by Joseph Anderson

All characters in this story belong to me though Prince Samuel originally derived from Xena fan fiction I wrote. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story refers to characters and situations from my story Casting Couch. It contains some violence and rough language.

Czechoslovakia, 1505

The Throne Room was thronged with panicked people. The tall handsome prince came in, stumbling slightly, and everyone silenced as he took his seat and arranged his beautiful robes and bejeweled silk crown. He looked at his chamberlain.

"Most High Born and Mighty Prince Samuel, Anointed of..."

"Never mind that," Sam said, "What's going on?"

"I do not know, Highness. Perhaps God is punishing us!" the chamberlain said, near tears. He was an old man who loved his family and had never had to deal with a real crisis in his life. He had lived in a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity.

"Vaslav," the kindly prince said and waved the chamberlain over. As the shaking old man approached the prince took his hand and spoke quietly to him. "It's all right that you don't understand this, since you have had the great fortune to live in times of plenty. If you had grown up in hard times you would be as dangerous as anyone alive. No one knows this more than me. You've been with me longer than you realize." He squeezed his hand and looked at him with those legendary blue eyes. "I want you to go to your fine children and grandchildren now. Give them my love. But I don't want you here now."

Chamberlain Vaslav's eyes filled with tears. "I've failed you, Prince!"

Good Prince Samuel waved a guard over. "No, Vaslav, if you'd lived in different times there's no one I'd rather have with me than you." He pointed to a guard, "Escort the Chamberlain to his residence."

The longhaired prince scanned his audience chamber and said, "Sergeant Grieko, what have you observed?"

The guard answered promptly, "Objects in the sky, Prince. First reported a week ago. They are not only here but throughout the country, by report."

"You are a watchful man. What's your first thought?" the prince asked.

"Get cannon in position. Prepare to burn the city and poison the water supply if we have to evacuate," the soldier answered promptly. Many in the room gasped.

Prince Samuel nodded and stroked his dark curling mustache. "You're a general now." He looked around. "General Vasily, hand your badge of office over to General Grieko. Leave my presence. You have not failed but you are not what I require now. Do not speak."

The gray-haired general, who was famous for his compassion and had never been in more than a minor skirmish, removed the medal from his chest and pinned it to the young man who approached him. The old man left, red faced with shame.

The beloved prince said loudly, "Remain calm; I will handle this. Now might be a good time to pray, however." His subjects hurried to obey. "Come here, Grieko," the prince said, "stand beside me." The soldier obeyed. "Ever killed anyone?" the good prince asked quietly.

"Yes, sire. I happened to be present in the street when a murderer escaped from jail. He killed a guard and had his weapons."

"How did you kill him? Specifically."

"With my hands. I strangled him."

The kind prince smiled and nodded. "What about battles, executions, massacres, assassinations?"

"No, sire. I am sorry."

"That's all right, Grieko. It's these damned good times. Will you do what I tell you? Anything I tell you?”

"Yes, Prince!"

"All right, Grieko. Think about other men like yourself. We may need them. Now just stay beside me."

The ground suddenly shook and there was a giant explosion, which caused stones to fall from the walls and knocked everyone in the Throne Room off their feet. The tapestry of Bacchus on one wall fell with a crash, just as the huge Eastern Orthodox cross did opposite it. Prince Samuel rose and calmly walked through the double doors which guards hurriedly opened for him, followed by Grieko. He came to a window looking out on the city. The prince frowned as he saw the smoking hole that used to be the western half of his city. Then he glanced up at the large strangely shaped objects with glowing lights hovering in the sky. One broke formation and seemed to be coming toward the palace. Good Prince Samuel touched one of his rings, pressing something, and said levelly, "Grieko, these assholes just made the last mistake of their sorry lives."

The soldier didn't respond. His entire family had lived in the western city, his wife and children, parents, in-laws, grandparents, cousins--over 60 people. The prince glanced at the pale soldier and put a hand on his shoulder and looked in the man's horrified eyes. He said, "We will have vengeance, my friend. Let's get back to the Throne Room quickly. Keep a cool head. That's why I appointed you. Get everyone out, even the guards, quickly. I only want you with me."

In the empty Throne Room the prince resumed his seat and said, "Thought of any other men like yourself? Men who will do what has to be done, no matter what."

General Grieko answered in a frigid voice, "Yes, Highness."


The doors to the Throne Room burst open and several monsters scuttled in bringing a foul odor with them. Grieko crossed himself at the sight and reached for his sword.

