by Martin Maenza
“Did you see the looks on their faces?” one of the Gordanian males said as they sauntered away. “They’re terrified of us! They’ll give in to our every request.”
“And our every need and desire!” the other said with a laugh. “Can you smell it in the air? Their scents give away what their faces and hands protest. They want us! This sure beats trudging around in the ice and snow, or waging a war against the humans, eh?”
“It’s like a shore leave on Tamaran without the chance of your pass being pulled at the last minute,” the first one said. “And while these females aren’t nearly as aggressive in bed, it’s certainly a nice change of pace!”
“Yeah, it’ll do until we get bored! Then we’ll imprison them like we did the males!” The two laughed some more.
There was a sound near one of the building doors as another Gordanian cleared his throat. Both turned and then realized their conversation had been overheard by their superior officer. He didn’t at all look pleased.
Unlike the other five members in the squad, the leader hadn’t completely stripped out of his armored uniform upon arrival in this strange land. The others opted to “go native” to try to blend into the surroundings. Despite his orders, they disregarded them. They told their leader that they needed to make the best of the situation, since they had no idea how they had gotten to this strange place, nor did they know how long it would be until they’d return to the rest of the fleet. He’d been resistant to the idea at first, but when they found this village of similar creatures who were very easily overpowered, he relented and allowed them a little taste of freedom.
Now he was regretting that decision.
“Where are the others?” the squad leader asked.
“Tryal and Grnot are checking on the captives, and Nrnim is doing a perimeter sweep,” one of the two replied. “We’re to rotate shifts in a little while, per your instructions.”
“Good!” the leader snapped. At least he was maintaining some amount of control, though the men were starting to show resentment to even that. “I don’t want any surprises!”
“I doubt we have anything to worry about here,” one of the other men said. “Who even knows we’re here?”
Travis Morgan heard the sound of a twig snap only seconds before a large figure lunged at him.
Jared Stevens spun around in time to see a large reptilian figure lunging for his friend’s throat. “Travis!” he yelled out in warning.
The Warlord was already in action. Rolling onto his back, Travis brought his booted feet in and up, pushing against the chest of the Gordanian warrior. He then rolled and pushed out, sending the lizard into the air.
The Gordanian tumbled and rolled to a crouch. “Humans!” he spat in his own tongue. “You will make for a fitting snack!”
“Don’t know what you’re babbling about,” the Warlord said, unsheathing the sword from his scabbard on his left hip, “but it won’t matter if I cut your tongue out!”
“Pahhh!” the Gordanian spat, this time in the human language of English. “Not when I alert the others!” And he shouted out two other alien names.
Jared heard the voices reply, and the sound of rushing figures approaching concerned him. “Travis, we’ve got company coming!”
The Warlord, however, was engaged in battle and could not reply. The Gordanian swung his mighty fists, hoping to connect with the human’s skull. Travis ducked and then swung his blade; the metal slashed across the alien’s massive right forearm.
“Aaa-aargh!” the Gordanian growled. He grimaced and then barred his teeth between his massive reptilian lips. “You shall pay for that, human dog!” He pounced forward, springing in the air on his massive legs.
Travis couldn’t get his sword back around in time, so he swung his elbows up instead. The blow jammed hard into the reptile’s gut and knocked him to the side. Travis followed that with a two-fisted blow to the back of the Gordanian’s skull, knocking him into the dirt with a hard thud.
The Gordanian tried to rise. The Warlord took his blade and drove it down hard through his back. The alien choked out a low cry before falling back to the dirt once more. Greenish liquid, presumably blood, gurgled from the alien’s lips.
The Warlord turned as two more of the huge reptiles burst through the brush. Jared Stevens easily vaulted over them and into the air. One of the aliens stopped to grasp for the flying Scarab, while the other continued on toward the man who had slain one of their own.
Travis tried to pull his blade from the corpse when the other was upon him. The alien slammed his massive fists into the Warlord, knocking him away from his not-yet-retrieved weapon. “You killed Nnrim!” the Gordanian said. “For that, you will earn a swift death at my hands!”
Travis pulled a .44 auto-mag pistol from the holster on his right hip, swung it up, and opened fire. A half-dozen 240-grain slugs riddled the alien’s chest. His aim was true, and his arm never wavered despite the oncoming assault.
The attacking Gordanian dropped to the ground mere inches from where Travis stood. “I don’t think so!” said the Warlord, then turned to see how his partner was faring.
Jared Stevens was holding his own, blow for blow against the strong alien. In a battle of sheer might and fists, the Scarab had the advantage. “We can do this all day if you like, ugly,” he said, taking another shot and then giving one. “Even barehanded without weapons, I have the advantage!” Indeed, the beetle in his chest provided the Scarab with a level of invulnerability. Each blow by the Gordanian bothered him as much as a mosquito bite would.
Finally, the Scarab was able to gain the upper hand. He kneed the Gordanian in the groin, and followed it with a crashing two-handed blow to the base of the skull. The alien went down to the ground and passed out.
Jared was breathing a little hard from the workout when Travis put his hand on the dark-haired man’s shoulders. “Whew!” he sighed. “I guess we’ll have to wait for ugly to come around before we interrogate him!”
Suddenly, a loud scream could be heard. It was a male voice, and one that Jared knew well. “That’s Grell!”
“Come on!” the Warlord said as they bound out into the village to discover where the scream had originated.
The two Gordanians named Tryal and Grnot were dragging a lizard-man through the village, much to his protests. “We’ll toss this one in with the others!” Tryal said.
