The Miserable Planet 4: Plug Me In by Jacob Lindaman
This book or the parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form stored in retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise – without prior written permission of the author except as provided by United States of America copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarities to actual people, organizations, and/or events are purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Jacob Lindaman
All rights reserved
THE MISERABLE PLANET
PLUG ME IN
“This is how it’s going to be,” Cassidy said from behind the desk in his home office. He leaned back on his chair until Tuck thought he was about to fall through the glass wall behind him. He proved gracious in his hospitality, unknowingly, but still he listened to their request. Firmly situated he said, “I will inform an associate of mine. A one General Cavalcade. Head of the Department of the Battery. He’ll be able to respond appropriately to your plea. It sounds horrendous. Believe me; an entire nation unknown to the world on the brink of extinction from not only their quarrelsome neighbors, but to Martians. Just incredible.”
“We’re not Martians,” Avers said.
“Not in the sense you’re thinking,” the Cassidy replied. Tuck sat next to her. He had never thought of himself as a Martian. He had lived there his whole life. At least that is what his scattered memories told him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t human anymore.
“We are from Mars, but before that, hundreds of years ago after the volcano eruption, there was a mass exodus from Earth. Civilization failed. Earth failed. Those who didn’t abandon the Earth were likely to die.”
“And many did. I just find it odd that you’ve returned. That’s all.” Cassidy was amused.
The moisture from Tuck’s fingers dissipated as he moved it along the chrome armrest. He looked to Avers, “Reminds me of home.”
Her normally dour eyes went soft and she too looked at the shiny chair.
“Well then, if you agree I’ll have someone escort you directly to the general in Ospita. Whatever aid we can provide you will best be given from his arm I’m certain. ”
Attempting to be gracious guests they picked up after themselves. They moved the furniture back, cleaned up their trash which they made plenty of and folded the used blankets. The maid would be proud of their consideration.
As Tuck stuffed his last blanket into the hallway closet the professor handed his over.
“What do you think of all this?” Tuck asked.
“First of all this hallway is too cramped. How can anyone maneuver around here?” He sucked in his belly careful not to knock over a delicate ceramic figurine setting on a little table. “There are a great many wonders in this place. Nothing runs on steam. Oh, that is quite quite interesting. I cannot wrap my mind around such a splendid idea. I have been wondering if there is some way I might improve upon my Brunhilda. If I could replace her steam powered heart with…a…with one that they use here. I’m not sure what form of energy they use, but I would love to poke around a little.”
“Good to see you haven’t forgotten good ole Brunhilda.”
“Oh, no. I could never forget such a woman.”
“Neither could I.”
“Neither could I,” Avers said coming up behind the professor with a stack of blankets.
“Pardon me young miss,” the professor said. “Allow me to get out of your way.”
As they shuffled around each other they collided. The professor dropped to the ground, a colorful barrage of towels rained from above and avoiding a crash with the figurine Avers fell clumsily into Tuck’s catch.
“Are you OK?” Tuck asked.
“What is that?” she patted his chest.
“Shoot. I forgot to deliver this.”
“What is it?”
“Do you think Cassidy is still here?” He looked down the hallway. “It hasn’t been that long has it?” He took off looking for Cassidy.
“Argh! That man. Just tell me what it is!”
He heard her yell, but kept on. Cassidy was no longer in his office, so, he looked for a place to leave it.
“What is that?” Avers entered the room.
“A message from fish lady to Earth guy.” He held up the sealed envelope for her to see.
“No, I mean outside.”
Tuck set the envelope on Cassidy’s desk then turned to look out the window. Just on the outskirt of town someone shot fireworks. Tuck could not hear them, but he could see them now that he was looking.
“Who shoots fireworks during the day?” Avers asked.
“Or in the morning?”
“Do you think it’s a holiday for them? I wonder if that is why Cassidy was away.”
“Holidays are stupid.” Tuck started towards the door. “I think everyone else is just about ready.”
Staring at the distant celebration Avers quietly said, “I’ll be there in a minute.”
The escort arrived taking care to ensure that all six people fit comfortably into his carriage. It did not hover as the ones on Mars did. This plus the absence of any evidence of flight made Tuck think these people had not yet discovered, or rather rediscovered the means to produce lift. Rather than fly or meander through the streets until they reached the highway the escort led them down to a tunnel that ended on a long platform. There they waited for not a subway train, but for a current of water to bring them empty glass capsules. A series of chains moved through the river to deliver and carry of the capsules. The professor was most impressed. He stroked his beard hastily watching the capsules arrive. One by one they fit into their own little tube until finally, Tuck was the last one left.
Inside was packed with soft linens and padding, but smelled horribly of urine and sweat. The blunders of public transportation must be universal. But soon enough his olfaction was overtaken by the visual orchestra before him. Slowly, his little glass tube rotated as it was pulled out from under the ground and into the sea. Not far above him the sunlight beamed along the surface of the water highlighting colorful coral and radiant fish. Manmade creations sat anchored into the ground along the side of the path. They were bright and dotted with catchy slogans like, ‘Eat more meat, less feet,’ an ad to promote some sort of new meat product. Tuck wondered if feet were the preferred source of protein. The next sign read, ‘First in flight, second in history.’ So they did know how to fly. And they remember a little something too about their history.
The chain clinked on. More fish. More colors. The tubes descended into the darkness of a little hole up ahead in the side of the rocky coast. Someone on the shore dumped gravel into the sea. Tuck watched as the dust trickled down through the water until he too disappeared into the rock.
He was released from his vessel after he came to a stop. The whole trip did not take more than thirty minutes.
Pepla grabbed his arm, “Let’s go again. Wasn’t that fun!”
For a moment he thought it was a good idea, but as she led him back to a capsule his senses returned.
“We’re here for another purpose Pepla. C’mon, let’s go.”
“Come on little girl,” Avers snapped. “Did you forget why you’re here?”
“I just wanted to go on another ride. What’s the harm in that?”
Avers grabbed her wrist and took her aside speaking to her quietly, but with great animation. Tuck watched as she shook her finger in Pepla’s face.
