad jolt as the beam struck the upper palate of the skull instead of him. Fahh was shaken and felt all tingly as the skull slammed shut with a tremendous crash and he was plunged into darkness, but he was still alert. In fact, he felt more alive than he had in a long time.
The other weakness of the palace’s last-ditch security measures had to do with the fact that the hole in the center of the floor was put in when the danger came from other Keelar who sought to wrest power from the Doraimee. To put it simply, the hole was too small
Even as Arthur fired the vortex gun and felt the floor dropping away under his feet, he knew he had missed Fahh, but he didn’t have time to worry about it. He landed on his knees and the weight of Frodo on his back would have pulled him over backwards, but the angle of the slope helped him, and he was able to fall forward. The next thing he knew he was on his face, still clutching the vortex gun, and sliding feet first towards the bottom of a very large, very red bowl of stone.
“Arthur,” yelled Frodo from behind and above him, “we are sliding towards a hole!”
This warning came too late to do Arthur much good, as his feet and his legs were already disappearing down that very hole. Frodo had the presence of mind to stick his legs out so they hit the other side of the hole. This stopped the pair from sliding any further, and Arthur spread his arms to brace them on his side. So, there they sat, or not sat exactly, but rather dangled, or whatever, wedged tightly and unable to free themselves.
I urge you to conjure up a mental image of this scene. It is well worth the effort. With their eight limbs, (six on Frodo’s side and two on Arthur’s), they looked like some kind of spider stuck in the end of a small drain pipe. Not only that, but all the Keelar soldiers who had projected themselves off the sniper balcony, were now sliding to the bottom of the big bowl and jamming up around the unfortunate duo like an avalanche of poorly-filled sandbags. To top it all off, the straps that held them together were digging painfully into their flesh. All and all, an uncomfortable position for anyone to find themselves in, I’m sure you must agree.