|Things always happened this way. Gerald always ended up looking after his eccentric older brother. And today was no different.
"Chevron, why is there a toilet seat around your neck?"
Chevron grinned and adjusted the inverted U-shaped seat draped over his neck. The brushed steel surface was polished to a bright sheen like some treasured piece of jewelry.
“It goes with my new hat,” he said, picking up a clean bedpan, also made of steel polished to a reflective sheen, and placing it on his head. “I got it to keep the brain-scratchers out of my head.”
“The who?” Gerald asked. “I thought most people made little caps out of foil to keep mindreaders out….”
”Nah. Those only work on lower-level telepaths,” Chevron said, waving his hand dismissively. "Brain-scratchers are much more advanced. But there's just something about bedpans. The makeup of the alloy is just perfect to confuse their sensors."
“Right,” Gerald said, running his hand through his dark hair. He watched Chevron pick up a cup of Jell-O, wiggling it with a concentrated look, as if inspecting it for quality. “So when are you going to let the doctors do an evaluation?”
“I don’t need one. I’m perfectly sane,” Chevron replied. He looked into Gerald’s grey eyes and held his gaze for several seconds. “I may be the only person in this colony who is.”
"That might be easier to prove if you let the docs evaluate you," Gerald said, staring back into his brother's electric blue eyes. "Ever since you've come out of cryo, you've been a few phasers short of a photon."
"Don't use tech-speak, Gerald. You're not good at it," Chevron said. "And cryo wasn't the problem. It was the brain-scratchers!"
"Right, the aliens that invaded your brain and stole all your knowledge," Gerald said incredulously.
"And scratched my mind. That's what makes then so dangerous," Chevron said. "But I did something they didn't expect. I took some of their knowledge, too."
"Oh yeah? What did you find?"
"Lots of stuff. Lots of plans," Chevron said, glancing around the room as if he was afraid an alien would materialize somewhere nearby. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. I'm not the first victim. There were others, all in cryo. The brain's more vulnerable when you're in cryo. You're sleeping with no control over waking. That's why so many people have come out of cryo acting like brain-dead moonbats. Their brains were scratched."
"So the old man who used his hospital robe to make a turban and walks around naked calling himself an emperor was scratched?" Gerald had to admit, Chevron told a good story when he put his mind to it.
"He's not just an old man," Chevron said, lowering his voice as if afraid someone might hear him. "He's the colony's head security officer. He knows all the technical specs of every defense system and security grid on this planet. And now the brain-scratchers know it, too. That can only mean one thing."
"Let me guess," Gerald said, "A full-scale invasion of this pivotal mining facility."
"Gerald, you're not listening!" Chevron said, shaking his head sadly, as if he pitied his short-sighted brother. "It's not the mines they want. I got inside their heads, just like they were inside mine. They want the-"
Suddenly alarms started sounding across the colony. Red lights flashed in the room with them as a female voice came over the intercom.
“RED ALERT. RED ALERT. UNIDENTIFIED SHIP ON APPROACH.”
"Dear God," Chevron said, staring at the speaker as if it was a herald of doom. "They're here. I thought they wouldn't come for a few more days!"
“Chevron, calm down!” Gerald said, grabbing his panicking brother and holding him in his chair. “It's probably just a scouting ship returning early.”
“No! Scouting ships all have autopilots and ID transmitters, so if something goes wrong while they're exploring the ship can bring the logs home,” Chevron yelled, straining to stand up. “Don't you see? They must have known I was lying and now they've come to wipe us out!”
“Chevron, even if the brain-scratchers are real, our orbital guns should stop them,” Gerald said, desperately trying to calm his brother down. “We're safe as long as we're here.”
“You don't get it! I'm one of the orbital gun operators!” Chevron whimpered, slumping back into the chair. “The brain-scratchers wanted my knowledge of how the guns worked. They wanted to know how to get around them. And they found it. But I found their weakness, too. We have to get to the medical office before they land!”
Suddenly the door to the room slammed open. A man in the dark green uniform of ground security forces stood in the doorway, a plasma blaster clutched in his right hand.
“Gerald! I've been looking all over for you!” the man said. “A ship we've never seen before is approaching orbit and we need you back at the base! Didn't you hear the alarm?”
“Approaching orbit?” Gerald asked in disbelief. “What are you talking about, Ford? How did they get past the defenses? Aren't the turrets online?”
“That's the strange part. They just slipped through our long-range sensors. It's like they came out of nowhere!”
“Not nowhere,” Chevron said matter-of-factly. “They stayed in warp until the last second, then made an instant drop to impulse.”
Gerald and Ford stared at him.
