Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Space Pulp: Artifacts


Orange and yellow clouds gathered, darkening in preparation of a Saturnian Summer storm. The birdman flew away from the pursuing tempest, grateful for the tailwind and the clouds that hid him. Lightning flashed between nearby clouds, causing the birdman's hair to stand on end. Then the rain came.

Streams of water flowed past his brow and into his beard. The tailwind became erratic, tossing him about like a child's doll. His wet, blue tunic clung to his thin body proving little protection from the fierce weather. He had to find shelter soon or he and his precious cargo would fall into the clouds below to be lost forever in Saturn's dense, lower atmosphere. He tightened his grasp on the leather satchel that slickened in the rain.

The clouds before him parted briefly to reveal a small skyland nearby. Rain water fell from its edges as wind tore at the leaves of a large grove of Nest trees. The birdman's wings beat harder as he changed course towards the skyland's leafy refuge. "Too much time spent studying at a desk and not enough time flying," he said to himself.

He picked a large Nest tree, flared his wings to stop, but a gust of wind slammed him against a large branch. His feet talons dug deep into the soft bark as his hands grabbed nearby branches. The satchel smashed against a branch opening the top and spilling its contents to the ground below.

The birdman swooped to the ground rapidly gathering the few possessions his harried departure allowed. He shoved a small set of archaeologist's tools and a half finished text on the migration patterns of air whales into the satchel. A magnifying glass was next. He looked about desperately. "Where is it? Where is it?" he shouted to the wind. Lightening flashed showing his most prized possession. Indeed, it was the reason for his current predicament. He grabbed the stone and held it to his chest as he flapped back to a mid-tree perch finding an indention in the trunk which protected him somewhat from the elements. He squatted, folding his large brown wings around his body, panting heavily from the long flight. Lightening flashed all around him as the storm's fury struck the skyland.

He ran his fingers over the ancient carvings on the cold black stone. It was heavier that it ought to be and colder. The raindrops that fell upon it flowed away quickly leaving a dry surface. The stone reflected the lightening for an instant longer than it should. Even in this storm, even with the day's events, even though he doubted he'd live through the day, the birdman smiled. The stone had that effect on people. He looked into the stone deeper. The gaunt image of his face appeared within the stone. In his sunken, yellows eyes he saw hopelessness and defeat. His smile faded as he returned to reality.

His left bracer beeped, the radio phone received an incoming signal. Someone used his priesthood's private frequency. He turned on the device. The person on the screen could have been a birdman except for the lack of wings and horrible foot coverings. A flat human voice came from the small speaker in his bracer. The human used heavily accented Solar Common, the trade language of the Solar System. "Monk Skawk, this is Commander Hans Stryker of the Nazi Rocket Force. You would be wise to respond. We know what you possess. If you return to the monastery with it in your possession, we'll spare the lives of your remaining brothers and sisters."

Skawk, unfurled his wings aching to take to the air, to do something. The rain and wind struck his torso. The birdman forced himself back into a crouch inside the tree. He watched the screen, trying to decide what to do.

Commander Stryker adjusted the swastika armband on the black uniform and repeated the original message. The Nazi shook his head and shouted something in human speak. "I do hope you are there," said Stryker. "It would be a shame if more of your people died today."

The Nazi gestured to someone off camera. Two jackbooted humans brought Abbot Rahk into view. "A pity, really. The Abbot was most informative regarding the key stone."

The Abbot lowered his head. The old birdman looked unharmed but gave the appearance of being utterly defeated. Commander Stryker continued, "Of course, he had to watch several of your fellow monks die before he provided the information we seek. I assume you'll have the same sort of misguided devotion to the secrets of your order so I think a demonstration is needed."

