Up The Creek, Down In The Desert…
“The Sand People are easily startled, but they’ll be back, and in greater numbers…” – Obi Wan Kenobi.
Missing In Awesomeness!
Following an unexpected Imperial entanglement, the Calista Blockhead was forced to make an emergency landing on Bitumen IV in the Itaintalfotmum System. Although Brad Company managed to escape from a Zandokan ambush, Mitch Quintana was mortally wounded, and Brad Fartlighter was captured.
In the meantime, a dangerous new band of Tahntah rebel fighters has emerged in the Djinn Wastelands, led by the notorious chieftain:
Darb Dak’ar Dinari – known to his Followers as
The White Lion.
Their raids on Zandokan stations are increasing in deadly frequency, complicating any chances of rescuing your hero!
Yet from amidst the mysterious sandscape, an encouraging distress signal has been picked up. The Calista is now speeding over the Dune Sea into hostile tribal territory, and the Company are on their perilous way to bring back their Brad…
“Okey dokey, fellas! We’re comin’ up on the Tahntah camp!” Chief Engineer Harris Wrench announced enthusiastically.
“Settin’ her down… now!” cried Helmsman Gaz Murphy.
“Watchit, you lot! Ya bedder be on yer guard,” the Chief yelled, lowering the hatch and bounding out onto the velvety golden sand before he had properly activated his respirator.
“‘Ey, ‘Arris?!” Second Officer Lexi Waldorf yelled, racing out after him, the rest of the Company tagging cautiously behind.
“Don’t get sooo excited! Wait up, willya?!”
“These Tahntahs are mean beggars; top desert figh’ers – tough as crud! They’re renahned fer takin’ nah pris’ners. They all go arahn’ swathed in yajhmakhs: tribal gear coverin’ ’em from head ta foot. These savages are crackshots wiv their looong tahndiggi rifles. An’ they all speak some’t indecipherable called Bit’i – not a frickin’ word a’ English, which is-“
“A real frickin’ drag, is it not, Earthman?” the Tahntah scout growled as it abruptly sprang out of the sand right in front of the startled Chief.
“Uff, frickin’ tourist… Shoutin’ yer lousy head off loud enough to betray our position to the Zandokans. Wanna know how “crack” I can be with this, sunshine?!”
All Harris could do was freeze… and stare with dread down the looong barrel of a tahndiggi rifle.
In an instant, its buddies had emerged from the ground all around the terrified Company to gesture impudently at them.
“Hey, loudmouth Earthman! We take you all back to our camp; Darb Dak’ar Dinari is… expecting you! And then we show you ignorant lot how frickin’ “savage” we can really get, heh heh heh…”
“Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it…” – Sherif Ali.
Deep within the Tahntah base, in a subterranean tribal assembly room, a mob of Tahntah warriors had gathered to gloat at the hapless outsiders. The fearsome fighter: Tahntah Khasabah stepped onto a raised platform and proudly announced the arrival of Darb Dak’ar Dinari.
In an instant, the tension – and noise – dissipated; the crowd parted and a tall and imposing figure, bedecked in a dark, hooded cloak swathed around his sandswept yajhmakh, strode menacingly forth. Darb Dak’ar Dinari stopped to flick back his hood, and he gleered at Bad Company with sinister eyes as black as night.
“Ay caramba!” Nacho gulped.
“Keep back, Lex!” Gaz whispered. “I gotta feelin’ this moofmilker’s gonna chew all the scenery…”
Raising his right gloved hand to salute his guests, the mighty Darb spoke in a terrifying guttural drawl:
“Tahn diggi! Tihn diggi diggi tah bishkah!”
“An’ a-diggi diggi to ya too, fella,” Harris sighed despondently. “Soz, but we dahn’t un’erstand yer lingo…”
“Nuh fret!” Darb announced heartily. “Aycan speaky yer lingy…”
“Cor, blimey – tha’s a swell piece a’ luck… Er, yer ‘oldin’ our Commander. We came ta geddim back, like; any chance we could see ‘im, umm… Mister Dinari, sir… please?”
“Ha ha, no hold…! He free man! Heere on Bi-tu-mee-een…!”
“Well, where is ‘e, like?!”
The great tribal leader switched off a Voice Modulator under his chin. From thenceforth, his speech lilted… in a more familiar dahn-ta-Earth tone:
“Ha ha ha! ‘Oo loves ya, baby?!”
Lexi stepped forward, gawping in disbelief. “Aow, fer cryin’ out loud!” she beamed.
