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Time had passed since Dark Specter had sent his forces away on their mission of conquest. Eager to please the powerful villain, the lesser members of the United Alliance of Evil had made all haste to complete their assigned task. Worlds had been conquered, the populations destroyed and the planets had been prepared for destruction.
And now, as Dark Specter's trusted servants inspected the various villains' work before dismissing them, they remained uncertain what Dark Specter planned. For any villain could blow up a planet; it was easier to destroy a world than it was to conquer it and subdue all resistance. Dark Specter had been clear in his instructions that the worlds needed to be taken intact and carefully prepared for destruction. It was clear that he was searching for something, but the question remained: what was he searching for? And more importantly for Rita, Zedd, Divatox and their competitors: how could they claim the prize and use it to their benefit?
"Your spells are adequate," Andromeda announced after a prolonged inspection. "You may leave. Dark Specter will contact you when he is ready with your next mission."
Rita scowled at the casual way she had been dismissed. She could tell that Zedd was equally annoyed and under any other circumstance would have attacked the upstart. But Andromeda was a servant of Dark Specter and while Rita and Zedd were certain that they could defeat the sorceress even if it meant combining their powers, they did not wish to incur the wrath of Dark Specter himself.
"Could you at least tell us what we have accomplished?" Zedd asked.
He knew what the spells were designed to do of course. Once activated the magical runes they had cast around the small world would practically shake the planet apart. He just didn't understand why Dark Specter had been so insistent that they conquered the planet and prepared it for destruction when they were more than powerful enough to blast it into atoms.
Linguay Four was an old world that had proven popular for those seeking to retire. It produced very little of value but offered fantastic views of a nearby nebula, which attracted artists from across the galaxy. As such it was strategically unimportant and one of the worlds Zedd and Rita would have ignored. So, for Dark Specter to earmark the planet for destruction had raised questions about his motives or his competence... possibly both.
"Dark Specter wishes to examine the remains," Andromeda told him. Her gaze hardened as she added: "It would not be wise to press the matter. Dark Specter has his reasons."
Andromeda knew that possessing that knowledge would cost Rita and Zedd their lives. It was part of the reason why Dark Specter had tasked his forces with conquering small worlds and then ordered them to prepare those worlds for destruction. Any villain could destroy a planet, but the prize Dark Specter sought would be lost in the process. The controlled breakdown of a planet allowed for successful extraction, but given the value of the prize Dark Specter did not wish his underlings to start thinking for themselves.
~They are so obsessed with the conquest of one world that they don't see its true value.~
For the prizes that Dark Specter sought for the worlds he had taken so far were insignificant compared to the power that lay within some worlds. Earth was the most potent, the most desirable and the most hazardous to obtain, but there were other worlds of significant value. Aquitar, Triforia, Mirinoi and Edenoi were just some of those that would lead Dark Specter to success.
"Did you keep the specimens Dark Specter request?" she asked.
Goldar grunted, drawing her attention to a several frozen bodies. She nodded in satisfaction that that part of their task had also been completed. She had no doubt that Rita and Zedd could work out why Dark Specter had demanded an example of every creature on the planet; as a shape shifter, he used living samples as templates to perfect his chosen forms.
"You should go now," Andromeda advised. "Leave!"
Rita and Zedd had remained, eager to uncover the whatever secret Dark Specter was hiding. They didn't realise how dangerous that information could be.
Count Dregon's operation on Edenoi had been in danger of accidentally uncovering the very object that Dark Specter sought. Dregon was fortunate that the rebels led by King Lexian had frustrated his endeavours or else Dark Specter would have ordered his destruction.
Grumbling that they were too important to be treated in such a way, Rita and Zedd teleported away. Andromeda waited until she received word that they were indeed heading for Earth before contacting her master.
"We are ready Dark Specter," she reported.
"Good work Andromeda," her master growled in response. "Begin the breakdown."
"At once, Dark Specter," she replied. She reached out with her magic, tying it into the many spells Rita and Zedd had cast and took a moment to acknowledge that they were skilled magic users. When she was ready she fed her power into the spell chain and gave it the push needed for it start working. "BEGIN!"
Kerium Seven had been a frontier planet on the furthest border of the Galactic Council's expansion zone. Known for its ore mines and barbaric duelling arenas, along with being home to several dodgy cantinas, it had only had a modest population made up of mine workers and a few service providers. In a few centuries, the elected government had planned to move away from manually operated mines in favour of large surface operated machines.
