A Cautionary Tale: Immigrants From Earth

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When the first of the immigrant ships from Earth arrived on Mars there wasn’t too much concern on the inhabitant’s part.

There was plenty of room on the planet. The Martians themselves were a peaceful species divided up into tribes that answered to a Supreme Council. The leaders of the Council met with the earthlings shortly after they landed.

The Captain of the ship, Lance Elliot, told the Martians that Earth was no longer safe to live on. It was badly polluted and climate change was creating havoc on every continent of the world.

Volcanos, earthquakes, drought, flooding, and wars were killing millions of people every day Captain Elliot explained.

We are immigrants who just want a chance to live in peace,” he concluded.

“What of our atmosphere? It’s deadly to you earthlings,” one of the leaders asked.

That’s true, but we have brought materials, and the technology, to build a dome with an ecosphere we could live in,” Captain Elliot countered.

Let us meet again tomorrow at this place. We must go home and discuss this matter further now.”

The next day.

Once the translator transmission signal was established between the two groups again, the Supreme Leader spoke,

We have given much thought to your request. We have been aware of your activities for hundreds of years. We don’t want the same scourges to destroy our world. Having said that, we have decided to let you stay for a trial period of twenty years.

You will be required to clean up your own messes and not pollute our planet. No military weapons will be allowed. We hope you will be good neighbors, and you can count on us to do our best to have friendly relations.

Know this, we are two different species, and the chance for misunderstandings is great. We must be honest with one another. We will leave you now to build your new home. You can always reach us through the communications signal we have established.

Peace.”

Captain Elliot and his officers returned to the ship and gave the order to start unloading their supplies.

More immigrants continued to arrive on Mars. They were from nations around the earth. They all accepted the terms the Martians presented. Each new community selected a leader whose task was to maintain good relations with other immigrant communities and the Martians.

Deep below the Martian crust, there were three immense cities housing millions. The one thing the Martian leaders were adamant about was there would be no contact between themselves and the earthlings.

Only leaders, would meet with their leaders in pre-arranged spots on the surface. The two populations weren’t going to mix. The earthlings were never going to see where they lived.

Years passed by peacefully. The great experiment, as some leaders called it, was going very well. Better than expected. Millions of earthlings relocated successfully there.

One day, a dome community that called itself Little Italy discovered a network of tunnels just outside of the dome area. Two miners went deeper underground than was agreed on in the Mining Provisions for Natural Resources Act signed two decades ago.

The miners didn’t have to go too far into the main tunnel before they stumbled upon ancient Martian funeral artifacts. Statues, fine pottery, and solid rock coffins were all carefully arranged to celebrate the dead.

When the two miners returned to the dome they brought death with them. Deadly ancient spores clung to their spacesuits, even after the decontamination process. The next day when people started dying, the leader of Little Italy went to the nearest dome community and warned them about a mysterious sickness that struck them.

That warning was passed on to all of the other communities by their leaders. Within two days every earthling on Mars was dead, thanks to the leaders who unwontedly spread the invisible death.

When the Martians saw what happened, they weren’t surprised.

As It Stands, mankind didn’t deserve a second chance after destroying the earth.

 

 

 

The Pleasure House of Pindor

 

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Pindor, Venus – circa 2339

Entry into the Pleasure House of Pindor was based upon a point system.

It was the goal of every Venusian to someday go to a Pleasure House. Every city had one.

They accumulated points by serving the government. Depending upon their position in the government, some added points faster than others.

For instance, gardeners were highly prized. Only the best were hired to take care of the planet’s greatest national treasure – the Passion bush, which bloomed year-round.

Venusians weren’t allowed to enter the point system until they were of age and actively serving the government.

Dorin was only months away from being qualified to serve the government. All of his life he listened to his elders sing the praises of the Pleasure Palaces. Going to one meant an eternity of peace and joy.

For years, Dorin walked past the Pindor Pleasure Palace on his way to school. He memorized the beautiful towers and golden domes, often dreaming of them. His curiosity was so great about what happened in the Pleasure Palaces, he often plotted ways of sneaking inside one.

With two weeks to go before Dorin could work for the government, he found a way to get inside.

After carefully casing out the front door from behind a lush Passion Plant (known throughout the solar system for their beauty) that surrounded the building, Dorin saw three people approach.

Two government officials in their pale green uniforms escorting a man in white robes.

