The Woad and the Stowaway
Echo-1: Part 48
Jonas sent me to thank the Chieftains of Woad. Mox, of course, wanted to go with me again. I took the Rust-a-gogo and Mox drove X’s diamond bike. Nidi came along in the sidecar.
We arrived at the scene of the last battle aboard the Banga. Robot crews were moving off bodies and loading them onto a flatbed transport. The entire roadway up to the reinforced central computer room was littered with busted robots and the dead. I saw Punchy’s body on the flatbed when we drove past.
They removed the bodies first as the smell was starting to be something awful. The second phase of the cleanup would be the slightly more dangerous removal of Vedma technology. There were downed Vedma fighters scattered throughout the Banga and thousands of battle robots as well as several tanks to contend with. There was a worry that they could infect the ship if any were still active.
The Warriors of Woad had been methodical when it came to destroying the robot army near the computer center and made a point of smashing them all into crumpled parts with not the slightest remaining hint of functionality. This was evident by the path of total destruction in the area.
When we pulled up to the rust door the Woad were all sitting in a large circle in front of the entrance. We parked our bikes next to them and addressed the leader of the group. They survived the battle with minor injuries, to which they wanted no medical attention.
“Great Chieftain of Woad.” They did respond better to formal communications. “I want to convey the thanks of Jonas, the crew, and all the passengers of the Banga. Without your help, we’d have never been able to defend the ship. You turned the battle in our favor and saved us all from oblivion.”
The great stone-faced chief simply nodded.
Nidi stepped forward. “My people are not your enemy. The Mega Therion that have come aboard wish to be part of the society you form on the new worlds.”
The chief seemed to consider this idea. He turned his head sideways, indicating he was thinking. Nidi did the same in a mimicking dog kind of way.
The great chief spoke in his deep thunderous voice. “In their second year of life, we will teach your young the history of the Woad. We will set them on the path of the warrior.”
Nidi thanked them profusely and assured them each and every Mega Therion pup would come to them for lessons.
The Woad all stood up at once. They had this scary way of going from complete motionlessness to fast action that always startled me.
“Call if you need us again.”
They all turned in unison and walked single file back in the direction of their storage unit near the ship’s core. This time Mox didn’t bother to say anything to them. He just watched silently until they were gone. We stood in front of that big rusty door and watched the quartz covered giants walk out of our line of site.
“You handled them well. You’re a compassionate diplomat.” Mox slapped Nidi on the arm. She smiled her big toothy grin at him. She was so much bigger than the thin lizard man.
A tiny door, before unseen, opened at the base of the rust door a few centimeters off the floor. Charlie walked out and the little door closed behind him.
“So here is what I suggest….”
He told us Jonas had updated him on all events and proceeded to lay out a plan that involved leaving the Ursa Minor gnome colony in place, secured behind the rust walls until the last of the Vedma material had been removed from the ship completely.
Mox agreed with this plan.
Then Charlie asked us to take him to his shop. He would design and construct new vehicles for the Mega Therion on board. He wanted to know what was going to happen with the diamond suit he had built for Sergeant Death. If no one was going to inherit it, he wondered if the colony could alter it and use it. Mox had no issue with the idea. Jonas didn’t either. We made arrangements for it to be delivered.
We drove Charlie to his workshop and he outfitted several robots with scanners and sent them off throughout the ship to search for any hidden Vedma technology or possible stowaways. He sent out ten vehicles programmed to cover everything inch of the ship.
Four days later we found her.
We never found the body of the passenger she ejected from the cryo-tube. We assumed it must have been eaten by wolves. But there, sleeping peacefully, was Baba in all her beauty, silently hidden, one among billions of passengers. In her hand, she was holding a Vedma virus control wand. A single deadly Vedma with the power to take back control of the entire ship.
We suited up in the Rust-combat suits to move in on her position. Mox wanted to keep her. Jonas argued that she was too dangerous to wake up. We had no idea why she hid among the passengers.
Were the Vedma going to try a second offensive?
We flooded her cryo unit with knockout gas, waited a bit, and Uzi opened it up. She didn’t move, even when he took the flashlight wand out of her hand. Uzi closed the unit and locked it from the outside. Then the debate started.