Sadly, that plan would never become a reality. Kerium Seven had been attacked by the forces of the Machine Empire and had swiftly surrendered. The attack had been so devastating that there had been no opportunity to send a distress signal. By the time the Galactic Council realised that something was wrong it would be too late.
The machines had been ruthless and despite the immediate surrender, they had sent their forces to wipe out all life on the planet. Workers had fled into the mines only to find themselves hunted down by Mondo's creations. There was no mercy granted other than a swift death.
While Andromeda was inspecting Rita and Zedd's handiwork, Astronoma had been tasked with overseeing the activities of Mondo and Machina. Where Rita and Zedd had woven their spells together to break their world apart and magically sieve through the remains, the Machine Empire had shown their creativity by building a machine capable of strip mining the planet and separating the remains according to the operator's desires. The idea was nothing Mondo and Machina had not used before, but the sheer scale of the machinery they had built in such a short time was impressive.
"You have surpassed our expectations," Astronoma told the metal monarchs as she checked the programming. "This will be acceptable."
She had not missed the hidden code that Mondo had inserted to report back what the machine was used for. However, such code was easily wiped and she would make certain the Machine Empire heeded the warning not to get nosy.
~It would be a shame if Dark Specter must erase Mondo's memory a second time.~
Eons ago Mondo had made an unwelcome discovery on the planet Earth. Dark Specter's agents had taken steps to remove Mondo from the planet with an incomplete memory of what had occurred. Mondo had later blamed the experience on the Sword of Damocles, not realising he had lost the sword during a battle.
"Your task here is complete," she confirmed. "As soon as you release the activation codes you may depart for Earth. Dark Specter will contact you when he needs your services again."
Mondo and Machina did not argue and departed peacefully. That they believed they had the means to monitor their machine's activity and uncover the mystery surrounding their mission sped their retreat.
Once she was certain that they were gone, Astronoma carried out a check on the planet's population and was pleased to find that the Machine Empire had been thorough in culling the natives.
"Dark Specter, we are ready to begin."
"Then do so, Astronoma," came the response.
She bowed and pressed a series of buttons, activating the machinery and sealing the planet's fate as Kerium was torn apart.
"Why does it have to be this world?" Divatox demanded.
She had already secretly consulted the leading experts and had concluded that as far as planets were concerned, Kirwin was a waste of time. There was nothing of value apart from a few crops that were favoured by some restaurants. Kirwin was a simple agriculture world brimming with simple farmers going about their daily work. There were no precious metals or super ores to be found according to reports. Aside from being extremely fertile the planet had little to offer compared to neighbouring worlds.
Artemis pinned the pirate with a fierce look. She was not in the habit of questioning Dark Specter's will and had little patience for those that did.
"Dark Specter chose this planet," she stated firmly. "That's all you need to know."
The Dianthe Space Base was a magnificent piece of engineering that would impress even mechanical snobs like Mondo. A floating weapons platform poised to deliver its entire arsenal upon the planet below.
"You have adjusted the lasers, haven't you?"
"Of course," Divatox boasted. "Those things will turn that mud ball into atoms with one shot."
"That was not what you instructed to do."
Divatox shrugged. "So what if I went a little above and beyond? I'm sure Dark Specter won't mind."
Actually, the pirate hoped that her initiative would win her some favour with the Grand Monarch.
"Dark Specter has his reasons for wanting those planets broken down carefully," Artemis responded, just as dismissively. "So yes, he will mind. Fix it!"
Artemis, Andromeda, Astronoma and Astronema were clones of the Princess of Evil Karone. Andromeda was the magic user having been taught my some of the best sorcerers within the United Alliance of Evil. Astronoma with her cybernetic implants was easily the most technically gifted of the four and heavily favoured the use of technology. Artemis was a trained warrior, skilled with a staff and a sword. She was neither amused nor intimidated by Divatox, despite the pirate's reputation for making her competition disappear.
"Dark Specter has decreed that you remain here until you have completed the mission he gave you. The longer you take the less opportunity you will have to claim the Earth."
Earth was all the incentive needed to motivate Divatox. The pirate didn't understand why the planet was so valuable, but she knew of the riches it contained. And for a greedy self-centred pirate, that was enough. Losing out to Rita, Zedd or Mondo was not an option.
"Fine," Divatox sighed dramatically. "Porto, get to work."
"Yes, Captain Divatox," Porto replied as he shuffled off to undo the changes he had made to the lasers on Divatox's orders.