The others just turned to stare at her.
“I just KNEW it…! Hey, guys: WHAT’S DARB SPELT BACKWARDS…?!”
“Undisciplined… unpunctual… untidy. Several languages. Knowledge of music… knowledge of literature… knowledge of… knowledge of… You’re an interesting man, there’s no doubt about it!” – General Allenby.
“Good on ya, Lex! Groovy. Thought ya might suss me aht before these nerks, ha ha!” Brad cried as he revealed his ridiculously good looks.
Nacho ran towards his Commander, giving him a big hug.
“Oh, tu madre loco!” he blubbed.
“Ha! Yeah, guess yer right, Nach… Good ta see ya ‘gain too, fella!”
Barb Degoya watched with a big dopey grin across his Rontavahrian chops.
“You never cease to amaze me, my Commander…!”
Gaz shook his awestruck head.
“Trust you, Brad, to act out your Loz o’ frickin’ Araby fantasies…! You’re one helluva crazy Brit, but I’ll always folla ya!”
“Heh, cheers, Gaz. Didn’ wanna disappointcha!”
“How have you survived here, all this time?”
“Easy peasy, fella. These Tahntah bunnies are such swell, ‘ospitable peeps; their kebabs are among the finest in the galaxy; they make the most scrumptious dessert: tahndiggibaklava – aww, ya jus’ gotta try it! – an’ luckily enough, I ‘ad the Desert Eagle e.p. in me Zune ta pump me oop for all those raids, but… ah, me Comp’ny – I missed y’all, so I nabbed an Imperial Com’unica’or for ya to come an’ get me!”
Lexi chipped in: “An’ you topped up yer tan as well, I see…”
“Ooh, it’s lovely, in’it? I got- ‘EY! Cheeky gal…”
Brad glanced at his Chief Engineer. “Ain’tcha gonna join in wiv da wisecracks, fella…?”
“Bleedin’ ‘ell…!” Harris muttered. “The ‘White Lion’…?”
“Ah, oho! Well, y’see… they love me porcelain complexion round ‘ere, y’know! An’ dahn’ ferget me lustrous blond mane! Ha ha, blimey Charley! Jus’ listen to ya: ‘Ooh, Mister Dinari, sir’, heh heh heh – shoulda seen da look on yer mug!”
“Aow, leave it aht, Brad… Uff, shoulda known…”
“Yeah, fella… ya shoulda!”
At that mo, Harris’ blood curdled; that scout wandered over… and extended his hand.
“Accept, please, my apologies for the…”act” … ‘Arris, is it not? Brad neglect to tell me how… sensitive you is…”
“Ha ha ha! Are ya?!” The Commander wrapped a reassuring arm around his Chief’s shoulder. “Nah worries – meet me new mucka: Tahntah Bosskhah. ‘E may look as fright’nin’ as fudge, but ‘e’s really a mild-mannered gent, like meself! ‘Ey, dahn’t be so easily startled, fella!”
“Yes, ‘Arris, chill out… man. Have some tahndiggibaklava…”
“Ah yeah! Ha ha! Amen, bruvva!”
“Give thanks to God that when he made you a fool, he gave you a fool’s face” – Auda Abu Tayi.
Suddenly, a teenage Tahntah fighter leapt into the chamber, squawking something in Bitti. At once, the older tribesmen grabbed their tahndiggi rifles and began to disperse; Brad Company looked at each other uncomfortably.
“What the fudge is goin’ down now, Commander?” Gaz frowned.
“Sounds like we gotta Zandokan contingent ‘eadin’ our way…” Brad moaned, loading his rifle. “Confound it! Looks like the baklava’ll ‘ave ta wait…”
“Brad?! You’re not thinking…”
“It’ll be okay, Lex – just one more time-“
“WHOA! Reverse thrust, Mister! We risked EVERYTHING ta get you back! We’ve been through too much to… aah, fegeddit. C’mon, ‘Arris, leave the lunk’ead ta linger here with his cosplay and tahn-frickin’-‘klava! GAH!”
And with that, Lexi stormed out, with the Chief sauntering sheepishly behind.
Tahntah Bosskhah had stood behind them, watching all the while, arms folded and head shaking.
“Oof! Doth my eyes deceive me? Can this be true? Looks like the Lion… just got tamed…”
“Aow, shush you…” Brad blushed.
The desert warrior wrapped a reassuring arm around the Commander’s shoulder.
