I’m afraid Tuesday came a little late this week. Must be some kind of quirk in the space-time continuum. Nevertheless, it’s time for more…
Earthian! Today, we’re blasting off into the second act with Chapter 14, whose name is (now) Nightfall. If you’re just joining the program, you can catch up on old episodes right here at the Oktopod Blog.
Lift off in T-Minus 3, 2, 1…
Of all the strange things we saw and experienced during our time in space, this one name will haunt me forever. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. It was just another weird thing Owijer said. A new toy. Another simuloid in an endless parade of them.
I didn’t know the danger the word represented… or the hidden truth it stood guard over. And because I had no idea, I didn’t care at all when the Aggressor-V exercise was cancelled. There were more important things to deal with all of a sudden.
My phone rings. It’s a loud and cheery tune, like a marching band merrily parading through my skull. My eyes fly open and I jump out of bed before I can even figure out what’s going on.
BA-da-da-Bum-BAH-Bum-BAH! the band plays bombastically, and I silence them with a stroke of my wrist.
The phone automatically plays back a recording: “Good morning, Jason! I’m afraid we have an emergency situation to take care of. Report immediately to the hangar bay.”
The line goes dead.
My phone says it’s 4:30 in the AM, and I feel kind of like I recently got run over by a train. I want nothing more than to crawl back under the covers, curl into a ball, and sleep for another few days. But duty calls.
I climb into my jumpsuit, letting out a number of comical Oohs and Ouchs along the way. If anybody were here to see this, I’m sure they’d be laughing themselves sore. Of course, there’s the tiny blue robot hovering in the corner, always watching me with its big glassy eye, but it doesn’t look particularly entertained. Just interested.
Victor asked about the robots a week or so back, and Owijer called them plasmeroids. He said they were only around to observe, and told us not to pay much attention… so, uh, we don’t. But my inner Wiley can’t help wondering why they weren’t following us around on the Moon’s surface yesterday.
I put the puzzle out of mind, finish pulling on my shoes, and pass through the archway into the hangar. I’m actually the first to arrive for once, and I guess the others aren’t fast to wake.
I try to stretch while I wait, but my aching bones don’t make it easy. My joints scream at the pressure, and even my fingers feel like a mess. I don’t think I can pretend to be particularly upbeat about it if the emergency is somewhere outside.
The others start walking in after a few minutes. Michael is the first and he clasps my shoulder as he passes by, but when the rest show, they’re cold and distant. Tired and crabby. Flat-out unhappy at the sight of me.
No one has a chance to say anything, though. Owijer appears right in front of us, like a piece of popcorn bursting from an invisible kernel.
“Greetings, peacekeepers,” he says quickly, as he hurries us toward a ship. “Come along, come along,” he adds. “Time is of the essence!”
Our spacesuits are waiting for us beside the landing-pod, and we each take one, climb inside and wiggle while it adjusts. The feeling passes like a shiver running up my spine, and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Then I look up and see the others, all six of us standing there, suited up like action figures about to blast off for the farthest end of the yard.
“Hurry,” Owijer says, waving us aboard the cueball. “There’s no time for dallying!”
We sprint aboard the orb and it seals itself closed, then floats up and squeezes through the big yellow gate. It returns us to the Moon’s utter desolation, a haunting landscape that rests as heavy as a slowly whispered threat.
“This ship can take us to another solar system?” Adia asks in disbelief.
As if on cue, the ship sets down lightly on the graveled ground and comes to a stop. “Oh no,” Owijer says. “These are only for movement between planets. They’re shuttles. Come along,” he says again.
He leads us down the ramp and back into vacuum, where I find the Moon an altogether friendlier place. There’s plenty of flat ground here, and only a few gently rolling hills in the distance. I’m actually able to get around pretty easily.
We’re still close to Valiant Base though, and I’ve never seen anything so huge in my entire life. It never quite struck me before this moment, standing close enough for the looming giant to fill half the sky.
Owijer hops around like a kid on a pogo stick, waving us on again with his arm-tentacle. “Come, peacekeepers. The time. The time!”
He stops at the edge of a circle of pavement, and motions for us to step forward.
“What are we doing?” Cam asks angrily. “Just tell us what’s going on!”
“Yes, yes,” Owijer says. I’ve never heard him this unsettled. “There’s an emergency situation on our capital world, Poloff Prime. The entire League may be in jeopardy, and your assistance is needed. You will receive more information when you arrive. Now you really must go!”