Stryker pulled his service raygun and pointed it at the Abbot's head. Skawk reached for the transmit button but Stryker didn't wait for the birdman's reply. The raygun fired. The Abbot fell backwards. Skawk heard the high pitched war scream of a bird woman followed by a lower, guttural scream from a human. Skawk heard fighting followed by a wet thud. Stryker shouted to his men again then translated for Skawk. "I told my men not to kill her, but if you do not respond I'll have no choice. She will die."

Stryker reached off camera and pulled Sister Tweets into view. Her pure white wings were damaged, her tunic torn revealing most of her torso, but her fierce blue eyes held their usual intense fire. Blood ran from her lips and nose. "You birdmen are a feisty lot," said Stryker. "This female put up quite a fight during your escape. I suspect she cares for you greatly. Still, it is interesting that you left a female behind to fight for you while you fled. You are a master archaeologist Monk Skawk, but you are not much of a man." Stryker squeezed Sister Tweet's face with his hand turning it first this way then that. "Not a wholly unattractive member of your subhuman race. Still, if you will not comply, then I have no choice."

Stryker held his gun to Tweets' head. Skawk keyed the transmit button "No!"

"Ah, so you are there," said Stryker. His pseudo pleasant voice changed instantly to a low growl. "Show me the stone, or I kill her now."

Skawk held up the key stone to the small camera in the gauntlet. "Just let her go," said Skawk barely audible above the wind and rain.

Stryker sneered and shoved Tweets off camera. "She will live, and so shall you. Simply return here with the stone and you can go back to your studies and pious prayers."

"The storm," stated Skawk feeling no other explanation was needed.

Stryker smiled. "I can be a reasonable man," he said returning to a more conversation tone. "I'll bring our ship to find you. Once we have the key stone, we'll leave you and whatever remains of your monastery, but if there is any trick or deception, this flying rock with everyone and everything on it will be destroyed. Do I make myself clear?"

Skawk nodded in agreement.

"Very well, leave this channel open. The ship will follow the signal to your location. Stryker out."

Skawk raised his head and let out a forlorn scream. He knew the Nazis. Their attempt to occupy Saturn forty years ago failed during the Solar War. Skawk's father fought alongside the Solar Alliance to keep Saturn free of Nazi domination. Other planets weren't so lucky, but the Nazi menace never died. Earth disappeared into a black hole, but the Space Rocket Force of the Fourth Reich continued their reign of terror.

Skawk knew the Nazis would kill him and everyone else at the Monastery. The vision of Tweets being pawed by the wingless monkeys was more than he could bear, but he was weaponless. His radiophone was being jammed, and even if it wasn't, the storm made communication over long distances impossible. The birdman hung his head and closed his eyes. His order taught that clear thought solved all problems. The storm raged on but Skawk managed to clear his head somewhat. "Skylord give me strength," he prayed.

Skawk opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He actually laughed when he spied a Numnum tree bent to the ground. He ignored the rain and flew down to examine the small fruit tree. Sap still flowed from the break in the trunk. Perhaps he had allies on this skyland after all. But only they didn't kill him first. Skawk flew off into the rain to survey the skyland and prepare for the invaders arrival.


Commander Stryker strode the bridge of the Rocketship Achilles. The converted passenger ship served its purpose well after the passenger deck was refitted with holding cells and its cargo bay filled with the books and artifacts needed for his research. He adjusted his SS hat to the proper jaunty angle and made sure every part of his uniform was in order. "Status!" he shouted. The crew responded best when yelled at.

"Sir, we are thirty minutes from the monk's triangulated location. There appears to be a sizable floating island, but the storm is making it difficult to be sure," said the helmsman.

"How long until the storm clears?" asked Stryker, not yelling this time. Questions always seemed odd when yelled.

"The winds are subsiding now, Sir, but the rain will continue for another four hours. Given Saturn's short day it will be midnight before it clears," said the helmsman. "Visibility will be low. We won't be able to see him until the last minute."

Commander Stryker laughed. "He won't attempt any tricks, Hans. These Birdmen are proverbial chickens. In case he does try anything I brought along some insurance. Isn't that right, my dear?"

