“We were on Head Base. Why of all places would we come here? Head Base is much more highly protected.”
“If there wasn’t an emergency situation, I’m sure Head Base would have sufficed. However, under the circumstances, it is in all actuality much safer to hold a mass meeting here, Nero.”
“According to UNIPPO standards, all formal meetings of the heads and their cabinets should take place within the walls of the Head Base, not-"
“Well, trainee, it’s great to see you can recite the entire UNIPPO handbook if asked, but there are some situations where that just isn’t the best choice. Think about it. If you were Tercian and you wanted to take down UNIPPO, where would you first attack? Probably, you would do as he’s already done: You would stir up trouble on a variety of planets in a short amount of time, causing a mass meeting of major UNIPPO figures, and, assuming it would take place at Head Base, you would attack there, leaving the organization leaderless. That is why we randomly chose Base 163. That is also why you trainees were removed from Head Base. We can’t afford to lose all of our up and coming talent when Tercian strikes there,” Zemen replied, smiling and turning his head slightly in Nero’s direction as he briskly walked down the hallway.
Nero wrinkled his brow. He realized his brother’s idea made more sense, but he assumed the Universal Napalonian Inter Planet Peace Organization would not have made so many elaborate codes if during times of great strife the rules were simply tossed by the wayside.
Zemen stopped outside two massive double doors, Nero nearly smacking his face into Zemen’s back at the sudden halt. Mumbling conversation could already be heard taking place inside.
“It sounds like they’re already collected,” Zemen noted, “Alright, listen to me. Nero, Bane, I want you to wait right here, just outside these doors. If all goes well, it shouldn’t take us too long to come up with a plan to immobilize Tercian’s forces. Actually, if all goes well, Ahimsa’s already come up with a good strategy and we’re just waiting on a vote. If you hear or sense anything out of the ordinary, I want you to get off of the base as soon as you can. Don’t worry about any of us inside, we can take care of ourselves. Got that?”
“Yes, sir,” Bane replied, his dark eyes bearing into Zemen’s with determination.
“Yes, sir,” Nero replied after a moment of hesitation.
Zemen smiled again and patted Nero on the shoulder. He opened one of the double doors, allowing fractions of words to slip into the hallway and then entered the room. Slivers of concerned faces quickly faded as the door came to a close behind Zemen. Relative silence encased the hall.
“Zemen! I’m so happy to see you.” A middle aged man stood from his chair in the front of the room, greeting the newcomer as he approached. The man stood at no great height, nor had any sort of physical prowess. He had speckled white and silver hair, and a mildly wrinkled visage, but his eyes bore no hint of authority or wizened knowledge. Only the man’s flowing silver robes gave him a hint of superiority, all other qualities being mediocre, if not less.
“Osiris, forgive me, but there’s barely time for salutes, let alone greetings,” Zemen replied. Turning to the audience of roughly fifty persons, Zemen nodded his head slightly.
“Quite right, quite right,” Osiris said in a hushed voice, nodding his round head and returning to his seat.
The room was built in the fashion of a lecture hall or theatre of sorts, with six rows of seating, each row behind a long slightly curved table. Every chair was turned to the center of the room, other than that of Osiris, who sat in his chair on the floor facing the audience before him. In the center of the floor, just to the left of Osiris’s chair, stood a currently unoccupied silver podium.
Zemen took his place in a vacant seat in the front row.
“I think it’s about time we begin a quick summary of the problems at hand.”
Zemen looked down his row to see a man stand and begin to slide swiftly toward the front of the room. He was young, only two years older than Zemen, yet with a frail build in comparison to Zemen’s rather muscular body. The man stopped behind the silver podium, his gray eyes and hair blending in with his new surroundings. Unlike Osiris, the young man had presence, a hint of royalty mixed with the feeling every word and action was meticulously yet effortlessly guided by invisible movements within his mind. Always thinking ahead of the rest, his mind toying with details, soaking up information, manipulating theories, he was a master strategist. While his brain was in a constant buzz, his face revealed nothing more than the respectable look of a professional at work.
