by Van Plexico
Mon-Dria fell to the cushions. Bal-Rogg's wiry form stood over her, his mouth twisted into an evil leer.
He held up his hand. A slender golden ring encircled each of his fingers. "You see? I am the master here." He leaned down toward her. "The master of you, now, too."
She glared at him, her mind racing.
He strode arrogantly across the room, picked up a ceramic pitcher and poured himself a goblet of blue liquid. "All you have to do is accept things the way they are, and I promise that your life will be much happier." He took a sip. "Here in the Dead Areas, being close to me has its advantages."
She bit her tongue, holding the possible retorts back. Not yet. Wait. She looked down at herself, now clothed-- barely -- to match his barbarian style. She wore a waist circlet and chained breast cups made of gold, with flowing white silk around her hips and down her arms. A jewel-studded necklace dangled from her neck. The golden bracelets still surrounded her wrists and ankles, the potential always there for forced obedience.
He approached her again. She noticed that, unlike all the others, he wore a sidearm. A black, standard Kree-issue energy pistol in its holster dangled at his side. "You have a gun," she whispered.
"Of course. I told you, this is my domain. Supplies are short, but if it is to be had on this station, I have it."
"You don't have electric lighting," she observed spitefully.
"This is a Dead Area," he replied casually. "We do without in order to maintain our... lifestyle."
Her cessation of hostilities seemed to be causing him to open up a bit, as she'd hoped. He had walked closer, kneeling above her. She pressed, "What does that mean? Dead Area?"
"A part of the station which..." He frowned. "There is an intelligence here." He gestured broadly. "Within the station. I believe it is what brought us all here. I don't know for certain. Nor do I know what it wants with us. But it controls much of the station. Not all, though." He smiled. "The Dead Areas are parts which are cut off from the rest. No electricity, no instantaneous translation, and so forth. But no surveillance, either. No one giving orders." His smile broadened, his eyes flashing. "No one but me!"
She reached out, cautiously touching his arm. She had to have more information, as vile as she found her means for extracting it. "Yes, I see that now. You are so powerful, so..." She swallowed. "How did you achieve it all so quickly?"
He blinked, paused, and looked down at her. "Quickly?"
"Yes... It's only been, what, a matter of hours since our fight..." She looked down. "Since you tried to kill me."
He interrupted her, frowning. "What tricks are you playing with me? Hours! Ha!" He stood, stalking away. "I've been trapped on this blasted station for years. Years!" He threw the goblet into the wall violently. "And no one to help me, no one to keep me company but that homicidal maniac, Kargorr..."
"But-- but it's true! Look at me. Do I look any older?"
He stared at the floor, clearly fighting the anger swelling inside him.
"Our battle in space-- and with each other-- was only a short time ago," she stated flatly.
"That's not possible! I've been here for years, I tell you! I've built all this up! My own empire!" He grasped her by the chin, his eyes burning into hers. "What are you up to? What are you trying to do to me?" He flung her aside, stood, and angrily stalked out.
She lay there, gasping. Her mind pored over what she'd heard. The ramifications of all he'd said... There can be only one possible explanation, as crazy as it sounds. Some sort of time dilation. Either time moves much faster here, and we can still get back home, or else... She shuddered. Or else we lost years of time traveling through that portal, and now home's just a memory...
* * *
Bal-Rogg looked up from where he'd been brooding on his throne as Kargorr dragged the beaten body of Iron Man into the room. The Kree renegade's expression widened as he looked from the battered red-and-gold form to the stygian black one. "Yes?"
"I will have to kill him to get him out of the armor," Kargorr growled. "I was not certain you wished that yet."
The Kree stood over the armored human, staring down at him contemptuously. "He honestly believed he could successfully invade my domain. Ludicrous! Even with that ridiculous metal suit." Bal-Rogg's lips curled back in disgust. "He's just a human."
A light twinkled in Kargorr's eyes. "He seems very fond of the woman."
Bal-Rogg jerked his head toward his dark servant. "What are you saying?"
The slaver lord clasped his hands behind his back and strode across the room, then raised one golden-ring-encrusted hand and motioned. Seconds passed, and he gestured again, more forcefully. A moment later, Mon-Dria staggered in from the adjoining room. Her motions were jerky, almost spasmodic.
"If you respond instantly to the summons, I will have no reason to compel," Bal-Rogg hissed.
Mon-Dria looked away, then realized who lay on the floor beneath Kargorr. "Iron Man!" She started forward, then, at Bal-Rogg's gesture, she froze.
