Brian W. Antoine
January 10, 1994
Monday morning 8AM, and bring your notebook
I'd slept most of the trip home and my popularity had dropped even lower. One of my unfortunate habits is that I snore, loudly. I suspect from the looks I got during the few times I was awake that the rest of the people stuffed into the thug were considering stuffing something large down my throat. Maybe they took pity on me and used earplugs, but I'll never know.
One thing they did do, or at least Kalindra did, was to heal my eardrums while I slept. As our small band of ships returned to normal space at the edge of our solar system, I found that I could once again hear as I woke up because of the bumpy ride.
"Christ, get that thing locked down!" Bob was snarling as I opened my eyes.
"Thug not designed as tow truck" snarled Jab in reply.
From the argument going on, I gathered that towing the Sunbeam home had proven to be more fun than expected. I started to sit up to look out the viewport, but was held down from behind by my mate.
"No, lay there and rest." The hand she laid on my chest made sure I didn't try to argue.
"How bad is it?" She looked away for a second then looked back. "You and Penny have a lot of work ahead of you. The outer hull has been shedding sections the entire trip. I can see a lot of the inner areas through the holes in the hull."
I closed my eyes in pain. "Penny maybe, but not me..."
The hand on my chest moved to cup the side of my face. "Both you and your ship can be healed."
"I wish I believed that..." We got tossed around a little more, but finally the ride settled down and Bob turned around to face us.
"So, you going to stay awake for awhile?"
I thought about it for a second. "Yeah, I think so. I'm not feeling as tired as before." I saw him glance at Kal for a second.
"Feel up to talking about what happened?"
"No, but I don't suppose that matters. There are things you will need to know about what happened back there. You are going to meet them again I expect and everything you can learn will help you survive that meeting."
He glanced at Kal again, but her face was neutral when I turned to see what she was doing. "Don't you mean we? You're still part of this team."
"A broken part. From what Kalindra tells me, the Sunbeam is in better shape than I am at the moment." We just faced each other for a couple of minutes without talking. I finally decided he was going to wait for me to start when I was ready.
"Have you ever wondered what it would look like to stand at the event horizon of a blackhole? Jasm and I came real close to finding out." I thought back to the attack and shuddered. "When they started the attack, it took two forms. I almost didn't find out about the second until it was too late."
"Sonic's like you wouldn't believe" I replied. As they began to compress around the ship it intensified to the point where the shields overloaded under the strain. That was the point when Jasm and I hustled to the computer bay. It's the most shielded point on the ship and I hoped it would help filter out what we were hearing. It wasn't enough."
"Yeah, she told us that much. She also said you popped her into one of your 'time to go on a diet' shields. Why didn't you duck into one also?"
"Because about the time I bubbled Jasm, Zorac started with the warnings about the gravity well forming. That was the second point of attack and they would have caught both of us if I'd been a little faster. As it was, I had to split my attention between keeping Jasm shielded and trying to keep the Sunbeam from imploding. As they continued to compress around the ship, they were raising the gravity gradient to the point we would have imploded inwards into a singularity." The memory of fighting that pressure returned, and for a moment I started to curl up into a ball again. Kalindra caught me and forced me to relax before I drove myself comatose again. It was a couple of minutes before I could continue.
"What happened to the Sunbeam? The entire hull has been converted to a kind of powdered crystal. Bits of it have been flaking off the entire trip. That, and there isn't enough power available to light a candle."
"The hull was the result of the energy discharge from the shield I used and the forces the Maal were generating. The power drain was my own doing. When the singularity started to form, I sucked the ship dry to keep the shield around Jasm intact and keep the Maal at bay."
"Jesus, the whole thing? There was enough power available to push a good sized planet around."
"Yep, and it wasn't enough. At the end I was using the gravitation gradient of the singularity as a power source also. The Maal are anything but stupid. They tailored that attack with me in mind and almost killed me. Given the results, they must have died happy. I might be able to throw a few rocks at them now, but that's about the limit of it." Even without telepathy I knew the question Bob wanted to ask, but didn't.
"Even as I channeled and focused the power I was drawing, I could feel the change. Whatever quirk gives a Mage the ability to manipulate magic and energy has its limits. As I sat there trying to keep us from being drawn into the singularity. I could feel the part of my mind that I was using start to unravel under the strain. If I had stopped, I might still be a Mage. Of course I'd also be viewing the universe from inside a blackhole."
"You have strained yourself and that is all" growled Kalindra from behind me. "You just need time to heal and recover from the strain of channeling that much power."
I wasn't sure whether she was trying to convince me or herself. "I assume you have checked me while I slept?"
She wouldn't meet my gaze. "Yes..."
"Not much left of the room marked 'Mage', is there. The one labeled 'Psionics' is pretty much totaled also."
"Your telepathy is gone? I know I couldn't reach you when we finally got to you, but I assumed that was because you were in a coma" said Bob.
"That's one of the reasons why I figure the Maal were after me. As they attacked I could hear them in my mind as they tried to overload that also." I looked at Bob for a second and didn't envy him the coming battles. "The Maal went after me first because I was a dual threat. They had never come up against a Mage before and I kept throwing them curves they couldn't handle. One thing I'm sure of though is that you and Kalindra are right behind me on their list of threats."
"You heard them?"
"It was impossible not to. I suspect we've all picked up faint echoes in our previous encounters with them. Telepaths must be a delicacy to them. As they invade and devour the mind of their victims, a telepath provides a feedback that drives them into their equivalent of an orgasm. That's why they like the Meenzal's so much. They are all rudimentary telepaths."
"Oh shit... They'll never give up then" muttered Bob. Both Jab and Jasm just looked at me in shock. "We're like candy to them."
"Yep, and they don't care about anything but themselves." I remembered the voices I'd heard in my head during the attack. There had been so many of them screaming in hunger that I'd finally understood what they were all saying as my telepathy had shutdown under the overload. "There won't be any way to reason with them, or even talk to them. The moment they find us they will go into a feeding frenzy."
"Maal have to die" said Jab as he spoke up for the first time. "Meenzal's know this for long time. Now Humans and furry know it also."
"So what do we do?" asked Bob as he looked from Kalindra to me and back.
"I have no idea. Me, I'm going to find a hole and pull it in behind me when I manage to hitch a ride home."