Tweets glared at the Nazi. Stryker was sure she would have spit at him were it not for the gag. "Binding your race is not easy, Fräulein Vogel," said the Nazi conversationally. "The wings, the taloned feet. A bag along with some interesting rope work seems the only solution. A shame, really. You have such a nice figure." The female returned a satisfactory glare of hatred. He could see she wanted to kill him and yet could not. He found such situations very gratifying.

"Do you know why you have the form of a human?" he asked rhetorically. "We Nazis have uncovered the cause. Of course, it's not just your race. Its all of the sub-races throughout the system." Stryker couldn't resist. He removed the gag and waited for the vitriol. Tweets didn't disappoint.

"Human filth! Let me go!"

"No, not yet," said Stryker. "You may be freed but first I have a story to tell you. One that's over five thousand years old." Stryker pushed Tweets into a chair at an empty engineering station. She fell backwards and glared. "Have you ever wondered why there are so many intelligent bipeds in the system?"

"Because the Skylord created us in his image," said Tweets. "It is the only explanation."

"Wrong!" shouted Stryker. "You and the rest of the sub-races were created from man. Humans are the ancestors of you all."

"Lies," said Tweets. "Its all Nazi lies."

"No," said Stryker, "Not lies, history. You see, Earth was discovered long ago by an advanced race who became fascinated with humanity. For reasons of their own, they did not colonize Earth but chose Mars in stead. Then they began genetic experiments altering humans into different forms while they modified the other planets and moons to support life. Our solar system became one giant breeding facility."

"Lies," shouted Tweets again.

"Lies, eh?" continued Stryker. "Then tell me, of all the intelligent life forms in our Solar system, which one is biologically the most different? Which has two more eyes and one more brain than every other sapient creature in the system?"

Tweets glared at him. "That doesn't mean the Librarians of Mars made us! They are no more technologically advanced than the rest of us."

"Ah, but they were," exclaimed Stryker. "Unfortunately a great galactic war occurred. We are not clear on the details, but trillions died. The galactic civilization vanished. Something affected the technology of all the worlds at once. Something took the entire galaxy back to the stone age in an instant."

"That's impossible," said Tweets.

"Not true, for their greatest invention was a system of star-spanning gates that allowed travel across the galaxy in an instant. The technological disease, for that is the best term for it, was spread by this method and activated remotely. Sadly, it was a weapon that never needed to be used. But its creator was banished into another realm, and once she left, the virus destroyed everything. You can't blame her, really."

"Her?" asked Tweets. "The destroyer of galactic civilization was one person? This story is ridiculous. I think the destruction of Earth has done serious damage to your people's grasp on reality."

Stryker smiled. "Earth has not been destroyed, and we of the Fourth Reich will see its return." He kicked Tweet's chair which spun around once. He stopped the spin and leaned in close to the bird woman. Even in a sack she was attractive. "And once we return Earth to our dimension, this system and everything in it will bow to the Master Race." Stryker grabbed her face again and brought it close to his. "And those that serve us well will gain special favor."

Tweets leaned her head back and head butted the Nazi smashing his nose. Blood seeped through Stryker's fingers as he tried to stop the bleeding. He looked around the bridge daring anyone to laugh. Stryker kicked the bird woman in the gut and kept kicking once she hit the ground. "Take her below with the rest of the prisoners! If she misbehaves, have Dr. Standing arrange something special for her."

The guards quickly collected the prone bird woman and retreated from the bridge. "Damned birdmen. Once Earth is returned, I want to wipe out the entire race."

Stryker looked down at his black SS coat. Blood stained the front. It was barely visible on the black cloth, but Stryker knew it was there. "I'll be in my cabin. Call me when we reach our destination."

"Jawohl," said the bridge crew as one. Stryker pretended not to hear the soft snickers as he left the bridge. The Reich's discipline was going to hell.


