The Space Despot’s Beautiful Daughter

– The Space Despot’s Beautiful Daughter –

A Tale from the Time After History

By John C. Wright

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They have not feared the scaffold rope,
Nor cringed for whip or knotted cord;
They give up all and keep their hope;
They die and call no despot lord;
Before the heaven that made men free,
They testify for liberty.

— W.V.B.

Table of Contents so far

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Episode 01 Planetoid of Peril

It was an age of twilight on the little worlds.

All the cloud-swathed, sapphire-blue moons circling mighty, storm-tossed Jupiter, king of planets, saw a sun five times smaller than what mankind had been born beneath on long-lost, legendary Earth, and twenty-five times dimmer.

Even at noon on the conquered moons, only the shapes near to hand were clear to see. The ancient towers of imperishable metal were looming silhouettes; the pyramids of skulls gathered at their feet were as ghost-pale as cloudbanks; the titanic, mile-high tree-growths of untrod forests around them, haunted by echoes of monsters roaring, were blended with whispering shadows; the seas were ink-black, writhing expanses, crisscrossed by white webs of foam; the horizons, though near at hand, were lost in gloom.

So it was that when the raven-haired beauty silently fell from a burning Imperial skycraft, clad in nothing but a wisp of clinging silk, it was impossible for the Earthman, Jett Hazard, peering with startled eyes through the barred porthole in the stern of the careening craft, to see whether she wore a levitation harness.

As she fell past the flames gushing from the broken prow hatch, ruddy light caressed her curves. For a moment, he could see her jeweled coronet spinning up and away from the whirling black cloud of her knee-length hair, and he could see the begemmed war-belt cinched tightly around her supple waist. Her energy-stiletto in a jeweled scabbard clung to the curve of one hip, and her flame-pistol in a jeweled holster to the other. But flying harness there was none.

Radium gems, rubies, and girasols glittered on her slippers, anklets, rings, wristlets, armbands, necklaces, earrings and so on, but the princess was otherwise naked. Opals and rubies pried loose from her ornaments by the force of the wind tumbled and sparkled above her, bright as grains of glass, but no scream was pried from her luscious, haughty, crimson lips.

Her body shot downward with less acceleration than Earthly gravity would have imparted. However, this only meant she would reach terminal velocity in a fifteen seconds rather than ten. The speed on impact, even if the helpless girl fell into the jet-black, volcano-lit, dinosaur-haunted seas of Io, made death certain.

The threat facing the lovely girl, enemy or no, galvanized Jett Hazard’s mighty limbs into action before he had time to think. His fists clenched in fury around the bars of the porthole, his knuckles went white, and the metal groaned. He set his feet against the hull, and strained with all the strength of his legs. His brawny, bronze-tanned body was nude save for a crude loincloth.

Behind him, flames were licking through the bars of the slave pen. This fire had started when a sadistic guard in a helmet and flying harness had paused, ignoring the bugler’s frantic call to abandon ship, had entered the cell, flame-pistol raised, eager that Jett die by his hand. He had unwisely stepped too close, hoping to see fear in the Earthman’s face. In fact, he had stepped into arm’s reach.

The damaged pistol exhausted its full charge in one continuous beam as it spun across the cell. Now it was lost somewhere beneath the straw coating the filth of the deck. The guard was doubled over, clutching a broken arm.  Fires raged between the guard and the red-hot exit hatch. He was trapped here as well. With wide eyes, wild with hate, he watched the Earthman straining at the bars.

Jett clenched his teeth, sweat dripping from his writhing muscles.

The guard cried out over the clamor of alarms, horns, and explosions: “Mad imposter! Those bars were forged in the volcanic fires of Io, the war world! No man born on any moon of Jupiter can break them!”

But the engineers who built the brig had been born on worldlets whose gravity fields, while artificially amplified above their natural pull, were not equal to those of earth. They evidently had not calculated what the muscles of a man born on a heavier world could do when driven to his utmost.

With a deafening snap of noise, the whole circular frame of the porthole came free. The force of his own yank threw Jett backward. He fell heavily to the straw-covered steel deckplates, gasping. Just at that same moment, another explosion shook the sky-craft, and deck tilted sharply.

The guard saw his chance. Cawing with triumph, he stepped on Jett’s face, then leaped headlong through the porthole, clawing with his one good hand at the belt controls of his antigravity harness, and he was gone.

It took a moment for Jett to regain his feet on the pitching and rolling deck of the toppling skycraft. Jett dove through the porthole, knifing through the air in a perfectly executed dive. Fire licked at his legs. Away from the hot hullplates he fell into the screaming wind.

His arms were before him, his spine and legs forming an arrow-straight line. He cut through the air like a torpedo, spinning like a bullet from a Kentucky rifle.

The whole panorama whirled grandly around him, bringing blood to his head, making his vision swim.

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Episode 02      Murder in Mid-Air

Down Jett Hazard fell, plummeting like a meteor through the atmosphere of Io.

The sun was a tiny dot high in the East, brighter than a full moon, but darker than even the heaviest overcast day on Earth. Jupiter was at the zenith, a titanic curve banded by storms, hovering over its eerie reflection in the dark mirror of the sea below. The sun was climbing toward the ever-narrowing crescent of Jupiter.

This crescent was twenty degrees across, forty times the size of Earth’s moon as seen from Earth. Its horns were pointed away from the sun. In the darkness between the horns pinpoint flares from the eternal storm clouds writhing on the night side of the giant planet were visible. These were lightning bolts large enough to incinerate continents, were made into gentle firefly flickers by the astronomical distance.

Jupiter never rose nor set in the skies of Io, but the sluggard sun did, once for every two Earthly days, as the worldlet completed its monthly orbit. There was a little night approaching: the sun would pass behind Jupiter’s disk for two hours at noon.

Callisto and Ganymede were tiny crescents flanking the huge crescent of Jupiter. Europa was full, hanging near the western horizon, a pale, bight circle. The interior moons were bright points near the horizon, hovering near the icy, thin and ghostly line formed by the ring system seen edge-on. The outer moons twinkled in a great curve running up to and down from the zenith.

All the moons were tinted blue, each graced with earthlike air and water by the wizardry of planetary engineering from some era countless years after Jett Hazard fell into his strange and ageless sleep, countless years before he woke here.

As Jett spun, into his rotating view came the gleaming shape of the wounded skycraft, painted with the golden vulture of the empire, leaking plumes of fiery smoke: the whole hull was a single wing, boomerang-shaped, with engine nacelles tipping either arm.

Melchizedek the Time Traveler had once explained the workings to Jett. Lift was provided by magnetic monopole interaction with that hollow globe of forces surrounding the worldlet that kept the artificial atmosphere in place. Such a vessel could act as a spaceship, able to ride the complex magnetic fields surrounding Jupiter from moon to moon, but not able to cross the interplanetary void.

Jett saw the dark shapes of receding figures of the crew departing the abandoned ship. Some dove through the sky, seeking lower altitude before deploying artificial wings, while others, more foolish, were floating upward, light as thistledown, and were too near the vessel.

Even as he looked, the skycraft was struck amidships, in the ship’s magazine. A spreading cloud of oily smoke, bright with thorns of leaping flame, cracked the vessel in half. Any crewmen who had bailed out, but deployed their antigravity harnesses too soon were floating near. These did not escape the concussion as the golden skycraft exploded, and they were struck with the white-hot hailstones of fiery debris that came down after.

Through the sooty fog of the exploded wreckage, cruising forward, her ramming prow visible first, Jett caught a dim and momentary glimpse of the massive, armored, shark-finned outline, bristling with missile launchers and laser cannons, of the pirate battleship of the Machine Men. The sign of the Iron Skull gleamed on the ominous black hull.

Atop the conning tower, standing upright in the raging winds, clamped in place by magnetic units in their iron feet, were shapes like black knights in armor, dark crests fluttering from their faceless helms. These were the self-aware robots of Ganymede.

In the forefront, with his metallic, inhuman corsairs looming over him, was the cyborg leader of the space pirates, black-haired and black-cloaked Lord Ferric, Prince of Plunder. To the eye, he seemed human, a handsome man of flesh and blood. He had a human brain inside his metal skull. But beneath his skin were scales of iron, bones of bronze and nerves of steel, and, in place of a heart, an atomic dynamo.

Despite the distance, despite the dim light, Ferric saw Jett Hazard’s amazing leap into empty air. Their eyes met for an instant too brief to count. Ferric smiled a chilly smile, drew his black sword carved from the tooth of a space leviathan, and with it, ironically saluted the bronze figure of Earthman helplessly plunging to his doom.

But as his spin completed, Jett saw close at hand the guard below him, receding rapidly through the dark air. The guard was still falling, nor were there any plumes of kinetic-energy maneuvering thrusters coming from his flying harness. The guard had spread his arms and legs to prevent himself from tumbling, which slowed his fall.

This meant that Jett, whose arms and legs were held flat in a swimmer’s dive, met with less air resistance, hence fell faster. Down he arrowed like a striking hawk, and tackled the man in midair.

The hoarse scream of the guard was smothered by the concussion of sizzling thunder that tore the very air. The black battleship of the pirates had seen the survivors falling from the stricken skycraft of the Empire, and was opening fire with energy canons.

The guard had a broken arm. He fumbled at the hilt of his sword, trying to draw it left-handed. Jett punched the man in the face with a fist like a sledgehammer. The helmet dented under the impact, breaking nose and bruising jaw, so that blood gushed from skull-shaped eyeholes and mouthslit of the helm. The struck man was dazed, but his tigerish ferocity could not ebb. He struck at Jett with fist and feet, knees and elbows, bruising the bronze flesh of the unarmored, unclothed man.

The two spun end over end as the air roared and screamed.

The strong fingers of Jett Hazard had found the clasps of the flying harness, and yanked them free. The belt studded with disks of antigravity metal, and shoulder straps dotted with thrust-ray cylinders, was pulled into a cat’s cradle snarl between the two men as they wrestled, whirled and toppled.

Above them, the black pirate ship fired again. Where the sizzling, purple-hued disintegration rays struck any toppling bit of aerial debris or falling flotsam from the wreck, the sudden dissolution of bonds between metallic atoms would turn metal to dust. This broke the falling litter into smaller bits of spinning chaff and debris. So thick a cloud was formed, that the rays were momentarily impeded, reflecting off the smoke and wrack of the devastation they themselves wrought.

The guard shouted, “By the Deadly Gods of Darkness! No lesser being shall ever overcome the never-born vat-grown terror-troopers of Crull the All-Seeing, Tyrant of Jupiter!”

These were his last words: Jett Hazard kicked him in the pit of the stomach, breaking the lower rim of the guard’s breastplate with a naked heel, doubling the man over, and sending him spinning up and away into the unsupported air, wailing his final wail.

A beam of blazing disintegration energy, hissing like a python, purple as wine, darted down from the hidden pirate ship toward Jett Hazard.

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Episode 03      The Evil Princess of Io

The rockets of the pirate ship overhead roared, and metal hull groaned as the vessel dove down, firing again and again.

Jett Hazard somersaulted in midair in his haste to don the flying harness. He snapped the clasps shut and triggered the jets, but not the lifting disks. The jets were cool flares of pure kinetic force that shoved him suddenly to one side, then another, as he struggled to get the belt-controls in hand.

This random jerking saved his life. The blazing ray from the stooping pirate ship above swept past him, missing, and trailed away through the air to his left, glowing like a shaft of indigo fire.

Gaining control of the harness, he did not rise, but performed a swan dive, and activated the jets to their full thrust, blazing like emerald comets. He shot downward faster than a falling body could fall.

His skin grew raw beneath the air friction. Tears filled his squinting eyes. He plunged into a cloud below, and the water droplets were a moment of cool relief.

Then the fog was gone.

The disintegrator fire from above continued, but the droplets of cloud dispersed and weakened the indigo beams that shot down blindly to his left and right. Only once did the edge of a disintegration ray strike him, glancing across his naked arm, but missing the harness on his body, and, more importantly, missing the glittering disks, humming boxes and blazing cylinders on the harness. He owned neither wedding ring nor wristwatch, so nothing metallic was inside the action of the ray.

Below him, he saw a rocky coastline of broken and tilted white cliffs, topped with red thornbushes and pink scrub brush. A slender, shapely silhouette passed before the chalky cliffs.

It was the princess.

It seemed impossible to Jett Hazard that Princess Aspasia was still in the air after what seemed so long. Perhaps it was the lesser pull of Io’s gravity, or perhaps the battle-frenzy imposed by desperate life-and-death struggle had elongated each passing second in his sense of time.

Nonetheless, his keen eyes lied not: there was the slim and gorgeous figure of the doomed girl still toppling through the dark air, still facing her certain fate with stoic, proud silence. The long locks of thick black hair whipped about her face like an ebony flag of defiance.

The cold green rays of his belt thrusters propelled him downward faster than her fall. He maneuvered parallel, careful not to collide nor overshoot, and with quick, masterful precision, adjusted his speed and direction to match hers.

Now at last a sound from her outshouted the roar of the air: a gasp of scorn. “You dog!”

The white cliffs were rushing up to meet them faster than any express train. Jett circled the yielding flesh of her yielding, supple waist in one brawny arm, and clasped her tight. With the other, he seized her slender wrist, for she had raised a gleaming dagger from her jeweled girdle to smite him.

It was as if he had grappled a wildcat. The red nails of her ivory hands tore at him; her fine white teeth snapped at his thick neck; she kicked with her long legs; and she writhed and struck with all the force in her lovely, soft, curvaceous body, so warm and vibrant in his grasp. The ruby blade of her dagger hissed and sputtered with toxic, nerve-destroying energy: one scratch could slay a grown man.

He twisted her hand behind her back and tossed the dagger away into the wind. “Temper, temper, princess!” he said mockingly in her ear. She yerked back her head, trying to smash his face with the crown of her skull.

He tucked her under his arm, her elbows pinned to her sides and her shapely legs kicking angrily in the air. This allowed him to work the flying harness controls with his free hand.

The sudden deceleration drove a black mist before his eyes, and left him breathless. They were yanked sideways. The straps of the harness groaned, almost breaking, and cut into his flesh. The princess stopped struggling. She gasped, dazed, unable to breathe.

The broken cliff swept toward him. It was too fast. He could not cut his speed in time.

But there: a dark scar in the chalk surface! It was a crevasse. The rock wall that was about to smash him and the beautiful princess into paste was broken in one place.

The smallest flicker of the jets deflected his course. His aim was perfect: into the crevasse they sped. Hard stone walls roared past either ear, but missed striking him.

Below him was a narrow, angry river. To either side, blurred by sheer speed, white rock walls sped past. But his curving fall had just enough time to bend his plummeting path … just enough … the water was fifty feet below him … twenty … ten …

White foam erupted from his heels as he put his feet down into the river surface, so that water sluiced up into the air, twin roostertails. For a moment, his speed pushed him along like a water-skier with no skis. The water resistance bounced him back into the air for a long moment. And then again. He skipped like a flung stone.

Then he was over the riverbank, which was fine white sand. He slowed and slowed, and eased to a gentle stop.

The princess moaned deep in her throat, and pointed her toes. Jett set her gently on her feet, holding her by her delicate, bare shoulders. Sweat and river water had drenched her, so the wisp of red silk she wore now clung tightly to her voluptuous curves, effectively transparent.

She opened her eyes halfway. Her gaze was like smoky, emerald fire. Quick as a sinuous snake, she reached and drew the flame-pistol from her hip and thrust the muzzle up under his jaw.

“Come now, princess!” he said, grinning, “Where is your gratitude?”

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Episode 04     The Sea Monster Strikes

Jett Hazard smiled carefully, trying not to wiggle his chin, where the barrel of the deadly pistol was pressed angrily into his flesh. He did not want to startle the princess or her trigger finger.

“You are an enemy of the realm, Earthman!” the raven-tressed girl’s words were soft and sultry, but filled with venom. Sparks of hate danced in her half-lidded, emerald eyes.

“That does not mean we cannot be friendly,” he said smoothly. “What has the realm ever done for you? Married you off to some merchant-prince who bought you for money? Framed you for murder? Threw you off a sky-ship in full flight?”

“You know northing, Earthman!” She drawled with soft contempt, her gaze hot with wrath, her red lips drawn in a pout of scorn. “By the Gods of Darkness! I was not thrown! I leaped. No one murders me. Am I not a princess of the blood?”

“You lead a sad life if you feel the need to end it, princess,” said Jett, his tone suddenly sober and dark. “You are too beautiful to die.”

“I am the daughter of the Emperor!”

“Does he love you as father should?”

Her whole frame stiffened. She slapped Jett across the cheek with a resounding slap, loud as a pistolshot. “I should kill you as you stand, Earthman!”

“Call me Jethro. And you should check to see if your safety is still on.”

When she tilted the flame pistol to look at the tiny safety lever, her eyes left his for the merest fraction of a second. With a motion too swift to be seen, he took the pistol out of her hand. The gun went off, sending a beam a flame sizzling a half inch from his ear, to burn a sputtering exclamation point of baked stone across the canyon wall so close behind him.

He engaged the safety with his thumb. “I meant that, you should turn it on. Otherwise, you might hurt someone.” The weapon was slim, meant for small hands, and adorned with red opals and nacre. He tucked the pistol into the belt of the flying harness.

“It seems I am your prisoner now, Earthman,” said the girl in a tone of lilting scorn. She lifted her fine and haughty nose, half turning away, but glanced at him sidelong threw the black thicket of her half-lowered eyelashes. “No doubt you dream of ravishing me. My father’s ransom to you will be greater if you do not: he still seeks that I should marry that traitorous swine from Callisto, Luxor the Rich. Luxor the Upstart!”

“You are good-looking, princess, no doubt. But I have another girl I dream about, and I am dreaming about marriage …  not just some sordid affair. You future-people seem to have forgotten how things are supposed to be done.”

Her eyes flashed in anger. “You mean you do not desire me? All men do, or I have them slain!”

“Here is a hint: a little modesty goes a long way to making a young lady desirable, no matter what her looks. So, thank you for the invitation, if that is what it was, but no thank you. As for being my prisoner, all you are at the moment is my luggage, because I am going to carry you up out of this canyon, to see where we are and what we can do to find rescue.”

“You would not dare lay hands on me!”

He did not answer, except to grin and raise an eyebrow.

Again,” she muttered, “I mean, you would not dare lay hands on me again.”

“What I would not do, princess, is leave a lady half-rescued. I will not strand you down here in the river canyon with no weapon and no way to climb out. The necks of the sea monsters grow pretty long.”

He drew the pistol and pointed it at the river. She stole a gaze over her bare shoulder at the dark, swift water. An ominous line of bubbles, formed in a V-shape, was approaching the riverbank.

“Time to go! I can carry you like a bride, or, if you struggle or scratch, I can throw you over my shoulder like a sack. The second one is less dignified, but, then again, there is no one around to see.”

She answered by slapping him again, or trying to. He grabbed her slim wrist, pulled her up off the ground, stooped, grabbed her about the thighs, and straightened, hoisting her to his shoulder. Her hips were at his ear, and her head near the small of his back. Her long hair tickled his calves and ankles. She kicked and screamed.

It was not normal for her to scream. She was screaming a warning. Jett whirled, pistol raised.

As the crocodile-headed snake-necked form of a plesiosaur reared suddenly above the water, snapping, Jett Hazard kicked the ground and soared up into the air, shooting two gouts of narrow flame, one after the other, first into the monster’s right eye, and then its left.

Although blinded and screaming in pain, the monster was undaunted. The huge form reared up, clawed fins scrabbling at the sandy bank, hoisting its bulk half out of the water, stretching its neck to lunge again. Jett saw a collar of purple metal around the creature’s neck.

As the head darted toward him, hot slaver flying from its fanged jaws, Jett kicked it sharply in the blunt snout, which pushed his weightless body up higher.

“Fool!” called Aspasia in her smoky voice. “Shoot the nostrils, not the eyes! It hunts by scent!”

“No, princess,” said Jett as the white rock walls of the canyon began to slide past them quickly.  “It was someone’s pet, and we are out of reach now. I do not want it to starve.”

A note of true confusion entered her tone. “You would spare even monsters? They cannot know gratitude.”

“Neither can you, but I saved you anyhow, didn’t I?”

Up they went into the light. Even the dim sun seemed dazzling after the cavelike gloom of the narrow canyon.

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Episode 05     The Terror Troops

Up from the dark crevasse soared Jett Hazard, with fair Princess Aspasia flung unceremoniously over his shoulder, her long black hair sweeping his calves.

They were floating above the edge of the rock walls. Here was costal land atop the cliff, coated as far as the eye could see with white outcroppings, and the crumbling walls and foundations of old ruins, peeking up through fields and thickets and hedges of rippling thorn stalks. The thornbush stems were dark scarlet, and their clawed twigs were pink.

In the eerie light of the crescent of Jupiter, the wind-rippling surface of the tall plants was like a sea of blood-red daggers and barbs, with the broken walls of ancient ruins were like barren islands of bone-white. In some places, the thorns were shoulder-high, in some places higher.

Her voice came up from behind his hip. “You rescued me in hope of reward from my father, a pardon for your many crimes.”

“I am proud of my crimes, as you call them, princess!” retorted Jett with a huge, deep laugh. “And I almost got smashed into jelly just now, trying that trick maneuver. You think anyone pulls stunts like that … for money?”