One of the officials held up a small metal disk and the door slide open. Without thinking, Dorin followed the group before the door closed. Once inside he dropped down to all fours and stayed as far behind the small group as he could.

Still, if one of the officials had turned around he would have been spotted in the bright light of the lavish entryway. Murals with Mindor Birds flying over green hills graced the opulent room.

Rare Venusian artifacts were displayed on tables and shelves on one side. Soothing celestial melody came from hidden speakers. The whole effect was encouraging to Dorin.

He saw the small group enter a doorway that glittered with rare elements. Surprising even himself, Dorin got up the courage to follow them. When he opened the door there was a hallway that ran for about fifty-feet, before splitting off left and right to two more corridors.

The trio had disappeared.

He picked the one on the right, and immediately saw a row of windows and doors. Cautiously, he peeked through the first window. He was in time to see a doctor give the man a shot in the arm.

The man sunk to the ground and died with a smile on his face. Two white-clothed orderlies threw the body on a cart and wheeled it out the door. Shocked, Dorin backed away from the window.

His heart was beating so fast, he could hear it. He wanted to run, but some perverse curiosity urged him to look into another window. He almost screamed! Inside was a meat rack with dead Venusians hanging from their feet!

A row of butchers were chopping off arms and legs and placing heads and torsos on a conveyor belt that disappeared into another room. Plastic barrels of the limbs were carted off by more workers.

Numb with shock, Dorin moved down the hallway and peeked into another window. He watched with growing horror as torsos and heads were put into large grinding machines that turned them into a lumpy pulp.

Connected to the grinding system was a belt carrying buckets of the pulp to metal containers with Plant Food written on them.

As It Stands, controlling people can only be achieved when they buy into a great lie.

Scotties Galaxy Space Route

 

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Houston, Texas 2122

Executives at the main mail terminal watched The Milky Way Mail Express quickly disappear into the heavens.

“So, this is your first time eh?” Captain Scott “Scottie” Jorgenson asked his new co-pilot.

“It is! I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally get off the ground. I hated my earth route in Atlanta, Georgia.” 1st Class Delivery Mate, Morris Mayweather, replied.

“This solar system route takes a year to complete. Then you start all over again,” Scottie warned.

“I knew what I signed up for sir…”

“Don’t call me sir! My name is Scott. If you want, you can call me “Scottie.”

“Okay. What’s it like on Mars, our first stop?”

“Let’s put it this way, you won’t be exposed to the Martian landscape or atmosphere. We land in a company airport with a simulated earth environment. Martian Milky Way Mail Express Terminal employees will offload our cargo as we have a spicy Martian rum at the airport bar.”

“Damn!” Morris exclaimed, “it doesn’t get any better than this!”

“Remember that when we get to Neptune,” Scottie said.

“What do you mean by that?” a suddenly worried Morris asked.

“Nothing… don’t worry about it. Every planet is different is all I meant.”

Venus

“Wow! I wonder what’s going on outside?” Morris asked.

The two men were in the terminal lounge waiting for the Venusians to off-load the cargo. Neither were drinking. There wasn’t a bar at this stop. Looking out through the see-through dome they watched as thousands of Venusians were protesting something.

They angrily waved signs with images of the Milky Way Mail Express Logo on them.

“What’s going on?” Morris asked.

“Union busting. They’re former workers in this terminal who dared to organize for a more livable wages.”

Saturn

“It’s not polite to stare, didn’t your mother teach you better growing up?” Scottie scowled.

Morris blushed with embarrassment and tried not to look at the Saturnian workers. They resembled giant purple snails with arms and a long head. Watching them slowly slither over to a row of forklifts gave him the creeps.

“What’s the matter, didn’t you read all of the manual? It has photos of every alien species that you’ll meet.”

“Yea…I saw them. It’s just that seeing them in person is a lot different than seeing a photo of them.” 

“Fair enough. While I’m confirming contents of loads, would you go activate a couple of cleaner bots to get that slime off our cargo hold ramps when their done?”

Mercury

“It’s amazing watching them work! Those eight arms are so powerful they’re not even using fork lifts to off-load the cargo,” Morris marveled.

“Another thing about Mercurians is how orderly they are,”  Scottie pointed out, “I’ve never had a problem with paperwork or returned cargo with them. They’re punctual, and pleasant to talk with. Let’s go over to that bar and listen to them tell stories. They’re great story-tellers.”

