"Don't kill me," said Gwiffi. "I can give you hundreds of very good reasons not to. Just give
me some time to think of them--"
A tentacle slurped and lashed wetly on the metal floor. "Be quiet," said the Kohr-Ah, fixing
Gwiffi with a red-eyed glare. "You have forsaken your one protection, and now that you are no
longer guarded by your green masters, you may be cleansed."
"I don't suppose you mean a quick, warm bath in some nice hot water? I'm quite partial
to bubbles myself--" The Spathi's eye stem drooped as he finally realised what the Kohr-Ah
was doing with his other tentacle. "Oh."
"I wish you luck with your cleansing," the Kohr-Ah hissed gently. "Perhaps you will be an Ur-Quan
in your next life. It would be a blessing." The voice hardened. "But for now you are filth."
"I have the worst headache," the man repeated. "The worst headache. It's like a tiny goblin
is in my skull, pounding on my brain with a mallet."
"Very interesting." The doctor wriggled in his chair, trying not to seem bored. "Fascinating.
And this headache won't go away?"
"Weeks. It's been there for weeks. I can't work anymore. Last time they let me in a cruiser
I almost docked in a sun instead of the flagship."
The doctor jotted a quick note reminding himself to check the man's psychiatric records. "Yes.
Yes. Well. When did these headaches start?"
"When we stopped at that planet a few months ago... you know, they brought this big rock
up from the surface? I figured it was some chunk of valuable ore or something like that. But
I've heard that it's still in the hold, and I thought, maybe it's radioactive? Maybe it's
melting my brain?"
"Of course not," said the doctor, glancing at his watch. "Well, take five of
these pills and see me again in six weeks."
"You do take me seriously, right?" The man's eyes narrowed, and he made a furtive grab
for the plastic tablet bottle. "I mean, you don't think I'm just making it up?"
"I believe every word," the doctor lied. "Go have some rest. Don't forget to take the
medication." He watched the man leave, taking his bottle of tablets (a mixture of salt
and yeast that the doctor made himself) with him. He sagged into his chair and rubbed his eyes,
which were beginning to burn into the back of his skull.
"No damn sleep," he muttered, mostly to himself and partly to the rubber plant on his shelf.
"What's wrong with these people?"
The rubber plant wished it could answer, but it would be several million years and a freak
radiated waste accident before it evolved into a sentient lifeform, so it contented itself with
recounting the number of stars beyond the glass window.
"This should do it."
The red shield flooded the sky, like a sinister sunset. Spathiwa looked up at the new crimson
sky with relief.
"Lucky those hunams found us," Tiffy commented to Boffi. Boffi didn't reply; he was still
upset about the failure of the Spathi scouts to return when the fleet was recalled. His cousin
Gwiffi had been in the crew.
Tiffi didn't particularly care, because he'd never had a happier day in his entire lifecycle.
Now he could walk home without worrying about meteor showers, sudden alien invasions, giant
deathbeams being shot from space, and his personal fear - being assaulted by a crazed race of
gigantic, spiked carrots.
He was even more pleased by the time he'd navigated the city and returned to his dwelling, as
he had only jumped at five shadows, hid behind a large rock once, and shrieked seventeen
times - a new record for him.
>From that moment on, the Spathi ceased to matter in the universe, but they were not forgotten.
Unseen by the Spathi below, something above the shield moved closer.
"The ship's doctor is here to see you, Captain."
The Captain produced one of the smiles he'd been practicing. He was trying to give the
appearance of a wise, respectable leader, a hard, powerful man, yet one with a lovable
streak; a master diplomat and a skilled tactician. His new smile involved stretching his
lips back as far as was humanly possible, and showing every single one of his teeth.
The first officer thought the new smile was hideous, but he wasn't brave enough to say so.
"Shall I send him through?"
"Yes, bring the man to me," the Captain boomed, pleased with the dramatic tone he'd used.
"For are we not all galactical brothers in our battle against the dark evil?"
"Er, yes, sir. Here he is."
The doctor shambled into the room, a tall, tired man in a dirty white uniform. "We've got
a medical crisis," he said, "and the crisis is that there isn't one."
The Captain continued smiling stupidly. "What?" he said eventually.
"People are complaining of headaches, but there's nothing wrong with them." The doctor
flapped his hands around in agitation. "Seven people today, Captain. I've given them placebos
and told them to rest, but they keep coming back! All scans are clear! I've got no idea."