Jett now landed.

He was glad to have his feet planted firmly on the ground once more. Jett laughed a roaring laugh of loud delight, and tossed the princess off his shoulder so forcefully that she soared above his head.

For some absurd reason, now that the ground was close enough that a fall was unlikely to hurt her, only now did the princess forget her pride, and screamed in pure terror. Or perhaps it was pure outrage. Her voice was a clear and fair soprano.

Still laughing, the huge man caught her in his powerful arms and lowered her slim and shaking body gently to the ground. Her straining tiptoes touched the topsoil, but now her pale and lovely arms, lithe and strong as snakes, were twined around him, clinging to him for protection.

Her cheeks were pink with high emotion, and the blush colored her throat, shoulders, and almost reached her bosom. She felt the warm strength of his golden-brown flesh pressed up against her yielding curves.

She was tall for a woman, and her head almost reached the mountain peaks of his shoulders. She craned back her head to study his face, her full, red lips frowning now in a look of puzzlement.

She said, “You cannot elude my father forever, Earthling! Crull is all-seeing! With his televisor ray, all the doings of mortal men on all the moons are open to his gaze! No walls, no distance, no darkness can hinder his penetrating eye!”

“I have managed to stay one step ahead of him so far,” said Jett, smiling.

She gazed up at him, her eyes half lidded. “His men lost you at Metis, when you were trapped in the volcanic ice caves, and eluded capture again in the radioactive mountains of Cyllene. Why did you so meekly surrender to the rocket convoy just now, carrying me to my wedding?”

Jett shrugged. “The Time Traveler told me to. To save you.”

“Then you desire me!”

He smiled, and stepped back from her, and performed a mockery of a courtly bow. “You are a fine woman, Princess, or could be if you put your mind to it. I have no hard feelings toward you. But I love Lethonee.”

Her husky whisper throbbed with passion. “Then she must die! I will have you, or none will!”

But at this Jett stiffened, head snapping upright in alarm. He pulled himself free and thrust the tall woman behind him, drawing the flame pistol as he did.

A platoon of men in fantastical gold armor now strode in lockstep out from the curtain of thorny hedge and came suddenly into view. An officer with a sword barked out a command: the men raised their rifles.

All the rifles were trained on him.

The Princess stepped away from Jett, and drew herself up haughtily, green eyes flashing.

“Surrender, Earthman! You have laid your hands on me. An outrage to my royal person!”

“Well, princess, was there a way to save your life without touching you?”

“Insolence! Throw down your arms!”

Jett smiled sadly at the ungrateful woman. He dropped the flame pistol to the chalky soil, and raised his shoulders in a shrug, and raised his hands in surrender.

For he saw that these men did not bear the Iron Skull of Ganymede, but instead wore on their crests the Imperial Vulture of Io. No space pirates were they. These were the Emperor’s vat-grown terror-troops.

Aspasia stared in puzzled shock at the sight of the dropped flame pistol. The soldiers murmured among themselves. Apparently no one had expected Jett Hazard to surrender.

The tableau held still for a moment, as if no one knew quite what to do.

Then Aspasia uttered a gleeful, throaty laugh, tossing back her magnificent head in triumph.

The lieutenant knelt before the raven-haired beauty, “Princess! We feared the worst! Thank the Gods of Darkness you are safe! Fortunately, our sea-beast, Typho, was able to signal our submarine rocket-boat with the circuits in his collar after he was attacked and blinded. Our missiles damaged the pirate craft, and brought it down into the sea! We were able to recover Lord Ferric before he was eaten by sea snakes, and have him in custody!”

Aspasia spoke in a husky voice. “Excellent work, Captain Thalis! Rise! With Ferric and the Earthman in custody, we shall have three executions to amuse the mob this day!”

She looked over her bare shoulder at Jett Hazard, who was being put in wrist-chains by the soldiers.

Her green-flashing, sultry eyes were half-lidded as she regarded the Earthman. “Have I not told you? The doddering old graybeard, Melchizedek the so-called Time Traveler, has been taken.”

She saw no surprise nor shock in his eyes.

Her voice grew huskier with anger. Her eyes flashed emerald, “So much for his vaunted ability to know the things to come! Could he not have foretold a simple trap?”

Jett said, “Where is he now?”

“The old fool is even now held beneath the Dome of Death, fated to perish on the scarlet-painted sands of the Arena of Blood, for the pleasure and spectacle of the mob and the glory of my father! Melchizedek dies this very day, when Io next enters the shadow of Jupiter — a time sacred to the Gods of Darkness! — and you! You dare to scorn me! You shall join him!”

*** *** ***

Episode 06     Beneath the Dome of Death

Not long after, Jett Hazard found himself in the middle in a pitch-black cell, inside a cage no wider than a phonebooth, wearing nothing but a slave tunic.

Directly overhead was a trapdoor hatch, slightly wider than the cell itself. This hatch slid aside, releasing a trickle of sand onto his head. Roars of voices and glares from lights fell on him. The platform on which his cage stood trundled upward. Through the bars, the scene came slowly into view.

Overhead, held aloft on great, curving ribs of black metal, was a crystal dome through which the bright, huge crescent of Jupiter and the tiny dot of the sun were visible through gaps in the gathering storm clouds. The aerial warships of the Empire, dozens and scores, passed amid these clouds in a great cone of carrion-bird circles, one above the next.

Under the lesser gravity of Io, the dome was larger than any ever reared on Earth: the entire population of the great city of Tyranopolis could fit into the stands. Lanterns as countless as stars hung down on long chains from the circumference of the dome, and gleamed with the harsh, blue-white glare Cherenkov radiation.

Flying troopers in levitation harnesses and artificial wings, wearing sleek, hawk-faced helmets and armed with crossbows or electric halberds, circled among these lanterns like wasps.

Four idols, tall as towers, loomed above the red sands, holding up the dome. These were enthroned figures at whose feet were altars so wide that slaves could be dismembered, or flayed, or burned alive on their stained surfaces by the score. Carved of jet-black onyx and with eyes of gleaming gold, the idol’s crowned heads were those of four beasts known to eat human flesh: vulture, crocodile, minotaur, and wild boar.

As Jett Hazard’s head and shoulders rose above the ground, the sound of drums and trumpets echoed from the dark dome, and the rustling murmur and cheering of the crowds swelled high: a sound of bloodlust.

His eyes swept the stands as each rank came into his view.

Highest, in the rearmost seats, were commoners and burghers, men and women in fantastical garb. The next rank of seats was filled with warriors and knights formed of several races from the irregular and minor moons of Jupiter, where the terraforming and pantropy in forgotten ages past bred strange mutations. Here were centaurs from Himalia, armored in barding and jackets of mail, flourishing lances; haughty lion-men of Pasiphae with laser longbows; owl-men with gas-guns from Kore; and green-skinned gilled men from Thelxinoe in watertight breathing helmets bearing spearguns and tridents.

Closer and lower still were luxury boxes and exclusive seats for officers and nobles, ministers, scribes, evil priests, and mind-wizards.

Below them, Jett saw the curule chairs where sat the ruling families of Jupiter’s moons, the royal vassals of Crull. Jett Hazard looked from face to face.

Not long ago, he had met in battle the ruthless Metallicus, the Robot King of Ganymede, and before that, the savage Horselord, Killer Khan of Himalia, largest of the irregular moons. Jett had overcome the Eight-headed Eel of the Sunless Seas beneath the icecap of Thelxinoe, to rescue Undine the Fair, Queen of the Ocean Moon. The Undead Fungus Jungle of Kore, where Noctus, the Hermit-King of the Owl-Men, performed his unholy experiments, was now a land of pastures and burned stumps.

These princesses and princes he had overcome or had aided in days not long past. None seemed afraid of him now, to judge from their cold expressions.

The grim old Noctus had violated his hermit vows to come into the crowded city, and stared at Jett with over-large, unwinking eyes, eager for the spectacle to come.

Nor saw Jett any gratitude in any faces either. The beautiful young Undine, dressed in a skintight sheath of green scales, wearing her crown of cockle shells, would not meet his eyes.

Strange. Where was the seat for the boisterous, hard-bitten, loud-laughing Merchant Prince of Callisto, Luxor the Rich? Wasn’t he set to marry Aspasia today? The seat beneath his golden banner was present, but empty.

With a start of disbelief, Jett Hazard saw a figure seated in the Imperial box that he knew well: Prince Phanes of the Haunted Moon of Themisto. The tricky, double-dealing young man still seemed to be wearing the many-colored doublet and holographic cloak of the feared Chief of all Mind-Wizards, but his devilishly handsome face with its quirky half smile and pencil moustache blurred and shifted under Jett’s skeptical gaze, and changed into a pale-skinned, bald and leprous stranger with sagging cheeks and sad eyes.

Jett found his temples throbbing. It was possible to force oneself to see through a mental illusion, but it took effort, eyestrain, and headache.

This was some other Mind-Wizard, not Phanes, sitting in the place of Phanes. Jett strained to recall the man. It was the Phanes’ sneaking and soft-spoken Grand Vizier, a man named Proteus.

Here on his golden vulture-throne was Crull the Immortal, alchemist, emperor, and master of forbidden sciences. He was bald, narrow-eyed, with drooping moustaches framing narrow lips. His chasuble was imperial purple trimmed with woven gold above an alb of white, but he wore the hood and skullcap of a scholar.

Standing below him, gathered on the sand, lest a dinosaur or wild slave rush the wall, were Crull’s personal guard of synthetic men, each an identical twin to the others. A line of hoplites with round shields and tall, flint-tipped spears was flanked on either side by a squad of dragoons with flame rifles. Their captain wore the leathery armor and thick goggles of a field lancer. He was armed with a disintegration lance, connected by cables to a backpack dynamo.

Crull’s daughter Aspasia was lounging on a cushioned divan at his right hand, nibbling fretfully on a pomegranate. Her hair was piled up like a black beehive atop her head. Two generous hemispheres of shining red silk formed her brief bandeau. A loincloth of flowing red silk ran from her hips to her ankles. Rubies winked at her throat, ears, midriff, navel, arms and legs, fingers and feet. Her jeweled belt holding scabbard and holster was slung low around her curving hips.

A smaller throne made of lacy golden bars cast in swirling floral designs was to Crull’s left. Here sat Lethonee, the Time Traveler’s daughter. A sweeping pleated robe of white fell to her dainty, naked feet, leaving one shoulder bare. Her hair, a glowing mahogany-red, was held back with lacy mantissa: a veil of white to match her wedding dress. Her features were delicate, classical, perfect, and her eyes were a sapphire so startling they seemed almost purple.