"Huh?" Bob's voice changed even as I watched. "So are you going to chicken out on us also?"
"And just what do you expect me to do now?" I replied as I started to get angry. "If you haven't understood what I've said, I'll spell it out for you. I'm not a Mage anymore! Hell, I'm going to have to borrow a scooter just to get home." I felt a touch on my shoulder as I sat up in the makeshift bed I'd been laying in.
"Why will you need a scooter? The Gate to our home will still be working when we return to K1. Or do you not consider my house your home anymore?"
"You took a Mage as your mate, and he no longer exists." I could feel the claws as they dug into my shoulder.
"You once told me you would be dead for two weeks before you gave up protecting me. Do you expect me to do less? You are both my mate and a Mage. I will not allow either to walk out of my life without a fight."
"Jesus Christ! Haven't you been listening?" I was screaming at all of them now. "My mind was fried! I'm burned out, kaput, broke, fucked nine ways to Sunday! I! AM! NOT! A! MAGE! ANYMORE!"
*Why not let me be the judge of that Apprentice* came a familiar voice in my mind. You could have heard a pin drop in the cabin as we all looked at each other. We'd all heard it, and as it sank in that I'd heard it as well, I fainted dead away.
*After all of these years he still does not believe in the reasons I choose him as my successor* came Kimi's voice in the minds of those who still listened. *Keep him safe and bring him back to me Kalindra nal Kan. I taught him much of what he knows, but I didn't teach him everything that I know. School begins tomorrow morning and he will need his sleep.*
Pain and Suffering 101
I made sure I was up early the next morning. All those years of being taught by Kimi had pounded one lesson home. Run like hell! While Kalindra still slept, I got up and snuck out of the small room Bob had given us on K1 and headed for the lunar lab.
"Up early this morning aren't we?" asked Penny as I ducked down the corridor towards the construction area.
"Keep it down" I hissed "I don't want anyone to know where I am." I ducked into one of the smaller labs and activated one of the terminals that I'd scattered all over the area. Working my way through the menus, I tapped into the security system and displayed an image of the Master Gate back on K1.
"Aren't you suppose to start school or something this morning?"
"Will you shut the hell up! I don't have any intention of being around when Kimi gets here. Being taught be her once in my life was once too often." With a glance at the monitor every few moments, I started grabbing tools and parts from the cabinets.
"They aren't going to be real happy when they find you gone. Kalindra asked me to keep an eye on you for her."
"I'll just bet she did..." Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement on the monitor. When I turned, I saw Kalindra greeting Kimi as she stepped through the Gate from Susan's house. "That probably caused a few more gray hairs Earth side. That will teach Bob to stick the thing in his Ex wife's house." As I watched, I spotted what I knew sealed my fate. Under her arm, Kimi was carrying the Book of Mages. There were only two ways she could have gotten it, and I hadn't handed it to her. "That settles it then. Even the book has decided I'm finished." I flipped a switch and listened to them talking.
"... gone when I got up this morning" said my loving mate with a look of disgust on her face. "He's been acting strange ever since you mentioned school. I did as you asked though and he could not have gotten far."
Kimi chuckled. "I expected something like this. Come, we have much to talk about." The two of them headed away from the gate and I started to track them via the security system. "Just in case though..." Kimi stopped and cast some kind of spell. Almost instantly my monitor went black.
"Damnit, she shielded the two of them!"
"Boss, I really think I ought to tell them where you are. You need all the help..." I had been typing and the command took hold in mid sentence. I hated to do it, but I cut Penny's comm links to K1 and the construction bays for the next sixty minutes. The last thing I need was for her to rat me out to the gang. Grabbing the stuff I'd gathered, I ran back to the construction bay and set to work hot-wiring one of the triships for manual control.
During my initial search this morning I'd found that the Gate to Velar and Earth had been shielded against my using them. My armor in the landing bay had also been locked down, as had all the small scooters. They hadn't however guarded everything I might try. I'd been at it about 45 minutes when I heard someone moving in the bay below me.
"Whatcha doing Brian?"
I peeked out around the hatch I'd pried open and spotted Aron standing below me. "Jesus, you scared he half to death. What are you doing around here?"
"Exploring... Dad said it was ok except when you were moving the ships or something."
I ducked back into the hatch and continued my work on the computer interface. "Well be careful, there is still a lot of things to get hurt by around here." I stuck my head back out the hatch for a moment. "Say, have you been home in the last hour or so?"
"Yeah, I just came from breakfast."
"Anything odd going on?"
"They are looking for you, it that's what you mean." I just stood there and looked at me.
"You going to tell them where I am?"
He grinned. "Nope, I figured it was like hide-n-go-seek or something."
"Good for you." I went back to wiring the computer interface. "The last thing I need is for that old bat to find me."
Oh shit, that didn't sound like Aron.
"Apprentice, you seem to have forgotten your manners towards your elders along with everything else!"
I peeked out the hatch just in time to see Aron shimmer and change to Kimi. "Fuckin illusions... That's not fair..." I didn't get a chance to do much else because I found myself floating out the hatch and hanging in mid-air. "I don't suppose you would care to be reasonable about this?"
"What do you think?" she laughed as she floated me down the corridor towards the Gate to K1. "Your mate is not real happy with you and your sister would like to have a few words with you later." Keeping me well away from the walls, we slipped through the Gate into the entryway of K1. The whole gang was on hand to watch me and they weren't bothering to hide their laughter.
"Have much trouble finding him?" asked Karen.
"None" replied Kimi.
"You are sure this will work?" asked Kalindra with a worried look on her face.
"Nice time to decide to worry about me" I yelled as I bobbed like a balloon in the air.
"You read the book, you know what must be done" said Kimi as she directed me into one of the larger labs.
"You are sure there is no other way?"
"None that I can be sure of."
I made a wild grab for the edge of the door as I passed through into the empty lab chamber. "I'm writing you out of my will because of this!" Kimi just laughed and stared at me as Kalindra closed the door. Before she let me down, she made sure I saw her wizard lock the door.
"Now then apprentice, it is time to begin."
"Begin what you senile old bat? In case you haven't heard, I'm no longer a Mage!" I had just enough time to regret calling her senile before she kicked me across the room.
"Prepare to defend yourself apprentice."
I started running like hell to stay away from her. It wasn't easy even with her being almost 80 years old. "What the hell do you want from me?"
