by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Chapter 7, part 2
Chapter 8, Chapter 9
appeared in issue 242.
The Federation of New Earth is waging a foreign war with Algol 1 and is beset by corruption and strife within. Consul Finn, maneuvering against Consul Cato in a bid to make himself emperor, sends Aurelia to win over Republican Guard hero Ludwig, more familiarly known as “Luddy.”
Luddy and Aurelia come to realize that they are pawns in a power struggle. Luddy discovers Aurelia’s true nature and the secret of his own origins. Armed with the mysterious Aureus coin and the Spear of Fate, Luddy and Aurelia envision a new galactic Imperium that has a place for humans, androids and Algolians alike.
The evening of his arrival at the villa, Slim joined Aurelia and Ludwig in the drawing room for an after dinner cognac and strategy session. Seated in black and striped-silk upholstered Directoire armchairs around a leather-topped mahogany coffee table, they enjoyed a fine local brandy, while Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik played softly in the background.
Swirling the brandy in his snifter, Slim took a taste and remarked, “This is really good stuff.”
“Yes, it is.” Aurelia replied. “Consul Cato keeps an excellent cellar, and it’s remarkable how closely his tastes resemble my father’s.”
The three sampled their brandy without further comment, and then Ludwig said, “Let’s get down to business. I need to contact Cato, here, in the real world, since Consul Finn has blocked my access in the alternate realm.”
Slim put down his snifter, exclaiming, “Excuse me, Luddy: did you say ‘alternate realm’?”
Ludwig replied, “I’m sorry, Slim; I’ll explain. Some unknown power has enabled me to meet with Consul Cato in another world. The power apparently relates to the ancient Ludovicus legend and a forbidden cult. There may be a scientific explanation, but it’s beyond me and Aurelia. All I know is what I’ve experienced, and that has made a believer of me.”
Skeptical, Slim continued his questioning. “Are you sure you haven’t been tripping on Alucinor? As I recall, that’s what Aurelia told me.”
Aurelia interjected, “No, it’s not a hallucinogen. Whatever Luddy experienced, it was real, and powerful enough to kill a ‘B’ android. It appears that both Cato and my father have a deeper understanding of the legend and its power. There’s a mysterious Gold Aureus; show it to him, Luddy.”
Ludwig opened his shirt, took the medal from his neck, handed it to Slim and said, “You’ll notice the resemblance between the portrait and me.”
Slim studied the Aureus, nodded and responded, “You’re right, he could be your twin.”
Aurelia said, “Turn the coin over, Slim.” The major viewed the reverse of the Aureus, and Aurelia continued, “We need to know more about the meaning of the device. My father fought Luddy with a spear; we believe the weapon he used has some connection to the crossed spears in the emblem. Bambi, the android who died in the fight, said Luddy would be victorious under this sign. We believe the spear is the key to defeating my father, and Cato must know the secret.”
Slim took a good swig of brandy, grinned and commented, “It all sounds fishy to me, but what the hell? This patched together cyborg is your man. Tell me what you want me to do.”
Aurelia asked, “Do you think you can arrange a meeting with Cato?”
Slim rubbed his chin and replied, “It’s difficult but not impossible. I know some of his agents who may be trusted. I’ll try to make contact.”
Ludwig and Aurelia thanked him, and then Luddy added, “We’re concerned about Dax. He has good connections, and he may be useful to us, but he’s hardly trustworthy.”
Slim thought a moment and said, “I’ll take him with me. Dax wants to be on the winning side; he can be trusted, as long as he believes Cato has the upper hand. This mission will test his loyalty. If I see the slightest sign of treachery, he’ll be shaking hands with his honorable ancestors.”
Ludwig smiled. “Thanks, Slim; I knew we could count on you.” Ludwig pressed a button on the table, summoning the android Charmaine.
The servant knocked and entered the room. Ludwig addressed her: “Charmaine, will you please bring Lieutenant Dax to the drawing room.”
* * *
Dax sat with them, enjoying his brandy, observing, “Excellent cask; to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“We’re sending you on an important mission with Slim,” Aurelia replied. “Do you have any questions?”
Dax smiled, cheerfully responding, “No questions. I’m just happy to have regained your confidence.”
“Don’t be too happy, Dax. Luddy, Slim and I are giving you a chance to prove yourself. As for our confidence, you failed my father miserably, and he’s not a forgiving man. He’s probably given orders to kill you on sight. Besides, at the first sign of treachery, Slim will break your neck.”
Dax grinned. “Why is it I always get such a warm feeling every time we meet, Colonel?”
“Watch it, Dax,” Ludwig snarled.
Dax took a sip of brandy and nonchalantly replied, “Relax, Luddy. Remember, I’m a Dax: more than a thousand years of good breeding and playing on the winning team. Of course, we born patricians calculate things to our advantage, and I’ve concluded that you, Aurelia and Cato are the future of the Republic.”
Dax’s flippant, patronizing attitude infuriated Ludwig. Getting up from the table, Ludwig muttered, “Alright, Dax, maybe this is a three-man job. I’m coming too, just to keep another pair of eyes on you.”
Dax smirked and sarcastically replied, “Now, Luddy, if you want to rule, you’re going to have to learn to control that plebeian temper of yours.”
Ludwig pushed the table aside and nailed Dax with a lightning quick hard right cross, knocking him backward, over his chair and onto the floor. Before Dax could recover, Ludwig was on top of him, and it took both Slim and Aurelia to separate them.
Once Ludwig was under control, Dax pulled himself up onto his elbows, shook his groggy head, wiped some blood from his mouth and said, “Not a very good way to renew our friendship, is it, sport?”
Slim exclaimed, “You both better get squared away, or I’m going alone.”
Ludwig apologized. “Sorry, I’m alright now.” He walked over to Dax, extended his hand and helped him up.
Dax took Ludwig’s hand, saying, “I had that coming; I was out of line.” Once on his feet, Dax bowed courteously to Aurelia and summoned Charmaine to escort him back to his room.
Aurelia, Ludwig and Slim remained in the drawing room, listening to Mozart and silently enjoying another round of drinks. Finally, Slim commented, “I still don’t trust him as far as I can spit.”
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder