Echo-1: Part 28
X opened the rust bike top knocking me off it. I stepped down to the translucent floor of the diamond scout. X didn’t do her normal flip out of the bike. She was bent over with her arms below the seat. She stood up with a fluffy little light gray creature in her hands, a Mega Therion wolf pup. A huge smile lit across her face.
“Um, that was fucking righteous. We ruled that shit.”
She stepped out of the bike and handed me the pup.
“Hold her for me Hands. She’s scared. I think I’ll call her Nidi after the Varanidi ice world.”
I took the soft animal into my arms and it urinated on me, then snuggled into me. X was looking past me.
“Check out those guys.”
I turned around and looked out the front window of the scout. Ahead of us was the Brick, with its bay door open. The two rusty Robo suits of Werner and Forklift were maneuvering the whale transport tank into the airlock. Inside it was the baby white whale and the camouflaged bulk of Dr. Death. The Sentinel droid rocketed past us. It slowed just in time to give the last needed push to get the tank inside of the Brick. Its bay doors closed at the same moment a rocket exploded at the rear of our scout.
X jumped into the pilot seat. “Punch it rust head.”
She took the controls from the robot Styx and started flipping us upside down, putting us on a racing corkscrew flight path. I struggled to get into a seat next to Mox, who seemed to be going to sleep. He hunched down and closed his eyes.
“How can you sleep?”
My adrenaline functions had been running on overdrive for a what seemed like forever. Not to mention I was doing my best to try and calm down a biting wolf pup with razor-sharp teeth.
Mox opened one eye. “I did my part. I’m sure Cindy Lou here will get us home safe. I have every confidence in her.”
He closed his eye, shot out his tongue, and retracted it to total stillness.
“Awwww, thanks, sweets!” X did a little seat dance.
The ship was spiraling seemingly out of control. Little Nidi jumped away from me and ran around the ship a few times then jumped into Mox’s lap. His long tail curled up around her, she curled up inside it, and with a single whisper from Mox, she too went to sleep.
“Look, she loves her papa.”
Mox opened a wide eye at X and then closed it again. I strapped into my seat and tapped into the Sunshine’s sensor array. Fighters were launching off the Magus in mass.
“Klagdriz. Communication. Jammed. Negative.” Styx informed us.
I saw the Brick, now zipped up, head back toward the Magus. It rammed through most of the first wave of fighters destroying them or leaving them crippled in space. We kept running hard. Spinning in random directional vortex patterns. I couldn’t look out the window at the revolving stars any longer. X was an insane pilot. Not a shot had landed since the first one. She was avoiding everything they could throw at us. There were two tracking missiles following us. They were locked on but hadn’t been able to catch us, yet.
The Brick changed direction and sidled up behind us. The missiles redirected and detonated on the exterior of the Brick. The Magus broke orbit from the comet. They were coming after us. We raced ahead in the direction of the Varan system. The Brick was right behind us, taking the brunt of the cannon and missile fire from the Magus. They had brought out the big guns. The Brick was acting as a shield. Cannon blasts hammered it relentlessly. They were trying to knock it off course to get a clear shot at us.
I wasn’t sure if we could withstand hits from their ship’s larger guns. We raced ahead zig-zagging all over the place. From a sensor point of view, it was like a little glittering lure, being chased by a big blockish fish, who was being chased by a giant black spiky killer shark. The Brick was matching our course and speed and the Magus was matching the Brick. The Magus changed its orientation while still keeping pace. Its large underside hangar bay door opened. They were going to attempt to take both ships inside. The Brick followed suit. It rotated, lining its storage bay door up with the Sunshine scout.
So just to take a step back for a moment my reader. See the little sparkling clear diamond crystal ship. It is lightning fast and nearly transparent. You can make out the rust bike inside as well as the shapes of the four people aboard. The ship is changing course and direction constantly, but it is small. Think of it as the size of a small mobile home. Then see the Brick, the solid mass of rusty steel that it is. It’s more the scale of a sizable three-story warehouse. A building that could easily store the Sunshine scout in its garage. Though the scout is maneuvering and racing through space, the scale and mobility of the Brick allow it to follow easily. Now imagine taking ten Empire State buildings and smooshing them together, paint them black and cover them with spikes. That’s the scale of the Magus. It can easily swallow the Brick whole.
