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Chapter 2

"Are you fucking insane?!" she thundered at the image that filled her screen.

"I will not be party to making deals with the Lockhedes," Zarco replied sharply.

"I didn't say anything about a damn party. Gods! You're such a fucking stupid idiot!" Drew continued, "The agreement would have served us as well as them. Would have made us trillions. Now, instead, it's going to cost us, and cost us dearly. I've already lost two million iggys. Don't you understand economics at all? We weren't in an economic depression. War is murder on a booming economy."

"My job is to run the country with dignity and pride. I don't take orders from the Lockhedes or you . . ."

"Your job is to sit on the throne and look pretty. Remember, that's what we all decided because as I already said you are an idiot. Far too moronic to be allowed to run something as important as a country. Hell, I'm surprised you can wipe yourself without winding up in deep shit," Drew spat back.

"I will not have you talking to me this way, Drewcila. You are my wife. I am King of all Barious . . ."

"You are king of the half of Barious that the Lockhedes don't hold, you pompous ass, and if you don't play your cards right, you won't even have that," Drew said."And don't you start ordering me around because I am married to you—I can make your life a living hell."

"Drewcila!" The veins were popping out in his neck, and his face was getting red. She seemed to be having that effect on the men in her life lately."You had better learn a little respect."

"You're right." Drewcila smiled."I shouldn't make fun of the idiots. You stop this war, Zarco, and you stop it right this minute. Do you have any idea what the war machine costs? You kiss the Lockhedes' ass, you make trade agreements with them, and you do it right now, before my stock plummets even one more point."

"I most certainly will not. Perhaps if you hadn't turned our war machines into scrap metal and our munitions plants into recycling centers, it wouldn't be so costly. Believe it or not, this is my country, mine . . ."

"All right, all right. Damn! What a crappy mood you're in. Let's say I screw you. Will you let me have my way then?"

There was a slight pause before the king's retort."I swear, Drewcila! You are the foulest, most vile woman . . ."

"Yeah, yeah I know. Ya wanna fuck for it or not?"

"Most certainly not. I will not sell my country's future to sleep with my own wife."

"Fine, but it's your loss." She racked her brain trying to think of some other tactic. Giving up, she yelled, "Damn it, Zarco! If I have to come to that planet, you're going to be damn sorry!"


Zarco had no doubt that Drewcila could make him sorry; she usually did. He watched as her face faded from the screen. He paced the floor for a few minutes, trying to regain his composure and slow his breathing pattern. Having a sudden brain storm, he turned to look at Stasha."You will dress up like Drewcila and go on TV . . . back up my speech. The people love her. They'll do whatever she says. In order to discredit your words she would have to admit to her little ruse—that she is rarely on the planet and uses you to talk to them—which would turn the people against her so that they will quit worshiping her. I will write your speech at once . . ."

"I won't do it, Zarco," Stasha said with conviction."Drewcila is right, and I will not help you lead our kingdom into war."

"Stasha . . . Drewcila only cares about profits."

"And Facto's point is valid. What serves Qwah-Co ultimately serves the people. You aren't thinking clearly."

"I have never been any clearer on anything in my life!" Zarco looked near to the hair-pulling stage."Can you believe her!" Zarco walked over and flopped into his throne looking up at Facto and Stasha."She actually thinks that I would make policy which affects the entire nation in exchange for sexual favors. Tawdry and ridiculous!"

Stasha's face seemed to crumble then."Don't think that I missed the hesitation in your voice, Zarco." She turned on her heel and ran out of the room crying. Zarco sighed and got to his feet."Stasha, Stasha please." He went after her. At the door he turned to look at Facto."It is easier to run the country than it is to attend to the problems of my own house."

Facto nodded silently and watched Zarco go. He certainly wouldn't want to be in the king's shoes. He understood that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate one's personal feelings from kingdom affairs, but as the leader of their country he should be able to put the kingdom's best interests above his own personal feelings. He was letting his heart rule his head, and a leader could never afford that luxury. Zarco's very righteous anger for the Lockhedes was causing him to tread the path to war. Drewcila had seen the Lockhedes' requests as a way to make more profit, and—though she'd never readily admit it to any of them—a chance for a real and lasting peace. As Drew had tried to explain to Zarco, peace equaled profit, and profit equaled peace.

Once again, Facto found himself in the position of having to side with Drewcila, not exactly a very comfortable position for him to be in.

