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#12 - “Search and Devour”

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2014 5:08 pm
by vemlich
“Search and Devour”

On those few occasions when it was all alone in the throne room, the Supreme Haggler of the Cestodial Hegemony liked to slump in its throne bowl and idly monitor the sales figures from a dozen worlds. Its regal head darted back and forth, quickly reading each of the dozen monitors that ringed its throne bowl like numbers on an old-fashioned clock. Like all members of its species, the SHaggler was blind and required a very different type of monitor than those of its sighted customers . These monitors were modified to display information in Braille. The SHaggler used the four suckers that ringed its head to sense the changes on the surface of each monitor. As transactions were finalized, a unique subsonic hum was emitted by the relevant monitor, alerting the SHaggler that RUs were being made or lost. The mood of the SHaggler often rose and fell in direct proportion to its profits and losses.
The examination of financial data was interrupted by a mild tremor passing through the palace’s foundation. Unlike the majority of its bipedal customers, the Cestodian worm’s serpentine body was unusually sensitive to seismic vibrations. The SHaggler was distracted for the briefest of moments before the financial data recaptured its attention.
A short time later, it was distracted once again by the opening of the Throne Room’s main doors. Not expecting company, the SHaggler cautiously poked its head out from between monitors #5 and #6 before triggering a focused radar pulse at the interloper via the circuitry in its ceremonial headband. The headband’s circuitry was capable of linking to the powerful Cestodian database and using those vast resources to determine the uninvited guest’s species and station.
The most favored of visitors was Type 1...the “Very Important Person”. When VIPs were detected entering the throne room, twin opposing banks of video monitors would bombard them with videos of the SHaggler's most successful infomercials. A great amount of thought went into the infomercial selection process. For example, if the mighty Charon had chosen to grace the Throne Room with its metallic presence, - scenes of cybers happily slaughtering fleeing humans with Cestodian-made weaponry would be displayed by the banks of monitors.
If the VIP in question turned out to be a high-ranking Rallebian Pirate Captain, the monitors would display scenes of scantily-clad sexbots promising a young Rallebian spacer a night he would never forget. It was often said that Rallebian pirate raids were 98 percent abject boredom mixed with 2 percent sheer terror. A Cestodian “Becky Lou” model sexbot could single-handedly keep morale from slipping on a Rallebian pirate ship.
The pairing of infomercials to VIPs was the first step in acquiring new business. It would not be appropriate to show infomercials of sexbots to Charon...that sort of thing could lead to a diplomatic incident. Wars had been started over more trivial incidents.
The least desirable type of visitor was Type 2...assassins. Competition for the top spot in the Cestodial Hegemony was often intense. If profits were down, the unfortunate soul who currently occupied the Supreme Haggler’s throne could find itself under nearly constant attack by those who wished to replace it. But profits were at an all-time assassins were not likely to be visiting today. However, just to be safe, the SHaggler ordered the room’s maser cannons to track the radar blip standing in the doorway. One of the worm’s suckers hovered over the firing stud, ready to disintegrate the intruder, should it prove to have hostile intent.
Only slightly more desirable than Type 2 (assassins) was the third type of visitor...the palace servants. During his tenure, the SHaggler had noticed a peculiar relationship between the rank of the servant delivering a message and the desirability of said message. Simply put...the Supreme Steward often delivered the good news, while the poor worm whose job it was to scrub the waste recycling vats was typically forced to deliver the really bad news.
Upon learning that this most recent of visitors was not an assassin, the SHaggler sent the order that returned the maser cannons to their housings. The banks of obnoxious monitors stayed silent for the one approaching was not a VIP, but merely a lowly servant. The SHaggler thrummed its displeasure and promptly resumed reading the financial data.
On days like today, Junior Minion #5 hated its job. In this palace, no servant wanted the job of delivering bad news. The humans had a saying...“Do not kill the messenger”. Apparently, none of those strange bipeds had shared that bit of wisdom with the SHaggler. While it was true that JMinon #5 had earned an immediate promotion (and a nice boost in salary) when its predecessor had been incinerated, that greasy spot next to monitor #8 was a constant reminder that being promoted came with a price. It was bad enough having to scrub the waste recycling vats! Now, it was JMinion #5’s turn to deliver bad news. The terrified worm offered up a prayer to the Great Bowel and slithered towards what was likely to be its doom.