Jupiter

As soon as they landed and exited the ship, Scottie and Morris were instantly surrounded by black-shelled security guards waving weapons.

“Don’t panic,” Scottie warned Morris, “this is routine on this planet. Just hand them your papers and company identification badge.”

The language translators on their wrists allowed them to understand their questions. After ten minutes, they escorted them to the dock area where they could watch the cargo come out and check it off against their manifests.

There was no lounge area.

Uranus

“Why aren’t Milky Way Mail Express employees off-loading our cargo?” Morris wondered.

“Because the company employees all have slaves who do their manual labor. Just like the company manual reminds us, this is a slave planet. The only way Uranusians can get manual labor done is to buy slaves on the intergalactic slave exchange.”

“They kinda remind me of kangaroos with those tiny arms and that long tail.”

“Keep it down. They also have excellent hearing and I hear they don’t appreciate being compared to an earth animal.”

Neptune

“Wait a minute! There’s nothing in the manual that says we have to carry weapons!” Morris whined when Scottie handed him a Laser gun.

“This is the part where we use common sense Morris. Don’t worry, the company wants us to stay alive. It’s hell trying to get good help these days. Here’s a belt and holster. Put it on.”

As the ship slowed down and came in for a landing they could see flashes of colored lights streaking across the Milky Way Express Terminal docks. It was the same thing every time.

The cargo they brought was food. The giant plastic crates containing the precious cargo were worth dying for. Only the wealthy could afford to pay the prices Milky Way Express charged.

The poor tried to live on the leftovers in the trash heaps of the rich, and by killing small wild mammals. Whenever there was a shipment the poor gathered their laser guns and attacked, hoping to steal some of precious cargo.

As the giant bay doors opened to allow the ship to enter the terminal hundreds of desperate men and women swarmed into the temporary opening. The Neptunian military was waiting and opened fire.

When the ship was still the bay doors opened. Scott and Morris saw a cluster of soldiers nearby and went up to them.

“Can you tell me where to find the loading supervisor? We just arrived.”

A laser beam hit one of the guards and he crumbled! The rest scattered and Scott and Morris followed one of them to an area where hundreds of troops were assembled for a big push against the attackers.

As they watched, the formation slowly moved forward, like a Roman legion, and drove the attackers back through the open bay door. The slaughter was sickening, as the ill nourished, and ill-equipped  Neptunians were mowed down like rows of wheat before a threshing machine.

Afterwards, a Milky Way Mail Express loading supervisor organized his employees and they off-loaded the rest of the cargo on the ship. Paperwork was signed and they left for home.

When they got back to earth Morris told Scottie he was going back to his old route on earth. He couldn’t hack it.

That night, over a bottle of tequila, Scottie and the owner of Milky Way Express Inc. bemoaned the fact that it was almost impossible to find good help anymore.

As It Stands, corporate evil is a theme that has many paths.

The Martians Last Stand

 

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The underground city of Atoish, Mars – circa 3088.

A group of top Martian scientists and elders are gathered for one purpose; to save the planet.

For eons, their scientists tracked movements in the Milky Way. They observed strange spacecraft coming from the solar systems other planets.

Most explorers avoided Mars rugged desert landscape, but some came near enough to make close-up observations.

It was only a matter of time before someone discovered the artfully disguised tunnels leading underground.

When the first space craft landed on Mars in 3091, it was from Earth. Two earthlings exploring the terrain stumbled upon a tunnel entrance surrounded by boulders. The Martians greeted them warmly, and took them to their capital City of Atoish.

The earthlings told the Grand Council that they came in peace and were explorers from the planet Earth. It amused the Martians that the earthlings were so awed by the gems and precious metals they mined for ceremonial purposes.

Martian history books noted that one of the men, Major John Wayne Connors, was very greedy and lusted for Martian riches. He was caught stealing a bag of precious gems and the Grand Council immediately banned the earthlings from Mars for life.

Most historians agreed that letting them leave was the beginning of the end for Mar’s future. Historians that recorded the contact wrote that they should have killed them, and protected the secret of their presence on Mars. But that would have gone against their beliefs. Lives were more precious than riches.

Mars, unlike every other planet in the solar system, had never suffered the ravages of warfare. There were no warlords or armies. It’s inhabitants were peaceful and highly intelligent. It had always been so.

