The Penultimate Return

Echo-1: Part 44

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Blunt turned us around again and since this time the gloves were really off, he reached top speed before punching a hole right through the middle of the top section of the Magus. He swung wide, coming back for another pass and sent it flying out of control into the depths of space. The three fighters went chasing after it. There wasn’t going to be much left to save. It twirled away, a smoldering spiraling wreck.

We pulled up alongside the bottom portion of the Magus. It resembled a floating junkyard. The Veltearrik acid was eating away the center of the ship and it was beginning to collapse on itself.

“We can’t go back the same way as before. You know, Hands and I can easily handle this job.” Mox looked at X and the two wolves, now back in their shiny black metal spacesuits.

X replied for them all. “We’re going with you.”

They were going with us.

We got in the airlock and boarded the Magus for the penultimate time through a gaping hole in its side. We pushed X along in her Diamond-a-gogo. Trag got to the first blast door and opened it. We went inside and he closed it behind us. There was still a good twenty to thirty decks with atmosphere and power. The Sentinel scanned for life forms and reported back 10 Vedma, 27 Mega Therion and 359 functioning robots.

We went through several decks and saw nothing but repair droids. They all got a small taste from our acid guns. A quick trigger pull was enough to melt them into a lump of metallic muck that eventually sunk into the floor. We went through another set of blast doors and found a section that had atmosphere.

“I have an idea.”

I opened my suit and from within I used the Vedma wand and set the virus on their ship into the dormant state. It worked all the power seemed to go off and the communication jam ended.

Blunt came through loud and clear.

“We have communications restored. I’ve retransmitted the settings necessary for the Banga to scan for Vedma, but it seems they have lost control of their shipboard sensors. The Vedma ship was far more functional then we had thought. Also, there’s a tank and a pack of wolves heading your way.”

I got back in my suit. It wasn’t two minutes time until the power came back and the communications jam returned.

“We’re three decks from the back entrance to the secondary nursery unit for older pups. I’m going down there to see if I can save any more.” X pulled ahead.

Mox attempted to suggest that we all stay together, but she wasn’t hearing it.

“Good luck my dear.” Mox waved a rusty robotic arm.

She shot us a wink and a smile and sped off down a side hallway. Nidi and Trag stayed with us and we moved on in the direction of the oncoming tank. When it came around the corner it blasted me with an electric charge that knocked me over in my suit. Mox had sidestepped the blast and fired his acid gun at the tank. The turret and front half of the vehicle melted like wax. Then it exploded.

Four wolves in battle armor tackled Mox in his suit and were trying to pry him out of it. Nidi called out to them in their language. They growled back at her, to which she answered and then they were all sent into a rage. They all fired on her and Trag. Nidi was down before I was up again.

I sprayed a few of the wolves with my acid gun and instantly regretted it. It melted through their armor in seconds and reduced their flesh and bones to liquid. Their howls and screams were terrible. Death came slowly and it was horrible to witness. The Sentinel pulled the remaining wolves off Mox and dispatched them to Vedma heaven with extreme haste. The room was silent again.

Trag helped Nidi up. Both of their suits were smoldering from blaster hits. I ran over to them.

“Are you ok?”

I could see her eyes through her helmet and I knew she was hurt. She had taken several phaser blasts to the midsection.

“I’m ok. It just knocked me over.” She stood up and groaned. “Ohh, you know, I might have a couple broken ribs.” She was clearly having trouble breathing.

“We need to get her back to the Brick.” I let Nidi lean on me for support.

“I’ll be ok. Let’s make it to the lab.” She stood up straight.

We moved onto the next section and Mox hosed the deck below us.

“It’s a one way trip from now on.”

We reached the deck behind Mildabbar’s lab and left a trail of destruction in our path. The Sentinel told us eight of the Vedma and ten Mega Therion were in the lab complex. The main door wouldn’t open. Trag’s access had been removed. Mox asked the Professor how to get in. He made no comment. I tried the wand and it didn’t work. Mox made a controlled blast along the top edge of the door. The acid melted through it like crazy.

“Trag.” Mox pointed toward the door.