The Captain now had a difficult decision to make. Should he gently stroke his chin, gaze
carefully into the distance and say something philosophical; or should he stagger back, gasp,
and call for instant medical action?
After a minute's silence, the first officer said carefully: "Are you alright, sir?"
"What, me? Yes. Fine. Ah. Yes." The Captain stroked his chin, gazed beyond the doctor's ear
and said softly: "Do the flowers bloom when there is no-one to water them?"
The doctor blinked behind his glasses. "Say again?"
"Perhaps the answer lies in the stars," the Captain mused. "Yes. In the stars. Which of our
allies is closest, First Officer?"
The first officer stared at the crumpled starchart. "Ah, the Pkunk, sir. We're just moving
towards the Gorno constellation now, sir, but it's no trouble to turn back."
"Why are you asking aliens about a headache problem?" The doctor rubbed his glasses, which
had a nasty habit of fogging up. "How are they supposed to know about human anatomy or
The Captain produced his new smile, and then decided to improve it by pointing dramatically
towards the ceiling. The doctor and the first officer twitched, startled. "Our alien friends
are noble and wise," the Captain declared.
"Yes, but that's no reason to--"
"That will be all, good doctor."
The Captain carefully arranged his face into Menacing Frown. "That's enough, doctor."
"Fine, them, I'm leavi--"
"Arrest this man!" The Captain barked. "Mutiny! Mutiny!"
The first officer sighed. "Sir, he's just on his way out."
"He tried to assassinate me." The Captain folded his arms. "I order you to execute him."
The first officer gave the doctor a terrified grin. "Listen, we'll execute him as soon he's
outside," he said soothingly. "Right away. In a hideous, painful fashion."
"Good," replied the Captain, sternly. "Begone!"
The officer followed the doctor into the erratic red lighting of the corridor beyond the
Captain's office. "Just stay quiet for a few days and he'll forget all about you," the officer
said, apologetically. "He has his little moments every now and then. He's already ordered
my execution three times."
"I'm not getting any sleep," the doctor complained, as the officer walked away. "None,
you hear me? There's a serious problem here! You have to listen to me!"
A black shadow separated itself from the void and sailed towards the scarlet planet. It
orbited long enough to record the appropriate data, and drifted back into the darkness.
"I sense a vague twitching of psychic energy! A massive pull of intense feeling that
covers me like a warm, soothing blanket. I chant the mantra: Ooooo EKKY EKKY OOooooooOOoo!
I sense... I sense.. I sense our human allies!"
"Remarkable," the Captain said, his eyes fixed on the viewscreen before him. "Truly incredible.
Are our allies not remarkable, First Officer Wrigley?"
"Well, they can see you, sir," Wrigly replied. His face was set in an anxious, terrified
grimace; it was his usual expression when speaking to the Captain. "So the fact that they
can tell you are a human, sir, is not, well, strictly speaking--"
"Oh, woe!" The Captain wiped a tear from his eye. "A man who doubts the virtue of our
alien allies! Officer Wrigley, I command you to execute yourself immediately!"
"I'll go off and do it now," Wrigely said, and departed to the sliding doors at the back
of the communications room. The other officers gave him sympathetic looks.
The Pkunk stared through the viewscreen with interest. It fixed a glassy eye to the Captain,
swallowed, and cracked its beak open in a grin. "Shall I tell you why you came to see me,
"Please fill me with your knowledge," pleaded the Captain, dropping to his knees. "For our
alliance is great and filled with glory such as fuels the stars themselves!"
The other officers rolled their eyes. The giant image of the Pkunk winked at them. "Captain,"
it squawked, "There are powerful forces at work in your ship. Do you know what it is you are
keeping in your hold?"
The Captain leaned back, rested his feet on the comms control panel (seriously damaging
a few of the circuits) and pondered. "Precious ore?" he said eventually.
"Apart from that."
The Captain's face contorted with the effort of thinking, and then clicked into a grin.
"Ships! That's what it is! We've got ships!"
"Not the ships, o beloved friend of Pkunks everywhere." The Pkunk smiled patiently. "You have
the Taalo Shield, Captain! A relic from the past, and a powerful spiritual force!"
"The spirits are telling me that it is also known in the other planes as 'that big
lump of glowing rock in your hold'."
"Oh! That!" The Captain thumped the control panel in triumph, breaking one of the monitors
and causing a keyboard to burst into flame. "I knew that it had great powers when we lifted
it from the surface of that planet, risking our lives in the process!"
