Note this is the prog (in-progress) version and may change when the book comes out
Zeth drove the Transpide west following a prompt by Pocerni that the yellow orb lay in that direction.
“I don’t recognize the island,” Pocerni said. “Looked like deserted, ruined buildings in a forest. Seems like the place for Elechnid.”
“An electricity-based guardian, correct?” Zeth asked.
“Yeah,” Pocerni said. He looked down. “Be careful, dudes. Just be very careful around it.”
As they sailed on, the sun dipped into the horizon behind them. Numer hoped they would find the island before it grew too dark. Soon tiny flashes of light appeared at the darkening horizon, and they arrived at an island not much bigger than Nottle.
Like Pocerni said, a forest covered the island, but around the trees stood white brick buildings. Some rose to the treetops, while others were just rubble. Some remained as shells, two or three walls standing with only scrap or dirt inside. The entire island was silent save the slow swish of ocean waves and the cracks and buzzes of electric wires.
The dirt ground dipped into numerous holes, many filled with water. Puddles were as common as trees, if not more, and electric wires dropped from the buildings into the pools, some exposed and sparking, leaving the main sound on the island dangerous decay.
“This whole place looks like a death trap,” Zeth said.
“What is this place?” Cherry asked.
“Let’s just find Elechnid and get out of here,” Pocerni said.
“Nobody leave the Transpide,” said Zeth. “Well, not that you could unless I opened the roof. But it’s not safe. Let’s not get out unless we have to.”
They drove along high ground, avoiding the puddles. The island seemed devoid of animal life, only trees and small shrubs. It reminded Numer of Flaeneath, which in modern times had been abandoned so long ago that all life was gone, even plants. At least some life held on at this place. The electricity did, too. How long had this island been abandoned? When had those buildings been constructed? These were questions Numer figured he wouldn’t get an answer to. If Pocerni didn’t recognize it, maybe the structures had been built after his time.
Near the center of the island stood a white metal building a couple stories taller than the others. The four walls remained standing, although holes and rust littered it. Even when the other buildings had been whole this big one likely dwarfed them. They entered through a square hole wide enough for two Transpides, probably once a doorway. The floor and walls looked moist.
In the next room stood rows of desks made of a dull, white material. On most desks stood some type of electronic box. Most of the boxes were broken apart, wires and metal strewn about. Others remained in one piece, although some sparked and looked crumpled or rusted. Monitors stood on half the desks, some hooked to the electronic boxes, others smashed and in pieces. Every screen was blank, and despite the electricity, all the machines appeared to be shut off.
“This place is weird,” Numer said.
“It’s like a research station of sorts,” Zeth said. “Perhaps a military force from one of our planetary neighbors set it up centuries ago but abandoned it.”
“Hey, Elechnid!” Pocerni yelled. “You in here, dude?”
As they drove around the room, a door on the other side slid open.
“Perhaps it’s in there,” Zeth said. He drove the Transpide through the doorway. In that room they saw walls covered with switches and levers each at least an arm long. In the center of the room sat a sphere of crackling electricity about the same size as the Transpide. It floated just above the floor.
“What is that?” Numer asked.
“It’s Elechnid,” Pocerni said.
“It’s just a big ball of electricity,” Numer said. How could that be a guardian?
Duth_Olec: Hey, you try coming up for good designs for elemental guardian thingies that aren’t actually elemental. I mean, that is to say, whatever brought these guardians into being was probably amazing and smart and at least passable in looks.
Wally_Plotch: Right. And it wasn’t you?
Duth_Olec: Who told you?
Wally_Plotch: Who told me what? That it wasn’t you?
Duth_Olec: Yeah! Whoever they are is a filthy liar.
Wally_Plotch: Wait, you mean for the story, right? The one that, well, I’m actually writing?
Duth_Olec: Totally. Glad we got that straightened out.
Wally_Plotch: Actually, I’m not sure if anything you just said is all that straight.
“A big electric ball,” Zeth said. “That explains why you don’t want us touching it.”
“Right,” said Pocerni. “One touch and”—he threw up his wings—“pffut.”
“So, how do we do this, then?” Cherry asked.
“Let’s try a burst missile.” Zeth fired one into Elechnid, which crackled and buzzed like a radio wave.
Eight sparking electrical currents emerged from Elechnid, each twice the core’s diameter and pointed upward. They bent and lowered to the ground, and the electric ball lifted them like legs, walking around the room.
“I take that back,” Numer said. “It’s a big bug of electricity.”
