In Space, Never Get Out of the Boat
Echo-1: Part 38
The cold of space snapped me out of it. I opened my eyes and for just one second, the longest second of my life. I saw the Banga with a water fountain the size of Niagara Falls spraying out of her side. The water was instantly turning to ice. It sparkled all around me like crystalline snow. The Magus was behind us and we found ourselves in the space between the two ships. I was surrounded by the universe’s deadly frozen empty hand. There were others out there floating in space, dying with me.
My body was stiffening. I was almost out of breath. I saw Mox. His arms held onto me, but I couldn’t feel his touch. His face was in my face. He curled his body around me and opened his mouth wide like some kind of prehistoric tyrannosaurus rex, unhinging his jaw and gaping to an unimaginable size. I looked down his pink throat. He inched forward and swallowed my entire head. I closed my eyes. I held my breath for as long as I could and then I let it out. I held longer and when there was nothing else I could do, I attempted to breathe in. Mox fed me a slim stream of oxygen. It was a small breath and maybe his last, but I accepted it with nothing but love for the creature who had just eaten me alive. His breath had a soft cool smell, like dew on a field in the morning. All was cold and dark. The only sign that I was alive was the slow thin air I continued to draw from Mox’s lungs.
No sensory deprivation could possibly compare to this experience. I had for years toyed in the realms of deep inner mind lucidity, but this; my body weightless and frozen, all my senses dulled, utter and total silence, blackness without end; this was something completely new. I became aware of my heart beat slowing in my chest. My mind was racing.
I began to dream of my life. I was young, it was summer. The sunlight shone through the trees on a thin peninsula of land. I was walking through the high bleached grass out toward the edge of a lake. My father was there. He was fishing. He turned around and saw me and he smiled. I had two cool drinks in my hands. I had walked carefully with them all the way from our campsite. The glasses were slippery with condensation. They were filled with ice and I gripped them as best I could, trying not to spill any. I handed one to my father and we both took long refreshing drinks. I looked across the water to the point where his line met the surface. There was a tug. The real started zipping. It was a big one and it was pulling plenty of line.
I felt a hard flat surface collide with my legs and lower body. Mox regurgitated my head. There was a large suction sound and I took in a huge breath of air. I felt the pressure of an atmosphere. I opened my eyes, but they were covered with goo. I started to feel my body. I heard the sound of a door opening and felt warm air hit me all over. I lifted my numb hand and rubbed it across my eyes.
Mox was there in front of me. We were in the airlock of the Brick. The safest place in the galaxy.
The Sentinel droid moved past Mox into the cargo hold. Uzi’s Rust-a-gogo was right behind him. The top opened and Uzi jumped out.
“How the hell are you two alive!”
Somehow he looked even older than before. Mox hit me on the back hard and I coughed up a whole bunch of goo.
Mox’s smile filled my blurred vision. “Your species is certainly durable, I’ll give you that. Now, pull yourself together and come see what I caught.”
Uzi reached down and helped me off the floor. The feeling was coming back to all the parts of my body, but I was more than a bit unstable on my feet. I leaned on Uzi. His scarred face with its mechanical red eye seemed almost friendly.
“You’re going to like this.” He smiled and helped me walk to the lift.
We went up one floor to the lab. The Sentinel stopped outside the door. Mox twirled around, sword at his side, Veltearrik Acid Blaster held high, balanced off his hip, not that he had hips. You’d have never known he was just drowned and frozen, let alone survived the vacuum of space. He reached down to his belt and unholstered his stun gun.
“Let him out.”
I looked to Uzi, who was cracking the scar across his face with a big shit-eating grin. We all looked at the Sentinel. The compartment in his chest opened and out spilled the slimy octopi blob in a lab coat that was Professor Mildabbar. He hit the floor with a wet splat. He looked up at us with glossed over eyes. He was a far paler shade of purple than he normally was.
“I’m not sure he survived the trip very well.” Uzi looked his normal angry self again. “Can you see? Are you alright?”
“Put his tentacle in here.” Mox tilted the acid gun forward.
The Sentinel reached down with his rusty hand, clamped hard on the Professor’s arm, and stuffed his tentacled hand into the barrel of the acid gun. The Professor stood up straight.