"To defend yourself" she grinned as she launched a magical attack to bounce me off the wall. "You have the knowledge, and I'm going to give you the reason."
"I don't have the power!" I yelled as I ducked a low power energy bolt. It wouldn't have killed me, nor even hurt me bad, but it would have stung like being tossed to a swarm of bee's. Very pissed bee's...
"That remains to be seen..." she said as she attacked again. When I ducked that one, she just attacked again, and again and again and again... When she stopped for lunch, she made a show of complaining that she had developed a hangnail. As she unlocked the door, I lay in the corner of the room and whimpered in pain. My score so far was a couple of fractured ribs and a fucked up ankle that was hurting like hell. As the door opened I spotted Kalindra outside looking in.
"Any luck?" she asked Kimi as she left the lab.
"No, he is being difficult as usual. He had been hard to convince for the entire time I have known him."
"Then at least explain what I'm suppose to be learning!" I yelled as the door swung closed again. I didn't get an answer, and less than 30 minutes class resumed. The only thing that kept me going that afternoon was the thought that I'd get another chance to escape that night when Kimi went home. Even that hope was crushed when I got tossed a blanket and pillow by Kimi as she locked me in the lab for the night.
"Sleep well apprentice. Class begins bright and early tomorrow morning. Think well on what I have taught you today." With that she locked the door and shut off the lights.
"You're all insane!" I cried into the darkness. "That, or I never woke up after the attack" I muttered to myself. "I wonder if this is what hell is like?"
The only consolation that night was that I still had what felt like my link to Kalindra. I was tired, sore, hungry and pissed. That entire night I made sure Kal felt every bit of it that I could force through to her.
* * *
"You are sure this is the only way?" asked Kalindra for what had to be the hundredth time during dinner.
"It is the only way I could think of to motivate him" answered Kimi. "I would be happy to listen if you have thought of another way to make him realize what he has done to himself."
"You are sure just telling him wouldn't help?"
"Would you believe something like that if you were in his position? I doubt very much that I would."
Kalindra winced as she picked up some of the pain I was radiating from where I lay in the lab. "He is in a great deal of pain."
"Pain is a great motivater. Let us hope that it is enough."
Abnormal Psyche 205
I was waiting patiently as the door opened the next morning. Kimi stepped through the door and sealed it behind her. "Prepare to defend yourself" was all she said.
I simply said "No," and sat there on the floor in the middle of the room.
"Then prepare to get hurt."
I calmly said "No," and continued to stare at her. This time she stopped and looked closer at me. "You would have made a lousy torturer in the middle ages. You should never have let up on me last night."
"Meaning that I figured out what you're up to, which makes the method useless." I pulled myself to my feet and gathered up the blanket and pillow. "You seriously expect me to believe that I deliberately burned out my own power centers?" The look on her face told me I'd guessed correctly.
"Not burned out, sealed up. And yes, that is exactly what everyone including the Book of Mages believes. We were hoping to force you so off balance and angry that your subconscious would release the barrier it has created."
"Assuming you were right, which you aren't of course. Pissing me off was a hell of a dangerous thing to do."
"That's why I'm here rather than your mate. If it had worked and you had gotten mad enough to take your anger out on someone. We decided it had to be me rather than your coimelin that you tried to kill."
I didn't bother to reply, but instead stood by the door and waited to be let out. I was tired from being up all night, sore from the injuries I'd picked up during yesterday's class, and pissed because everyone thought I had tried to take the easy way out. It was going to be a hell of a day.
"So the group of you decided that I was a coward rather than a victim. Decided that I was faking being powerless, and then decided to force me to use my magic to try to kill one of you." I was fairly shouting by the time the door was opened. "I was fucking safer with the Maal! At least with them I always knew what to expect."
The rest of the gang was at breakfast when I stormed into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator. "Did it work?" asked Karen as I threw something together on the counter top.
"Yes, you succeeded in pissing me off royal" I snarled under my breath.
"No, and now he thinks we're all crazy" said Kimi as she sat down at the table.
With a sandwich and a glass of juice in hand, I headed for the Gate. "Thanks for thinking so highly of me and good-bye." I didn't make it even ten feet before I got stopped.
"Hold it right there. You are not leaving until you can fly under your own power. If you still want to leave then, I won't stop you." Kalindra was holding me by my shoulder and I turned my head to stare at her.
"So you believe I'm a coward also..."
"No, but I believe that you were pushed beyond your limits and your mind did it's best to protect you. Someplace inside that skull of yours, you decided that the best way to avoid another encounter with the Maal was to make yourself useless as a Mage. If your not a Mage, you don't have to fight them again."
"So now your a Psyche Major? There is a flaw in that idea even you should have spotted. Not being a Mage isn't going to prevent me being involved. Although you idiots have sure tried to convince me that I'd be better off hiding from the lot of you." I looked around the room and nobody but the kids would even meet my gaze.
"So then were are you going?"
"To my lab to work."
"I'm sorry, but I can't allow that" said Kimi. "Whether you believe it or not. You are still a Mage and your skills are still needed. Since our first idea didn't work, we will now have to try unlocking your barriers from the inside."
"From the inside?" I looked around the room at my friends. "You want to rummage around inside my head and see what screams the loudest, right?"
"I will not force my way through anything. This will be with your cooperation, or I won't do anything." I looked at Kimi and saw she meant every word.
"You all believe this shit?" I asked of the group sitting around the table.
"I don't know what to believe" said Karen. "But if there is any chance they are right. Isn't it worth the time to find out?"
"The rest of you feel the same way?" The kids were just watching us talk, but both Bob and Kalindra nodded their heads. "Do I at least get to finish my breakfast?" Kalindra smiled and moved so I could sit down beside her.
"I will make sure you are not harmed."
"You aren't going to have anything to do with it. If Kimi is going to dig around inside my subconscious, you are going to be far away. I've done plenty of things in my life I'm not real proud of and I don't need me mate learning all about them in vivid Technicolor." She started to argue, and I cut her off. "Nope, that's part of the deal. Kimi does this on her own. She can report anything she finds, which will be zilch, when she's finished."
That settled, I grabbed a plate and dug in. We ate pretty much in silence as no one was feeling real talkative. That is until Ficus broke the silence and the gloomy mood in the same breath.