“Yeah, but one you don’t want to squash under your foot,” Pocerni said.
“What foot?” asked Numer.
Pocerni blinked. “Right.”
Zeth fired another burst missile at Elechnid, but the electric bug just fizzled a little. A bolt of electricity shot from Elechnid at the Transpide, but the vehicle just sparked a little.
“Ha!” Zeth said. “The Transpide is too well insulated for that to work.”
“Okay, great, then we’re all staying in here,” Pocerni said.
“But we’re at stalemate,” Cherry said. “The Transpide can’t do anything to it.”
Elechnid reached out a leg and flipped on a switch. A megaphone as long as a slube with blinking lights lowered from the ceiling. Particle blasts discharged from it at the Transpide. Zeth yelped and drove backwards from the particle beam.
“Maybe not, but we can do something against that.” Zeth shot a burst missile at the particle blaster, and it fell from the supports onto Elechnid. The electric bug flailed its legs and then jumped onto the Transpide. It bashed the vehicle with the electrical core.
Numer screamed. “Get it off! Get it off!” Zeth fired the Transpide’s flamethrower into Elechnid’s body, and an explosion blew them away backwards into the walls.
Elechnid shook its core like a head and then walked around, now apparently ignoring them.
“As much as you said not to open the Transpide,” Zeth said, “maybe we could do something to Elechnid with the Mallet Blaster.”
Pocerni crossed his wings. “No.”
“Well, we’re far enough away for it to take some time to reach us,” Numer said.
“Wow, normally you’d be saying no way at all,” Cherry said.
“Well, I’m not actually leaving the Transpide,” Numer said.
“What happened to the not-fighting stance from Shellport?” Cherry asked.
“Hey, Sybius was a little furball guy,” Numer said. “This electric bug could kill us with one touch.”
“On that note,” Pocerni said, “if you dudes insist on being shocked to death, I’m going to duck.” He dove to the Transpide’s floor.
Zeth opened the bubble roof, and Numer shot his mallet at Elechnid, which appeared unfazed from the particle beam. The electric bug charged at the Transpide. Zeth shut the roof and sprang over Elechnid. The Transpide landed inside the guardian, electricity surging through the vehicle.
“Too much! The insulation can’t handle this much electricity,” Zeth shouted. He steered out of Elechnid, and the Transpide swerved into a wall.
“Can’t we just short circuit it or whatever?” Numer asked.
Zeth rubbed his chin. “But how, is the question.” They looked around the room. “Got it. Find a switch that activates those water pipes.” Several blue pipes red with rust protruded through a hole in the ceiling. Specks of liquid dripped from the broken edges, the pipes angled as if they had broke off and slowly sank down.
“Are you sure it would have much water left?” Cherry asked.
“It’s worth a short, anyway,” Zeth said. “I’ll keep Elechnid busy.”
Numer rolled his eyes. “It always seems to go this way, doesn’t it?” At least this time he need not face their foe directly. “All right, let’s go.” Zeth opened the bubble roof. Numer and Cherry jumped out to examine the switches.
Pocerni popped his head back up. “What’s going on? What are you doing?”
“Go find a switch for the water pipes,” Zeth said.
“I’m not going out there,” Pocerni shouted.
“But it’s like you said: if it thinks you’re unworthy—if we can’t win this challenge—then we won’t get the orb, and Darmenzi will win.”
Pocerni sighed. “Okay, yeah, you’re right, dude. I got it.” He jumped out. Zeth closed the glass dome and shot burst missiles at Elechnid to distract it.
Numer examined the switches. One read “Historice themee”, another read “Turn everything Russian”, and another read “Random article”. None of these made any sense, and none of them were labeled water. Numer flipped switches at random in hope one would work. The panel of one switch flipped around to a speaker that played a weird gobbling sound. A rocket the size of Numer’s arm emerged from another panel and immediately dropped to the floor.
“None of these switches do anything useful,” Numer shouted.
“I think I see the right one, dudes,” Pocerni said. He pointed to a switch at the top row. “It’s way up there, though.”
Cherry slid to him. “Up you go!” She lifted him up by the bottoms of his feet tossed him into the air.
Pocerni grabbed the switch and dangled from it. “I can’t push it up. I need something to push against.”
“Use the other switches,” Cherry said.
Pocerni grabbed and stood on other nearby switches for support, flipping them on and off. A door opened; a monitor screen emerged from a wall panel and showed static; a flamethrower popped out from a hole in the wall and shot out small rainbow pellets.