Linguay, Kerium and Kirwin had been marked for destruction as soon as they had been stripped of life. Mesa Minor had been cleansed months earlier and steps had been taken to keep the dead world quarantined. It was one of three worlds selected to prove a theory of Dark Specter; KO-35 had been one of the worlds selected for the experiment, but subsequent intrusions had led to Dark Specter selecting an alternative target.
After he had been the one to ensure that all life had been exterminated on Mesa Minor, Ecliptor had been shocked upon his return to find that the planet had already started to recover. Small organisms had started to restore the ruined eco-system in an amazing show of resiliency. Ecliptor was not certain if he should be impressed or angered. Either way he knew his findings had to be reported to Dark Specter and he braced himself for his master's anger.
Shockingly Dark Specter had not been angry about the discovery. If anything, Ecliptor would say that the Grand Monarch had been pleased, although it was difficult to tell given that the shape shifter's chosen form did not have any features that could be used to convey emotion and a monotone voice that helped cover his meanings.
"You have done well Ecliptor," Dark Specter stated. "Proceed to Stage Two."
Stage Two involved the controlled destruction of the planet and everything on it. As he set the Sata Lasers to carve it into chunks that would be broken down further, Ecliptor set his ships scanners to search the remains for unknown energy readings. If Dark Specter's theory was correct - and given that the world had been sterilised and somehow managed to flourish with life in a matter of months Ecliptor was certain that it was - then Stage Two would reveal the source of that miracle and the promise of limitless power.
Across the galaxy, the armies of the United Alliance of Evil continued to spread, conquering worlds and then destroying them under the supervision of Dark Specter's lieutenants. Farm worlds, forest worlds, industrials worlds and world filled with floating cities; worlds that were mostly water, gas, flaming beds of lava or those that were a mixture of environments. The planets were vastly different in what they could offer and offered no strategic importance to the United Alliance of Evil. In fact the only thing it seemed that caused Dark Specter to choose Kirwin and ignore a neighbouring world was that Kirwin was populated. If the various villains following his orders had every shared information they would have found that that was perhaps the only thing their targets had in common.
And as his forces - for Dark Specter had no intention of sharing power with those he considered beneath him - carried out his will, he reviewed the evidence Ecliptor and Astronema had uncovered during their missions.
He was very proud of Astronema, she was among his finest creations. When he had selected Karone to be his Princess of Evil, he had created four clones to serve as her honour guard, using embryos stolen from her body and cells from one of his favourite forms. He had grown the four at an accelerated rate to reach maturity, manipulating their minds and memories to give them experiences they had never known.
Andromeda had been taught by the greatest magic users he could find. In fact Dark Specter had magically grafted the teachings of dozens of magic users and thousands of tomes into her infant brain. Astronoma had spent her formative years learning about technology and having her body altered to improve her ability to manipulate such technology. The truth was that the memories she recalled had been a part of the single operation to turn her from human to cyborg. Artemis had endured a brutal upbringing learning from the best warriors he could find. Hours spent inside a machine had given her the muscle memory she needed from fights that never occurred while the false teachings had been fed into her mind.
Astronema had been different. She had been raised at a slower rate than the others and had had real experiences as well as those he had falsified. She had not been given cybernetic implants, but her knowledge was equal to Astronoma, she could hold her own in combat against Artemis thanks to constant training with Ecliptor, and as his personal student it was possible her skill with magic eclipsed even Andromeda. She was everything he wanted his Princess of Evil to be, but she was a clone and as such would never be more than just a creation.
Still Astronema was his favourite among the four clones and was treated with the same level of trust he showed Ecliptor. It was a level of trust that seemed well founded given the report she had sent back from Portacio.
Portacio was a dead world that had been colonised by its space-faring neighbour. Life there had been difficult up until the point Dark Specter's agents had cleansed it of life and set up a cordon similar to the one surrounding Mesa Minor.
He allowed himself a satisfied smile as he read that the planet remained lifeless, a sight that would have scared any of his servants given the sinister face he had chosen. Mesa Minor had recovered, while Portacio had not. Mesa Minor had been a life bearing planet and Portacio had been a dead world. He was certain that when Ecliptor and Astronema returned, Ecliptor would possess the object he desired and Astronema would be empty handed, proving his theory.
And once he was proven correct in his assumptions, he would give new orders to his forces and the United Alliance of Evil would sweep to victory, bringing him ultimate power. And then he would be ready to stake his claim on the greatest prize of all: Earth.
End of Part.