The diamond structure floated like a glass snowflake. Golden rectangular starships docked near the end of each arm amplified its sparkle. Except for one, where instead of a sleek three-story bar of gold cruiser was parked a rusty chunk of metal: The Brick.
Mr. Verloc looked out the window at the scuzzy stain on his otherwise beautiful station. There was a time when Varan outposts dotted the galaxy like a chain of twinkling stars. He croaked, swallowed the last bit of monkey still stuck in his throat, and climbed down off the trunk of a real redwood, the centerpiece and prize of his office. Overhead lights cycled into dusk and the small troop of lemurs that lived in the higher branches settled down for the evening. Verloc reclined on one of the large flat stones that were his office furniture. The lava rock still held the warmth of the day’s heat lamps and he stretched with delight.
Velasco Verloc was an eleven-thousand-year-old Varan Chameleon and Ambassador to Grandor, a post he held for over a millennium. The house of the Emperor referred to his council on all affairs with galactic ramifications. He was considered the most influential being in the sector, though he spoke with fewer than a dozen people a day. A large lizard measuring three meters from crest to tail, his scales changed from shades of green to a faded blend of grays with blue accents and he wore the golden gauntlets of the high command.
His office walls were solid diamond asteroid ore, shiny and crystalline like the rest of the station. A transparent door slid open and his twelve-hour late appointment entered. Stereoscopic eyes focused, crest flushed red, and Verloc sat up with a stern expression in an attempt to mask his joy at seeing her again.
In walked Taegu, a black and white striped Varan. She was much smaller and more serpentine in shape. From her tongue to the flesh around her eyes and even her inner mouth, not a single color was present on her body, nothing but stark black and bright white. She wore no clothing as her scales protected her from the elements, even the vacuum of space.
Beside her strode an infamous spacer Verloc hadn’t seen since his later days of deep space exploration. The news would certainly be worse than expected.
“My dear, you’ve looked better. But I suppose it’s the company we keep, isn’t it?”
Verloc glanced sympathetically at her missing tail. It was a stub of its long former self and would take years to grow back.
Taegu approached her former captain and mentor and placed her open palm on his chest. “It’s good to see you too, old man.”
He smiled at her, then raised and opened his zygodactyl claw to the other party. “Mr. Mox, I presume you’re still with that fine pilot of your’s?”
The walking Komodo Dragon shot out his tongue tasting the tranquil wood scented air. “Mr. Verloc, you know how he likes to stay with the ship. He sends his regards, Ambassador.”
Verloc grinned remembering Zandar Vandar Blunt when he was his pilot. “And you sir, are you alright, do you need medical attention?”
Mox looked rugged, to say the least, as if fresh from the deck of a burning bridge. A thick belt hung low on his hips with a long-barrelled stun gun and thin fencing rapier. A blackened disruptor burn scorched his snout and half his head.
“The price you pay for trying to help, I suppose. I’ll be alright after a good soak and a nice molting.” Mox scratched the burnt scales of his cheek with manicured green claws, shrugging off the nasty looking wound.
With the pleasantries over, Verloc’s mood changed and his smile turned to grimace. The scaled crest atop his head faded to a cool blue.
“Down to business then. What happened on KlalZorr?” He focused one eye on each of them and waited.
Mox cut off Taegu before she could speak. “I think you mean, Klandar 28.2.”
“There is no Klandar 28,” huffed Verloc.
Taegu closed her hanging open mouth. “It’s beyond a slave world now. It was genocide.”
Mox curled down on a rock opposite the ambassador and gestured Taegu do the same. He leaned over in attention as she began with the known.
“As you know, I was running supplies for the KlalZorr Tigers.” She sat cross-legged like a reptilian Buddha.
“When the world was settled 200 years ago the two species merged and lived in harmony. As time went on, the Klandar Authority used its muscle to marginalize the Zorr. They were ghettoed as second rate citizens into poverty-stricken slums in every city. Eventually villainized as invasive non-natives.”
“What was once the beckon of cooperation turned into the scapegoat for conflict.”
“Only in the jungled southern continent did the descendants of the original terraformers still believe in the planet’s mission. They became known as the Tigers, taking on as their symbol the blue and white Bengal tiger native to the forests. They believed that the planet sitting at the center point of gravity between the blue star of Zorr and the white giant of Klandar stood for peace.”
Verloc shifted his immense weight. “Yes, yes, and the Authority were up to their usual tricks of racially dividing the people and attempting a coup of the planet. But the Tigers were winning, they had the will of the people, they held the moral high ground.”
“They made interbreeding illegal and set out to euthanize mixed race beings. First through systematic imprisonment, but later with unchecked executions by ‘security’ patrols. The slightest hint of a blue fingernail, or worse, a blue eye was enough to brand you an enemy of the state. The azure skin and the bright hair of the Zorrs became death marks.”
Verloc’s scales flashed a series of spectacular blues emphasizing his distaste for this line of thinking.
“The Tigers took advantage of the Authority’s weapons law and formed a militia to secure their territory. Once the propaganda machine justified control of the rest of the planet, it was easy to paint freedom fighters as terrorists.”
