The mist rose from the water as dawn broke over the swamp. Captain Anatida crawled painfully through the ferns, dragging his paralysed legs behind him. He had been shot through the pelvis, blasted by those metal-faced warriors who had invaded his land. Anatida had lost a lot of blood. He felt dizzy, and the swamp seemed to spin around him. He had to get to safety and tell Boss Gnule what had happened.
The bongo was visible through the reeds. Mustering the last of his strength, he hauled himself towards it, struggling through the water. He was the only member of his patrol to survive the attack.
Anatida wrestled himself through the hatch and fell to the deck. He could feel his life draining as he fought to knock the hand-held farspeekin from its bracket on the bulkhead. His legs useless, he was unable to stand.
At the third attempt, the farspeekin landed upon Anatida’s head with a clatter. He grabbed it and spoke into its microphone.
"Genneral Neano," gasped Anatida as he lay on the deck, shivering with shock. "Diss iss Cappatain Anatida." A voice crackled through the speaker.
"Diss iss Anatida," repeated the captain in a weak voice. He swallowed. "Deysen all dead. Mesa onnely surveever." He swallowed again. "Mandaloreymen come wit da fireshootin. Deysen shoot all ussen an den boom da beeg skeebeetle."
Anatida summoned his rapidly waning strength. It was imperative that he warned his people so that no more Gungans died. His time was short.
"Da Mandalorey’s makin fightin wit da Gungans."
* * *
In his boardroom, Boss Gnule was visibly shaken following the news of Anatida’s death. There was a long silence as he glanced around at his team of Reps. He had lost one of the best patrol leaders he had ever known, mown down along with the entire troop. As Gnule considered his next move, his thoughts were interrupted as General Neano entered the room.
"Exsqueeze me, mister Beeg Boss Sir," said Neano, "but what wesen gonna be doin now?"
"Mandalorey’s makin fightin wit ussen, Genneral. Wesen gonna be fightin da Mandalorey an wesen gonna drive ‘im in da sea."
"What boot da Naboo?" asked General Neano. "Wesen be fightin dem too?"
"Da Naboo aresen cowards," said the Boss. "Deysen no care boot da Mandalorey spoilin da Gunga-world, plootin da sea an killin da swamps for da makin o’ moneys. Da Naboo got no armee." Boss Gnule extended his eyestalks at Neano. "It’s uppa to ussen to save da Gunga-world."
General Neano stood to attention and saluted Boss Gnule. "Mesa gonna be tellin da Ankura Gungana. Wesen armees gonna be fightin da Mandalorey together."
* * *
Since he and Yarua had lost contact with Peetoo, Ayo was certain that Mandalore had sent his troops to destroy the Red Planet. As his companions slept soundly, Ayo lay huddled in his sleeping-bag, shivering with cold despite the fact that he was completely enveloped by the padded nylon cocoon.
Ayo lay in the tent, listening to the dawn chorus. The babbling of the stream had induced his bladder to fill until it felt like a balloon in his pelvis. He cursed to himself, for he had only just warmed up, and now he would have to go outside for a pee.
Ayo unwrapped himself and emerged from the tent. He stood up and stretched as be breathed the morning air. A thin mist had formed over the ground and beads of dew had collected on the trees. Water had also condensed in Ayo’s short, black hair, dripping down his forehead and collecting in his eyebrows as he clambered through the trees towards the stream.
As he contributed to the flow, Ayo considered his future. The fact that the Planet had been vaporised was a foregone conclusion. The evidence was beyond question. The reactor had been restarted, causing a meltdown that had turned the power core into a nuclear bomb.
Ayo had checked and double-checked everything, and had found the portable computer to be in perfect working order. The three skiffs had definitely come from the direction of Mandalore’s palace. Unless he, Yarua and Zibeon found alternative transport off the planet, the three of them would be as good as dead. They were certainly known to MHG authorities.
There was no turning back. They had no option but to steal a ship, and the nearest was at Fort Myreion. It was dangerous enough breaking into the estate to filch a flask of coolant ice, but stealing one of Mandalore’s starships, now that His Lordship himself was on Naboo, was more like suicide.
Ayo, feeling better for his relief, climbed back up the bank to the tent. Yarua and Zibeon were still asleep. As he settled into his sleeping-bag, he could hear Zibeon barking in his sleep as he dreamed, a quiet yelping as Yarua’s rucksack rustled each time the little creature twitched.
Ayo thought about Zibeon, and wondered as to the little alien’s dreams. He thought about how Zibeon had almost been killed when the cracktroopers had attacked his nest back on Despayre. Ayo shuddered at the carnage that he and Yarua had witnessed on that remote planet. It all seemed so long ago, weeks as opposed to days, when they had landed in the swamps in the hope that they could find help to repair the ship and save Zibeon. They had been lucky.
Zibeon was a welcome addition to the crew. He kept up their spirits, and the thought of those defenceless Zephoid Zez being treated like garbage made Ayo determined that they should get back to the Guvnor and expose Mandalore.
Attempting to breach the tight security of Fort Myreion was lunacy, but the atrocities on Despayre had given them a reason for risking their lives. They had nothing to lose.
Ayo could sense that somebody on the inside would help them. The sensation felt weird, almost like déja-vu. Usually, he laughed off these feelings, tending to believe only in solid facts, not unconfirmed ‘sensations’. This felt different, almost as if somebody was waiting for him. Ayo smiled to himself. If they managed to pull it off here on Naboo, then Mandalore’s bullyboy-days could be over.
* * *
The Theeland Links was quiet as the mist began to rise, burnt away by the strengthening heat of the sun. The tranquillity was short-lived, for a flock of sea birds flew up from the gorse is if startled by something as-yet inaudible to human ears.
There was a soft rumble, a low thudding that grew steadily louder as something large and heavy approached. Small links-dwelling rodents ran for cover as the ground began to vibrate.
Six huge fambaa beasts stomped over the plain, each flanked by scores of mounted Gungan warriors, their kaadus decorated with giant goff-bird feathers. The six fambaas provided the army with its heavy fire and shield protection. Two of them carried the generators and the rest carried artillery and ground troops in purpose-built carriages on their backs.
Slowly but surely, the Gungan Grand Army, assembled at haste from all of the underwater communities, advanced across the grasslands of Naboo. Mandalore had killed Gungans, and Boss Gnule had decreed that such an act of unprovoked aggression could not go unpunished. Mandalore was a guest on Gnule’s world and the murdering alien had long overstayed his welcome.
Captain Anatida and his patrol had been ruthlessly wiped out, and the ship that had brought the good aliens from beyond the sky, had been destroyed.
General Neano had lost a good captain on that terrible night, and as he rode his plumed kaadu alongside his advancing army, he vowed that his forces would raze Mandalore’s palace to the ground.Forward to Chapter 27 Back to Chapter 25 Home