[Nikon Ninja's Journal]
Okay, if I am going to earn any money on this trip I better start writing. I promised old KKK back at the newspaper some "man on the scene" reports and some exclusive interviews. How was I to know I'd have a front row seat to our mission's failure? Maybe it's too late for me to write anything. I wonder if will we be shipped off to some desert mining prison colony, or will they space us, or will we be on the Nintan's next buffet menu? Rumors have been flying around the ship like crazy in the last 15 minutes since Commander Tonk, sounding more sober than I have ever heard her, announced that a full-dress honor guard was to assemble in the main hangar bay to receive the Nintan Delegation to discuss the terms of surrender. I have to hurry up and get cleaned up for the event. I've been ordered to attend, both since I'm a reporter and this is a historic moment, and well, I‘m a member of a Super Group, the West Coast Defenders, and if there is any hope of turning this event into a victory for mankind, it's going to be up to us. I just wish British Airwave could be there.
"Victory and Defeat"
Starring Spectrum and the West Coast Defenders, Aurora, and the Crew of the Lenny Bruce
Co-Authored by Chris Angelini and Lawrence Brown, aka Frobozz and Amigoid
The Doctor stepped out into the hallway a few yards from where an anxious group of heroes stood waiting by the med lab entrance. He glanced at them for a moment, snorted in consternation, and popped a jelly baby into his mouth. At the sound, Foxy's ears twitched and she glanced in his direction. Tipping his hat, he softly muttered, "Congratulations." He twisted a small device in his hands and a door opened in front of him, which then closed and disappeared from existence as he strode through.
"Spectrum?" She was about to ask about the scarf-wearing strange man who was suddenly no longer there, when doctor Dick van Sloan strode out of the medical bay, drawing all eyes in the waiting room towards him.
Sloan glanced wearily around at the West Coast Defenders, eyes pausing on Spectrum with some unspoken curiosity, before finally drawing breath to speak.
"I'm sorry. Events have caused Randall to suffer a serious heart attack. We fought for an hour to stabilize him, and like with all battles that've gone on lately, we came up too damned short. He's currently on life support; but he's holding on. That man is a fighter if ever I've seen one."
"When can we ssspeak with him?" TDSM hissed.
"I'm truly sorry," began Sloan, somehow meeting the Spider's many glaring eyes. "I'd have to say that will have to wait until we get home. *If* we make it back home. Based on ship scuttlebutt, our chances are worse than his." He sighed in frustration. "We've done what we can with the resources we have left on board. Until we get back to earth, where there are medical bays that weren't lasered all to Hell(tm), he won't be off of life support and we can't bring him around. He'll be safe for now... well, as safe as any of us are, considering."
Sloan returned his attention to Spectrum. "I know that you've been through a lot in a very short time; you all have. But when you're feeling able, please come back to see me. You and I have to have a discussion about an important issue. A private discussion."
The doctor turned and walked back into the overcrowded medical bay. Puzzled by his last words, Spectrum glanced after him before shrugging and leading the others down the corridors. As they neared the hangar, they were joined by Parker Peterson, the Nikon Ninja. His clothes and sword looked freshly cleaned, and he carried a small handheld recorder along with his signature camera slung around his neck. Parker gave the team the high sign and fell in step. He gestured with the recorder, "Tonk authorized it. It's a historic moment, so someone needs to record things on the scene."
"Maybe you'll get a Pulitzer," Spectrum sighed. "Just try not to cause any new problems. If a fight breaks out, it might cost the whole crew's lives. We'll let Tonk take the lead, and speak when spoken to. Foxy, do what you can to clamp things down."
"I'll try…" She responded softly, not wanting to dwell on her empathy abilities more than she needed to.
The team entered the hangar bay, which had been cleared of almost every item possible, aside from the Nikon Ninja's huge rabbit Dord. It was parked in the corner, looking almost like a small baby bunny doing the ‘If I stay still, nobody will notice me…' routine which was of course impossible for a construct the size of a minivan.
The only other construct of any significance, was the Nintan shuttle, landed near the external doors to the hangar. Its alien presence cast an air of exotic menace over the docking bay, an atmosphere punctuated by the almost too familiar sound of metal-clad footsteps marching in unison behind the team. Spectrum tore his gaze away from the strangely crafted shuttle to face Commander Tonk, who brought up Clark's detail of armoured troopers.
Spectrum traded salutes with the commanding officer while the soldiers took up honor guard positions, crisply assuming a parade rest stance. He nodded to his team, and they assumed a semblance of the same stance. Nikon Ninja coughed softly to get Spectrum's attention, drawing the man's attention to his recorder. Spectrum gave the barest of nods and whispered "Just stay back.". He then turned to take a position opposite Clark, flanking Tonk, who gestured forward with hands that shook, for once, not with the D.T.s.