The gilded ironwork ornamenting the throne hid fetters. Her wrists were clamped in place to the throne arms while a metal decoration shaped like a floral vine pinned her crossed ankles to one throne leg. Two of Crull’s hundred concubines, bedecked in gorgeous silk, as bridesmaids, stood behind her, with goblet and fan.

Seeing Jett, Lethonee’s eyes lit up, and her mouth moved: but whatever words of hope or love they carried were lost in the cries and calls of hate roaring from each side.

He gave her a grin and wink, wishing her could share his confidence with her. Poor girl! His heart grew hot with fury to see her unhappy. How could a girl from a far future utopia even understand the inhumanity of these cruel people of this generation?

To him, this was the unimaginable realm of tomorrow; but to her, it must have been a backward and barbaric age, a time long dead.

Jett Hazard looked at all this gathered strength, wondering how he, alone, unarmed and in a cage, was going to overcome it. That he would, he did not doubt. He had been told so, hadn’t he?

The roaring sounds from the crowd redoubled. Jett Hazard now looked left and right. Three other platforms were rising into view onto the red and sandy floor of the arena of death, one after another.

*** *** ***

Episode 07     Mind Wizard and Pirate Prince

The first platform’s narrow cage held a thin, sickly man, bald and big-headed, hardly taller than a child, whom, at first, Jett did not recognize.

The dwarf had yellow teeth, grime in the wrinkles of his sagging flesh, and dirt under untrimmed toenails. His robe was a gray, shimmering substance. Only when the little man looked up, and Jett saw his eyes and his expression, did the Earthman recognize him.

“Prince Phanes, you old scamp!” Jett exclaimed in surprise. “What happened to your delusions? You are wearing your real face!”

Phanes’ weary eyes lit up with something of their old mischief when he saw Jett, and the sad droop of his mouth twisted into the familiar half-grin.

The crowd noise, oddly, gave them the privacy to speak. No guard was near enough to hear.

Phanes said, ” ‘Real’? The word is not one we use.”

“What gives?”

“That handsome face I once wore was the traditional image of Phanegen the Great, before he entered the mutation vats and became the first Mind-Wizard, first of the ruling family of Themisto. Only the High Prince of the City of Illusions may present himself in that appearance: since my humiliation at your hands, Crull stripped me of my rank. Did you not know?”

“I did not know you are going to be executed.”

The little man smiled impishly. “Executed? No. This day I am the executioner. Your executioner, unfortunately. Crull is about to announce it.”

“That is not true! We have to help each other, not kill each other.”

“What is truth?” The little man shrugged. “Reality is nothing; we each have our own.”

Now a new voice spoke, cold and hard: “By definition, then, you each have nothing.”

Jett turned his head. The mob’s roaring rose in volume like a wave crest tumbling to shore. Lord Ferric the Pirate was rising into view.

Outwardly, Lord Ferric seemed a man of flesh and blood, thin-faced, hook-nosed, with eyes as blue as carbon steel. His features were calm and cold, without passion or compassion. His skin was pale as polished tin, his hair as black as cast iron.

Like Jett, he was caged. Unlike Jett, he wore finery of sable velvet, a weapon belt with buckles of ivory and a longsword at his hip: an ancient blade carved from the tusk of a space leviathan, layered in carbon fiber mesh, stronger and suppler than steel, allegedly unbreakable.

Ferric gave the dwarf a cold look. “Princes Phanes wishes for the embraces of Aspasia for himself, and thinks he will prevail in gladiatorial combat. Illogical! Calculations show I will be victor.”

Phanes smirked, “What combat? Slaughter. None can combat what he cannot see.”

Ferric said, “You cheat the mind, not the eye. Only what a man most hopes or fears can you project into his brain. But my brain is computer augmented, scientifically-trained, skeptical of hope, immune to fear! No delirium of yours will deceive me.”

“In your own eyes, then, you will be victor,” purred Phanes. “I gainsay nothing! Perhaps you will stab me. But what when no others see wounds? I can make myself unaware of pain.”

Ferric sneered. “As could I! I wear fragile flesh to remain able to touch the things of human life.”

The jaunty smile of Phanes twisted into a scowl. “Yet your heart is iron!”

Jett Hazard interrupted sharply, “Are you both insane? Neither of you is killing the other. The Time Traveler said today is the day we fling the Emperor from his throne!”

Phanes chuckled and rattled the bars of his cage.  “We? Your delusions are even more wild and free than mine! I salute you.”

Ferric said to Jett, “Of the two of us, who is more insane? There was never an Earth, a world of light, and you are not from there! Time travel is impossible: if it were possible, a man could murder his grandfather in childhood!”

Jett said, “Melchy says murderers are not allowed to become time travelers. Their grandchildren from the Utopia beyond tomorrow prevent it from happening.”

“Bah! Even if time travel were possible, it cannot be real. If it were real, all wars, and all suffering, would be undone before they begin.”

Jett said, “Undone how? No one listens to Time Travelers. People execute them. They stone them.”

“Nonsense! Everyone wants to know the future,” said Ferric.

“Do they? Do you? Everyone wants to know the winning lottery number for tomorrow, but not how a life of gambling turns out! What good did a warning from tomorrow do you? Melchy said piracy would land you here, condemned to die in the games. You don’t want to hear that you cannot do evil and produce good from it.”

Ferric scowled, but had no answer for that.

Jett said, “They visit many eras, warning many men of things to come. But they are allowed to change nothing but the hearts of the willing. But if no one listens, if no one is ready to act, what good is knowing the future? You! Are you listening? Are you ready?”

The crowd roars grew loud again as the next prisoner was lifted into view.

*** *** ***

Episode 08     The Warlord of Wealth

The final prisoner held in a narrow cage was a grim-faced, wide-shouldered man, stout and doughty. He wore fine emerald silks, a wide ruff of starched lace that was almost clownish. His green coat was adorned with lacy cuffs and buttons of pearl and ivory.

But no fine garb could soften the square crags of his features, the hard, unblinking slits of his stony eyes, the blue shadow of his jutting jaw, scruffy with stubble. He had the crooked nose and cauliflower ear of a man whose past held many fistfights, and the scarred knuckles to match, even though these were half hidden behind the oversized rings he wore on fingers and thumbs.

Jett Hazard stared in surprise. “I was expecting you to be up there…” he gestured at the empty chair in the Imperial box. “… I am glad you are here to help us.”

Prince Luxor of Callisto said in his gravelly voice, “You speak as if we had a deal, Earthman. But I love the princess Aspasia, and have loved her ever since I, long ago, was the chief of the palace guard, and Crull’s most trusted warlord. I conquered Callisto for her, and rebelled against the rule and reign of Crull, only because I thought it absurd to approach her as a suitor when I was not her equal in rank. These two mountebanks are not true princes, for they inherited their titles. I won my name by the edge of the sword! But all of this, you threaten. Aspasia looks with favor on you.”

Ferric said coldly, “Not a true prince? My uncle killed my father and usurped my throne at Crull’s instigation, and I have been betrayed and hunted like a wild beast through all the forests of untamed Ganymede, and all the tumbling outer moons, and the dust clouds, and flying icebergs of the ring system. Yet still the folk of Ganymede in secret support me, metal men and cyborgs and men of flesh alike, supplying me with weapons and supplies, men and robots, and ever they hope for my restoration! By the will of the people, I am prince!”

Luxor said, “Even if you regain the throne of Ganymede, you are a pirate, not prince. Your whole way of life takes what others make. On Callisto, we earn our gold.”

“My reign of glory dates from this day!” said Ferric, showing unusual passion in his narrow face. “Aspasia shall be mine, and soon Crull’s throne will also! I shall revise all laws, all customs! When robotkind rules man, rulers will be immune to bribery or compassion or corruption! I am every inch a prince, and worthy of Aspasia’s love! For saying otherwise, coin-chaser, you will die!”

Luxor spoke coldly. “You are a daydreamer who prates about building a scientific utopia. And yet what are you? A thief and plunderer! An amputee with artificial limbs. You think you can improve on nature! You have only made yourself unnatural. You build nothing. You only destroy.”

“You speak of destruction?” retorted Ferric, his voice even colder, “I am no Time Traveler, but I will prophesy the coming hour: Phanes will cloud your mind, and slit your foolish throat. However, I will see him plain and clear, and kill him with my hands, which are stronger than any hands of flesh and blood. Phanes is a mystic, and I am superhuman! What are you?”

“Rich,” said Luxor. He held his hands through his cage bars, displaying his many rings. “Rich enough to bribe guards, who were once my men, to smuggle to me my rings of power, which contain a secret not even known to Crull: Each ring controls a different wavelength of my transmutation ray. I can turn base metals into gold, turn water into wine, or stones to bread, or rob the air of oxygen. As soon as the guards are distracted by the execution, and before these cages open, you will suffocate.”

Jett Hazard said, “Luxor, why are you still here? If you can dissolve your cage bars, I mean?”

Luxor smiled sadly. “This not a disintegrator, but a transmuter. Gold is a soft metal, but still not soft enough for my strength to break. Besides, there is considerable noise and energy-flare when the atomic composition of matter is rearranged. Once I start transmuting the bars, the dragoons will bathe my cage in fire.” He gestured with his glance toward the imperial troopers carrying flame rifles.

Jett turned his head, “Phanes, how many minds can you fool?”

“All of them.” The little man said, “Am I not the Prince of my kind, a race of deceivers? But every eye will see the same phantom, if that is what you mean.”

“You can fool the whole crowd here?”

Phanes said, “Not robots. But I can deceive the ear as easily as the eye, and so silence or reword any warning a robot might shout. Why do you ask?”

“Why didn’t you escape? Even if they captured you with robots, you should be able to fool anyone guarding you.”

“Crull was there.”


Phanes said, “Emperor Crull! I do not know what he fears. I do not know what phantom to show.”

“Watch for your opportunity! It should be soon!”

Phanes shook his oversized, bald head in wonder. “Earthman! Are you still convinced you stand a chance? Look at the gathered legions here! The flying vulture-troops! That fleet overhead! The four Gods of Darkness are staring down! Are you just going to rush the stands, climb over the heads of his personal legionnaires, and strangle Crull with your bare hands?”

Jett laughed. “Good plan! I will try it!”

Phanes said, “It is impossible!”

“And you are always saying reality is whatever you want it to be.”

Phanes said, “No one will help you! No one! Not I!”

Ferric said, “The deceiver speaks truth. We are not here to help you. As soon as the trumpet blows, and the bars retract, we all kill you. And then each other.”

Luxor said, “The survivor weds Aspasia. Why should we help you, Earthman?”

“Because what happens after the wedding?” said Jett with a wry smile.

Ferric said stiffly, “What are you driving at?”