“There is not much time for specifics, but to be brief: Tercian and his forces have already attacked 23 planets within UNIPPO’s network. We have heard rumors he is working with some of our most sought after criminals including Gorok, Jericho, Megiddo, and Blade, among others. These are, we believe, some of his top men, acting as generals to Gorok’s army of Dark Dragons. He has managed to attack within the forty-seventh, forty-eighth, forty-ninth and fiftieth districts. We have billions dead and trillions injured. Toxians, Kreds, Johians, Krotians -The list goes on. To be short, many are facing their demise at Tercian’s hands.
“As far as actions already taken: UNIPPO forces are increased on all bases, embassies, posts, and so on. We have sent out messages to all member planets warning them of the issue at hand. Hopefully, their homeland armies should be able to protect their borders.”
An uneasy murmur went through the crowd. The man behind the podium inclined his head slightly.
“Let me explain for a moment. As I said, we’re increasing security at all UNIPPO territories. We have to protect ourselves in order to be sure we can protect those in need when Tercian makes another move. Zemen already had troops sent to the invaded planets, and there is no denying they deserve protection. However, we must keep our own safety in mind as well, we need forces at our own disposal.” The man never faltered during his talk, his smooth and soft voice displaying the skills of an experienced orator.
He began again, “Considering the sudden nature of the circumstances, we have decided to call a mass meeting of the Heads and their cabinets. Since we are in the company of the universe’s finest, it is my hope we can come to a swift decision as to how to handle the situation. Does anyone have any suggestions?”
Near the back of the room a being with a single large eye and orange speckled skin stood and raised his arm. He blinked his massive eye a few times, lowered his arm, smoothed his brown tunic, and began in a wheezy drone, “I do not see –“ the being took a deep airy breath, “why any more efforts need be taken.” He paused for another breath, “We should wait for his next move.”
The being took his seat and a wave went through the room as various members stood to say their piece. Disgruntled mutterings drifted throughout the room and the man behind the podium looked from left to right through the crowd, calmly attempting to hear all parties at once.
Before any sense could be made of the others, another man stood. He bore two long black markings on his cheeks, and as he brushed the others’ comments off with his hands, more markings stretching the length of his fingers became visible.
“You can’t honestly even begin to think to take that method seriously. Barrack, you idiot, what we need to do is strike at Tercian, not wait for him to attack more of our own people,” the speaker hissed, his face sneering in Barrack’s direction, arms crossed over his chest.
More talk erupted at the conclusion of these words. The man behind the podium looked about the room once more as the masses continued to talk, his eyes glinting with thought. Finally, he grasped the podium with both hands, waiting patiently for the audience to once again listen to his words.
“I must admit, Barrack, I am much more inclined to side with Zoan. I do not feel as though waiting for Tercian is an option-“
The young man was cut short as Osiris snapped up from his seat, his eyes holding a look of deep concern and his mouth contorted in a severe frown. All attention turned away from the silver-haired speaker.
“Of course, this is what you wanted all along!”
“Oh, don’t make me look the fool, Ahimsa! I am a Napalonian, a member of the smartest race in the entire universe. I know what it is I see. You wanted to take the offensive the whole time, or you would have sent our full forces to aid the remaining planets. Instead, you sent the bare minimum and kept the rest for us. To be protected, we don’t need that many troops,” Osiris spat, his face glowing red.
The crowd remained silent, their eyes now fixated upon Ahimsa, who let his hands fall from the podium.
“My job is to work on the offensive. I wanted to have troops to hang on to. I am not about to ship the men away so we can just call them back to fight Tercian,” Ahimsa replied, his voice now showing a hint of anger.
“You really feel it’s wise to confront Tercian at this point in time? We should regroup for the time being, wait until all is well in the attacked districts, and then consider an offensive maneuver,” Osiris said, pointing an accusing finger in Ahimsa’a direction, “If that’s what you planned to do, you didn’t need to call a whole council. We’re wasting time.”