In space, size matters. Objects with bigger mass suck in the smaller ones. So you can easily imagine X cutting the engine of the Sunshine scout and for a second the crystal ship seems to drift backward into the cargo hold of the Brick. Its door closed and the scout is gone. And just as that happens the Magus overtakes the Brick. It is halfway inside the Magus airlock doors. Both ships are still traveling at incredible speeds.
Inside the Brick Zandar Vandar Blunt is at the controls. Next to him is the tin man humanoid pilot droid. Blunt is hissing orders at him in Varan. The Brick starts to move in a circular pattern, smashing the edges of the Magus bay entrance. It then disappears into the mouth of the great ship. If we swing our perspective we can look inside. The Brick is still moving in a circular pattern. Scraping and crushing the interior of the airlock. The inner door is mangled. As if the Magus was a giant beast who had swallowed a hornet, it regurgitates the Brick out of its mouth back into space.
The Brick slides out, hugging the side of the Magus, it drags itself from the bottom to the top of the ship, leaving behind a rusty path of destruction. All the spikes, that are actually ships, are crushed and destroyed by the unstoppable chunkiness of the Brick.
The Brick broke course with the Magus and flew in a straight line toward the outer ring planets of the Varan system. The Magus corrected its path and was soon in close pursuit, firing constantly on the ship in front of them. They had to maintain visual contact or they would lose the ship that didn’t appear on any sensors.
Inside the Brick, X moved the scout through the inner airlock door and parked it next to Veronica’s tank in the cargo bay. She powered down and opened the hatch.
Mox opened his eyes rising from his nap. “Fantastic piloting, darling, you never cease to amaze. And thank you so very much for not killing us on that ride through the Magus. However, where did you find this little sweetie?”
He was holding Nidi, a fuzzy fluff ball in his arms. X got up out of her seat pausing for a second to instruct Styx.
“Download all the scans I took from the Rust-a-gogo bike and add them to the picture you got using the scout’s sensors.”
“Affirmative. Scan.” Styx replied.
She turned to Mox, reached forward and pulled him out of his slump in the chair.
“Well, I’m glad you made it too. Scurrying around on the outside of the bike, while Hands and his girlfriend flame surfed on top. Total daredevils.”
She kissed Mox on the snout and pet Nidi, who responded with a not very threatening growl. Mega Therions were cute as pups. X punched me in the arm as she walked out of the ship. Mox and I followed.
The Brick cargo hold was alive with life. It had a smell that was part salt water, part tropical jungle, and part garage mechanic. The four-armed surgical unit Veronica was standing lifeless at the foot of the whale tank. The edge of the tank was lined with half a dozen silver Lutung monkeys. They were all captivated by what was inside. The Sentinel droid was standing guard. Mox walked up to him.
“Are we all set here?”
His electric red eye came to life. “Affirmative. Kleorg. Secure. Plast.”
“Ok let’s roll.”
Mox walked past the droid still carrying the pup and with the Sentinel on his tail, they all passed through the main door and headed for the elevator up to the flight deck.
X walked to the side of the tank and looked in through the glass. I moved next to her. Inside was Veronica in all her massiveness and next to her swimming around was the young white whale. He rolled and played and his eyes made contact with mine. And I tell you, he smiled at me. It melted me away. We had done a really great thing. Veronica moved with him, they both came up for air and spouted water out of their blowholes, sending the monkeys scattering in all directions. I saw Werner and Forklift’s legs swimming in the tank.
Werner came up the side of the tank and stuck his head out the top. “Ah, so glad you made it. I think we are safe in here. The little one is doing well and bonding with Veronica. His name is Henry.”
Werner smiled through his thick wet beard. There was a real sense of happiness in the room.
X elbowed me in the side really hard. “John Henry Bonham, Moby Dick! ….Bow dow na na na, now, na na Na, now na na na, na, na na Na…” She proceeded to walk toward the door playing air drums the whole way.
I looked up at Werner. “I’m not sure we are out of this yet.”
He shrugged and went back into the tank.
I touched my hand to the glass. Veronica spoke to me through my transmitter. “You did a real good job in there.”
“I was scared when you died.”
“Oh Hands, you know I didn’t die, but it looks like I’ll have no hair for a while.”
Her four-armed avatar came to life and gave me a four-armed hug. A big squeeze that seemed to make everything better. She let me go.
“We’ll be fine down here, now head up to the control room.”
It was like she knew I was torn between finding out what was going on outside and staying here with her and the little white whale. Moby Dick indeed. I turned and chased after X. I caught her as the elevator doors were opening. She was just finishing up her Zeppelin solos. We both stepped into the elevator. The door closed.
“You smell like burnt hair and pee.”
I had totally forgotten that I had been torched to a crisp. I smelled somewhere between burnt bacon and smoldering death with wolf urine on the side.
“Oh yeah. Sorry. Faye really let me have it. I’m not convinced she would have killed me, though.”
X rolled her eyes at me. “Here I am the foxiest chick this side of the Pleiades cluster, and all you suckers fall for some squid lady.”
She put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes some more. She was right though. We had all fallen under their spell. I knew I could never hurt Faye and I felt nothing but kindness and deep compassion towards her. And truthfully a great deal of attraction. I could still feel her skin on my fingertips.
“I think I got it bad, I know it is a trick, but it’s a convincing one.”
The elevator opened on the third floor and we walked through the gear room down the hall toward the control room door. X stuck her head into a side room. Dr. Death was there in the dark lying on the floor, as he was too big for the bed. He was on his back staring at the ceiling.
“You ok big guy?” X asked.
He continued to stare straight up. “They really caught us with our pants down in there. I’ve never froze up like that before. I choked.”
X walked in the room and pet him with her foot like he was a giant dog.
“Sorry you lost the boys. They were natural born killers. The best. That place was a death trap. We’re lucky we got out at all. Try and get some rest. You got the whale out, that’s what’s important.”
It was clear Dr. Death was also heavily under the spell of the Vedma. We left him there with his mind full of who knows what and walked into the Brick control room. The door slung open for us to pass through, then snapped shut behind us.
Everything seemed calm on the Brick’s flight deck. The Sentinel had moved to his place against the back wall and powered down. Blunt and the tin man were at the controls. Mox went over and slumped in his second-row seat. It was very much the same scene as the first time we came aboard. Blunt stood up, little Nidi jumped out of Mox’s lap onto the floor. She ran straight over to him and growled and sniffed around his feet. Blunt leaned down and pet her. She rubbed up against him taking an immediate liking to the big Gila monster.
“Would you like to join me at the controls?” He spoke in Varan, so I knew he was talking to me.
As I walked up Blunt ordered the tin man out. I sat down at the ship’s co-pilot station, interfaced with the ship’s array and took control. The first thing I realized was that we were not alone. I opened the blast shield and looked out the into space. I know it is old school, but I like to get a visual look. Blunt shot me a glance, then shrugged.
“Just don’t let them get a shot off at the front of us, the window is our only weakness.”
In the distance ahead I could see the outer planets of the Varan system, perfect spheres floating silently in space. I locked our course on the closest one. It was a large dull shale colored frozen rock. The Magus was following us and adjusted its course to match.
“Why aren’t they firing?” I asked.
Mox opened a sleepy eye. “I think they are following us to see where we go, probably hoping we rendezvous with a ship they can attack. They can’t do much to the Brick. We need to lose them.”
X took a seat next to Mox and Nidi jumped up between them. “Ok, boys, get us out of here.”
I gave the back seat drivers the thumbs up and focused all my attention on the task at hand. I locked the Brick into a super tight triple orbit that would take us within 300 meters of the planet’s surface. It had no real atmosphere. We moved at a speed that the Magus could hardly keep up with. The Brick flew on a perfectly straight path. We joined the planet’s rotation and dropped down close to the surface. The move executed so quickly that by the second rotation we were on the opposite side of the planet as the Magas, which was attempting to match our course, but lost ground circling the planet and avoiding such a tight orbit. On the next pass, with the Magus on the other side of the planet, we broke orbit and took the most direct route to the asteroid belt. The Magus rounded the planet and was after us again, but we had reached the belt first. We disappeared behind a large asteroid, then moved to the cover of another, then another, then another, then another. I ducked the brick into a nook near the center of a crust covered diamond asteroid. I was hoping that a less shiny one would give us some shielding and that we would blend in.
The Magus sat outside the belt. Obviously scanning for us. They sent in fighters, hundreds of them. They were systematically searching the asteroids.
“This isn’t going to work. They are going to find us eventually.” Blunt had a sneer on his lips. I think it was a smile. “Do you remember what we were doing when you found us?”
I did. I started moving through the field doing my best to avoid the areas full of Vedma fighters and made my way toward the Magus. We had to get in behind them. I positioned us just out of sight on the edge of the field. I could see the Magus thrusters.
“Yes, yes, now slip in behind them.”
I locked our course onto the path of the Magus. We moved quickly out of the asteroids and took up a position a few meters away from the thrusters of the Magus.
“They didn’t see us. Now what?”
Blunt slouched down in his seat like a true Varan. He folded his arms across his chest. “We wait until they give up searching the asteroid belt and when they head back to the comet, we drift away unnoticed.” He closed his eyes.
For a moment the ship was quiet. I thought about my breathing. I felt my chest raise and lower. My mind seemed clear. I felt tired.
A rocket slammed into the side of the Brick. Then another. And another. The Brick only shook mildly, they were not doing any damage. A fighter had spotted us sitting behind the mother ship. The Magus engines fired and they tried to shake us. I glued us to their tail.
Blunt came to life. “Plan B.”
Mox mumbled from the back seat. “Yes, yes, plan B.”
Blunt lowered the blast shield again and moved the ship forward ramming into the thruster rockets of the Magus. He dropped back a bit and rammed them again. Outside the Brick the heat and explosions were tremendous. Inside we just felt the impacts. I communicated down to the cargo hold that it would be a bumpy ride. They said they were all in the water and it would be no problem.
Blunt repeatedly hammered the ship’s engines with the Brick. The Magus was taking serious damage. It fired on us with their rear cannon. Two grappling ships locked onto us with claws and tried to pull us away. Blunt rotated the ship and smashed the grappling ship into the Magus’ central thruster. It exploded on impact. That was the last straw. The Magus set a return course to the comet. All the fighters were returning to their docking positions on the outside of the ship. A communication came from the Vedma. The incoming signal was projected on the interior glass of the control room window.
Faye’s face floated large and perfect in front of me.
“Please tell Jonas, thank you. We’ll enjoy his program. The Professor assures me that we got a very good value in the trade. It was interesting doing business with you Mr. Mox.”
Mox stood up and leaned over the back of my chair.
“The pleasure was all mine madame. A true gift it was to make such lovely acquaintances as those of you and your sisters. Good luck on your journeys.”
The control room door opened and Dr. Death walked in. He looked like a zombie.
Faye’s projected eyes met his. “This is your last chance to join us. Come to me.”
Death charged the piloting controls. He grabbed me and Blunt, one in each hand and threw us aside like rag dolls. He was amazingly strong. The tin man robot moved in to take control and Death picked him up and ripped him to pieces. Broken robot parts rained down on X and Mox as they scrambled to get out of his way. He turned his attention to the controls. He set us in motion towards the Magus. He opened the blast shield. I could see the giant spiky ship just ahead.
“Reverse that course, Mister. That’s an order.” X commanded.
He ignored her. Nidi was barking and growling and lunging back and forth at him. Mox turned to the Sentinel.
“Please remove him from the bridge.”
I had a vision of their previous rock-em sock-em robot fight, but this time Death wasn’t wearing his battle suit. It was a much smaller space, with many needed things that could get damaged. The Sentinel came forward. Death heard him coming and raised his arms as if he would smash the controls.
A vibrating blast filled the air. It sounded like amplifier feedback shoved in a garbage can, stuck on repeat. It sent chills down my spine. A green ring of energy burst around Dr. Death and he dropped like a ton of bricks. I turned and saw Mox blow on the end of his phaser pistol, which he then spun around his clawed finger and returned to his side holster, like the ridiculous space cowboy he was.
