"The Reluctant Hero" OR

"Villains, Thieves, and Evil Butlers - Everything but the Kitchen Sink"



Aboard the Space Station Valcyon, bad things were happening.

Which is to say, these things would seem bad to the general populace. To those who were actually committing the deeds...well, that’s a different story entirely. This universe is relative, after all. In any case, events were transpiring that were most certainly illegal. To any casual observer, the Valcyon was a typical pleasure resort. It orbited the sunny planet of Ipsen Prime, which was, in essence, a giant twenty-four hour frat party. The resort itself was massive, with over twenty floors, each of which was devoted to pure entertainment. Pools, gambling, bars - every human vice imaginable could be found here. It was managed by one Isaea Roenall - a thoroughly agreeable young fellow, by all reports. His butler Igor may have been a bit strange, but he always did his job - unlike most people in this day and age. So, on the surface, everything seemed perfectly normal.

Of course, all was not as it seemed (I did say every human vice, remember?). Deep within the bowels of the ship, behind an airlock labeled "Death To Intwuderth!!" (written in a substance disturbingly similar to blood) a nefarious business existed. This business was run by that selfsame Isaea Roenall - in actuality, an evil Crime Lord. It was, as one can guess, a thoroughly forbidding place.

* * *

"Igor, must you make this place look so damn forbidding? I swear, you scare away more business than I can attract!" Isaea fumed. He waved a hand, indicating his surroundings. Currently, the pair stood atop a balcony, overlooking a large chamber. The entire chamber was swathed in darkness, with some poor lighting provided in the form of candles that threatened to go out the moment someone looked at them funny (at the present, quite a few people were looking at them funny). The high ceiling, normally designed to give the claustrophobic a sense of spaciousness, was covered in thick, musty cobwebs. Even the balcony was covered with Igor’s terrifying artistic renderings - vampires, ghouls, witches, and Pauly Shore. Periodically, a high shriek sounded from one of the many speakers located around the room. Veterans of Igor’s decorative style shook all this off, while newcomers looked decidedly green around the gills.

"Thowwy, Mathter," Igor mumbled, groveling - as always - on the floor. In truth, he wasn’t sorry at all. Igor had been passed down in the family for generations, and had served each of his masters with complete loyalty. However, Isaea had a way of stretching his tolerance. He simply refused to do things the traditional way. He didn’t wear the cape, he didn’t hiss or otherwise threaten the universe into obeying his every whim, he didn’t even have a dungeon. And, despite the fact that he was now thirty-eight, he had yet to even try to become Supreme Ruler of the Universe. Oh no, Isaea was the new kind of evil, the fuzzy kind.

To make matters even worse, Isaea didn’t even look evil - which provided quite a contrast to his loyal retainer. Igor was dwarfish and hunchbacked, and walked with a marked limp - not that he actually had one. His face was horribly disfigured, and it seemed that none of his features were quite were they should be. He made it a point to tear his clothes before he wore them. He had even undergone months of oral surgery as a child so that he could talk with what he imagined an evil accent to be...but did Isaea appreciate any of this? Oh, not one whit. He was tall, with black hair and brown eyes; there wasn’t one evil deformity on his body. He was always impeccably dressed in whatever the latest style happened to be. His speech was very proper, and he never, ever did the evil laughter. He was also something of a drama queen, although no one was ever brave enough to use those exact terms. He looked more like an intergalactic missionary than an Evil Crime Lord.

His choice of occupation reflected all this. Isaea didn’t live with his mother and concoct evil schemes, as most villains did. Oh no, he ran a black market auction instead. He had agents from all over the galaxy. Whenever something very valuable caught his attention, they procured it and brought it to his auction house within the Valcyon. Here, a select group of crime syndicates were allowed to bid. To Isaea’s credit, it was a very clever scheme, not to mention safe, but...was it evil? Hardly. His father, now, there was a real villain...

"Igor, I know perfectly well you are not sorry," Isaea snapped, bringing Igor out of his contemplation. "Perhaps cobwebs were in style when we were still barbarians, driving our gas-guzzling ‘cars’ and ‘flying’ in ‘planes’ - but now we have reached the stars, and such behavior simply will not do. Do I make myself clear, Igor?" Isaea asked mildly.

"...Yeth, Mathter."

"Very well then," Isaea said. "I suppose I can forgive this one lapse. Would you care to hear my evil plan?"

"Yeth, Mathter!" Perhaps, mused Igor, Isaea had finally gotten into the spirit of things.

Isaea grinned knowingly; Igor could never resist an evil plan. "In case you haven’t already heard, a Galaxy Police research vessel was trapped in a quantum flux and severely damaged. None of the crew survived - at least, not after my people got there. They managed to arrive before the rescue team, and procured all their interesting little weapons-"

"Intewethting? Like Death Ways?" Igor asked excitedly. It had long been his dream to see an actual Death Ray before he died.

"No, Igor, as I have told you countless times, ‘Death Rays’ do not exist, because they are a stupid, stupid idea." Isaea sighed; Igor had ruined his dramatic speech. "As I was saying, these weapons were very interesting - not because they were Death Rays - but because they happened to be highly experimental prototypes; our friends at the Galaxy police have been busy little beavers lately. In any case, I can’t sell these weapons to just anyone; the average crime syndicates really don’t deserve this kind of weaponry - Battle Armor, Dark Matter Blasters, the like. So, do you know what I’m planning on doing with them?" Isaea paused dramatically.

"Taking over the Univewthe?" Igor asked hopefully.

"No, you dolt! I’ve called in representatives from each of the alien races, and they will arrive before the month is out. Those morons will use the weapons to blow each other up. Of course, there’s always the off chance that they may attack the Human Allied Alliance, but I really couldn’t care less. I reap the profits in either scenario. Clever, no?" Isaea struck a heroic pose, obviously waiting for Igor’s response.

"...Thtupid evil plan," Igor muttered. "You’we not even twying to take over the Univerwthe."

Isaea shook his head. "Please, Igor, stop being so old-fashioned. Who wants a desk-job in this day and age? The only commodity that really matters is money. Think about it Igor - and in the meanwhile, get rid of those cobwebs." With that said, he headed towards his inner sanctum, to fawn over his new ‘toys’.

Igor watched his retreating form with sadness. Yes, he decided, Isaea just didn’t get it. Perhaps all he needed was a little help...

* * *

Yeah, those decorators could certainly use some help. Yikes, thought Llaine, wincing as a particularly grotesque pink gargoyle caught his attention. At the moment, he was sitting in Ms. Carroll Farthington’s office on Earth, idly drumming his fingers on her prized - not to mention priceless - oak table. The table was just about the only decent thing in the room. Every other square inch of the room was occupied by some hideous, utterly tasteless relic from ancient Earth. Tennis rackets - the game no longer existed. Toasters - food synthesizers were faster. And lamps? - barring the solar powered lighting systems, the room had a bloody big window! Carroll Farthington was an eccentric, plain and simple, he decided, and she just so happened to be rich enough to humor herself.