Skawk squatted quietly near the edge of the skyland, meditating with his wings wrapped around him. A few large raindrops fell, but the storm was almost over. A foggy mist took its place. Such was the nature of Saturn's storms. Night was fast approaching on the planet which spun rapidly on its axis. The phosphorescent floating plankton were already glowing giving a yellowish tint to the surroundings. Somewhere off in the distance, a lone air whale sang its mournful song. Skawk heard an answering song and could tell by the whale song the two were an unpaired male and female. He hoped their meeting went well. Their population dwindled greatly during The Great Solar War.

The birdman heard the Nazi engine long before he saw the ship. Its black and red bullet-shaped fuselage appeared out of the mist moving slowly toward his small skyland. Thrusters vented exhaust downward and sidewards rotating the ship until the Nazi swastika showed on each of the ship's four tail fins. Landing skids extended from beneath the ship's nose and just fore of its engines. It landed in a cloud of mud that kicked up from the soaked ground of the skyland. The engine noise faded and the hatch of the Nazi ship opened. Skawk heard territorial challenge squawks from the skyland's other inhabitants. He prayed to the Skylord that the Nazis didn't have a naturalist on board who knew the squawk's meaning.

A gangway extended from the open hatch to the ground. Two Nazi soldiers appeared and stood on a small ribbon of decking that wrapped around the ship at hatch level. They activated their jet packs and circled the area once then returned to the hatchway. The squawks grew louder. Skawk flexed his wings once, grateful he needed no such device to fly.

Commander Stryker appeared holding Tweet's hair in his hands pulling her forward out of the hatch. Two additional soldiers joined him on the causeway. Skawk's blood boiled seeing her condition. Rope bound Tweets' hands and feet, and more crisscrossed a bag which covered her body. Her face was bloodied and bruised.

Stryker waved Skawk forward as he walked down the gangway to the ground. Skawk spoke out in High Speak, the language of his people. "Can you fly?"

"Yes," yelled Tweets.

Stryker held his raygun to Tweets' temple. "If you communicate with her again in that sing song you call a language, I'll kill her," said Stryker in Solar Common. "Let me see the stone."

Skawk held up the keystone. Stryker motioned to one of the guards to retrieve it.

"Release Tweets!" yelled Skawk.

"You are in no position to bargain, monk," said Stryker.

Skawk prepared to throw the stone over the skyland's edge.

"Stop!" yelled Stryker. "Very well. She will come with Karsten."

A guard took Tweets and escorted her toward Skawk.

The territorial challenges got louder and closer. Skawk heard the pounding of large fists on the ground.

"What the hell is that?" yelled Stryker.

"A local group of animals," responded Skawk.

Stryker motioned to his men waving his raygun towards the trees. The soldiers with rocket packs flew towards the noise as Tweets and her guard reached Skawk. The birdman held up the stone of Karsten's inspection.

"Is it black with etching?" asked Stryker.

"Ya, Commander," said Hans.

"Very well. Bring it and the birds back," said Stryker.

Karsten raised his pistol and smiled at the bird man. "If you try anything, birdman, I kill the girl."

Everyone turned the direction of a scream from the trees followed by a single ray gun blast. A lone Nazi emerged followed by a troop of large winged gorillas. The largest ape grabbed the remaining Nazi by the foot and smashed him into the ground. Other apes piled onto the rocket soldier punching, biting, and rending the poor soul until he moved no more.

Stryker ordered something in his native language, and the other humans opened fire upon the gorillas.

"Get down," said Skawk in High Speak. "Whatever you do, don't respond to the apes. Keep your face down, and don't make eye contact."

The two bird people knelt as Karsten fired over and over again. Several apes attacked grabbing the Nazi and flinging him over the edge of the skyland. Skawk saw several hands and feet land in front of him. One of the apes smashed its fists into the ground and pounded its chest. Skawk felt Tweets start to move.

"Don't," he hissed.

