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Vengeance Served Cold

(By Lee Garrett ) I watched the woman cried out, sprawling on the tiles. She’d reached for her baggage, and brushed against a Llyran. Then, forgetting her port briefing, had met his glance. To a Llyran, a stare invites death as a direct challenge to mortal combat. They kill for the slightest insult, sometimes for none at all, viewing other life forms as either predator or prey. The woman had quickly dropped her glance but the damage was done.

I understood the need for discretion, but my hand resisted. My fingers curled slowly into a tight-packed fist. My head and neck joined the plot, refusing to bend in submission. My eyes caught those of the proud Llyran by the luggage carrousel, triggering his attack reflex.

He was quick, but I only needed to take a small diagonal step, shifting hips and shoulders, and his claws missed. I moved my right arm from the elbow, flipping my hand palm-up, (crescent block) as my left fist chambered itself against my ribs. I hit him where a human would have had kidneys (dragon leaves his cave). Of course, being Llyran, he probably carried his liver or his heart there.

In any case, he crumpled to the terminal floor. Other Llyrans in the crowd froze in shock. This wasn't supposed to happen. The universe gave way before the master predators--always. I couldn’t help grinning with pleasure at their disillusionment.

Of course, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. I know about fighting. It's one of the few things I do truly well. Most of my free time, during my exile at military school had been spent in rigorous Gung-Fu training.

Someone caught my arm, hissing in my ear. I caught myself just in time, nearly serving up a spinning back-fist. It was only Ericson, my father's administrative assistant. He would have to show up now! I let him steer me away from the crowd.

"What do you think you are doing?" He asked. "You've been briefed on appropriate behavior. This is totally uncalled for. Well, have you nothing to say for yourself?"

I gave him silence. Explanations are a waste of time; friends don't need them, and enemies never believe them.

"I can't believe you," Ericson said, proving my point. “You're not even on this planet for five minutes, and we have an inter-species incident to deal with."

"Hardly," I said. "You think any Llyran will admit to being dropped like a rock by a blunt-toothed omnivore half his size? No way."

"Other Llyrans saw it happen..."

"I studied Llyrans at the academy. They see what they want to, what they expect to. They edit reality to suit their egos. No complaint will be filed, and Llyran honor will prevent them from seeking covert vengeance."

Ericson's face darkened with mounting anger at my non-contrition. "They may choose to ignore the incident but they'll hang on to the ill-will generated by your behavior. It will surface later."

"I certainly hope so," I said.

Ericson sighed deeply, profoundly, the weight of the star-sector stooping his frail shoulders. "You know, your father doesn't really need this now. As ranking Envoy on Mylathra..."

"Leave my father out of this. I'm of age..."

"Barely," Ericson interrupted.

"...and a private citizen," I continued, "and I will act as I choose, making my own way across the galaxy as I must."

"And the rest of us will follow along and pick up the pieces in your wake, I suppose?"

I took my bag from a porter who brought it over. "We should all do what we do best," I said.

Outside the star port, I walked into a wall of heat. Passing beneath a canopy, past hover-taxis, an armored sky car waited. Jenkins, our driver, was there. For as long as I could remember, he'd served my father as a security specialist and chauffer. For most of my life, he'd served me as tutor and friend. Silently fuming, Ericson stalked past us, taking the front passenger seat.

Jenkin's eyes hid behind sun-shades. His face was blank, giving nothing away, but I sensed the presence of a vast amusement lurking just below his professional surface. I nodded a greeting. My "poker-face" was on, but Jenkins knew trouble had followed me back home; he'd read Ericson like a cheap holo-novel.

Of course, trouble had always dogged my steps. It was common knowledge that I couldn't let sleeping dragons lie. I had too much of my father's adamant spirit and not enough of his studied calm. Born beneath the old Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times“, interesting times and I were on a first name basis."

I climbed into the back of the limo. Jenkins circled around to take the pilot's seat. Our doors closed with a hiss, pressure sealed. The windows were tinted to block the planet's harsh red sunlight. I wasn't going to get much of a look at this world on the way to the embassy.

Jenkins took us up smoothly. Auto pilot could have done the job just as well, but Jenkins didn't trust them and wouldn't use them. Growing up in his shadow, I'd learned that there was blessed little the man did trust. I couldn't fault him though, I'd picked up the same attitude early in life. I found that it served me well.

The ride was long, boring. Eventually, we parted company with the sky, descend to the embassy air pad. The doors opened. I waited for an all-clear sign. As soon as they learned that it was only the Prodigal Son come home for the fatted calf, a squad of Star Force Marines materialized. They casually saluted Jenkins and faded away again.