Elechnid left Zeth despite the slube still firing burst missiles and walked to Pocerni, lifting a leg towards him.
“Holy Zykardo, no,” Pocerni shouted, flailing his wings and legs to hold his grip. “Get it away from me!”
Numer shot a few particle beams at Elechnid. The bug leaned towards Numer. “Hey, you overgrown-” Numer froze in place. He was trying to get a giant ball of crackling electricity to chase him. He screamed, “What am I doing?” and sleeged away, flailing his arms. Elechnid followed.
Pocerni pushed up the water pump switch. The pipes rumbled and emitted a fog. The fog dispersed as whitish water gushed from the broken pipes just as Numer sleeged under them, drenching him and splashing onto the floor.
“Keep running, Numer!” Zeth yelled. Numer screamed and sleeged faster away from the cascade. Elechnid walked into the gushing water, and the electric bug was splashed by the deluge. The guardian sparked like an overloaded electrical socket and flailed its legs. Elechnid buzzed loudly, and the core exploded outward before contracting into a solid sphere: the yellow orb.
“Hey, it worked,” Pocerni said. He walked to the orb and picked it up.
“Is it still electrical?” Numer asked.
“Nope.” Pocerni rubbed the orb. “It feels fine.” They gathered around the Transpide. “Now with six of them we can-”
“Heeeey!” shouted a squeaky voice from the newly-open doorway. “The door’s open!” A tangled mess of blue feathers jumped into the room.
Numer jumped back. “You?”
“Hey! Me!” sang the bird, only about two-thirds Numer’s height. “It’s-a-me. It’s-a-me. It’s-a-you. It’s-a-hey. Hey, hey, Hey You!” He danced with his gloved feet and red legs, flapping his short wings.
“Who is this?” Cherry asked. “Numer, do you know him?”
“I want to say no,” Numer said. “At the most, barely.”
“Hey, there,” Hey You said, shoving his green head and big, yellow, banana-shaped beak into Numer’s face. “You opened the door. Thanks! You don’t know how long I’ve been stuck in there. I don’t know how long I’ve been stuck in there.”
“Well,” Numer said, “it would have to have been-”
“And you got rid of that electric bug,” Hey You said. He hopped up like an excited child and said, “Squish!” He then leapt up like a wild lunatic and shouted, “I’m gonna turn on all the switches now!”
Hey You ran around the room, becoming a blur to Numer as he whirlwinded around, throwing all the switches on. Machines hummed to life, and crackling sounded around them. Sparks formed in the room. Pocerni’s feathers stood on end.
“Oh dear. Get in the Transpide,” Zeth shouted. “That crazy bird’s going to shock the whole place with all this water in here.”
Numer, Cherry, and Pocerni jumped into the Transpide, and they drove out as the room filled with electricity. Hey You screamed a screeching laugh as his feathers puffed out, including the three on his head, and he shot out of the room like a rocket through the ceiling.
“That was weird,” Cherry said.
“You’re telling me,” Numer said. He looked around. “Looks like some of those screens got turned on in here.”
Most of the screens hooked up to the electronic boxes just showed a glowing blue or white screen, but one had a scrambled image. A sound recording played from it.
“…ell, Darmenzi already ruined life on one planet. I wa…” Garbled white noise overcame the sound.
“Hey, dudes, quiet, listen,” Pocerni said. “It’s talking about Darmenzi.”
“Seriously?” Cherry asked. “This place is just one big wreck of a mystery.”
“…try to wreck…” the recording continued, still damaged and corrupted at various points. “…ith his own territory to give it new life. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.”
“Why are you saying ‘bzzt’ over and over again?” asked another voice.
The first voice screamed, “Because I’m mysteriou…!” It continued at a moderate tone, “…imes crazy. Anyway, I think some of Darmenzi’s former min…” “…otecting all thr…” “…aaace.”
“By the way, why…”
“…elf anymore. Maybe I’ll get a wri…” The rest of the recording was corrupted, garbled white noise. The machine smoked and sparked, as did a few others.
“This place is still quite dangerous,” Zeth said. “I don’t think we’ll get much from these computers except a bad electric shock.” He drove out of the building.
The island confused Numer even more now. If Darmenzi was imprisoned for ten thousand years, and those on this island knew of him, was the island around that long?
“Did it say Darmenzi ruined life on a planet?” Numer asked.
“Well, he sure ruined life on this planet,” Pocerni said.