The slave trader looked from her to Iron Man, then back. "What is this unnatural attraction, Mon-Dria? You are mine now. You know this." His face wrinkled. "Do not seek to nauseate me with some sort of bizarre display of affection for this primitive!"
Mon-Dria's eyes moved, with great force of will, to glare back at Bal-Rogg. They faced one another for a long moment; the slave master and the paralyzed beauty. Kargorr only stood by, watching.
A groan from below brought them back to the moment.
"Ahh. He's awake." Bal-Rogg kicked at Iron Man, rolling him over on his back with a clatter. He jabbed at him with his foot. "Human?" he asked in English. Then, louder, "Human!"
"Unhhh...." The helmeted head sat up a few inches. "Stuff it, Bal-Rogg."
The Kree's eyes widened. "What?"
Tony managed to get his elbows underneath himself and sat up. He glanced up at Kargorr. "Oh. Hi there."
Mon-Dria emitted a strangled sound as she struggled against the golden bands' mental and physical control.
Tony heard her and tried to stand. "Mon-Dria?"
Kargorr clubbed him against the back of the head and sent him down onto the floor again.
Bal-Rogg eyed the armored man cautiously. "This one is no longer dangerous, is he, Kargorr?"
The black giant snorted. "Ha. If he ever was. No, not remotely dangerous. His energy supplies are depleted. He used most of his power up against the guards. And of course he could not stand against me." Kargorr kicked at Tony's legs. "Look at him. He can barely move."
"Good. I want that armor peeled off of him-- but not just yet." He walked over to Mon-Dria's stiff form and stroked her chin, his eyes traveling over her body. "Surely this alien doesn't mean anything to you, my dear?" He gestured.
Gasping, the mental lock released, she recoiled instinctively. "Leave him alone, Bal-Rogg," she gasped. "He was only looking for me. He doesn't have any reason to bother you or your little empire."
"Nor will he!" Bal-Rogg's eyes widened. "So you do have feelings for this... human."
"What do you even know about feelings, Bal-Rogg?"
The slave trader's smile was twisted, demented. "Oh, let me show you. In fact, let me show the human, too. Let it be the last thing he sees; the thing he carries with him to whatever afterlife such primitives hope to attain." He sat back on the throne, willing Mon-Dria to follow him.
Against her every effort, she found herself compelled to climb up onto him, to lay her body across his lap, one arm behind his shoulders. The bands exerted absolute mastery over her motor functions; she probed the limits of her mind's resistance, but try as she might, she could find no weakness. As long as Bal-Rogg's concentration remained remotely focused on controlling her, she could do only as he wished.
Tony had managed to sit up again, and he watched with burning anger as Bal-Rogg displayed his mastery over Mon-Dria. His eyes instinctively moved over the readouts inside his helmet; they all sat near zero. Despite this space-variant armor's ability to pull ambient energies out of the surrounding environment, the battle with Kargorr had so depleted his reserves that it would still be some time before the weapons came back on line. He wracked his brain, searching for any alternative. Mentally he ran through his various defensive systems, his environmental systems, his propulsion-- He blinked. "Hey," he whispered to himself, "space armor..."
Bal-Rogg waved a dismissive hand, disappointed that the preoccupied Iron Man had neither cried out for Mon-Dria nor begged for his life. "Enough," the slave trader stated. "Kill him. Take the armor. I wish to examine it from the inside."
Kargorr nodded once, leaned toward Tony, huge obsidian hand reaching down.
Tony put all his effort into curling up into a ball, drawing his knees up towards his chest. Kargorr found this amusing, his eyes widening at the spectacle. He opened his mouth to make a cruel comment--
--and Tony's chemical boot jets ignited, bright flames blasting into Kargorr's face at point-blank range.
With a roar of pain, the big alien stumbled back, both hands up to his eyes.
Bal-Rogg cried out, shocked. For a moment he froze, his years of absolute mastery over all around him having dulled his reaction time to a genuine threat. Then, as he started to rise, he realized that Mon-Dria still lay across his lap. He looked down at her.
Her eyes held grim purpose and determination.
Her open palm held a slender gold ring.
Bal-Rogg laughed, long and hard.
A few feet away, at the base of the throne, Kargorr was recovering from the fiery blast. Tony had shut off the rockets and scrambled backwards, seeking a weapon, or at least momentary cover from the certain retaliation. He found neither. Well, at least I got one last lick in, he thought grimly.
Bal-Rogg's face hovered inches from Mon-Dria's, a contortion of dark humor. "So, you took advantage of my distraction and took the control ring from my finger. Congratulations. But you must know that you cannot escape. I will simply have you punished and then replace the ring on my finger." He laughed again. "Poor Mon-Dria, you've failed again."