After several more ground smashes the apes flew off to attack the humans. Skawk looked up. Ten humans ran out of the hatch with rifles and began firing. The apes responded as apes do, with devastating attacks.

Skawk cut the ropes holding Tweets with his feet talons. "We fly now," he said. "There are some caves on the underside where we can hide.

"No!" demanded Tweets throwing the bag off and flexing her wings. "We've got to rescue the other prisoners."

"Tweets," said Skawk trying to drag her to the edge. "We have to escape."

"No, there are people trapped inside, and one of them is very important."

"I'm no hero," said Skawk, "I'm just a simple monk who studies plants, animals, and artifacts. Abbot Rahk always said I didn't live in this world and that was good since the world had little use for me."

"Abbot Rahk is dead because he didn't listen to you. He was wrong about you, and he was wrong about the approaching Nazis. You were the only one who knew what they were after. True, you are not a warrior, but you are far from a coward. I've seen you risk your life time and time again to collect rare bits of archeology or study some newly discovered species. What's worse you spent over a cycle with those terrors," Tweets said pointing to the apes.

"They didn't have rayguns!" said Skawk.

One of the apes ripped a raygun rifle from a soldier's hands and beat the human to death with it. Tweets looked at Skawk. "And you think rayguns are more dangerous than apes?"

Skawk just shook his head.

"They have a Martian Librarian on board. One that's an archaeologist," said Tweets.

Skawk hesitated as the battle between winged Saturnian apes and Nazis raged. "We've no way in," he said trying to convince himself it wasn't worth rescuing one of the famed Librarians of Mars.

"There's a hatch on the other side near the skyland's edge," said Tweets. "The Nazis will never see us if we fly off this edge and come up on the other side."

"That's insane," said Skawk.

Later Skawk would wonder why the world stopped when she kissed him. He remembered opening his eyes as their lips parted and staring deeply into her beautiful blue eyes. Of the flight to the Nazi ship and their entrance through the ship's other hatch, he remembered nothing.

After the kiss his first memory was entering the Nazi ship. It smelled of oiled metal and human sweat. Skawk didn't gag but wanted to.

A corridor ran between the two exterior hatches with another corridor running the length of the ship bisecting it. A floor hatch was at the junction of the two corridors. "The prisoners are down there," said Tweets.

As Skawk bent to open the hatch to the lower deck, a human voice yelled something Skawk didn't understand. A raygun fired. Skawk flinched. He watched the Nazi fall to his knees and then to the deck. A burn mark shown on the human's chest. Skawk apparently blanked out Tweets retrieval of Karsten's raygun as well.

Tweets looked down all four corridors. "Open the hatch."

Skawk did as instructed, flinging the hatchway open. A Nazi guard looked up from below only to have his face melted by Tweets' raygun. The two birdmen jumped below, landing lightly next to the fallen guard. A Nazi with a white lab smock looked up from the front of the ship and raised his hands in surrender. Tweets leveled her raygun at him.

"The Librarian is to the right," she said.

There were two cell-lined corridors leading toward the aft of the ship. Skawk took the one to the right. Some cells were empty. Others held books and relics. A few contained various creatures from the eight remaining planets and uncounted moons of the Sol system. Skawk released each being telling them to head forward and out the hatch.

Midway down the cell row, a Martian Librarian looked up from a book. Its blue skin had a sweaty sheen to it. The fleshy brows over all four yellow eyes focused on Skawk. The Librarian raised a shortened trunk over his mouth to speak. "Ah, you're hear just as Tweets said. She stated emphatically you'd have a plan for our rescue.

Skawk hit the cells release switch. "Come on. We'll leave from the front hatch.

"Not without my body guard. His family has been in my employ for generations." Without waiting for permission the Librarian ambled two cells away and released a Lionman. "See Garl, the bird woman was correct."

The lionman eyed Skawk as if deciding whether he'd taste good. Skawk had retreated two steps before he realized he was moving.