“Suppose you have a kid. Then what? You get old. Or get assassinated. And then your son turns over your world, and your scientific secrets, to Grandpa Crull. Who will not have aged a day! Meanwhile Crull will pop Aspasia back into his life vats, make her young again, and set her up to seduce some grandchild in the next generation. He plays the long game.”

Phanes said, “Wait a moment! Are you saying she is not the age she appears to be? She is actually old?”

Jett said, “Very old. You have to wonder why Crull burned all the history records. His daughter’s age is just one of the things he covered up. The fact that all men, from cyborgs to centaurs, we all come from earth, that we are all brothers, is another. She is an artificial being, grown from Crull’s own cells.”

“Horrible!” said Ferric. “To couple with such a creature would be … unnatural!”

Luxor spoke. His voice was more gravelly a grumble than before. “I love her, Earthman. Nothing you say changes that.”

Jett’s gaze grew intent. “If you love her, free her!”

Luxor looked startled.

Jett said sharply, “Do you think she likes being the daughter of an undying tyrant? Being a pawn in a game of loveless political marriage? Luring her bridegroom to a marriage bower, only to have it be his deathbed? Her life is an evil madhouse. No wonder she acts like an evil madwoman! Do you know why she leaped to her death rather than marry you? It was to save your worthless life, you dolt!”

Luxor’s face grew red. “That cannot be true! The accursed pirates attacked her convoy, and threw her overboard!”

Ferric said coldly, “Illogical. My robot corsairs were ordered to abduct her, not to harm her. Robots cannot disobey!”

“She jumped.” Jett said, “She … jumped. If you do not believe me, listen!”

For the Emperor was giving a speech.

*** *** ***

Episode 09     The Tyrant of Jupiter

A three-dimensional projection filled the air above the red sands of the arena. Here was a shimmering image of the Emperor’s head. The skull was bald, with a brow like Jove, denoting a potent intellect. Beneath heavy brow ridges, deep set eyes were wolf-green, as his daughter’s were. Under his sharp nose, a narrow foxlike chin was outlined in a black goatee. His thin mustaches hung past his jaw. A network of thin lines gathered at the corners of his long, narrow eyes and sinister, thin lips showed the history of a face that never assumed an expression of laughter, except in scorn.

Amplifiers carried his voice everywhere under of the black glass dome.

“Slaves of the Empire! There is no history. There is no future. Time is an endless cycle that begins and ends with me: Crull the First, Crull the Eternal, Crull the Absolute.

“Within that cycle, we allow disobedience, rebellion, and madness to increase for a time, so that the elements disruptive to the social order may be isolated… identified…purged!

“Bloodshed and terror unleashed remind the loyal to remain obedient, unquestioning, mindless, and happy. The old order is restored, and empty dreams of freedom return to emptiness. Thus, the cycle begins again! Only Crull is timeless: your ruler, your father, your divinity.

“To celebrate the end of all rebellion, it is our imperial will that our subjects rejoice in the marriage of my daughter, the keen-eyed princess Aspasia. Ah! But she unwisely defied my will, and did not accept the suitor selected. Nonetheless, a wedding will be done!

“Prisoners of the Dome of Death! Hear now your fate, and my decree!

“I am pleased with none of you.

“Prince Luxor! Your world mutinied, only to approach me later proffering terms of trade and peace. You waited for a time when I was in need: My coffers had been drained due to the depredations of Jett Hazard, the outlaw, robbing my tax-gatherers, and agitating the people! You sought to make yourself my equal. Nothing is less forgivable. Equality is treason!

“Lord Ferric! Your pirates for years have plundered and ravaged, attempting to restore you to your throne. And, clean above your station, you sought my daughter’s hand in marriage. You dream of a better world than mine. Dreams are treason!

“You who was once called Phanes! While in a comely disguise, you flattered my daughter with words of romance! Now her mind is unsteady, and she speaks nonsense about marrying for love. True, this is no felony, but you have been too free with your speech. Freedom is treason!

“Earthman! You vex me in ten thousand ways. Each word you say, the way you hold yourself when you stand, the way you breathe the air of my world, all of this is treason.

“Daughter! I can think of only one punishment fitting for you: if you will not wed the prince I set before you, then you will be wedded to a lowly outlaw or slave. I decree gladiatorial games here and now to be held in honor of my great glory, and to amuse the groundlings, and sate the lusts of the Dark Gods for shed human blood. The victor will be your husband, lord, and master.”

There was a commotion. Aspasia rose to her feet from her couch, her beauty made more beautiful by her anger, uttering a harsh defiance against her father. Her words were not amplified: her voice was lost in the width of the great dome.

She turned as if to storm away, but, at Crull’s gesture, two amazon spearmaidens in tight, curve-hugging chainmail seized her by the shoulders and elbows, holding her in place. Aspasia drew her stiletto, clenching her white teeth and tossing her luxurious raven hair in anger as she kicked against the greaves of the spearmaidens, but to no avail. Aspasia pouted sulkily, sheathed the knife, and subsided. The spearmaidens forced her to sit down.

Crull watched this rough handling of his own daughter with cold amusement. His voice was once more carried throughout the space of the Dome.

“Observe your future, daughter! The candidates to be your bridegroom will fight each other to death! Whether the survivor takes you on your wedding night against your will, or you stab him in his sleep, or both, at least one of you will deliver a punishment fitting to the other, and amusing to me.

“And, yes, the outcome will be useful no matter the case. The iron armies of Ganymede or the gold of Callisto will be mine, or the mind-powers of Themisto. Indeed, I prosper even if the Earthman wins. Think of how the common people will be cowed, once they hear that the Time Traveler has been torn to pieces by wild beasts, and their dashing highwayman-hero has entered the Imperial family as my son-in-law!”

With these words, the gigantic head tilted back, lifting its sneer toward the sky in exaltation, although the narrow eyes never wavered in their reptilian gaze. The cold and triumphant laughter of Crull the All-Seeing echoed from the dome, hideous.

The titanic image winked out, but the huge voice, hugely amplified, continued: “All rebellion ends this day, with the death of the so-called Time Traveler! His warnings and promises of future events are false and absurd. Crull is the future! Crull is the past! There is no other!”

*** *** ***

Episode 10     The Time Traveler

Drums uttered thunder and brass trumpets brayed. A final platform brought into view an old man. He was clothed in a rough garment of camel hair. His hair was white as snow, and fell to his shoulders, while his beard fell to the rope he wore for a belt.

His face was as craggy and stern as a final judgement from which there is no appeal. His eyes were bright and eerie as two distant stars, and as he gazed on the crowds gathered to witness his death, no one could meet them, not even the Emperor himself.

The cage bars around the old man retracted, leaving Melchizedek alone on the red-colored sand.

Melchizedek the Time Traveler drew himself up, hand raised, palm outward, eyes stern.

The whole mob fell silent, awed by the sight of this man of whom they had heard so many strange tales, tales which it was treason to believe or to repeat.

His voice was not amplified, nor did he shout, but his words sang and rang in the ears of all there, and in their hearts.

“Woe unto you, tyrant! Only a single moment remains for you to change your heart! All these events, even this appearance of final triumph, lead merely to your defeat and downfall!”

“You dare speak thus to me?” Crull’s amplified voice roared in return, loud as the rushing of many waters. “All little worlds surrounding Jupiter are mine! Mine is the power of life and death! For countless years I have ruled and reigned: I am immortal!”

“Your doom is at hand. Avoid it, you cannot — unless you change. Open your eyes, receive the light, and whatever was otherwise fated for you will be written anew! The future from which I come will be closed to me forever, and new worlds be born. It is an exile I gladly embrace, if but a single soul is saved from these wicked years!”

Crull scoffed, “Reports I have heard of the windy words of empty hope you speak to the peasants! Proffer them not to me! You speak blasphemy against the Gods of Darkness!”

Just at that moment, the small dot of the sun passed behind the wire-thin curve of Jupiter, whose vast face was now as dark as the new moon. The light of the hidden sun ignited the clouds seen at the rim of the mighty disk of Jupiter, and curving circle blazed overhead among the suddenly dark sky like a great rainbow of fire. The temperature dropped. The stormclouds began to send rain drumming against the dome.

Crull raise his hand. Trumpets blew.

Dozens of gates and hatches set in the sand or in the walls surrounding the arena slid open.

Deadly beasts both large and small, tyrannosaur and triceratops, gigantopithecus and dire wolf, fierce velociraptor and the hideous mantichore with his baboon-face, lion body, and lolling scorpion tail, and many more now leaped forth into the sand, stung by the whips of their handlers.

From the leanness of the leopard whose ribs were visible, it was clear the creatures had been starved, from the bloodshot eyes of the roaring ankylosaur, it was clear the creatures had been maddened with drugs.

There was a moment when the only sound was the panting of monsters, and the rapid beat of their footfalls on the sand. Then Crull started laughing sadistic laughter, delighted at the blood about to gush forth, and the crowd surged to its feet, and began to roar.

A circle of beasts, sharp of horn and strong of claw and slavering fang, was all around the old man, a tightening noose.

Crull turned on the voice amplifier again: “Watch closely, Jett Hazard! Here is your friend and mentor! You cannot protect him, nor can you escape from my sight again! This time, you will not get away! You will not vanish away!”

Jett was clutching he bars of his cage with both fists, his muscles swollen, his face red, staring in horror at the scene.

Over the roars of the crowd, he almost did not hear the soft voice of Phanes utter a laugh. “I will aid you, Earthman.”

Jett turned his head, and stared through the bars at the other cage. The big-headed dwarf was gone, or, rather seemed to be gone. Instead, garbed in his cloak of many colors, stood the tall and handsome image of a youthful prince, mischief in his grin, which Jett had seen when he first met Phanes, not many months ago. Radium gems glittered from the turban woven about his crown of mirrors, which sported a single feather jutting at a jaunty angle.

Phanes chuckled, “I now know what he fears. I can make all here see, or, rather not see. Poor, poor Crull! Crull the All-Seeing!”

And with that, Jett Hazard vanished away.

Crull screamed. It was a noise of shock, verging on panic.

Prince Luxor called out, “Jethro! Step away from the bars. I don’t want you to burn your hands. Phanes! Make my transmutation ray invisible!”

Phanes said, “Gladly, but only if the pirate agrees to bend my bars and yours, once they are gold.”

Lord Ferric said, “Agreed. But take my blade, Earthman, because if you mean to rush the imperial box, you will need it. Keep the guards busy while we escape.” He put the scabbard and swordbelt through the bars of his cage, and with a motion of his machine-powered arm, tossed the sword across the gap of red sand.

Jett was confused, for a moment, at being unable to see his arms and legs, nor the tip of his nose, but he was able to catch the flung sword. It shimmered and vanished in his hand, turning transparent. He pulled the swordbelt to him, and slung it over his shoulder, for he could not see the buckles to don it properly.

