In Pursuit of Princess Nepalia
by Ronald Linson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The ships swarmed out of nowhere, hundreds, thousands of them. They were all identical, small, ugly, wicked things a horrid shade of greenish-yellow.
The colonies on the moons of the outer gas giants were the first to fall, completely obliterated without warning. Then the myriad asteroidal stations and bases were surrounded and vaporized, one after another.
By that time, the inner worlds of the system had mobilized a magnificent fleet of gleaming, stalwart battleships. In orbit around the fourth planet, the fleet met the marauders as they came.
The ships of the fleet, though numbering only in the dozens, dwarfed the entire swarm, and seeing this on their news broadcasts, the citizens rejoiced, assured of their victory.
The battle raged on and on for many hours, with one side or the other seeming to gain the upper hand, then falling back, again and again, but in the end, the fourth planet, once a brilliant jewel, was little more than a blackened husk, denuded of atmosphere, and the fleet of hopes and dreams was no more.
On the third planet, the capital world, the people quailed in terror. They decried their gods and government alike. Riots and lawlessness abounded, and whole cities burst into flame. Perhaps the smoke would hide the doom that swiftly approached.
High in the highest of the ivory towers that marked the skyline of the city of rule, a woman of elegant, stately beauty rose from her desk and walked out onto the balcony. She gazed out over the burning city for a long time. Finally, she rested her hands on the railing as if she were about to jump. Instead, she raised an angry fist to the sky, turned around, and went back inside.
She stood before a large wall screen and smoothed out her red and gold dress. Taking a deep breath, she pressed a few buttons on a control panel. The face of a handsome, swarthy man appeared.
“Queen Dartalia,” he said, “what a pleasant surprise.”
The queen lifted her chin and gritted her teeth. “Salazam, we’re under attack. We need your help.”
Salazam said nothing, merely raising an eyebrow.
She glared defiantly back at him, but she couldn’t hold it for long. Her shoulders slumped, she bowed her head, her golden locks falling across her face. “Lord Salazam,” she whispered, “I need your help.”
Salazam smiled indulgently. “Yes, of course,” he said, “I shall send a ship.”
“A ship? One ship?” she cried.
Salazam raised the eyebrow again.
Queen Dartalia exhaled slowly. “Thank you, Lord Salazam. It is most appreciated.”
The last thing she saw before he cut the connection was the smirk on his lips.
A sleek black-and-silver starship emerged from a ripple in space. It was a deadly construction, bristling with missile tubes and beam cannons. Like the predator it so resembled, it stalked the vicious little ships. Once they noticed the pursuit, they turned and converged on the newcomer, eager for an easy kill.
Salazam’s ship blazed. Incandescent beams of energy lanced out. Missiles streaked away, each intent on its target, tracking it relentlessly.
Actinic flares marked the destruction of the invaders. At first a few succumbed to the purifying fire, then many, and then before long, all of them were gone, leaving nothing but rapidly dispersing dust behind.
The black-and-silver ship entered orbit around the third planet, silhouetted against its brilliant sunlit blue, white, and green splendor.
Fade to black.
* * *
Arthur A. Armstrong ejected the disc. “Well, what do you think?”
Eddie Dufour, film producer extraordinaire, sat back and folded his hands on his belly. He regarded the kid, and he was a kid, no more than twenty, twenty-two tops. “It’s got nice special effects.”
Armstrong waited for him to continue, but impatience won out. “And?”
“But,” Eddie said, watching him flinch. “All right, look, kid. You got talent, no question. But people usually just bring me scripts or pitch ideas. This is a lot of really good raw footage, but there’s gotta be more. A lot more.”
“What do you mean?” Armstrong asked.
Eddie sighed. This was going to be one of those days. And what was with the kid’s accent? He looked like an Iowa farm boy in a cheap suit, but he talked like he got off the boat last week. His grammar was perfect, but it sounded like he learned it from reading books without ever actually hearing it spoken.
“The flash-bang stuff is great. Lots of fun. But what really sells is substance, and if you tell anyone I said that, I’ll deny it.” Eddie smiled to show that he was joking, but the kid just stared. He sighed again. “What I mean is, people want character development. They want a hero who charges to the rescue, some intrigue, some romance, a ton of suspense. And a hot young babe for the male demographics wouldn’t hurt either, you get me?” Eddie winked.
Armstrong nodded. “I think so.”
“Good,” Eddie said. “If you’ve got more, I’d love to see it. If you don’t, well, that’s it.”
“I have more,” Armstrong said, “but not right now.”
“Fine, fine,” Eddie said. “When you do, call and make an appointment.” He stood and ushered the kid to the door. “Here’s a piece of advice, kid: Wear a better suit.” He patted Armstrong on the shoulder and waved the next appointment in.
* * *
Several months passed. Eddie all but forgot about the strange kid with the weird accent and the even weirder film footage. Then, one day in late October, he saw his name penciled in for his three o’clock.