The officers gave each other side-long glances. They'd only found the planet when a navigator
had noticed that there were a large number of Orz ships clustered around it; when they
landed and found the glowing rock, the Captain had decided that it'd look great as a
decoration in his quarters. He'd later complained that it clashed with his decor and they
had returned it to the hold.
"And that is why some of your crew are suffering from headaches," the Pkunk concluded. "For
the intense psychic shield causes those with high ESP ratings to feel uncomfortable - but
merely seal in a hold that is further away from the crew pods, good Captain, and your good
spiritual energy shall once again flow freely."
"Thank you, wise, good allies." The Captain peered at his palms nervously. "And, uh, you
know how you told me to hang a mirror over my bed to improve my, ah... my..." He glared at
his officers. "To improve that thing? Well, it worked! I no longer have any problems with..
ah... that's to say... I don't have any problems."
"Marvellous, o friend of Pkunks everywhere." The image of the bird grinned. "I feel that
you are about to leave, so I bid you farewell."
"We shall return to you within the week," the Captain promised. "We will defend you from the
vile Ilwrath! For our strong arm of unity must overcome all obstacles, and the pureness of
our hearts is like a shield!"
The Pkunk winced. "Yes, Captain. May the celestial heavens watch over you and give you
The circular disc looped around the orbit of the planet, spinning towards the sun in the
centre of the system. As it slowed and circled to change direction, a spray of violent colours
jetted from behind an asteroid, tearing the surface of the disc apart. A flat, green shape
emerged from its hidden location, gliding slowly towards the debris of the Arilou skiff.
It circled the remains without any interest and began wafting back towards its home planet.
It joined the cloud of squat vessels that buzzed over the surface of the Umgah homeworld, like
a cloud of fat hornets whizzing aimlessely.
The meteor-pocked Precursor flagship floated slowly into space; then it faded, passing
through the black void into the red, flourescent hue of hyperspace. It roared through
the barrier of light and into a world where physics meant nothing, passing through immense
distances in seconds.
It streaked silently past the fierce light of Sirius, moving through the Tucanae system
and angling to the left. The scanner operator noticed it first. A sucking hole in hyperspace -
a leak into the same area of deep space as another vessel. The scanner operator couldn't
be sure, but he thought it was heading towards the Flagship.
Raising his eyes from the green scanner display to the red alarm button, he lifted his
finger, and hesitated. If he made a false alarm the Captain would order him executed, and
while he knew that there was no chance of the execution actually happening, it was unpleasant
to hear the great man spitting out another speech on galactic unity and racial harmony.
He made the mistake which an hour later would cost him his life - he ignored the button.
The black juggernaut was not in range, but the Kohr-Ah could feel it. They could feel the
taint in the purity of their universe - a universe where there was nothing but Ur-Quan. No
pain, no submission, no filth - only Ur-Quan.
A tentacle hovered over the computer display, a pulsating white grid against a black
background. The thick white dot shifted into view.
"Filth," a voice hissed. The dreadnought diverted its course. The data on the now-shielded
Spathi homeworld could wait.
There was cleansing to be done.
The ship juddered and the highly expensive vase that the Zoq-Fot-Pik had given the Captain
hit the floor and exploded into highly expensive shards. The Captain, who had been resting
on his incredibly expensive bed, leapt to his feet and waved his fist in a dramatic fashion.
"What treachery is this?" he demanded. There was nobody to answer him, so he lurched towards
the door. It was difficult, as the door was now at a slight angle, along with the rest
of the floor. The Captain's feet lost their grip and he stumbled. "Wrigley!" he roared.
"Yes, sir." The First Officer glanced through the doorway. "Ah. A little bit of a situation,
sir. We've been dragged out of hyperspace and, ah, there's a Thing out there, sir."
"A Thing? By the great galloping solar unicorns, is it the vile Ur-Quan?" The Captain tried
to thump his fist into his palm, but he lost his balance and crumpled against the wall.
Rising shakily, he frowned at Wrigley, who was shaking his head. "It's not the Ur-Quan?"
"It is and it isn't," said the First Officer. "I think you should speak to them, Captain."
The Captain stared.
It was an Ur-Quan, but its skin was black, and it hovered over a foul pit of bones. Red tendrils
slurped wetly beneath it, and three moist eyes watched him maliciously. "We are the Ur-Quan
Kohr-Ah," it rasped. "Mistake us not for the Kzer-Za, filth. We do not seek to dominate you."
"Well, that's good," the Captain said. His voice was shakier than he'd intended.