“Tercian will only grow stronger with time, and we will only suffer more pains. His armies remain relatively small for the moment, and now we are prepared to defend ourselves if necessary. I suggest we attack his base on Tajim while we have the chance. We-“
Zemen stood from his seat, and now all eyes darted in his direction. He knew Ahimsa and Osiris’s bickering would come to nothing, like the others around him, they would only waste time shouting their opinions, the room would remain in a constant state of chaos until the universe about them was destroyed and there was nothing left to be debated.
“I have a suggestion,” Zemen began, pausing for a moment in the hopes the tension constricting the meeting would lessen.
However, the room remained tense. Osiris stood, his mouth half-open, still ready to berate Ahimsa for his plans. Ahimsa, meanwhile, turned his full attention toward Zemen, the hint of a smirk flashing across his face as he and Zemen made brief eye contact. Barrack wheezed loudly in the back of the room, while Zoan remained with crossed arms, his jaw clenched. The others took various positions, some still standing at the ready to speak, others biting their tongues, heads perked up in interest. Only a handful placidly remained in their seats, but all ears were listening to the piercing silence, waiting for Zemen to begin.
Zemen walked to the front of the room between Ahimsa and Osiris, his boots clicking softly on the hard marble floors of the hall. He closed his eyes for a moment and cleared his throat.
He began, “We keep our armies on UNIPPO bases, sending them out if other planets are in need of aid. But, we still lead a full-scale attack against Tercian. Tajim is located in the center of the universe, and it will take him a while to reach the outskirts. So, what if we search for volunteers from the border planets?” He spoke casually, changing his tone from time to time, holding his gaze at members of the audience he knew as if to say hello.
“You’re saying you want planets to send out their armies toward Tajim?” a cloaked figure with a light and airy voice questioned from the left of Ahimsa’s vacant seat.
“I’m sure there are plenty of brave people willing to fight for the good of the universe, Nova. It’s really just a question of whom,” Zemen said, “And to answer that dilemma, I believe the Agendians would be willing. Even if they didn’t care about the fate of the universe - which I’m sure they do- UNIPPO gave much assistance to them last year when they had their discrepancy with the Yamards. To put things plainly, they’re in our debt. Since they are on the outskirts of the universe, they shouldn’t need to keep their armies around. It will be a while before Tercian can reach that far, and once he does, well, there won’t be much the Agendians can do about it. We’ll both be benefitting from it.
“While the Agendians help to lead an assault on Tajim, we can place additional forces in high-risk areas. So, we defend other planets, holding off any of Tercian’s forces that are away from Tajim while the Agendians are attacking Tercian at the head. If he and his top men are taken out of the equation, all else should fall to pieces,” Zemen said, smiling and nodding his head in recognition of his questioner.
“So, I propose we send an army of Agendians to Tajim to eliminate Tercian’s forces. But, of course, that won’t be enough. And, if we want to hold back on using our own forces in case of emergencies elsewhere, that leads me to one conclusion. We need the aid of someone strong. We need the aid of someone who can most definitely take down Tercian’s best. I believe we need the help of the Kiz…“ Zemen slowly let his voice dim.
All heads tilted upward. Rumblings ran through the solid metal walls, vibrations were shaking the floor below. Thunderous bangs chorused from all sides, footsteps slamming down as men rushed about the base. A siren rang, and all light turned vibrant red.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Osiris said, his beady eyes upturned and wide.
As though Osiris’s words were the final signal, the men and women collected in the audience began to disperse in an alarming rate. The cloaked figure of Nova instantaneously vanished into the air. Others leapt up, literally flying out of holes violently punched into the walls and ceilings to escape. Barrack jumped up, his bulky body crashing through the floor and disappearing from view.
While others ran frantically out of the double doors, Nero began pulling himself through the masses and into the meeting room. As Nero managed to escape from the herd, Bane was spit out of the crowd beside him, a visible glower on his face.
