"Spore of the Devil"
  Issue Number 57

Writer: Arnold Drake
Artist: Alden McWilliams
Stardate: Not Given
Issue Date: November 1978
Cover Price: 35 cents

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Cover Blurb:
   CORNERED - by an alien being, frantic to know who he is!

   [The Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission to a world of armored heroes, imprisoned, fair maidens and fire-breathing dragons! Behind the all-powerful emperor is the mysterious figure of the evil wizard, the Great Vrunon! Captain Kirk and his crew are soon to incur that wizard's darkest wrath!

       - Story Prologue]


Synopsis
   Once in orbit around the planet Jodarr, Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Scotty beam down to the surface to pay a protocol visit. They arrive outside a medieval-looking castle, and are led on horseback to the court of Emperor Ledoy (an enormously fat, bald man, wearing robes that look suspiciously like a Santa Claus suit!), who is about to be officially crowned ruler of Jodarr in a week-long celebration. "A great pleasure, sir!" Kirk tells Ledoy, "We bring this message of best wishes for peace and prosperity!" Ledoy is delighted, and invites the landing party to join him in a great arena in order to watch the festivities.

   The celebration begins with contests of skill between warriors. "My Kuderian Guards, the bravest of the brave!" says Ledoy. "With them I put down the warring kings and made one land of Jodarr! Is that not progress?" "Indeed" Spock replies, "except if you were one of those other kings, of course!" Ledoy seems amused. "You spoke of the fate of the defeated kings, Mr. Spock!" he says. "I shall permit one of them to amuse us!" King Wobine, an old and feeble man, is brought forth to the arena, and made to fight a "Winged Kurgo". The Kurgo is a wicked dragon-like black beast, who makes short work of King Wobine. As Wobine lays mortally wounded on the ground, he curses Ledoy. The landing party is stunned by what they have seen, and are silent.

   Later, the Emperor assigns Rolano, his most trusted guard, to lead Kirk and the others to their quarters. "You see the emperor at a bad time" Rolano confides in them. "To bring all of Jodarr into one empire, he became ruthless". As the group continues to their quarters, a beautiful young brunette woman named Sylva approaches Rolano. She tells him that the Emperor has demanded that she marry him tomorrow. "Then I must tell him at once that we love each other!" Rolano exclaims. "No, you mustn't!" Sylva replies. "He will kill you!" At that moment, guards arrive and place Rolano under arrest for "illegal contact" with the Emperor's bride-to-be. Emperor Ledoy follows shortly after, and condemns Rolano to death!

   Kirk intercedes, and asks Ledoy to show mercy on Rolano. "No!" Ledoy exclaims, "It would be a sign of weakness! The empire is too young to afford that!" The Emperor explains that for centuries, their planet was burdened by wars between the fifty different kings, himself among them. Then one day, on the eve of another battle, he went to the shrine at Dafu, and before him appeared "The Great Vrunon". "He who has power over all things!" Emperor Ledoy continues, "He turns iron into gold, brings flames from water. He showed me that our world would never advance until all lands were made into one! And his will has been done! Then there is the answer, let the Great Vrunon decide Rolano's fate!" "Clearly" Mr. Spock thinks to himself, "we are dealing with the Emperor's personal wizard!" This decided, Emperor Ledoy orders the imperial barge prepared, in order to sail down the river to the Shrine of Dafu.

   When they arrive at the Shrine, Ledoy leads Kirk, Scotty and Spock inside. A huge block of crystal sits in the middle of the temple, with the face of an old, grey haired man inside! "Oh Great Vrunon" Ledoy calls, "once more your servant comes in search of wisdom!" Before he can say any more, Vrunon speaks, telling Ledoy not to kill Rolano yet, but rather to wait until after the coronation and wedding, and then kill him as an example to all. "Did you hear that, Captain Kirk" Scotty exclaims, "That ruddy wizard reads minds!"

Kirk immediately questions Vrunon's judgement, telling him that Rolano had merely fallen in love with the woman. "The crime is of no consequence!" Vrunon replies. "The emperor can show no weakness at this moment, or the warrior kings he just defeated will join together and devour him!"

