The Dreams of Lord Satu: Part 10

Marc was not even surprised when Anton showed up at the inn the following morning. His host was cordial, and barely mentioned the previous day’s confrontation. 

“My superiors tell me that everything is going to be alright now,” Anton said. “You are prepared to act as a proper human does on Kelphi.”

Before Marc could reply, Anton said: “I’m sure that everything will be fine now. I shouldn’t tell you this, but I believe that Rapid GeoWorks will get the contract—as long as you don’t offend Lord Satu any further.”

Once inside Lord Satu’s cave, Marc again witnessed the bizarre sight of Anton yielding his consciousness to the Kelphi. Anton passed through the same fit: His chin jerked upward and his eyes rolled back in their sockets. 

Then Anton entered a trance state, and addressed Marc as the Kelphi’s “vessel.”

“Ah,” Anton said with a gurgle. “You are back. This pleases me.” 

“I am here to please you, Lord Satu,” Marc said.

“Kindly resume where we left off. I want to hear more about how you will fix our problem.”

Marc continued to explain the volcano stabilization process. He knew the details well. When the Kelphi asked more questions, Marc was able to answer without missing a beat.

Then he felt the inevitable tap, tap, tap. An invisible, scaly limb skittered across his head. An unseen appendage traversed his forehead and eye sockets. Without actually touching him, the Kelphi wrapped itself around his consciousness. Behind the psychic grip was a monstrous force that was deliberately restraining itself. It was a giant claw that could have crushed his skull in an instant.

Horrifying as the prospect before him was, Marc had made his decision. Larry was counting on him. Beth was counting on him. Instead of barring the Kelphi as he had done previously, Marc dropped his defenses. 

Given an opening, Lord Satu did not hesitate. Marc felt an immediate, sharp stab, as if a shaft of metal had been surgically implanted in his brain. The Kelphi’s invasion was painful at first; but it was immediately followed by a numbness that was not wholly unpleasant. Marc swayed on his feet. He was woozy, intoxicated. He paused in mid-sentence, halting his explanation about the containment of lava flows.  

What was it that the minstrel had said? “Submission is the path to peace.”  

Marc did not feel at peace as the alien presence rushed inside his head like a cold liquid and expanded there. He heard a dim buzzing sound inside his ears. Blood pounded in his temples and his vision blurred.   

He was now “acting like a proper human does on Kelphi”—to borrow Anton’s expression. And he felt violated in doing so. The Kelphi’s mental tentacles were somehow polluting him, he was sure. 

What is wrong?” Lord Satu asked through Anton. “Are you ill?”

You’re not going to beat me, Marc thought. He wondered if Lord Satu had read this sentiment as it occurred. Probably he had.

“I’m fine,” Marc answered. “Anyway, as I was saying…”  

While Marc talked, he could feel the creature rifling through his mind as if his thoughts and memories were the pages of a book. He now had no secrets from the Kelphi, he was quite certain.

Then the Kelphi withdrew. One moment another being was ransacking his consciousness; and the next moment it was gone. Marc was once again alone inside his own head. 

The rushing sense of release brought relief—a feeling like gasping for air after being held underwater. Interrupting his own speech again, Marc took a series of deep, rapid breaths. He was dizzy. The buzzing inside his ears continued, as did the throbbing in his temples. 

And the Kelphi had only accessed his mind. How invasive it would be to submit as Anton was now submitting. Marc couldn’t imagine how a human could allow himself to be used as a mere “vessel.” But he knew that he had come close to that a few minutes ago.

There were more questions and answers about the volcano. Then the discussion concluded with Lord Satu’s assurances that matters were proceeding satisfactorily. 

Marc’s second interview with Lord Satu was over. Anton stumbled and collapsed onto the ground as Lord Satu relinquished him. He let out a low groan as he stood up and steadied himself. 

This time, Marc did not offer to help him up.

Part 11

Table of contents

Star Wars Authentics

The Dreams of Lord Satu: Part 9

The next morning Anton knocked on the door of his room at the inn nearly an hour before their appointed rendezvous time. When Marc opened the door, the gaunt, bearded man spoke bluntly:

“All further negotiations have been cancelled. You have insulted Lord Satu.”

“What are you talking about?” Marc asked. He had been rousted from bed and was still half asleep.