“I tried to stop him, sir,” Bane said as the remaining occupiers of the room, Zemen, Ahimsa and Osiris, jogged over to their spot.
“I couldn’t just leave you! I couldn’t! UNIPPO code says we should protect the heads at all costs…” Nero stopped himself as Zemen put his hand up.
Zemen looked exasperated. “Nero, why can’t you ever just listen to something I say and take it as advice from one brother to another?” he asked.
“Bane gets a gold star. Nero gets a dunce cap. Can we get on with it?” Ahimsa said, his fingers caressing his temples.
“Give the boy some credit. He was just trying to follow the code as best as he could. Isn’t that right, my boy?” Osiris cut in, the corners of his mouth turned upward. “Still, Zemen does know what he’s talking about. You should really take his advice to heart, Nero.”
Nero was about to complain, but he was suddenly being thrust toward the door as Zemen grabbed the collar of his navy blue jacket. Ahimsa was berated with threats as he took Osiris roughly by the arm and followed Zemen’s lead. Bane came through the door last, shaking his head.
The halls of the base were in disarray, beings of all races ran from left to right, up halls and down halls, in and out of view. Massive holes were blasted through walls, ceilings and floors. Evil laughter rang from all sides tangled with yells calling for order and assistance.
“Get down!” a hissing voice boomed to the group’s right, to which all obeyed.
A flash sprang just inches over Zemen’s head and crashed into the wall. Zoan had tackled a large scaled lizard-like being with sinister yellow eyes, his marked fists tearing away at the thing’s armored chest, denting the protective metal plates.
“Shouldn’t we help him?” Nero asked as he stood.
“Zoan can more than take care of himself. If anyone needs help, it’s the Dark Dragon,” Ahimsa replied. He turned to Zemen and said, “We should get going to my ship before any of them start coming for us. Osiris and the trainees shouldn’t be involved in something like this.”
Zemen nodded and began to lead the way to the garages. The others followed close behind, their eyes scanning their surroundings for signs of the enemy.
However, no amount of caution could prepare them for the activities about to ensue. The group turned another corner en route to the garages; only an additional two left turns and a walk down a shallow ramp, and the group would reach Ahimsa’s craft. As the company rounded the next bend, the ceiling above them began to shake, fragments and dust raining down upon them until the entire structure collapsed in upon itself before them. Deep and menacing laugher bellowed from within the gray cloud of debris, a massive black silhouette appeared veiled by the swirling dust.
The group stopped, their path now blocked by the intimidating shadow before them. Nero held his breath and Osiris placed his hand on Zemen’s shoulder, as though trying to protect him from the beast undoubtedly standing before them.
“So, we finally meet. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long; I know you’re never on the receiving end of such treatment. But, at least I finally came, no?”
A man of monstrous proportions slowly emerged from the diminishing obscurity; he had bulging veins pulsating in his sloped forehead and bloodshot red eyes. He stood nearly two feet above the average man, and his arms were the width of Ahimsa’s abdomen. As though chiseled out of a solid block of stone, he was stiff and toned, his clothes sticking to his body like a second skin, highlighting each and every enormous muscle. His rounded hairless head tinged purple and glowering down upon the group. Tercian arrived.
“What are you doing here? What…H-how did you know?” Osiris managed to stutter out as his hand slid from Zemen’s shoulder.
“I am a man with many allies, Osiris. You should know by now not everyone in this universe is willing to follow an organization built upon lies and foolishness. Those not turned ignorant and dull by your words are ready to lend their services to a competent leader. Remember this, there are many who would turn against you.” Tercian pointed an accusing finger at Osiris, his strong jaw contorted into a malicious grin and he added, “I will crush you all.”
Zemen shifted in front of Tercian’s finger and took a step forward, his face and body tense. Tercian was of obvious greater build; his hands could easily wrap around Zemen’s arms and snap them with little effort. However, Zemen appeared either unaware or unfazed by the disadvantage.