Jett knew the bars were being atomically changed, and so he knew that what he was seeing was false. He was certain of it. The certainty drove a fog out of his mind: with a throb of eye-strain, now he saw the shining, sizzling rays coming from Luxor’s ring. The eerie ray bathed the bars, changing them from iron-gray to shining gold. These bars were built to retract into the ground, so there were no crossbars, no bracings. They were tall and slim.

Even so, it was no easy task to pull one out of its socket. His muscular body strained with the effort. Sweat shined on his bronzed flesh.

The bar came free with clang of noise like a thunderclap that Phanes could not hide. Then Jett was on the sand, running toward Melchizedek. He saw that Phanes’ illusion was not perfect. His footfalls were visible as little red puffs of sand as he ran. His shadow flowed beneath him.

Robots in the stands might have seen him, but if any mechanized voice boxes uttered a warning, the sound was lost in the uproar of the crowd. Crull was on his feet, calling out commands. His voice amplifier rang: “The Earthman must still be in his cage! His disappearance is an illusion! He cannot escape me again! Not again! Open fire! Open fire!”

*** *** ***

Episode 11     The Hour of Darkness

Crull’s dragoons raised their flame rifles. Beams of burning energy, shining, blazing red, leaped crossed the wide sands, and converged on the empty cage. A ball of rolling black smoke and red tongues of flame leaped up, covering the whole cage.

The circle of beasts and the Time Traveler on which they were converging were in the path of the rifle fire. As the hissing beams of flame passed over the heads of saber-toothed lions and cannibal-fanged mantichores, the creatures reared up in primordial terror, firelight glinting in their wild and unblinking eyes, and shrieks and roars of panic shook the air.

Mammoth and tyrannosaur were struck in shoulder or head. The giant beasts wheeled, bellowing and trumpeting in madness and rage, and rushed the startled troopers, smoke and sparks gushing from burning mane or slick neck-scales.

Metallicus of Ganymede, Ferric’s evil uncle, was a cyborg like him. His eyelenses were not human eyes, and so were not deceived. Now he rose from his seat to speak urgently to Crull, pointing at the cage holding Phanes, which also seemed empty. His calm, monotone voice was picked up by the amplifier, and was loud enough to be heard over the crowd: “These phantom images are his doing, and will cease when he is dead!”

The command of Crull rang from the amplifier, “Dragoons! Burn Phanes’ cage!”

Fiery beams swung toward the cage holding Phanes. But an answering beam, a flashing fan of darting orange rays shot through with dark yellow dazzles now sprung from the bejeweled hand of Prince Luxor, and formed a glittering wedge around Phanes. This was his oxygen-destroying ray, and where it shined, the ignition-rays of the flame rifles ignited nothing.

Things were now happening too quickly, and in too many places, even for Phanes to cover with phantoms. The orange transmutation rays shooting from the power rings of Prince Luxor were plainly visible. Crull snapped out a command. The lancer captain of the guard stepped forward, and charged his disintegration lance. The crackling, stuttering, purple-hued beam of energy swept toward the cage holding Luxor.

Luxor merely turned his back, rings hidden in his fists held at the pit of his stomach. The disintegrator beam dissolved the bars of the cage and struck his back, playing over him. But his garb was silk and cotton, taken from living things, so nothing was harmed. However, he dared not raise his hand to use his transmutation rays, or else the purple energy dancing all around him would dissolve the iron and copper workings of his rings in an instant.

But, at that moment Lord Ferric, free of the wreckage of his cage, had strode with massive steps across the blood-red sands. He leaped between the lancer and Prince Luxor, and the disintegration ray played against the human flesh covering his hidden metal armor and skeleton. The ray stopped at his skin, and the inner workings of the mighty cyborg were untouched.

The lancer captain called to his dragoons. The riflemen raised their flame weapons and transfixed Ferric with half a dozen beams of scarlet energy. Ferric did not scream, despite the pain to his human skin being incinerated. A skull mask came into view as his burning cheeks and nose peeled away. The skeletal black armor of his chest and limbs became visible.

The pumps and power cells and mechanisms which kept Lord Ferric’s brain and other organs supplied with oxygen and nutriments were exposed. The captain roared a triumphant battlecry, raising his lance again, for now the metal inner parts of the cyborg were unprotected.

The captain, however, did not see Jett Hazard. He did not see the hammer blows of the invisible earthman’s fist, one after another, that smashed his goggles, broke his jaw, and fractured his skull. Nor did the lancer captain see the hand that pulled the lance high, spoiling his aim. The lance went off.

Luxor was out of his cage by then, however, and firing the orange beam from is oxygen-destroying ray in front of the of the now-skeletal armored form of Ferric, quelling the fires, and causing the dragoons to choke and clutch their throats and run in panicked retreat.

Jett and the lancer captain wrestled over the weapon. The beam swept back and forth across the dome. Any flying trooper, swooping down to aid the captain, was caught in the swinging beam, and saw the metal parts of his gear vanish, including titanium wings and copper antigravity disks, and so screaming men plunged to the ground, and fell among the flame-maddened beasts. Some central junction box or power cable affixed to the overhead dome was hit: all the lights in the arena flickered and went out. With the sun in eclipse, the only light now was the pools of flame scattered from dragoon weapons.

Jett swept the disintegrator across the line of dragoons. Their helmets and breastplates and flame rifles fell into pieces and vanished. Now the hoplites charged forward. Since their shields were covered in leather, and their spears were wood, the disintegrator ray splashed among them without effect.

The hoplites could not see Jett, but there were so many, they could not miss him. Their spears, tipped with flint-knapped spearblades, like the spears of Neolithic huntsmen, stabbed through the area whence the disintegration ray was coming. Jett released the lance and leaped back, or tried to. Guided by blind luck, the prone lancer captain — still clinging to consciousness despite his cracked skull — grabbed Jett about his unseen knees. Jett kicked himself free, but too late. There was no way to avoid the incoming spearpoints. Jett threw up his hands before his face, expecting nothing but death.

But then Luxor was at his side, rings on his fist shining. The spearpoints struck Jett on his chest, shoulder, midriff and thigh. But the stone spearblades crumbled away into breadcrumbs. Only the blunt ends of the wooden spearshafts struck him. The force of these blows thrust Jett stumbling back, bruised but unwounded.

Jett saw himself, a perfect image of himself, standing among the hoplites, waving a sword. The soldiers turned and struck at the image with their now-blunted spears. The image, however, was coating a soldier who was angered to find his teammates hitting him. The man whom they battered struck back. Then the image of Jett Hazard appeared in another place, covering another soldier, smiling and waving. Crull’s voice, or what sounded like it, shouted out an order, and then immediately shouted out the opposite order.

Soldiers struck or fired at each other. Chaos reigned.

*** *** ***

Episode 12     Attack of the Machine Men

Jett, seeing the confusion and commotion caused by the illusion of himself in the distance, said to Luxor, “Is that Phanes doing all this? How did Crull ever conquer the Mind-Wizards?”

Luxor started in surprise at the voice from an unseen man. But then he laughed. “With robots. Look! Look sharp! Here they are!” For Crull’s troop of Machine Men had come down from the stands, and were already marching across the sands, their legs in lockstep.

Jett pulled off the backpack from the lancer and handed the gear to Luxor. “Hold them off! Where is Melchizedek?”

Luxor said, “There! I cannot tell if that is illusion or not!”

For in the middle of a circle of fire created by the missed shots of the dragoons, the Time Traveler was now seated peacefully amid the wild beasts. He was petting a purring saber-toothed lion, and rubbing the jaw of a stegosaur, tall as a hill, that was crouched down next to him.

Jett had seen the Time Traveler work such little miracles before. The graybeard had once told him that “in my years, the old division between man and nature is cured.” Jett was not sure what it meant, but he had seen the way Lethonee could commune with animals, even the most ferocious, almost as if able to speak with them.

Not far away, the mastodon and the tyrannosaur and other creatures, fire-panicked, were trampling the Emperor’s troops. That commotion was between Jett and the wall, and the wall was between him and the Imperial box.

In the Imperial box, as that moment, the cold-eyed Crull, the piteously struggling Lethonee, the haughty Aspasia with her green-flashing eyes, and a dozen royal figures and their bodyguards were beginning to rise into the air.

The whole imperial box was a levitation platform. In the darkness, it was rushing up and away from the riotous combat and stampede shaking the arena, and moving toward a panel in the dome surface — which, even then, was sliding wide open.

Rain fell in. A flash of lightning from the stormclouds behind showed where a huge ship above the crystal dome was circling for the landing.

Meanwhile, a flying trooper in rocket wings and hawk-beaked helm, crossbow in hand, had landed on the shoulder of the huge, high-crowned vulture-headed idol overlooking the arena, not far from Melchizedek. Eying the Time Traveler evilly, the winged archer was drawing back the string of his crossbow with a handcrank. It would take him but a moment to cock the deadly weapon. From his high angle, the shot could not miss.

Jett saw his chance. It was a slight chance, but he did not hesitate.

Heart pounding, lungs straining, longsword in its scabbard swinging wildly on the strap over his shoulder, Jett sprinted across the sand as quickly as ever he had sprinted in his life. He was still invisible, and no one stopped him.

The stegosaur lounging with its claws tucked under it next to Melchizedek was as tall as a small hill, and its spine sloped up from tail to flanks to shoulder. Jett surprised the creature by running up this slope between the double row of kite-shaped plates. Only its rear brain reacted, sending its spiked tail twitching through the air. Then when its forward brain became aware, the monster leaped to its feet and reared up. Jett avoided the tail nimbly, and, when the beast lurched upright, Jett launched himself from the creature’s shoulder. The force of the beast rearing added to his impetus, flinging him high.

He landed luckily in the crook of the elbow of the giant, vulture-headed statue, and scampered up the decorated plates of the upper arm to the shoulder, scrambling quick as a squirrel scaling a tree.

Lightning beyond the dome flashed again and again, and the brilliant flashes of rayguns and flame weapons answered from below. As he climbed, Jett passed the darkened lamps in the gloom. In the flash of stormbolts, he saw the floating platform not far below him where Crull was throned and Lethonee was trapped. Above the din, he heard her clear, high, pure voice, raised in woe.

The platform rose and came even with him. During that moment, not pausing in his mad, desperate climb, Jett took in the scene at a glance.

There was a wild melee taking place on the narrow platform as it swayed high and higher through the darkened lamps. Several soldiers, as if they could not see where the edge of the platform was, slipped and threw themselves into the air, to plunge into the panicked soldiers and dinosaurs milling below.

Undine the Ocean Queen was hiding beneath her chair. Aspasia, standing tall and regal, dark hair flying wild, had plunged her stiletto into one of the Amazon warrior-women manhandling her, kicking the unfortunate shieldmaiden off the edge of the platform.