As the trio approached the transport, its gangway hissed open and a wave of tropical air wafted out from within. A moment later, three serpentine Nintan followed it out, slithering down the ramp to form up their own, opposing triad. One snake appeared to be the head warrior or perhaps the security chief, as he was bristling with weapons. Bristling also seemed to describe the Nintan's feelings about the negotiations ceremony, his tongue flicking in and out as his eyes darted around the room, sizing up the possibility of threat. Another snake, pale and thin, seemed more interested in the readings of various displays on what was most likely some sort of scanner. The presumed leader, a more weathered-seeming serpent than the security-minded Nintan, carried with him an air of lethality that was far more intimidating than any of the three, despite having no apparent weapons. He carried an egg, a simple egg about the size of a grapefruit, with the solemn decorum that a ruler might hold a scepter.
"I am Commander Tonk, Captain of the CSS Lenny Bruce," began Tonk, hoping that nobody else heard her voice crack when she began. "This is John Clark, commander of my assault team. And this is Spectrum, leader of the West Coast Defenders. We come from--"
"WE ARE AWARE OF YOUR ORIGINS, EARTHER!" The battle-snake hissed with barely contained rage. "Do not prolong this suffering with talk! Lost, many warriors to you have been!" The hissing of the angry snake synchronized with the disjointed English translation that was being broadcast from the device the pale snake carried. Its positional audio made the words seem to come from the right snake, rather than from the device itself.
The snake took a breath to continue his tirade, when the leader raised one clawed hand from holding the egg, with a gesture that universally could be interpreted as "STFU". Smoothly taking control of the situation, he regarded the Captain. Tonk mentally shivered, wondering how a trapped rat might feel before the cobra struck. Snakes. Why did it always have to be snakes? Especially while she was stone cold sober?
"Prepared, you are, to hear our terms?"
Tonk nodded. "I am. Without either accepting or refusing, ah... respectfully I listen."
She hoped that what intel her team had scraped up regarding protocol was correct, and was rewarded with a startled twitch of recognition by the serpent trio hearing a familiar formula.
Good, she thought. We're not going to die immediately.
The warrior snake cocked his weapon and its power systems whined. Clark prayed to all the gods who would listen that his men would remember themselves and stay at ease. TDSM hissed, but immediately shut up when Spectrum shot him a withering glance, eyes pulsing with energy.
The leader of the Nintan regarded Spectrum, and then returned his gaze to Tonk. "Very well. In honor we complete this." He handed Tonk the egg that, to her practiced eye, would make one Hell(tm) of a Prarie Oyster. It felt warm and and unpleasantly alive to the touch. Hiding her revulsion, Tonk examined it cautiously, while trying to recall the words that went along with this gesture. "I accept this as your bond and responsibility I claim." Tonk paused, choosing her words carefully, as her briefing had gone no further, leaving her to guess at the correct way to proceed. "We apologize that we do not know what is appropriate to offer in return, and intend no dishonor or disrespect. The, uhm, the failure is ours. What are your intentions at this juncture?"
The snake leader paused, as if unsure how to continue. "By this we are confused. But for the glory of the Nintan Empire, we take the difficult way of mystery, and... " He drew himself up to full height, clothing himself in a strangely humble dignity. "We surrender."
The silence was deafening. Tonk glanced at Clark. Clark shot Spectrum a sudden look, as if to ask 'did you hear that too?'
Speaking for everyone assembled on deck, Foxy blurted out, "Say what?!?"
The pale snake spoke. "We are the Nintan. We are not hatchlings wiggling in new skins. Powerful you are. While we may yet triumph, many questions unanswered would be. Destroyed our ships and outposts might be, and our homeworld would proceed in darkness with nothing gained."
The warrior snake set his weapon down on the ground in front of Clark, barrel pointed back at the snake. The soldier serpent drew back, his eyes flashing with anger and... sorrow? "Why did you dare attack us? Unwarranted this was!"
Clark glanced at Tonk, who gave him a nod. Great, he thought. How do I explain this one?
"Enemy ships and combatants identifying themselves as part of an invading Nintan army attacked our planet, and our ship." He began. "The intel we gained from captured sn--ah, the Nintan, revealed an armada was forming here in this area. We were sent here to stop the invasion, out of self-defense."
The lead snake muttered something that was not picked up by the translator, but somehow Tonk knew it translated to the desire for a stiff drink. "This humble outpost is hardly the place of a strike force. As I suspected, somehow your race and ours has been misled by another party." The snake slithered calmly around Spectrum, and slowly passed by the rest of the West Coast Defenders. "It is because of such as these that your planet was classified as a quarantined region of space by most intelligent forms of life." He spoke the words without malice, as calmly as a doctor would in discussing a minor skin infection. "While the Nintan race collectively has the power to annihilate your entire system, it was decided long ago the best choice was to leave your race to their own ends, at least until you either molted and matured, destroyed yourselves, or through your interstellar expansion became a threat to our Empire."
Spectrum opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it.
The lead snake cocked his head. "Something to say, you have?"
Spectrum replied, "Sir, it is not my place to speak. Captain Tonk, I request permission."
