This was the pits. Once again, George and his Outlands Unit had chased the pirates into hiding. And again, he found himself going down in flames. He kicked himself for not using his Scree fighter, but it had been his own decision. He hadn’t wanted to risk damaging it, even though it had the most advanced shield systems in the galaxy.
But this time, he was nowhere near Tharne. This time, he was light-years away in some god forsaken system that didn’t exist on his star-maps. All he knew was that he had found himself, and his unit, completely surrounded by pirates in a system where he had absolutely no psy-link with his sister. Seemed all hope was gone. Then he saw it.
Just as he had seen when going down on Tharne, he saw the flash again. This time, it seemed to stop outside his cockpit window…and it looked almost human! But it had wings! And glowing eyes!
From that point on, everything seemed to go in slow motion. Even the pain from the burns he was sustaining seemed to register extremely slowly.
Release yourself, something in his mind whispered, allow your inner self to take wing.
It was almost as if a collective voice was calling out to him. Coaxing him to allow himself to die. And death seemed more pleasant than what he was experiencing at the moment. So he let go.
It almost seemed as if he watched the fighter crash from above. Yet he rose, physically, from the wreckage…on wings! What had happened to him? Had he died and become an angel?
Thornon reborn. Welcome, Brother. What is your name?
George opened his mouth and tried to speak. Nothing.
Speak with your mind, Thornon.
Why do you keep calling me Thornon? I am George, brother of the psy-queen. Commander of the Outland Units. He was irritated. I am not Thornon.
A raspy, collective laughter answered him. When you crashed on Tharne, it was our leader who saved you, not your sister. Strong she may be, but no psy can span that distance to save another. He chose you to succeed him in leading us, but had no time to help you become what fate has laid at your feet to be. But now, you are in our system and your psy-speak cannot call to your sister. The distance is too great.
So, he began, thoughtfully, I am to be your leader?
Yes,came the answer, and we are to do your bidding. You are our King.
Will I regain my human speak?
Yes and no, the collective replied, you will only be able to seem as if you are speaking when you regain human form. But it will only be illusion. In reality, you will mind speak only, even when it seems as if you are talking normally. Those around you, unless they are psy, will not know it is mind speak.
So I will have two forms? He knew he was pressing his luck, but his curiosity was getting the best of him.
Yessssssss… the reply drifted off.
The pirate overlord sat in his seat upon the bridge of his frigate. He was now proud of himself. He had cornered and destroyed the most feared unit in the entire universe. But he had not been totally victorious. He had not destroyed their vile leader.
Those interplanetary glowworms had gotten in his way and ruined his plans. What the hell were those things, anyway? He had never seen such a thing. Most believed them to be a figment of their imaginations, but these were real. They had even hit his ship and done damage! Figments never did that.
He had to hunt them down and destroy them now. They had earned his hate through their interference. No one interfered and got away with it. He scowled. Where had they gone?
Macy was worried. George had not returned. Even worse, only a handful of his unit had come back in and their reports were bleak. He had ordered them to retreat, but had not been able to himself. The last they’d seen him, he was fighting the valiant fight…and losing.
What made it worse was that most of the unit had been unable to retreat as ordered and had been cut to ribbons. They had, from all reports, fallen into a carefully laid trap. A trap they could not get out of.
It worried her more because her psy was not reaching him. Nor was his reaching her. This did not bode well. She hated being cut off from him.
Then it hit her. the trap had been set in that location because he would have no way to link with her there! It had been a deliberate setup! And it had cost her many valiant lives, including her brother!
She released a psy-scream of rage that made the palace quake. How could she have been so blind? Why did she allow him to go ahead and pursue the pirates beyond Tharne? Why had she not insisted that he turn back?
George was getting the hang of being able to fly without a ship. Man, this was fun! Wings made life so much easier! So much more exciting!
We await your first command, Oh king.
We must destroy the pirates, he began, even if it means pursuing them to their very lairs. Then we must honor and bury my dead unit.
As you have spoken, so shall it be.
George found it amazing as they left the atmosphere of the planet without oxygen suits. his flight seemed to be controlled by the movement of the collective, rather than any personal decision. Though he led them, he was still somewhat controlled by their movements. There wasn’t any room for innovation.
Isn’t a solid attack a dangerous and deadly thing to do? He was beginning to grow concerned. I mean, it is just asking for the group to die unnecessarily.
We cannot die, Oh king, came the reply.
But your old king– he began to object.
Our old king simply wished to return to his people, came the explanation, and guide them to the next level. He wanted them all to realize their potential. All sentient races have the potential to become Thornon. Those with psy abilities are most probable in becoming one with us.
For you, Thornon was the only next logical step in your destiny. Just as it had been for him and thousands of kings before. Yet, in you, our last king found one that cares not about the evolution of the psy in his kind. He found a warrior who served a queen who is also destined to be Thornon in time. But only after she rules a thousand years over the Badlands.
I am confused, George objected, no one can live a thousand years. And, besides. What is to become of me?
A psy can live as long as they wish, the collective hummed, if you decide, you will remain our king. Just because a psy becomes Thornon does not make them sovereign. At least, not of this collective. Should the beings of the Badlands decide, they will also become Thornon and rise above the temporal. We live beyond the ravages of time. Not subject to time or space.