"So dad, is that lab going to become your play room? You won't have to hide the ropes under the bed anymore."
Bob blew scrambled egg's all over the table while Karen turned bright red. "That's not what those are for and what were you doing in my room?"
"That explains the handcuff's you keep in your computer desk" I added as he continued to sputter. "I always did wonder what those got used for." Kalindra was looking at both of them with a puzzled look on her face. "I'll tell you about it later..." When we finally finished breakfast, Kimi and I retired to a private room where we wouldn't be disturbed.
"So, how do you want to do this?" I lay back on a soft couch and tried to relax. I was still sore and my ribs hadn't been healed yet because of the uproar. Laying back on that soft couch felt real good and I found myself having trouble staying awake.
"Just continue on the way you are and relax. I am only going to look within and see if I can find some way to convince you we are correct."
"I'd be careful of that. I don't believe it, but if you were right my subconscious might be a little upset about being exposed."
"I shall be careful." Reaching over from where she had sat next to me, Kimi touched her finger to my forehead. That was the last thing I remembered until I woke up almost 12 hours later.
"Take things easy. You have been exerting yourself even if you don't remember it."
I looked around the room for something to drink. "Can I have some water?"
Kimi grabbed a pitcher and poured me a glass. "You have been talking almost non-stop for the last few hours. I'm not surprised that you are thirsty."
"I'm hungry too! Any chance of getting some food? I could use some help with these ribs also." I started to sit up and Kimi placed her hand on my chest to stop me.
"You need to know a couple of things before you leave this room. First, while I can't prove it to you. I was correct in my believe that you have only barricaded your abilities. You also were correct in warning me that you might not react with favor at this being exposed."
"You can't prove it though, correct?"
"No, I cannot. You made sure all recordings of what occured today were destroyed."
"Convenient that" I smirked in reply. "What was the other thing?"
"You will need to have a long talk with your mate. I caught her outside the room this afternoon, trying to listen in on our discussion."
"She's curious. Even with the meld's we've done over the years to enhance spells, she's never been free to roam around in my mind."
"Well she found out something about you today. When I opened the door to chastise her, you apparently heard that bell she wears."
"Yeah, I gave it to her as a joke." I thought about it for a moment. "Wait a minute, I heard the bell? What did I do?"
"Please remember that you were in a highly suggestive state at the time. It wasn't what you did so much as what you said and thought. Apprentice, you never cease to amaze me with the things you can think of."
Oh shit... Given where I'd got the idea for that bell I can well imagine what I had thought of. "Lady, if this little goof of yours has hurt my life with Kalindra. You better pray to every Japanese god you can think of that I'm right about my magic being gone for good."
"I don't think any damage was done, but I'm not sure what to think about her reaction. From what little you have told me about Velan's though. She blushed from the moment you heard her bell until I got you to shut up."
I just lay there and glared at her. "So, let me see if I've got this straight. You can't prove a thing, and you've managed to convince my mate that I'm the largest Furvert our planet has ever produced. What have you got planned next, vivisecting me for Gal Meen?" I brushed her hand aside and left the room behind me as I stomped my way around the inside of K1. It was the night cycle now and the central sun had dimmed down to simulate a moonlit evening. Finally I noticed I was hungry and headed for the kitchen for some dinner. I had to chuckle as I found a small plate of food in the fridge with my name on it. Karen had struck once again. When I finished, I cleaned up after myself and went to find out how bad things were.
"Kalindra?" I whispered as I opened the door to our room.
"Over here, and please close the door" came the low reply out of the darkness. I stepped into the room and closed and locked the door.
"Uh, I'd like to explain about today. I'm sorry you had that dumped on you like that. I tried to warn you that I'm not the paragon of virtue you might have believed." I listened, but the only thing I heard was the soft chime of a bell. "Huh?" Then the lights brightened just slightly and I could make her out as she sat on that crazy Velan bed of ours.
"Kal, this isn't funny." She was dressed in what looked like the Arabian Princess outfit she had worn for my birthday. She was also twirling a set of handcuff's around one finger. "In fact this is about as poor a joke as you've ever played."
"If you still feel that way in the morning, I will never mention it again. Until then, your slave has been a bad girl and needs to be punished. What must I do to regain your favor, master?"
For the second night in a row I didn't get any sleep. I just hopped Bob didn't notice his handcuff's were missing.
Exotic Metallurgy 307
Breakfast the next morning was more of the same. Kimi couldn't prove that her theory was correct, and I maintained that the whole group was deluding themselves. "You just don't want the job now that I'm unavailable" I told her as she tried to convince me to let her poke around in my head again.
"Yes, there is some truth to what you say" she replied. "I have followed your adventures from a safe distance until now. You are much better suited for the task then I am at my age."
"That sounded like; I'm getting too old for this shit. The way you bounced me around that empty lab tells me you're the one who is trying to avoid your duties now." That got me a real dirty look.
"Tell me something" asked Bob. "Why do you take that shit from him at all? Isn't he suppose to treat you with a little more respect?"
"Getting respect from this one" and she nodded at me, "has always been easy unless he thinks he knows more about the subject under discussion. Then he is impossible to deal with." I just leaned back in my chair and smiled.
"Well at least he's consistent then. He's just as bad with us, if not worse."
If I'd been able to, I'd have floated a small halo above my head. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. Yo Kal, can you bring me another one of those waffles?"
Kalindra looked up from where she was puttering around in the kitchen. "Yes master..." she said with a twinkle in her eye.
"Much better. At least one female around here knows her place."
I should have ducked. In the space of thirty seconds I had a pitcher of orange juice poured over my head by Kimi, I was pelted with raw egg's by Kal, and I was buried in scrambled egg's from both Karen and Megan. "Yep, I can see female population of K1 is completely untrained. We're going to have to work on that Bob."
"You made your enemies, you pacify them" he laughed as he ducked out of the room.
When I got cleaned up, I headed to the lunar lab to get to work. Magic or no, I had things that needed doing and I was the best one to do them. "Hey Penny, did Bob get the Sunbeam towed into its bay?"
"Yeah, and you aren't going to like the repair report."
"Let me guess. Scrap it and start again?"
"That would be easier. The original hull was constructed as one large piece. Trying to put a new one around the existing frame is going to almost impossible."