As soon as he was sure Zarco was well out of hearing range, he slipped to the door of the king's office and looked out, making sure that no one else was about. Then he went back to the king's computer and hailed Drew. If they were suspicious of Facto, they'd certainly check transmissions from his computer, but whoever checked up on the king? He'd done this in the past, and, so far, none were the wiser.

The king was no leader, and Drewcila . . . well, she was always off planet gallivanting across the universe. Someone had to be concerned about the fate of the kingdom, and more often than not that duty fell to him.

"Ah, Fucktoe," Drewcila cooed."How are you today? Did you find something particularly dull and of no interest whatsoever to bother me with, or has it been an unusually boring day . . . ?"

"Since I am going behind my king's back at the risk of my very life, do you think you might refrain from butchering my name with vulgar salvager profanities and making fun of basically my entire life?" Facto asked with a sigh.

Drew shrugged."I suppose I could, but it wouldn't be as much fun. I thought this was a done deal. That you had convinced Zardumb that trade with the Lockhedes would bring about a real and lasting peace, yada, yada, yada."

"I thought I had. Then yesterday morning . . . Well, he just seemed to wake up determined not to give in. And once the Lockhedes had declared war . . . you can't expect him to give in to them now," Facto said.

"Actually, yes I can. God! Why are men so stupid?" she started pacing in and out of the monitor's range, which was very irritating to say the least."First Van Gar and now Zarco. Are all men such idiots, or is it only men that I become involved with? Perhaps all the really great sex I give them starves their brains for oxygen until they become stupid. I don't know of course, because I don't remember, but I have a feeling Zarco has always been a moron . . ."

Feeling forgotten, Facto cleared his throat."My Queen, do you think you could speak to the matter at hand? My time is limited. Every minute we speak is a minute I put myself at risk of being found out."

"I thought I was speaking to the matter at hand." Drewcila turned her attention back to the monitor, looked thoughtful for a moment, and then threw her hands in the air and exclaimed, "I can't think like this!"

"Like what?"


His screen went blank, and Facto was left with all the problems of state as his king went off to try to explain himself to his sister-in-law/lover, and his queen went off on a drunken toot.


Van Gar looked around the space station then back at his ship.

"Finally we will have a new world. A place for us, and only for us," a Chitzsky male almost as big as Van Gar was booming. He, like most of the Chitzskies gathered around him, wore simple white robes draped over one shoulder. Van Gar had never seen so many of his own people in one place."We will create a world of peace far away from the barbaric races. We will leave behind the turmoil and strife of our life in the stars and once again return to being the creatures of the earth that we were intended to be. No more will we be a scattered people with no homeland. We will leave behind all the possessions of this world and fly off to our new life, our new destination, clean and pure. To Utarus!"

Van Gar didn't hear much after that. He kept looking around at his people with a feeling of awe. He was being offered a chance to do something that really mattered. A simple life of peace and tranquility, far away from Drew and her scams. He could live in truth, prospering by the work of his hands instead of always hanging by the seat of his pants. Perhaps he would once again find love, and this time with a worthy and monogamous woman of his own race. Of course if he gave the "Pride leader" one of Drewcila's ships, he'd damn well better go off to some distant and remote world. Because if Drewcila ever caught up with him she'd no doubt kill him. Frank told him this about a hundred times as Van Gar was tying him to a pole in the bay of a loading dock.

Before you could say "convert," Van Gar was wearing the simple white toga, no shoes, no weapon, had signed over the ship and all his belongings, and was in the cargo bay of a freighter with a thousand other Chitzskies heading for the remote, unconquered planet called Utarus.

It was then that he realized two things. First, that when you got many of his people in a cramped space, sweating, they gave off an altogether unpleasant odor. And second, that Drewcila must have driven him completely mad for him to have ever thought that this was a good idea.


"He did what?!" Drewcila boomed.

Frank, who was tired and ragged from having to hitch a ride in an over-loaded salvager cargo bay, braced himself as he said for the second time, "He . . . gave your ship to the Reverend Pard Jar of the Holy Church of the . . ."