“Are you ready sir?” the escort asked. “The general is not far from the station entrance once we are street side.”
Another city. More buildings. These, however, were made of steel and concrete instead of the slender glass spires of Talion. A new escort relieved the first of his duties. This one was armed and, in fact, soon turned into a team of guards who facilitated their walk through the enormous complex.
They waited patiently in a conference room.
It wasn’t long before the doors burst open. A large man entered, accompanied by more guards, with arms raised speaking loudly, “Friends, get out of there,” he waved them towards the direction he had just come, “this is no place to entertain.”
They moved from the pale gray room into another that was decorated exquisitely. The walls were painted burgundy. Where they were not painted there was glass and there were images on the glass. Some were screens with moving icons that the man manipulated by touching them. The furniture was plush; no chrome or metal. While guards stood in attention there were fewer than before. On one of the couches sat a man sipping a drink watching them.
“Come in! Come in! I am General Cavalcade. Cassidy said that he sent you to me with important information.” He looked to the man on the couch. “But first, before we get to business, sit, sit, have a drink. Are any of you hungry?” He pulled out of his pocket a hand sized controller and fiddled with it. “Munix!” he yelled. A moment later a woman appeared in the doorway. Oversized headphones wrapped around her head. She was dressed in a red kimono with a tray of drinks in one hand and a stack of papers in the other.
“Would you like me to leave general?” the man on the couch asked.
“No, Trane, I would like for you to stay and listen to what these special guests have to say.” He lifted his recently filled glass to the group and swallowed an inappropriate amount of wine.
As Munix moved about the room serving drinks Tuck noticed something peculiar; a long cord, several of them actually, bundled together, dragging behind her. They came out from underneath her kimono along the floor and through the door. He watched as she delicately handled the decanter. Her fingers clinked like metal when she touched it. She knelt before him setting a glass on the table and filling it with sweet red wine. Then he noticed her face. It was white. Pale white and perfectly smooth. She really is metal. Underneath her right eye were three little blue tear drops.
“Another,” General Cavalcade held up his glass. When Munix approached he caressed her throat. Then he began to squeeze, “Don’t even think of trying anything,” he whispered through his teeth. She filled his drink then bowed to exit the room.
Curious, Tuck wondered what he had gotten himself into; trusting so many people he didn’t know, opening up himself and his fellow travelers to so much risk. And now this general’s emotions. Would he be greeted by hasty friendship or emotional ire? Why had he listened to Avers?
“Now then, seeing that we are all settled,” he plopped down in a cushy chair joining everyone else, “what is it you’re here to see me about?”
“Where to begin?” Hermenes said. “Your friend, Cassidy Stone sent us…”
“Yes, yes, I know all that. Tell me why you are here.”
“General,” Avers said, “we were told you could help us. Our people…their people,” she motioned to the three women, “the Amazonians, live across the sea. They are in great danger. We’ve wasted a lot of time trying to secure an ally to aid in the event of invasion. In trying to do this we‘ve discovered that the very invasion we feared was closer than we realized.”
The general raised his hand silencing the room. He held his wine in his lap with one hand. “I am aware of their situation.”
“Wha?” Hermenes and Postulis looked at each other. “What do you mean?”
“I have for some time wished to secure interest in what I call mustang vapors within Amazonia. These vapors, you see, are volatile. Highly volatile. They can be synthesized to produce a fuel that can power a ship into orbit around the Earth. I have been watching developments in that country over the course of several years. I could not risk intruding when the Martians attacked. They’re far superior to my forces. Nor could I allow the rebels from the north to overtake Amazonia. I know little about them, but from what I can tell they are careless and unpredictable. They’re the wild card. I must deal with Amazonians. I couldn’t risk losing such a great profit because I failed to act.”
He pulled the controller from his pocket tapping it several times. One of the walls displayed a video.
“This is the scene north of the Amazonian border from just yesterday morning.”
Tuck watched as a camera looked down on the Earth from above. A dark mass flowed in from the right; the north. He could not make out any familiar landmarks, not that he knew any, but he knew that was the same horde that had chased him away just a few days prior. Then fire rained down on the little black dots and their smoke machines.
The general touched the screen pausing the video.
“As you can see the situation has been taken care of. You may rest easy tonight knowing that your homes are safe. Your friends are alive and I will be a very rich man.” He stood up and for once he set his drink dwon. A giant grin formed on his face. “I’m certain you’re all shocked by the sudden turn of events. Even so, I have prepared quarters for each of you to allow time to think about what you wish to do next. You may come with me to Amazonia. I leave tomorrow ahead of the army and contractors. Contractors from my mining conglomerate of course. You may wish to stay in Ospita. You’ll find the country peaceful and safe. I am told her citizens are generally courteous once they get to know you.”
“General Cavalcade,” Postulis said, “you have no idea the burden you have lifted from our shoulders.”
“That’s good to hear.” He turned to the man on the couch, “As for you, Trane, what did you think of the video? Are you in or are you out?”
“Sir, Geo, you know wherever your mines are my financiers will follow. Once you have verified the area secured let me know. I’ll send my people to yours.”
“Good. I’m glad to see we’re all in agreement.”
Trane bowed and left the room. The general pulled out his controller again. In a minute Munix was at the door, but this time someone else was with her.
“Munix, clean up the mess in this room.” He pointed to the other one, “Show the guests to their rooms.”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.
The two robots glided across the floor. Munix picked up the half emptied glasses of wine and the other one led Pepla, the first one out the door, down the hall. This second robot also wore a kimono, white and black, and oversized headphones. Cords dangled underneath her along the floor just as with Munix. She walked steadily unyielding to even caution them about tripping on her cord which was a likely possibility in the dim hallway light.
“Excuse me, miss?” Pepla asked. “What’s your name?”
Slowing, she cocked her head to her side, “You may call me Catalpa.”
Catalpa promptly resumed her pace. Apparently, she was in a hurry. Pepla dashed ahead to keep up, but Tuck would not be rushed.