“The trade and territory wars around the sector opened the door to Gastraddar mercenaries. The southern continent became an all-out war zone.”
Mox sighed. “Awe-inspiring coastlines, vast tropical fjords, majestic mountains leading down to white sand beaches, and clear pristine waters. The most lovely locals swimming about. A real tourist paradise.”
He spent some time with members of the Tiger corps. The fabulous blue and white beings sported hot pink fluorescent bikinis to blend in with the jungle flora and fauna when they patrolled the beaches. Around their slender necks hung the Tiger’s Tooth, a curved ruby that when cracked released a poison gas. Suicide was a better option than capture, which meant torture, betrayal, and eventual trafficking to some Klandar facility to become a slave. Mox respected their commitment when they refused his offer of escape off world.
Taegu frowned. She shared his appreciation for KlalZorr. She went on.
“After they seized my ship on a smuggling and aiding terrorism charge, I contacted your old friend here to bust me out.”
Verloc straightened optimistically. “Ah, so that’s why you’re both so beat up. Escaping a Klandar detention center is no small task.”
“That was the easy part,” Mox said. “We slipped past the blockade…”
“They’ve blockaded the planet!?” Verloc gave a look of disbelief.
“…Yes, they locked it down. We landed in a remote fjord and hooked up with the Tigers who provided enough info on the detention center to free Taegu. A show of brute force frightens the Klandar, it’s the language they speak. I only needed to distract them enough to free a few prisoners.”
“He emptied the entire prison. His Sentinel scared the warden so bad he shat himself.” Taegu found this to be an excellent psychological counter strike on Authority troops who later found the stunned, unconscious, and soiled personnel.
“I’ve heard about your robot.” Verloc settled back and waited for Taegu to continue.
“The prison break became yet another excuse for them to crack down. They began a bombing campaign. The population was decimated. Cities destroyed. The Grandor consulate was reduced to a crater. Blamed on the Tigers, of course.”
“And you have proof it wasn’t?” asked the ambassador.
“I have detailed sensor data, but revealing it would give Klandar no choice but to declare war and Grandor would be forced to retaliate. The Emperor’s nephew was at the embassy when they destroyed it.” Mox opened his hand as if offering the actual footage. “The blockade ships fired on them from orbit.”
Taegu shook her head. “I spoke with him not two days prior. He was one of their best, would’ve made a fine Emperor.”
This was not good. Verloc’s scales turned a seafoam green. “What about the #71 observers?”
“Murdered. They only had two ships and though they took out half the blockade, they were eventually beaten down by Gastraddar battleships.”
“They have a non-aggression pact with Gastraddar!” Verloc flushed a blackish green.
“Obviously, they didn’t want them reporting back that they’re working for the Klandar.” Mox’s sarcasm didn’t lighten the diplomatic severity.
Verloc rubbed his throat.
Taegu picked up again.
“The Tigers were wiped out. With my cover blown, we ended up embedded with their last division of troops. They were children. Teenagers. They’d lost their whole chain of command. Their leaders assassinated. All in a matter of days.”
“For a while, they were holding their own. Watching old war movies to get ideas for military strategy. They couldn’t be pinpointed from above and the big Gastraddars were no good in the dense forest. They fought hit and run from the jungle.”
“When they found the Tigers’ underground base we knew it was the end. We fought hand to hand as best we could. If it wasn’t for Mox and his droid I would’ve died there with the rest of them. They weren’t taking prisoners. It was an extermination.”
Her snout lowered. It was a rare mission that an agent of her caliber reported back a failure.
“I’m afraid I’d better lay low for a while myself. I might have overreacted to being shot in the face and you know how Zandar Blunt feels about fascists.”
Verloc trained both his eyes on Mox.
“We punched a three deck high hole through the center of the Klandar command ship. They were crippled and burning in orbit when we left the system, but they got a real good look at the Brick.”
The ambassador glanced out the window at the indestructible rust bucket sticking out like a sore thumb.
“I’m sure you both did everything you possibly could.”
Verloc thought about keeping Grandor out of this, a near impossibility with the death of a Royal on a peacekeeping mission. Let alone the #71EEB8. If convinced some Zorr rebel faction backed by the Empire destroyed their ships it could have consequences. They generally didn’t take sides, but they also had little tolerance for aggression enacted against them. They would want answers. This was exactly how interstellar wars started.
Varan had no army and their ships were spread out across the quadrant. They were explorers. Like the #71 clones, they tried not to get involved. Events like this tilted the power stabilization of galactic societies. It was dangerous for everyone.
He looked at his best agent and his old friend. They had certainly earned a rest. He knew what to do with them.
“I have something that might be perfect for both of you. The Viceroy of Zorr has a young daughter. She’s half human, so you can only imagine her potential to instill outrage and hatred. The Emperor asked me personally to recommend instructors for her. Apparently, she’s a real child prodigy. I’m sure the two of you wouldn’t mind spending a year or so putting her on the path to righteousness. Maybe teach her how to fence?”