“This had better be good…”, growled the SHaggler. A momentary urge to vaporize the supplicant entered its mind before being instantly quashed. The servant’s union would become upset and might demand reparations if another of its members were vaporized. The sucker moving towards the firing stud paused.
“Profuse apologies, I seek an audience with your Magnificence…”
JMinion #5’s grovelling was interrupted by deep rumbling that shook the entire palace. A falling ceiling tile shattered into a hundred pieces...
“Was that thunder? Does a storm approach?” inquired the confused Overlord. “The weather forecast must be wrong…”
“A storm DOES approach, most benevolent worm. But not of the conventional kind…” muttered the servant, wishing to be anywhere but in this throne room. This comment was punctuated with a shriek of tortured air, followed by a tremendous impact. In the northwest corner of the throne room, a section of the wall suddenly exploded. A chunk of masonry flew across the room before shattering monitor #3.
“OUT WITH IT CRETIN! Who is attacking? Is it Omega?!? Have negotiations broken down again?” bellowed the enraged leader.
“I understand that negotiations with Omega are still ongoing, Exalted One. Junior Minion #4 has the details of the most recent conference. Allow this unworthy worm to summon my superior...”
Although it dared not show it, JMinion #5 was overcome with joy to have an excuse to leave. Maybe it could depart before it was terminated by the SHaggler or those attacking the palace?
“STAY WHERE YOU ARE!!”, commanded the SHaggler. “Who is attacking my palace?”
“Wondrous Worm, that would be the Cestodial Marines…” answered the thoroughly dejected servant. Hope, once fleeting, now evaporated like water on a Merchettian desert.
“So it IS an assassination attempt!”
“Not exactly, oh Wise Worm…they are looking for guerillas.”
“They are looking here? What moronic worm ordered them to attack my palace?”
At this point, JMinion #5 knew it was going to die…
“You did, your Majesty. When you issued the ‘Search and Destroy’ order. If this lowly one understands correctly, the Supreme General is attempting to destroy the smuggling center on this planet.” And with that utterance, the unfortunate servant prostrated itself upon the cold throne room floor and awaited death by maser beam. Its only consolation was that eternal happiness was soon to be found by feasting within the Great Bowel.
“That is absurd… GET OFF THE FLOOR! Come with me, minion. I will put a stop to this nonsense…” The SHaggler wriggled across the floor and passed beyond the throne room’s doors. The main hallway was filling with smoke, forcing the Cestodial leader to stay low as it slithered towards the palace’s main entrance. A steady stream of servants, all of higher rank than JMinion #5, fled in the opposite direction.
“BACK TO YOUR POSTS! I am in control here!”, bellowed the Smuggler Savant. For the first time, the SHaggler began to experience fear. For the only worm to obey its command was lowly JMinion #5. The others had slunk away...more afraid of the attacking force than their homicidal ruler.
The Cestodial Chieftain and its lackey soon found their way to the main entrance. The SHaggler lifted the first third of its 10 meter long body and boldly placed itself in the doorway.
JMinion #5 had witnessed a Cestodial Marine take aim at its leader and had reacted instinctively, knocking His Eminence out of the doorway, A rain of shots tore through the space they had just vacated.
“COME OUT AND DIE, SMUGGLER SCUM!”, boomed an amplified voice.
The Cestodial Ringleader roared back, “We are ALL smugglers, you IDIOT!”.
This interplay continued for a short period of time with the SHaggler becoming ever more incensed. It threatened, cajoled, berated, and even tried to bribe the marines into ceasing their onslaught. Each attempt at persuasion was aborted by a sustained burst of fire from the marines’ weaponry.
JMinion #5 knew what would happen to them if they failed to retreat. A well-timed radar pulse had showed what appeared to be a primed plasma grenade in the sucker of the marine slithering towards the main entrance
“Sire, we must flee! A dead worm makes no deals and earns no profits. Your palace is lost!”
The loyal servant bit the Premier Worm’s tail and began to wiggle vigorously away from the main entrance, dragging its stunned leader in its wake. A few seconds later, a loud THUMP was felt as the plasma grenade detonated where they had just been standing. The marines poured through the gaps in the outer walls of the palace. Ten minutes later, the smuggling center was captured.