A piercing scream caused everyone within the lead pirate ship to fall out of their seats, writhing in utter agony as their brains were being assaulted by what they heard. No weapons fired. No one could reach for the buttons that controlled them. Instead, the ship imploded in a ball of fire that sucked all the particles back into itself.
In his ship, the pirate overlord sat infuriated. No one was allowed to attack him and destroy his ships. No one ever got away with that. But he sat helplessly as three more of his precious ships were attacked, and without any noticeable weapons discharge, imploded.
“A vast!” He exclaimed. “Retreat, you scurvy mongrels! take us home! lead them into a trap, or by the stars, we are all doomed!”
Obediently, his crew followed his command. He fled, like a whipped dog, from the carnage taking place with his doomed flotilla. Two more ships took his cue, with the Thornon in pursuit.
A lone pirate appeared in the Badlands. He headed straight for the palace, his mission to beg for mercy. But Macy was in no mood to be merciful. the pirates had taken her brother. They had killed him. At least, that was the reports she had received.
“What did you expect, Pirate?” She demanded, angrily. “Did you expect Amnesty? Mercy? forgiveness?”
“No mum,” came the meek reply, “I only beg your mercy because I was commanded to. Since the attacks from the glowworms, we have no recourse but to ask you for lenience. Perhaps…”
“Perhaps nothing,” She cut him short, “You trapped and killed my brother and his unit. I only received a tenth of those sent out. And you ask me for mercy? Where was your act of mercy when you began attacking our freighters and then when you trapped my brother?”
She watched as the force of her stressed word slammed into the pirate like a thousand fists all at once. He crumpled to the floor and remained there, bowed over. “Please, mum. we did not kill your brother! we were attacked by the glowworms before we had a chance! And, now, they attack us at will! I beg you! Mercy, Mum! Please!”
She glared at the guards. “To the dungeon with him. That is the only mercy he will receive from me. But I must know. Why do you call whatever it is glowworms?”
“Because, Mum,” the pirate replied, frightened, “they glow. And we cannae tell what they truly be. Most spacers claim they are all in the head. But they aren’t. When I left the flotilla with my orders, four of our ships had merely imploded without explanation. No weapons were fired. No effort was even put into shooting down the glowworms! Not one!”
She waved him away. “Get him out of my sight. Superstitious babbler.”
The guards hustled the poor pirate out of the throne room as the Skelwoulf advisor entered.
He watched them disappear. What was that all about?
Just another vile space pirate talking nonsense, she replied, called something ‘glowworms’. Said they encountered this thing and it caused some of their ships to implode without any struggle.
The Skelwoulf whipped around, a surprised look in his eyes. Thornon?!? Here?!?
What are Thornon? He had her interest peaked. And why are you so surprised at the mention of them…or whatever made you think of them?
Your Majesty, he began, trying to figure out how exactly to tell her what she asked of him, a visit from the Thornon is seen as an honor and privilege. It usually means that the peoples they visit are ready to join them. They are, how would you put it, the next step in psy. Neither bound by time or space, they are eternal. Pure energy. hence, the pirate’s description as ‘glowworms’. To the untrained eye, or the eyes of those they attack, they appear as streaks of light. rumor has it that the last thing those attacked by the Thornon hear is a high, brain liquefying scream that causes extreme agony. No one else hears it unless they are also in the path of the attack. without warning, the ship implodes, leaving no trace of any struggle.
If they attacked the pirates, then his claim of your brother still being alive is true. They must have interfered in the massacre of the Outland Unit. If that is so, they may have had plans for your brother…which is where the honor comes in. Whenever they have plans for someone, it is never a small task. Every plan is extremely important. Whatever it is, we will know soon enough.
Every pirate in the pirate sanctuary fell to the floor. A mind shattering scream had filled their heads, turning their brains to liquid and killing them instantly. Not one was left alive. Yet, only the pirates were selected from those within the settlements and inns. All other beings in the ports and pubs remained living.
George found it amazing how they could select the exact victim and adjust the pitch of their scream to only affect those they sought. No other being could do so much! Not even those of the Badlands. And now, he also had that power!
He smiled. The possibilities were endless. Still, one had to be careful with such power. The lure to do harm was great, no matter the intent. And he had taken the vow never to do out of cruelty, but only out of defense.
After the last pirate died, the Thornon landed. George stepped forward.
Those of you who survived, he began, appearing to speak physically, even though he was not, take heed. This is what happens to those who attack freighters and imperial envoys. If you are wise, you will leave this place and resettle elsewhere.
A lady watched him as he spoke. She just stared. No movement. And it had begun to bother him. Then, he caught his reflection in the mirrored backdrop behind the bar. He looked like a cross between a bird and a man!
At that moment, he decided it was time to leave. He needed to give closure to the families of those who had died at the hands of the pirates. If he could find their bodies. He turned back to the Thornon.
We need to return to that planet where I became your king, he began, I need to find the bodies of my fellow unit members so I can return them to their families.
So be it, Milord.
With wings outspread, they all took flight–the survivors staring after them as they vanished into the sky. A bright flash marked their exit from the atmosphere of the planet, leaving the people staring in awe at what had just taken place. Rumors would spread of how birdmen landed after the strange deaths of pirates who’d overrun their colonies. And that rumor would reach every corner of every galaxy. Including the Badlands.