Two years after the earthlings were banned their Martians science had advanced to the point where they could send spy drones to all the planets, to observe their actions. Their advanced software allowed them to translate conversations.

After listening to communications from Earth for a year, the Grand Council gathered to see what they could do about the imminent invasion coming from Earth. They listened to how the governments of the world agreed on a joint expedition to loot Mar’s precious gems and minerals.

There were no weapons of war, or standing armies, on Mars. It was a planet blessed with peace for eons, and that was coming to an end. There was no way to resist an invasion fleet.

The elders had no doubt that they would slaughter the people so they made a drastic proposal; using their mining experience they would create earthquakes with their seismic knowledge that would go on forever.

Of course it meant death for all Martians, and their civilized society. But wasn’t that what they were already facing with the invasion? It was better than torture or captivity.

The Grand Council took a vote. All were in favor of the idea. Then the elders went out into the cities and small towns and told the people what was happening, giving them time to prepare for the end.

Two weeks after the Martians decision, the earthquakes began.

By the time the first invaders from earth arrived, the surface of the planet was too unstable to land on.

As It Stands, this is my take on human beings as the primary predators on earth…and possibly beyond.

Saturn’s Annual Shoot-A-Thon

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Mars circa 3328

“Do you really think you’re ready?” Ob’s brother asked again for the hundredth time.

“I’ve practiced all my life, as you well know brother. Am I not the best shot on Mars?”

“There’s a big difference between competing with the rest of the solar system, or just on Mars.”

“Listen Hu, I subscribe to the Milky Way Shooter’s Guide and my scores are as good as anyone else’s in this solar system. Otherwise they wouldn’t have accepted my application.”

Venus circa 3328

Keimie shot the eyes out of the manikin from 100 yards with naked sights. She was just warming up for another afternoon of practice when her father called out, “Keimie! I’ve got news!”

She lowered her rifle – a standard SX Solar System carbine – and watched her father cross the field with something in his hand. As he drew near she could make out an envelope in his hand.

She read its contents and smiled. “The Saturn Shooting Association has approved my application to compete in the annual Milky Way Star Shoot-A-Thon!”

“I knew they would, but now I may lose a daughter.”

“Don’t worry Daddy. It’s the only way I can get our family out of these hard times. It’s what I’ve prepared for since you gave me my first training rifle.”  

Mercury 3328

I don’t care what you say! I’m competing this year. Here’s my letter of acceptance,” said prince Ymir.

His mother, the Queen, pulled at her hair dramatically and wailed like a lost soul.

“What if you don’t win my precious son? We could not bear to lose the heir to the throne!”

“I need to prove that I’m the best shot in the solar system. Nothing else means more to me right now than that. The throne and the riches are inherited. I didn’t earn them. This is something I must do.”

As the king walked down the drafty corridor of the castle he heard his wife’s wails. “Sounds like the letter of acceptance has arrived,” he mumbled to himself.

Neptune 3328

Arie took the last lap at full speed. As soon as he crossed the finish line he grabbed one of the .308 caliber carbines off of a nearby gun rack and trotted towards the high grass to take up a shooting position.

As he wedged himself into a hedgerow he carefully took the scope out of the pouch from around his neck, and attached it. His targets would range from 100 to 800 yards.

He was the most accomplished sportsman on the planet. As an avid hunter he collected trophies of his kills from throughout the solar system. His shooting ability was legendary.

The Saturn Shooting Association had talked him in to competing by promising he could keep the heads of his kills.

“Release,” he said to the watch on his wrist.

He saw the first target at 1000 yards. When the slave from Uranus got within 800 yards he squeezed the trigger. The slave was spun around by the shot as he fell.

Earth 3328

Jay Standers finished polishing the carbine parts and put them back together in seconds. He was once a Navy Seal team member, but got kicked out for fighting with his squad leader, breaking his jaw and three ribs.

After completing his time in prison he hooked up with an old high school buddy with mob connections. He quickly became one of the most feared hit men in the business. After that he hired out as a mercenary in Africa.

While teaching Nigerian soldiers how to set up ambushes, Jay got a phone call from the United States. It was from mob boss Big Arnie Giordano;

“How are you doing Jay?” he asked.

“What’s up? I haven’t had anything to do with you guys for eight years. Since Tony Rizzo tried to rip me off.”

