Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Ninety-eight gazillion miles from anywhere I want to be and some teenage alley-captain and his squad manages to get the drop on me. That’ll teach me for daydreaming about places I’d rather be.

“Well, now, what do we have here?”

Oh, great. He’s examining the rod. If he’s as smart as I think he is, he’ll figure it out quickly and things will get interesting.

“Targalla! This is an Aiming Wand!”

Correct. And you’re a devotee of the local war god.

“Well, now, why shouldn’t I bring the thunder down on you?”

One of his squad looks about nervously: “Climel, we’re too close.”

Alley Captain Climel looks back, his tone witheringly contemptuous: “You scared to face Targalla, Rufutz? To take a spotter down, you’d hesitate to go in glory?”

I’m a bit more than a spotter, numbnuts. But, as long as you think that, I might survive this.

Climel waves his squad back. Looks like he’s not prepared to try and enforce his authority over suicidal moves. The verbal lashing is sufficient to keep up appearances.

From the end of the alley, he points the wand at me. I suffer a moment’s glare blindness, then he’s centred the dot on my forehead.

“Time to go, spotter. How does it feel?”

“I feel Targalla is about to bestow his blessings.”

That doesn’t go down well. Climel looks uncomfortable. The squad mutters. Invaders like me aren’t meant to speak like devoted. Climel utters a dismissive bark of laughter and squeezes the wand’s initiator.

Far above, something detaches itself from my nearest companion drone. It’s not what Climel expects it to be. He’s expecting something to mangle and burn me.

With a ‘crack’ of ignited air and a flash that turns my view monochrome for a while, a stroke of artificial lightning leaves nothing of Climel but his arms and charred pieces. As the bits fall, Rufutz doesn’t even move – he just turns to one side and pukes hard. He’s not alone.

I roll to my feet and steel myself to show nothing but nonchalance. Strolling out to the remains of the squad, I bend down and pick up my Aiming Wand. I feel the tingle as it recognises the tags embedded in my sternum and pelvis. Anyone who tries to use it without those tags automatically becomes the target, regardless of anything marked by the wand’s beam.

The squad is badly shaken and hurting. The looks in their eyes are those of frightened kids rather than fledgling resistance members.

“So, who will take Targalla’s revelation over the squealing of their elders?”

They swap stares, the hidden meanings within lost as their team cohesion collapses.

“I will.” Rufutz remains outspoken, at least.

“Alley Captain Rufutz, I am Deldrac. I was born farther from this ground than you would believe, but will you believe I know Targalla’s favour?”

He’s still coping with me promoting him. This is the acid test. An alley crew on our side will be an asset, but he has to roll with my cues – and the squad has to accept it.

“Can you fetch aid for my people without bringing down enforcers?”

Got him! I see nods exchanged. Rufutz just became their boss.

“I can. Whilst they are attended, let’s discuss bringing Targalla’s peace to this neighbourhood.”

We like their war god, he comes with straightforward values: honesty, fealty, duty, family, society. Things we can work with to make this planet peaceful for those who remain now their warlords are dead.