“I take threats seriously, Tercian,” Zemen said, his eyes baring into Tercian as though with enough willpower he could grind a hole straight into Tercian’s skull.
Tercian’s eyes widened and a muscle in his chin twitched before his mouth gaped open and erupted with laughter. Head slung back, eyes closed, Tercian bellowed out into the hall, shoulders heaving with humor. Then, suddenly, he snapped into an aggressive scowl, and his massive arm lunged forward with uncharacteristic speed, his hand grasping Zemen’s jacket and pinning him against the wall.
Zemen bared his teeth in pain as his body was crushed into the wall, and he grabbed for Tercian’s wrist, his two hands barely able to maintain hold on the enormous limb. A second wave of shock went through the group, and Ahimsa now stepped forward to defend his weaker companions.
“How’d you get so strong so fast?” Zemen gasped as he struggled beneath the force of Tercian’s push, “UNIPPO is usually pretty good at keeping up to date records, but you’re not supposed to be anywhere near your size or level.”
Tercian giggled deep and sickeningly, but offered no answer. “You should conserve your breath, Zemen. If you keep talking, you’ll use up all of the air in your lungs before I can crush it out of you.”
Ahimsa’s feet shifted, his eyes void of emotion, but Zemen knew behind their seeming calm Ahimsa was calculating a plan.
“No, Ahimsa, don’t do anything,” Zemen wheezed out as he struggled harder with Tercian’s grip.
“Ha! If Zemen’s powerless against me, how do you think you’ll fair? Fools, do not insult me!” Tercian bellowed, his free hand snapping shut, knuckles turning pale white.
“Just get the others out of here before they get hurt,” Zemen said, his face now red, fingers clawing at Tercian, who in turn pushed Zemen harder against the wall.
“He’ll have to get past me in order to leave, and don’t think that will be a simple feat,” Tercian spat in Zemen’s face before turning to watch Ahimsa’s next move.
Ahimsa sighed, and he glanced over his shoulder at the others standing behind him. Osiris had his hand over his mouth, his focus on Zemen alone as he was pummeled by their imposing foe. Nero stood with his fists raised, ready to strike if the need came, and Bane was glaring at the lilac hand forcing Zemen harder and harder into the wall. Ahimsa faced forward again, looking at Tercian’s feet and the path to the garages that lay behind him. A heavy breath escaped his lungs once again; he reached his conclusion.
Ahimsa made his move. Osiris let out a cry, Nero swore, and Bane, shocked, waited to see Tercian’s reaction. Zemen’s attempts to escape Tercian’s hold doubled, and Tercian let out a whoop of laughter.
“I heard you were intelligent, but I heard your loyalty to the organization also caused you to make dull decisions, but here I see you’ve come to the correct end,” Tercian said to Ahimsa, who kneeled on one knee before him, his right hand pressed to his chest in salute, as the other lay flat and unimposing against the floor, “Here I was expecting a fight to the death, meaning of course a fight in which I would be forced to kill you, but I must say you’ve surprised me.”
Ahimsa raised his gaze from the floor and looked at Tercian, a smile spread across his face. Before anything else could be done, an expolsion shattered the floor, and a hole formed and spread from under Ahimsa’s left hand. With his right hand, Ahimsa grabbed for Osiris and dragged him into the newly opened passage underneath. Then, another explosion sounded from behind Tercian as the floor shattered and opened up into another hole. Ahimsa managed to blast a tunnel underneath the hall, its entrance at his feet and the exit just on the other side of Tercian, allowing them to get past their foe without contact. Ahimsa and Osiris quickly vanished into the first hole, and then shortly after erupted from the second.
“Nero! Bane!” Ahimsa shouted from the other side of Tercian, “Follow me!”
However, Tercian, heated by the sting of humiliation, was not willing to allow anyone easy passage beyond. He shifted his back toward the wall, making sure to keep all parties within reach, and opened his free hand. An astonishing energy began to form in his hand, a blue tinged ball growing in his palm until it reached the size of the average skull. The snapping and crackling orb was like lightning, and of exponentially greater strength. Tercian drew his arm back, ready to lunge the imposing force in Ahimsa’s direction.