“Yeah…about that. His son says you ripped Tony off and he wants twice the amount – $100 Billion dollars!”

“You gotta be kidding me.”

“It’s no joke Jay. Lucky for you, I found a way you can get that much money and even have a little left for yourself.”

“Screw you! I don’t have…”

“Oh yes, you do! Tell him Dad!”

“Son…you mother and I aren’t hurt. These men..” 

“That’s enough pops. So here’s the thing Jay, I sent your qualifications in to the Saturn Shooting Association for next months annual competition. Guess what? You were accepted! Isn’t that exciting?”

“I’m going to kill you Arnie!”

“No you’re not. I’ll kill your parents if you try. You better brush up on your shooting skills Jay.”

Saturn 3328

Welcome to our annual Shoot-Off. This year we couldn’t find any eligible contestants in Uranus and Neptune. Maybe next year! But today, we have the best shots in the solar system competing in a do-or-die competition. 

“The winner takes home a huge cash prize and a trophy proclaiming them the Best Shot in the Milky Way. As always, the losers will become next years targets.” 

As It Stands, who do you hope wins?

Escape from the Slave Planet

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Tortgur was where slaves were sent from the Urbian Empire.

The planet was inhabited by guards and slaves who were used to manufacture items to support the empire’s war machine.

No one had ever escaped from Tortgur. Slaves lived out their lives there laboring for their masters.

Most of the guards were cyborgs from Xlatam. Their supervisors were Jaltian marines from Terrauni, the Empire’s home planet. Their job was to watch over the cyborgs and the slaves.

The heat from the two suns of Tortgur was intense. If exposed to it – without protection – the slaves skin would turn black and sluff off in painful patches within an hour. Anything over eight hours meant sure death.

The workshops – and assembly lines – were housed under climate controlled domes. The slaves worked 15-hour days. It left them with little time for sleeping, and eating. The only time they had to communicate among themselves was while eating, or after the lights went out in their barracks.

Their only break from the mind-numbing routine was when new slaves arrived. They would share what was going on in the solar system.

After the last of the slaves got off the spaceship they were herded towards the domes. That brief exposure to the blazing heat gave them a taste of what they could expect if they tried running away.

Once inside the main dome the slaves were herded to one side. The base commander gave a short speech, and then they were sent off to their barracks.

Ges Yiper was captured when his planet, Ceresium, was invaded by the Urbian Empire’s star fleet. He was the only prisoner taken alive. It was a bitter fight that lasted a year, as the shape shifters of Ceresium fought against overwhelming odds.

The only reason he was alive was the empire’s scientists were interested in him. After two years of experiments and studying his shape shifting power, they turned him over to the Jaltian marines at the Incarceration and Transportation Division.

His ability to shape shift was nullified by a digital metallic ring forged around his neck. The empire never liked to waste manpower, so Ges was sent to Tortgur.

The first night.

After the barrack lights went out a voice asked Ges where he was from? He shared the fate of his planet.

“If everyone was killed why were you spared?” another voice asked.

“They wanted to study my power,” Ges replied.

An excited murmur in the room.

What power is that?” several voices echoed.

“I can look like anyone, if I want. My captors made sure I couldn’t use my power by putting this damn thing on my neck.”

“Do you know what element it is?” a voice asked.

No. I’m afraid not. Whatever it’s made from we don’t have it where I come from.”

The conversation went on for nearly an hour.

From day one, Ges was determined to escape. The other slaves told him all they knew about life on Tortgur. They also told him no one had ever escaped from the planet.

He kept his escape planning to himself, not trusting anyone. It was apparent they all accepted their miserable existence and had long ago given up hope.

Ges was put to work on an assembly line making parts for the empire’s star fleet. He was on a line that produced control panels. The work was tedious. He had to slip memory cards into four places on each panel in a minute, before the next panel arrived.

At the midday meal Ges was feeling discouraged when a voice behind him asked “Would you like to get rid of that collar?” 

It was the same voice that asked him what element his collar was made out of. He turned and saw a tall Ilerian from Kuubs staring at him.

My name is Voltex,” he said. “I work in the metals department. Let’s talk more tonight.”

The lights went out.

A tap on Ges’s shoulder. “Follow me.”

Voltex led him to the end of the barracks and then opened a door.

“In here.”

Ges followed, and the door quietly closed.

“Be careful, there’s not much room in here. It’s a supply room. We must keep our voices low.” 