A crash of shattered glass sounded from the meeting room.
“What did I tell you about being careful!” the general yelled. Then Catalpa paused for a moment. The group stopped behind her. More glass broke. “Stupid slave!” Then the sound of metal striking metal. A breath escaped from Catalpa.
“Are you OK?” Pepla asked.
One electronic eye slowly articulated itself to look at Pepla.
“It is over now,” she said.
The room was small, but pleasant enough. It was more like a little hotel than a military base. Tuck had a good sized bed, private bathroom and on the far side of the room he could step outside to a porch. A touch screen protruded from the wall next to the door. He turned on what he thought was an old television. Not really wanting to find anything interesting he hoped he could just fall asleep to whatever came on. However, once the television turned on he realized it was no television at all. It was some sort of radio. The song that played was soft and easy. He could fall asleep to that.
His stomach gurgled.
He wished the general had provided food like he said he would. He made his way to the control panel wondering if he could order room service. He poked around, but could not figure out how it worked.
“Stupid machine. I just want something to eat.”
“What would you like?” A woman’s voice came from the ceiling.
“What? Who are you?” He was poised ready to fight.
“No need for anger sir. You are my guest tonight. If you desire anything only speak it and I will heed your words. How may I be of service?”
He scratched his head trying to figure out why the room was talking to him.
“I’m hungry. What do you have to eat?”
“I have many things in the kitchen. Would you like me to prepare a meal?”
“How about a sandwich? Salami and pepparoni?”
“As you wish.”
“Oh…room…can you slather that baby in barbeque sauce?”
“Please, call me V. And yes, I can add barbeque sauce. Would you like hot or mild?”
“I don’t care. Just put something on it.” I wonder how Calvin would get along with her.
Five minutes later Catalpa appeared at his door with his sandwich.
She bowed keeping her eyes on the ground.
He took a bite in the doorway. Sauce dripped on his chin.
“You must be the foodbot?” he said with a full mouth. He looked closely at her face. A dent graced the side of her cheek that was not there before.
Suddenly, her eyes shot up at him, “I’m not a robot.”
He stopped chewing.
“Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“No, thank you.”
She bowed quickly and left.
The door slammed shut by itself leaving Tuck by himself. Not wanting to be in the room, but also not wanting to explore whatever weird compound he was in he went outside to the porch. He was on the highest floor. The city must have been on the other side of the building because there was very little light except for the night sky.
He laid down on his back forgetting about his sandwich. Countless little stars sparkled in the darkness. The constellations were a little out of place from Mars’ position, but he could still find some of the usual ones: the dippers, Polaris, Orion and his belt and Pleiades. He traced their shapes with his finger thinking about life. He thanked God for getting him through so much. Too many things had happened that he could not take it all in. What was everyone else going to do? Who was Citra? Who was this general guy? What was he going to do tomorrow? Where was he going to go?
Then he saw it. There, in all her glory floating through a million miles of space and dust was the redheaded goddess.
That was home and that was where he wanted to go. But where? He had abandoned his people and would be hunted for the rest of his life. Could I survive in the wilderness of Ioa? Just because it was unclaimed and unexplored did not mean that anyone could live there. He recalled the stories he had heard growing up-he trusted these memories enough. Only murderers on the run lived out there and many of them did not make it. There were a few mountain men who chose the hard life. They had their reasons, but him? Perhaps he was worse than a murderer. He had deserted his country. Yet still, Mars called.
The sliding door to the adjacent apartment slid open. It only took Avers a second to hop the little rail to lie next to him. Neither said anything for some time. They sat there just staring into the now bright night sky.
“How have you been feeling?” Tuck spoke first.
“You messed me up pretty good, but I’m a fast healer.”
The stars moved in concert, slowly, across the black sea.
“You look for her,” Avers said. “Does she look back?”
Tuck followed the next constellation with his eyes. He took a deep breath. “Would you go with?” he asked.
“I look for the same thing you look for.”
He said nothing.
“We were brainwashed you know? I’ve figured that much out about us. But they can’t erase our memories. Only confuse them. Repress them. It’s in there somewhere. That’s how you know you’re a Christian. Citra saw it.” Her voice lowered, “I read her letter. They couldn’t stop a memory so deep. That’s who you really are and that’s how I know you really are a Christian. Only your most passionate instincts rise out of the murky cloud on their own.”
She took a deep breath exhaling warmly on Tuck’s shoulder.
“My dreams have you in them. I think it’s you, but I don’t know. That’s why you must drink the potion. It will clear things up. Don’t trust Citra; trust me. Once you remember who you are you’ll help me know who I am and I if we were…”
He turned to his side to face her. She was looking at him. A thought, painful, but good, bubbled in his head. It was the memory of a recent dream. He was bound in chains; a sack over his head. Someone punched him in the stomach. Others screamed. Someone grabbed his arm while another person forced him into a chair. Someone put a needle in his arm. The sack was removed revealing a dimly lit room. Woozy, he fell to the floor. He held someone’s hand. It was soft and smooth. Dark hair. Long. Down passed her shoulders. He saw her lips; pink with lipstick. She smiled big and at him. He opened his eyes.
The memory felt different than most.
“Do you find her?”
The general enjoyed his rest it seemed as no one found any sign of him by late morning. This allowed Tuck some time to explore his surroundings. The building was odd. Part of it was like a hotel. Part of it was like a top secret government headquarters with all of its confusing hallways. He tried to picture the floor plan in his head, but the layout was just too confusing. There had to be hidden rooms.
He stumbled into a large open room; a hangar. There he saw a craft, big and angular. Wires and cables were strung from wall to wall, floor to ceiling; support equipment, fork lifts, loaders, workspaces littered the room.
“Come now. A little more. Almost. Hah! There we go.”
“Professor Wiltkine, what are you doing here?”
“Ah, good morning my boy. I think I’ve figured it out. It’s not steam. Not steam at all. You see, there is a device, multiple devices actually, that produce some sort of spark energy. Hold this,” he handed Tuck a cable. The professor grabbed another and brought them close together. An arc of electric light popped between them.