"I heard you the first time, moron!" Drew jumped out of her chair and started pacing and mumbling."Well . . . two can play at this game. He doesn't want me, then I don't want him. What do I need him for anyway? He smelled funny when he got wet." She sat down again and started patting her knee and looking up at the ceiling thoughtfully."What the hell is he thinking joining some odd-ball fucking Chitzsky cult? He must be completely insane." Suddenly her face became a mask of rage, and she jumped to her feet."He gave away one of my ships! Can you fucking believe that shit? Leaving me is one thing, but costing me one of my better ships . . . well, that's quite another. Jurak!" She waved an arm over her head frantically, and a man ran up to her."Make me a Hurling Monkey with a twist. Hell, make it a double, light on the fizzy, non-alcoholic stuff."

"But my Queen . . . we were supposed to go back to Barious. We just got you sobered up. Your sister is expecting you. What of the war? What of the economy?"

"Fuck 'em! Fuck 'em all! Make me my damn drink. Send for my naked dancing boys! I'm depressed, how can I possibly think about anyone else's needs when I'm depressed?"

* * *

"I need to talk to my sister, Jurak. We need her here. Zarco . . . well, he just won't listen to reason. Our troops are losing ground daily on the borders, and it's only a matter of time 'til the conflict escalates to attack from the air. How long can she stay drunk anyway?"

"Apparently that's what she's trying to find out, my lady. So far it's been about a week."

"Where is Van Gar?"

"Gone . . ." Jurak dropped his voice to a mere whisper."He came home from business and found your sister . . . well, indisposed if you will. He became angry, and he left. He joined some Chitzsky cult and gave away one of your sister's ships. In truth, I think she could have handled losing Van Gar, it's the ship and her plummeting stocks which have her so depressed. The loss of so much money, I think it's too much for her."

"I think my sister's good at fooling everyone. She loves Van Gar, and though she'd never admit it, she needs him. Well, she's made her bed, and now she'll have to lie in it alone. Patch me through to her quarters . . ."

"My lady, I don't think that's such a good idea."

"Just do it, Jurak. I've seen my sister drunk before."

Except she'd never seen Drew do that before. In fact, she wouldn't have thought such an act was possible. Of course, neither of these men was Barion, and one of them seemed to have parts . . . well, where parts shouldn't have been. Drew saw her on her monitor before Stasha had a chance to log off. She pushed one of the men off of her, dislodged the other, and stood up staggering—obviously drunk. She grabbed a shirt, half way threw it on, and grabbed the neck of a bottle, from which she took a long drink before addressing her sister.

"Hey, sis, how's it hangin'? I was a little busy," she slurred out.

"I could see that," Stasha said pulling a face."Drewcila, we need you to come home. The country is at war, and Zarco isn't thinking clearly. The people need their queen."

"You can do it. You do a perfectly good job of fooling them. They all think you're me." She walked over and started to rub her free hand up and down the oiled naked body of one of the alien men.

"But I'm not you, Drew. I'm afraid that without your guidance our country will fall into the hands of the Lockhedes." Stasha shook her head then, not quite believing her own words. That she expected this drunken, over-sexed mercenary to save their homeland would have sounded absurd to anyone who didn't know what Drewcila was capable of when she was sober—or at least approaching it—and motivated.

"I told the stupid bastard to open up trade with the Lockhedes—to sign salvaging contracts with them. He didn't listen to me. Why should I give a fuck what happens on Barious? Qwah-Co is very diversified. We'll survive. I have my own problems to worry about, you know. Van Gar gave away one of my ships!"

"While I'd like to believe you weren't engaging in the kind of conduct I just—unfortunately—witnessed while he was with you, I doubt that's the case. Drewcila, what did you expect him to do?"

"Well, I certainly didn't expect him to steal one of my ships and join some hokey-assed religious cult. Oh, tell me, Clod. Why do all my men turn on me?" she said looking up at the big man as she bit one of her knuckles.

"My name is Clote," he said, betraying the IQ of a turnip.

"What . . . ever." Drewcila released him and turned to the monitor, at least for the moment giving her sister her undivided attention."I cannot even start to fuck away my resentment."

"Drewcila . . . I'm not kidding. You need to come home. You have to talk sense into Zarco. He really thinks . . ."

"See, that's the real problem. If you were screwing him right, there wouldn't be enough blood in his brain for him to do any thinking . . ."

"Damn it, Drew . . ."

"My God, Stasha! You said damn it! Do you even know what it means?"

"Not really, but I'll say something worse than that if you don't quit interrupting me, stop drinking, and put the kingdom first for once."

"Screw the kingdom. What has it done for me lately? As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of pulling my salvaging operation from Barious and taking it someplace where they want to make a profit," Drewcila hissed out. Then she took a long swig from her bottle just to accentuate her point—that she wasn't listening to Stasha.