“That's not possible,” Gerald said. “There would be some traces of radiation from the warp engines before they arrived. Warp rifts always show radiation before the ship arrives. We should have had at least 30 seconds warning!”
“That's the strangest part, sir,” Ford said. “Nothing showed up on any of our scanners. One minute there was nothing, then we're looking at a ship like nothing we've ever seen before.”
Gerald slowly turned and looked at his brother, eyes wide and alarmed. “Chevron, you said these brain-scratchers want something. What do they want?”
“Not much,” Chevron said. He was using the cloth tie from his bathrobe to tie his bedpan more securely on his head. “Just some codes from the command computer. Oh, and all the people on the colony to serve as slaves on their vessel.”
“What?!” Ford yelled. “How could you possibly know that?”
“It doesn't matter now,” Gerald said, walking quickly toward the door. “What are the codes for? How do we stop them?”
Chevron grinned as he followed his brother. Finally, someone believed him! “The codes are the combination to the system containing all of the knowledge about humanity. Every major advancement we've made since the combustible engine is in that system. They glean knowledge from civilizations and use it to improve their own. Then they enslave the civilization they stole the knowledge from.”
They were running down the hall now. Gerald stopped at a split in the hallway. One hall went to the medical offices, the other led to the rest of the colony.
“You said we need to get to the medical offices. Why?” Gerald asked his brother, looking deep into his eyes again, as if trying to read the answer.
“They have a rather.... unique weakness,” Chevron said. “Their technology is advanced, but they have never come across an X-ray machine before. Their bodies are incredibly fragile. Even more so than ours. That's why they scavenge technology, to find a way to compensate for their lack of strength.”
“And an X-ray machine is the key? That seems kind of lame for an advanced alien civilization to be vulnerable to such outdated technology,” Ford said.
“Indeed,” Chevron said. “It's a bit of irony I rather enjoy after what they tried to do to me. And it's especially fortunate that Dr. Willis has been experimenting with using X-rays with antibiotic synthesis to encourage regeneration.”
“OK, but how do we use this to attack them?” Gerald asked. “It's not like we can ask them to lie down on an examining table one at a time.”
“We have to lure them down into the colony,” Chevron said. “If we can get the specs from the medical computers, we can modify one of our orbital guns to fire down on the planet. If I can modify the plasma generators, I might be able to fire a short burst down on the planet.”
“I don't like the sound of that, Chev,” Ford said as they rounded the corner into the medical offices. “What if you miss and irradiate the colony? Isn't there any way to get them while they're still on their ship?”
“The orbital guns should be able to penetrate their hull,” Chevron said, looking thoughtfully at the far left corner of the room. He looked like he was trying to pull the answer out of thin air. “But there's a problem. If they appeared as close as you say, they're already past the guns and headed toward the colony. And there's only one person with the clearance to turn the guns toward the colony.”
“Who's that?” Gerald asked. He had a sinking feeling he wouldn't like the answer.
“The head of security,” Chevron said, looking Gerald in the eye. “And I think we can make Ford's suggestion work. I have clearance to get into the colony's arsenal. The brain scratchers are past our main defenses, so they can afford to sit and study us for a bit before attacking. I estimate we have an hour at best, though.”
“Great, so what's the plan?” Ford asked. He looked at Chevron as if everyone in the colony's life hinged on his next words. And really, they probably did.
“We're going to make an X-ray bomb,” Chevron said as he turned to the computer and started searching for the necessary program. “Gerald, you're the best at handling … eccentric people. You go visit the emperor and convince him to join you in the orbital defense office. Ford and I are going to perform surgery on a missile.”
“Great,” Gerald said. Somehow he always got stuck doing the colorful stuff. “And how will I do that?”
“He thinks he's an emperor,” Ford said. “Tell him his empire's under attack and he holds the key to it's salvation, or something.”
“Right. This better work!” Gerald said and sprinted back toward the mental ward.
A minute later, he burst through the door of a room very similar to Chevron's. Only this room contained a sixty-two-year-old man with a carnation pink hospital robe wrapped around his head like a turban. “The Emperor” was sitting on the side of his bed making a speech to a pot of flowers as if it was a holo-projector. Gerald shook his head, sighed, then put on his best panicking face and rushed to the man's side, kneeling on the floor.
“My Emperor, I bring grave news!” he said, bowing his head. “Your realm is under attack. Invaders have broken our defenses!”
“Great Scott!” the Emperor said in an exaggerated, obviously fake British accent. “Who would dare? The Monguls? The Huns? The Greeks? Russians? Romans? Or could it be the diabolical French, those flouncy, overreaching sons of Moroccan monkeys?”
Gerald blinked in surprise and stared at the man for a second. He was much farther gone than Chevron. How could Chevron be so lucid, but slightly unbalanced when this man was downright bonkers? He shook himself. There wasn't time for that. He had to get this man to come with him or all was lost.
