You are cordially invited to attend Emperor Volodymyr Oblast’s private reception following the official coronation event at the Imperial Palace on Grandor Prime.
Onzaga Oblast, the mother of the Emperor, took a drag off a laced cigarette and slid the invitation into the hand of her dog walker. Greg smiled, fumbled with the golden ticket, and shoved it into the pocket of his cargo shorts.
He just returned from walking the dowager’s prize purebred snipter-zoodles. The elegant canine-esque quadrupeds had purple curly hair and were playful and harmless, considering their size. When on the leash the two of them tended to walk Greg more than he walked them. Nonetheless, it became his daily routine and the morning jaunt through the Imperial Gardens filled him with personal joy and provided time to ponder existence in a sublime natural setting. He also got tips in the form of drugs and odd gifts.
“Now, Gregory, I’ve taken the liberty of choosing an outfit for you to wear to the party.” She gestured to a jacket and slacks hung across a stand next to her and passed the joint over to her friend.
“It’s just Greg.” He took a puff of the thin hand-rolled cigarette. “You know, I used to say starting smoking when I was 40 was a bad idea, but now I think starting Jakz Juice at 50 was the truly bad move.”
Greg was hopelessly addicted to both. He discovered, quite by accident, that nicotine dulled the effects of Jakz Juice and allowed him to walk through life with a mild hallucinogenic buzz and some jitteriness. This combo really helped in his new environment.
Grandor Prime Security Clearance
Dossier: Greg Petix
Physical condition: Stable
Background: A man out of place and time, the subject was abducted by a Sleldack space slug, who at the time was living in the body of another human named Daisy Eatherton. The Sleldack bonded with Petix over a vegan meal in a public eatery in a place known as Portland, assumedly a spaceport city of early 21st century Earth. At the time Petix was working as a “burger flipper” at a place called the “Burger Barn.”
Petix was offered a way off his doomed planet and insisted he bring along his “comic book” collection. The Sleldack agreed. The slug and his ship were never found, but its cargo of one cryogenically frozen 50-year-old human male and 20 thousand flimsy colorful books printed on a thin biodegradable fiber were passed among collectors of galactic oddities for centuries, eventually landing in the possession of the Library of Grandor. Petix was revived and the tens of thousands of centuries that had passed were only a night’s sleep to him. Both he and his antique book collection were preserved perfectly by modern archivist techniques.
Petix donated his collection on the condition that he be permitted to read it whenever he wanted. He was given a small apartment on the outskirts of Capital City, Grandor.
He met the Duchess Oblast when she was viewing the priceless collection of ancient literature and drawing. He gave his expert insight into the meanings behind the primitive illustrations and their mythological tales. The Duchess was intrigued by his knowledge on the subject and after a spontaneous and informal chat, he became her dog walker.
Tagged and monitored: Petix.G.880.SW.0.NK.4545.
Royal family authorization: GRANTED
Greg took another drag and handed the cigarette back to Onzaga who had company on the veranda. He wondered who they were and could no longer contain his excitement about it.
“Yes, yes, Gregory, you’ll have to be careful with this stuff.” She took another pull herself. “I’d like to introduce you to my guests.”
She whirled her cigarette in the direction of each person seated at the table individually.
“This is Mox, a representative of the Varan government.” He was a gecko-looking life-size Komodo Dragon in brown leather pants and a vest.
“His associate Mr. Zandar Vandar Blunt.” Another lizard man but with black scales and orange/pink highlights.
“And Miss Loopamudra Bharali.” A young woman with short-cropped curly hair that dripped down framing her high cheekbones.
“Greg Petix. Rhymes with buttocks,” Greg said with a nervous laugh, possibly overplaying his hand.
The black and pink lizard with the broader flatter head laughed. His laugh spread to Onzaga, Loopamudra, and then to Greg who found himself laughing the biggest full belly laugh he’d experienced since awakening on this foreign planet. He wiped a tear from his eye before he was finished.
“Hey, you know, you look just like a big Gila Monster. I lived in a desert city called Tucson for a while and it had lizards. Never saw one in the flesh before though.” Greg wanted to make this comparison since he walked up.
“My ancestor are desert people. A Heela Monster you say?” said Zandar, knowing the human meant well.
“Yeah, yeah, the Sonoran Desert. Not that you look like a monster or anything, that’s just what they called them. They’re really cool.”