“You did not yield access to your thought patterns when Lord Satu desired to examine them.”

Examine them?” Marc shot back. “That creature was making you dance around like a marionette. You’re damned right I did not ‘yield access.’ Not on your life!”

“Have it your way,” Anton said. “But Lord Satu considered your resistance to be a grave insult. On our planet, it is customary for a human to yield access to his thoughts when a Kelphi desires it.”

“I’ve already told you what I think about how the humans here behave, bowing and scraping like pathetic insects.”

“You are to prepare to leave Kelphi immediately,” Anton said. “We will find another company to aid us with the geological stabilization project. Unless….”

“Unless what?”

“Unless you are prepared to show the Lord Satu proper respect.”

Anton had barely departed before Marc realized the corner in which Lord Satu had placed him. He would either have to open his mind to the Kelphi—and face the unimaginable consequences—or he would have to bear the responsibility of losing a large contract for the Rapid GeoWorks Company. 

When Marc spoke to Larry Dozier via his portable telecommunicator an hour later, he described the situation and his dilemma.

But for the vice president of sales, there was no dilemma.

“Marc, you’ve got to go back to them—on your hands and knees if necessary! Tell them that you’ll let this Lord Satu read your mind if he wants to. Just do it!”

“Larry, I’m not going to allow that. In the Defense Forces they taught us that a human should never give an alien access to his mind. When another being takes control of your mind, it might decide to rearrange a few things while it’s in there.”

“And why would this particular being want to do that?” Larry asked. “Geez, Marc. This thing is our customer after all! Or it was—until you offended it.”

“Larry, I don’t think you understand.”

“No, Marc. I don’t think you understand. I attended a board meeting yesterday. The economy of the entire Leonis system is depressed right now. Rapid GeoWorks needs this contract, or there are going to be some personnel cuts. And do you think the directors would look favorably on a sales rep who blew a major contract?”

The implied threat was clear: It was now a choice between his job or his personal safety. It might well come down to a choice between his job or his life.

Larry Dozier could go to hell—along with Anton and Lord Satu and this entire planet.

Then he remembered that his actions were tied to another person. It would be easy enough to forsake this job if he were alone in life. That was no longer the case: he also had Beth to think about.

He knew that Beth sincerely loved him; but that did not diminish the material sacrifices that she had made in marrying him. Women of Beth’s caliber were much sought after; she could have had any number of wealthier, more established men. 

Instead she had married for love—chaining herself to a Defense Forces veteran whose future success as a civilian was still an open question.

He thought about his debts: What if they lost the house on the knoll above the Saris River valley? Beth adored that house. He imagined her disappointment if they had to abandon the house for a crowded tenement in the city. 

I would die for Beth, he thought; and he knew that this was true, so deep was his love for her. He would not fail her; he would not let her down.

Therefore, shouldn’t I be able to take this one risk for her, if her happiness is at stake? 

And it really wasn’t such a huge risk, was it? His training in the Leonis Defense Forces had prepared him to withstand psychological attacks. He wasn’t just another civilian.

“Okay Larry,” Marc said at last. “I’ll do it.”

“Good man!” Larry said. “Damn good man! Trust me on this, Marc. I’m only looking out for your future here.”

You liar, Marc thought. You’re looking out for your own position in the company. You could care less about my future.

“I’ll make the necessary communications,” Larry went on. “I’ll contact the senior human officials on Kelphi. We can smooth his over. You’ll see.”  

Part 10

Table of contents

The Dreams of Lord Satu: Part 8

The driver dropped them off at a tavern on the outskirts of the city, and Anton told him to return in two hours.  

“I know this place,” Anton said to Marc. The hovercraft sped away. “The food is good here.”

Marc found himself doubting Anton’s assurances. Eating establishments on Leonis III were typically brighter, cleaner, and more modern-looking than this place. The tavern consisted of a long cinderblock structure covered by a rusted metal roof. The tavern reminded Marc of a barn or a warehouse. A weak light glowed behind its shuttered windows, which were coated with a heavy film of dust. 

They entered a room filled with the smells of cooking, sweating bodies, and alcohol. The tavern’s interior was semi-dark and the air was close. Decorations were few. There was no paint on the interior brick walls. A massive wrought iron chandelier hung overhead; gaseous flames dancing inside its rings of light-globes.  