Stasha took a deep breath and tried to calm down. She knew Drew well enough to know that screaming at her wasn't going to do anything but make her more determined than ever to do just exactly what she pleased."Drewcila . . . our people are dying. They're in pain. Can you feel nothing for them? What about showing a little compassion, is that beyond you?"

"Ah, that's too bad." Drewcila took her knuckle and pretended to wipe a tear from her eye."Boo fucking hoo! Now back to what's really important: me, me, me."

"Must you make everything impossible?"

"No, I only make things difficult. Only you can make them impossible."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Stasha asked in confusion.

"How the hell should I know? I got it off some movie I saw. I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now, but it sounds good," Drew said with a shrug. She finished the bottle in her hand."Boys, look around and see if you can't find another one of these."

The two naked men started crawling around on all fours looking through the rubble that covered the floor.

"Is this how you want to live your life, Drew? Drunk, wallowing in filth, having meaningless sex with dozens of different, well-oiled life forms?"

"Well, duh!" Drew laughed loudly, flopping back on the bed and showing Stasha a side of her that she would just as soon have not seen. She looked away from the monitor.

Her sister was drowning her sorrow in liquor and cheap sex. Of course she also did that when she was happy, which was no doubt why Van Gar had left. She loved her sister and she wanted to make excuses for her bizarre behavior. She had seen Drew occasionally put the people's needs above her own mercenary desires . . . or had she?

After all, nearly every decision Drew had made on the kingdom's behalf had managed to turn a tidy profit and increase her wealth and/or her salvaging empire.

Maybe it was time that she quit defending Drewcila. Maybe when all was said and done, Drew didn't actually have a better side. Stasha didn't want to believe that, mostly because if it were true, how could she ever hope to reason with her?

If my sister is nothing but a greedy, selfish egocentric bitch, Stasha thought, how can I possibly convince her to put the kingdom first? She's selfish and motivated only by money . . .

Stash tried again."I suppose you could move your entire salvaging operation from Barious, but it would cost you a small fortune, and you wouldn't be operational for what—months? I wonder how much money you'd lose on the down-time alone? I wonder if even you have enough money to do it."

Drew sat up slowly and glared back at her, then she laughed loudly, "I have a shit load of money, Stasha . . ."

"True, but I'll bet it's not enough to move the operation. And while this war is going on, the country's rather expensive. Spaceports are in danger, recycling centers are even now being converted back into munitions plants, and then there is that other matter . . ."

"What matter would that be?"

"That most of your real money—all your iggys—are here in your private, not-as-secret-as-you-seem-to-think safe—at Hepron Station. Hepron Station, which will doubtless be a target in the war. I hope it's a really strong safe, Drewcila . . ."

"Stop!" Drew screamed, slamming her hands over her ears."Stop! Your cruelty overwhelms me."

"If you don't sober up and come home there's a very real chance that you could go broke, Drew."



Drewcila woke some hours later, alone, and with the queen mother of all hang-overs. She had managed to stay drunk for over a week—something close to a record for her—and now she was sober and suffering from the mega-hangover of death. Her eyes felt dry and sticky, her tongue was swollen, and her mouth tasted like she'd been sucking on dirty tube socks. Of course, with all the other depraved things she'd done, who knows? She might have done that, too. She sat up slowly and waited for the room to quit spinning.

She tried to remember why she had decided to sober up. Of course she was having trouble even remembering her name. She got up slowly, stumbled through the garbage to the bathroom, and landed on the toilet with a thump. It took awhile for her to actually start pissing since her body had no doubt forgotten how in the who-knew-how-many-hours she'd been passed out. But once she started, she began to wonder if she was ever going to stop. She started to wonder how pissing constantly might affect her life. It wasn't a very pretty picture. Maybe she'd just piss until all her bones had turned to dust.

Fortunately she did eventually stop pissing. She rose, walked over and looked in the mirror and jumped at the sight of her own reflection. Damn! She looked as bad as she felt. She stuck out her tongue and found that it was covered in large blue and yellow spots. First she thought with alarm that she had some terrible disease, but then she vaguely remembered that they had painted her tongue and her privates with somebody dye made from some plant she couldn't remember the name of now. The person who had done it had sworn that the dye was harmless, but her tongue was swollen, and her crotch itched, so she started to wonder just how harmless it was. Of course chances were that her tongue was swollen from too much drinking, and her crotch was itching from too much sex, so who knew for sure? She couldn't remember how long the treatment was supposed to last. They promised her it would enhance her sexual pleasure, but she'd been too drunk to know if it actually did anything besides look weird. She'd have to ask one of the people she'd had sex with, if she could remember who they were.