“Do not be so easily startled, fella…! Wonderful girl… I… do not know. What you think? You think a Furie and a fella like me-“
“No! Oh me giddy aunt, no! She’ll make mincemeat outta ya… fella…”
“So be… never argue with the White Lion…! In that case… I long, instead, to see a real lion – you portray them as such fine, noble creatures…”
“No such luck, amigo…” Brad sniffed. “They’ve been hunted ta the brink o’ extinction…”
Tahntah Bosskhah shifted uneasily.
“Tahntahtheos, no…! I know now why you were so eager to flee Earth. Truly, therein lie the real savages…”
“Do you think I’m just anybody… do you? …The best of them won’t come for money – they’ll come for me!” – T.E. Lawrence
Tahntah Bosskhah surveyed the uncompromising Kazvini Plain with his “acquired” Imperial ocular device.
“Has been an honour to fight by your side, Inglish… So, are we to ride – and raid – one last time, or does the need to avenge your fallen comrade take precedence? I think we both know that Kismet will sweep you away along the latter path…”
“We both know that I dahn’ wish ta leave, but it’s uncanny – after ages thwarting the Empire countless times, the most onerous challenge I must confront involves… executing a coward…”
Tahntahtheos be with you in what perils lie ahead…”
“Cheers… Need all the strength: physical – and mental – that I can muster…”
“…You, my friend, the White Lion – what a privilege to state even that – have made… such a strong impression in such a short time! A redoubtable warrior; a formidable philosopher; a mighty eater; surely no other Earthling could cross the Anvil Of The Twin Suns unscathed? Tell me, is there anything you cannot do, Inglish?!”
“I can NEVER give up hope that, one day, the Empire will fall…”
Sherif Ali: “Have you no fear, English?”
T.E. Lawrence: “My fear is my concern.”
Harris had taken Lexi out onto an alcove cut high into the Tahntah‘s great mountain fortress to let her simmer down. A Tahntah guard wandered out to watch over them; but they all ended up watching the brigade – to an accompaniment of darbuka drums beating furiously – gallop away across the Djinn Wastes…
The Dak’ar Dinari actually stopped to turn and wave to them. Lexi reluctantly waved back.
“Yeah, ‘bye ‘bye, lunk’ead; if you’re not back by midnight, we’re takin’ orf withoutcha… Do you think he will make it back…? In time…? ‘Arris…!!”
He flashed a wide, dopey grin stretching from one side of the galaxy to the other.
“Well, fe fi fo frickin’ fum, fella!” he chortled. “I smell the blood o’ me Commander!” and turned to the guard, who lowered his rifle and stared back in shock.
“Jeez, Chief! How’dya know it wuz me?!”
“Ha, I ain’ gonna fall fer the same trick twice! Y’shoulda known that!”
“Yeah, fella… I shoulda!” Brad retorted, unwrapping his yajhmakh.
“Huh, I shoulda guessed…” Lexi added, with a grin – albeit a wry one – finally returning to her lips. “Actually, I shoulda looked closer – no other bunny in this tribe has so many tahndiggibaklava crumbs on ‘is yajhmakh. Lookachu! Messy pup… Okay, so who was the guy wavin’ at me?”
“Tahntah Bosskhah – I reckon you are ‘is Desert Rose-“
“Weh-heh-hell, nuts ta THAT! When? Can. We leave?!”
“As soon as yer ready!” Brad laughed. “Oh well, the new Dak’ar Dinari doesn’ get the girl, but ‘e should manage – gave ‘im me Zune! ‘E loves that Desert Eagle e.p.! ‘Onestly, ya jus’ couldn’ ride into battle wivaht it. Lookee ‘ere – the only bunny on this rock wiv a music player – if that doesn’t consolidate ‘is leadership, nothin’ will. Okey dokey, notify the others – we’re ‘eadin’ back to the Block’ead.”
They were just about to move out, when Brad drew them into his arms.
“I know who the traitor is,” he whispered softly. “I’ve been ‘ere long enough ta work it aht.”
“Excellente!” Lexi snarled. “Poor Mitch. I’ve been itchin’ fer payback… ever since he…”
“I know ya have, lov, but this is some’t I ‘ave ta do… considerin’ who it… is…”
She prepared to argue her case for a bigger role in this Bradventure, until she noticed REAL TEARS welling up in the hero’s eyes; she gave him a big hug before they all turned to leave.
Tahntah Khasabah appeared in the doorway.
