05:09:04 - Duel on the Son

The ah-Owa'a'hat-hat had long since abandoned their warrior past. They had mastered the fine balance of trade and supply that allowed their society to become truly Utopian. Concerns over resources were dispelled millennia ago, replaced by a well crafted egalitarian social order where demands never outstripped need. Conflict simply became a thing of the past. Instead, they devoted their time to science and art, culminating in wonders never before seen.

Naturally, this meant they didn't put up a lot of resistance to the invading armies.

High Praxis Klorg rested his hand on the obsidian rail of the balcony. He had long ago heard that it had been cast on one continuous stream with a thousand artisans adding the minute flourishes and patterns in a year long flurry of restless devotion. In fact, the entire palace had been built as a structure to support this exquisite work of art. Many had willingly lost limbs to the torrents of liquid planet that sprayed out. Klorg payed tribute to it by carving his initials into it with his boot knife as the distant ghosts of uncounted, limbless artisans cried out in unison.

Klorg sighed as he idly flicked the dried child ichor off off his armor.

"Pug-ems, Dear, What did I tell you about making a mess?"

Klorg turned to view the speaker, it was a a strange, soft pinkish creature dressed in a curious dark grey garment. It provided modest cover, but was insufficient for battle. She wore a lighter colored protective cloth the creature referred to as an "apron", and odd, pink fuzzy foot coverings. She shuffled her way toward Klorg holding a dish containing small, tan sweet biscuits with melted dark candies and a clear vessel containing a thick, white liquid. Klorg, the Orphan Crusher made no sound.

"Here" the matronly creature said, "I brought you some nice milk and cookies after your long day. The creature put the tray containing the dish and vessel on a small table. "Oh, Look at you", it said with a note of disappointment in it's voice, "you're a mess!" It pulled a small white cloth from a sleeve and began wiping away bits of chewed ah-Owa'a'hat-hat widow from the corner of Klorg's mouth. "I certainly hope you and those fellows didn't drag mud into my nice clean foyer. It took me all afternoon to get that spotless."

"No, Klorg wipe boots before Klorg come in." Klorg found himself mumbling. The creature stopped brushing dried entrails from Klorg's shoulders and fixed the warlord with a steely gaze. "Except for General Groddo," the ruthless battle commander hastily corrected himself, "but Klorg take care of that."

Indeed, Klorg had made sure that the ashes that were once Groddo blew outside before he came upstairs.

"Things had best be in order when I go down there in an hour young man." the creature admonished gently. In a blink, her tone changed as she gazed in pride, "Oh, look at you. You've done so well for yourself. Really moving up in the world, aren't you?"

"Well, yes," Klorg said and found himself uncomfortably shy about it, He scratched the back of one leg with a foot (uncharacteristically, his own) and allowed a little smile "Klorg now supreme ruler of four systems with option on two more."

"I'm so proud of you!" The creature beamed, then turned and headed back out to the main corridor, "Be sure to write these nice people a lovely thank you note before you go."

Klorg wondered the wisdom of that, since he doubted that the remaining handful of indigenous would graciously accept their genocide and plundering, but knew better than to argue. He opened a comms line to Chief Torturer Szlek and decreed that the remaining prisoners begin work immediately on the Thank You Monument.

Klorg then took one of the tan biscuits, a "cookie" he believed it was called, dunked it into the glass of cold "milk" and chewed whistfully.

Getting a "Mom" was the best decision ever.

"Wait," Phil said, not quite certain that she understood, "You're saying that some old lady is responsible for the Sector 589 warlord attacks? Why aren't they coordinated then?"

If anyone unquestionably understood effective violence, it was Phil. The rest of the Galactic Customs team suddenly found themselves having to radically rethink their initial ideas.

Jack paused his presentation and looked to Phil.

Phil stood, grabbed a laser marker and walked to the main screen. "You said that she was spotted with Klorg on g'Dammi-ot V, then not two weeks later, we have a report of her with L'farg Ayrais near Scheeptaslaataa. Then, practically on the same cycle, we get a third report of her on the Zxqtplqyx capital ship patrolling near the Tzewii New Gate center."