Trag fired into the center of it with his rust-blade rifle and the large metal door feel in. We immediately started to take fire. I stood my ground. The shots slammed into my suit but did no damage. Trag and Nidi took cover behind me and Mox charged into the room. He jumped over the melting door and tucking into a ball, rolled into the row of wolves all firing at him. The Sentinel went in after him, electric lightning axes a blaze.

The lab interior lost power. Red electric flashes lit up the darkness. Howls of death followed. No one was shooting at us anymore.

I turned to Nidi. “Stay behind me and watch where you step. The acid will kill you.”

She nodded and lit up her oversized samurai sword. I used my jetpack to fly into the room. I then used the wand to turn the lights back on. One second all I saw was red lightning flashes, the next I saw a house of horror. All the wolves lay slashed to pieces on the ground. There were five piles of tentacles that were once Vedma as well. Mox was at a computer terminal in the center of the large lab. There were many side rooms.

“Where are the other three?” I asked.

The Sentinel was facing the back part of the lab, which broke off into a series of hallways and rooms.

“They’re back there somewhere. Give me a minute. There’s our virtual environment simulator.”

Mox waved in the direction of the machinery that we had traded the Vedma three years ago and set this whole experience into motion. I walked over to the device. It was still functional and didn’t seem to be infected with their virus. I pointed this out to Mox. Which gave him a great idea.

I pulled the 100 Year Life Span computer system over to the main lab station. Then I put the lab station in the dormant state. Mox connected the virtual reality machine to it and restarted the lab computer. It booted up in a strange language. The same look as the virus, but without the glow. I tried to shut it down with the wand and it didn’t work.

“It must be the base language that the virus is written on.”

Mox broke a storage unit off the virtual environment machine and connected it directly.

“I’ll download as much as I can. We can try to make sense of it later.”

I walked over to the Sentinel. “Let’s go into the back rooms.”

“Negative.”

I looked at him. Then I looked at Mox.

“He isn’t going to leave me. Go ahead, we’ll be right here.”

I went down the right hallway alone. I activated my wrist gauntlet sensor array. There was one down there somewhere. I moved through a series of rooms used for robot repair and construction. There were various battle robots in various states with parts all over the place. I picked up one of their blasters. It was infected with the virus, but I could operate it via the wand. I fired into a half-constructed battle robot. The explosion rang down the hall.

“I’m ok!”

Mox was completely engrossed in the Vedma computer system.

“Good, good, my fine fellow. Let us know what you find back there. Watch out for Faye.”

Just mentioning her name sent shivers down my spine. I tossed aside the blaster and walked into the back room. It was much bigger than the others. The lights were dim and in the center of the room was a huge glass tank. The water was murky, but I could make out a whale inside the tank. It was a female sperm whale. She seemed to be dead. She was connected to tubes and electrodes and wired into a machine next to the tank. A good size chunk of skin and blubber had been removed from her head. It was all some kind of failed experiment by the look of things. It made me very sad. I was glad no one else was there to see it.

I looked at the computer connected to her. It gave no life sign readout. She was definitely dead. Yet the machinery was still active. I got closer, reached forward and put my hand on the glass with a tap. Her huge eye opened, black and bloodshot. Her tail moved up and down and then was still. The water settled in the tank. I looked into her eye and tried to communicate with her. She wasn’t responsive and it didn’t appear she could see me, nor did it seem that she had any awareness of her surroundings. I scanned the room again. She didn’t read as being alive. But Faye did. She walked ever so slowly from the other side of the tank.

“She’s not alive, technically. We’re experimenting with her brain. It makes a great computer when you strip away her personality and willpower. Its functionality increases exponentially when it doesn’t have to worry about maintaining that big worthless body anymore.”

I tried to grasp what they were doing. Using this whale’s brain as a kind of zombie processing unit. A biocomputer contained in the shell of a dead whale. It felt really wrong to me, plus the whole situation really creeped me out. Faye sidled up to me. She seemed small and helpless compared to me in my bulky rusty combat suit.

“Could I have my wand back please?” She held out her perfect long slender fingers.

I opened the front of my suit. “I’ve killed you once, you know?”

She smiled at me. “You won’t do it again.”

She stepped back and I stepped down, out the suit. We stood face to face looking into each other’s eyes. Her’s swirled with a deep purple delight. I was completely hypnotized.

“Will you return my wand now?”

I held it out for her to take. Her head exploded right in front of me, the sound of the shot scared me back to reality. Black goo splattered all over the side of the tank and all over me. I screamed and tried to wipe the slimy blood out of my eyes. Her body collapsed to the floor, a pile of squirming tentacles. Trag stepped forward.

“She no she-wolf.”

He was learning English fast. He shot her again and again until the tentacles stopped moving. I slid the Vedma Wand back in my boot.

“No Trag, she’s not a she-wolf. She’s not a human either.”

I knew I wasn’t a human, but when I saw Faye, she was and it made me feel like I was too. Now I had lost her three times. It hurt just as much the third time. I climbed back into my rust suit covered in her salty fish smelling blood.

“I’m going to put an end to this whale Frankenstein experiment.”

I went over to the computer system next to the tank and blasted it with my acid gun. It sparked and melted. The whale breached in the tank. Water flew everywhere and there was an incredibly loud series of piercing clicks that sent Trag to the ground howling in pain. Then the whale rolled in the tank and floated belly up, motionless, bobbing less and less as the water calmed.

After that, I heard everyone. Veronica was ordering Vronsky into the water. Uzi was holding a defensive position around the whale medical bay. X was heading back toward our position. And Mox was yelling like I had never heard him yell before.

“What did you do!?!”

Trag and I headed back to the central lab room. Mox was frantically working the computer interface.

“It looks like the entire virus collapsed. Along with almost all the remaining power on the ship. This station is dead. What’d you find back there?”

He could tell by my silence that it was Faye.

“We need to check the other side.”

A phaser blast came through the main lab door and hit Trag square in the back of the head, knocking him to the ground. The Sentinel whipped around, raised its axes and charged out. The sound of howling wolves sent Nidi running after him. A moment later they were both back.

“Mox, this robot of your’s is a rr-real maniac,” Nidi growled.

Mox walked toward the left hallway. “Ok, Ok. I’ll put him in defensive mode.”

I helped Trag up, he seemed ok, but he was shaken from being shot so many times. His suit certainly looked messed up. We all walked down the left hallway. There were a series of large computer bays and in the back a second large room. Just like the other side it had a huge glass tank in the center.

“What is this?” Mox went over to the computer next to the tank. Then he connected the storage unit he had in his hand. “Secure the area.”

The Sentinel’s axes lit up and he raced around to the other side of the tank. Faye came running out of nowhere from the opposite side.

“Call off your robot! I’m willing to talk.”

Mox raised a finger and shook his head. Then he waved his finger in a disapproving tisk-tisk manor. The Sentinel came up behind Faye and spit her in two. It then proceeded to finely chop up the two piles of tentacles that fell to the ground.

Mox looked at me. “I can only imagine how hard it was for you to kill her on your own. You’re real tough. She truly does look like the princess from stories my grandmother told me when I was a child. It’s like killing the memories of my grandmother.”

Faye had got to him too. She was a golden lizard princess in his eyes. He turned his attention back to the computer.

“They’re running everything through this whale.”

I walked up to him. “There was another one in the other room.”

Mox looked up. “You destroyed it?”

I took out my acid blaster. “She was already dead.”

Mox waved for me to lower my gun. “One more moment.”

I ignored him. “Mox this is wrong and you know it.”

He ignored me.

“Mox….Mox….Step away.”

He pulled the storage device out of the computer interface and I blasted it with acid. This time the whale didn’t move, but the power went out ship wide.

“I think you just ended the Vedma’s 60,000-year reign of terror.”

The only light in the room was the red electric glow of the Sentinel’s lightning ball eye, his two axes, and Nidi’s sword. Mox and I activated our headlights and we all left the lab spraying the whole place with acid as we went. When we got back to the hall there were five dead wolves and the tentacle remains of a Vedma laying on the floor. We walked past and gave them the same acid burial we were giving the rest of the ship. All the lab’s computers were melting and falling through the deck plates when we left. We could hear the ship crushing in on itself behind us.