“Do you think you could get my collar off?” Ges asked.

“Soon enough, my friend. I want to escape from this hell hole too. If I’m able to cut through your collar, you have to return the favor and help me escape with you.”

“How do you know I’m planning to escape?”

A slight chuckle. Of course you are! Everyone who first gets here can think of nothing else. After a time that passes and hope is a ghost. Are we agreed?”

“Yes. Where do we start?”

“The plan should be for you to shape shift and look like the base commander. You saw him when you first arrived. Kill him. Then make a story up about you having to bring me to Terrauni for a special project.”

“Sounds like you really thought this through.”

It’s called survival. Let me examine you collar up close.” 

Vortex pulled out a small penlight from his overalls and held it up to Ges’s neck.

He studied the collar for several minutes. Taking a small file from another pocket, he drew it across the collar. Back and forth. Then stopped.

“I know what it’s made from. Metotriat metal from Luna II. I’ve got to figure out how to smuggle out a plasma cutter to do the job. Let’s shoot for tomorrow.”

Lights out.

“I’ve got it.”

Ges followed Vortex to the supply room.

“This will hurt like hell. Can you keep from screaming out?”

“Yes. I have a high tolerance to pain. Do it.”

Five minutes later.

The collar was off. Ges closed his eyes. When he opened them again he looked exactly like the base commander.

“Where did you say his office was again?” Ges asked.

A cyborg was startled to see Commander Gafer walking through the now silent manufacturing area in the middle of the night. He watched him head towards his office, and then lost interest.

The door was unlocked. It opened easily. Ges slipped inside silently. Then he went out the back door, and slunk along a pathway leading up to a little house. That door was also unlocked.

He found the commander asleep in his bed and strangled him. It took him two hours to find a place to dispose of the body. He settled for a room full of large metallic crates and trophies lining the walls.

Lucky for Ges, the commander’s job mainly consisted of greeting new slaves and listening to his guards report about infractions among the slaves. There was no daily duties to perform.

Following Voltex’s instructions, Ges went to the Department of Transportation to see when the next ship was leaving for Terrauni. His luck held when the Chief Transportation officer said, “…in two hours.” 

Voltex was called into the commanders office within an hour.

The assistant Chief of Transportation was surprised to see the base commander and a slave booking passage home. No one had told him the news. It was a big deal. The base commander was supposed to serve a ten-year term on Tortgur and he’d only been there five years.

It nagged at his bureaucratic mind.

Once they were in space, Ges and Voltex relaxed. Neither knew what the future held, but it had to be better than being a slave.

The attendant got to their seats and smiled.

Instead of asking them if they wanted something to eat or drink, she held out a small box and pulled two swabs out of it.

Sorry. Regulations. DNA is the only real way to confirm who you are.”

As It Stands, the best laid plans of slaves and aliens oft go astray!

The Curse of the Orionian Diamond

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From the Chronicles of Zartam

“And there was a great Lord who processed the biggest, most beautiful, diamond in the Milky Way solar system.

It came to pass that a warlord in the dune fields of Auroe heard about the famous diamond and lusted for it.

Rek Thronebolt, the ruler of the dunes of Auroe, gathered up other warlords from the wasted lands of Gattis and the forests of Turon. He promised them riches and slaves from the wealthy kingdom of Zan, whose king Zartam was rumoured to be getting old and weak.

The great war that followed ended in a deadly draw, as most of the participants were killed. Only a few stragglers from each side survived. Among them was King Zartam’s daughter, Zetrina, who pocessed the Orionian diamond.

She was a high priestess of Parek, a magical cult that worshipped truth and honesty. As such, she put a curse upon the diamond if a cheat or a liar tried to take it. Zetrina and three other priestess died a year later.

Hundreds of years passed, erasing the site of King Zartam’s castle under the shifting sands as the dune fields expanded.”

Transcribed by Lut Nore

On the Second Day of Hatar, 33098

Dar En Sun, Hyperion – One of 62 Moons surrounding Saturn

“Be careful how you handle that Actinolite Cat’s Eye necklace. It’s made from a rare gem from Earth, you dolts!”  the Museum’s curator, Nar Feh, grumbled.

He was running out of time. The intergalatic exhibition of rare and precious gems of the Milky Way, was coming to Oberon, the second largest moon orbiting Uranus. There were only three more zorts left, and he still didn’t have the Orionion Diamond.