"I'm not following" Rhino spoke from the end of the table. "Those aren't that far apart, she could easily jump between those sites on the same day."

"That's not the point. All three of those warlords are still locked in various disputes." Phil highlighted the regions where various skirmishes continued to go on. The boundary areas were easy to make out. "If she were controlling them, she'd be trying to get them to organize, not keep beating each other up."

Phil turned to study the map, "No, she's up to something else."

"Maybe," Carla half whispered, "maybe she's trying to get them to stop fighting, you know, like Jimmy Carter."

"I'm pretty sure that's not it", Roger noted dryly, "Klorg ate the version of Jimmy Carter we sent there three years ago."

"Well, whatever it is," Jack brought the meeting back on track again, "we've been asked to figure it out. If those warlords ever were to unify, they'd not only be a massive military force, but also the first venue for all sorts of folks to clear questionable goods through, and since the key item is that woman, the best source of information is in our jurisdiction. Carla, I want you and Shimo to find out all you can about her. The rest of you, I want to know how she got so far out of system completely undetected. We'll meet again when we've got answers."

"Oh Shimo?" Carla crooned, "can I get you to look at something?"

Shimo entered a few final keystrokes and sent the various crawlers free on the web. Soon they would be foraging across every data source known and a few unknown. He watched carefully as the first few results began to trickle in before noticing the plain manila folder Carla had slid over to him. She leaned back into her chair, her legs crossed as a faint smile danced on her lips.

Shimo opened the folder to see an 8x10 picture of Carla in a boudoir pose wearing a short garment that both left something and precious little to the imagination. Shimo's jaw ricocheted off his chest.

"Do you like it?" Carla asked slyly and ran her tongue slowly up one of her fingers. She slowly lifted a leg so that she could seductively rub a knee against a shin.

Shimo gargled something. It may have been his tongue.

She pulled herself forward, reached out a hand and slid the folder from his limp fingertips. "Good, because I spent quite a lot of money for that outfit. In fact I spent all day at the salon getting my hair and makeup done. Plus having that dinner delivered, the hotel room. Everything was absolutely perfect." Carla purred.

That's when she sucker punched him.

"And you blow it off! You miserable bastard!" Carla mixed various latin epithets with blows from the folder. Shimo curled up against the assault and tried his best to come up with some sort of rationale for exactly what was happening. Roger had said something about this Carla woman being unstable, but honestly Roger had significantly understated the problem. The woman was a raging looney.

And now she was crying. "It... it was our one year anniversary. I... I wanted.. I wanted it to be special."

Wait, one year? But he'd only seen her around for a few days.

Carla was back to being angry as she leapt to her feet. "That's it Mister!" she yelled. "I can understand the occasional forgotten call, and I know you get distracted by work, but to blow this off? No, that's IT! It's over!"

Carla pivoted and stormed out of the room.

Shimo sat, disheveled and confused, trying to make any sort of headway out of what had just happened. He straightened his glasses.

Well, at least he knew why there was a box of expensive chocolates in his locker.

No, actually, he still had no idea.

"Right, everyone's set. Phil? Kick in the door." Roger hunched down over his weapon and readied for the charge.

Phil held her knuckles beside the door while she slowly turned to regard Roger. "And would you mind telling me why I should?"

Roger returned Phil's gaze with a heavy note of disbelief. "Look, she's hanging out with some of the worst, most blood thirsty criminals in the galaxy. She's got to be armed to the teeth! She's probably got Maker knows what trained on us right now ready to unleash apocalyptic terror on us for daring to even appear at her door."

Phil let out a somewhat amused snort, "That's not going to happen."

"Not going to happen?", Roger, was not amused. "Do you honestly think she's going to invite us in for tea and cookies, maybe shoo'ing a cat or two from the sofa so we can have a lovely chat? We've got photos of her with Praetor P'narg at the widow mills of Draknyz VI!"