“No, it ruined lives,” said Cherry. “Life would suggest things living. Like an entire species or something. Where did Darmenzi come from, anyway?”
“I don’t know, dudes,” Pocerni said. “I just know he showed up and started ruining life. Lives.”
“Then he just might not be from here,” Numer said. “Sort of like Conrad.” Numer smiled. “And maybe trying to leave is something different from what we thought. Maybe he plans to just return to where he came from and leave us alone. We may not have anything to worry about after all.”
“That’s a pipedream, dude,” Pocerni said.
Numer lowered his head. “Yeah, I know.”
“Another question is: Who was recording that?” Cherry said.
“Maybe some…” Pocerni shook his head. “No, never mind. They wouldn’t have been out here.”
Numer lifted his head. “That recording almost sounded like…” But it couldn’t be. It had just been a dream.
“Like what?” Cherry asked.
Numer muttered. “Never mind. Just a dream I once had. I don’t remember it.”
*Wait a minute…*
Wally_Plotch: Wait a minute!
Duth_Olec: What is it now, Wally?
Wally_Plotch: That was you just then. That was you talking on that recording, wasn’t it?
Duth_Olec: It sounded nothing like me!
Wally_Plotch: Yes, it did. You have a rather distinct voice. That was definitely you.
Duth_Olec: Okay, what of it, then?
Wally_Plotch: Okay, so I’m not sure what of it. You were on an island with some buildings and computers at one point, I guess.
Duth_Olec: Doesn’t even prove that. It was a recording.
Wally_Plotch: Then you had some connection to an island with some buildings and computers? I don’t know, it just adds to the mystery. You never even told me about your past, your life on Earth or anything.
Duth_Olec: Someday. Not now. This story isn’t about me. It’s about Darmenzi.
Wally_Plotch: Whom you have some prior interaction with. He followed you to the Cosmos Court and destroyed it, after all. All along he probably should have been on trial. I can see him being the cause of many a dimensional dilemma, cosmic catastrophe, or civilization slaughter.
Duth_Olec: Still not about me. This story’s about Numer. And Cherry, really. Also, Conrad. And Chee, too. I guess Zeth is also there.
Wally_Plotch: And Pocerni?
Duth_Olec: Eh, not as much, actually.
Wally_Plotch: Well, I’m glad we cleared that up. Or at least spread the muddy confusion around a little.
Zeth stopped the Transpide at the island’s beach. “Where did this come from?” An electric shield surrounded the island.
“Maybe one of the switches turned it on,” Cherry said. “A barrier blocking anyone from entering the island. I’d love to get some of those machines working and see what other data we could find.”
“No kidding, dude, this place would be great to explore and look into,” Pocerni said. “We got no time for that now, though. Should we head back and switch this barrier off?”
“It may be better to just deter anyone from coming,” Zeth said. “Perhaps if we had a safety team out here to remove the dangerous and broken equipment and clean up the place it would be fine. I’d like to examine the machines and technology here too, after all, but without proper equipment, you could get injured from the electricity around.”
“You mean equipment like the Transpide?” Numer asked.
“Oh yeah,” Zeth said. He held up a fist. “On that note, insulation is no insult-ation.” He drove through the electrical field and splashed the Transpide into the ocean.
“Okay, six orbs,” Pocerni said. “One more to find. Let’s go, dudes.”
As the Transpide drove away, Sawn watched from behind the barrier. “One more? Conqueror! Hey, read me? One orb left, and the slubes are off to find the last one.”
“Keep close to them,” Conrad said. “I and the others will join you shortly. It’s time to make our move.”
“Righty-o!” Sawn floated to the edge of the island and stared at the barrier. “How do I get through this?”
Screaming laughter above grew louder until a bird crashed nearby from the sky. “Whoa!” Sawn spun in a circle. “I’m being bombarded by birds.”
“Bat’s a bouthful,” Hey You said, jumping out of the hole he made. “Looking to leave the island?” He leaned his head close to Sawn sideways conspiratorially and whispered, “Well, I know how you can get out of here.”
“Really? How?” Sawn asked.
Hey You grabbed Sawn with a foot and flung the buzzsaw through the barrier. Sawn screamed as the electricity scorched its metal body as if showered by thousands of tiny bombs.
“You birdbrain!” Sawn shouted, smoking slightly, floating up and glaring at Hey You. “If you weren’t behind that barrier, I’d chop you to pieces.”
“I can do it for you,” Hey You said.
“Good! And do it quickly. I’m on a schedule.”