Alejandra growls, “How? There’s no ship!”
“Is something coming to pick us up?” Adia asks.
“No,” Owijer says curtly.
Michael asks, “Is the pad a teleporter or something?”
“No, no, no!” Owijer says in a huff. “Your spacesuits will take you there using their AlterMagnetic Spin Drives, if you must know. The trip should take a few minutes, and I’ll follow in a few days. Chancellor Gar Barlybar will direct you in the meantime. Now just try to relax…”
It’s been my experience that when someone suggests you relax, relaxing is about to become very difficult.
Then my phone lights up and systems I’ve never heard of begin to report in. Spin Drive Online… Mesh Network Established With Six Nodes. Computing Route. Route Identified. Spinning Up Drive Wheel…
I feel my spacesuit start to warble and shake. There’s a crackling hum, and I’m pretty sure every hair on my body is standing up on end.
Critical Spin Achieved.
Blue lightning strikes, leaving me blind for a millisecond. When my vision returns, I’m watching something I simply can’t believe. Surrounded by rings of shattered light and lances of electricity, we blast up and up while the Moon shrinks away and disappears. We pick up speed and slip by the sun, charging ever deeper into that dark ocean, with clusters of stars streaking past like schools of silvery fish.
Speed. This is speed without end… speed beyond reason. The six of us slice through the boundless emptiness of space, a bolt of lightning arcing through infinity.
I don’t think humans were meant to travel this fast, and I’m not sure if I’m screaming in terror or shouting in joy. All I know is I feel free… dangerous… and strangely alone.
We slow down as a star swells up ahead of us, and a titanic planet looms out of the shadows. It looks something like Jupiter, a big ball of swirling brown and orange, with the gas of its dark side glowing faintly from scattered sunlight. Could this be Poloff Prime?
Our suits skate by the planet’s surface, revealing a thick and soupy fog rolling down below, then our lightning bolt splinters and splits in two. The new branch builds and then whisks us off in another direction.
I wish June were here. She’d definitely wet herself, but it’d be worth it. I’m pretty sure the spacesuit takes care of the mess, anyway. At least… I really hope it does.
We pass through five more solar systems the same way, bouncing like pachinko balls off of a planet’s atmosphere then zapping off toward the next distant star.
I can see the team all around me, some further ahead and others behind. Michael is so close nearby, I can see the focused look on his face. How is he this calm? I mean, my arms are flailing around like broken windmills, but he’s diving forward like an arrow.
We enter a system with a pale blue star, but when we bounce off one of its massive ice balls, we’re sent somewhere else inside the solar system. We rebound off a green and brown planet next, then a planet entirely covered in orange desert.
Then we come to Poloff Prime. With twisted continents of rocky purple, surrounded by oceans of red, the dark side of this world glitters with technological light; the points of light huddle together, spattered over the surface and shimmering in the quiet night.
I look over to Michael and he flashes me a thumbs up.
This moment is so much more amazing than anything I ever imagined, I can’t do anything but smile. There aren’t words… there’s just pure wonder, and my breath caught steadfastly in my chest.
I think I might flash him a thumbs-up back, but it’d seem cheesy. I honestly don’t know how he can do stuff like that and still look cool.
Then, while I watch, it happens. Green lightning breaks out all over Michael’s spacesuit, rumbling over the surface and getting brighter. He’s got an expression on his face like he’s chewing nails, then the lightning grows brighter and I can’t see inside his helmet anymore.
I reach out as far as I can but a dozen yards separate us. There’s no way to shift course. No way to get any closer… and what exactly would I do if I got there?
Something. I’d do something. I wouldn’t let my friend go through this alone.
We’re entering Poloff Prime’s atmosphere, and Michael is totally consumed by lightning. Jerking and spasming, he raises his right arm and–against all odds–he waves to me.
Then there’s a brilliant flash of light and he’s gone. The rest of us meanwhile streak onward, now glowing like blue-hot meteors as we race toward the planet’s surface. Down and down through candy pink clouds, toward that cracked purple land and its crashing crimson shore. Down toward a city more beautiful and majestic than any I’ve ever seen, on the plains of a world never before seen by human eyes.
Down we go and Michael’s gone; for all I know, this entire planet wants us dead.
And that’s all for Chapter 14! I’ve unfortunately got my hands full with housework, so we’ll be taking a short break here, and should return next week with Chapter 15: Oddity. I’ll see you then!