Greg felt like he made a new friend in Blunt. He’d met a shit load of species in the last year of his life and he was only beginning to figure out how to deal with them.
Mox stood up, threw a scaly green popeye-ish arm around Greg’s shoulder, and shot out a long thin serpentine tongue. “Well, Greg, we’d like to piggyback on your invite. Murder Loop here would like to join you as your date. That is if you wouldn’t mind?”
“Murder loop! Mox.” Greg laughed awkwardly.
Loopamudra, on closer inspection, wasn’t human. Greg didn’t care, she was cute. As far as he was concerned she was perfect. In truth, she was physical perfection. An older archetypal design yes, but still a top of the line synthetic artificial lifeform. Mox may have overplayed his hand as well, making murder jokes about a reprogrammed assassin model.
“I’d love to go with you!” Greg smiled at a woman who looked half his age, but was really twice it, at least.
“Excellent.” Loopa grave a sinister smirk.
“It’s settled then, it’ll be a delightful soiree, I’m sure.” Mox slapped Greg on the back.
Grandor Prime Security Clearance
Age: 5000+ estimated
Titles: Deep Space Explorer, Unofficial Varan Government Representative, Ambassador to the Ursa Minor Robotic Corporation, Covert Operative Grandor Security (Special assignment only).
Ship: The Brick
Crew: Zandar Vandar Blunt plus synthetics and robots.
Warning: Potential spy for the Varan government, generally helpful and pleasant, but may have his own agenda that is not outwardly apparent. His robotic guard is considered extremely dangerous and is not to be approached without official clearance.
Royal family authorization: GRANTED and extended to his crew, but not his robots.
The Emperor announced the solidification of the Empire and the end of a thousand years of war. Over two million citizens came out to see the event. Greg was watching the speech on the monitor in his room when a slick vehicle came to pick him up. He pulled on his jacket, stuffed his modified cigarettes into his pocket, and headed out. A falcon door opened on the shiny hovercar and inside sat Loopamudra in a tasteful black evening gown. Greg hopped in and the car pulled away.
“Hey, your eyes have a nice glow,” he said to his date.
In the darkened interior, Loopa’s synthetic eyes glowed yellow. Her three pupils formed perfect triangles. They tended to spin when she focused. Greg wasn’t sure how she was driving so fast while looking at him.
“So, ah, where are your lizard buddies?”
“They’re arriving separately. Don’t mention them. I’m with you. The Duchess hooked us up. We met at her place.”
This was technically true and Greg didn’t really mind. Once again, she was very attractive, synthetic or not, and it had been 50,000 years since he’d been on a date. They rode along the winding country roads that led into the city highway system.
“I know you aren’t supposed to ask a woman’s age, but how old are you?” Greg broke the silence.
“I’m 127. I have a 250-year lifespan.”
Greg did the math in his head.
“So you’re middle-aged too, then?” he said feeling a little more at ease.
Loopamudra narrowed her eyes and pulled the car onto the upper-level express lanes. They passed over the throngs of people exiting the great city. The sun was setting behind a backdrop of countless skyscrapers and the jetting spirals of the palace. They pulled up to its front and exited the car.
Paparazzi took pictures of them as they walked to the edge of a golden carpet. Loopa stood a full two meters tall in her black heeled boots. Greg walked around the car, hooked his arm in hers, and headed to the security checkpoint. He flashed his royal invite and they were ushered in. The expanse of the golden rug ran around the side of the palace. It was easily a full city block long, lined with exotic flowers the whole way.
“Mind if I have a smoke on the walk?” Greg asked already lighting up.
“Go ahead, I’ll make sure you get home.” Her superior senses easily identified the carcinogens in Greg’s exhales.
Greg felt like a movie star as the strode along the carpet. In some ways, he had the look of a rough and tumble film director; expensive-looking borrowed suit, messy hair, stubbly face, and wildly out of date smudged eyeglasses. The Jakz Juice in his cigarette kicked in and by the time they hit the entrance to the palace, he was flying high.
They passed through the gilded doorway into a sea of people. It was a jaw-dropping scene. There were Grandor humanoids, big green ogre Gastraddars, blue Zorrs, red Fire Lancers, Varan lizards, huge fuzzy gorillas, pure white skinned Klandars, outlandish frocks and garments in a rainbow of colors, a group of little gnomes controlling human-sized robotic bodies, beings in spacesuits needing artificial breathing apparatus, giant wasp insects, feathered birdlike creatures, robotically enhanced cyborgs, seafoam green robed #71EEB8 clones that looked like a cult of middle-aged bald men, stylish meter tall shit-talking tree frogs called Jakz, the far wall was all glass and behind it floated whales and aquatic merpeople, and no joke, a fucking dinosaur! It walked amongst the crowd with a long neck reaching halfway to the top of the vaulted ceiling.