"Where the fuck is my toothbrush?" She found it floating in the toilet and frowned."See, there's the shit. Cause when you're drunk, ya just fish it out, wash it off, and no one's the wiser." She groaned and leaned against the wall holding her head with one hand as she flushed the toilet with the other."Good bye ol' friend," she said as the tooth brush spiraled downward."I should have stayed drunk. What made me decide to sober up? Is it a religious holiday or something? Hey! I know one of you assholes can hear me. Bring me a tooth brush, and it had by God better still be in the wrapper."

In seconds Jurak was there with a toothbrush—still in the wrapper."Thanks." She took it from him, stacked about two inches of toothpaste on it from the wall dispenser, and then started brushing her teeth, making the foam erupt from her mouth on all sides as she did so. She brushed her tongue, then spit, getting foam all down the front of her body and the shirt she was almost wearing. Unfortunately it didn't seem to be dislodging any of the dye from her tongue."Fuck . . . this day just gets better and better. Why the hell did I sober up, Jurak? And perhaps we had better work on remedying this problem . . ."

"My Queen, your sister . . ."

Drewcila turned to face him and shoved him so hard that he almost fell down."Now I remember! I'm losing money! I'm losing a butt load of money. Crap! Where are we?"

"We're still docked . . ."

"Are you fucking nuts! Kick anyone who isn't crew off the ship, close the hatch, and get this tin piece of shit in the air, man. Chart a course to Barious ASAP. I'm getting in the shower. When I get out I want us to be untethered and on our way to Barious. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, my Queen." he started to leave as she began to strip the shirt off.

"And get the crew to clean this pit up. It looks like the war is being held in here."

"Yes, my Queen." He started to leave again as she was stepping into the shower.

"Oh . . . and Jurak . . . ?"

"Yes, my Queen," he said with an exasperated sigh.

"Send someone in here. No sense in me showering alone."

"Yes, my Queen." He left.


Zarco listened to the incoming information with a sense of dread. Drewcila was on her way, hung over but sober, and as angry as he had ever seen her.

"Tell the queen I have the matter well in hand here. Her presence is completely unnecessary," Zarco had assured the man on the screen. His reward was the sound of his once beloved wife screaming at the top of her lungs.

"Tell that pencil-dicked pud that I can hear him . . . Crap! My fucking head! You listen to me, Zarmoron, and you listen good . . ." The monitor swiveled to capture the vision of her swollen, all-but-green face, as she glared at him with blood shot eyes, and Zarco cringed."You're like a turd that won't flush down, you just roll around the bowl wasting valuable resources and stinking up the place. Your hard-headed stupidity is costing me money. More importantly to you as the concerned King you pretend to be, you are putting your people's lives in jeopardy for no better reason than to continue your pissing contest with the Lockhedes. My ambassadors will be there within the hour. You will sit down with them, and by the time I arrive, I expect to see a peace agreement and salvaging contracts written up. If you don't settle this, and settle it quickly, there will be hell to pay."

Zarco had heard her, and his anger boiled inside him, but, there was something so distracting that concentrating on anything else was impossible."What happened to your tongue?"

Drew mumbled something completely inaudible that he was sure were horrible curses meant only for him before she answered."It's dye. It will wear off in a few days," she explained, slinging her hand around dismissively. Then she added in a hardly audible whisper, "I hope."

His question answered, Zarco's anger reared its ugly head again."You will not give me orders. I'm not that trained dog of a hair-covered beast you keep in your bed. I am the king, and I will make policy concerning the country and the war. We will not make peace. We will not make trade agreements or sign contracts with the Lockhedes our sworn enemies . . ."

Drew waved her hand at him dismissively, in that moment looking every bit like the queen she had once been, instead of the salvaging whore she had become."My people will be there in an hour. You will sit down with them and try to sort this thing out so that all I have to do when I get there is finish cleaning up the mess that you have made. Close transmission."

Zarco leapt from his chair at the console, slamming his hand down upon it. She'd openly defied him! She looked like death warmed up and she had just closed out on him, yet in that one instant he had seen back to what she once was and he couldn't deny that he still had strong feelings for her.

