The black and amber Thicordian Dragons hovered above the planet Zaire. From a distance, the star-ships gave the illusion of a glowing, wafer-thin discs. But drawing closer this mirage was blown apart. Dragons were actually floating cities that could sustain life for years.
The Alpha Ship floating in the center was one hundred feet high, stretching for miles
across the dark abyss of space. The smaller star-ships flanking the Alpha, Dragons One
and Two were fifty feet high.
Inside the Alpha Command ship, Admiral L25x stood before the helm’s glittering
control panel studying Tyria on the oval screen.
The Thicordian Empire stretched behind them diamond-shaped for thousands of
miles. Moving west it ended 112,700 kilometers above Zaire, where the Dragons now
hovered. Further West was the planet Tyria, their next stop. And beyond Tyria lay
L25x, like the rest of her species, had blue skin, a wide nose and thick lips. Her head
was completely bald, her eyebrows green, and the eyes beneath them half-black and
Thicords could shift gender at birth, and normally lived to 250 years of age. This year, like the year before, the Admiral had chosen to remain female. Femaleness, its combination of strength and vulnerability, suited her. What gender she chose to be bed was another affair.
L25x wore a multicolored, flowing toga with a black and amber dragon insignia at her
shoulder: the mark of an admiral. To her left stood her second-in-command,
Lieutenant R10x. R10x was also bald with blue translucent skin. But she was younger,
slimmer, and wore the white tunic and trousers of a lower officer.
The Admiral stared down at Zaire through the screen. It was a desert planet with mountains rich in Xelium, one of the minerals needed to produce dragon eggs. The Empire decided which planets they would attack using a network of spies. From this intell they created their own unique classification system. Plants that had never engaged in interplanetary warfare were termed Class-Zero: pacifist, primitive worlds. Those that had fought one to two wars were Class-One, and so on. Using this system, the Empire was able to wean out warlike planets from those they chose to attack. It wasn’t foolproof. There was always a risk that they would attack a warrior planet that looked peaceful.
But it had worked well enough for Thicord to have grown into one of the most
powerful and feared Empires in the galaxy. And one of the most hated.
Zaire was a Class-Zero planet. Peaceful, with a people who were only interested in playing music, fishing and farming. It was ripe for plucking.
“Bring Counselor Yanze up on the view-screen,” Admiral L25x ordered. A crewman to her right, U9a pressed a button on the bridge panel. Zaire’s High Counselor, Yanze, appeared on the view-screen.
The Zaire were a tall species and Yanze, at eleven feet tall, was only average height
with skin was the color of ebony, a long narrow head and large eyes. He had a wide
nose and his mouth was a long horizontal slit.
“Your time is up, Counselor.”
Yanze’s wide mouth twisted in anger. “I gave you my answer two days ago.” Other species would hear his voice as the beat of a drum. But the view-screen automatically translated his speech, so the Thicordians could understand it. “My answer was no, then. And it’s still no. Zaire is not interested in your mining schemes.”
“Your land is rich in Xelium. Minerals you choose to ignore―”
“That is my concern!”
“You may have use of our shipping lines, in return for letting us mine your Xelium.”
“You mean set up a shipping operation on Zaire!” the Counselor snarled.
Admiral L25x turned to U9a. “Target Zaire’s Greenhouse planet, range sixty miles. . . Fire!”
The Dragon’s long range laser missiles swiveled to target a tiny planet beside Zaire. Sixty miles of the planet was disintegrated. “Fire!” Another sixty miles disappeared into black space.
“STOP!” Counselor Yanze’s face worked violently. “Nakandria is a greenhouse planet and our primary source of fruits and vegetables! It took us twelve years to cultivate it!”
“Refuse my offer again, Counselor, and I’ll target one of your cities.”
He gritted his pointed teeth in rage. “Alright, damn you!”
The Admiral’s face split in a shark-like smile. “Thank you, Counselor. I look forward to a long and mutually lucrative relationship.”
Allandra set her dials for landing. “This is the one, Leonardo! I can feel it! Just like the
“Humph!” her partner retorted, but with a smile in his voice. “ITS says that every mission. We never find anything but plants. Not even an animal. And I had my heart set on a pet space monkey. Why don’t you give it up, babe?”
She laughed throatily. “Now you know I can’t do that.” Besides, this time they’re right.
The young astronaut couldn’t see Leonardo. But she knew he was there: traveling parallel to her descent. They’d been in space for weeks and both were ready for some downtime, even if it was on the surface of an unexplored planet.
Moving into the Red Stone’s mist-filled atmosphere Allandra reduced her speed. Her heart sank. From a distance, the atmospheric dust had given off a crimson glow―hence the name Red Stone. But up close, it was an ugly, crater-filled rock covered in red dust. Worst, there was no sign of civilization. Intergalactic Space Travel (IST) readings had been wrong.
The astronaut spotted a plateau between two boulders and headed for it. She coasted the tiny star-ship into a landing. She was operating a Probe: a ship roughly the same size as the private planes that had become so popular during the 20th century.
Allandra scanned the surface. With the naked eye, it appeared to be mid-day. Or whatever passes for mid-day on this desolate rock.
She pressed the top blue button on her console. “No indication of intelligent life species. No indication of nonhuman animal species,” a mechanized voice intoned. “Atmospheric analysis indicates levels of approximately ninety-five percent carbon dioxide, three percent nitrogen, and one percent argon. System detects traces of free oxygen. Planet gases do not produce air sufficient to sustain human life forms.”
Allandra shut the test off and pushed the second button on her console, activating her ship data log. “This is Probe Commander Lieutenant Allandra Rex, Probe ship 52ZC. It is 0700 hours Earth Time, Day Seven of the mission, Earth year 2060. Lieutenant Leonardo Cash and I have landed on Planet Red Stone. Analysis of Red Stone indicates there is not enough oxygen to sustain human life.” Keep it simple. Sidney had taught her this