Jett saw himself — or someone or something that looked like him — cavorting on the platform, riding a unicycle, laughing, and waving a burning torch. Adjacent, a robot was wrestling with dragoon, but could not stop the dragoon from shooting a fiery beam into the phantom of Jett. The phantom vanished. A woebegone-faced pale-skinned dwarf, old Proteus, the one who, a moment ago, had been wearing the face of Phanes and sitting in Phanes’ chair, now toppled from the platform, his clothing red with fire and dark with blood.

The real Jett, unseen, panting, sweat-soaked, frantic, was but a foot or to below the shoulder of the idol. The archer was just above him.

Jett saw it was too late. The winged archer was ready. His crossbow was cocked. Even a near miss would be fatal, as the bolt was a super high explosive designed to penetrate mastodon armor. The explosive was armed automatically whenever a bolt was taken out of its magnetically-sealed quiver. Chuckling, the hawk-headed helmet of the flying archer turned toward Melchizedek, and raised the crossbow. The deadly bolt was aimed at the unsuspecting Time Traveler.

Jett heard a cry. He did not turn, but the floating platform, as it receded overhead, was close enough he could not miss seeing it from the corner of his eye.

Metallicus the Cyborg, standing by Crull’s throne, threw a discus with superhuman strength and struck what seemed to be two men approaching the platform through the shadowy air: a winged trooper carrying a wounded fellow trooper, soaring upward, trying to get him to the safety of the platform. However, as the discus struck, both began to fall. Smoke poured from the power unit of the flying harness. The image of the wounded trooper in the flying trooper’s arms flickered and vanished, and the flier, in horror, saw that he was carrying the small, pale form of Phanes the Mind-Wizard, who was even them drawing the pistol out of the flying trooper’s holster.

As the two falling men wrestled over the weapon, Phanes turned into a beautiful woman, and then a clinging snake, a swarm of bees, and then a gush of fire. They fell away into the clouds of smoke filling the dome, and were lost to sight.

Jett flung himself up over the brink at the archer, heart hot with fury.

*** *** ***

Episode 13     Fury of the Storm

With Phanes fighting for his life, Jett suddenly became visible. The Earthman was in mid leap, descending on the winged crossbowman, a wide shouldered silhouette with grinning teeth and glaring eyes flaming in the gloom, materializing apparently from nowhere.

The crossbowman reeled back in shock, flinging up his arms and falling. Jett grabbed him by the strap of his flying harness, raised the man off his feet, and punched him with his best haymaker in the helmet. The blow was so hard that the strap broke, and the man fell out of his artificial wings, off the slippery shoulder of the idol and plunged down and down, screaming.

The quiver had been buckled to the flying harness also fell free, and all the crossbow bolts, scores of them, flew out of the quiver, turning end over end, lighting up as their head were armed.

The crossbowman landed with a sickening splash at the foot of the idol, and then forty high-explosive armor-piercing charges fell on him and ignited, hiding the base of the statue in a blaze of shattering light and a deafening hurricane of smoke and thunder.

The ground below the feet of the idol tore open. Sand poured down into the hidden corridors and holding areas and slave pens beneath the arena. The whole idol subsided with a groaning rumble of noise.

Jett saw a mastodon in the arena carefully pick up Melchizedek with its trunk, and, stepping delicately over beasts and soldiers, begin to carry the old man away from the tumult.

The idol swayed hugely and began to topple. Jett hurriedly slung the flying harness around his shoulders and fumbled for the chest-strap holding the control box. Jett ran along the neck of the beast-faced idol, and up along the back of its head. The surface tilted and tilted underfoot.

Above, the levitation platform holding Crull, his officers and daughter and captive, now slid rapidly up and into a rectangular hatch in the dome. Crull peered down, smiling at the sight of burning chaos below. Lethonee, seeing Jett, called out his name. The bottom of the platform lifted up and fit the hatch threshold neatly, sealing it shut, and preventing pursuit.

Lethonee was gone. Crull had escaped.

But the beak and the miter the of toppling god of darkness smashed into the surface of the dome with massive, irresistible strength, and cracked it open.

Rainwater flooded in. The transparent substance, whatever it was, did not shatter like glass, but screamed like metal tearing, throwing sharp shards in each direction. Jett twisted the speed control of the flying harness to full power, put his hands before his face, and leaped.

He flew into the cloud of shards, taking a dozen small cuts along his arms and shoulders. Because of the broken strap, the harness was off-center, and so Jett pitched suddenly. His head flew up and his feet were ahead of him, and then above him. The cold green flares of the kinetic-energy thrusters at his hips and shoulders spun him in a wild Immelmann loop.

It was just as well: Metallicus, who was now atop the dome, had drawn a pistol, and was shooting bolts of energy at Jett. The wild loops of flight perhaps confused the computerized reflexes guiding the aim of the cyborg. Hot pellets of burning light flew to Jett’s right and left, brushing him with sparks as they flew past.

The storm roared. Lightning flared. In the sudden dazzle, Jett could see that Crull had unlocked Lethonee from her chair, and was dragging her by one wrist across the curving, rain-slick surface of the dome apex toward a landing platform. The golden V-shape of an imperial rocketship was circling, seeking to land, but the storm winds were tossing and battering the craft.

Jett folded his wings and dove recklessly toward Crull. Looming over Crull, half a step behind him, was the centaur lord, Killer Khan. He saw Jett and raised his lance. A disintegration ray shot out.

Jett whirled and spun, trying to escape the purple beam. A glancing blow dissolved the left half of the flying harness. One metal wing evaporated, and all the thrusters on that side of his body. The control box dissolved. Jett took the still-firing thrusters from the other side of this body in his hands and tried to aim them. He struck the dome at a shallow angle, and slid in the rainwater, hit the edge of the landing field, skipped up onto its flat surface, and fetched up against the feet of the cyborg. The legs of Metallicus were human flesh coating iron bars: with a clang, Jett rebounded, nose and mouth bloody.

Metallicus smiled a cold, grim smile, reached down, and grabbed Jett by the throat, hauled him to his feet.

The grip was inhumanly strong. Jett raised the thrusters and drove one into the cyborg’s face. The force was greater than that of a firehose. The human-seeming head snapped backward, but Metallicus did not release Jett’s neck. The other thruster Jett shoved into the wrist of the other hand of the pitiless cyborg, the hand holding the gun.

The pistol spun out of the grip of Metallicus. Jett neatly caught it in midair, and fired a flaming pellet over the cyborg’s shoulder. The bolt sizzled toward Crull’s arm, the one holding the girl. Crull released Lethonee and leaped nimbly out of the way, surprisingly spry.

The machine man’s grip on Jett’s throat tightened.

Jett’s vision was clouded with pain. He realized with dim horror that if he fainted now, never would he wake again …

*** *** ***

Episode 14     Fall of the Warlords

Black sparks danced before Jett’s eyes. He fired again, not at Metallicus, who was holding him by the throat, but at the escaping Emperor. Jett ignored his own approaching death, so intent was he on Crull.

The shot flew wide. Crull, cringing, uttered a command to the centaur-king, calling out loudly over the howling of the wind and drumming of the rain. “Shoot! Shoot them both!”

Half-dazed from choking, Jett saw Killer Khan approaching through the curtains of rain. The firelight from underfoot shined through the transparent dome surface, casting shadows over Khan’s broad chest, stern face, and the flying plumes of his tall helm.

Killer Khan raised his lance. The purple disintegration ray swept over Metallicus and Jett Hazard both. The pistol, the thruster units, and the buckles and mechanism of the flying harness all vanished. The white linen tunic Jett wore, and the black silk finery of Metallicus were organic, hence untouched. Metallicus laughed as the purple beam continued to play over them both. “I need no weapons to slay a mere human!”

The tall cyborg, still holding Jett by the neck, took a splashing step through the rainwater, strode to the edge of the landing field, and held the helpless Earthman over the slippery, curving surface of the dome.

Jett reached madly for scabbard slung at his shoulder, and snatched at the grip of the sword Ferric had handed him.

Khan, seeing this, kept the beam playing on him, no doubt thinking the blade would dissolve as soon as it was drawn from the protection of its leather sheath.

But before Metallicus could open his fingers, Jett had drawn the sword and chopped fiercely at his wrist. The blade was non-metallic, and so did not disappear, but the bones and joints at the wrist were an alloy no sword blade could pierce.

Metallicus laughed at the futility of the gesture. “Farewell, Earthman!”

But the purple ray was still firing. Khan did not take his finger from the trigger quickly enough. The metal wrist of Metallicus dissolved. Jett fell free.

He grabbed the elbow of Metallicus as he fell, and swung himself down the through the man’s legs as he went. The elbow was pulled after him, yanked down suddenly by the weight of Jett’s fall. Jett slashed at both ankles, neatly severing the surface flesh, exposing the hidden armor. The last flicker of the purple beam as it was shut off touched the open wounds, severing metallic joints and copper nerves.

Jett slipped under the taller and stronger man, pulled him off balance, and slid away across the slick roof, like a baseball runner trying to steal home.

Killer Khan, alarmed, galloped forward, frantically reaching toward Metallicus.

Metallicus slipped and went over the side, and tumbling down the curving surface of the dome, trying to clutch with his one remaining hand. There were no projections, nothing to grab, and the driving rain made everything slippery.

He made no sound as he was pitched from the dome’s edge and plunged toward the towers and mansions and elevated boulevards below. The shouting crowds streaming away from the burning dome screamed in louder panic when the huge body fell among them.

Jett slid toward Khan, rolled, and came to his feet. Khan watched in horror as Metallicus died, grim and silent to the last. The lance was switched off, but it still was a lance. The centaur couched it, lowering his head, and charged. Plumes of rainwater jumped from Khan’s hooves. Jett sprinted down the dome. Khan made a roar of triumph. He knew a biped could not outrun him.

Ever further from the apex galloped his pursuer. The slick surface grew steep and then steeper underfoot.

Jett turned and doubled back. The centaur slowed suddenly, realizing his danger… but too late. His hooves began slipping on the slick surface, where Jett’s bare feet still were firm. Khan looked down, arms windmilling.

During the moment when Khan’s eyes were not on Jett, the young Earthman flourished his blade and ran. He made a running lunge called a flèche. Khan raised the lance to impale the attacker, but Jett nimbly parried the lance point as the big horse body stumbled. The deadly lance-point passed over Jett’s shoulder. Jett’s blade found the centaur’s heart in his human breast just where a human heart would be. The huge half-horse half-man reared up, hooves flailing, in his death throes.

Another ripple of lighting lit the area. The ground crew and guards still near Crull now saw Jett standing above the dead body of one of the most feared and famed warlords they knew, disintegration lance in hand. They had seen Metallicus pitch over the edge.