We ran through two more decks dousing everything as we went. The ship was being eaten away. There were bursts and explosions and most nearly all the atmosphere was gone. Up five more decks, we came to a set of blast doors. We opened them and X was on the other side. There were four yearling wolves in the sidecar standing up and holding on. Looking through the Diamond-a-gogo it looked like she was wearing a big chinchilla fur coat. She was literally covered in silver and white baby wolves on the inside the bike.

“There’s an airlock down the hall we can use to exit.”

She raced off in that direction. We followed after her and radioed our position to Blunt for pick up. Mox’s acid gun ran out, so I brought up the rear spraying the ship as we went. We got to the airlock. Trag opened the inner door and we all went inside. Nidi climbed onto the back of the sidecar with the yearlings. She growled something to them that seemed to be, “hold on.” They all grabbed tightly.

The Brick was moving into position outside. Trag closed the inner door and pressurized the room. There was a rush of air and a large cracking sound. The outer door failed, cracked, and blew open completely. We all got sucked into space. We floated for a brief moment. I grabbed the bottom of the Diamond-a-gogo. Nidi had grabbed hold of all the yearlings. The Brick was right there. Its outer bay door opened and Mox and I pushed the diamond bike in. The Sentinel followed us, pulling Trag behind him. The Brick door closed and the chamber pressurized. Trag fell to the floor and blood spattered everywhere.

“Scan for Vedma lifeforms.”

Nidi was screaming to open the door. The Sentinel didn’t respond. I released the hatch and the inner Brick door opened into the cargo bay. I took several steps into the bay, opened my suit and jumped out. Nidi was on her knees next to the Diamond-a-gogo. She undid her space helmet and pulled it off her head. Her big white fluffy ears popped out and her big gray eyes were filled with tears. In her lap were the four yearling wolf pups, all dead.

“I tried to tell them to hold their breath. They were so scared.”

She was reached across the bodies and pulled Trag toward her and attempted to remove his helmet. I helped Nidi get Trag’s helmet off. His suit was punctured the exposure to space sucked his blood out through his wounds. There was no way of knowing how much blood he had lost. He wasn’t breathing when we took off his helmet. Nidi pulled him close to her chest. He was dead too. I put my hand on the shoulder of my three-meter tall wolf friend with a heart of gold.

“Oh, Nidi, I’m so god damned sorry.”

She whimpered and cried, trying to hold onto Trag and all the dead pups at the same time.

X drove into the storage hanger and climbed out of the bike. She had three more yearling wolves inside it with her. They were all female and they were all very upset. Mox parked his suit next to mine and opened the front. X waved the three girl yearlings into the sidecar. Naked and barefoot, she was actually a little shorter than them. I had no idea how she managed to fit them all inside the bike and still drive it.

“Nidi, my sweet girl, whatever shall we do.” X walked toward me and Nidi.

Nidi’s hair stood up on the back of her neck. I could sense she was agitated. She narrowed her eyes at X. X stopped walking. She stood there looking at us, covered in tattoos, her long green mohawk flopping over to one side. She put her hands on her hips.

“What?”

Nidi growled. I heard the Sentinel’s axes activate, but I couldn’t put two and two together. Mox’s rusty bodyguard rushed past us raising both axes over its head. X jumped to the side, arms reaching out in front of her. The axes came down with incredible speed and force, chopping her into three equal sized chunks.

My hand tightened on Nidi’s shoulder. She pulled off her glove and her paw reached up and touched my arm. I saw Mox standing there on the other side of the Sentinel with his mouth hanging open. It’s hard to explain the look of fight and flight on a lizard’s face. The Sentinel powered down his axes and returned them to his back.

“Klagstorme. All. Clear.”

On the floor, the three chunks of Lieutenant Cindy X flashed for a moment then turned into slimy purple Vedma cuttlefish parts. Mox’s head hung down low. When he spoke, it was in Varan.

“My sweetest love, how can the universe ever replace you. I’ve traveled the stars for a thousand years to find you and now you are gone.”