“I’ll meetcha aboard in ‘alf a tick, guys – there are some farewell wishes I must pass on…”
“‘Tis true, then? You must leave now?” Tahntah Khasabah spoke (in Bitti). “Alas, your glorious chapter in our story comes to a bittersweet end; we should have held a banquet in your honour.”
“We can have that…” Brad replied (in faultless Bitti). “…’Pon my return!”
“Ah! Then you are coming back?!”
“Of course! I could not stay away from all those savoury and sweet delights for too long…”
“Ha! Praise Tahntahtheos for delivering thee – the ravenous White Lion – unto us!”
“A thousand thanks for bestowing upon me the honour of leading your warriors into battle…”
“You are most welcome, Inglish. Besides, I needed to repay you for helping me defeat that band of Gondobek brigands, back in the day…”
“You already did when you rescued me from that Zandokan division. It was… Gondobek…? Ha, I had forgotten about them!”
“Glory! I thank Tahntahtheos that the White Lion is on our side…! Now the mantle of my tribe falls to Tahntah Bosskhah – he becomes the rightful Dak’ar Dinari… Once upon a time, I would have ached to join the brigade riding off this evening, but now… I just ache… I grow weary of battle.”
“What will you do now…?”
“I wish to retire, far below, and meditate beside our subterranean glacial pools. I yearn to write poetry, but the Zandokans deem me “savage” and decree that I cannot…”
“No! ‘Tis your life; your love… Do anything YOU want to do…”
“Absolutely! We both know that I will, Inglish. From now on, I will fight only to uphold every right, and strive to ensure that my people survive…”
“I very much look forward to reading your poetry… Follow your heart and smite the trolls.”
“Perhaps… Perhaps I should compose The Saga Of The White Lion; celebrate for evermore how our lives were blessed by such a remarkable man from beyond the stars… Who bewitched us all with his striking blue eyes…”
“Bless your heart, Tahntah Khasabah. You are a remarkable woman…”
“I think you are another of these desert-loving English…” – Prince Feisal.
Damnation and blast, Brad!” cried Major Spoiler, more than dismayed to see the Battleforce Commander-turned-desert fighter appear before him on the vid-conf screen.
“How are you still alive?!”
“Yay, the bees-knees ta see ya too, Major Crotchstain,” Brad drawled, now ensconced back on the Calista as it zoomed up and away from the Tahntah camp.
“And what the blazes is it with all that ridiculous tribal get-up?! Amateur theatricals?!”
“Yeah, some’t like that…”
“A nest of savages cannot protect you forever… fool. I will finish what Baumer was unable to do!”
“Sooo… ya wan’ ta terminate me? …With extreme prejudice, am I right?”
“WRONG! I may be as stoopid as I look, Major, but dahn’t think fer one frickin’ minute that I’m gonna fall fer yer dodgy schemin’…!”
Suddenly, Brad leered right into the screen, hollering through gnashed teeth.
“JEEZ! I KNEW IT WUZ YOU!! The set-up…? The ambush? YOU arranged it all, didn’tcha, fella…? DIDN’TCHA?! I’ll track ya dahn, trai’or!”
He held a clenched fist up against the monitor.
“Then I’m gonna download THIS into yer cake’ole, ya treach’rous moofmilkAH!“
And with that, transmission abruptly fizzled out.
The Militia officer swivelled round to view the Zandokan delegation seated behind him. A familiar Dark Lord sat at the top of the table…
And did not look at all chuffed.
“Vell done, Mehjair. Yo rilly hed heem urn ze rurpz zhaire…”
“Patience, my Lord. I can assure you that my men shall… take care of Fartlighter-“
“WHAA-?! Yo try to fool Zegreatme?! Ay hef ZEEN yer men! GAH! Vukk me zydwaz… Ze murzt YUZELEZZ burnch urv vukkweetz Ay evair did zee!! Nurt a zeengle brenzell betweeen zem!”
“But, my Lord-!”
“Uff, zpare me yer vukkin’ covfefe, Urfmairn! Nur mattair! Ay deed nurt come ull zeez way juzt to keek zand een zee Bettleferce Commandair’s fazz…! Yer worriez aire ovair, Mehjair! Bay Ze Pah Eenvezted Een Mee Bay Ze Empah, Ay hef dezpetched ze grettezt bounteee hurntairz een ze gelexy to deeel weev heem!
“Ze Kekchairmair vill peez uz erf… NUR MURR! Heh heh heh…”
“Me, your Highness? On the whole, I wish I’d stayed in Tunbridge Wells…” – Mr. Dryden.