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Today’s twisted tale is about a young soldier who lives to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the most nefarious villain in the galaxy. He’s trapped his prey on a desolate planet. Victory is within his grasp. Oh, if it were only that simple…

DAKON 5 by PJ McIlvaine

I know what they say, but I don’t believe it.

Lyca X has 500-year-long winters with temperatures that freeze a man’s lungs before he can draw a single breath. Genticor boasts sky-high woolly sabre-toothed mammoths that can tear a man in two with one casual twist of its jaw.

In my mind, there is no doubt that the most desolate planet in the charted universe is Dakon 5 with its hazy purple moons, blistering heat, dank red quicksand, and subterra maze of corkscrew caverns. Dakon 5 would be my first choice of refuge if I was the most notorious terrorist in the five galaxies.

Our intelligence was incontrovertible. Etterling Re, the man who had killed my father, was on Dakon 5. I was part of a highly-trained Priority 10 elite Alliance task force whose sole purpose was to capture Re by any and all means necessary. Death was not an option.

Light years from home, I huddled in the cold, dark cave.  I held my photon diffuser in one hand and a hologram of my newborn twins, Jakob and Jules, in the other.  I was here for them, and for my father.

“So, they tell me that this is the son of Captain Artegun Harrold, commander of the ill-fated Trurian Rescue Mission, cut down in his prime by Etterling Re.” Commander Tygon gruffly eyed me from across the earth mover. It was a statement I had heard thousands of times before.  I always responded in the same manner. I nodded.

Commander Tygon beamed. “Today is the day that you will avenge his death.  Children will be named after you and songs will be sung in your honor.” He said this in a Baliwanese seesaw dialect that was both pleasing and grating.

Again, I nodded, my throat tight. I was the same age as my father as when he died. I was the last person he had spoken with.  The static of the holoviewer woke me up. I got there in time to see a grainy picture of my father, in full combat uniform, bleeding profusely from a horrific chest wound.  Our eyes locked. He managed to gasp “it’s a trap” before the picture went black.

I was ten years old.

In that moment, I became a man.  I enrolled in the Fight Academy soon afterwards. I ate, slept and dreamt of Etterling Re, whose trail of blood and terror spawned three galaxies and as many decades. I jumped at the chance to join the task force.

Still, this operation left me uneasy. For one thing, I wasn’t with my usual unit.  I had been on leave due to my children’s birth. Thus, when news came of Re’s escape to Dakon 5, a team was hastily assembled.   For another, I had never served with Commander Tygon. He seemed capable, but Etterling Re was cunning and resourceful.  He had outwitted us at every turn.  I wasn’t going to leave empty-handed again.

We split into three groups. It wasn’t long before we heard the first blasts and everything went to hell.  We met more resistance than our information had indicated we’d encounter. Our communications were blocked. I ordered my group to pull back, but we were cut off. As my mentor back at the Academy was fond of saying, this was fast turning into a shit show.

We plunged deeper into the cave, searching for an exit. Of course, I realized too late that had been the plan all along. My men were cherry picked off one by one until I was the only one left. I don’t know what was worse, the silence of the screams.

I felt a searing pain in my chest.  An hour in a Medivac and a shot of Xenophan and I would be fine.  I imagined that I was home, holding my newborn sons.  As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I heard footsteps. I grabbed my blaster, ready to fire.

Commander Tygon knelt beside me.

“Did we get him?” I asked.

Commander Tygon smiled. “No. Why would we?”

I clenched my jaw. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“And they said you were the smartest cadet in your graduating class.”  Commander Tygon removed my identification tag from my wrist. “Etterling Re was never on Dakon 5. He could he? He was stabbed to death twenty-five years ago in a fit of rage by a jealous lover. What an ignominious way to die.”

My mind raced. “That’s impossible! The Nexus Massacre, the—”

Commander Tygon unfolded my hand and removed the hologram picture. “Collateral damage in the galactic war on terror.  Etterling Re is a beast, and it needs to be fed. He is what keeps young people streaming to the academies. The Alliance economy flourishes. Citizens and planets are united in purpose. You will agree that this is a good thing.”

“You lie! My father—” I gasped.

Commander Tygon stood up, his sea-green eyes hooded. “I have not lied to you, Corporal Harrold. Quite the opposite.  Songs will be song in your honor in your valiant and noble attempt to avenge your father’s death. Women will name their sons after you. And in twenty, thirty years, no doubt your own sons will be on the hunt for the elusive Etterling Re.”

I understood, now. There would be no Medivac.  I would never see my wife or sons again. And in a crushing, final blow, I now knew what my father had meant.  What he had tried to tell me with his last gasp of life.

It was a trap.

OFFICIAL COMMUNIQUE FROM THE ALLIANCE, TIMEDATE 23.456: It is with deep sorrow and regret that the Alliance announces the death of Corporal Kameron Harrold in a failed attempt to apprehend the notorious Etterling Re on sub-standard planet Dakon 5.  Corporal Harrold was the only son of Commander Artegun Harrold, who was himself killed during the infamous Trurian Rescue Mission. Corporal Harrold is survived by his wife, Lorelei, and his newborn sons….”