“Holy shit, I’m trippin’.” Greg held onto Loopamudra.
Across the cathedral-esque gala hall, Mox was making the rounds, shaking hands with dignitaries, buddying up with old friends, looking for interesting tidbits of galactic info, and flirting. When Zorpia saw him walk by she couldn’t believe her eyes.
Grandor Prime Security Clearance
Dossier: Qubilah Zorpia Zorr
Species: Zorr/Human Hybrid
Ship: The Dead Barge (a rehabbed Zorr Consortium deep space frigate)
Crew: 9 Zorr, 1 Rindo
Note: Daughter of the Viceroy of planet Zorr. Longstanding friend of the Oblast family, mentor to the Emperor’s daughter Nuirka.
Warning: Former pirate.
Royal family authorization: GRANTED. Weapon carry permitted.
“My dear old Uncle Mox,” she said with a hand on her hip and a dumbfounded smile across her face. “How long has it been? 15 years?”
Mox turned around to see Zorpia in all her loveliness. A sparkling dress slit high on both legs, a vibrant sapphire necklace, and as always, her thick leather belt held the Dead Sword. She was one of the few armed attendees and her legendary black bladed weapon marked her as Captain of the Dead Barge. Age had been kind to her. Her hair was shorter but still wavy and thick with maybe a few more bright blue highlights than last time. Her eyes sparkled bluer than her necklace. She still had the light blue jagged scar across her otherwise perfect brown complexion. When she smiled it made a Z.
Mox shot his tongue out twice in quick succession. Zorpia spread her arms wide and took her green scaly uncle in for a big squeeze.
“You’ll always be Uncle Tongue-Tong to me,” she whispered.
Standing next to Zorpia was Bloc Wave, a tall androgynous jet black skinned Rindo, wearing bright yellow velvet short shorts with matching thermal goggles and nothing else. He, like Mox, hadn’t aged a day. His misty smoke-filled eyes swirled around on his angelic face.
“Nice to see you two still palling around.” Mox held a clawed palm toward Wave’s chest.
Bloc Wave returned the Varan greeting by placing his open hand on Mox’s chest. “Good to see you too. I’m interested in that engine room job if you’d have me?”
“We might consider that…it would be a serious commitment,” said Zandar Vandar Blunt emerging from the dense crowd.
Swirling across the center of the hall, Greg was pulling Loopamudra towards what he described as “the brontosaurus” when he noticed the walking Gila Monster. Zandar was hugging what appeared to be a human woman. The group started to head through a rear set of gilded doors.
“Hey, it’s Blunt and Mox and is that another human?”
Greg suddenly felt less alone in the universe. He veered in their direction.
“She’s maybe part human, but definitely a Zorr. Just look at her eyes and her crystal blue fingernails,” said Loopa.
“How can you see that far?” Greg squinted as they moved through the packed house.
Loopa mumbled under her breath, “Target analysis: Zorr Human female, confirmed.”
“Yes, Greg, she is part human. I have advanced visual capabilities.”
“Zorrs are the blue people right?” To Greg, she looked human with punk rock hair.
“Affirmative… Yes, Greg, she is Zorr. Her human mother’s skin tone was more dominant than the sky blue of her Zorr father.” Loopamudra began leading Greg towards them.
A large silver gorilla in a tuxedo stopped them in their path. A wisp of orange hair on his forehead seemed to brighten when he spoke and he did so with a dignified accent.
“Mr. Petix, I presume.” The great ape extended a large black hand.
Greg shook the powerful paw and was moved by the human expression in the creature’s eyes.
“I’m Professor Red Peters, Onzaga has told us so much about you.”
Three other gorillas, one in an odd fitting evening gown gathered around.
“We’re all great admirers of your work and we’d love to have you speak as a guest lecturer at the Grandor Academy of Music.”
Several CDs from Greg’s old rock bands were discovered within his comic book collection.
“Oh, please do Mr. Petix. We’re just wild about your musical recordings. What was the name of your ensemble again?” said the female gorilla.