Phil laid a reassuringly crushing hand on Roger's shoulder. "Think about it Roger. If you were a blood thirsty leader of the galaxy's most ruthless and savage individuals, would you live at a retirement community named 'Leisure World'?"

Roger winced negatively, and Phil released her grip. "Of course not," Phil continued, "you'd live in a highly secure personal palace surrounded by guards."

"Well, maybe this is closer to shopping" Roger grumbled in a slight falsetto as he rethought where he'd put personally important organs in the future. For now, he holstered his weapon discretely and tried to make himself appear more presentable.

Phil knocked.

"Yes?" an elderly voice asked from behind the door, "who is it?"

"Who is it?", an aged voice said with a pleasant, lilting note.

"Mrs. Waverly? We're conducting a survey for the local housing board. Can we ask you a few questions?" Phil asked gently.

Roger was stunned. Here stood the same person who had, just this week, buried a 350 lb hydrolic linear compressor deep into the most sensitive part of a Kratorian Destroy-o-matic that has been beeping in falsetto ever since. The very same person who had expressed "a bit of frustration" with her MP3 player by draining the fusion core of the sub-orbital Argon Pulse array. Yet her she stood, smiling sweetly, open eyed with hands demurely folded. If she was wearing a Japanese school uni--

Any additional thought disappeared in a slow fade of high pitched beeps.

A blue haired woman peeked through several door chains that dangled across the cracked space. "Am... Am I in trouble?"

Astoundingly, Phil managed to turn up the charm even more and practically beamed, "Oh no! Not at all. We're just interested in seeing how we're doing and if there is anything you need. Here's our IDs."

Phil turned to Roger, "Roger, you need to show Mrs. Waverly your ID." The look in her eyes voiced the sort of inappropriate threats that he was all too familiar with. He dug out the Universal fake ID card and sync'd it to Phil's. The high resolution display flashed to a very governmental looking document complete with holographic seals and his own dour looking face staring back.

The elderly woman stared at the IDs through thick glasses. "One second please. " The door closed and Roger waited for the chorus of rattles from the chains being undone. He didn't hear it. Instead he heard the muffled one way conversation the woman was having with the receptionist of the local housing board, or more accurately, Carla back in Bellinger.

A few moments later, the door opened again.

"Ok, Roger, we get it." Rhino grumbled as he continued to stare through binoculars.

"Look, I've nothing against the wretched little hairballs myself. I'm quite content to provide the foul little mouse breathers as much attention as they feel compelled to absent me, but it was more than a little unnerving." Roger continued ignoring both Rhino's comment and the detailed infrared display of a very empty office. "I mean Phil and the old bag were chatting away about who knows what when I saw the first one staring at me from the hallway."

"Roger...", Rhino groaned. It was going to be a long night.

"I mean sure, she was an old lady, who could deny her a cat? But when I leaned back I noticed a second one staring at me from the back of the couch. I don't know where it came from but I could practically feel it's whiskers determining where to sink it's teeth. Or more precisely, it was probably telling it's counterpart on the other side how I should be divvied up."

Rhino sighed, he knew better than trying to stop Roger when he was on a rant.

"I nearly put my tea cup on the fourth, which was bad enough. Do you have any idea what it's like to eat a furry chocolate chip cookie?"

Rhino resisted the urge to look at Roger. He knew it wouldn't make any difference.

"All I can say is that it's a darn good thing I noticed it purring, otherwise the three on the window sill would have probably just finished eating my liver by now." Roger shook off a chill. "By the time Phil wrapped up with the fossil, I was staring out at an unblinking sea of undivided feline attention. I swear, I must have counted thirty of them, and I swear that they were multiplying before my eyes." Roger shook off another chill.

"So did you see anything?" Rhino asked

"Well, other than my life ending in a spray of kitty litter, not really."

"On the scanner?" Rhino corrected with the sort of strong tone one would normally associate with someone who had just decided to use your car as their litterbox

"What?" Roger stammered, "No, nothing. It's completely bereft of intelligent life. Probably cleaned out by cats for all I know-- hang on a minute."