"Besides the fact that we can't use hull metal this time."
"I was trying to be nice..."
"I know, thanks for the thought. We might get lucky though and find that I can teach either Kalindra or Kimi how to make it." I didn't have a lot of hope for that though. Teaching a spell to another Mage had always consisted of letting them follow my thoughts and actions as I cast the spell in front of them. I didn't think trying to explain it was going to do much.
"Should I plan for hull metal or something else then?"
"Better plan on normal metal. Link to the Velan Central Library and cross index their metallurgy database with our own. They are a little better with exotics then Earth is."
"I'll get started on it. You know this is going to take some time don't you."
"Yeah, I'll give you until lunch to have the ship ready to launch."
"I'm going to have to learn how to toss egg's via remote."
"Check with Kalindra. She has a wicked sidearm throw."
"Yeah, I saw" she chuckled.
"You don't miss much around here do you?" I tried to think of what it must be like for someone who was completely dependent upon what she could see through remotes and her external interfaces. Then realized she probably knew more about what happened around here then everyone else put together.
"Not much gets by me. You Carbon based units do manage to keep me entertained."
"StarTrek, the motionless picture" I muttered.
"Good boy. You get a cookie" she laughed. "You should all be glad though that I have high moral values. I could make a fortune editing some of the video records I've got for re-sale."
"Video?" I asked.
"Handcuffs?" she deadpanned in reply.
"High moral values my ass. I've got a peeping tom for a sister!"
"Next time ask me for privacy."
"Is there any room around here you don't have wired?"
"Nope, that was part of the security system design. There isn't a recorder in the whole network though. I'm the only person that sees any of the stuff unless one of you asks and has a good reason."
"That was supposed to make me feel safer, right?" I walked over to the flight bay that held the remains of the Sunbeam. "Take a friendly hint from your brother. Don't advertise that you have access to everyone's bedrooms. Some people are a little funny about things like that."
"I know. I talked it over with Bob during the original construction. The adults are the only ones that know, though I think the kids suspect. I've caught Ficus running searches for the location of the security systems."
"I don't doubt it. That kid is going to be a terror when he grows up." I stepped through the access hatch and blinked as the lights came on. "Jesus what a mess" I whistled at the sight before me. "I see what you guy's have been talking about. It's hard to tell it was even a ship at one time."
All that was left of the Sunbeam was the inner framework and systems. The entire hull out debonded and fell apart during the trip home. The only reason you could recoqnize anything at all was because the 1/6 G of the moon wasn't enough to deform the remaining supports. "Yeah, start again sounds good. We'd never get it to come out right trying to rebuild the hull in sections." I walked up next to the remains and patted the framework. "She served as best she could. Saved our asses more than once even if she was designed as a flying laboratory in the beginning."
"And the next one?" came the query from behind me. I turned and found Bob standing there watching me.
"The next one is going to make a Klingon Battlecruiser look like a bumper car. I've had all I care of being everyone's floating target." I turned and looked at the ceiling for a moment. "Did you get a sample of the hull remains for analysis?"
"Please do so. We need to figure out what the Maal did that destroyed it. Maybe we can spot something in the remains." I turned back to Bob and signaled for him to follow. Walking across the bay to a small door on the other side. I asked Penny to pop the security door for me since I couldn't activate it from my side anymore. When we stepped through, we were standing on a raised walkway that circled an area about a mile across. Sitting on the floor in the center was the new keel for the Sunbeam II.
"When did this start and why all the room?" came the puzzled query from Bob as he watched the small army of remotes working below us.
"Just after I first moved here full-time. I hadn't said anything because we were getting along pretty well with the Sunbeam. Now though, this is going to be the ship that keeps me alive. The reason for all the room is because this one's going to be a bit larger." I stepped over to a small console and activated the holosystem. "I used this for the initial design work, and Penny uses it to double check things as construction progresses." I entered a couple of commands on the console and the lights in the bay dimmed so the hologram could be seen easier. When it became visible, I heard Bob give out a low whistle.
"Jesus Christ... What's the length of that thing?"
"About 1300 feet from nose to stern, just about a quarter mile. I've designed in everything we've ever come up with and it has a fair sized manufacturing area inside for those things we think up on the fly."
"If nothing screws the schedule, about two months. Penny got quite a bit of practice building your ships in short time frames."
"And she would like the lights back on so she can finish this one" came the remark from the console beside us. "Sorry," and I turned the lights back up. Bob didn't say much until we were standing back in the original hanger.
"So you are staying around after all?" Bob said hopefully.
I got a real pained look on my face as I glared at him. "I wish to hell you people would decide what you want me to do. One moment I'm a coward because my subconscious didn't want anything more to do with magic, and the next you want me to stay even though I'm a coward." I stomped out of the hanger and headed to my computer lab. "You idiots can't have it both ways, so which is it. Do I leave, or stay?"
"You stay and get help to drop the wall you put up."
I made a rude noise as I sat down at the console. "So I stay, and you have Kimi make sushi out of my psyche. Thanks, but no thanks. I'm staying because I want to and you can just get use to a normal Human partner. If I catch any of you playing around inside my head, I'll sell the lot of you for Maal snacks." I didn't bother to see what his expression was, and he was gone when I turned around later.
"Ok, do you have the results of the test on the hull sample?"
"Yeah, and something is wrong with sample. I can't find any trace of an element heavier than Copper. Everything else has vanished from the alloy, or at least from this sample."
"Shit... If that true, it explains what happened to the hull. When the heavier atoms vanished, the rest was to brittle to hold together and began to crumble." I called up the breakdown of the sample on the computer. "Run it again and take a sample from another area."
An hour later the results came in and they matched the first almost exactly. "Damn... How the hell do you selectively remove atoms from a matrix? The only thing that held the whole mess together at all was the energy field that was part of the metal. When it faded, the rest started to fall apart."
"I'll get the test beds ready for use. You can use on of my remotes for the hull metal sample."
"Are you sure? There probably isn't anyway to replace them at this point. You'd have to settle for normal material."
"We need information, not remotes. I'll donate one of the older sensor drones."
"Thanks sis..." We spent the rest of the day trying everything we could both think of to duplicate what the Maal had done. We scared the hell out of Kalindra when she brought me my lunch about the same time we were using the TeraWatt Laser array to try to disrupt the energy field that was part of the metals basic matrix. We were just starting in on the gravity based tests when the dinner call came through.