Uzi wanted to eject her into space. Mox wanted to study her and wake her up. Jonas wanted her off the ship. Her Vedma virus control wand was sent to the science lab. I explained to Veronica how it worked. It was functioning and could infect any computer system. Jonas authorized a controlled study of the device and tasked Charlie with constructing a safe place to run the experiments. Mox pressed more for questioning her but was overruled. The Vedma had proved themselves uncooperative over and over again.
In the end, we found the most repairable Vedma fighter and rebuilt it. Fueled it for a long-range flight and pointed it at the Morning Star comet. Charlie reprogrammed two Vedma battle robots that were in relatively good shape. Their mission parameters were to pilot the small craft to the comet and be backups to each other, taking turns recharging off the ship’s power core. Under no circumstances where they to open the cryo-tube packed behind their seats. In the event of anyone other than the Vedma attempting to take control of the ship, they would self-destruct the fighter.
Vronsky protested this plan when he found out about it. He was of the opinion that she be terminated immediately. Uzi seconded this notion.
Young Henry even chimed in. “They would have no such regard for us if we were their captives.” And he knew first hand, this was true.
We sent her on her way. Jonas recorded a message of peace to the Vedma. He told them that he was returning there lost crew member and hoped they would not experiment with whales in the future. Everyone was outraged. But I think Jonas had shouldered all the fault of our recent attack, by instigating the Vedma. He wanted to do the right thing.
The rest of the crew were eventually vindicated. It turned out that on their way back to meet us Taegu and Macrai came across the fighter and destroyed it. The Vedma weren’t coming back and had ignored other ships en route and kept to a course back to their comet. Hopefully, they would stay there.
Months passed by. The ship was put back to normal working order. All the remnants of the invading Vedma were removed, melted down, and recycled. Mox never told anyone he had a Vedma body stashed in his lab on the Brick and I kept his secret.
A hundred new Zero-G units were created. 50 grunts and 50 pilots. They were all given the basic soldier protocol personalities. I found them all to be very boring and terrible conversationalist. They mostly followed orders. Uzi loved them.
I asked Jonas why he hadn’t uploaded anyone else from the simulation and he told me he’d secretly hoped someone would download themselves like I did. But alas there were no new happy accidents.
He did plan on sending Vronsky back into the simulation to look for a replacement for X. When he was feeling up to the task. Vronsky was released from the medical bay, but instead of taking up his old post he was put out to stud. He would bond with several of the females on board and produce a new pod of his own. I couldn’t help but think the old boy scout’s dreams had finally come true.
Henry was promoted to first mate and took on Vronsky’s co-pilot duties. He was all too glad to be a part of the crew and shadowed Jonas everywhere. Jonas treated him like a son.
Tim, Sunshine, and Werner went back to their old jobs as the caretakers of the whale population and spent most of their time out on the Sea of Tranquility. Charlie did advance Tim’s optic visor somewhat, but he never lost his desire to be part bug again. We resumed our regular head nodding pleasantries whenever we came across each other.
Dixon restarted her mammoth cloning project. She went everywhere with the two wolves Certain Wisdom. They slept in her lab when she worked and they lived with her in her submarine ship on the frozen sea.
Our relationship ended after the Vedma invasion. I visited her in her lab once and asked her why.
“You’re a wonderful man. You remind me of my husband, you know. He was an adventuring type too. Our affair was wonderful and you were good to me, but I just want to live for my work in this life. I have so much I am trying to accomplish.” She looked over to the two giant wolves curled up on the floor in the corner of her lab. “You know, maybe I needed a pet or two. And you are no pet, Hands. You’re a man of purpose. You need to go to Earth, I think. You talked about it so many times. You make me miss it just seeing you. While I know I was never really there, I feel like I was. That was my past life and it will never come back. I’ll always care about you and I want to be friends. Forever.”
She took my hands and nuzzled into me. “Your destiny is bigger than this ship. And that’s pretty big.” She let go of me and returned to her workbench. “If I thought, for one second, that you would go with me to the new world, I’d marry you. But that isn’t who you are. You have no plans on settling down on an icy ocean planet with an old lady who just wants to be with her whales.”
She smiled. “And now, thanks to you, with the Certain Wisdom of the safety of her two wolves.”
It was true, I couldn’t see myself pioneering a new planet, but it was still a little sad. I left Dixon to her genetic engineering.