Rhino pulled himself away from his glasses and watched Roger adjust the scanner. The display blurred as the scanners adjusted to the new target. "What did you see?"

"I'm not sure. I'm turning up the sensitivity of the DG imager, I thought I might..." ghostly lines appeared on screen like a shifting aura for unseen conduits.

"Good eyes Roger. Looks like someone did a crappy job insulating the lines."

"More importantly, why would they even know that they should?"Roger touched a control on his headset. "Jack? We've got some interesting DG signals here. That means they've got a pulse fusion reactor on premises. Definitely a 655 with possibly a 732 if the neighborhood televisions are on the fritz. We can't spot anyone, but that may be due to shielding. Looks like they weren't expecting us, but they weren't taking any chances either. What do you want us to do?"

Roger listened to Jack's instructions before acknowledging and closing the channel.

"Well," he said as he turned to Rhino. "Phil will be happy."

Three meters above Mare Australe, four roaches became the first of their kind to look down upon lunar soil, before trapped gases caused them to become something akin to insectoid popcorn. The section of factory wall they were in settled to the ground with a silent, dust-filled thud. Ninety-six thousand miles away, the heavily armed and shielded Galactic Customs irregulars rattled through the walls previous location, behind them plodded a several meter tall mobile armory whose bristling weaponry tracked every unidentified item that came within it's range.

"What'ya got Phil?" asked Jack's somewhat distorted voice across the encrypted communications channel.

The upper half of the massive armory turned slowly as dozens of embedded scanners relayed terabytes of information. "I'm not detecting and weaponry signatures, but I've got a pretty good buildup of Category C energies behind that wall. Looks like it's the main facility. Dammit, Shimo would have a better idea about these readings."

"What's the matter Phil?"

"I think the remote EKG is broken. I'm getting multiple signatures, it looks like an echo, what's more, they flash on and off. Must be some blocker goofing with things."

"Well, they probably know we're here by now. Roger, Rhino, brace and zone the wall. Phil? Stay sharp."

"Looking forward to it." Phil said as the vast weaponry swiveled toward the section of architecture that would soon be making it's own moon landing.

"On three, one.. two..."

"Well, that certainly explains a few things." Roger noted.

Jack sat in his office having a rather interesting conversation with a glowing screen. On it was an image and voice only he could respond to. Yeah, it was old fashioned, but Jack was funny that way.

"Well, as far as we can tell, Mr. had set up nineteen of the twenty stolen Rancau Clone-o-matics in that warehouse and had them wired up in parallel. They were all keyed to one profile, that of an 87 year old human woman, who appeared to be the mother."

"No, Emmet Pugston Waverly. The guy we've got in holding. His mother."

"Well, we're not sure how he got the contact. Phil and Roger are pumping him for details now. But somehow this sleaze ball started up a business selling off clones of his mother to the black market. I understand they became really popular with the 589 crowd once Czhux was spotted with one, but then you know what kind of trendwhores the 589's are."

"No, of course not. We only shut down the ones that weren't in cycle. We got the rest in the visiting quarters."

"About 12 of them."

"Say, you're right. Visiting quarters are next to the detention cell, but it's not a problem. We left the door open so that they could visit their son any time they like. Of course, we did have to explain why he was in that cell."

"I suppose the answer to that is: 'A good deal of explaining.'"

"Yeah, funny, Mr. Waverly seems to be rather eager to discuss matters with Phil and Roger because it means going into the interrogation room on the other side of the detention room."

"Why Chuck, is that laughter I hear? Is there something funny?"

"No, actually, we figure that the income we've intercepted from his account will fund a very nice retirement community for them and their cats."

"Oh yeah, apparently the preliminary scan he took got her and her cat. He didn't separate the patterns before he started production so they're both coming out."

"Yeah, no, we've not heard of any of the 589 ones having cats, so we're not sure what he's done with them. Although I think Roger said he might have some idea."