I was impressed. I'd heard we were close to perfecting personal stealth technology, combining it with our combat exo-skeletons, but to find that they were already being issued came as a surprise full of possibilities.

Stepping out of the air car, I encountered Sergeant Wyndham. He intercepted me with a rib-crushing hug, pounding my back with a beefy hand. I managed not to fall on my face.

"Danny, boy, you made it back to us in one piece," he said. "I'm amazed!"

I gave him half a smile. "Aye, tremble mortal, despair; the ne'er-do-well gutter-spawn from the dark side of oblivion hath returned to sow vengeance and reap desolation," I quipped.

"Quite so," Ericson agreed in passing.

"alright," Windy fixed me with his fiercest glare. "What have you done now?"

"Tried to start an inter-stellar war, but unfortunately, I failed."

"Damn shame! This place could use a little excitement; boring as all get out, you know. Ah, well, now that you're back, things are sure to change."

Jenkens stepped up "Why doesn't that comfort me?" He asked, flashing a Cheshire-cat grin for two exact seconds.

I gathered my resolve and turned to face the front embassy doors. "No sense putting things off. The Old Man in?"

Wyndy snorted. "You think he'd miss a homecoming after what happened last time?"

"Hey," I protested. "That wasn't my fault. No one briefed me on the dinner guests. You see a bug on the floor, you step on it. I didn't know it was the Thrillian Ambassador. Besides, I barely dented his carapace. Those guys are tough!"

The front doors opened as we approached. A shadowed figure filled the door frame. It was father. From the grim set of his jaw and the disemboweling stare he turned my way, I deduced that Ericson had already reported the star port incident to him, giving it the worst possible spin. I was going to have to do something about that guy soon.

Father pulled back so we could enter in step. Wyndy and Jenkens could have faded into the woodwork, but they stayed by me, offering unspoken support. Wrath divided is wrath diminished after all.

"I'll speak to you later," Father said, a fountain of gushing warmth. "Dinner's almost ready. Important guests will be arriving soon. Try and look presentable."

I nodded curtly and crossed to the wide staircase. Halfway up the stairs, I stopped. Father was speaking again. "Oh, and welcome home, son."

A grin escaped me. I waved to him and turned, continuing up the stairs. Dad was softening up already. Chances were he'd forget the whole incident, letting it mysteriously fall off the planet by the end of dinner. It helps being the only son and heir to your father's legacy and dreams; forgiveness comes easy.

Jenkins was ahead of me, on point. Wyndy brought up the rear, watching our back trail as always. It suddenly came to me, forcefully, how much I loved these guys. After my mother died, they raised me to be the obnoxious little puke Ericson loathed.

I was grateful.

"So who else is here?" I asked Jenkins. "Dad said we had guests."

"Remember Rigel IV?" Jenkins asked.

My stomach clenched in grim premonition. "Yeah."

"The Planetary Governor's ball?"

"An utter disaster," Wendy added.
I nodded. "No one ever believed I had nothing to do with the rebellion that toppled the government that night."

"Yeah," Jenkins said. "All 'cause of that dame that played you out of pocket, taking you to that out-of-the-way cantina which turned out to be an insurrectionist stronghold. She nearly got you killed."

"No. Not her!" I felt panic set in.

"Your arch-nemesis," Windy confirmed.

"The thunder-beast, Glenda? Too ugly to live, too stupid to die..."

"Here's your room," Jenkins said, opening a door for me. "I'll leave you here. Got work to do. Security to secure. Get dressed. I'll see you downstairs later."

Jenkins left. I entered the room, and found my stuff strewn about. Wendy followed me, just warming to the subject of Glenda.

"Your description is apt," he said, "but lacking a few crucial details. Don't forget that her low animal cunning and profound self-interest compensates for the lack of intelligence, producing a truly formidable opponent. You discovered this too late, after she bailed and left you hanging."

I closed the door to the hall, and went to the wardrobe. I hadn't had occasion to wear formal civies in quite a while. I hoped everything still fit. I know I'd added a few inches to my pects and arms. I tried on a dress shirt. Breathing shallowly, I got most of the buttons closed...until I took a breath. A ripping sound followed. I stripped the shirt off and cast it toward a convenient corner.

"Hmmmm.” Better go with the midnight blue suit. It used to be a little large. And the white turtle-neck. Somber, elegant in its simplicity, and the shirt will stretch. I gathered the outfit, and tossed it to the bed. "So then, back to Glenda... If she's back, it means trouble. I'm thinkin' we need a preemptive strike here. Gotta take her out before she reprises her previous role."