Tweets ran down the corridor. "The damn doctor released a death bot," she yelled firing backwards. Skawk heard screams from several beings at once. "Is there a back way out?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said the Librarian.

"Well I do, laddy," said the occupant of the next cell. The stunted humanoid form of a Mercurian Dwarf looked up at them through bushy blond eyebrows. You couldn't see his lips move through his even thicker blond beard. "There's an access hatch near the lower engine room. Release me and I'll show you where it is.

Skawk hit the release switch.

"You trust him?" growled the lionman.

"I don't know that we have a choice," said Skawk.

The dwarf ran toward the rear of the ship followed by the others. A Nazi engineer looked up at the dwarf. The engineer hovered over an open engine panel. "Scutter, get back to your cell!.

The last thing the Nazi engineer saw was the gaping maw of an enraged lionman. The Librarian wiped a bit of Nazi goo from his silver tunic. "A bit less splatter next time, Garl, if you please," said the Librarian.

The dwarf pulled a large lever on the wall. All the cell doors opened at once. The remaining prisoners lept out and started to run in all directions down both cell rows. The dwarf shooed the Librarian, Lionman, and two bird people into the engine room and slammed the door shut, securing it behind him. "That'll give the death bot a bit to chew on," he said chuckling.

"But the other prisoners," started Skawk.

"Will fend for themselves and cover our escape,' said the dwarf. He stepped over the prone human engineer and opened a panel near the back of the engine room. "Through here. At the end of this tube is a panel with four levers. Turn them each to the right. A hatch will pop and you'll be free.

"You first," said the Lionman. "Never to trust Mercurian Dwarfs."

"Look, Kitty," said the dwarf looking put out, "If you want out then that's the way. I need to do a few things first to give the Nazis a surprise when they fire up the engines."

Tweets pushed Skawk towards the tube entrance. Skawk complied entering the tube. He heard the librarian complain as it followed. Birdmen were used to open spaces. The confined quarters pinned his wings to his sides. It seemed like an eternity until he reached the end. Skawk found the four levers and turned them as instructed. The hatch popped outwards, and he breathed the blessed fresh air of Saturn.

Skawk hopped to the ground. The battle was almost over. The apes had lost. Nazi and gorilla bodies were lying everywhere.

Skawk helped the Librarian down and looked into the corridor. It was barely a birdman's height in length. Tweets came next, followed by the lionman, and finally the dwarf who emerged snickering.

The five hid behind the rocket's tailfins running the last bit into the trees. They took up a position which allowed them to view the battle field.

Stryker stalked around shouting orders. Some humans collected the wounded while others made sure the apes were dead.

The Librarian wagged its stunted trunk up and down. "I believe you angered the commander mightily. He just swore the destruction of your family, anyone who knows your family and anyone who might know your family."

"To have such a powerful enemy is a high honor indeed," growled the Lionman.

"Ach, piss on 'im," said the dwarf. "That bastard made me tune their engines to outrun anything the Alliance possessed. They held a gun to me head while he tested it. I hope he has the opportunity to choke on his own vomit, or better yet me fist. But he'll have plenty of regrets as soon as he takes off," the dwarf said with an evil grin on his face.

The Nazis loaded the wounded onto their ship. Stryker stood there yelling for a bit then entered as well. The gangway retracted, and the engines started. Stryker's voice erupted from a speaker somewhere on the outside of the ship. "I do hope you enjoyed that, monk. I'm about to level this entire rock. Every missile I have will strike this skyland until it breaks apart and crashes into the atmosphere below. And when I do flush you from the trees, the last thing you'll feel is the might of Nazi technology burning you into nothingness.

The rocketship vented exhaust downward lifting the craft into the air. The main engine engaged, pushing the ship away from the skyland. The Nazi raygun cannons began lashing rays of death into the forest around them. Skawk and Tweets started to retreat, but the dwarf stopped them. "Wait for it," said the dwarf slowly.