As the Supreme General of the Cestodial Marines proudly glided its way up onto the stage, a thought kept circulating through its mind...“Today, all my hard work and years of service will be rewarded.” Barely a week had passed since the successful culmination of Operation: Search and Destroy. While it was true that large numbers of guerillas had been captured or killed, it was unfortunate that the leader of the smuggling center had escaped during the chaos. Despite this blemish on an otherwise perfectly conducted campaign, scuttlebutt indicated that the SGeneral was due to receive a sizable bonus AND a promotion. If the rumors were true, by this time tomorrow, it would be occupying the office of the Supreme Military Leader!
The SGeneral paused its ascent for a moment to fire a radar pulse at the crowd. It was pleased that nearly all in attendance were thumping their tails in applause. Still, there was something not quite right about the composition of this audience...there were no marines in attendance.
“Supreme General, if you do not mind, I think it is time we began the ceremony.”
The SGeneral turned and fired a radar pulse at the trio of dignitaries on the podium. The database identified the speaker as a palace servant of low rank. Off to one side was a high-ranking palace guard. The database failed to identify the well-dressed worm in the middle. Curious. Possibly a technical glitch? All three worms looked vaguely familiar…
“We are gathered here to honor and reward the Supreme General of the Cestodial Marines for its conduct during Operation: Search and Destroy.” began the unknown worm. The moment it began to speak, all thumping tails were silenced.
“Supreme General, come forward and receive the first of your many rewards.”, urged the anonymous dignitary, beckoning with a tilt of its head towards an ornate box situated in the middle of the podium.
The soon-to-be Military Leader glided to the center of the podium and bent down to open the lid of the box with one of its suckers. How many thousands of RUs would be contained within? Maybe a priceless Soelien-Twa gem was inside?
“Thank you! Thank you one and all. I would like to...GAH?!?!”
The moment its sucker opened the lid, the sheet of fabric underneath the box lifted towards the ceiling, enveloping the startled SGeneral in its embrace. The bag containing the struggling worm continued its ascent until it was hovering just within reach of the trio of worms.
“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? RELEASE ME THIS INSTANT!” roared the enraged SGeneral as it thrashed within the suspended bag. It was too distracted to hear the conversation taking place just beneath it.
“Junior Minion #5, did I thank you for saving my life during the palace assault?”
“No thanks are necessary, Mighty One. I was just doing my duty.”
“Nonsense! You stayed with me while others, ALL the others, wiggled away. Cowards, one and all. Do me the honor of feasting with me now.”
“Sire, it would not be proper. I am of low rank!”
“I am feeling generous are promoted to Supreme Steward!”
The previous Supreme Steward blurted, “Hey! You cannot do that! My union…”
“ONE more word out of you and into this feed bag you go! Is that understood? Your new rank is Junior Minion #5. Exemplary Guard #2, throw Junior Minion #5 into the bag if it dares speak again.”
Exemplary Guard #2 wore a dual-purpose armored headpiece. The armor protected the guard’s most vulnerable part of its anatomy and provided armaments (of both the lethal and non-lethal varieties) necessary to perform its duties. EGuard #2 was typical of the other worms employed as palace was petty, sadistic and possessed not a shred of empathy for its fellows. Unfortunately for the Supreme General, it had also been booted out of the Cestodial Marines. As far as EGuard #2 was concerned...this was “payback” time!
“Gladly, Your Eminence! What was that you were saying about your union, JMinion #5?” taunted the guard. The past Supreme Steward and current JMinion #5 had the wisdom to keep quiet.
“Shall we dine, Supreme Steward?”
“I am a little hungry, Wondrous Worm. I skipped lunch…” and with that, the high-ranking Cestodial worms began to savagely bite and gnaw upon the feed bag containing the SGeneral. Periodically, the unfortunate SGeneral (bleeding from a dozen wounds) managed to bite its way out of the meat bag. Each time, the SGeneral’s brief glimpse of freedom was forcibly blocked by enthusiastic head-butts from Exemplary Guard #2. This part of its job was considered to be a “perk of employment”.
Eventually, the bag ceased to swing as the SGeneral became too weak to attempt escape. The horrified crowd started to disperse. The current Junior Minion #5 turned to leave but was halted by the commanding voice of the new Supreme Steward.
“I think the waste recycling vats need a good, thorough cleaning…”