A single tear ran down the end of his snout and dripping off, fell to the floor. X was most certainly dead. I interfaced with the Bricks sensors and scanned the Magus for her. The remains of the ship were eating itself. All the power was down, there was no life support left, even the robots had ceased to function. There was no sign of life aboard, not of any kind.

A moment later Mox lifted his head up. “We have to focus on the living. And we aren’t out of this yet.”

We left Trag and the dead yearlings in the airlock and stepped back. Mox picked up the Vedma pieces off the cargo bay floor and put them with the other bodies. He picked up Trag’s rust-blade rifle and closed the inner door. Nidi and Mox both said goodbye in Varan at the same time. Nidi was down on all fours and pressed her body in the space between me and Mox. We all looked into the airlock and Mox opened the outer hatch. The bodies were sucked into space.

The three yearling she-wolves were whimpering behind us. They were confused and scared and didn’t speak our language. I think it was their need for attention that allowed Nidi to focus her’s. She turned to them and herded them toward the elevator. Mox and I silently worked together. We placed two portable rocket launchers inside the airlock and armed four Varan diamond rockets. We opened the outer door. Blunt had moved us off some distance from the remains of the Magus. We fired the rockets. They flew on a perfect trajectory to the center mass of what remained of the Magus and with a terrific explosion reduced it to a debris field. We closed down the airlock.

The Sentinel scanned the ship’s interior again for Vedma and with the all clear we went up to the flight deck. When we walked through the doors to the control room. Blunt was waiting for us. Styx was piloting the ship and we were coming up on the Banga. Blunt and Mox put their palms on each other’s chest and in a moment of silence arched their necks forward and touched the tops of their heads together. Then Blunt looked over to me.

“My humble condolences, my friend.”

As I walked up to him he put his stumpy Gila monster arms around me and gave me a hug. It totally helped. He truly had a way with others.

We all took our places. Blunt in the pilot seat, me next to him, with Mox and Styx at computer terminals behind us. We had communications with the Banga. They had made it to the whale medical bay and were preparing for surgery on Vronsky. They got back control of the ship’s sensors and Uzi was moving on the known positions of Vedma still on board. There were ten left. Seven near the starboard hangar bay and two in the frozen sea. Uzi had no choice, but to send Death after the two. He went with Taegu and Macrai after the others. We re-confirmed that Charlie should not open his section for any reason at that point.

We were back at the Banga in moments. She came up before us putting a horizon line in space. We flew along her side and moved toward the starboard hangar. Three Banga fighters and a transport ship flew out. The diamond scout was right behind them and firing. Scanning the ships revealed that all seven of the Vedma were aboard. Rockets from the Diamond scout slammed into the transport ship. Destroying the back section of it. The transport spun wide out of control and took a slow curving arch until it slammed into the side of the Banga and exploded on impact. Four Vedma life forms went off our sensor readout.

Taegu’s image appeared before us. “We’ll take these last three and then go after what’s left of the Magus.”

Uzi’s face came on the screen. His scar and spiky haircut somehow looked even more menacing in hologram form.

“We’re going to finish the job. You guys should look in on Sergeant Death.”

The diamond scout raced off after the three fighters. Blunt looked back raising a thick black eyebrow and Mox nodded in his direction.

“It’s not going down that way.”

The Brick accelerated like a meteor. Blasting past the scout, it collided with one of the fighters destroying it on contact. The other two split off. The scout went after one and the Brick swung wide and fixed its attention on the other. They zigzagged and avoided us briefly, but Blunt was fast on the controls and a small contact with a rusty corner of the Brick was enough to rip the wing right off a fighter. It spun and sparked and flamed and exploded.

There was only one Vedma life form left in the area. The scout ship was on it. They fired another missile. The fighter gave their thrusters full power and went into a barrel roll. The missile tracked them and connected. When the third flash of light dwindled out, the area around the Banga was Vedma free.

{ Part 1 ~ Part 45 }

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Sci-fi short stories to inspire your inner rocket building, planet-hopping, astrophysicist space pirate. 🚀

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