However, all of this had the opposite of Drewcila's desired effect, for Zarco rose from his chair more determined than ever to carry out his war effort against the Lockhedes. And this time there would be genocide. This time he would rid the planet of their blight forever.

Zarco looked up at the clock on the wall. Drewcila's "people" would be on their way by now. Alien scum, every one of them, and why did she assume that he'd cave in to them anymore than he'd cave in to her?

He'd had just about enough of Drewcila, and more than enough of her little salvager friends. He smiled.

"Come on, salvaging swine," he mumbled, "I've got quite a surprise for you, and for your boss. Quite a surprise indeed."

* * *

Dylan Allen looked with distaste at his two friends."Why?" he whined.

"Because that's what the bitch said," Arcadia hissed. She wasn't angry. Valtarian lizard people always spoke with a hiss, which made them sound mad to everyone who'd never actually seen one of them mad. Once you had seen an angry Valtarian, you didn't forget how they looked or sounded. That was if they let you live.

"If she can't talk him into a treaty and trade agreement, what makes her think that we can?" Dylan seemed permanently fixed to his bed, making no indication that he was going to move."We're just going to be wasting our time. Let's concern ourselves with trying to keep the operation running as smoothly as possible under the circumstances, and let Drewcila handle the pompous ass herself when she gets here."

"Get your worthless, lazy ass up!" Pristin ordered authoritatively.

Pristin, an Ontorian, was only three feet tall and almost as wide and looked for the most part like a deranged, turquoise hand puppet. However his twelve inch mouth held two rows of razor sharp teeth and the little bastard was amazingly fast. So when Pristin talked, his subordinates listened. This, as much as the fact that he was a brilliant businessman, was no doubt why Drewcila Qwah, the queen bitch of the salvaging empire, had put him in charge of running her operation on Barious.

Dylan sighed and got up, straightening his clothes. They were all wearing basically the same thing—the sleeveless blue jump suit with the Qwah-Co logo. Of course, since they were big shots, their suits were better cut and they had really cool black leather jackets with the Qwah-Co logo emblazoned over the pocket to go with them. Dylan had never really been fond of dressing like everybody else, so of course he'd spent most of his life that way. The real difference between himself and his compadres was that he looked really good in this outfit, which seemed to spotlight his package. He was a good looking man for a human, not that the rabble he hung with were likely to notice. Still it was important to him that he didn't go out in public till every hair was in place. He couldn't really remember the last time he'd actually seen an earth woman. Of course Barion women were nothing to sneeze at, and they seemed to find him "exotic."

He looked into the mirror and combed his hair, pretending not to notice his companion's impatience.

Dylan spent his days on Barious surrounded by alien salvaging scum, and most days that suited him just fine.

In fact, the only thing he hated about his job here was that he occasionally had to go with Arcadia and Pristin to talk with the royal idiot. Zarco was a man who epitomized all the things that Dylan hated most about mindlessly ambitious men. A rich idiot who'd never gotten his hands dirty, literally sitting on his throne, giving orders and making decrees that affected everyone but him. Pristin called Dylan lazy, but that was only because Pristin was an obsessive-compulsive little overachiever. Dylan knew hard work; hell, he still did it almost every day. More importantly, Dylan was the veteran of a dozen battles.

As a young man he'd played college ruckus ball, and everyone had said he'd go pro, but Dylan had bigger plans. He wanted to go to distant galaxies, and the military promised to take him all the places he wanted to go and make him into all that he could be.

He didn't get to go to any of the really cool places he wanted to go, and he soon realized that all they really wanted to make him was dead. It didn't take him long to learn more than he'd wanted to know about war. He knew what it really cost, not in money, but in life. Which was why he'd jumped ship one day and how he'd wound up in the salvaging trade. Salvagers didn't ask many questions, and they didn't care how obviously fake your information was. Especially not when you worked for Qwah-Co.

Zarco didn't know anything about battle. He'd sit in his castle, safe and sound, and let people run to their deaths in a war which was fashioned from Zarco's very personal need for revenge. He'd punish the planet and his people because Drewcila didn't love him anymore.

He had no noble reason.

This was the real reason Dylan was dragging his feet. It was going to be very hard to sit there and listen to the red-faced tyrant spit out a long stream of bullshit about why it was so important that they fight this war, and not tell the dundering asshole just exactly what he thought of him.

"Quit farting around with your hair, and let's go," Pristin ordered, finally having reached the end of his tether.