"Any luck yet?" ask Karen as we sat down at the table. You and Penny have been pretty quiet all day. "Quiet? You didn't see them at lunch time" muttered Kalindra as she sat down next to me.
"Nothing yet, but we've only just started. We know what they did, but haven't a clue as to how. Until we find that out, we can't build a defense against it."
Dinner was a quick meal and I excused myself to get back to the lab. "Sorry to run like this, but I don't want do let my mind wander from what I'm working on." I grabbed a bottle of juice from the fridge for later and headed back to the lab. It was going to be a long night again.
* * *
"Did you have any luck?"
"None. The barrier was more solid then ever. He has convinced himself that he's just a normal human again and is trying to deal with it. I will however keep trying" said Kimi to the small band seated around the table. "As long as he is distracted, he shouldn't notice my attempts to get around the barrier."
"What if he does?" asked Karen. "He went out of his way to warn us not to try anything."
"I will deal with that when the need arises. Until then, make sure you say nothing that would alert him. He must not know what we are planning, or it will be all for naught."
The four of them looked at each other and nodded.
Curiosity without the cat
It was slightly chilly on the hangar deck. I'd found myself a spot that let me look out over space and watch the stars. I was sitting there when Ficus walked up behind.
"It's pretty, isn't it, Dad?"
"Yeah, it is. You see things here you could never see on earth."
"The atmosphere screws it up, right? I learned that in school. The stars seem to twinkle because of the light refraction."
"Very good. Yeah, the sky is all stars from here."
"All except for the planets --and that over there." he pointed off to his left.
"What over where?" I asked, and craned myself to look where he'd pointed. "Jesus. What the hell is that?" Like tendrils of neon mist, some cloudlike matter was making its way towards us slowly, and spreading to the sides as it did.
"It's like the aurora borealis --look how the colors seem to move."
He was right. The sight was almost mesmerizing. "Penny!"
A remote glided into the bay. "You rang?"
"What the hell is that?" I asked, and pointed to the nebulous mist making its way.
"I don't think I have anything on that in my databases." she replied. "It appears to be a plasma of some kind, but you knew that."
"Yeah, I suppose." I stood up and walked towards the thug. It was sitting squat and ugly in its berth.
"What are you doing, Dad?" asked my son.
"I'm going to go take a look at that, uh, thing. Up close."
"Cool. Can I go?"
I told him no, that I didn't know what it was all about, and there might be anomalies of some kind that could kill communications. Magnetic interference was always a part of nebulae.
There was no way to put a finger on it, but there was something a little different about the thug. It looked the same, and it handled the same, but there was something different none the less. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that it was Brian. Sure, it sounds strange, but the thug was part of an evolution of our friendship. As I made my way towards the nebula, my mind ran pictures of our association. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how big a part of what I was and did was because of him. That made me even sadder about my promise to Kimi.
When she laid her plan out, I didn't want any part of it. Brian is a big boy and has every right to decide things for himself. If he didn't want to be a Mage, then so what? I sure wasn't any skin off of my nose. But the way that Kimi laid it out, it was necessary for Brian to face things clearly and not push things out of his mind. The line that got to me was "Would you deny him the right to be what he truly wants to be?" The answer was no. It never was and never would be. As a matter of fact, he...
The thug came to a complete stop suddenly. Even with my seat restraints in place, I was heaved forward, almost out of the chair. No sooner than the thug came into contact with the first tendrils of the nebulous mass, it was in trouble, and I with it. I yelled a course reversal, but as it came out of my mouth, the thug began to shut its systems down around me.
"Penny! I need some help here! PENNY!" I got no response. The screens began to fade, and soon I was in blackness. Putting my energy into it, I tried to concentrate...
* Need help *
I 'pathed the message over and over again, and got no answer. It was apparent that I was alone, armorless, out in space in a small tin can. A tin can with more power than the earth could generate in 10 years, but only when it was working. Right now, it wasn't.
* * *
"Where's your father?" Brian asked Ficus. The boy hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards the hangars.
"He's in there --or else out in his ship."
"Ship? Where'd he go?"
"He wanted to look at that thing out there."
"The aurora coming this way." He said it offhandedly. Ficus was so blase, that Brian almost accepted it.
"Wait a second. What aurora?"
Ficus got up from where he had a collection of comic books, and went towards the hangar with Brian in tow. "That aurora." he said when they got to the edge.
"What the...? Penny, can you scan that?"
"I was just about to call you. Yes I can."
"What is it?"
"It's the answer to your question on how" said Penny.
"What are you talking about?"
"It's a high concentration of charged ions, but they have both positive and negative charges."
"That's not so unusual."
"That is. What else do we know? Are you getting any telemetry from Bob?"
"Should I be?"
"I hope so, Ficus said he took his ship in there."
Alarms started going off all over the station. "Get him out of there, Brian. Go get him right now" barked Penny immediately.
"Of all people, you should know."
Brian paled as the blood went out of his face. "I can't." he said. It was almost a whisper. "I can't." Ficus was moving quickly when Brian noticed him. "Where are you going?"
"Where you won't." the boy growled back. He was already climbing onto a sled. "He wouldn't leave you out th..."
The canopy slammed shut and the sled began to lift.
Reality (Masters Thesis)
I was still standing there looking stupid when everyone else began to pour into the landing bay and grab their armor. It wasn't until Kal clanked up beside me that I even registered their presence.
"I said, what is going on?" I pointed out the port at the plasma cloud in the distance. "Bob went out to investigate and we lost contact. Ficus just headed after him in a sled."
"What?" screamed Karen from behind me somewhere. "And you let him go? Penny, can you override the sled controls and bring him back?"
"Yes, and I have already started doing just that" came her reply.
"So what now?"
I turned and found everyone staring at me. Standing there surrounded by people in powered armor, and with what Penny believed were Maal hanging just off the station, I froze. When they realized I wasn't going to say anything, they looked lost until Jab turned and flew out the entrance. The minute he left, they turned and followed him. Only Kalindra even glanced my direction as they left and the look of disgust she gave me was what finally got through to me.
At a dead run I headed for the compartment that held my armor. Slowing down enough to slap the access plate, I slammed into the door when if failed to open. "Damnit Penny, unseal this thing! I'm going to help, not run!"