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
Faye’s face still filled the monitor. “So true indeed, Mr. Mox. Wiser words were never spoken. Goodbye.”
Her face flickered out and was replaced by several large-scale rockets launched at us from the Magus. Blunt ran over Death’s unconscious body and reversed our course. He dropped the blast shield just in time. The explosion outside the ship was enormous. We were all thrown to the floor and the Brick was sent tumbling through space. All the sensors went down. The power went down inside the ship. The only light in the room was the red glowing electric eye of the Sentinel droid.
Everything was silent. The first sound was Nidi whimpering like a scared dog. Then I head X.
“It’s ok, baby, come here.”
My vision came into focus and I made my way back to the co-pilot’s chair. Blunt was already in the pilot station. As I stepped over Dr. Death’s body on the floor. Blunt got the panel lights back on. I could see him working the controls in the dark. A computer terminal interface on the side wall lit up and Mox was working there. I slid into my seat. My interlink with the ship’s computer was down. I activated the manual controls. There was another huge crash, that threw me again to the floor. This time the power stayed on.
“Do they have us or did we hit something?” Mox was frantically working the controls.
It felt like we were adrift, but if we were that meant the Magus could easily capture us. The room lights all came back on. Death was a huge mass on the floor. The Sentinel moved forward and grabbed him and proceeded to drag him out of the room. X followed him with Nidi on her tail. Mox got all the power back online.
“Looks like we have to restart the ship. That rocket must have had some kind of electromagnetic pulse. Hands, try to connect to the computer again. I think we’re floating in the asteroid belt.”
I was eventually able to re-establish my neural connection to the Brick’s computer system. We were in the asteroid belt, just another floating chunk of metal. The Magus had fired several large yield nuclear warheads at us. There was a significant amount of radiation outside of the ship. It didn’t appear any had penetrated the hull.
The Brick once again lived up to her name. The Magus may have thought we were destroyed. They were long gone with no signs of coming back. They were heading off to rejoin the Morning Star comet. Several Varan ships were approaching from the direction of their homeworld.
Mox got the navigation back. Blunt took us along the edge of the asteroid belt to one of the lifeless planets in the outer edge of the Varan system. It had water under ice near its poles. Blunt crashed the ship through the surface ice and submerged us. Was it that simple to wash off radiation?
“We’ll stay here for a couple of hours and stimulate a new rust layer. It should take down the radiation levels outside.”
Zandar Vandar Blunt impressed me more and more all the time.
I contacted Veronica and she said all was well below in the cargo hold. I asked to have Styx join us in the control room. The tin man was no more, smashed beyond all repair. Dr. Death certainly had a way of destroying things. I walked over to Mox who was still rebooting systems.
“Why didn’t you use that blaster of your’s on all those wolves that were chasing us?”
Mox flicked his tongue in and out at me, with a big lizardy smile. “My good fellow, don’t you know by now that the Varan don’t believe in animal cruelty. How would we trade with the Vedma in the future if I went around stunning them all?”
I thought about this for a moment. “…in the future, what? Animal cruelty? Wait a minute, you eat monkeys.”
Both Mox and Blunt laughed at this.
“My good, good man, it’s population control. There is only so much room in our hold.”
They both laughed again, that giggly Varan laugh, as contagious as ever. Styx came in the room. He took the co-pilot seat next to Blunt and took charge of the ship. Mox said he was going to check on his lab. I followed him out of the room. X was in the room off the hall. Death was sleeping it off on the floor again. We’d need to keep an eye on him.
I ended up going down to the cargo bay. Veronica, baby Henry, Werner, and Forklift were all fine. Rescuing Henry from the Vedma had broken the spell’s hold on Werner and Forklift. They were both under a different kind of spell, that of a four-ton baby white whale. He was an impressive animal. I understood why there were captivated by his swimming in the tank with Veronica.
They couldn’t wait to get him into bigger waters. They used this time to remove the Vedma technology that had been attached to him. He had several bloody spots were they removed cabling and wires. It wasn’t clear what the Vedma were doing to him.