   On the way back down the river, Spock tells Kirk that he secretly focused his tricorder on The Great Vrunon. "Based upon radio-skull measurements and chemical components" Spock explains, "the answer came up not native to the planet Jodarr! The wizard is a secret alien being!" That night, the landing party sneaks out of Emperor Ledoy's castle, steals a boat, and travels back up the river to the Shrine of Dafu. Captain Kirk walks up to the crystal cube in the middle of the room. "Who dares enter the shrine of the Great Vrunon without permission?" booms the wizard. "Captain James Kirk is the name!" the Captain replies. "I've come in one last plea for the life of Rolano!" While Vrunon is occupied with Kirk, Spock and Scotty climb down a secret trap door that they discover in another part of the shrine. Beneath the shrine, they discover Vrunon, speaking to a camera that is projecting his image to the crystal in the temple above. The wizard's head appears to be human, but his arms and legs are green and scaly!

   Vrunon reaches for a weapon, but Scotty stops him with a blow to the arm. "Hear me intruders!" Vrunon roars, "I shall dine on your liver for breakfast! I swear it!" His human head then changes into one resembling a lizard, with scales, and a large forked tongue! "This is not my natural form" Vrunon hisses at them. "The people of my world have no flesh and bone! We are only bio-energy! But I find this material form the least painful!" "Except to look at!" Scotty quips.

   Kirk joins Spock and Scotty, just as Vrunon begins an "illustrated lecture" showing them how he arrived on the planet. "Where is your world?" Kirk asks him. "I wish I knew!" Vrunon replies. "I was sent here prenatally, captain, unborn, a mere spore enclosed in a glass jar! Many of my tapes were lost just before landing! As my ship approached Jodarr, a meteorite crashed into it! I was ejected in an emergency capsule with only tapes concerning basic science enclosed!

There were no orientation tapes in the emergency capsule! But as I grew up, I felt my mission as though it had been bred into me! My work is to rapidly advance this world toward peace and truth! This world is at peace at last, and progress will follow! Through Emperor Ledoy, my loyal prophet, I will soon introduce the printing press and crude electric generators! You three will not be alive to see my 'magic' however!"

   Just as Vrunon is about to shoot the men, his head is racked by a searing pain and he collapses. When he recovers, he explains to Spock that he has had the attacks frequently over the last several years. "Starts as a low whir" Vrunon explains, "rises rapidly, finally a screaming shrieking thing. Brain actually becomes hot!" Spock theorizes that radio energy beamed from somewhere on the planet is the cause. He offers his help in exchange for Rolano's release, and the safety of the landing party. Vrunon agrees.

   The following day, Spock and Vrunon set out into the mountain country wearing yellow jackets. (Which look extremely odd being worn by a lizard!) As they travel through the wilderness, a huge brown bear springs from a cave, and takes Vrunon in his paws. Spock manages to kill the bear and save Vrunon. Inside the bear's cave, the two discover bits of electronic equipment! "The remains of the ship must be wherever he found that!" says Vrunon. He and the Vulcan travel even deeper into the cave to explore. In a pool, they discover another piece of electronic equipment that is the source of Vrunon's pain. Spock opens the device, and activates a video message contained within.

   Meanwhile back at the palace, Emperor Ledoy proves not to be so trustworthy as Vrunon believes. The Emperor does spare Rolano's life, however he arranges for the servant to fight a "Gordoon" beast in the final coronation event. "The Gordoon?" Scotty says. "Might as well execute Rolano!" Kirk offers himself as a substitute for the fight in order to save Rolano, and Ledoy accepts. Kirk dresses up in chain mail armor and faces the beast in the arena. The creature proves extremely dangerous! Just as it is about to devour the Captain, Spock and Vrunon arrive in the arena. Spock uses his phaser to kill the beast. "Who dares to interfere with the Emperor's games?" Ledoy shouts, miffed. "I did your majesty" Spock answers, "at the urging of my friend, the Great Vrunon!"

   Vrunon explains that he was not intended to stay so long. "Once I had started you on the road to knowledge, I should have left!" he says. "But now with those tapes to guide you" Kirk finishes, "you'll be able to recover your ship and return home!" "Precisely!" Vrunon replies. "I had begun ruling through fear, not love! Those painful radio signals were a warning!" Emperor Ledoy is moved. "You are still wise, Great Vrunon. You have made me see that I too ruled with fear, not love". Ledoy then frees Sylva and Rolano. "We shall be lost without you!" the Emperor tells Vrunon. "No" Vrunon answers, "you shall be yourselves without me!" The alien then turns to Kirk. "Thank you again, my friend, for finding the lost 'me'!" "Our pleasure" replies the Captain. "I hope we may call at your world some day! I suspect it is well worth the visit!"

(Summary by Mark Lookabaugh)

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