It was slated to be the crown jewel of the show. Backers from two solar systems were financing the exhibition. They expected to see the Orionion Diamond. As a matter of fact, it was in the contract.

Nar Feh’s collection featured a brilliant assortment of gems from Actinolite Cat’s Eyes from Earth; Yellow Geodes from Neptune; Green Amethysts from Venus; Andalusite from Mercury with it’s changing colors; Dense Cassiterite from Uranus; Golden Chrysocolla from Jupiter; Stunning Blue Sapphires from Saturn; and Purple Rubies from Mars.

But thus far, no Orionian Diamond from Hyperion. The main attraction. All of Nar Feh’s hope was resting on the team he hired to get the fabled diamond.

The team from Mercury consisted of six people. All, but one, were experts on precious gems and minerals in three solar systems. Their combined education would fill the Great Library of Hroth Hor on Jupiter.

The sixth member, Dar Ben Toca, a famous jewel thief and noted adventurer in jail, was granted amnesty when he agreed to work with the team to locate the Orionion Diamond. Someone had put up a lot of xelks to pull that off.

The mission had to be completed before 12 zorts passed.

Hyperion was windy and cold year round. No living thing appeared to be left. The team, packing pounds of equipment, trudged through wastelands that were once fertile fields, and forests of colorful hard wood for nine zorts.

If it wasn’t for the discovery of the Chronicles of Zartam by the Hyperion scribe, Lut Nore, no one would have ever known about the great diamond, or the Kingdom of Zan. The moon’s history would have remained forever lost under the shifting sands of time.

Hyperion.

Tempers were getting short in the main tent one night. The five experts were busy blaming each other for their failure to locate the lost kingdom of Zan. Each had a vision of glory. Each dreamt of untold wealth and fame.

Alone, in his small tent, Dar Ben Toca took another hit off his pipe. The ingredient was a plant from Pluto, a weed with the wonderful power to ease a person’s mind from daily struggles.

Setting the long pipe down, he crawled out of the tent and stood up. The night sky was filled with stars glittering like diamonds. A shooting star streaked across the heavens. He walked away from the camp’s bright lights coming from the main tent.

It took a few moments to adjust his eyes to the difference in lighting. When he did, he was surprised to see what appeared to be a square rock sticking out from a sandy mound.

As he got closer he realized the mound was higher than he thought. Getting down on his knees, Dar Ben Toca started digging with his hands. In a short time it became obvious that he had discovered something important.

He had mixed reactions about his discovery. On one hand, he still had to go back to prison. His reward was getting 52 zorts off his 499 zort sentence. On the other hand, he could take his chances and grab some supplies and take off.

He might not survive long, but at least he would die free. The problem was he did swear an oath that he would return. He went back to his tent and curled up with his pipe. He’d sleep on it.

The next day, Dar Ben Toca led the team to the spot he’d discovered. After setting up the extraction loaders, and activating two robot diggers, they all watched as the fabled castle wall was slowly revealed!

Within a short time the diggers had made it to the ground floor of the castle and were clearing out rooms. The team watched the process until it got dark. When they got up the next day a path had been cleared for exploration.

It was the team leader, Kor Kar, who discovered the Orionian Diamond in a great tomb in the castle’s bowels. It sat on a stand designed to display it. The stand was next to alabaster coffin containing the body of the high preistess Zetrina.

When the whole team assembled in the room, Kor Kar made a short speech applauding their efforts. Then he turned to the diamond, which was the size of a normal earthling’s head, and reached out for it…

The team gasped in unison when Kor Kar’s face turned black, his eyes rolled back, and he made small mewling noises before dropping to the ground like a sack of Martian red roots.

The curse!” someone screamed.

“It can’t be!” someone else claimed. “There are no curses!”

“Then what was that!” another hysterical voice asked.

Finding the diamond was one challenge. Getting the diamond back to the museum was another.

What are we going to do” one of the team members asked. “Aren’t any of us honest enough to pick this diamond up?”

That’s when Dar Ben Toca saw his chance to get a better deal. Maybe even his freedom.

“I’ll do it. But I need you all to speak up for me.”

Four heads nodded up and down in agreement. Anything to complete their mission.

When Dar Ben Toca held the heavy diamond in his arms he knew his life was going to get better.

As It Stands, truth often comes in strange packages.