“Or maybe we should just kill him now and be done with it!” Grnot chuckled as they came upon an open pit in the ground.
Grell looked over the edge. Down about fifty feet past the sheer walls he could see a number of the other lizard-men from the village, many he had grown up with. “Who you? Why do this?” he stammered.
“Because we can!” Tryal laughed.
“Tryal, look!” Grnot pointed toward two men approaching through the brush, brandishing weapons.
Grell was pushed to the ground, but caught himself before falling over the pit’s edge.
The Warlord swung his blade around, slashing at Grnot. The Gordanian howled in pain.
Jared Stevens lunged at Tryal with his dagger. The Gordanian spun around suddenly, using his tail to knock the blade away. It skittered across the ground.
Tryal lunged for him, knocking Jared to the ground. The two rolled back and forth, getting in punches where they could. Each time his tail was free, Tryal used it for an extra strike against the human. The back and forth continued, and Jared was feeling a little fatigued.
While he could take the hits, this creature was obviously stronger than the one he had fought before. Plus, he was getting tired. Finally, Jared rolled once more to the ground with the Gordanian on top. He wrapped his legs around the alien’s torso and squeezed.
“I won’t be… broken so easily!” Tryal groaned.
“Not my… plan!” Jared said. The Scarab lurched forward, butting his head against the green reptile’s skull. He released his legs, pulled them under, and pushed against Tryal’s chest. The Gordanian flung into the air, falling toward the pit.
His body fell over, but Tryal managed to catch one hand on the edge. He huffed and strained; he was trying to find the strength to pull himself up.
Suddenly, Grell was standing there at the edge of the pit, a large rock in his hands. The lizard-man heard the calls from the pit. They were angry and thirsting for revenge. Grell stared down at the Gordanian and locked into his gaze.
“You wouldn’t!” Tryal growled.
Grell slammed the rock down hard on the reptile’s fingers. Tryal lost his hold and plunged down into the pit, where a horde of lizard-men were ready to enact their revenge for imprisonment.
Grnot continued to dodge the stinging blade of the Warlord. “I will kill you, human!” the alien spat. “Just as our allied forces will destroy the rest of your race in the world above!”
“Forces? Attacking Earth?” Travis said.
“Travis! Look out!” Jared cried out.
The Warlord ducked just as a surging beam of energy sliced through the air. It hit Grnot squarely in the chest, frying him in an instant. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air as the alien fell to the ground dead. Travis turned to where the shot had come.
Out of the brush appeared another Gordanian, this one dressed in gold armor about its torso with thigh-high boots, wrist gauntlets, and a helmet. In his hand, a metallic staff from which the energy blast emitted was firmly held. “I tried to convince them they were fools!” the leader of the squad said. “They felt this land offered little of a challenge! When the village fell to us so easily, that only enforced their foolish beliefs!”
The Warlord eyed the being. He carried himself better than the others. “Hard to lead those who won’t follow, eh?”
“They were fools and have paid the price!” the leader said as he raised his weapon. “I, however, do not abandon the tools with which I was trained! I will kill you all and then find my way back to the surface and meet up with the other squads!” He leveled the weapon at the Warlord. “And, then I will bring a bigger squad back and wipe out this entire place!”
“Nooo-oo!” Jared screamed as the weapon discharged. The Scarab threw himself in the way of the blast, taking the brunt of it head on. It knocked him back into the air, and he hit the ground hard.
Grell ran up to him. “Friend Jared! Friend Jared!”
The dark-haired man groaned. His chest hurt, but he was in far better shape than Grnot. The magical beetle talisman had saved the Scarab once more. Still, it was hard for him to move just yet. “Grell, see if you can fashion a rope of some kind! Help those in the pit to escape!” Jared spied his friend in heated battle. “I’ll help Travis!” Jared tried to rise to his feet but was still unsteady from the blast. He hoped Travis could hold his own for a few minutes more.
The Warlord struggled with the alien. Both men held firmly onto the staff and tried to wrestle the weapon free from the other.
“You fight… valiantly for a human!” the Gordanian said. “You must know… you are about to die!”
The Warlord said nothing and gritted his teeth. He knew he was fighting not only for his own life, but that of his friends and for all of Skartaris. If this invader was indeed part of an alien race that was attacking the Earth above, there was no telling what kind of forces he’d bring back with him if he were to leave here. Travis knew this had to end here and now.
The Gordanian managed to kick his foot up, shoving Travis hard. The Warlord stumbled backward, giving the alien time to level the weapon at him. “Now you diii-iiieee-eee!“
The Scarab had leaped forward, driving his dagger down hard into the highest part of the creature’s exposed tail.
The Warlord took the opening as a chance to push forward. He grabbed the far end of the battle staff and pushed it up and back, just as the Gordanian triggered the firing mechanism.
The staff discharged its deadly burst directly into the alien’s face.
The Gordanian screamed out in pain as it fell to the ground. The staff clinked to the ground.
The alien clawed at its burning face.
The Warlord pulled his sword and drove it down hard into the exposed, charred face. It was the only vital region unprotected by the armor; it was the only way to ensure that the alien invader was truly dead.
The first few lizard-men who emerged from the pit cheered.
The Warlord retrieved his blade, shook his head silently at the fallen leader, and turned to Jared. “Our work is done here,” he said solemnly. “Let’s go.”
Jared nodded. No more needed to be said, at least not on this day.
Despite all its beauty and pure, clean air, Skartaris was a savage land. It was a place that epitomized the survival of the fittest. It was a place that called for extreme actions in extreme circumstances. It was a place where sometimes the hero had to do whatever was necessary to win the battle.