“I’m awake, I’m awake! Na, na, no need for the vel, vel, Veltearrik juice.”
Mox was taken aback. “I’m surprised you know what this is. After all, it’s an extremely rare weapon.”
The Professor steadied himself, he pulled his arm but was helpless against the might of the Sentinel. He changed color from a purplish blue, to a bright yellow, then to a red rusty color. His skin seemed to take on the exact texture of the Rust Sentinel. Then he changed back to his normal purple cuttlefish self. His eyes even seemed to regain their deep black radiance.
“We have traveled the galaxy for thousands of years, the Varan are not the only species to explore the depths of space.”
Mox enjoyed this response. They were both old space pirates at heart. He moved away the acid blaster and spinning his stun gun on his clawed finger he slid it back into its holster.
We all walked into the lab. I was growing more steady and stopped leaning on Uzi. He walked behind the Professor. He did not share Mox’s camaraderie with our guest. In the center of the big lab table, encased a glass box was a piece of a control panel from the Magus.
Mox walked over to a com link on the wall and pressed a button. “Are the Magus’ days of terrorizing the galaxy over.”
Blunt’s ridiculous giggle came over the speaker. “She’s not looking too scary right now.”
Mox raised an eyebrow to the Professor. “Would you like to keep your ship?”
Mildabbar clicked his claw-like beak. “It would sa-sa-seem we have your’s.”
Mox laughed at this idea. “The Banga is not my ship, but I would trade the survival of your’s for her release.”
He gestured at the panel, which pulsed with the runes of the Vedma virus code. Mildabbar’s eyes narrowed.
“That isn’t my call to make, you’ll need to speak with Faye.”
Uzi had a completely different tactic. He pulled a large blade out from under his trench coat, grabbed the Professor by the arm and cut off three of his tentacle fingers. They wiggled on the table for a moment, then went still. Uzi picked one up, smelled it, then tossed it in his mouth and chewed.
“When I was a young man my mother made the most wonderful Mediterranean dishes. I miss the grilled octopus she used to make in the summer. I can certainly think of another use for you.” Uzi swallowed.
Mildabbar pulled his arm away, changing colors again.
“This technology is my greatest achievement and I’m not going to share its secrets with anyone.”
He lunged forward at Uzi. A flash of electricity filled the room with a sonic zap and Mildabbar fell to the floor twitching. Mox slid his stun gun back in its holster and walked back to the com link.
“He’s not playing nice, hit the Magus one more time and make it count then get us inside the Banga.”
He walked over to the pitiful looking squirming squid on the floor.
“You’re going back in your box until you decide to play nice Professor.”
Mildabbar hissed at him and cursed him in Varan. The Sentinel grabbed the Professor and shoved him back into his chest cavity. Uzi picked up the remaining two fingers and ate one.
“He’s actually quite tasty.”
He offered us the last finger. Mox said he wasn’t feeling hungry after snacking on my head. Uzi let out a loud heavily accented “Ha!” and tossed back Mildabbar’s third finger, savoring the fine sushi flavor.
We went up to the control room and strapped ourselves into chairs. Zandar Vandar waved me into the co-pilot seat and Styx moved over to the side computer station without a word.
“How do you survive these intense impacts inside the ship?”
Blunt was more than ready to field the answer to this question when Mox cut him off.
“Let’s not reveal any of our trade secrets, when the Professor is unwilling to share his.”
He gestured to the Sentinel droid who had taken up his usual position in the back of the room. I guess we had to assume the Professor was listening and there was no real way to know if he could be communicating with the others. We were flying with sensors only, but they painted a very clear picture of what was going on outside. We raced to the front of the Banga and gained incredible speed on the way back. Blunt timed it perfectly. The Magus was slowly rotating in space and he hit her right in the same spot as the first time. A hole in one if you will. We tore right through the Magus and when we bashed out the other side the ship split in two.
I noticed that there were once again repair robots crawling all over it. They would have a hell of a time putting it back together. We swung wide and headed for the port hangar, which was a giant waterspout. Ice pinged off the hull and we hit the freezing geyser straight on. The speed and forceful intention of the Brick was enough to get us in. We passed the point where the sea was punctured and Blunt backed up and jammed the Brick in the hole. He pressed the engines to keep the ship back against the wall. It slowed the water release down, but the port bay doors were still wide open to space.