"It is," the Kohr-Ah agreed, "but not for you. We do not want to dominate you. We want to
cleanse you." A wet eye slowly slid shut and squelched open. "We are going to destroy you."
"That's not a very good way to begin our relationship," was all the Captain could think of
to say. He had an impressive speech on the importance of universal speech, but it had
completely eluded him just when he needed it.
"It is the only way to begin our relationship," the Kohr-Ah explained. "When you are Ur-Quan,
then we have a relationship. But you are not Ur-Quan. So you must be cleansed."
The tense crew in the control room had expected to see the flash of a beam as the black
ship swivelled to face them. Instead a thick metal disc ejected itself from the base of
the ship and whirled slowly towards them.
"Move," screamed Wrigley. The Captain tried to protest, but Wrigley was too frightened
to be worried about offending him. "Captain, with all respect, the lives of every man and woman
on this vessel are in danger - so let's get the hell out of here!"
"Turn her around," the head navigation officer called. The viewscreen swerved away from the
imposing Kohr-Ah ship to face the flickering tapestry of deep space. "Fire engines!"
The engines fired, but they were too late. The disc impacted on the side of the flagship,
tearing into the hull. Fifteen men were killed, including the scanner operator who had not
pressed the button. The ship veered and shook. The Captain managed to retain his balance
by grabbing onto Wrigley's shoulder, forcing the First Officer into the wall.
"Let us show them the meaning of peace and honour!" The Captain pointed a menacing finger
towards the viewscreen. "Destroy them, men!"
"Run away," added Wrigley, and it was his advice that the crew heeded. The flagship glided
forwards, only to turn violently when another spinning disk shot through space only kilometres
ahead of them.
"It's like a minefield," the head navigation officer said chokily. "Oh, God. They're going
to tear us into splinters with those things."
"I don't see why we can't destroy them." The Captain's lip folded into a sulk.
Smiling the smile of a man pushed to his limit, Wrigley said, "Captain, if we could possibly
blow them up with our sheer willpower then we might have a chance. However, we've seen what it
can shoot at us, and compared to our weaponry, I don't think we have much choice. How long
would a cruiser last out there?"
Another disc impacted. "Engaging escape sequence," someone yelled, before the voice was
drowned in the chaotic noise.
The snub-nosed Umgah vessel hovered through hyperspace. Inside the navigation room a
sticky, tentacled blob was staring blankly at his controls. It was silent. No orders, no
conversations, no Joke of the Day. Officer G'r'bub wasn't even jumping out from behind the
control column dressed up as a fearsome wighwut, which he'd done every day for the last
There was a flash in space ahead of them, and a wreck of a vessel limped out before them.
It was a Precursor vessel, the Umgah noted without interest, but had been severely damaged.
It hovered erratically, sparks flashing from the sides of crippled modules.
The communications panel flared to life. "We are from planet Earth." The voice filled the
moist navigation room, and a picture of the Captain developed onto a thin sheet of biological
tissue - the Umgah's viewscreen. "We come in peace and seek to overthrow the vile Ur-Quan.
We've sustained heavy damage from a vessel and need your help. Please respond."
The minute the Umgah's gelatinous face appeared on the flagship's viewscreen, the Captain
knew he was in for trouble. Though he considered himself a diplomatic master - in fact, he
considered himself to be a master at everything - even he conceded that it was almost
impossible to reason with the Umgah. They just did things for the fun of it.
He was surprised when the alien responded in a flat monotone.
"This. Is. Umgah. Space. Go. Away."
"Can we speak to another Umgah? You don't sound very well."
"I. Am. Fine. Watch. As. I. Make. Many. Jokes. Har. Har. Har."
"It's not like them, Captain," Wrigley said. "I think we should give up on them and find
help elsewhere." The Captain ignored him, as usual.
"We demand that you help us, or else face the wrath of the New Alliance of Free Stars." The
Captain tried to appear dangerous. "Do you hear?"
"Yes. I. Hear. Har. Why. Did. The. Avian. Species. Capable. Of. Laying. Ovulations. For. The.
Consumption. Of. Other. Species. Move. Across. The. Region. Of. Pathway. That. Vehicles. Drive.
Across. Answer. To. Get. To. The. Other. Side. Har. Har. Har. Go. Away."
"We demand you help us," the Captain repeated, and things would have gone badly for him
had the Arilou skiff not veered out before them, blasting the Umgah drone as it powered
up its rainbow spray.
"We are pleased to see you well," said the Arilou, smiling benevolently. His golden face
was heavy with the burden of knowledge, and he seemed tired, but there was no mistaking the
genuine caring in his smile. "It is good to see the children again."
