"Let's open this keg and drink up!" shouted the Jovian sailor, his voice echoing off steel bulkheads. He was a big man, over-muscled and covered with scars and tattoos. "If you're afraid, beetle beer will chase the willies from your guts! If you're brave, beetle beer will make you fight harder."
The other sailors, male and female, crowded around the Jovian sailor and barrel-sized keg he had pointed at. Someone produced a keg key and in moments the soldiers were showered with a spray of beer. "Get your cups! Don't waste it," shouted someone.
"Idiots," Amra said under his breath, taking care not to shake his head as he watched the commotion. He couldn't imagine willfully going into battle intoxicated. He knew enough about man's mortality to know that it was foolhardy to go into conflict with your judgment impaired.
"Amra, come and drink a battle toast with us!" shouted the big Jovian. The other sailors joined in, encouraging Amra to join them.
"It's not my way to drink before a fight," Amra responded. "But you enjoy yourselves."
"But what about the legends of your drunken bar fights?" a woman asked. On her forehead was rainbow warpaint drawn in a circle, marking her as a Saturnian.
"Bar fights aren't the same as when an enemy is trying to wipe you out," Amra said. He pointed through a porthole. "Can you not see the sparkle of the enemy ships a million miles away? We'll be in battle in minutes, if not sooner."
"More the reason to drink up!" the Jovian sailor said. Someone handed him a huge mug full of beetle beer. He lifted it to his lips and downed it in one giant quaff to the cheers of his comrades. "Shee, Amra, itsh perfectly shafe to dwink before a battle!"
Before Amra could even sigh at the futility of trying to warn the sailors, the ship they were in was jerked to the side like a doll being slammed to the ground by a tantrum-throwing child. Right next to where the big Jovian stood, the steel bulkhead burst open in a cacophony of shrapnel and fire. For several seconds air rushed out, and everyone grabbed at stanchions, railings, and each other to avoid being pulled into the aether.
For a moment the beetle beer impaired big Jovian juggled the empty mug in his hands. By the time he decided to let go and grab something, he had been dragged out of the ship.
As soon as the air pressure equalized with the aether of outer space, Amra let go of the railing he had been holding on. He yanked his aether breather from his belt and ran to the hole. He looked outside and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the big Jovian, while intoxicated, still had the brains to put on his aether breather.
Just as he was about to shout for a lifeline to rescue the Jovian, he saw what had punched a hole into their ship. It was a Plutonian Assault Sled almost upon them, aimed right at the hole Amra was peering out of. "Take cover!" Amra shouted.
Amra pushed away from the hole and tried to run away. But it was too late. The Plutonian Assault Sled slammed into the ship and hole burst even further open. Flying debris slammed into Amra. He blacked out...
"By the moons of Mars please don't!"
Lying down and half-covered with debris, Amra, woke to the sound of trauma. Men and women were fighting and dying. His eyes still closed, he spent a precious few seconds examining himself without moving. He determined that outside being knocked senseless for a short time, he was okay. Fearing the worst he opened one eye and looked upon devastation.
The sailors were losing. Badly. Even if they had been sober, they were outclassed by the Plutonian marines. The reason was more than the difference between a gang of bar fighting sailors and trained soldiers equipped for war. It was because the leader of the Plutonians, a tall pale man in dark armor was flinging spells left and right. Wherever spells landed, the unthinkable happened.
Sailors were being turned into teapots.
The transformation was quick. The wretch sailors would be zapped and would scream their last as the very framework of their existence was altered and warped. What remained was a mix of cheap and tacky pottery, only worth selling at a flea market in Aphrodite City.
Amra shuddered at the horror of it all.
He considered for a moment staying where he was, pretending he was dead. Once the Plutonian marines had collected the teapots for sale or ransom he could make his getaway. An escape pod with the alert radio deactivated would be his method. It wouldn't be the first time he was the sole survivor.
Then he saw one of the Plutonian marines playfully kick a rather tacky-looking cat-shaped teapot with a blue circle on the forehead with his armored boot. It shattered into a thousand pieces. What had been the Saturnian woman was now pieces of broken china, irreparable. The other marines laughed uproariously as if witnessing a very funny joke. They began to ape their comrades, winding up for mighty kicks against helpless teapots. Their leader looked upon his marines with the quiet pride of a parent.
"No!" Amra shouted. He pushed the debris off his body and stood up. As the Plutonian marines and their leader turned to face him, he drew the whispering sword. "Turn them back or I'll gut the lot of you."
"You and what army?" the Plutonian leader asked. The marines laughed at their leader's question.
"Just me and my sword," Amra said. His blade began to whisper loud enough to wake the dead. Or at least loud enough to make the teapots and pottery pieces vibrate on the deck.
"Quiet that sword!" shouted the Plutonian leader. He zapped a spell at Amra. Amra flinched as the spell slammed into him, ripping his shirt open and revealing his silver-threaded metal armor underneath.
Amra breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Whew! I guess Plutonian magic doesn't work against orichalcum armor," Amra said, wiping his brow.
"The first man to kill him and give me his stuff will be rich for life," the Plutonian leader shouted to his marines. To a man they attacked Amra, outnumbering him a dozen to one.
The Plutonian marines fired darts with their death lances and slashed with their swords. They relied on their plutonium armor to protect themselves from Amra's whispering sword. Yet for all their gear and training, Amra reaped them like a farmer with a scythe, all while his sword whispered at an ear-bursting volume.
In moments the only two people left standing in the room was Amra and the Plutonian leader.
The Plutonian leader looked at the carnage. "Ahem...maybe that order was prematurely given," he said.
"Turn those sailors back to their original form or I'll do the same to you," Amra said, pointing the whispering sword at the last enemy. "Save them and I'll let you go."
"Right, I'm on it," the Plutonian leader said, beginning to move his hands in a strange pattern that made his thumbs and eyes glow. In a few moments, the teapots began to glow. "There, they'll be back to normal in a minute or two."
"You can go back to your ship now," Amra said.
"Thank you," the Plutonian leader said. Heading toward the hatch of his assault sled, whose nose jutted through the hole it had made, he headed toward the exit.
"Why did you go for the kill?" Amra asked as the Plutonian was just about to board his ship. "This isn't a warship, it's a cargo ship full of beetle beer. You could have just made off with the freight and been rich. I wouldn't have stopped you."
"You don't know our cause?" the Plutonian leader asked.
"Nope, don't care," Amra said. "I'm a sword-for-hire, but I prefer to fight warriors, not common folk."
"Pluto's status as a planet was taken away," the Plutonian leader said as the teapots neared the end of their transformation back into people.
"So you are attacking ships at random in the outer solar system?" Amra asked.
"As a people and a stellar body, losing the status of being a planet is an insult to Plutonian honor we cannot tolerate. You haven't seen the last of us. We will have our honor restored!"