* * *
"Do not do it" muttered Kimi as she watched the view on the terminal I had activated for her. "As long as he can depend upon technological crutches, he will never regain his magic."
"I hope you know the chance you are taking. If Robert is killed because you prevented me from letting my brother help him. I will make your life a living hell for the short time you will retain possession of it."
"Some might consider it unwise to threaten the ArchMage" she replied with a glance over her shoulder at my vault.
"I too read the book, and you have no claim to that title. Just remember that I do not make idle threats and that you have no idea what I am capable of if pushed." There are times I would like the ability to read minds as Brian can, but the sensor arrays in the vault anteroom showed me her physical reaction to what I had said. It sufficed that she was worried about what I had said, for now at least. We both sat there in silence and watched Brian pounding on the access door to his armor and yelling for me to unlock the door. Then with a slam, it popped open.
"I asked you not to do that" said Kimi.
"And I didn't." A quick check of the security systems showed that the lock had been fused from the inside. "I think he did it, but he doesn't seem to realize it."
"Then it has begun as we hoped. It isn't what we had planned, so all we can do is watch and hope that he figures it out for himself."
* * *
"Damnit! Open this fucking..." The door gave way as I beat on it again with my fists and I fell through it to land at the feet of my armor. "About damn time!" I jumped to my feet and slid into my armor. Even as it sealed, I was accessing the comm channels from the rest of the group.
"Ficus get the hell away from that!"
"I can't see any source for the plasma. What's holding it together?"
"Thug dead, but can hear Bob now. He want armor now!"
I looked over and sure enough Bob's armor was still sitting in its storage locker. He'd taken off without it again and I was closest. "I'll grab it and be there in a second." There was dead silence for a moment on the radio.
"About time you got moving."
"Tell that to Penny. She took a couple of minutes to convince to let me have my armor." I gathered up the various pieces of Bob's gear and flew out of the landing bay. Off in the distance I could still see the cloud, but it seemed to have stopped moving. "Hey, is that thing stopped?"
"Not move now it have Bob."
It took me a couple of minutes to fly out there using the sprints since I had to allow for stopping also. When I came to a rest, the group was floating in a rough sphere around the cloud. "Anyone tried to penetrate the boundary?"
"Yes, and my remote lost power the moment it entered the cloud" came Penny's voice in my helmet.
"I don't know how much good this armor is going to be then. Even if we figure out how to get it to him." I looked at the cloud again. "Penny, are you sure this is the same thing that nailed the Sunbeam?"
"No, but how many ionized energy clouds do you run across in our line of work. This one does seem to be slightly different in that it is affecting energy transfer instead of attacking the hull."
I scanned the area. "There don't seem to be any Maal around either. This doesn't feel right somehow." I got a nasty idea in my head. "This isn't some prank to see if I'll give under pressure is it?" I got treated to a 30 second dissertation about my ancestors and my morals in general.
"Boss, I am getting one other reading I can't explain from this thing. At least I think it's this cloud. I'm picking up faint Hyperspace impulses from the area of the cloud, but it isn't moving."
I was still running that through my mind when Kalindra floated over to where I was. "Hand me the armor, I'll teleport inside the cabin and hand it to him. If my armor looses power, I can teleport back out or back to K1."
"Sounds reasonable, go in shielded though." I handed her the bundle and watched as she vanished. Instantly I felt a knife stab through my skull as the link began screaming her pain. "Jab! Is Kal in the thug?"
"Bob say no, she not there."
Then I realized what had happened. "She's still in Hyperspace somehow!" I looked around and spotted one of Penny's remotes floating nearby. In seconds I flew over and grabbed it. "Penny, make sure we're at rest to the cloud and activate the Hyperflight field on this remote." She started to argue as I was anchoring the remote to my chest with straps. "Damnit, do it now!" I was still attaching straps when the lights went out.
When my eye's started to adjust to the tiny amount of light that was available from my surroundings. I found myself staring in horror at another group of Maal. There were two groups of them. One was in a spherical formation I was all too familiar with in just about the right spot to be generating plasma field we were seeing in normal space. The rest were scattered in one's and two's around the first group.
That is all except one, and that one was holding Kalindra inside it. I spotted her about the same time the Maal spotted me and we both fired at the same time. I with my wrist rail aimed at a vertice, and it with an energy bolt straight at my chest. I missed, it didn't. Even as the remote began to explode under my face, I saw Kal turn my direction. As the Hyperflight field vanished, I was popped back to normal space. Burned in my brain was the look of terror on her face. Then the link that would hold us together until death, blinked, and took my sanity with it.
It felt like someone had detonated a bomb behind my eye's. I didn't know why, and I wouldn't have cared anyway, but I could one again hear the thoughts of those around me. Unfortunately for Kimi, that included her and I felt her trying to back out of where she had been tampering with my mind. I could feel her trying to hide her location even as I traced her hiding place. With no thought for what it would do to her, I dug out of her mind what she had been doing to me. A second later I teleported from K1 to the lunar lab and grabbed her from behind by her hair.
"Pray to your god's that you find a way to be useful to me." I smiled at the look of horror on her face as I spun a shield around her and 'ported back to where the battle was going to begin. I still had a grip on her hair as I yelled over the comm to the rest of the group to show up firing. They were still in shock as I formed the Hyperfield that would have swallowed a small world.
As soon as we were in Hyperspace I tossed Kimi away from me. "Make yourself useful, or don't come back" I snarled as I zeroed in on the Maal that was holding my mate. I had my life, my magic and I still had my link to Kalindra. All the Maal had was its life and I planned on fixing that in short order.
Movement in Hyperspace is affected by the energy applied to the normal space mass. As Kalindra and Tan had know, and the rest of us were now finding out, thought could effect movement also. Just thinking about getting my hands on the Maal in front of me made me fly to its side. I didn't even bother with weapons as that range. Using every bit of the augmented strength Bob had designed into our armor. I reached out and grabbed two of the sticks that were the Maal's body. With one hand on each were they joined together at a vertice, I pulled. There were two screams that echoed through the minds of anyone in range. Mine of rage, and the Maal's in death as it came apart in my hands.
Another thought brought me to Kal's side and I gave a quick and silent thank you to what ever power had watched over her. Even as I held her I could feel the link strengthen as I saw her open her eye's. I was still looking at her when the flash of a Maal exploding lit the area like a small nova.