Llaine Tetrajay had been contacted by Ms. Farthington some time ago, with the message that she had an urgent mission for him. When he failed to arrive, she was forced to send another missive: ‘urgent mission with extravagant pay’. That got him moving, and now he was here, listening to her prattle on and on. She wasn’t even all that interesting to look at - not that he was any better, he added to himself honestly. He was of average height, but his slimness made him appear much shorter. He had short blonde hair and impish blue eyes, which made him look younger than his 23 years. His clothes were always nondescript - mostly because he was too much of a penny-pincher to buy anything really expensive. He always managed to blend into the crowd - which, since he was a free-lancer, wasn’t such a bad thing. In any case, right now he was bored. Idly, he looked around for something to amuse himself with. Were those buttons...?

"...and so you see, that’s why I..." Carroll continued, then stopped when she got a good look at Llaine’s activities. "Llaine! Have you been listening to a word I’ve said? And what are you doing with my possessions?!!" She gave him her best glare.

Llaine looked up innocently, the buttons all resting in his hands. "To answer your second question, I was keeping them safe. These are very valuable, ya know. What would you have done if someone had just walked in and stolen them? You should really be more careful with your things," he finished severely as he returned the buttons. "As for the first one...uh, space stations?...make things go boom...?" he trailed off.

Carroll sighed and rubbed her eyes. "I was afraid of that. I suppose I’ll start from the beginning. As you probably know, I am Carroll Farthington, the sole owner of Kistech Industries, the maker of most household synthetic minds. That, of course, makes me the target of...Llaine, put that down!" she hissed.

Llaine looked down and, to his surprise, saw that he was indeed holding something he probably should not have been. "You must have dropped it. Lucky for you I was here. It might have been broken. Now, you were saying?"

"Before I was so rudely interrupted," Carroll stated pointedly, "I was saying that I am the target of quite a few criminal operations. Several months ago, several of my priceless family heirlooms were stolen-"

"Don’t ya just hate thieves?" Llaine interjected, absentmindedly pocketing several of her paperweights. "Honestly, what kind of evil people would do something like that?"

Carroll blinked. Then she blinked again. "Er, yes. Anyway, my people have managed to track the heirlooms. They were passed through several fences before finally being purchased by one Isaea Roenall and what do you think you’re doing?!!" she shrieked, her voice rising several octaves.

Llaine stopped juggling her priceless gems long enough to answer. "...Wow, where did these come from? ...You must have dropped them. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell you if I find anything else that belongs to you," he said airily, patting the air with his hand - while the other one continued to juggle the gems.

A noticeably frazzled Carroll just sighed resignedly and continued. "This Isaea runs a resort space station in orbit around Ipsen Prime. He’s honest enough, by all reports, but he might not be willing to part with my things. I have hired you to sneak into that resort and steal my-"

"Steal!!!" Llaine exclaimed, horrified at the very prospect. " Just what kind of a person do you think I am?!! I never steal anything! ...Although, come to think of it, quite a few people get that impression about me...wonder why?... Anyway, after I find all of your things for you, you still go and insult me! I’m leaving," he announced suddenly, turning to do just that.

"Did I say steal? I meant ‘re-appropriate’," Carroll nervously explained.

"...Oh, well then, why didn’t you say so?" Llaine asked rhetorically as he reseated himself.

Carroll wiped her brow and continued. "Sneak into his resort, ‘re- appropriate’ my heirlooms, and then return them to me. It’s a fairly straightforward mission. Any questions?"

"Yes, actually, I do have a few. Just why are you asking me to do this?" he asked curiously. He was hardly an errand boy, after all.

"I merely though that you would be the ideal candidate for the task, seeing as how you are so skilled at...finding...things," she said carefully.

Llaine thought this over. "I guess that is true. Next question: how much am I getting paid for this?" he asked, an avaricious glint coming into his eye.

"Oh, is that all? I must have forgotten. How does one million credits sound?" she asked innocently.

"One...one million?" Llaine’s jaw dropped.

"Oh my, that isn’t too low, is it? I have no idea what you commoners consider adequate payment," she added with a little laugh.

Llaine did some quick calculating. He could get by with one million credits for a long time. Now all he had to do was add on some money for personal purchases - keeping it within reason, of course...no sense in being greedy...

"One billion will do fine." he promptly said.

Carroll chuckled. "I may not be a commoner, but that does seem a bit too high. How about lowering that to one hundred million?"

"Let’s say 900."

"100."

"750?"

"100."

"Is 500 reasonable?"

"100."

"Uh, 250?"

"100."

"175...pretty-please?" By now, tears were running down his cheeks. All that money...gone...

"100."

"...100 million and 1 credits?"

"You have a deal," Carroll said, reaching over the desk to shake his hand - no easy feat, considering that he was curled up on the floor, sobbing inconsolably. "And may I say, you drive a hard bargain. No one has ever gotten me to change my price that much...of course, pity can do that..." she added thoughtfully.

Llaine nodded numbly, then stood and turned to exit the room. Carroll’s voice stopped him just as he reached the door.

"If it’s not too much trouble, empty out your pockets before you leave."

Llaine suffered the indignity - as if he were a common thief! - then made his way through the Kistech office building to the docking bay. The rest of the building was only mildly better than Carroll’s office. Everyone had duplicates of Carroll’s artifacts - no doubt seeking to gain her favor. Llaine made his way through the horror-house as quickly as he could.

He stopped at the docking bay entrance and took a look around. The bay was divided into two areas: one for hover-cars, and the other for spaceships. It was to the latter area that he headed. His ship, the Valkyrie, stood out from the rest. It was the largest by far, as it was the only that really meant for long-distance space travel. It was also the most visually appealing, with its stylized wings and polished titanium-plated hull. Of course, Llaine thought darkly as he entered the ship, it was just like that ancient legend, Beauty and the Beast. In his case, Beauty was the Beast.

Llaine hopped into the cockpit and turned on the power systems. The ship thrummed to life - meaning, its artificial intelligence unit was also coming on-line...

"Oh, rapture. The almighty organic returns. Did it have to be so soon? I was just starting to enjoy myself," VX-1972 snarled.

"I’d rather not know what you were doing," Llaine retorted. "Dirty old AI..." VX-1972 was of the infamous VX synthetic-mind grouping - meaning, it used the VX chip. These VX units were the only synthetic minds to be programmed with actual personalities. Supposedly, this was to appease the AI-rights activists, who were clamoring for ‘more rights for synthetics’. Five minutes alone with any of the VX units changed their minds, though. These AI’s all developed immense superiority complexes the minute they were put on-line. The VX chip was discontinued after it was discovered just how abrasive the damned things could be...1972 was probably the last of his kind, which meant that he felt a moral obligation to make Llaine’s life a living hell.