And then the ship was gone. It just dropped from view.

The dwarf howled in delight. "Die you stinkin' bastard. Die in the depths of Saturn!"

Skawk heard a distant explosion followed by another closer explosion.

The dwarf looked confused. "It wasn't supposed to explode. It was supposed to drop and be crushed by Saturn's atmosphere."

Skawk heard another closer explosion. The rocket ship flew past the skyland, then slowed. Then it began to drop. The rear of the ship exploded sending the ship higher into the atmosphere.

"Gah, you didn't kill him you stupid cat," shouted the dwarf.

The Lionmon growled. "Careful, dwarf. I may decide on a short snack before bedtime."

The dwarf stomped about cursing. "Ach, of all the dense, dimwitted companions, I get the one Lionman from all of Mars that doesn't finish off a kill. Gerhard may be a lot of things, but stupid he ain't. That Nazi rigged the core to short burst them all the way to orbit. Course, they'll never make planet fall again without a space station, but damn. A perfectly good act of revenge ruined!"

Tweets grabbed the Libarian by the truck. "From you, I need answers."

The lion stopped his argument with the dwarf and growled. "Release him. My gratitude for release goes only so far."

Tweets released the birdman. Somehow Skawk found himself between Tweets and the Lionman. It was a completely un-Skawk like thing to do.

"The Nazis said you created the other Solar races from humans. He said you colonized this system through some sort of galactic gate machinery and that you civilization was destroyed by one person. Is this true?" Tweets stood before the Librarian defiantly beautiful even with a bloodied face.

The Librarian took a step back and adjusted his silver tunic. The being's blue skin darkened slightly, and its trunk made an agitated flip upwards. "What my race has and hasn't done is none of your concern, birdwoman. And now, the reason for my rescue. I believe you have something you need my opinion on."

Skawk gave him the stone he showed the Nazis an eternity ago. Tweets made a protest, but Skawk stopper with with a raised hand.

The Librarian pulled some glasses from his tunic and placed them over his lower set of eyes. "A fake," he said making a tisking noise with his trunk. "And not a very good one at that. Were it real I would be concerned, but it is not. Sad really, I would love to see a real keystone. Their value is greater than that of this entire planet."

"I've called for help," said Skawk. "Now that the storm as passed and the Nazi jamming gone, I was able to get a distress call out. We should be rescued by morning."

"Excellent," said the Librarian. "Garl, if you would attend me into the forest."

The two aliens parted leaving the dwarf and two bird people.

"The bird lass irritated the arrogant, four-eyed twit," said Scutter the dwarf. "And it was more than just pulling his trunk. I dunna think he liked what you said. And speaking of trunks, I've gotta go drain mine." With that the dwarf walked off into the woods as well.

Tweets took Skawk's hand. "I have to say you're taking the news of your keystone being a fake very well," she said. "You've studied that thing for cycles yet you took the fact that your cycles of work on the thing were wasted without so much as a whimper? You have changed!"

"My keystone isn't fake," he said pulling the real stone from a fold in his tunic. "But since he wouldn't answer your question, I saw no need to reward him by sharing it. I made the fake while waiting for you to arrive with the rock sculting gear in my archaeologist tool kit. Of course, I had to acid wash it to get the proper look, but all in all, it worked fairly well."

Tweets laughed. "See, you are a hero."

"Only in a passive-aggressive sort of way, and we're still not out of this mess," protested Skawk. "The Nazis could return."

The clouds of Saturn parted showing the planets beautiful rings. Some of the planets 87 moons skitted across the sky.

"We're really going to have to work on your outlook on life," said Tweets. "Its unbecoming of my future husband."

"Husband!" said Skawk. "Who said anything about getting married?”

A mock argument ensued ended by a long kiss. The two kissed until the dwarf returned, let out a disgusted sigh, and stalked back into the forest. The two bird people laughed, looked into the beautiful Saturn night, and took flight.

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