“The Weird Lovemakers, ma’am.”
“How charming. And with such youthful vigor and progressive rhythms. Fantastic, seriously.”
“Can we count on you?” Professor Peters asked.
“Of course, I’d be glad to come talk about being in bands. I have a bunch of stories I could tell.”
“Wonderful, the Academy will be delighted to host you.”
Large paws gently patted Greg on the shoulders. It made him feel comforted and safe. The kind-hearted gorillas sent Greg and on his way, touched by the oddity of his newfound intellectual friends.
“Gorillas are awesome.”
They made their way to the back doors of the great hall and were immediately confronted by security. Greg was fumbling through his jacket pockets when a guard noticed the pin in his lapel as the crest of the royal family.
“Excuse us, Sir, but we’re going to have to scan your escort,” said the guard in charge.
One of the other members of the security team scanned Loopamudra with a handheld device. It beeped. Greg found the golden invite and showed it to security.
“I knew it was in there somewhere.”
“You’re both good to enter, Sir. Sorry for the delay. Enjoy your evening.”
Security ushered them through.
“What species was that guy?” said one guard to the other.
“I don’t know. But if he’s a royal why is he with a synthetic?”
The back hall was as grandiose as the front but with a third of the people and twice the women. Widowed Emperors don’t stay single long. The upper echelon of galactic society mingled in the center of the room.
“I’ve never seen so many beautiful people all in one place.”
The glass wall continued in the back. It made the entire left side of the space into an aquarium of epic proportions. Behind the floor to ceiling windows floated leviathans of the deep. There were a half dozen sperm whales gliding between the two parties. A colossally magnificent light gray one floated above the long and extremely well-staffed bar.
“Let’s get a drink,” said Greg making a beeline to the refreshments.
On the way, they passed Mox with two drinks in each hand.
“Welcome to the real party,” winked the lizard.
Greg followed suit and ordered two drinks for himself. Loopa didn’t want anything.
“Are you sure? I mean, it’s open bar.”
Greg hadn’t paid for a thing in the last year of his life but still felt the need to indulge in free booze.
They trailed after Mox who was now at the rear of the hall.
Across the back wall were eleven ancient figurative sculptures similar to the large face carvings of Angkor Wat. The huge stone men sat in large square chairs like Abe at the Lincoln Memorial looking out over the room. Lines of white quartz sparkled around their bodies. They were chunky with simplistic yet unique facial features that almost implied a personality.
In front of the stone giants was a raised platform where the Emperor and his family greeted guests. Greg made eye contact with Onzaga but wanted to meet this other Earth woman before he said hello. As luck would have it she was speaking to the Emperor’s daughter.
Everyone at the ‘real party’ was queueing up for a quick one-on-one with the Emperor. At the front of the receiving line was a group of identical #71EEB8 clones, followed by two green ogres, followed by three scantily dressed albinos, behind them was Mox and company who seemed to be a buffer for the Zorr people that followed. Blunt was talking to a skinny man in bright yellow shorts. Mox put his arms around the two of them and they walked off into the crowd.
Greg made his move. He walked right up to the half-human woman who was chatting with the young Nuirka.
“Hi, I’m Greg, I’m a human. I guess you’re part human too?”
Zorpia gave him a smile that would have made his date jealous if she wasn’t a cyborg following very specific instructions.
“I’m Zorpia, my mother was human. You’re rather pale for a human, no?” He did look somewhat like her great grandfather’s friends.
“I’m North American, well, I guess I’m more European when it comes to my family heritage, where I’m guessing yours is African.”
“African? European?” Zorpia had no idea what he was talking about.
“I should level with you. I just got here and my first 50 years were on Earth, so…”
“He’s Grandmama’s dog walker. He was unfrozen after thousands of years. He’s like a walking antique.” Nuirka rolled her eyes at Greg, she considered him a bad influence on her Grandmother, even if it was really the other way around.
“You actually lived on Earth?” Zorpia was only aware of the band of deep-space travelers she descended from.
The #71EEB8s moved on and everyone stepped closer. The two muscular green men made a big show of talking to the Emperor. They brandished jagged swords and bowed extravagantly.
“Who are those guys?” Greg asked.
“That’s the new King of Gastraddar. He killed his father to take the throne you know,” Zorpia explained.
“Wow, I’ll stay away from him then,” Greg whispered.