“What’s so special about electricity?”
“Is that what it’s called then? This is amazing. Truly amazing. I haven’t gotten it all quite figured out just yet, but this is the most excitement this old fella has had in some time. Watch this.”
He stuck his hands into a mess of dissected equipment.
“Here it is.” He produced a switch that was connected by cable and wound its way to the aircraft. With a greasy finger he flipped the knob and the craft opened. A narrow set of stairs extended to the ground. “I’ve been in there all night. There is something else I want to show you.”
Inside, the ship was full of blinking lights and control panels. The professor stood at the captain’s helm flipping more switches and pressing buttons.
“I think there is something on this vessel, mecha may not be the right word-you tell me, that controls all the systems of the building. I don’t know where it is, but I think it oversees those two automatons that we saw last night. Watch this.” He pushed more buttons. At first Tuck did not notice anything. Then he heard it; a conversation between Postulis and Hermenes came through the air. “I think I will stay. Not forever. I’ll come back in time, but think about all the things we have seen,” Postulis said.
“Yeah, I don’t know. We’ve been gone for so long. I know Amazonia isn’t much, but it is home. That’s where…”
“You know, for an old fat man with one eye you’re pretty handy.”
The professor pushed a button changing rooms. Silence. He tried another. Faintly, it was the general speaking to someone; a visitor perhaps.
“What are you boys doing?” Avers’ voice came from the entrance of the ship surprising him.
“Shish, we’re spying,” Tuck said.
She walked up next to the professor pointing to a dial on the control panel. He nodded. Slowly, she turned it making the voices louder.
“The problem is in your design,” the general said. “You were created with inherent flaws. Because you cannot or choose not to rise above your condition I blame you.”
“Yes, sir,” Munix said in a monotone voice.
Avers kept her eye on the control panel. This time she reached over the professor for more buttons. As she messed with them the professor watched diligently. Then suddenly, an image displayed on a glass panel. The professor struggled to bridle his jubilant expression.
Now, watching from Munix’s eyes, the three of them saw everything as she saw. Tuck pulled up a chair next to the professor kicking back with his feet on the control panel. The general was walking around with the controller in his hand talking. He pressed a button which produced a shock to Munix. All Tuck heard was a scream and then the connection turned fuzzy for a minute.
“…because of this I am forced to trust you,” the audio returned before the video. The general continued, “That’s why when we are flying over the ocean you must dump them into the water.”
“Wait! What was that?” Avers asked. “He’s going to kill us?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t catch it all.”
“No, why would he do such a thing?” The professor asked. “We haven’t wronged him.”
Tuck put his feet down and leaned forward. “Maybe he thinks our presence will complicate his relationship with Amazonia.”
“Or,” Avers said, “he has no intention to treat them peacefully. He wants to kill them if they get in the way.”
“Yes,” the professor stroked his beard, “this seems most probable. But I highly doubt he would instigate an unnecessary war. If it is wealth he is after he is unlikely to engage in military exploits.” He turned to Avers, “Do the Amazonians hold dear to the land he claims?”
“I’m not sure where that land is.”
“I wonder,” he stroked his beard again. He pushed more buttons on the control panel. A video control screen turned on. “OK?” But he figured it out soon enough. He slid images across the screen until he got what he wanted. Munix was done speaking with the general and appeared to be walking back to her station. So, he shrunk the image coming from Munix’s eyes and replaced it with something else. “There we go.”
“Is that?” Avers asked.
The professor scrolled over an aerial image of Amazonia. He fumbled over it until Tuck touched the large display moving it around. He looked closely. Digitized notes were imbedded into the file.
“Here,” he tapped the screen. “This area is highlighted.”
“What does the comment say?” Avers asked.
“Something about underground pressure test results, possible size and shape of the site.”
“What does is say about the shape?”
“Let’s see,” he selected an option that outlined part of the map. Then he panned over and zoomed in.
“And what are we looking at young lady?” The professor asked.
“This is not good. That area is Athena’s Temple. The Amazonians won’t like this.”
“He must be preparing for battle. That is why he wants to get rid of us. Once we figure out what he is up to he knows we would try to stop him,” Tuck said.
“Do you think he would move the temple to extract the gases?” Avers asked.
“Would it matter? Look at the rest of the marked area.” Tuck zoomed out a bit. “It’s all city. Even if he doesn’t move the temple he’s going to disrupt a lot of women.”
“And they are going to want to know what he’s up too. Once they find out he is profiting at their expense I’m sure they’ll want blood,” Avers said.
“But would they even put up a fight now? They are so weak and reduced in number I doubt they would try.”
“You raise a good point,” Professor Wiltkine said, “and you are probably right considering the morale of the country is incredibly low. However, I doubt the general’s intentions are to be so kind as to leave them be. He said he has been watching them for some time. Most likely he is acutely aware of their plight and willing to capitalize on it.”
“What are you saying?” Avers asked.
“I fear that the general will not only fight the Amazonians, but that he’ll charge in and make a big show to impress them. Then he’ll capture them, maybe a queen or some other royalty and hold them hostage. This would allow him to enslave the rest of the population to handle the laborious work of mining.”
“That’s genius!” Tuck said.
Avers gave him a scowl.
“How did you come up with that?” Avers asked.
“If you want to try to figure out someone else’s motives you must first figure them out. We have already come to our conclusion that he is not the most trustworthy of men. Therefor his motives are selfish. Once you have that figured out simply place yourself in his position. We know is ultimate goal. We know is motives. Now all we have to do is connect the pieces; what happens between now and the goal. This plan is what I would do if I was the general. Granted, there are some variables we are not aware of. Let’s hope that these are insignificant.”
“Hey what’s that?” Tuck pointed to the minimized screen then enlarged it.
“That’s the ship,” Avers said.
Tuck watched as the image moved closer. It approached the stairs. He turned waiting for it to appear in the doorway.
“Munix?” He said. “What are you doing here?”
She looked surprised. Catalpa followed closely behind.
“I should ask you the same. You’re all in violation of the law being here. I should alert the general.”