Mon-Dria's face spread into a smile of her own. "Poor Bal-Rogg," she mocked, "as stupid as ever. Otherwise, you could have prevented me from doing this." And as the slave trader's own smile began to fade into confusion, Mon-Dria tossed the ring she'd taken from his hand, across the room--
Bal-Rogg raised his hand, staring at the fingers, slowly understanding what had happened. His expression melted into horror. "Oh, no..."
Kargorr caught the ring, held it up before his eyes, studying it. Then he slid it onto his own finger and, Iron Man now forgotten, walked slowly across the room.
Mon-Dria leapt from the throne. Bal-Rogg made no move to stop her. He had problems of his own to deal with.
Tony pulled himself to his feet as Mon-Dria ran across to him. "What did you--?" He looked from her to Bal-Rogg to Kargorr. "I don't understand--"
All but paralyzed with fear on his throne, Bal-Rogg raised a hand up before his face as if to ward the giant off. "Stay back! I am your master!"
"No longer, Bal-Rogg." Kargorr, his speed incredible for so large a figure, seized the cringing Kree and held him up by the throat. "No longer." With that, he hurled the slave trader hard across the room, smashing him into the wall with a sick thud. Bal-Rogg slid down to the floor, and lay there, motionless, emitting a small gurgling sound. Blood trailed down from his nose and mouth. Kargorr advanced again.
"I don't know what you did," Tony stated, "but we have to get out of here. Now!" He started to pull Mon-Dria for the exit.
"Wait--" Mon-Dria took a step towards Kargorr. "Even trade?"
The obsidian giant glanced back at her, considering, then nodded. "Even." He bent down, grasped Bal-Rogg's hand, and pulled Mon-Dria's control ring from where it still rested, then tossed the ring to Mon-Dria. "But from this point forward, the slate is clean."
"Understood." Mon-Dria slipped the ring-- the one that controlled her own golden bands-- onto her own finger and grabbed Tony by the arm. "Now we can go. Quickly!"
Tony paused, glanced back. "Mondy, wait-- I know that guy deserves whatever he gets, probably a dozen times over, but..." He stared into her eyes. "Can we just leave him? To that?"
"Can you stop Kargorr?"
Tony considered, his eyes moving over his power indicators. "No. Not right now."
"The other slavers are coming. We must flee."
As they dashed through the door, the last thing they saw was Bal-Rogg dangling limply from Kargorr's grasp, his eyes wide with fear.
Iron Man followed Mon-Dria down the corridor. "You mean Bal-Rogg had your ring the whole time?" he asked. "Then what--?"
"I grabbed Kargorr's ring when you distracted Bal-Rogg. I figured it made more sense. Bal-Rogg was too stupid to stop me from giving it to Kargorr. And I figured that Kargorr has spent years resenting being the personal slave of a mere Kree lieutenant!"
"But--how did you know which one was Kargorr's ring?"
"Bal-Rogg had it inscribed on the surface. Probably so he'd know which was which. It was written in Kree --in the Dead Areas, I'm probably the only one who could read it."
Tony shook his head in wonder. "You are something else."
"I take that to be a colloquial compliment," she replied.
The sound of troops running toward the throneroom resounded around them. "We still have to get out of the slaver levels," he reminded her.
She looked around frantically. "How did you get in here?"
"I don't know-- these corridors all look the same!" He whirled around. "I think it was back that way..."
They dashed down the hallway, the slaver army at their
Next: A Race Through Dark Places!
SOCK IT TO SHELLHEAD!
Our first mail (yaay! mail! finally!) comes in three parts, from David Wright. His first missive:
I just read your first Iron Man issue and
enjoyed it. I printed off the second and third ones
at work and brought them home with me, I'll knock them
out before the weekend is over.
He then writes:
Okay, don't leave me hanging. I
want to know what happens next!
Glad you seem to have liked
370-372, Dave! And, you got it--all the titles do (and
will) come from Babylon 5
episode titles. Just a fun exercise on my part.
I finished up the rest of your Iron Man. Now, don't leave us hanging! I have to know what happens next! I suspect the stuff about the languages and everything may tie into the Babylon myth somehow. I mean, between the space station setting and the episode titles, I just have to think that way. And the alien guy that guided Tony to the slaver areas (or was it the Dead Areas?) made me conjure up image of Zathras.
Not horrible guesses at all, (and, yeah, Zathras probably did have some influence on the characterization of the green alien), but I'll leave the answers for the installments still to come. Thanks for writing, and hope you liked this month's issue.
And--the rest of ya-- hurry up and write!
Story © 2000 - 2001 by Van Allen Plexico