Customers milled about; many appeared to be intoxicated. There was raucous laughter and apparent good humor; but several of the hooded faces at the bar turned to eye Marc suspiciously when he entered.

Marc followed Anton across the stone-tiled floor to a rough-hewn wooden table in a corner of the main room. A waitress soon spotted them and presented herself to take their order. Marc allowed Anton to order for him: he was unfamiliar with the human foods of Kelphi. 

Along with the food, they also ordered a pitcher of Kelphi grog. It was bitter and sweet and mostly water, from what Marc could tell. 

While they were waiting for their food to arrive, Marc queried his host about the alien race that dominated life on this planet. He was especially curious about the Kelphi he had met today.

“Does this Lord Satu have a wife?” Marc asked. “Is there a ‘Lady Satu’”?

Anton shook his head. “You are unlikely to see any female Kelphi.”

“What’s up with that? Do the males hold some grudge against the females of their own species? Do they keep them sequestered away?”   

“That isn’t the case,” Anton explained. “Kelphi mating practices are a bit violent.”

“Why does that not surprise me?” Marc quipped, unable to stop himself.

Anton ignored the barb. “Immediately after mating, the Kelphi male kills the female and eats part of her. But the larva lives within the female’s carcass. The whelp quickly matures, and it lives off its mother’s flesh during the period of gestation. It finally emerges—and that is a process which few humans would consider to be pleasant, I assure you.”

“I can imagine,” Marc said, trying not to imagine. 

It turned out that the Kelphi were similar to the Terran spiders in more ways than one. Spiders had been stowaways on the original pioneer ships. They were common on most of the worlds now inhabited by humans, and every human on Leonis was familiar with them.

The spider mating ritual was also violent. Among most species, it was common for the female to kill the male after copulation. The Kelphi had their own, similar version of sexual homicide—only in reverse. The male slaughtered the female.

“You don’t much like the Kelphi, do you?” Anton asked.

“What human being would? Frankly, I don’t see how you all manage to live under them, in this state of subjugation.”

“What you call subjugation we call coexistence. We have found ways to be valuable to the Kelphi. And they seldom take us as prey anymore.”

Marc stifled a snort. This was unbelievable. But he reminded himself of his obligations to his company.

And besides, he had more questions.

“What do they eat, then?”

“Other creatures—livestock that we raise for them.”

“But a Kelphi can still kill a human—eat a human, for that matter—as freely as a human can take the life of a chicken. Am I correct?”

“You are correct,” Anton allowed. “But most of the time they choose not to. Why would any rational being destroy a valuable asset?”

Because it’s hungry, Marc wanted to say—though he held his tongue. He knew that this line of discussion would only lead to trouble. 

Luckily, their conversation was interrupted when a noticeable silence fell upon the room. There was a little stage in the center of the tavern, where a minstrel was preparing to perform. The minstrel was a young woman. She had pale skin—like most all of the humans on this darkened planet. Her flaxen hair was braided on either side of her head. The dress she wore was a simple, bluish garment that might have been homemade. 

The minstrel sat on a small stool that had been placed in the center of the stage. She lifted a small musical instrument to her breast: a fretted lute with perhaps a dozen strings.

As the minstrel plucked the first few chords of her song, Anton nodded in recognition. The muscles in his face relaxed. Anton was apparently a connoisseur of Kelphi folk music. Marc remembered having read that this sort of entertainment was popular among the humans of this planet.

Although the minstrel was obviously trying to give a quality performance, Marc didn’t think much of her voice, her playing, or the song. But what could you expect here on Kelphi? These people had precious little to enjoy; it would therefore not take much in the way of entertainment to enthrall them.

“You seem to know this song,” Marc whispered discreetly to Anton. 

“Yes. She is singing one of the ballads of Horat. Horat was a poet and thinker who lived on Kelphi about a hundred solar cycles ago—not long after the end of the human-Kelphi conflict. He chronicled the new state of peace that was established between the two races. His ideas have quite a following.” 

As the minstrel plucked her lute and sang, Marc paid particular attention to the next verse:

 

 

“Submission is the path to peace

I unclench my fist, and free my mind

Come take my hand, come close my eyes

Show me the path to paradise

 

 

 

Resistance is the cause of pain

Surrender brings its just reward

I drop my sword, and so attain

The end of strife, release from war”

 

 

And we humans of Leonis would rather die than live as slaves, Mark thought, memories of the recent war ever-present in his mind.