Tuck glanced at Avers. She eyed the two mechanical women. Remembering that Munix was ordered to kill them he looked too. Both of them had on their kimonos and headphones, but no cords. “So why haven’t you done it yet?”
“You should not be here,” Munix said sternly and walked on.
“Please,” Catalpa said with a smile, “would you mind leaving our quarters.”
“Your quarters?” Avers asked.
“Yes, when neither of us is working we must stay on The Buffalo. I’m sure you’ve noticed the rather encumbering electrical cords we drag behind us. They connect to the ship; our source of power. If you excuse me I must take some time to recharge.”
As she walked just out of sight she spoke loudly, “But you really should leave.”
“Humph,” the professor got up from his seat. “I think the nice one put it best.
“Just a moment,” a voice came through the ship’s speaker system. “I have something I must confess.” It was Munix. She must be able to communicate with the ship’s computer. “I have been ordered to kill you.”
“I knew it!” Avers said.
“But I don’t want to. General Cavalcade fears you. He’s seen the power of Martian technology. The technology the mecha pilots possess. I heard what you said earlier when you tapped into my ocular feeds. You are correct. The general will do anything for power.”
“What are we supposed to do?” Tuck asked.
“Run away before you lose the opportunity.”
Tuck, Avers, Pepla, Postulis, Hermenes and Professor Wiltkine gathered in Tuck’s room discussing their options.
“The notice says we’re to start boarding in thirty minutes,” Avers said.
“I’m not going. Not if they’re going to kill us,” Pepla said.
“I thought you were here to protect me?” Avers looked down to her body guard.
“You’re right, my lady, but if they wanted to kill you what better way than to assure you that they are having their doubts? I think Munix wants to side with you to make it easier.”
“That’s a very good observation young lady,” the professor said.
“What do you think?” Postulis asked him.
He stroked his beard before he spoke, “It would seem that either option could be just as truthful as the other. However, I have witnessed this general’s behavior and I must say it is quite extraordinary.”
“What do you mean?” Hermenes asked.
“For instance, the first night we were here while I was about I encountered Catalpa. She was quiet and polite, but nothing like Brunhilda or the other woman in the general’s employment. I suspected something was amiss. I was right. It appeared that by speaking to me she was delayed in arriving at her destination. She disappeared behind a door, but I could hear what was going on.”
“What happened?” Pepla asked.
“The general and another man talked loudly; occasionally yelling at each other. Only later did they address Catalpa, but it was with more malice than they used towards each other.”
“What were they talking about?” Avers asked.
“It seemed trivial really. Something about funds transfers, tobacco and cigar production. Nothing of any real substance, however, as I said before, they were quite animated. I suppose they were drunk and getting drunker as the conversation progressed. When, finally, they acknowledged Catalpa it was with the force of a weapon. I believe the general possessed a cane of sorts and used this to beat on the woman. She said nothing I could hear from my position. I imagine her metal body could take quite the beating, but eventually I heard a gunshot.”
“He shot her?” Tuck was surprised.
“I figured whatever deliberation was going on was soon to cease so I removed myself from the hall. When I heard her coming towards me I pretended to have just arrived, passing back through. She did not look at me, but I saw marks across her face and neck. I suppose she would have had more should I have been able to see under that fancy robe of hers.”
“That’s it. I’m not going,” Postulis said. “I don’t want to die. I think we should all just leave now before the general starts looking for us.”
“I’m with her,” Pepla said.
“Me too,” Avers joined in.
“You can leave if you like,” Tuck said, “but you don’t have anywhere else to go. So long as we’re here we may as well help the poor ladies.”
“Hmph,” Avers crossed her arms. “The only thing we need to save is Amazonia and it looks like that isn’t going to happen. Mission failed. Our responsibility is to save ourselves.”
“Tuck, if you stay, I’ll stay,” Pepla stood next to him.
Avers’s eyes widen.
“Who do you think you are little girly? You sware an oath to protect me and side with…with this animal! I can’t believe you.”
“What do you mean animal?” Tuck said.
“Oh you know exactly what I mean! Ever since Pepla laid eyes on you she has been charmed by you. And that robot out there? A robot! I saw the way she looked at you. She didn’t stop by anyone else’s room last night.”
He looked to Pepla who was blushing. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” she defended herself, but it was for nothing.
“Don’t give me that. Let’s see, there was that mermaid too. She led you around by the hand everywhere. And neither of you were present when they sang to us. We’re trying to save a nation that took us in when they didn’t have to. There are more important things than using women or whatever those other things are to get what you want.”
The room was hot. Too many people crammed into a small space, eventually, made everyone sweat. However, the moisture on Avers’ face was not just from sweat. Her sudden burst caught everyone off guard. When she was done yelling her sweat mixed with tears as she grabbed her head and crouched against the wall.
“Those dreams,” she said. “Why do I see you every night?”
A knock sounded on the door. Munix entered.
“It seems our decision has been made for us,” the professor said.
She bowed then led the way to the aircraft. As they walked through the confusing halls Catalpa swung open a door and came running from the opposite direction. Her face, as much as a metal face could, looked stressed. Her arm was severed and, to Tuck’s surprise, held in her other hand. She brushed by them without a word. Munix continued, in silence, until the general appeared in the doorway Catalpa had just exited.
Tuck clenched his fists.
“Ah, my guests,” he said wiping his lip with his forearm. “Just in time.”
The ship was cozier than Tuck remembered. The crew was readying for takeoff; five men total not including the general and his two servants. His associate from the other day, Trane, was also on board accompanied by his entourage. His party was seated in modestly padded benches next to the windows.
“V, are you prepped yet?” the general spoke into the air.
“Yes sir,” came the reply.
“Good, then I’ll turn control over to Captain Hollack here. You will work with him.”
“As you wish sir.”
Captain Hollack gave some orders, but they were more for the passengers than for flight. The ship, or V, seemed like she could fly herself almost unassisted. Tuck moved near one of the bay windows watching the ground get smaller and smaller.
“Do you think this thing could reach the Moon?” Avers stood next to him.
He looked at her curiously. “Are you feeling better?”
She clenched her fists, but said nothing.
“Something I would like to say…”
“I,” she cut him off, “I didn’t mean what I said about Citra,” she said through her teeth. “She’s not as bad as she seems.”
“Would either of you like a pill to calm your nerves,” Munix appeared behind them holding a tray with white pills and shot glasses of water.
“No thanks,” Tuck said.
She turned to Avers.
“Will you come with me?” Munix asked Tuck. “I want to show you something.”
“Sure,” Avers said.
“No, just Tuck.”
“Wait,” Avers grabbed his hand. “Give us a minute. Go on ahead.”
Munix bowed leaving to ask other passengers if they were interested in soothing their stomachs.
“She’s trying to kills us. Those pills are poison. I know it. She is going to take you to some room in the back and bash your brains in. I’ve seen it before.”
“You have not. I don’t think that is how she plans to do it. What would happen if I didn’t come back? Wouldn’t you get suspicious? No, there is some other plan.”
“Don’t do it Tuck. Stay with me.”
The stubborn mule of a woman he met a few short weeks ago looked as if her dried tears were about to reassert themselves. He walked over to Munix who bowed again and led him down a corridor. After going down two twisting flights of narrow stairs they went down another long hall.
“What’s so special you can only show me?”
She did not smile nor did she speak. She released the hatch to a door and stepped inside.
“Wait here,” she said.
On the far side of the room was another door. She opened that hatch too and disappeared through it. After five minutes she reappeared motioning for him to follow.
“This is the only room in the ship we are safe to talk. Over there,” she pointed to a metal tank lying on the ground with hundreds of hoses coming out of it, “There a low level EMP barrier. I can’t pass through, but you can. Open the tank and take me out.”
Her hands were fidgety. Eyes unfocused. What was in that thing?
“Go,” she shoved him forward.
Take me out?
A control box was attached to the side of the tank. Simple enough to operate he pressed a button opening the lid. A cloud of cold gas depressurized seeping from under the lid. When it cleared he saw a glass box surrounded by orange liquid. Within the box was a brain with electrodes that led to all those hoses.
“Do you see?” Munix asked just above a whisper.
“What is it?”
“That’s me. That’s us.”
“Don’t take me out. Not yet anyways. Put the lid back on.”
Confused, Tuck did as she said. Maybe she wasn’t going to kill me after all.
“Here, take this,” she kicked her leg up onto a box. A drawer in her leg mechanically opened. She pulled out a pistol and stuck it in his hand. “I want you to kill General Cavalcade when you get the chance. If you don’t he’s going to kill you. Kill him and take me out of my box.” She looked to the opened the hatch, “We should return to the control deck. We’ve been gone too long.”
The narrow stairwell was no place to be when turbulence struck. The ship jostled them around. Tuck tightly squeezed the railing until it passed.
“Is that normal?”
“We must be passing through the Jetstream. Sometimes it positions itself over Talion. Keep going. It should lessen as we continue our ascent.”
He turned to her, “Why don’t you just kill him?”
“Shish! You can’t say that here.” Then she whispered, “I have governors regulating my behavior. Even my thoughts sometimes. That box you saw not only keeps me alive, but it splits my emotions, my thoughts. It distributes only actions the general has ordered. Except when I am in the room with the box. In there I must have freedom to work.”
“If that brain…is your brain then what is inside you?”
Another tremble shook the ship.
When they reached the control deck General Cavalcade had already ordered everyone into ionosuits.
“Here,” Avers handed one to Tuck. “Glad to see you’re not dead.”
He looked it over before putting it on.
“Did he notice we were gone?”
“He didn’t go to the bathroom. So, I don’t think he needed anyone to wipe.”
The suit had conveniently placed instructions on the inside. Right foot first. Then left. Arms. What was after arms? Most of the way into his suit he couldn’t read them anymore.
“So, what did you two discuss that needed to be so private?”
“You won’t believe it.”
He fumbled around in his suit trying to reach the zipper in the back.
“Turn around,” Avers pulled the fabric tight then paused. “Oh,” she said.
“What is it?
He felt a finger on his shoulder. The wheel. He sighed. Slowly, she zipped him tight.
“I’m glad you’re here Tuck.”
Another pocket of disturbance. This one, however, was a rough rumble that lasted for a full minute. Munix passed by, “That one was not normal.”
Hollack was on the intercom shouting orders. Munix, Catalpa and the small crew were busy managing the controls. V spoke too. The crew must have overridden her controls.
She must be operating in a support role.
“These suits aren’t so bad,” Avers said. “Like a low tech version of your mecha suit.”
She nodded. “I’ve worn standard issue before. TIGERS are generations ahead.”
“Why did the general put us in these? If we crash we’re pretty much toast aren’t we?”
“I’m guessing they don’t use the ship that often. Not at extreme altitudes like we are now anyways. She probably has some pressurization issues.”
A violent force pressed on the ship. Everyone unsecured fell to the ground. Those that were buckled in felt the full effect of 4 g-forces slamming into them.
“But maybe not,” Avers clung tightly to a nearby rail.
When the seizure had passed Munix made her way over.
“Both of you, please,” she motioned for them to follow her. “We’re going down. Put your helmets on.”
“What!” They said together.
She led them down the stairs Tuck had just taken stopping on the first floor instead of the second.
“Tuck this room is yours. Ivory, please secure yourself into the pod in the next.”
“Wait, what is going on?” Tuck asked.
“The pods in your rooms will protect you in case we crash.”
“You mean when we crash,” Avers said.
Munix bowed, but narrowed her eyes.
“Ivory, this way please.”
“Wait, what are you going to do?” Tuck asked.
“I’m going to ensure that the ship lands as gracefully as possible.”