"Don't do anything, yet," Sam ordered Grieko as the creatures approached him. Short and squat, five legs with multiple joints, nine eyes, some kind of sucker for a mouth--ugly bastards. They were actually green. Even under the circumstances, Sam thought that was pretty funny. One began making chirping sounds and a moment later words came from a device it carried.

"This world is ours now, animal, and you will help us harvest its resources. Understand, animal?"

When Prince Samuel didn't answer, the creature approached and pulled him from his throne. Grieko grabbed his sword and collapsed.  Another of the creatures lowered a glowing weapon.  The first one struck Sam in the face opening a gash and sending his crown rolling. Before it could do anything else to him a claw just picked the creature up and began shaking it so hard one if its eyes came half out of its socket, then dropped it to lay squirming on the floor. The prince got to his feet, helped up by the big, scaled, uniformed figure, one of several which had entered the room.

"Lord Military, welcome," Sam said in the hissing Slithloc language. He touched his face and glanced at the blood on his fingers without much interest.

The Slithloc commander studied the Lord Progenitor and the Branchidae that had dared to molest him. As a Lord Military he was maintaining a calm exterior to set an example for the younger caste brothers, especially the youngest. He was proud of them: they hadn't lost control.  The Lord Military wasn't sure he wouldn't have at their age if he had witnessed this. Avenging this abomination was a greater honor than anything the Lord Military could ever have imagined. Five other militaries were present and holding weapons though did not need them. The twelve Branchidae had all thrown their weapons down and begun hopping up and down and making squealing sounds when they saw the Silthlocs.

The two youngest militaries caught each other’s eyes. They were shaking with the effort it took to not simply tear these monstrosities to shreds. The Lord Progenitor had visible injuries inflicted by them. The magnitude and horror of it was hard for them to even grasp.

All Slithlocs knew the ageless Lord Progenitor lived outside time on a primitive planet and had taken the form of its simple inhabitants. The obvious reason was to make clear to the arrogant Slithloc Military Caste how misguided they had been when they abused the other castes. Only the most rigid fundamentalists thought that was all there was to it though. Most considered the Lord Progenitor as living out a kind of myth with levels of meaning. The more you explored the more you found. Many theologians and philosophers thought that igniting that inner exploration itself was the real mission of the Lord Progenitor. It had made their culture ineffably deeper and more introspective.

The Slithlocs lived in castes, and the more they saw of species without castes the more fortunate the Slithlocs felt that they had them. Even servers, when they saw the horrendous chaos and suffering of other worlds, felt that way. Better to be a Slithloc server than a crazy starving alien. But the Lord Progenitor lived as one.

From egg to death the example of the Lord Progenitor raised questions of what it meant to be Slithloc; perhaps what it meant to be at all. Every member of every caste had to consider the Lord Progenitor at some point. It wasn't simply that the Military Caste couldn't dominate the other castes. He could have commanded that, as he did. All Slithlocs lusted to obey a genuine Lord and he had sired a new Lord Caste for them. But instead of remaining with them as the living god of a nearly invincible race, the ultimate Lord chose to leave them and live on a backward planet as a primitive alien. He ruled them and cherished them as much as he had the Slithlocs it was said--perhaps even more. And what did that decision imply? What was choice? What was fate? What was duty? Had the Lord Progenitor chosen his role? Had he sought to avoid it but then accepted it? The other castes were forced to examine their own ethics and stop blaming everything on the Military Caste. In many ways the militaries had it the easiest. The Lord Progenitor commanded them to stop abusing the other castes and they did. Those who objected were ripped apart by their devout caste brothers. It wasn't so cut-and-dried for the other castes. Whenever an individual Slithloc of any caste was faced with a moral dilemma, whether it was articulated or not, always present was the question 'what would the Lord Progenitor do?'

The erstwhile invaders were rolling their eyes and seemed to be sweating cheesy mucus as they looked at the majestic bipedal reptiles with their long snouts, shiny black eyes and twisting tails. And teeth and claws---mustn't forget the teeth and claws.

The one that had struck Sam and lost an eye spoke and the translator said. "We have no quarrel with the Slithlocs. Leave or face the consequences!" The device caught the false bravado in the voice. Some militaries smirked but stopped at a look from the Slithloc commander.

The Lord Military ignored the interruption and spoke in his hissing language. "Lord, how shall we punish these things?"

The squat multilegged creatures began hopping up and down and making chirping sounds when they heard the translation. One tried to run for the door and the youngest military lost control with a growl and simply skewered it with his tail, then flung it against a wall where it splattered open, though its legs still waved feebly. He looked guiltily at his commander. The Lord Military was going to say something sharp but the prince said quietly, "Don't be hard on him. We were all young once, eh?"