"Why did you destroy the Umgah?" the Captain asked, upset. "I was going to blast him into
The Arilou's golden eyes flicked to Wrigley's face, observed, and flicked back to the
Captain. "Of course," he said calmly. "The Arilou apologise."
The Captain nodded, satisfied, and Wrigley smiled thinly. It was obvious that the alien
had already figured out the Captain's odd traits and was working to satisfy him.
"If I may, Captain," Wrigley said tentatively. The Captain scowled and moved aside. "May I
ask why the Umgah was acting the way he was?"
"You noticed it too? You are such clever ones!" The Arilou beamed, delighted. "We fear the
Umgah have fallen under some great evil, but they will not allow us to investigate. The burden
of working in the physical is greater than we care to undertake, but if you care to investigate
we will be glad to protect you."
"If you hadn't noticed, our ship is a little dented right now," the Captain interrupted.
"We need to get back to our space station. So, Arilou, you left our alliance once - but do
you intend to reconsider and rejoin our marvellous galactic union?" Wrigley could see the
Captain beginning to launch into one of his speeches, so he nodded to one of the younger
ensigns at the door, who pressed a button on a remote in his hand.
The fire alarm sounded. "Fire in your quarters, Captain," the ensign said cheerfully. "Better
go put it out, sir."
"Good lord!" The Captain extended a valiant finger skywards. "I must rush and defend my
earthly belongings! I shall need no help, for I am a bold fighter, brave as the night is long,
and with the might of the universe I shall prevail!"
"Your tapestry could be burning right now," Wrigley added, and the Captain darted through the
door. The crew in the communications room relaxed. "It's alright, he's gone now," Wrigley said
to the Arilou. "What would you have us do?"
"We are worried for the Umgah," the Arilou admitted. "But your safety is foremost in our
concerns. Do not feel pressured to investigate for us. May I ask what is wrong with your
Captain? Is he suffering from a serious disease of some sort?"
"No, he's just been that way since he became in charge of galactic alliance and a gigantic
Precursor starship. His ego's grown so heavy that he needs all of us to carry it for him."
The officers chuckled, then glanced over their shoulders to make sure that the Captain wasn't
"I will guide you," the Arilou said. "The Umgah are at Beta Orionis. Do not fear for my
The flagship drifted towards the planet, the green Umgah vessels floating lazily behind it.
Finally the Precusor ship moved into orbit. Wrigley hailed the planet surface.
He was surprised when the image of a bulbous brain with thick tentacles appeared before him.
The creature scowled, then tried to smile innocently. "Hello! The Umgah are busy right now.
Please leave a message after the beep."
Wrigley turned to the viewscreen that showed the Arilou, and gave the alien a questioning
look. The Arilou shook his head, and Wrigley turned a scowl onto the brain.
"What have you done to the Umgah?" he demanded.
"Oh, dear." The Dynarri seemed upset. "I'd hope to avoid this. However, now you're going
to have to -(SET THE SELF-DETONATION SEQUENCE FOR YOUR SHIP-)"
The message vibrated in the skulls of the men standing in the control room - and died
away. The Dynarri's evil eyes widened. "Why did that not work?"
The Captain emerged through the doorway, his face grim. "The fire had put itself out before
I got there," he said thoughtfully. "It must be a divine sign that my glorious alliance is
the way of truth and peace for this universe - hello! What's this?"
The Captain and the Dynarri stared at each other. "(-UNLEASH RABID ANIMALS IN YOUR CORRIDORS-),"
the Dynarri ordered hopefully, and sighed dismally when it failed to work.
"It appears you have me at a loss," the brain said. "Now I'll just have to do it the messy way."
The first viewscreen filled with static as the Arilou skiff was torn apart by the scintillating
rays of the Umgah weaponry. Green ships moved closer, and the young officer at the scanner
read off the list of approaching hostiles, his voice moving closer to panic with each one.
The Captain moved to the centre of the control room and faced his men. "Comrades," he said
firmly. "We must stand and fight for galactical unity! Look at me! I am but a man as you
are, but I have grown to immense power and glory! It is through me that we shall conquer the
Ur-Quan and restore peace to the galaxy! I ask you this, men - stand and fight! Remember that
your Captain is watching!"
"Get the cruisers ready," Wrigley added.
The Captain shook his head sadly. "You just have no sense of the dramatic, First Officer."
Wrigley was about to answer when the rainbow spray filled the viewscreen.
.....to be continued