The room was excruciatingly small. Padding lined every surface. Tuck squeezed between the pads and strapped himself in. “God,” he prayed out loud, “not like this. Not buckled down waiting to die like a coward. Give me an honorable death; a hero’s welcome. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
A gruesome shock moved the ship. He felt like puking. If it wasn’t for the padding and the helmet he would have hit his head so hard his skull would have split. More convulsions came. The lights went out. The g-forces accelerated. Then suddenly nothing…
An alarm sounded…distantly. Red flashed before him. Water dripped in from above. His pod had been ejected and punctured. Tuck crawled out into a mess of broken metal and twisted piping. Water sprayed in from above. The concussion caused his head to throb. He was still in the ship.
He crawled a little further until he was able to stand. In the distance he heard two voices. “Do it now! Give it to me!”
“But general, I will die.”
It was General Cavalcade and Catalpa. He shuffled closer until he could peek through the debris. Catalpa bowed before him, but he was not appeased. He swung his cane cracking her on the shoulder. The blow sent her to the ground. Before she could get up he kicked her. The arm that was missing the day prior had been attached, but when the general grabbed it he tore it off and beat her. As he smashed the arm over her back he shouted, “Do as I say or I won’t come back for you!”
Catalpa lay on the ground facing the general. Her kimono lying next to her. The panel on her abdomen was open. He fidgeted with the circuitry inside.
“I’ll use your battery as an auxiliary source. I’ll come back for you once we get out of here.”
“Do you promise? Oh, general, please don’t…” Her eyes flickered then went dark. Her body limp.
“Worthless robot. Rot in Hell.” He kicked her holding the battery in his hand.
Screeching metal shifted above them. Tuck backed away. The ship budged causing the floor above to crash down in front of him where the general was. The wall of mishmashed parts gave way to reveal the new room. Catalpa’s legs protruded from underneath a pile of rubble, but the general was there lying crushed under heavy pieces of steel.
“Tuck! Tuck old boy, come here and help me out.” He hated it when people called him boy. The general reached out his only free hand. “Ah!” He yelled in pain. “This girder is jammed into my leg. Pull it out.”
Tuck approached resting one foot on the girder.
“Ah! What are you doing you idiot!”
He leaned a little more until blood ran down to his foot; the general cussing louder. Tuck pulled out his pistol and looked him in the eyes through the hard sight. “Goodbye general.”
The batteries were just like his, but the general had been mangled in the crash. The battery to his suit was crushed. The other one that had belonged to Catalpa was leaking fluid on the general’s hand. He walked over to examine her body. The water had risen covering most of her. He pulled her torso out from the rubble. Inside of her abdomen was a cavity where the battery had been attached. It too had been mangled, but not by the crash.
He continued. The shift in the wreckage opened a hole on the other side of the room. He crawled through. It was longer than it looked. Sweat dripped from his face and his warm moist air fogged the visor of his helmet. The sound of twisting metal screeched again. He held a long breath, but nothing moved. However, more water leaked from overhead. A little panic scurried through his veins, but it subsided when he was greeted by Avers’ smile.
“Tuck!” She helped him climb out of the hole. “I’m so glad to see you. Are you OK?”
“I’m fine. You look better than ever.”
“Munix is on the other side over here,” she ran through knee high water to the far end of her cloistered area. “I could see her just a minute ago.”
“Then let’s make some room.” He pulled a shredded piece of metal out; a hundred shards of glass spilled after. He kept digging. When he made a hole big enough to see through he called out to Munix.
“Tuck! I hear you. I can’t move.”
“Are you stuck under something?”
“No, it’s been a long time since I recharged. My battery is fading.”
“Hold on. We’ll come get you.”
He tore through more scrap until he and Avers could climb through.
“What do we do now?” Tuck asked Munix.
“You have to make it to the control deck or to the safe room I showed you earlier. I haven’t been able to make contact with V. I’m not really Munix right now, but a stored memory of her.”
“What?” Avers asked.
Munix shook her head. “I’m a filtered expression of V, but I don’t have time to explain. You have to go now. It is not far from here. Just above us through the mess is the flight deck, but I don’t think you will be able to do much if V is down. Below is our best bet. That is where the safe room is.”
“It’s flooded. And getting worse,” Tuck said.
“Your suit will keep you alive.”
“What do we do when we get there?” Tuck asked.
“You have to activate me. Figure out what happened. Something probably came dislodged when we crashed. We crashed on ground, gently as I could, but now we are under water. We must have fallen off of a cliff. That impact must have smashed part of the ship.
He looked at the floor under the water. It was a tangled mess too. Not much of a floor. He turned the lights on his helmet.”
“Tuck,” Munix grabbed his hand, “Everything will be a mess.”
“We got it lady,” Avers said taking Tuck’s other hand.
Together Tuck and Avers tugged on a rod protruding from the floor. It wouldn’t budge. Tuck tried grabbing deeper. Nothing. He ducked underwater to see what he was working with. He sifted through some loose debris until he saw a chunk of metal he thought he could manage. Avers tapped his shoulder. She was mouthing something, but he couldn’t hear it.
“…it on like this.”
“Turn on the com link in your helmet like this. Now we can talk underwater. I’ve been messing with this since we crashed trying to connect with everyone.”
“Good thinking.” He tried it out then went back underwater. After a little struggle he wretched free the chunk of metal, but only a bigger mess waited below. He dove in. Avers helped wrestle out two more large chunks of broken ship. She pulled out a smashed pedestal of some sort.
“Have you thought more about your dreams?” Tuck asked.
“That’s an odd question at a time like this.”
“Just trying to make conversation.”
“And that is what comes to your mind?”
“I figure our chances of getting out of here alive are pretty small. I’m curious to know.”
Over the com link he heard her take a deep statically charged breath.
“I don’t know what they mean.”
“Fine. I saw you in a suit. Not a mecha suit a suit suit.”
“Was I handsome?”
“You were,” she shot back sharply then stopped. “Yes, you were handsome. Dashing maybe. Your parents were there. So were mine, but I couldn’t see their faces. They were blurry.”
“This sounds like your other dreams. What do you think they mean, collectively?”
The com link went silent except for the static.
“I don’t think they’re dreams.”