"You're going after her, tonight?" Wendy asked.

"Her and Ericson."

"Why Ericson?"

"He used that mess Glenda engineered to have me shipped off to military school, telling dad I needed more discipline and structure. It d*mn near killed me."

"Yeah," Wendy said. "Ericson's resents the influence you and your mom have always had on your father's policy decisions. The chance came to get rid of you, and he took it. If you're mom were still alive, it wouldn't have worked but..."

"That's all right," I said, innocuous half-smile in place. "Armageddon is still my middle name, and payback squared is my game. You in?"

"I'm in. Of course, if questioned, I will disavow all knowledge of your activities."

"Good. You do some digging, talk to the drivers, pick up what gossip is floating around. I'll catch you later.”

Wendy paused at the door, turning back. “Don't turn your back on the girl, or let her fetch you food and drink."

I nodded. Wendy left. I finished dressing, and checked my "look" in the full-length mirror. I almost didn't recognize myself. I'd never be tall, but I’d filled out. I was now built like a brick wall. My pale face accentuated eyes as black as the heart of hell. I hid their fire, leaving the room and mercy quickly behind.

The party was in full swing when I got there. Women swirled by in syntha-silk gowns, bedecked with pearls, diamonds, opals, emeralds, sapphires, and other, more obscure stones from a hundred different worlds. The men were in neon-hued suits with starched white shirts, ruffles, and ties. Hover-lamps floated high in the air, casting rainbow fragments everywhere. Neo-classical Martian techno ballads were being improvised by a local band. I drank in the scene a moment before becoming part of it.

Things were going well. I'd declined an amazing number of advances from the female guests, alien and otherwise. I also avoided offending any of the dignitaries, and was closing in on the buffet table when I saw her; Glenda. Our eyes met in mutual recognition. The evil one’s face lit up, glowing with pleasure. She held a wicked grin, green eyes flashing. Her freckled face was framed by burnt-red hair. Glenda was unforgettable.

We drew close, as if pulled by cords. I grinning like an idiot. Though I cursing her in my heart for four years of exile and alienation from my father, I needed to disarm her before the lethal strike.

"Danny!" She cried. "I'd heard you were back from school. How nice to see you again, after all this time."

"Words fail me. I can't express my gratitude. You are the bright flame of my rebirth."

"I am?" Her eyes narrowed.

"Oh, I admit I was distressed at first; not quite ready to leave the nest. But there's nothing like rigorous military training on a high gravity, ice planet for building character."

"So everything...worked out well for you...after all?"

"Oh, yes. I think I have found my calling in the Space Marines. Imagine, killing and pillaging and getting paid for it."

"I'm...glad for you, Danny. Truly."

"Oh, enough about me. What are you doing here? I thought these tame functions bored you."

"They do, but I have no choice; I'm the entertainment."

I could have come up with a few things to call her, but that was not one of them. "The what?" I asked.

"The entertainment. I was still in training as a dancer when we first met. Now, I'm a professional, and quite well known. Hang around. I'll be performing soon."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," I murmured as she swept away.

I sifted through the crowd, sorting through servant-held trays of appetizers along the way. Jenkins joined me, snagging a cheese puff off my napkin as he leaned in and whispered. "Heads up kid. Ericson's pulled another fast one. That alien you tussled with at the star port, he's the son of the Llyran military commander for this sector. Ericson’s talking to the father now, and the son is expected to arrive any moment. Ericson’s hoping for a blow-up that will put you in permanent disfavor.”

"Thanks," I said. "I'm starting to get an idea..."

"Heaven help us all," a new voice added.

I looked around, unable to spot the speaker though I knew the voice. "Wendy? Where are you?"

"Right in front of your face, Danny. I'm wearin' one of the new stealth-suits. Don’t give me away. Just popped in to check internal security. I've been assigned floater duty. I'll be in and out all night long. They got any barbecued buffalo wings left?"

"Trouble," Jenkins announced. "Llyrans at nine o'clock, and your dad at three."

"Just what we need," Wendy muttered.

"Exactly," I said. "Give me room, and watch me work. Wendy, stand-by to follow my lead."

"Sure thing, kid. I got your back."

The LLyrans formed an arc before me. There were five of them. The one in the center was the one I'd dropped at the star port. His eyes burned, tracking every move I made. He spoke galactic. "I underestimated you once. I won't make that mistake again."