Dylan put his comb in his back pocket with a sigh, grabbed his jacket off the back of a chair, and threw it on.

Arcadia took his hand in her claw and gave it a gentle squeeze as she started leading him after Pristin, who never did anything but run. Even on his tiny little legs, when your one stride was worth ten of his, he was almost impossible to keep up with.

"Time is money, and money is time," Pristin said, his way of telling them to hurry up, which they didn't. They weren't that afraid of him.

"What's wrong?" Arcadia asked Dylan.

He smiled down at her."I hate talking to Zarco, and you know as well as I do that we're wasting our breath anyway." He shrugged. It was a real shame that Arcadia found him as physically unattractive as he found her. She understood him, and he her. He had never had a really good relationship with any humanoid woman, and he found her voice very sexy, so if he didn't totally repulse her, he would have shut off all the lights and fucked her in a heartbeat. Of course that was what he did to most females, which was possibly why he'd never had a real relationship with any of them.

"Business runs so much smoother when Drewcila is here . . ."

Pristin was standing in front of them in seconds, interrupting Arcadia and making them stop short or trip over him."It's supposed to be our job to make sure that the operation runs just as well without Drew as it does with her. We have failed . . ."

Dylan didn't like to be told that he had failed at anything."Wait just one damn minute, Pris. We did what we were supposed to do. We tried to talk sense into the royal dildo's head. It didn't work then, and I don't think it's going to work now. We're just wasting our time . . ."

"If Drew gets here and the planet is still at war, and no trade agreements have been signed, heads are going to roll. I don't want one of them to be mine."

"I don't think Drew's going to blame us," Dylan said. He smiled."And you know she isn't going to blame Arcadia."

"You don't think at all. That's your big problem . . ."

"Why you pile-of-crap-shaped toad, I ought to . . ." Dylan let go of Arcadia's claw, and pulled his arm back, making a fist.

Pristin bared his teeth and started growling. Arcadia jumped between them, swishing her five foot spike-tipped tail."Gentlemen, how can we hope to convince Zarco to end the war when we can't even stop fighting amongst ourselves?"

Both males mumbled their agreement, and they started back on their way. Dylan smiled as he and Arcadia continued to walk along behind Pristin.

"What?" she asked with a matching smile, once again taking his hand.

"It just occurred to me that the three of us make the perfect team. But don't tell ol' toad face I told you so."

"His head is bloated enough as it is," she smiled, and then suddenly froze.

"What's wrong?"

Her head started pivoting around. She was obviously looking and listening. Something wasn't right. Dylan let go of Arcadia's claw and pulled his blaster."Pristin, stop! Arcadia hears something . . ."

"Don't be ridicu . . ."

The hall in front of them exploded, and they were covered in what remained of their friend as a contingent of palace guards filled the hall before them. It didn't take a genius to figure out that someone had ordered them shot on sight.

Dylan fired on them, then grabbed Arcadia's claw and started pulling her back down the hall the way they had come. It wasn't easy. Arcadia had been very fond of Pristin, and coming from a warrior race, her answer to any combat situation was to stand and fight until you died. She was firing behind them as Dylan pulled her along. A contingent of guards rounded the hallway in front of them. He thought they were screwed, but then Arcadia started hauling him back the way they had just come, and he realized that she had killed everyone who had initially come after them. So apparently there had been a method to her madness. Now Dylan found that he was the one firing behind them as he was pulled along.

"What the fuck's going on?" he screamed.

She didn't answer, just kept pulling him. The hallway led to the palace grounds. No doubt Arcadia, whose people lived in the wilds, planned to use her knowledge of the great outdoors to lose the palace guards. Dylan, who had been born and raised in the city, and who purposely steered clear of the palace grounds because all that open sky and living stuff gave him the creeps, wasn't so thrilled about her apparent plan, but he followed anyway. He was the veteran of many space battles, but they weren't in space now. They weren't even close to the spaceport. So for now he'd trust the Valtarian's instincts.


Stasha heard the blaster fire within the castle. At her command, her escort led her to Zarco's office, only to find him watching the monitor and laughing in a maniacal manner. Facto was already there, and he turned to face her as she walked in and frowned.

"Zarco . . . what on Barious is going on?" she demanded.

He turned to look at her."I have ordered Drewcila's 'ambassadors' executed."