Mox sent the Sentinel into action, assuring us all the Professor wouldn’t mind the cold. In a matter of minutes, the Sentinel managed to manually close the inner hangar door and secure the ship.
“Blunt, you stay here and be a plug for the water for a while and well see if we can figure out what’s going on. Jonas, can you shed any light as to what our status here is?”
“X, my lovely, are you out there?”
My head exploded with sounds. Screaming rock-n-roll guitar and deafening laser blasts.
“A bit busy at the moment sweetz, but very glad you are back.”
“Charlie my little friend anything to report?”
Charlie lacking some of the militaristic desire for radio silence filled us in on the fact that he was still in control of the ship’s navigation, life support, and propulsion. Uzi cut him off before he said any more, but he did manage to thank us for closing the port door.
“Taegu, Macrai, any chance of you two darlings giving us a lift?”
There was some fuzzy interference, then they came through speaking in Varan. They told Mox that it would take them at least an hour to navigate the highway system back to the port hangar bay and that they were still chasing down, what I took to be, about a dozen or so Vedma fighters scattered throughout the ship.
Mox tipped them off, and everyone for that matter, that Faye and Abednego were piloting the Blue Hand Diamond Scout somewhere on the Banga.
Werner did chime in. “I lost them all. I’m the only one left.”
He was literally overrun and when he was the last living member of his team he decided to retreat. He was heading to the cold rendezvous point. Uzi was furious at hearing this over communication.
“Why doesn’t he just lead them straight to all our people?”
We were having trouble with internal sensors, so it was safe to assume either Charlie was jamming them or the Vedma were, but we didn’t want to let them know we couldn’t see what was going on. We assumed Jonas was moving to the back of the ship, which would be our last stand if need be.
We were on our own for transportation.
Uzi took charge. “We need to make our way to the shielded computer room. It’s the obvious next target. It’s where the big fight will be.”
Mox interjected. “That’s a fine plan, but we are leaving both the acid blasters here on the Brick, they will eat right through this ship.”
Uzi wholeheartedly agreed and both were left in their box in the cargo hold. Blunt wished us luck. We opened the airlock and drove out on the Rust-a-gogo, Uzi driving and Mox and myself in the sidecar. Standing just outside the ship was the Sentinel droid and Dr. Death. I could see he was smiling behind his diamond armor.
“I can’t believe my eyes. You two must have nine lives.”
He looked up above us and crawling on the ceiling was Tim in Wasp form.
“I found him outside, his wings are broken and he doesn’t seem to be in very good shape.” Tim dropped to the wet floor with a splash and a thud. There was still a good deal of water flooding the hangar. It was about a half a meter deep. Mox helped him inside the Brick.
“I’ll be right back.”
He was back before I could finish the story of him eating my head and my being saved from a death in space.
“I put him in the lab, he is out of this fight. We can remove him from the wasp suit later. He’ll be fine.”
Mox jumped back on the sidecar and shot orders to the Sentinel and myself. “You stay right next to us. Hands, you’re on the gun, now don’t be shy. Let’s roll.”
Death took the lead rocketing ahead. We moved slowly in the flooded hangar. It was full of bodies and destroyed robots. There were zero-G commandos and dead giant wolves floating everywhere. We caught up with Death past the first doorway to the highway system. He was down the ramp off to the side.
Forklift was nailed to the wall with rust swords. He must have been underwater for some time and was a bloated mess. Death pulled him down and laid him on a ledge at the side of the road. He kept one of the large electric rust swords. He lit it up with red electric light, testing to see if it still worked. I heard him promise Forklift revenge.
“We’ll get ’em for you buddy.”
I couldn’t help thinking the same thing myself. Mox was far less compassionate.
“Where is my Rust-Com you fool.”
I nudged him. “Come on, Mox, you know he couldn’t resist those witches, hell, none of us can.”
He narrowed his eyes and shot out his tongue. “Maybe Uzi will grill them up for us.”
He said this as a joke, but somehow it upset me. Death attached the rust sword to his back and took off. He was out for blood. We followed him, the Sentinel at our side with two axes ablaze. As we moved further into the ship we were able to pick up speed. The water ended, though we only got to top speed for a while as there was wreckage in the road ahead. Death was already there when we pulled up.