At precisely 2:58 PM, Arthur A. Armstrong walked into Eddie’s office, jewel case in hand. This time, he had on a slightly less cheap suit.
“Hey, kid,” Eddie said, proffering a hand. “Hope you got something good for me today.”
“I think so,” Armstrong said, taking the hand and shaking it firmly.
Eddie smiled, not for the promise of the next installment, but because the kid now spoke more or less like a human being, and because the first time Eddie had offered to shake hands, Armstrong acted like he’d been presented with a severed hand.
“Fire it up,” Eddie said, settling into his leather easy chair.
Armstrong loaded the disc into the DVD player. As with the first video, it began with no introduction.
* * *
The doors to the queen’s office flew open and Salazam strode in. He wore a black uniform with silver piping and a wide metallic gold belt sporting a holster. A squad of soldiers filed in behind him, dressed in a similar, but less elaborate fashion.
Queen Dartalia leapt to her feet. “Guards! Guards!”
“Your guards, I’m afraid,” Salazam said, “are sleeping on the job.”
“If you’ve harmed anyone...”
Salazam looked affronted. “Do you think me merciless, that I would maim and kill unnecessarily?”
The queen did not answer. She watched him warily as he circled the room examining the décor.
“We have business,” he said finally. “I am not merciless, but I am also not a humanitarian. I expect to be paid for what I have done for you.”
“What do you want,” the queen said, “precious metals, jewels, fine clothing? It’s not a problem. You can have as much as you like.”
“Bah,” Salazam cried, waving a hand dismissively. “I can come by those anywhere. No, I am thinking of something unique. A treasure beyond compare.”
Queen Dartalia opened her mouth to speak, but her attention was drawn to the doorway. A pair of soldiers flanked a young girl wrapped in a towel, her platinum-blonde hair dripping wet.
“Princess Nepalia,” Salazam said, “we were just talking about you.”
“You could have at least let me get dressed,” the princess said, her sapphire eyes as cold as liquid helium.
“You monster!” the queen shouted. “She’s just a child!”
“Not for long,” Salazam said with a leer.
In a move that surprised even her daughter, Queen Dartalia let out a bloodcurdling scream, vaulted her desk, and threw herself at Salazam. He caught her wrists, her ruby-painted nails mere inches from his face.
“Now, your Majesty,” he cooed, “let’s not do anything we’ll both regret.”
He shoved her away and soldiers grabbed her arms. She began to cry.
“Come,” Salazam said, snapping his fingers. “Time is short. We must go.”
The soldiers beside the princess took hold of her arms and lifted her into the air. She squealed and thrashed, dislodging the towel, which slid to the floor as they carried her away. Salazam trailed close behind, treading on the forlorn pink cloth. The soldiers followed him out, and Queen Dartalia collapsed in a heap, sobbing.
Fade to black.
* * *
“Better. Much better,” Eddie said as Armstrong ejected the disc. “I like the way it’s going. Now, if you had some kind of hero character, like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, we’d be signing contracts and sipping champagne.”
Armstrong grinned toothily. “There is a hero character in the next part, but I’m not done with it yet.”
Eddie grinned too. He was getting to like this kid. He wondered if he could get him on salary. With this kind of talent, rough as it was, he could go far... Correction: He and Eddie could go far.
“Okay,” Eddie said, “I can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, there are a couple of issues we need to address.”
“Well, take the princess.”
“What about her?” Armstrong asked, looking nervous.
“I don’t know where you’re from,” Eddie said, “but here in the United States, people get uptight about some things. Real uptight. Understand?”
Eddie sighed. “Look, cast the part with another actress who’s six or seven years older, and it’ll be copacetic, all right?”
The kid’s eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Another... actress?”
“Right,” Eddie said. “No legal hassles, no bad press, no death threats.”
“Sure,” Eddie said. “People have gotten death threats for a lot less. Trust me.”
The kid started to sweat. “Um, I...”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Eddie said, patting him on the arm. “Do like I said and it’ll be cool. Anyway, what’s the deal with the queen having an office? Aren’t queens supposed to have throne rooms and subjects to bow to them, that kind of thing?”
“She’s not that kind of queen,” Armstrong said. “She’s a political queen, elected by the people.”
Eddie laughed. “Yeah, we have those too, but ours come in a package deal with the President.”
Armstrong blinked in surprise.
Where was he from, anyway?
“All right,” Eddie said, “we’ll try it. But you need to mention the fact at some point, or people won’t get it.”
“Okay, no problem,” Armstrong said dubiously.
Eddie stood and clapped his hands together. “So, how long will I have to wait for the next installment?”
Armstrong put the disc back in its case. “I think it will be ready by the end of next week.”
“Great,” Eddie said. “How’s about I have my assistant put you down for the following Monday, first thing?”
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Ronald Linson