He shook off the last word and focused on the lack of progress at the floor. But no matter how hard he tried he noticed she stopped helping. He couldn’t help it. “If you think your dreams are memories coming back, do you think mine are…”
“What the! I can’t believe it.”
“What is it?”
“My power gauge says I’m almost out of juice. How can that be?”
They surfaced taking an ill-timed break to speak out loud.
Avers looked to Munix, “I just figured out I can sort through multiple displays on my dashboard in the helmet and came across the suit specs. May battery is almost dead.”
“How far did you get?” Munix interrupted.
“Not far. There are too many things we can’t move and her battery is almost gone.”
“You should be running your ionosuit on the lowest power settings.”
“It’s your com link,” Tuck said. “I haven’t had mine on. That’s why I have more than you. That thing must drain power like crazy.”
“So, we’re going to die because I tried to contact others?”
“No, we were going to die anyways,” Tuck said.
“Tuck, how much power is left on your battery?” Munix asked.
“Looks like about 70 percent.”
“There is one other option I can think of.”
“Don’t just sit there,” Avers yelled, “tell us!”
“Tuck give me your battery.”
“What? No way. He’s not giving you his battery. His suit will fail. Are you trying to kill him?”
“You both know I’m stronger than each of you. If I had a charged battery I could move the debris you can’t. I’ll carry you with me to the safe room and give the battery back to you. I’ll give you further instructions once we’re there.”
Tuck looked to Avers. “This is our only option. I have to.”
“There’s one thing you should know. I consume much more energy than your suit. You won’t have much time.”
“Let’s hurry up then.” He unlocked his battery and handed it to Munix. “How long do I have until my oxygen runs out?”
“The suit will fail within fifteen minutes allowing water inside.” She stood over the little hole they started and slowly descended. “The residual oxygen in your suit will run out in eight.”
Tuck leaned back on the wall. He focused on his breaths. He tried so hard to slow his metabolism that he almost fell asleep. Avers leaned on him. He checked his watch; seven minutes gone. Munix had disappeared completely. She was making good progress.
Soon, he began to get light headed. He held his breath for as long as he could, but it didn’t seem enough. Twelve minutes passed. He had a little more air than she had thought. But it wouldn’t be long. Sleep came easily. Slowly, he faded into darkness.
“Tuck,” he heard over his com link. A rush of oxygen coursed through his lungs. Munix was sitting on her knees above him. He got to his feet and floated in the water-filled room. She fell back, but into his arms. She pointed to the metal tank. “You must turn off your suit, wait for my power to dissipate, carry me through the EMP shield, turn yours back on, open the tank.”
Her eyes flickered just as Catalpa’s had.
“Wait?” He shook her. “What’s wrong? What do I fix?”
“Plug me in.”
The EMP field gave no noticeable sensation that he passed through. He waited until he was next to the tank before he turned on his suit. Hundreds of wires and tubes led out from the tank.
He opened it revealing…her brain. The orange gel in which it sat did not mix with the water that had filled the room. He still wasn’t sure what she was, but once he opened the lid he saw the problem. A large syringe fastened to her brain joined a series of cables forming a complicated plug. He searched for the receptor to the plug. Though the room was relatively intact there was a lot of junk floating around. After sifting through broken glass and shards of metal he found the receptor, but it was smashed.
Time is running out Tuck. Think!
He fumbled the two ends in his hands.
Lord, I just wanted an honorable death. I don’t understand you most of the time, but…‘Plug me in,’ he remembered. He turned the suit off again to walk through the EMP field and pulled the plug to Munix who was still on the ground. He ran his fingers along her face then rolled her over. There! On the small of her back was a thick rubberized seal. She must have been in the middle of repairs from…that stupid general. He stuck his hand in to feel around. Since he could not see he shut his eyes to visualize what he felt. There were many mechanical parts. He moved his fingers over a slender tube-a terminal point to part of her chassis perhaps, a series of micro gears that probably helped articulate other internal parts and there was some sort of warm unit that surprised him. Yes, this was it. This was the receptor. He rubbed his finger around it until he was certain it would fit.
The plug fit perfectly. Within a second Munix was awake and moving.
Immediately, he felt the ship move. The water in the room hid the sudden burst of g-forces pushing on his body. Slowly, he, Avers and Munix slid to the back of the room. All the unsettled debris floated towards him too. The rest accumulated along the floor beneath him.
“I’ve gotten us moving now,” Avers advised. “I won’t be able to carry you up.”
Tuck nodded. The cord connecting her to her brain was shorter than
He reached for his battery, but just as he was about to disconnect it Munix spoke, “Thank you Tuck. Many blessings…”
With the battery out the speakers in his helmet cut off. Avers had been out for too long. He jammed the battery into her suit.
She awoke with a large gasp of air.
“We go together. When I run low on oxygen give me the battery. When you run low I’ll give it back.”
He woke up lying on the floor in the control room. Pepla was at his side. Munix told him that she had been able to connect to V, her brain, and then control the ship. She confirmed that they had in fact descended almost 1,000 feet under water. An unknown source of fuel had been deposited into her reserves. Only later had she discovered that the professor, working independently of Tuck and Co., had been confined to the cargo bay where he chanced upon a large shipment of mustang vapors. Realizing his limited ability to escape he did the only thing he knew to do; fiddle with the cargo. He ended up connecting the mustang vapors to the near empty fuel tank. This in turn provided V with the much needed fuel to ascend from the deep and take to the skies.
The control room housed the surviving passengers who sat in the semi-comfortable chairs talking about their days to come.
“What’s the plan now?” Pepla asked Avers.
“We’re going home. To Mars.”
“Won’t we decompress?” The professor asked.
“Only part of the ship was damaged,” Tuck said. “The rest is sealed tight. V inspected it.”
“Mars,” Pepla said gazing through the window, “is it anything like Earth?”
That’s it! Issue #4 is the final story. Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you enjoyed reading. I have several stories on Shakespir that use sci-fantasy and incorporate Christian elements. Stuff I wish I would have been able to read when I was a kid.
Don’t hesitate to share these stories with your friends. There’s lots of readers out there looking for something different. Christians especially.