He had pried open the side of the crashed Vedma fighter. He pulled a bloody nearly dead wolf commando out of the ship and crushed his skull in his diamond hands before we were close enough to tell him to stop. He wiped his hands across his chest plate, leaving a big red handprint, like war paint. He really was Dr. Death.
Uzi told him he wanted to talk to the next one they find. Twenty kilometers down the road we found two more. They were working on another shot down Vedma fighter. Death blasted the first one killing him instantly and he tackled the other with incredible force. The wolf was no match for him in his diamond armor combat suit. The Therion soldier raised his weapon and fired into Death’s face, but it had no effect. Death decked the creature and proceeded to snap his arms like twigs. His laser blaster fell to the floor and he howled like the wild animal he was. Death pulled him close. The wolf tried to get away and thrashed chaotically in Death’s grip. Death grabbed him by the throat and shoved him to the floor. We pulled up and Uzi got out of gogo.
“Alright, doggie, what is your plan of attack? And where are the bulk of your forces?”
Uzi stood over him, even though the animal was near twice his size. It just growled at him. With nothing more than a look from Uzi, Death put his knee in the wolf’s back, reached back, grabbing its ankle and almost pulling its leg off, he dislocated and shattered it. The wolf howled again.
“I’ll ask you one more time. Take a good look at your friend over there.”
The wolf glared at him with rage in his eyes. “I’m prepared to die for my goddess, I’ll travel the heavens with the Vedma for eternity.”
Uzi nodded to Death and he destroyed the animals last limb. Then he stood up and broke the wolf’s jaw by prying its mouth wide open. It lay on the floor a mangled mess, bleeding and whimpering.
“I’m going to give you one last chance.” Uzi folded his arms and waited.
Mox jumped off the sidecar and with a flash of his foil, he sent the thin sword into the wolf’s ear and through its brain. It convulsed, jumped off the ground, let out a blood-curdling howl, collapsed, and died. Mox shook the blood off his sword with a flick and slid it back into his belt.
“They’re religious maniacs. The greatest thing they can do is die for their beliefs. They won’t tell you anything.”
We heard howling off in distance.
“Let’s keep moving.”
We raced off down the highway system. We came upon the scene of a battle aftermath that must have recently taken place. There were blasted robots littered all over the road. They went on for a kilometer or more. Then the mammoths and the smell of death appeared.
The first one made me feel terrible. We had brought this majestic animal back from extinction only to wipe it out again. There were large laser blasts and burn holes all over its body. The smell of burnt hair still smoldering mixed with the other smells of death. Its eyes were open and staring straight ahead. A large wound in its head was the deciding blow.
Uzi maneuvered around the animal and the five more we passed. Zero-G commandos lay dead, many chewed and mangled. Some ripped to pieces. The gore of it all sickened me. There were dead wolves too, their bodies riddled with laser blasts. Then we came to a huge pile of maybe ten wooly mammoths. It must have been a kind of last stand. Werner must have stacked the bodies and the troops used them as a defensive wall. They blocked the road almost completely. In the center the enemy had blown a hole through.
The road was covered in blood and guts. Bones and shattered robot parts all intermixed. The mammoth bodies at either side of the hole where completely ripped open. Their huge ribcages exposed deflated lungs. It was all coagulating ooze and dried blood in matted hair.
We passed through the opening in the wall of elephant carnage. On the other side lay the last stand of Werner’s division of zero-G troopers. The bodies of hulk soldier giants lay strewn across the highway. The smaller pilot troops died more ferocious deaths at the claws and teeth of Mega Therion. I had never seen such unwonted death. I felt an incredible sadness and loss.
We kept moving. We came upon a half dozen or so headless wolves. Their heads scattered around, like props from a bloodbath horror movie. We came to the battles finale. There were two grunt troops. One ripped in half with his intestines dragged out across the floor and partly eaten. The other had both their rust sword stabbed through the center of his body nailing him to the deck. His head was removed and jammed onto the hilt of his sword. He looked at us as we approached with an expression of surprise and shock left frozen on his face.
Dr. Death kicked it over and we kept moving. It was total madness and the creatures that did this were who we were after. I was scared. I looked at Mox.