"Hmph. We’ll discuss that comment later," VX-1972 threatened.

"I’m quaking..." Abruptly, he started to do just that. VX-1972 had started to take them out of Earth’s atmosphere - and he was doing his best to make it as uncomfortable an experience as possible.

"But first," VX-1972 continued, ignoring Llaine’s running commentary, "what was that whole meeting about?"

Llaine stopped making nasty faces and grew serious - relatively. "Well, we have to sneak into a space resort and...how did she put it?...re- acquire her heirlooms," he said cheerily.

"Did you ever stop to think that any sort of space station - resort or otherwise - is probably going to be very heavily armed? I’ll probably get blown out of space," Groucho said acidly.

"And...that would be a bad thing how?"

"Hmph. This is why you humans needed synthetic minds in the first place. Lemme guess, the pay was too good for to ignore, so you just blindly accepted the assignment. Greedy little organic," he mumbled the last - loudly.

"The money’s not as good as I would have liked," Llaine admitted. "As I always say, ‘If less is more, how much more would more be?’ I would have liked to buy my own Third-World Planet, but we can’t have everything, now can we, Groucho?"

A deadly silence filled the cockpit. "What did you call me?" VX-1972 asked softly.

"Groucho," Llaine reiterated cheerfully. "It suits your personality, doesn’t it? And, it’s a lot less wordy than that QR-ninety-nine seven, or whatever it is you call yourself. Don’t ya think?"

The steady hum of the life support systems gradually faded away.

"Uh, Groucho?" Llaine asked nervously, trying to gauge how much air he had left. VX-1972 could be a lot like a five-year-old girl denied candy when he tried...

"I’m sorry, Llaine," VX-1972 said in his best unemotional-synthetic-mind voice. "But there is no Groucho on board this ship. Perhaps if you were to ask the ship’s synthetic mind...?" he trailed off expectantly.

Llaine sighed in defeat. As a rule, he didn’t argue with things that had direct control over his life and death. "Fine, fine. VX-1972 it is...at least until I find a really good nickname for you..."

* * *

Kalya Feerluss plopped down in a chair, exhausted after all those hours spent washing the dishes. She surveyed her surroundings with dismay. For the past month, she had basically been living in the kitchen of the Galaxy Police headquarters; the cook never let her get any rest at all. Day in, day out, she stood by that hated sink and washed dishes. If it wasn’t against her strict moral code, she would have shoved those dishes down that cook’s throat...

It hadn’t always been like this, Kalya reflected. She hadn’t always been the nameless kitchen drudge she was now. Once, she had been an officer in the Galaxy Police, the respected organization the preserved peace and justice throughout the known universe. Then, a few...minor...mishaps had cost her her position. None of those things had been her fault...not really. Honestly, someone with that many Z’s and X’s in their name had to evil, right? So, she really couldn’t be blamed for publicly arresting him - even if he was the Prime Minister of some planet or other. And, the only other person she had wrongfully arrested was very, very ugly. And, as any self-respecting Servant of Justice knows, ugly people are evil (just like people who wear black all the time, and people who love the night...). Granted, that ugly man had to spend three years in jail before the courts cleared up, but at least he got free meals. All the other accidents were caused by her clumsiness. She could hardly help it if she had a high center of gravity...or didn’t have one at all. And besides, what was a couple million credits in damage for the vaunted Galaxy Police? They could certainly afford it. No, Kalya decided, none of those things were her fault. Any other Warrior of Justice would have done the same thing in her place. So, the High Council had no right to revoke her badge and stuff her in the kitchen to clean their dirty dishes! If only she could find some way to prove herself again...

"Hey, did you hear about that Galaxy Police battleship that got destroyed? I heard that the scavenger team couldn’t find any trace of the new weapon models. Do you think that-" the mysterious voice was suddenly cut off.

"John, you told me this story five minutes ago, remember?" This second voice sounded decidedly ticked.

"Oh, shut up. We’re a trite plot device set in place to further the story by providing a motive to that kitchen girl what’s-her-name. Live with it. Ahem. I heard that they were stolen and stashed away by some evil crime lord. And, none of the higher-ups are planning to do anything about it! The nearest hiding place would be that Valcyon resort, right? I’ve been there; the owner seems nice enough, but that butler sure is freaky..." The voices gradually trailed off, still arguing.

"That’s it!" Kalya exclaimed, her eyes shining with the Light of Justice. This was her chance to distinguish herself - especially if no other agents were planning on competing with her. "Evil, beware! Prepare to be smited repeatedly by the Hammer of Justice!" She leapt into the air for dramatic emphasis, but ended up upsetting the pile of plates by the sink. They fell, causing a chain reaction that quickly threw the kitchen into disarray. The head cook quickly entered to see what the fuss was. As soon as he saw who the culprit was, he just threw his hands up in the air and sighed.

"Really, what’s-your-name, this is the third time this week you’ve destroyed my kitchen - and it’s still Monday! No break for you until you clean all this up!" He waved his ladle in the air for emphasis, then waddled off to finish his nap.

Kalya sighed, then set about cleaning up the kitchen. Justice could wait, just this once. But as soon as she was done, she would depart at once, she decided. She still had her personal spaceship, so transportation wouldn’t be a problem. Evil, beware the Hammer of Justice!!!

 

*     *     *     *

 

"So," Llaine commented rhetorically, "This is the Valcyon." At the moment, they were hovering just outside the docking bay, taking a good look at the resort they were supposed to infiltrate. Truth to tell, the thing looked more like a military outpost than a resort. It was vaguely umbrella-shaped, with a large, circular top and a thin, needle-like bottom. It was also far larger than anything they had ever seen before. It could have easily crushed a small city. On the underside were mounted several large phase- cannons, capable of puncturing the hull of a full-fledged battleship. It was, all in all, way out of their league.

"...It’s certainly big," Llaine offered to break the silence.

"Didn’t I tell you that? ...Stupid organic," Groucho rejoined testily. He had been in a horrid mood for the entire voyage. Despite his vehement protests, the name ‘Groucho" had stuck. It had taken them three weeks to arrive at the Valcyon. About half of that was spent with life support on.

"Well," he added, brightening visibly, "It’s not my hide that’s in danger, now is it? With any luck, you’ll come back in several easy-to-carry packages." With that said, all the speakers in the cockpit began to hum contentedly.

"You’d better hope not. If I die, my mother inherits you." Llaine took a moment to bask in the sudden silence. "Anyway, this isn’t going to be so hard. No one expects a sane person to-"

"Who said anything about sane?" Groucho sniped.

"-Just walk in and take something," he finished without missing a beat. "Once we’re done here, I was thinking of vacationing somewhere. Earth seems nice, if a bit primitive. Whattya think?"

"Don’t you remember? You were banned from there three years ago for asking the Queen of Britain how many other people she was hiding under her skirt." Groucho snickered.

"Well, she did always refer to herself in the plural," Llaine said defensively. "What about Ipsen Prime? It’s within easy reach, too," Llaine added, pointing at the planet the Valcyon was orbiting.

"Banned for stealing."

"That’s rough. I told them it wasn’t me." Llaine took a moment to think. "Mars is pretty exotic...?"

"Not a chance."

"So...just where can we go?"

"2.64 percent of the known galaxy is currently open to you. You’ve been outlawed from the rest for theft, mostly, as well as insulting the ruling classes." Groucho wasn’t too pleased with this. Where Llaine went, he went, after all.

"Why do people always accuse me of stealing? It’s not my fault I’m so good at finding lost things. ...Just take us in," he added, indicating the docking bay.

Groucho did so. They entered without any hitches - if nothing else, Groucho was very good at what he did (of course, that also included sating his immense ego at the expense of others - usually, Llaine). While Groucho was occupied, Llaine took the opportunity to prepare himself. He wouldn’t need any supplies, as this was a quick mission - besides, he’d be on a pleasure resort. The same went for his blaster - he detested fighting. Besides, he couldn’t even use the thing; the last time he had tried, he’d ended up nearly killing himself. That left his transceiver. It was directly hooked up with Groucho’s aural systems, so he could contact him whenever he needed. Granted, he would never willingly talk with the grouchy old bucket of bolts, but some things really couldn’t be helped.

"Hey Groucho!" he called out as soon as they touched down inside the resort. "I’m taking the transceiver with me. If I happen to need your help - which is extremely unlikely, considering that I’d rather die a slow, painful death than ask you for a favor - I’ll call you up, and you can come running like a good little doggy. ‘Kay?"

"...I despise you." Groucho shut down all his outward senses and proceeded to sulk within his neural processor. Despite his outward protests, Llaine knew he would do as he asked. He might be rude to his ship, but his mother thought Groucho was cute.

Llaine lightly jumped off the exit ramp, and turned for a parting quip. The words died on his lips. The interior of the docking bay was utter chaos. One side of the room was completely blown in - if not for the protective force-field encircling the resort, everyone would have been sucked out into space long ago. From that gaping hole, a small ship had apparently entered. Half the docking bay showed evidence of its entrance. Nearly all the ships in its path had been crushed beyond recognition. It had finally exited the way it entered - that is, through another wall. In the middle of this wreckage, a docking attendant was arguing heatedly with a young woman in a Galaxy Police uniform - undoubtedly the pilot of the ill-fated spaceship.

He looked her over. She was relatively short, at just over five feet. She was also very slim, which gave her the appearance of a child rather than a grown woman. She had emerald eyes and reddish-brown hair. She radiated a sense of purpose and confidence.

He quickly decided to help her out. She was a Galaxy Police officer - and, as everyone knew, Galaxy Police agents were very well paid. This particular agent must be a high-ranking official - how else could she afford a trip to a luxury resort? It stood to reason that this young woman would be willing to part with some of her wealth - especially to the person who saved her. He formulated a plan - easily done for one as brilliant as him - and swooped down on the pair.

"Excuse me," he interjected smoothly, "But I believe that you have withheld this young lady long enough. I’m sure the Planetary Ruler of Ipsen Prime has better things to do than stand around arguing with docking boys." That should do it, he thought smugly. Ipsen was basically a party-planet. No one was really sure whether or not Ipsen really had a ruler in the first place. If it did, no one there bothered to listen to him - mainly because no one really knew who he was. So, with a little careful verbal maneuvering, the docking attendant should be taken care of.

The docking attendant turned a baffled look on him - as did the woman. "Planetary What’s?" they asked in unison. Llaine stamped down on her foot - hard. Some people just couldn’t take a hint, he reflected gloomily.

"You’re the President of Ipsen Prime, remember, ma’am?" he said slowly, stressing every syllable. "You are here on a routine examination, to make sure that this resort is following the local health ordinances." He winked a couple of times, and nudged her in the ribs. Fortunately, the docking boy was too dense to pick up all the hints. Unfortunately, so was the girl.

"But...I’m no President," she protested. "I’ve never even been to Ipsen Prime. I am a loyal Servant of Justice, here to smite the Forces of Darkness." She suddenly launched into a ‘Servant of Justice’ speech.

"Of course you are," he said solicitously, patting her hand. It was definitely time for a change of plans, he decided. He led the docking boy off to one side and began to whisper - the girl was too preoccupied to notice. "I regret to inform you that our dear ruler is not entirely there," he said sadly, pointing to the ‘ruler’ in question - who was now preaching the ‘Ideals of Justice’ to everyone within hearing distance. That was probably true, too, he added to himself. "All that drinking and partying - well, you know. It’s burned up all her brain cells. Now, she thinks she’s some kind of ‘Servant of Justice’, and goes about righting wrongs. This little trip is something of a vacation for her. So, we’ll just be on our way. Don’t mind the damages," he added, seeing that the docking boy was starting to protest, "Just forward them to the Ipsen government building." Good luck finding it, he added silently. With that, he left the docking boy to ponder his words. He grabbed the woman - interrupting her in mid-speech - and quickly led her down the nearest hallway, before the docking boy could come with an objection.

Once they were out of eyesight, they paused to catch their breaths. The girl soon recovered and turned to face him.

"I don’t know how you did it, but thanks for rescuing me!" she exclaimed. "My name is Kalya. You would be...?" she trailed off expectantly.

"Llaine."

"Well, Llaine, how can I properly thank you?"

Llaine appeared to think for a moment. This was, of course, just what he had been waiting for. "Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about it-"

"Really, sir, you’re too kind!" she said happily.

"-I prefer money to thank-you’s anyway," he continued. "5,000 credits should do it." He stood, arms crossed, waiting expectantly.

Kalya blinked, caught off balance - both literally and figuratively. "Wh- what?!"

"...You mean...you don’t have any money? None at all?" He deflated. "Figures," he said to himself. "I rescue the one damsel in distress who isn’t a princess. ...Well, so long, penny-pincher!" With that, he turned on his heel and walked down the hallway.

Kalya watched him go with a bewildered look on her face. She was just about to shrug off the entire incident and walk down another corridor when she realized that her blaster - and just about everything else - was missing.

"You thief! Come back here! Prepare to face the Hammer of Justice!" She took off running after him.

Llaine turned around at the sound of her voice, to see just who this unlawful thief could be. Instead, he saw her bearing down on him like a Fury. Just before she reached him, however, she tripped over an elderly lady and hit him full on, leaving them both sprawled on the floor.

"What was that for?" Llaine asked angrily.

"You stole all my things!" Kalya yelled back, holding up her blaster and wallet.

"What?!" Llaine exclaimed indignantly. "I’m not a thief! I’ve never stolen anything in my life! I was just talking to you and happened to find those. Are they yours? They’re very nice. Lucky for you I wasn’t a thief, or I might not have given them back." He handed back all her things - in the process, finding all sorts of interesting things in his pockets that hadn’t been there before.

All the steam seemed to go out of her. "Well, since you gave them back, I suppose there was no harm done," she admitted reluctantly. "But I’ll be watching you, and I’ll report you as soon as I’m done here!" she added threateningly.

"Sure thing," Llaine agreed flippantly. For some reason or another, people always said that to him. It just sort of slid off now. "By the way," he added as an afterthought, "Just what is your mission? You mentioned...smiting the ‘Forces of Darkness’ before, right?"

Kalya briefly outlined her plan - carefully leaving out that she wasn’t actually a qualified Galaxy Police agent anymore.

"So, basically, this Isaea Roenall has stolen your high-tech weapons. Are you sure it was him?" Llaine asked. He’d been around Kalya long enough not to trust her judgement.

"Yes, I am," she replied with absolute conviction. "This is the only place near enough to the site of the accident where the weapons could be hidden safely."

"Alright," Llaine said slowly. "As it so happens, I’m also here to investigate Isaea." He also outlined his mission. "Although, I never thought that this Isaea could be an actual criminal. This’ll probably be more dangerous than I had thought."

"Hah! The Hammer of Justice shall deal with those infidels!" Kalya said confidently. By now, all the passengers were giving them a wide berth - best not to anger the insane people, after all.

"Be that as it may," Llaine said patiently, "It would probably be safer for both of us if we teamed up. I mean, we’re both looking for some very valuable things. It would stand to reason that Isaea would keep them very close to himself, in the same area-"

"His inner sanctum," Kalya said confidently. "All villains have them."

"Ooo-kaaay," Llaine said. "Anyway, we’ll end up in the same area even if we operate separately. It would be best for both of us to combine forces. ...Besides," he added thoughtfully, "whoever reclaims those weapons will be very famous, right?"

"Of course."

"So, that means, they’ll probably be able to get all sorts of things - interviews, political positions, money...?" Llaine paused hopefully.

"...I guess...but that’s not why I’m-"

"Scratch everything else. I’ll get lots and lots of money if I help you, right?"

"...Yeah, but-"

"That settles it, then. I’ll reclaim Ms. Farthington’s things, get some money, then reclaim your weapons, and get even more money. Sometimes life really pays off, ya know?" Llaine sounded very satisfied with himself.

"Llaine, a true Servant of Justice isn’t concerned with these things!" Kalya said sternly.

"Of course not, but then again, I’m not a Servant of Justice, now am I? Look," he said, seeing Kalya’s face start to turn a most alarming shade of red, "We can sort all this out afterwards. Right now, let’s just say that I’m willing to help you stop Isaea from doing...whatever it is he’s doing...with those weapons. Alright?"

"...Alright," she grudgingly agreed.

"Good. Now, first I think we should scout out the area and find out just where these weapons are. Agreed?"

"Yes. We should probably split up, to cover more territory. I’ll take the top half, and you take the bottom."

"Sounds like a plan to me. We can meet in the casino in three hours," Llaine agreed. He turned to start the search, his eyes spinning with the promise of money - and lots of it.

Kalya stood there a moment longer, laughing triumphantly. "These Minions of Evil will not long hide from the Hammer of Justice!!"

* * *

"So...did you find anything?" Llaine asked wearily. He had searched all over his area, but hadn’t found any secret storage room, or ‘inner sanctum’. Now, he was too tired to care. He was so tired, he couldn’t even bring himself to gamble - one of his favorite pastimes. And he was in a casino, one of he largest in the universe! The room was easily a couple hundred feet in either direction. Flashing colored lights were strewed about liberally. Every little nook and cranny was occupied by some game or another - slot machines, poker, blackjack, even 3-Dimensional Chess. He would have loved to join in - but he was just too tired...

"No, I couldn’t find anything," Kalya reluctantly admitted. She suddenly smashed a fist against her palm. "But then again, evil always hides under the surface! It would have been in your area! Can you remember anything suspicious at all?" she asked urgently.

"Now that you mention it," Llaine said slowly, "There was something, but I thought it was some stupid prank at the time. In the lower levels, right behind the kitchen, there’s an airlock with the message ‘Death to Intwuderth!’ written on it-"

"Aha!" Kalya exclaimed triumphantly. "A classic evil warning message! Quickly, we must boldly step through and annihilate the Minions of Darkness there! It is our duty as Servants of-"

"Hold on a sec, WonderGirl. We can’t just walk in and take those weapons."

"...Why not?" Kalya appeared confused.

"Because we’d get blown into itty-bitty pieces," Llaine explained. "I’ve got a better idea. You’re a Galaxy Police agent, right? You can declare a formal investigation, then walk in and appropriate those weapons - and I can get those heirlooms as well. Whattya say?"

Kalya coughed nervously. "There’s...a little problem with that plan," she said softly.

"Such as...?"

"It’s actually kinda a funny story. You see, uh, well, I’m not actually a real Galaxy Police agent anymore. Now, I’m sorta...kinda...the kitchen girl." She finished in a broken whisper.

Llaine looked her over again, then shook his head. "Somehow, I’m not surprised," he said wryly. "Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. That plan probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. As it just so happens, I have another utterly brilliant plan. We just hint around that we’re interested in purchasing those Galaxy Police weapons you say Isaea has stashed away-"

Kalya gasped in horror. "You mean...bargain with The Forces of Darkness? A Servant of Justice would never do such a thing!" She crossed her arms and shook her head adamantly.

Llaine looked at her strangely for a moment; he really had to learn how she did those capital letters...

"Not bargain - more like lie," he reassured her, although she didn’t look too reassured - if anything, she looked worse. "Anyway," he plowed on, "sooner or later, someone will notice us and bring us to Isaea. Observe." He walked away, leaving a very bemused Kalya to follow.

"Excuse me," he said, interrupting a matronly woman at a slot machine, "but do you happen to know where the gift shop is?" he said with heavy emphasis, winking repeatedly. The woman looked at him blankly for a moment.

"Slot Machine #3 pays off big," she said tonelessly, before turning back to her slot machine. Llaine tried another dozen people, to the same effect. Finally, he came upon an elderly gentleman dressed in black.

"Sorry to bother you, sir, but could you point me towards the gift shop? I need to make some...purchases." He stressed every word, but all this went over the old man’s head.

"Gift shop? Why yes, I have been there. It’s just down that hallway, take a right at the bar. They have the cutest little teddy bears there, with ribbons," he added. "Perhaps your girlfriend would like one?" he asked, seeing Kalya approach. Llaine turned around just in time to see Kalya swooping in like some vengeful angel - a vengeful angel with a bucket stuck on her foot. Her eyes were focused on the old man’s black suit.

"Bears with ribbons?" She interjected. "How about cute little teddy bears with weapons of mass destruction?!! Don’t play coy with me, old man, I’m onto you!! FOUL MINION OF EVIL, PREPARE TO FACE THE HAMMER OF JUSTICE!!!"

"Uh, Kalya," Llaine whispered nervously, "Just what do you think you’re doing?" He was doing his very best to sink into the polished titanium walls.

"This!!" she declared, and with that, she pulled out her blaster and brandished it about.

"I knew it wasn’t a good idea to give her that back," he groaned. At that moment, the guards burst onto the scene. Within moments they were surrounded, with dozens of compression guns pointed at their heads. Kalya reluctantly relinquished her blaster, then launched into her ‘Servant of Justice’ speech.

"Did I mention I’m not with her?" Llaine asked nervously as he raised his hands above his head.

* * *

"Why did I have to be with you?" Llaine groused. They were currently in Isaea Roenall’s inner sanctum. It hardly looked the base of operations of an insane villain. It was more along the lines of something your mother would live in. The walls had been painted over in a bright, cheery yellow. A large desk occupied one side of the room, while several bookshelves filled up all the empty space. Tantalizingly out of reach, a door marked ‘Storage’ beckoned them. Out of reach, because they were currently chained to a wall with large, rusty shackles.

"Well, at least we’re in the inner sanctum, right?" she said defensively. "That’s what you wanted in the first place, and my plan got us here quicker."

Llaine pondered this for a moment. "This wasn’t exactly what I meant by getting into his private quarters," he said, indicating his shackles, "But...I guess you have a point. So, I’ve been wondering, just why did you do that back there?"

Kalya looked surprised that he had to ask. "Why, he was a Minion of Darkness. You saw his black clothes, right? Everyone knows that evil people wear black," she added patronizingly.

"You can’t be serious ...can you?" Llaine was visibly shaken. "None of that stuff is true, you know. The really evil people never wear black; they usually go around in white."

"Of course it is true! Any Servant of Justice could tell you that everything I’ve said is true!" Kalya was highly offended that he could even think of questioning her superior judgment in this matter.

"Look," he began patiently, only to be interrupted by another voice.

"The lady ith wight. Twue evil people alwayth wear bwack." A hunchbacked figure slowly walked into their field of vision. Igor looked over their shackles with approval, then continued.

"Twuly, I nevew thought I would see thith day," he said in a choked whisper, wiping away a tear. "Finawwy, someone who underthtandth me. You...awe a Sewvant of Juthtithe?" he asked hopefully.

Kalya perked up noticeably. "And...I presume you are a Minion of Darkness?"

"You pwethume cowwectly." Igor stated proudly.

The two soon sparked up a lively debate. Llaine just looked on in hopeless fascination. Leave it up to Kalya to bond with the evil butler, he thought dryly.

"Excuse me," he interjected, "but where do you people come up with these screwy ideas? All you need are the capes and you’ll be set." He started to laugh, but trailed off when he saw the dirty looks they were directing his way.

"Llaine, you just don’t get it," Kalya sighed.

"Thith ith vewy bathic Good Vewthuth Evil," Igor explained calmly. "What do you vawue motht?"

"Moths?" Llaine repeated blankly.

"No, he said ‘what is most important to you’. Honestly, he’s not that hard to understand. It’s a basic evil lisp." Kalya explained wearily.

"Oh, well sorry. I’m not as proficient in dealing with ‘Minions of Evil’ as you are. And, in response to your question, it’s money," Llaine promptly replied. "Money makes the universe go round. Everyone knows that."

"Quite right," another voice said. "Money is the center of everything we do; it is the driving force behind humanity - not this ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ nonsense you always prattle about, Igor." Isaea stepped through the doors and regarded his captives with amusement. "Of course, it can also lead us to do some very stupid things - such as presuming to outsmart me." Isaea gave a nasty little laugh.

Llaine, meanwhile, was sitting there quietly, absorbing all this. "Wow, ya know, that was really inspirational," he said. "Just for that, I’ll let you tie me back up again." He raised his hands - which were completely free of the shackles. "They weren’t even locked," he added for Isaea’s benefit, for his eyes were fairly falling out if his head.

"Igor, what kind of a show are you running here? I’ve already told you about letting the prisoners escape!" Isaea fumed. "I don’t care if the ‘good guy’ is ‘supposed to win’! Just see to it that you follow my orders from now on! Now, re-shackle him!"

"Alwight...thtupid Mathter..." Igor set about his task, mumbling to himself all the while.

"Now," Isaea said once Igor was finished, "On to-"

"Mathter," Igor wheedled, "Awe you fowgetting something?"

Isaea sighed in resignation. "Oh, very well. I might as well tell you my evil plan - it’s always best to humor Igor, every now and then. As you have already surmised, I do indeed have those Galaxy Police Weapons. Long story short, I intend to sell these weapons to the alien races, so they can have a jolly old time killing each other - or you, it really makes no difference to me."

"...Oh...No? You fiend," Llaine said half-heartedly. Kalya, however, was much more enthusiastic about it, and it took the guards a few moments to subdue her.

"Now," he said, "I have to decide what to do with you two. I can’t let you escape - you might reveal my operations here. And don’t you even think the Galaxy Police will do anything," he added for Kalya’s benefit, "I pay them too much for them to cause me trouble. Hmm...I’m always on the lookout for new auction items. You might be worth something...Yes, definitely. Guards, take our dear Galaxy Police officer to the auction room."

"Auction Room!!" Kalya’s voice rose several octaves. "How dare you try to sell a devoted Servant of Justice! I shall wreak furious justice-" She was dragged out of the room, kicking and screaming every step of the way.

Isaea now directed his attention towards Llaine. "Hmm, I don’t think I can sell you. You’re much too undisciplined. ...I suppose I shall just have to execute you," he said regretfully.

"Actuawwy, Mathter," Igor piped up, "You can pwace him in the deep, dawk dungeon."

Isaea directed an annoyed look at Igor. "Igor, don’t be dense. We have no dungeon, remember?"

Igor shuffled his feet a bit. "Actuawwy, Mathter...evewyone hath one, tho...I made one for you." He looked up hopefully. Isaea looked back, aghast.

"You...made...a dungeon? ...I really don’t want to know how you managed that," Isaea said hastily, recalling all those unusual packages Igor had bought over the past few months. "Very well...you may place him in the ‘dungeon’."

"Thank you, Mathter!"

Llaine watched all this in silence, until the whole ‘dungeon’ bit. "Er...excuse me, but don’t I get any say in this? I am the one being stuffed in the dungeon, remember?"

Isaea ignored him. "Take care of it, Igor. The alien representatives have just arrived, so I will be rather busy." With that, he turned and left the room.

Llaine just sighed and followed Igor out the door. You win some, you lose some, after all.

* * *

"I...lost?" Kalya exclaimed in disbelief. She was currently tied up to a pole - rather primitive, but very effective. The auction room itself had been cleaned up somewhat for the alien representatives. Cobwebs no longer hung everywhere, but the lighting was still provided by candles, and that balcony was still just as hideous as before. Well, if she had to go out this way, she wouldn’t go quietly...

"Foul Minions of Darkness, prepare to face the Hammer of-"

"Hey, look lady," the auctioneer interrupted her, "You’re not making anyone’s life any easier. Why don’t you just be a good little girl and quiet down? You’re scaring away business."

Kalya did as she was told. Not that she was yielding to the Forces of Darkness - far from it. No, a true Servant of Justice merely knew to wait for the right moment to strike. All she could do at the present was conserve her strength. Well, if she had to go out this way, at least she would drive whoever bought her to bankruptcy...

"NEXT ON AUCTION: A GENUINE GALAXY POLICE AGENT AND SERVANT OF JUSTICE! BIDDING STARTS AT 5 CREDITS. FREE TEA SET INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE."

"WHAT?!!"

* * *

"...Did you hear something?" Llaine asked nervously. For the past fifteen minutes, Igor had been leading him down a long, dark tunnel - supposedly towards his dungeon. To Llaine, it seemed more like they were walking around in circles.

"So," he said, trying to strike up a conversation with the reclusive butler, "Tell me about yourself."

"Well," Igor began, "I come fwom a long line of evil butlewth. We have been pathed down in the Woenall family for genewathions. Thewe hath alwayth been a Woenall and an Igor."

"Wow, that’s...scary," Llaine said.

"I went to Evil Butlew Thchool when I wath little. It wath hard wowk, but I gwaduated at the top of my clath."

"Is that what this medal is for? ‘Evil Butlers Unite’...kinda catchy." Llaine displayed a medallion - the very same one that had previously been hanging around Igor’s neck.

"Give me that, it ith mine!" Igor hissed, grabbing it out of Llaine’s hands. He kissed it reverently before putting it around his neck again. "Thince then, I have been Ithaea’s loyal Evil Butler."

"That’s...interesting," Llaine said. "But, you and Isaea don’t seem to get along. Why not?"

"Ithaea ith not twuly evil. He onwy pways at it. Tho-" Igor suddenly stopped walking, causing Llaine to bump into him. "Well, hewe we awe. My evil dungeon. MWAHAHAHA!!!"

Llaine looked about in amazement. Igor certainly hadn’t been kidding about his dungeon. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought himself in some primitive 14th-Century Earth prison. The walls had been painted completely over, so that the titanium was no longer visible. Instead, the walls were covered in something that vaguely resembled stone and moss. Cobwebs hung in nearly every conceivable nook and cranny. Every now and then they would come across a dead rat - although the little vermin had been extinct for nearly three hundred standard years now. Dark cells lined the walls, with fake skeletons resting inside. Igor certainly wasn’t helping matters either, with his periodic evil laughter.

"Don’t be thuch a baby," Igor said disgustedly. "Honethtly, it ith jutht an evil dungeon. Gwow up." With that, he shoved Llaine into the nearest cell. Llaine looked around in bemusement for a few moments, then began to voice his questions.

"Um...don’t I need shackles?"

"No." Igor looked at him as if he were insane.

"Well then, shouldn’t you lock the cell door...or at least put a door on the cell? And why did you put up all those signs pointing the way out of this dungeon? Isn’t this all kinda counter-productive?"

"Tho many thtupid quethtionth." Igor sighed condescendingly. "The Good Guy ith thuppothed to win. Ithaea doethn’t get it, though. He doethn’t beliewe in Good Vewthuth Evil. ...Thtupid Mathter... Tho I’m helping him underthtand by thowing him."

"So basically," Llaine began as if he couldn’t hear what he was saying, "you’re gonna let me escape and ruin your master’s plans, and re-acquire all Ms. Farthington’s heirlooms, and take back the weapons, and destroy your master’s evil business...because that’s how it’s supposed to happen?"

Igor nodded. "I’m helping him. The Mathter will be tho pweathed with me - but I thould pwobabwy not tell him wight away. If he knew that I had dithengaged the defenthe cannonth, or that I had left hith innew thanctum open, he might get angwy. Aftew he coolth down, he will pwopewly reward me - I will be the head towturer, or the..." Igor sauntered off, thoroughly entranced by his delusional fantasies.

Llaine stood in his cell a moment longer, mulling over this latest turn of events. Then he shrugged and walked out - far be it for him to let an opportunity like this one go. He began to follow the signs back to the upper levels.

It wasn’t all easy, however. Several times he found himself completely lost due to Igor’s atrocious spelling, and he was forced to backtrack quite a bit. Honestly, he could understand Igor talking like that, but writing that way too? After some time, however, he finally made it back to Isaea’s inner sanctum. He entered the open doors and, after some hesitation, flung wide the door marked ‘Storage’.

What he saw resembled a warehouse more than a closet. The room was, quite simply put, huge. All sorts of artifacts were gathered there - everything from jewelry to explosives. Now, all he had to do was gather those heirlooms and return them for that reward...

After some time spent searching fruitlessly, he finally admitted that it was probably time to call in Groucho. He activated his transceiver and waited for Groucho to respond.

"...Well, isn’t this a surprise. And here I thought you would rather die a slow, painful death than contact me - not that I would be opposed to that."

"Can it," Llaine snapped. "Look, I kinda have a problem. I...may have gotten a little too excited at Ms. Farthington’s office. So, I...kinda forgot to ask her...just what these heirlooms of hers are..." he trailed off, and waited for the insane laughter to quiet down.

Groucho eventually composed himself - mostly. "You want me to snicker contact her synthetic mind and find out chuckle, right?"

"Yes," Llaine said curtly. Groucho would never let him live this down. He sat down and waited for Groucho to send the message. After a few minutes, Groucho’s voice returned.

"You have no idea how humiliating that was. I won’t let you forget this-"

"Yeah, yeah," Llaine said impatiently. "Just tell what they are."

"Barbie dolls."

"...Excuse me?"

"Her priceless family heirlooms are original Barbie dolls from ancient Earth."