Marc wanted to ask how the great poet Horat had died: Had he been devoured by one of those beasts? But he knew that such an inquiry was bound to offend his host.

* * *

Part 9

Table of contents

The Dreams of Lord Satu: Part 2

Marc sped home through the streets of the city. He set his hovercraft to autopilot so he could allow his thoughts to drift. 

His experiences from the recent war were still fresh, reddish bright memories. Flames and screaming. Men and aliens being torn asunder. The smell of scorched bodies and the smoke of a destroyed civilization. 

The people of the four Leonis planets had been locked in a war for their survival, and at length they had won. Although their economies still suffered and the dead were too many to fully count, a collective sense of relief followed the war. People could begin to think about the future again.

After his discharge from the Defense Forces, Marc had returned to his home planet, Leonis III. He had saved enough ducats from his military pay to make a down payment on a house just outside the city. And then he had married Beth. She had waited so patiently for him for three solar cycles, while had been away fighting.

They had been living as husband and wife for a complete solar cycle now; but he still felt a warm rush of affection (and truth be told, outright lust) whenever he thought of her. 

He had led a charmed life throughout the war; and it seemed that he would be pushing his luck if he took unnecessary risks now…

There was presently no war on Kelphi; but it was still a violent place in its own way. Marc knew the basics of the planet’s history. Kelphi had been colonized by humans centuries ago, in the wake of the first great migrations from Terra. The human colonizers of Kelphi had quickly learned that they were not alone. 

In the early days of the Kelphi War, entire communities of human settlers were devoured like so many ants. The dominant native life form of Kelphi was inferior to humans in some aspects, but superior in those that counted most. Marc had heard many times that the human settlers on that dark planet had never had a chance; the outcome of the conflict was a foregone conclusion. 

After their defeat, the human population of Kelphi found a way to live with their new masters. But what kind of life was that—to exist like cattle?

And then he saw the house that he and Beth shared—a modest domelike structure constructed upon a knoll that overlooked the Saris River valley. He forgot all about Kelphi and the devil’s pact under which those faraway humans lived. The war was behind him. Death was behind him. And soon the trip to Kelphi would be behind him, too. 

When he entered the house, she was waiting for him. He pressed his face into her hair and absorbed the scent of her. Then her arms were around him and their bodies were entangled in a familiar, almost furious embrace. She led him into their sleeping chamber, and in a little while, he felt fully alive again.

* * *

Part 3

Table of contents

Save on lamps and lighting supplies at Amazon.

The end of the ‘Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast’

Although most of what I write can be classified as neither science fiction nor fantasy, I’ve been a faithful weekly listener of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast for about three years now.

Joe Lallo, Lindsay Buroker, and Jeff Poole never fail to provide good insights on the art and business of writing.

This past week, they announced that they would be “taking a few months off”.

That of course leaves the door open for a return. If the history of other podcasts, blogs, and YouTube channels is a guide, however, “taking a few months off” is usually synonymous with quitting for good.

I shall be sorry to see them go. Nevertheless, I can understand if their hearts are no longer in the endeavor.

Sometimes a podcast, a YouTube channel, or a blog simply runs its course… Sometimes for the audience…and sometimes for the creator(s).

 


Remembering those Burger Chef ‘Star Wars’ posters of 1977

I was part of the original Star Wars generation.

I remember being nine years old in the summer of 1977, sitting with my dad in the cinema, watching that first epic Star Wars opening crawl.

I became a total fanatic for Star Wars. And yes, that meant Star Wars action figures, Star Wars trading cards, and much else. During that first two years of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, I wasn’t thinking about stagflation or the energy crisis, or Jimmy Carter’s “malaise”. I was thinking about Star Wars.

Among my favorite Star Wars memorabilia of that era were the four Star Wars posters issued by Burger Chef. (Burger Chef was a once popular fast food chain that went out of business in 1996.)

I had all four posters, and they were hung all around my bedroom. (I can still recall the exact placement of each one, in fact.)

These are now collectors’ items, of course. But they were just delightful children’s bric-a-brac in 1977.