I knew that I needed to rattle this guy before things got serious. I laughed. This was not the response he expected. I explained, "You've already repeated that mistake by coming here without hover-tanks and assault troops. What happened to you before was no accident. Our race has presented itself to yours as Prey, hoping your people would be foolish enough to take us on."

"You say you are not prey?" he asked.

"Not predator or prey. Something new." I looked over to the side as I said this, and saw my father standing by with a curiously bland expression on his face. He was giving me enough rope to hang myself good and proper, I guessed. Ah well, in for a penny--in for a pound.

The Llyran hesitated, intrigued. "Show us what you are," he challenged. "Show us this unknown face that we should fear."

I raised my hands, presenting my palms. "There is a strength beyond the material. A power of spirit that can tap the universal life-force. Until your people harness this power, you will always be second-rate scavengers."

I closed my eyes, pulled my hands back, and made a small pushing gesture. I muttered the words of a new mantra, "go-wendy-go-wendy-go-wendy..." Wendy picked up on the hint. I opened my eyes to see the impression of palms against the Llyran's torso. The alien was lifted by the mechanical power of the unseen stealth-suit, and sailed a dozen feet away, knocking down a large number of guests. They objected. The band played louder. The fallen Llyran glared and growled and the other guests subsided.

I turned to the remaining Llyrans. Stunned disbelief was etched into their faces. Shadows of fear stirred in their eyes. “Are you still here?" I asked with mild contempt. They faded away. The Llyran who'd been carelessly tossed across the room by Wendy climbed to his feet.

He staggered back and dropped to his knees before me. Head and eyes down. "That was incredible. I swear, I felt your energy, like hands of steel, thrusting me away. I beg you, teach me this warrior's path. I am not too proud to learn."

I was about to answer when the lights dimmed. A small spotlight came on. It caught Glenda in the middle of the ballroom floor. Inspiration seized me by the throat, and I went with it. "Why learn from a mere student like myself when a true master is present?" I asked. "Behold the demonstration we have prepared for your people. The Lady Glenda, my own instructor in the dance of death, will now show you one of our beginning level martial art drills."

One thing I'll give her, Glenda was good. The band played a medley of classical music from assorted rock-n-roll artists of the late twentieth century, and Glenda leaped and spun in a liquid frenzy. There were rolls, vaults over imagined obstructions, moves that might have been leg-sweeps, kicks, or knife-hand thrusts. Other movements could easily pass for some kind of grappling escape practiced against an unseen foe. It went on endlessly, rhythmically, with a high energy that most champion athletes would have found difficult to sustain. The Llyrans watched in rapt amazement, projecting their own combat
experiences into what they were seeing.

The entertainment ended, and I noticed that father was now immediately behind me. The Llyran turned back to me, eyes carefully cast down. “Her skill is...formidable.”

"Make an offer to her agent," I suggested. Jenkins handed me one of Glenda's business cards. It had been passed around the party tonight like a cheap whore. I handed it the Llyrans. "For a reasonable offering, the Lady Glenda will travel to your military training centers, teaching this way, providing instruction for your young warriors, living with them day and night as they master Terran-style combat."

"But why is your species willing to surrender the advantage such knowledge gives you?" The Llyran asked.

"Go on," my father said. "I'd like to hear your take on that as well."

It was a good question. Fortunately, I had an answer. "Our people grow stale without a challenge," I said. "We could destroy you easily enough now with our secret death fleets, but there'd be no sport in that."

Across the room, I saw Ericson staring at me, puzzled. Now it‘s your turn. I continued. "We've decided to give your people a fighting chance even though one of our wisest leaders," I pointed out Ericson, "keeps insisting you're vermin, and not worth the trouble. He's never forgiven the insult of your people in not inviting him to personally participate in your home world sponsored death games this season."

"We'll do so--at once!" the Llyran assured me.

"Insist on it strongly," I urged, "so he'll know you are sincere. He will at first decline from sheer modesty. You must demand his presence."

Next to me, Jenkins’ poker-face threatened to collapse. He excused himself, and hurried away to find some quite corner for a hysterical fit of laughter. My work here was done. Without further word to the Llyran, I turned and walked away, sipping a fluted glass of Champaign.

My father followed, coming along beside, a strange smile on his face. You know," he spoke with a warm tone and a hint of pride, "it occurs to me that you just might have a career in diplomacy after all."

I shrugged. "Someone has to make the universe safe for human kind." I grabbed a cracker with pink paste smeared on it from a passing silver tray. "Might as well be me."
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