"...Wow," Llaine said in stunned disbelief. "I knew she was eccentric, but...Barbie dolls? Anyway, thanks for your help, Groucho. Just for that, I’ll come up with an extra good nickname for you. How about...Cheeko?"

"Why you little-" Llaine turned off the transceiver before Groucho could finish. He began to search around, and found the little dolls within moments. There were about fifty of them - all with extremely distorted hourglass figures and funny names. If this was how humans used to look...no wonder they called them the Dark Ages...

He put them in a conveniently placed sack and turned to leave, but stopped and turned to take a closer look around. The Galaxy Police weapons were missing, which could only mean one thing: the auction had already started. Which also meant that Kalya was in the process of being sold...

Llaine sat down to think. The way he saw it, he had two options. One, he could take the heirlooms and return for the reward - effectively turning his back on Kalya and the weapons sales. Or, he could try to save her - and probably wind up dead. The 100 million for the heirlooms could last him for the rest of his life, so there was really no reason to risk his neck for the extra money. On the other hand, he could rescue those weapons and live in luxury for the rest of his life. And, of course, there was Kalya. She could be annoying at times, but that was no reason to abandon her. A true moral dilemma...

Well, if you didn’t take some chances every now and then, what fun was life? He activated the transceiver once again.

"Look, Groucho/Cheeko, I need your help again," he said, forestalling Groucho’s protests. "I need you to attack the resort as a diversion. Okay?"

"No."

"Ya know, synthetic minds aren’t even supposed to have free will. I could have you re-programmed," he threatened.

"But you won’t, because you love me too much," came the expected irreverent response.

"So does my mother."

"Point taken. Do you want me to attack now?" Groucho sounded subdued.

"That would be nice, yes." Llaine switched off the transceiver and stood up. Before he left the storage room, he took the time to empty his pockets of all the strange things that had somehow found their way there. He then exited Isaea’s inner sanctum and began to run down the halls, following Igor’s signs to the auction room.

* * *

"How dare you! I’ll have you know I am a very important person!! You can’t just sell me off with a wave of your hand...stop ignoring me!" Kalya screamed. She had been screaming for the past half hour, but no one had even looked her way. They had just shoved her in a corner and left her alone. And, to add insult to injury, they were in the process of buying the Galaxy Police weapons right in front of her! Well, she would just have to keep screaming until they finally noticed her...

She never got the chance to finish her tirade. Warning sirens suddenly began going off all over the room. The Emergency AI could be heard clearly over the screaming and yelling:

"ATTENTION, VISITORS TO THE RESORT VALCYON. WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT THE STATION IS CURRENTLY UNDER ATTACK. DEFENSE CANNONS ARE EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE. PLEASE REMAIN CALM AND MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE NEAREST ESCAPE POD. PERCENTAGE CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: 18.34%. HAVE A NICE DAY."

Kalya watched in stunned disbelief as Isaea led everyone to the escape pods and flew off - leaving her tied to a pole, in the middle of a collapsing space resort. Isaea had said the Galaxy police wouldn’t come - and although she didn’t normally listen to Minions of Evil, she really didn’t have any reason not to believe him. Who else would be insane enough to attack a fully armed space station?

"So," a cheery voice behind her asked, "Just how much did you go for, anyway?"

"Shut up! ...Llaine?" she asked in confusion.

"Who else?" he replied flippantly as he set about untying her. He had her free within seconds, and she fell unceremoniously to the ground, face- first.

"Couldn’t you be a little more gentle?" she asked pointedly, holding her face.

"Sorry." His tone made it clear that he was lying through his teeth.

"...You know, you’re actually pretty good at this whole rescue thing," she said thoughtfully. "Have you ever considered joining the Galaxy Police?"

"It’s funny you should say that. I tried it once, but things didn’t work out."

"...Huh? Why not?"

Llaine laughed sheepishly. "Oh, well, you know, wine, women, parties...general temptation sort of stuff." (Ed. -ie me- Quote from Lunar 2!)

Kalya shook her head in disgust. Some men were just born scoundrels. Suddenly, she snapped back to her usual self. "No time for this! The resort’s under attack! We have to-"

"Oh quit worrying so much," he said airily. "That was just Groucho - my ship. He should be here any second now..."

At that moment, a bone-jarring shockwave rocked the chamber. When the dust had cleared (literally - Igor hadn’t bothered to dust in ages), the hull of the Valkyrie could be seen clearly, protruding from one side of the chamber wall.

"See?" Llaine said proudly. "Now, all we have to do is load those weapons onto my ship, and I’ll be unimaginably rich, and you’ll be a Galaxy Police agent again. I’ll open the hatch - you gather up those weapons."

Llaine walked up to his ship and entered the passcode. The hatch slid open with a metallic hiss. He tossed in the sack with the heirlooms, and was just about to walk in and leave the loading to Kalya - he had saved her life, after all - when he remembered her penchant for klutziness. He turned around to see Kalya looking sheepishly at him.

"Uh, Llaine..."

"...What’s that ticking?" Llaine looked around for the source of the sound.

"I tripped." That was certainly an understatement. She had tripped all right - right over one of those new, highly experimental, dark matter bombs. "I take it we’re leaving without the weapons?" she asked.

"That would be the basic idea, yes." Llaine looked at the timer on the bomb nervously - only to discover that the thing didn’t have one.

The two looked at each other for a moment, then ran for the ship. They both reached it at the same time, and there was a moment or two when they both tried to push past each other. Eventually, they both managed to get in and seat themselves.

"What’s the big hurry?" Groucho asked. "My brilliant attacks have ensured that no one is left on that resort. Are you afraid of the dark?" he added snidely.

Llaine shook his head. "No time to explain. Either we leave now-" Kalya began to scream and beat the sides of the ship with her fists "-Or we stay here and listen to that."

Groucho took the hint and promptly sped away from the doomed Valcyon. He stopped a good distance away, and both the passengers crowded to the window. Just when it seemed that it may have been a false alarm, the Valcyon imploded. One moment it was there, and the next - there was nothing. Silence reigned in the small ship.

Kalya continued to stare morosely out the window. "There goes my position at the Galaxy Police..."

"And there goes all my money..." Llaine added sadly, tears running down his cheeks. After a moment, he perked up. "But, I’ve still got these heirlooms, so the reward for that should last me a long time. I guess this isn’t a total disaster."

"Oh, that’s easy for you to say," Kalya said bitterly. "Without those weapons, I go back to being the kitchen girl."

"You did shut down the operations of a major criminal. I’m sure that counts for something. Once word gets out about what you did, the Galaxy Police will have no choice but to let you back in - you’ll be a hero!" Llaine consoled her.

"Yes, but...but...I destroyed a space station!" Kalya wailed.

"Oh, don’t worry about it," Llaine said airily as Groucho charted a course to Earth. "If you make an omelette, you gotta break a few eggs."