"Is it not enough to make war with the Lockhedes? Must you now make war with Drewcila as well? You know she will not take this lying down. She will retaliate, and the gods alone know how," Stasha said in disbelief."Have you gone quite mad?"

"On the contrary. I have just come to my senses. This is my kingdom, Stasha. Mine! Not Drewcila Qwah's. I'm about to tear her salvaging empire to the ground and return the glory of Barious," Zarco said."Step one is to eradicate Drewcila's little spies so that she has to fly in here with no knowledge of what's going on. When she arrives I will deal with her as I should have dealt with her long ago. She will either submit her will to me and go back to being a real and proper wife and queen, or I shall have her executed and put you on the throne in her stead."

"You . . ." Stasha fought her tears."I love you, Zarco. Does that mean nothing to you? Has our time together . . . all these years . . . was it all just a farce? Do you love me not at all? Do you truly believe that I would want to be your queen knowing that I am now, and always shall be, your second choice? Have you gone so completely crazy that you believe I would have anything to do with a man who would kill my only sister simply because she didn't love him?" She did cry then."Listen to what you just said. Last night, only last night, you assured me that you loved me. Today you have decided to once again leave me to go after my sister, and if she refuses to be the person you love, then you'll kill her and make do with me. And you think that after all that I'd marry you! I swear, Zarco, I thought this whole war was just you using your usual bad judgment in running the country, but I now see that in reality you are completely and totally obsessed. You have, in fact, gone quite mad."

Facto walked over to comfort her, and she collapsed in tears on his shoulder.

"Sire, surely . . ."

Zarco laughed."Ah, and Facto, my old friend, my loyal advisor . . ." He hit a button, and the monitor played back the conversation Facto'd had with Drewcila that morning. It was pretty damning."How long have you been working for the queen?"

"My duty is to serve both the king and the queen . . ."

"You know what I mean, traitor. How long have you been working against me with Drewcila Qwah?"

Facto stood tall and looked proud as he held the shattered woman."Ever since I realized that money grubbing salvager cares more about the people and the country than you do. Stasha's right; you are crazy and my duty, my real duty, isn't to serve you or Drewcila. My real duty is to serve the people of the kingdom."

"Guards!" They appeared seemingly out of thin air."Take my sister-in-law and Chancellor Facto to the dungeon. They are both charged with high treason."

Two guards each grabbed Facto and Stasha harshly.

"Zarco! I beg of you, seek help, reconsider this madness!" Facto yelled as he was hauled out of the room."What crime has Stasha committed?"

Zarco held up a hand and seemed to reconsider. He looked at Stasha, who now held her head high even if tears were still streaming down her face."Stasha, will you make a speech to the people as I asked you to do?"

Stasha's tears stopped flowing as anger gripped every fiber of her being, and she tried to pull away from the two guards that held her. She looked at Zarco, her mouth set in a determined snarl, and for the moment she looked so much like her sister that it made Zarco flinch."I would sooner die and rot in the dungeon," she hissed.

"Take them away!" Zarco ordered hotly.

"Men, I beseech you," Facto started, as they were pulled towards the dungeons, "the king's thinking is skewed. He must not be allowed to do this thing."

The guards laughed.

"Have you failed to notice," the largest of the guards, and the one wearing Captain's insignia said, "that there has been a changing of the guards?" He laughed."Your precious salvaging whore demoted the nobility. Made us nothing. Turned our country into a land of garbage diggers. No more. With our help our good king will return the pride of our nation, and we will finally lay waste to the Lockhedes. We will use the wealth the Queen of Filth has filled her pockets and the country's coffers with to build an army that no one can stand against, and topple all who would stand in our way."

Facto shook with the implications."Don't you see, man? You will only destroy the country. There will be great loss of life, and . . ."

"Shut up, old man! Only the peons will die, and we shall regain our true station."

They were shoved roughly into a cell. The door shut with a clang and locked behind them.

Facto looked defiantly at the guard as he spoke."If you allow this lunacy to take place, all that you will have for your trouble is a smoking hole where our once great country stood. I beg of you . . ."

The guards laughed loud enough to drown him out and walked away.

Stasha went to sit on the hard wooden bed, which was the only furniture in the cell, and tried to contain herself.

"My sister is walking into a trap. One that not even she can escape from," Stasha said.

"Margot is still out. My good wife will find a way to warn the queen." As if to mock him, two more guards walked in, dragging Margot between them.

Stasha looked up and sighed."Well, as my sister might say, we're fucked!"



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