"I'll speak with you later," the Lord Military said to the embarrassed young caste brother. The Lord Progenitor advising forbearance of a young brother was just what the Lord Military would dream he would do. It was so perfect the military almost couldn't accept it and feared he was dreaming.

The other Branchidae stared at the still twitching goo and began excreting viscous chunks from every orifice. The prince asked, "How much damage have they done?"

The Lord Military paused and seemed to be listening to something, and then answered, "They have struck throughout your world as they have here. They have landed in thousands of capitols and are abusing rulers to force their cooperation as they attempted here. Lord, they do this whenever they think a world cannot resist them--but never with worlds with even simple space flight, they are such cowards. They are nothing but parasites."

"No! We spare worlds with space flight because they have demonstrated potential! It is our duty to the cosmic soul! We have helped many of them, prevented world famines due to climate changes, diverted comets which would destroy them!" The Branchidae leader emotionally objected to the Slithloc's description of his species. "We never destroy worlds, just take what we..." The Lord Military simply flicked another eye out with a claw and the chirps changed to soft moaning squeals, as it held its head and sank to the ground

Sam hissed in anger just like a Slithloc and returned to the window. The Lord Military followed him, Good Prince Samuel looked again at the smoking ruins of the western city. He could hear the wailing of women. The foreign spacecraft were still there but dwarfed by the Slithloc vessel at least a thousand times larger. Sam wondered why the Slithlocs hadn't sent one of their big cruisers. He returned to the Throne Room.

The Branchidae leader spoke again. "We did not know this world was under the protection of the Slithloc! We will make restitution!" The translated voice had a sound of wet blind terror.

"Punish them," the longhaired prince said in a voice full of hatred.

The Lord Military nodded and picked up the creature again and simply pulled its legs off as it squealed. The others began trying to scramble away as the Slithlocs lashed out at them with tails and flicking claws, crippling the creatures. Then followed their leader's example of pulling their limbs off. The Branchidae had molested the Lord Progenitor and didn't deserve an easy death. The young military was even more ashamed that he had given one to the creature he'd smashed into the wall.

The prince walked over to Grieko and knelt down next to him, laying a hand on his chest. The Lord Military approached and said, "He is dead, Lord."

Sam's eyes were red as he stood. "He was a brave military killed trying to protect me. Make them pay for your caste brother, Lord Military! But not only here. Cleanse them anywhere you find them. Send word to all your brothers!"

"They have twenty-three worlds, Lord, and colonies," the Slithloc said, considering the logistics involved. "A hundred and twenty billion Branchidae, at least."

Good Prince Samuel was looking back down at Grieko's body and listening to the wailing women in the distance. He picked up his crown from where it had fallen and examined it for damage. He said absently, "I don't care how many worlds they have. Cleanse them."

The bleeding mutilated Branchidae commander moaned out, "No, no, no! Tell my leaders to stop raiding and they will. We have a long history, a rich history. We only began raiding a few hundred years ago. We can stop! We have a and literature...we help developing species with potential! Don't do this! Just punish this expedition. We've never destroyed even one world...just taken what we needed!"

The Lord Military and Prince Samuel were silent looking at the limbless foul smelling creature, which then weakly stopped, unable to continue. The handsome prince squatted down and looked thoughtfully in some of its eyes. Then he rose, turned and said with a smile, "I will dine with you later on your ship. Have these fine militaries present ...and don't be too hard on the young brother. He reminds you of yourself, I can tell. Don't be over-hard on that account." He glanced at the mutilated Branchidae looking up pathetically at him with his remaining eyes and said coldly, "It destroyed its entire race and can't even die well. Dispose of it. I hope the stench of its cowardice doesn't linger or I'll have to rebuild."

The tall reptile turned his long head. He looked around with his obsidian eyes under the characteristic red ridges of the Military Caste, his tail flicking in anger as he thought of the Lord Progenitor attacked and his brave dead caste brother. The Slithloc picked up the squealing helpless form of the leader again, which had heard everything and was still begging for mercy for his species. The Lord Military carried it to the window, looked down to make sure no one was there, and hurled the Branchidae down where it landed with squishy thud, then tossed its limbs after it. He nodded to the militaries and they brought the other squirming chirping trunks and threw them out the window likewise, followed by the many torn off limbs.

The commander said, "We will take care of this matter with all alacrity, Lord."

Sitting in his throne, the good prince answered, "I know you will, Lord Military. I have nothing but faith in you and the rest of the Military Caste."