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A Pulp Space Opera by Andrew Roberts

In their search for the Astral Spirit, Dane Tempest and Jesse Roach were confronted by pirates in the Oberon Cluster. Despite fending off their attacks, their craft has been damaged by a saboteur, and they have crash landed on a mysterious planet. Even as they attempt to repair the damage to their ship, they are completely unaware of the dangers this desert world has in store for them

Dane groggily came to his senses. The ships controls were wrecked. The craft itself was embedded in the sand. Roach? he called weakly. There was no answer. He attempted to stand up. Slowly, he staggered out of the cockpit to the maintenance hatch. Looking inside, he found Roach lying amongst burnt out wiring. He dragged him out and checked his pulse. Still alive. He muttered. Looking up, he reached for the boarding ramp controls. Pressing it, he heard the sound of the mechanism lowering, but it was embedded in the sand. He lurched back to the cockpit and opened a sealed window containing a red button. Upon pressing, the front screens slid down, allowing him to crawl out of the ship. Dane picked up a scanning unit from the nearby cabinet and left through the new exit. The atmospheres breathable he murmured to himself as he scanned. The unit emitted several loud, sharp tones. Something was coming. Dane gripped his pistol tightly and ducked into the space under the ship. The landing gear was embedded in the sand. He noticed several figures approaching on bizarre looking mounts. Squinting, he noticed that the figures were anthropomorphic jackals. Some were wielding carbines. Others had clubs, axes, spears, and curved swords. The group made their way to ship and dismounted. Dane noticed three of them climbing into the cockpit. As he watched, he felt something grab his leg. One of the jackals had spotted him and was pulling him out from his hiding place. What are you people? he asked in fear as he was brought out. The jackals did not answer, simply communicating to each other with barks and howls. As he was being led away, Dane noticed Roach being pulled out of the ship.

Several hours later, Dane found himself being taken to a large Ancient Egyptian-style city. The jackals escorted him to a palace at the heart of the city, where he was brought before another jackal seated at a great throne. Seated next to him was a human female. Another jackal was standing at the foot of the throne, his stance seeming to command presence. Who is this man? the jackal in the throne demanded. Dane said nothing. He heard one of the jackals growling to the monarch. As he prepared to stand, one of the guards struck him in the back of the leg with the shaft of his spear. You will kneel before King Set! the jackal standing at the foot of the throne said sternly. What is your purpose? King Set asked Dane, Which slave camp are you from? Im from the Mars Colony. Dane said, I crash landed on this barren sandbox while searching for a missing vessel. Youre from off-world? Set asked, intrigued by Danes story. Yes. But my co-pilot is badly injured. He needs a doctor.

Silence! You dare not challenge my leadership! Set bellowed as he stood up. Guards! Throw the wretch into the dungeons! Dane was picked up by two of the jackals and dragged away. Both he and Roach were taken to a dank cell beneath the palace. A few minutes later, a third human was brought into the cell. He started examining Roach. Are you supposed to be a doctor? Dane asked him. The man nodded. Im just a slave to those things. He told him, Imhotep has been ruled by the Anubites for a long time now. The human inhabitants are no more than slaves. What actually happened here? The world was originally ruled by King Osiris. He was a fair ruler, occupying the throne with Queen Isis. At that time, the Anubites and the humans lived in harmony until Set appeared. He assassinated Osiris and staged a coup, and all the Anubites followed him, including Anubis, the Captain of the Guard. What will happen to us? Once your friend pulls through, youll be assessed and put into a work gang. Perfect. Dane muttered sarcastically, sitting down against the hard walls of the cell. As he sat, Roach started to come to his own senses. What happened? He asked. We crash landed on some desert planet and now were being imprisoned by a bunch of jackal people. Dane replied, Now we need to find a way out of here so we can get the ship repaired.

More time passed. Anubis entered the cell and awoke the pair. Dane, I need your help. He said quietly. Theres a set of ordeals that must be passed that will allow you to win your freedom. Im entering you into that under orders from Queen Isis. Why? For your kings amusement? Dane asked. If you are free, you can help her coordinate a resistance movement. Your friend Roach is due to be drafted into a militia unit comprised of slaves. Dont worry: Its under Sets command. What are the ordeals? There is a chariot race, a pit fight, and The Final Test. Nobody has got that far. As Anubis spoke, another guard entered with a tray containing some form of meat. Youll need to eat something. Anubis said, Tomorrow is an important day.

Dane nodded in agreement and took a bite out of the meat as the two jackals left.

The following morning, Dane was escorted to a large racetrack where several chariots were being prepared, pulled by horse-like creatures. Among the contenders were both humans and Anubites. As Dane prepared to board his chariot, he noticed one Anubite standing out among the other racers. An outsider in the race? He pondered, How is this possible? Who might you be to ask that? Dane asked defiantly. You should show respect. The Anubite replied, I am Theris, King Sets nephew and the finest racer on the planet. Let the best contender win. Dane said nothing as he took the chariots reins. A large bell sounded and the crowds cheered as the race began. Dane lashed his beasts and the chariot rolled forwards in almost a blink. In what may not have even been a minute, he was overtaking almost every other contender. He was just behind Theris, not noticing some of the other chariots which had gone off the track. Theris was carrying a large flail in one hand, and started swinging it at Dane. Dane was able to avoid the swinging of the flail, but he was still unable to overtake Theris. As he attempted, something unexpected happened: He felt a throbbing pain in his stomach. He was starting to lose consciousness. Dane immediately realised that he had been poisoned the previous night. Theris was obviously not a fair player. As he tried to remain awake, his chariot began to run off course, heading towards a wall.

Will Dane be able to win the race against Theris? Or will he succumb to the poison? If he doesnt what other tricks does Theris have for him? Find out next time in The Imhotep Ordeals!