Jett lifted his head and shouted. “The Time Traveler has predicted these events! Forswear your evil! There is no other way to change fate!”

Crull raised one eyebrow and drew a pistol from his sword belt. Jett swept the disintegration ray across Crull, dissolving his gun, and waved it back and forth among his remaining soldiers for good measure. The metal parts of rifles and pistols fell to dust.

However, these were Crull’s elite guard. They were armed with special nonmetallic swords akin to the one Jett held. At Crull’s command, with one motion, all the men drew their blades. Jett laughed, and raised his blade in salute. By sheer happenstance, just at that moment, a section of the dome behind Jett cracked and fell inward.

The flames inside had reached some flammable straw supply or weapon cache, and grew into a roaring inferno. This had weakened the supporting latticework, and the weight of the gathering rain proved too much. Cracks spread from the hole, growing larger, and flames leaped into the rain and thunder of the dark sky.

And, at that, the guards turned and fled. The ship ceased any attempt to land, as the landing platform was now tilted. Rockets roared. The ship rose into the stormclouds and was gone.

Crull did not move. Jett splashed forward through the rain.

Crull calmly drew his blade.

*** *** ***

Episode 15     Deadly Duel to the Death

Crull’s face was cold with contempt. “I have practiced swordplay for ten thousand times ten thousand years!” the Emperor’s eyes gleamed yellow as the lighting flared again. “You have no hope of victory!”

Jett said, “The Time Traveler did not say whether I would live or die this day. But he did say you would fall. That is good enough for me.”

The stormwinds increased in fury, and further talk was impossible.

Crull smiled thinly and saluted with his blade. Jett slid into a practiced fencer’s crouch. Crull did the same.

The blade tips rang against each other, audible even over the wailing of the wind, the drumming of the rain. Reddish light was seeping up through the transparent curve on which they stood, and the fires underfoot grew hot and hotter.

Blade clashed against blade! It was a subtle and swift dance of death, too rapid for any but the most expert eye to see.

The rain fell. Water dashed into the fighter’s eyes. The dome segments underfoot moaned and snapped, and began to tilt, one way or another, and the seams parted.

Crull’s carriage was erect, head held high, and he kept one hand behind his back. His onslaught was quick, his blows remarkably strong, and his feet were nimble as a dancer’s. He splashed and kicked lightly through the pools accumulating underfoot, and his swordpoint was in a dozen places at once.

Steel rang!

Jett lunged, was parried, recovered, and counterparried frantically before the Emperor’s reposte tore his shirt, drawing blood from his breast. The Emperor feinted, drew Jett’s blade out of line, disengaged, and in a swift double lunge, drove an inch of steel into Jett’s sword wrist.

Jett countered with a swift flurry of slashes to the head, left, right and center, which the Emperor coolly parried, stepping backward.

Red light flared from below. White light flare from above. Dazzling brightness followed dazzling darkness in rapid succession.

Another sudden thrust, feint, double disengage. Jett whirled his sword in a wild cleanup parry, but the Emperor neatly followed the motion of the blade corkscrewing in, delivering a quick stab. Jett’s lightning reflexes were all that saved him from having his eyeball pierced, but the blade tip swept along this brow. The Emperor’s sword was too sharp to allow Jett’s flesh to feel the cut. Jett became aware of the headwound only when hot blood began dripping into his eyes.

The footing underneath was warm and began to tilt. Both men ran sidewise across the slippery curve. The Emperor struck at Jett’s head, arm, and head again, and Jett returned the blows in a swift clang and clash of blades.

Both leaped and both landed just as the surface behind them parted. The Emperor slashed at Jett’s skull, cutting his ear and partway into the neck. Red blood now began to flow in earnest down Jett’s shoulder and arm.

The dome uttered a shriek as a great section of the surface reared up like a leaping whale, turned, and fell.

A rush of flame answered it. The Emperor struck, and Jett could not raise his blade in time, but, just then, Crull’s forward foot slipped in the rain. Jett cut at the man’s knee, but was parried. Crull scrambled backward, away from the flame, circled, and attacked from another angle.

Jett fell back, trying to escape the flaming hole behind him. He stepped onto a steeper section of the dome, farther from the apex, parrying and throwing out desperate slashes and lunges. The Emperor’s blade was like a striking snake and a swarm of stinging steel wasps, everywhere at once. Jett made a desperate rush, running past his foe, relying on sheer speed to land a blow. He managed to cut the Emperor on his wrist, but he also took a long, painful slash to his own swordarm.

Now Jett was between the Emperor and the top of the dome. He fought more cautiously now, trying to conserve his strength, trying to drive the thin, wolf-eyed ancient man down the dome, onto poorer footing. It was to no avail. Crull seemed to slip, and he lowered his swordpoint, but when Jett lunged, the Emperor hit him in the armpit with a stop-thrust.

Crull’s face was calm, his eyes filled with mockery. Jett’s sword hand was aching and weak from two wounds. His neck was throbbing, and his vision was failing. He was blinking against the scalding blood half-blinding him. Also, there was a deep cut above the knee he had not seen or remembered taking.

Meanwhile the Emperor was only scratched. Crull’s wry grin grew sharper. The wind died down for a moment. Crull said in a playful tone, “So, Earthman! Where is your Time Traveler’s prophecy now? You think you know the future? Do you?”

Mid-word, Crull lunged and stabbed, and Jett was pierced through the hand. The sword of Ferric went sliding across the wet surface almost before Jett realized he had dropped it. It hovered a moment, teetering, on the edge of a break in the dome, and then fell into the flames. Jett was unarmed.

Jett stepped back, panted, uncertain, clutching his wounded hand. Blood flowed freely from many wounds. His whole body ached and trembled with fatigue. Determination and desperation were in his eyes, but no hope.

The two men locked gazes. Both knew the truth. The duel was ended.

Crull threw back his head and laughed. His canine teeth gleamed in the flare of lightning above. The shadow of his nose and cheeks fell across his brow, as firelight from below was reflected in his wolfish, pitiless eyes.

“I am the future! My will prevails! You have turned everyone against me, the common folk, the princes of Callisto and Ganymede, the mystics from Themisto! Even my own daughter! All of them love you! So what? I have time to spare! I will kill them all, yes, even Aspasia, and grow another one of her, one more suited to obey me! In ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand, all your works will be forgotten, and I shall remain! The secret of the life vats is mine! I cannot die!”

Those were his last words. Crull stiffened. He fell forward on his face. Aspasia stood behind him, her stiletto in her hand, coated with black blood.

“No, father!” said the despot’s beautiful daughter. “Today it is you who die, not I!”

*** *** ***

Episode 16     Past and Future

The haughty princess Aspasia spurned the body of her dead father with her jeweled slipper. The corpse rolled and slid and fell into the same inferno that had claimed Ferric’s sword.

Jett stepped forward, limping but smiling. Then his smile died.

For now Jett saw that Aspasia had her other arm around Lethonee, holding the smaller woman trapped. The stiletto was raised in menace.

“And as for you, Jett Hazard!” cried Aspasia in a passion of wrath. “How dare you choose this woman over me! She must die before your eyes to make up for the affront!”

Jett said, “No, Aspasia, you know that is not right. With Crull dead, you can marry who you really love. And it is not me.”

Aspasia said, “Never! I crave you. Am I not worthy of a hero?”

Jett said, “Every woman has a hero waiting for her. I am not yours.”

Now Lethonee spoke up. Her voice was a silvery, pure music, haunting to the ear, almost eerie, and there was no fear at all in her tone, only a touch of sadness. Even over the storm and the thunder, her voice carried clearly.

“You love Prince Luxor, who guarded you since you were a little girl. Let go of your pride, and know your own heart.”

“No!” said Aspasia.

Lethonee said, “You must take possession of the life vats, and restore and repair the bodies of Ferric and Phanes. The mutation which gives Phanes his powers, he will foreswear, in order to have in truth the comely form he so often pretends to have. They wanted to wed the daughter of the Emperor. You are not that any longer. History will remember you as Aspasia the Healer. You will be the mother of a race of healers.”

The tip of Aspasia’s stiletto wavered with uncertainty.

Just then, the sun came out from behind Jupiter. Light smote through a break in the stormcloud and fell on Aspasia. She blinked and stepped back, releasing Lethonee.

In that same slanting beam of sunlight could be seen a small and swift one-man rocket, just then taking off from the top of the palace tower, which was only a few hundred yards away. The ship roared toward them, nose guns blazing. Through the slanted cockpit window, the face and form of Crull the Emperor, but somewhat older than the man Jett had just dueled, could be plainly seen.

The blasts of energy fire stitched a double line of shots across the curving expanse of the dome as the Emperor fired.

But he was not firing at the Earthman, nor at Lethonee. He was strafing his own daughter.

Jett tackled the two women, flinging them down and protecting them with his body. The gunfire slid by to his left. The escape ship rose and was gone.

Aspasia was under Jett’s muscular body. She stared up at him in wonder and awe. “You — you saved me!”

Jett asked, “How can he still be alive? You stabbed him! He fell!”

Aspasia said, “He uses the life vats for many unnatural purposes. I killed what was only a clone. This means our struggle continues!”

Lethonee stood up, and tapped Jett impatiently on the shoulder, clearing her throat. Jett grinned sheepishly, and climbed off of the curvaceous, scented warmth of the semi-clad raven-haired form of Aspasia. “Sorry, ah, Princess. Or are you a princess?”

Lethonee said, “Many of the troopers of the palace are loyal to Luxor, remembering him fondly from his days as captain here. He will restore order.”

Jett helped Aspasia to her feet.

The sun was further from Jupiter now, and the rain was diminished. Brightness grew. The fires in the dome were dying, since enough of the dome roof had parted, that the rain was soaking everything beneath.

The three of them stepped back onto the levitation platform. Sections of the great dome collapsed about them, but the floating platform, after all, floated, and so they were safe.

Aspasia stepped away from them. Her expression was strangely changed. She looked at her father’s throne for a moment, and then sat down in the empty chair beneath the banner of Luxor of Callisto. A slow smile touched her red lips. Her eyes were lost in dreams.

Jett turned to Lethonee and spoke softly. “Did you know all this would happen?”

She said, “Not in this way. Our records are scant. I did not know if you or I would live or die. Now Crull is in exile, and many more years of struggle against him continue. But this is the turning point. I am also in exile. My father has changed the past, and I cannot return home. Even if ever the shining towers of Nebo rise again above the land of Ionbar, and all the Earth made fair and green again, she will not hold the fields I knew.”

Jett said, “Since the past is now different from what your history books say, you no longer know what happens next.”

She smiled. “I know.”

And she twined her arms around his neck, looking up at him.

A rainbow lit the heavens above them as Jett took her into his arms for a lingering kiss.

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All Men Dream of Earthwomen