“We aren’t going to be able to beat them. They’re going to kill us all.”
Mox smiled his snarling smile. His serpentine tongue slid out and around his mouth.
“My fine friend, I didn’t let you die in space, you won’t be dying here either. How do you say…It is darkest just before the light.”
My head was hanging down and I was leaning onto the side of the gogo.
“Before the dawn. It is darkest before the dawn.”
Mox slapped me on the back. “Yes, that is it!” He seemed very pleased. “Everything will be alright. You’ll see. Darkest before the dawn.”
We didn’t pass anything else the rest of our time on the main highway road. We drove unhindered at top speeds. Death rocketed ahead of us, but kept in sight at all times. The Sentinel hovered at our side, keeping pace. Uzi kept his eyes glued to the road ahead.
Mox threw an arm around my shoulder and seemed a bit like a dog with its head out the window, riding in the sidecar with me. He had a way of always being at home in nearly every situation. Maybe that is what everyone would be like if they lived to be a thousand years old. Perpetual childhood fascination with endless experiential knowledge. I tend to believe it was wisdom. I spaced out and spent the next half hour in silence, resting my body and not thinking of anything, just watching the walls fly by.
We pulled off the highway onto the hallway system that led into the middle of the ship. We knew they must have come this way and figured maybe we could sneak up from behind. We took the fast way around through some of the smaller side halls. Two Vedma fighter crafts raced past up ahead of our position. Dr. Death chased after them. He disappeared around the next corner. We slowed before the point where the smaller halls met with the passage that led down to the bigger hall and the shielded control room beyond that.
We could hear the battle. Explosions rang through the halls. We could see far off down to the next intersection. A billow of smoke clouded the way. She walked out of it like a giant white knight. I saw her sword first. The red electric lightning ran up from the hilt and Nidi shifted her weight onto her left back leg. She lowered the sword to her side and remained perfectly still. A moment later two black-haired wolves ran out of the smoke. She lunged into action. Her sword moved with blinding speed, two massive swipes through the air and through the approaching Mega Therion soldiers. One howled and grasped for the place where its arm used to be. The other simply froze and stood straight up. Nidi stepped back again and lowered her sword. The wolf remained frozen for what seemed like forever, then like someone tipped him over, he fell to the ground with a dead thud. The other had ran off into the smoke that was billowing from down the hall.
Mox elbowed me in the side. “She’s a quick learner that one.”
Nidi’s eyes met mine. Her white fur was all standing on end. She looked both powerful and beautiful. An animal of such cunning and intelligence, she was the perfection of her species. Was she Mildabbar’s true masterpiece? She smiled at me, that big bad wolf smile of her’s that would have shaken little red riding hood to her core. I knew nothing but kindness and love from her big white-fanged smile. She filled me with a new hope.
Her head quickly faced forward again, her attention drawn down the hall in front of her where we couldn’t see from our position. She raised her sword above her head, then she brought it back down, powered it down and slung it onto her back. She spun around and went to all four and tore off running out of sight. A moment later a whole gang of wolves in their black padded battle armor came running after her.
They didn’t take notice of us down the hall. We moved forward to the corner and I got on the gun. I heard a vehicle coming fast and I knew it was X before she came around the corner. Laser blasts came with her, ricocheting off the side of her Diamond-a-gogo and leaving smoldering burn marks on the wall. She spun around the corner, saw us and pulled one of her amazing entrance maneuvers that ended with her bike being parked right next to ours. Her sidecar was empty and the cannon was missing. She opened her bike and was inside naked as a jaybird.
“Hey boys, it’s about time you got back. You won’t believe what is happening.”
Mox jumped to her sidecar and she reached for him. She grabbed him by both arms and pulled him inside the bike with her. Mox slithered around her in a way that seemed the natural state for a horny lizard man (i.e Coiled around a naked beautiful woman).
I looked at the sidecar I was riding on. It was made of the standard metal of the ship. I looked at Uzi and I looked and X. He nodded and X gave me the wave. If I was going into battle exposed I’d rather be in an indestructible diamond sidecar than one that already looked pretty trashed. I pulled up the rust cannon and brought it with me. I mounted it on X’s sidecar and we were off.
“We’ll try not to lose you, hold on.”
She punched it.