"Oh what the Hell(tm) ever," growled Tonk. "I think we're about three left turns too far into Wackyland to stand on ceremony anymore."
Spectrum retracted the gauntlet from his right hand, and extended his hand towards the leader. "My name is Lawrence Brown, and I am a superguy. I lead the team known as the West Coast Defenders, and my team encountered the first cluster of disguised terrorists claiming to be Nintan. May I know your name?"
The leader regarded Spectrum's hand, and then extended his own. "An Earth handshake of greeting this is? Very well, I exchange my name in greeting too. You may call me Cheese Fondue…" he whipped his head toward the thin snake, which slapped the translation device, "Pardon. My name is hard to translate. You may refer to me as Adelind, my counselor of war is Ormarr, and my science counselor shall be addressed as Bindy." He took Spectrum's hand firmly and gave it an experimental shake before releasing it.
Spectrum nodded, and gravely regarded the trio. "Adelind, I agree that there must be a misunderstanding. For my part, I hope that we can straighten things out so that you no longer regard us as a threat to your race."
Ormarr hissed, "So speaks walking-death-star. Much you must answer for!"
Clark unshouldered his rifle, and in the same fashion as Ormarr had, placed his rifle on the ground in front of Ormarr. "Answers are what we are here for."
Tonk regarded the egg he was holding. "So, this is one of your eggs? Its alive?"
Adelind replied, "Yes. This is a helpless one that has yet to be hatched. A symbol of our earnest intent to make hostilities stop, and trust that placing ourselves in your hands you will treat this as a precious action."
Tonk's face quirked into an almost rictus smile at the thought of ordering Sparks to hatch the egg, but practicality -- and a desire to let go of the rejected prop from an alien movie -- won out over gallows humour, "Would I be offending you if I thanked you for the gift, and then returned it to you for you to care for it? I would hate to drop it and cause an interstellar war."
Bindy reached for the egg. "As you are not rejecting the token, but showing respect for the life within, you cause no offense. Traditionally, eggs would be exchanged, and the hatchlings would be raised by the disputing parties as a gesture of intent for unity and peace. "
Tonk grinned as a thought came to her. "Perhaps we can adapt this custom for this circumstance. We accept your word that those who attacked us were not Nintan. Understand then that we seek to find out who would want us at war."
"May we speak to the Nintan whom you have captured?" inquired Adelind, seeming to respond to a silent request from his advisor. "We would like to know why they turned traitor and bent you towards our destruction."
"I'm afraid the captives are all dead," began Clark, who nearly slapped gauntlet to forehead as he realized what he had just implied...
"You *murdered* your prisoners of war?" bellowed Ormarr, his scales bunching together as he reared towards Clark. "You savage monkey-mice! You deserve nothing more than to be cleaned from the skies by--"
"Patience," hissed Adelind, who seemed no less angered than Ormarr. He turned to Clark. "Speak clearly. Now. Why did they die?"
"It wasn't by our hands," replied Clark, feeling a gnawing sensation in his stomach that he could only identify as the return of 'fear of imminent death'. "They destroyed themselves whenever we tried to take them alive."
While he suspected that it wasn't possible for the three snakes to turn pale, somehow Clark knew that were they human, the trio would have done just that.
"Destroyed themselves?" whispered Ormarr, clearly shaken to the core. "Destroyed themselves? Deliberately... they deliberately took their own lives?"
"No," hissed Adelind. "No, none of our race could have fallen so far as to throw away the gift of life, not by their own hand. Surely they provoked you? Please. Please speak the truth. Tell us that they spurned you into killing them, and take back this nightmare you have woven. We will not fault you for it..."
"I wish that I could," replied Clark, mustering all his will to keep from glancing down and away from the all-too recognizable anguish and horror written across otherwise alien faces. "But our way is to capture when we can and to kill only when needed."
"Some... sort of atavism?" Bindy asked of the other two. "Perhaps they were abducted by the third party and broken, somehow...?"
"I will hold to the hope of such a thing," replied Ormarr, his scales bunching once more. "Even as such a crime must be answered..."
"EXCREMENT!" Bindy suddenly shouted, thrusting the egg to a startled Ormarr. "This must wait... hostile warship appearing from unseen light!" She turned all of her attention to her handheld device. "It is non-Terran, non-Nintan…"
The ships alarms sounded. Tonk punched her commo, "Sparks what the Hell(tm) is going on?"
"Captain," replied Sparks, his voice a melange of fatigued anxiety. "We have a hostile. A big one."
IS THIS THE END OF THE CREW OF THE LENNY BRUCE?
(WAIT, WE SAID THAT LAST TIME!)
IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF THE LENNY BRUCE?
(NO… THAT’S SILLY. START AGAIN!)
IS THIS THE END THAT WE THOUGHT WAS THE END LAST TIME BUT TURNED OUT TO BE A NEW BEGINNING FOR THE LENNY BRUCE?
SUPERGUY. WORTH THE WAIT.