Freed of the plasma field in normal space, the power systems of the thug had come back on line. The first Maal had died as the conversion cannon had reached out and brushed it with its feather touch. Then more flashes began to light up our pocket universe. The rest of the group was quickly figuring out how things worked and were joining the battle.
The war had began at last and it was the Mammals versus the Maal. With a snarl that promised revenge, Kalindra launched herself into the battle and I followed at her side.
And so it starts
The thug was starting to buck as the cannons went into constant fire mode. I'd shut off the interior lights and engaged the full spherical view of the sensors. I was mad as hell, but realized I was grinning as I watched the damage being inflicted on the Maal. As my eyes adjusted to the limited light, I was able to see that everyone had come off of K1 and were blasting away at the tinker toys with tremendous ferocity. I pulled back on the cannons as one of the figures broke away from a group and dove straight in on a cluster of Maal. In a flash of pyrotechnics I saw an anarchy symbol on the left sleeve of the armor.
"Ficus! What the hell are you doing?" I screamed through the comm link. There was no answer, but the boy was accelerating at a high rate. As he neared the cluster of Maal, his shoulder cannon erupted in a stream of fire. The cannon blasts would weaken the Maal, and Ficus was blasting through what was left, shattering it with his armor. Others saw the strategy and began to copy it. I pointed the thug towards a second group of Maal and followed his lead. The results were spectacular.
With each impact against a vertice of a Maal, there would be a brilliant flash, and pieces of the space bound tinker toys would splatter in all directions. The Maal didn't stand there and take it for long.
Almost like a school of fish moving in unison, the Maal began to shift and reform into collections. One group began to condense themselves the same way that they had when they surrounded the Sunbeam, and it made too good a target to pass up. I swung the thug into position and gave it throttle. "Ramming Speed!" I yelled to nobody, and impacted the Maal just behind a multiblast from all the ships' guns. I hit the tightening sphere with the power pod on the left side of the ship. There was a brilliant flash, and I was tumbling through space so fast I couldn't orient myself. Even if I could, the ship wasn't responding.
Behind me, the family was drilling the sphere with every weapon they had, and after an unmerciful deluge of charged particle beams, polarized plasma bolts, and a plentiful smattering of harsh language, the cluster of Maal exploded with the brilliance of a supernova.
The shock wave radiated out of the epicenter, knocking everyone in all directions like the splash of an impacting water balloon. Then there was darkness and silence. I knew I was alive, but was still having trouble trying to get the thug under control. I was still working at it when I collided with K1. The ship came apart like shattering crystal, and I realized I was in space and unprotected as I began to lose consciousness.
I woke up on the hangar deck of the station with a circle of faces staring down at me.
"You did well, my student" said Kimi. For a second I thought she was talking to me, but then realized she'd meant Brian.
"You weren't so bad yourself" said Brian, grinning. "I liked the way you got rid of the Maal."
"It was something you should have thought of." she replied sternly. Brian stopped grinning.
"So I'm not perfect. Pardon the fuck out of me." he growled.
"Before a fight breaks out, can someone tell me what the hell just happened?" I asked.
"Brian caught you in a field. He saw what was happening and he caught you" said Aron.
I tried to sit up, but pain shot through me from the stomach out. I looked and saw a chunk of metal sticking through my abdomen, just above my belt. "Oh, fuck."
Kimi bent down and whispered a few notes, and the pain receded. "We will heal you, Robert. Stay quiet. For now we need to concentrate on Megan."
"What's the matter with Megan?" I said. Alarm was seeping through me.
Megan lay still on the bay deck nearby. There was a blackened and ragged hole in the shoulder of her armor, and another in her right thigh.
"She'll be fine, stay quiet" said Kalindra. She and your son will be well again soon." I looked at Aron, and saw that he was fine. Turning my head, I could see Ficus sitting, leaning against the bay wall. His right arm was gone. His head was back and I could see the trail left by tears on his cheeks.
"Leave me and help them." I demanded. Brian waved his arm gently in my direction, and I was asleep.
In my dreams I saw the Maal. They were like an endless sea.
* * *
It was Megan who sat with me when I woke. She was wearing a tank top, and I could see heavy bandages across her chest and shoulders. "Hi Dad. How do you feel?"
I sat up slowly, and felt a sensation of pressure in my midsection. The chunk of metal was gone, and I had bandages too. "I'm ok. Where's your brother?"
"I knew you'd ask. Ficus is fine. Kimi is growing a new arm for him."
"Yeah. Isn't it cool? A whole new arm!" she dimmed a little. "All I got was a bandage."
"I think that makes you better off." I said. She said she supposed so, but knowing my girl, she was feeling outdone.
"So long as you're ok."
I hugged her close. "Where's everyone else?"
"It's dinner time."
"Ah." There was a slight pop from across the room, and Brian came out of nowhere.
"Lazarus rises, I see." he said.
"Oh sure. Compare me to something old." Brian grinned from ear to ear.
"My pleasure." he smirked.
"What's our status?"
The grin fled Brian's face and he grew serious. We'd managed to get the first wave of the Maal, but there were a lot more out there, and we'd received a number of distress calls from Meenzeii. When I asked what they'd been told, Brian said they hadn't been told anything. "We were busy." is all he said about it.
"I guess were in pretty shitty shape then. The Sunbeam is trashed, and I take it the thug is space dust."
"All except the keepsake you brought in with you." He gestured at a table where a 14 inch wedge of the thug's hull sat. I looked at it, and then at my stomach.
"And more, yes. Megan would you go ask Kimi and Kal what we can feed your dad? We don't want his dinner to go in at the top and fall out of the middle." She nodded and left. Brian sat down on the edge of the bed and grew serious.
"We're in bad shape. It's going to be a few days before you're up. Ficus is going to take a week or so, even with Kimi, Kal and I working on the regeneration of his arm. But you're right. We have no ships except for the fleet of triships, and it's going to take a week of hard work to get them converted for our use."
"Worse. We expect that we'll get another visit from the Maal about the time you're back up."
"How can you tell?" I asked. Brian smiled again and tapped his forehead.
"A Mage knows." he smiled.
"Welcome home, Brian. I missed you." He winked and was suddenly gone.