“It is a new enemy, my lord,” he said, looking into the man's wild eyes. “One with abilities like we have never seen. They could destroy all if we don't act quickly.”
“Indeed! And do you have a plan of attack, General Chang?” the old man asked, glaring down on Gerald.
“Yes, my lord,” Gerald replied. General Chang? He wasn't even Asian! “Myself and two other generals have formed a strategy that should wipe them all out with one swift stroke, but we need your help to accomplish this.”
“My help?” the Emperor asked. “But General, you are the warrior. I must stay in the palace to give the people hope and strength. I must hold here while you and your brave men lead the fight.”
“But my lord, the weapon we need is protected by special barriers,” Gerald pleaded, grabbing the old man's hand in desperation. “The barriers are made so that only you can disable them. Please! You must come, or all is lost!”
The Emperor sat on his bed as if it was his throne. He looked down on Gerald, his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth as he hummed to himself, his brow wrinkled in thought. After a few seconds, his brow cleared and he stood up, motioning for Gerald to do the same.
“I will accompany you, then, if I must,” he said. “Lead the way, General.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Gerald said, bowing. “But before we go, it would be best if you put on your robes of state. It will give the people confidence to see their Emperor going to war in his finest garb.”
“Yes, I believe you are right,” the Emperor said, walking to the room closet. He pulled out a lavender bathrobe with a yellow rubber ducky about the size of Gerald's palm embroidered on the right chest. He dressed himself, slipping on a pair of neon orange slippers and turned back to Gerald.
“Lead on, General,” he said regally, holding out his hand. Gerald took it and they ran down the hall.
Fifteen minutes later, they were in the back of orbital defense offices. There was a security entrance that hardly anyone used or knew about. That should be free of civilians and guards. He swiped his card and sighed gratefully when the red light switched to green. They slipped through the door and started running up the service stairs. Gerald hoped there weren't too many people near the orbital defense controls. If they hurried, maybe they could do this before anyone asked too many questions.
On the top floor, Gerald slowly, silently slid the door open. It stopped after only a few inches, as if something was blocking it. He pushed a little harder and looked at the floor. A boot was sticking out past the other side of the door. Why was someone lying on the floor in the middle of the orbital defense hall? He pushed harder, slowly forcing the door open.
He pulled the Emperor behind him into the hall, which he now saw was littered with stunned men. Their slow breathing was the only sound in the silent hall. Then he heard a familiar voice.
“Ford, check the hall. I think I heard a door.”
The familiar shape of Ford was silhouetted in a doorway at the end of the hall. “It's Gerald, Chev! He got him!”
“We need to hurry, your majesty,” Gerald said, pulling the Emperor with him into the room. “The weapon is controlled in here.”
Ford shut the door behind them and shot the lock. It was clear they'd had a time getting in here. He had the beginnings of a black eye and Chevron's shirt was ripped down the middle. The old man looked Chevron up and down, then turned to Gerald.
“Are you sure this man can be trusted?” he asked, adjusting his pink turban. “He dresses like a madman!”
“I trust him with my life, majesty,” Gerald said. “Step over here, please and place your palm here” He took the old man's arm firmly and pointed to a scanner. “Then you just have to look in this little window and we will take care of the rest.”
“Ah, I see,” the old man said. “Guards on the other side who know my eyes, are there? Clever.” He looked into the retina scanner. Within seconds, they had full access to the system. At the same time, there was a loud bang and the door shuddered.
“Sounds like the boys finally caught on to what we're doing,” Ford said, pulling out his concussion rifle and setting it on stun. “Hurry up, Chev!”
“I'm putting in the coordinates now. Just one more minute!” Chevron said, punching away at the control screen. The display showed the orbital satellite spinning to face the alien ship. As the plasma gun locked on, more loud bangs resonated around the room.
“Great Scott, the enemy is here!” the Emperor cried, taking cover behind the desk. “Do your duty, generals!”
“You got it, sir!” Chevron said and held down the big red button on the upper right corner of the console. The gun on the display charged, then shot a monstrous bolt of plasma. The alien ship reeled, knocked sideways by the sheer force of the blast. As they watched, Ford pulled a remote from his pocket and triggered the missile.
Suddenly the door burst open, the hinges blown to pieces. Security forces flooded the room, but it didn't matter anymore. The three men watched in triumph as a nuclear missile threaded the needle strait into the alien ship. All the men in the room stared, stunned, as the ship blasted apart. Gerald turned to his brother.
“I thought you said you were going to make a bomb with X-rays.”
“Yes, well, we were, then we saw the nukes,” Chevron grinned. “Why kill when you can overkill?”
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