In the meantime, Zemen took advantage of Tercian’s shock and finally managed to overpower his enemy’s strength. As he twisted free of Tercian’s grasp, he planted a direct kick on Tercian’s descending arm, causing his threatening wad of energy to go crashing into the wall, creating a wasted blast similar to the explosion of Ahimsa’s witty escape.
“Go!” Zemen yelled as he struggled to pin Tercian against the hall.
Ahimsa nodded and shoved Osiris down the hall before him before both disappeared around the next bend.
“You! How dare you all insult me!” Tercian shouted as he advanced upon Zemen once more, his hands scrambling to get hold of his opponent, but Zemen quickly swept himself backwards and was only grazed by Tercian’s fingertips, “You’ll regret all of this, you’re going to wish you just sat back and died, now I’ll destroy you!”
Tercian’s fist slammed into the wall as Zemen barely managed to avoid Tercian’s onslaught once again. Dangerously large blocks of ceiling came crashing into the hall as the walls continued to take heavy blows; Ahimsa’s escape route was already blocked. Nero and Bane covered their heads with their arms and attempted to avoid the falling debris.
Zemen leapt into the air and landed a punch on Tercian’s cheek, but his fist was then caught in an enormous hand, and he quickly twisted himself free before Tercian’s hold became too strong. Tercian caught Zemen’s shoulder with a crack, and Zemen crumpled to the floor just in time to avoid a sweeping blow by Tercian’s free hand.
“You two, get out of here!” Zemen yelled in annoyance to his remaining partners before evading a stomp from Tercian’s foot.
“No! We won’t, we can’t! We’re going to – What are you doing?” Nero said as he struggled to release Bane’s hold on his arm.
“He’s giving us a direct order, we have to go. Come on,” Bane said, attempting to pull Nero back down the passageway.
Zemen was back on his feet, once again evading Tercian’s threatening arms, dodging left and right, his swift legs tapping the ground for barely a moment in time before changing position. Yet, Tercian smiled menacingly all the while, his hands reaching out to snap Zemen’s bones, fingers crashing down forcefully every second in an attempt to grab hold of his enemy. Suddenly, his motions changed, and his right hand shot ruthlessly into the air, another crackling blue sphere churning in his palm.
“You heard the man, get out of here, scum!” Tercian bellowed, flinging the orb towards Nero and Bane before Zemen had time to stop him.
“Get down!” Zemen said. Zemen, absorbed in the fate of his comrades, made no motion to protect himself as Tercian’s left fist came crashing into his skull.
Bane tackled Nero just as Tercian’s attack streamed by and crashed, causing a massive hole in the wall behind them.
“Zemen!” Nero screamed, his hand reaching out toward his fallen brother.
“No, there’s no time. We have to leave!” Bane said, dragging Nero off of the ground and through the newly opened gap.
Nero’s mind processed in slow motion as he was pulled away from his brother, who lay limp, clutched by the back of his shirt in Tercian’s monstrous grasp. He watched as Tercian lifted Zemen’s face to his own, and sneered evilly, his bloodshot eyes opening hideously wide.
“Say goodbye, for now,” Tercian whispered, raising his free hand and punching Zemen forcefully in the stomach.
“No!” Nero yelled, but he could see no more as Bane tugged him along into the wreckage of the hall. As though from another world, Nero heard his voice calling Zemen’s name, but his mind could not process anything correctly, everything whizzed by in illogical order. Nothing he could do would help his brother now.
Zemen’s body flew backwards at the force of Tercian’s blow, his back hitting the wall hard, and then breaking out into the nothingness beyond; his arms and legs arched forward as his abdomen continued to soar back from Tercian’s force. Tercian laughed deeply as he watched Zemen become sucked outside into space, the wreckage of the wall framing his body like a sinister portrait.
UNIPPO Base 163 fell to the enemy.