After the King of Gastraddar was done swearing allegiance to the Empire they stepped back into the audience of attendees. Greg got a good look at the three stark white women next in line. Tall fit amazons, they towered over the Emperor. Seven feet tall easily in Greg’s estimation. They had intense red eyes and gnarly teeth. Their white hair was done up in gravity-defying plates and spikes. They made Zorpia edgy, Greg could tell that. Loopamudra stood next to Greg silently watching the Emperor.
Onzaga stepped aside for a moment and left the receiving line. Nuirka replaced her at her father’s side. Greg was thinking he would leave when Zorpia gestured to stay.
“We can meet the Oblasts together. After all, I represent Humans as well as Zorrs.”
They joined Loopamudra in watching as they were next. Emperor Oblast was shaking the hand of the last of the three women. She held on much longer than necessary.
She yanked Oblast in close and whispered, “now you die.”
Another pulled a blaster pistol from under her skirt and brandished it at the crowd.
“The Klandar Authority will never bow to the likes of you! Tonight the reign of….”
Mox was in the middle of the room laughing at a particularly entertaining tale of ship maneuvering high jinks when he heard the yelling. Everyone looked forward. The whales in the tank suddenly vanished. In a flash, there was a pile of stone giants on the floor, followed by a muffled detonation.
Greg saw things in a very different light. He would recall it later as happening in slow motion; never being sure if it was mere shock or a lucky mind-altered experience brought on by Jakz Juice. Probably a little of both.
Greg wasn’t a meter away from Volodymyr Oblast. He heard the whispered threat of death. The Klandar woman pointed the pistol right at him, then at the crowd in front. He heard her words in full.
“…Tonight the reign of the Oblasts Ends!”
Loopa’s arm unhooked from his. Greg stepped forward moving after her almost by instinct. He felt Zorpia moving in parallel. She drew her sword as she advanced. He would swear that it made a moaning sound as it whooshed through the air.
Onzaga stood behind the Emperor with a look of terror on her face. She pressed her back against one of the giants in the chairs behind her. The stone man moved. The sparkle of the quartz stripes running around its body caught the light. The stone creatures, that Greg would later learn were called Woad, came to life. He blinked at what he previously thought were sculptures. Onzaga was shielded by one of the Woad and disappeared from view. When the Woad stood, they were massive, five meters tall easily.
Greg stopped in his tracks.
The third Klandar woman squatted down in front of the Emperor. She unhinged her jaw, opened her mouth like a lion, reached inside, and pressed two of her back teeth simultaneously. A blinking green light appeared on the roof of her mouth.
Loopa dove through the air like a human rocket. In a single movement, she kicked both Nuirka and the Klandar holding onto the Emperor. Nuirka flew towards Greg and he grabbed hold of the teenager. He wasn’t thinking, he was acting.
Zorpia literally disarmed the Klandar woman with the blaster pistol. Greg watched in horror as bright red blood splattered everywhere. Her sword sliced through the bone of the woman’s arm with ruthless speed.
Loopa grabbed Oblast and shoved him back towards the towering stone giants. One of them laid down on the ground shielding Loopamudra and the Emperor. A wall of dark stone filled Greg’s vision. Another Woad passed above him and lay down behind him. It happened so quick he could hardly register it. He stumbled backward and collided hard rock.
The squatting Klandar woman stood up and spread her arms wide. The other was getting up off the floor. Zorpia slashed her sword across her chest, ran up her body, and jumped from her shoulders out over the top of the Woad that had become a stone wall around them.
Greg pulled Nuirka close. He felt a space to move behind him. He pulled himself and the girl through the legs of the Woad. It’s stone thighs closed tight the second they were through. Two more Woad jumped and laid flat on top of the others trapping the three assassins between them. There was an explosion.
Nuirka flinched in Greg’s arms, then turned around and hugged him.
The music never stopped playing.
Greg Petix received the Grandor Medal of Valor. Zorpia was hailed as a hero of the Empire. The news reported a failed assassination attempt, but Loopamudra nor Greg received any coverage. Greg did, however, go on to have one of the greatest nights of his life.
It was later that very evening that Emperor Volodymyr Oblast decided that he would, once and for all, disband the Empire completely. He would announce it on the one-year anniversary of galactic peace.
Mox reported an evening highlighted by the most beautiful creatures in the known universe and a marvelous display from the stone Warriors of Woad.
That same year Greg encountered another Sleldack space slug who offered him a way back home. But that is another story.