Note this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
On the west side of Interp stood the city of Shellport. Constructed entirely of steel, it was divided into a lower level built just above the sea for the docks and harbor, while a higher level stood off the west cliff of Interp. Upper Shellport connected to the mainland with two steel pathways to the north and south, each wide enough for a couple vehicles to cross at once.
Across the north pathway slithered Sal the striped green snake, an agent of Conrad’s. Atop his head and between the two limp cones that housed his triangular eyes sat a kasdde: a green-skinned creature with a round head and body encased in a round shell, the front tan and the back green. This was Terrent, another agent of Conrad’s. He was no taller than Sal’s head cones, his arms and legs barely reached outside his shell, and his life barely reached outside his hatching—he was a mere child.
“It’s simple,” Terrent said. “We get in, sneak into a ship, and steal it. You’re good at sneaking, right?”
“Well, slithering, but it’s more or less the same,” Sal said.
“We should find one with weapons,” Terrent said. “Then we can blow up the docks as we leave.” Sal slithered to a steel shack constructed on one half of the walkway. Around the building stood three guards wearing pale blue uniforms and armed with rifles.
One guard was a species called a floggle. They looked like green heads fused onto a tiny torso, neckless, and with appendages twice the length of their bodies. Sal thought they looked rather edible, especially the appendages; the heads had weird bulging eyes at the top corners and wide mouths that suggested less meat.
Another guard was a verk’lon; like Sal, a reptile, but not like Sal, with appendages. This verk’lon had orange skin, wide crests atop her head, and a stiff tail that nearly reached the length of her torso. Verk’lons also had eyes that made Sal’s look normal—verk’lon eyelids were conjoined and looked like little volcanoes. Sal pondered that were one to put baking soda and vinegar in the eyes, it would make a tasty dish. Verk’lons certainly looked quite edible.
The last guard was a thyvae, a thin creature that looked like someone tried to stuff a pale green, fuzzy vegetable through one of those machines that turns food into bars. The only facial features of thyvaes were a slit for the mouth and two dots for eyes, though this thyvae wore sunglasses over his eyes. Although the black appendages of thyvaes looked as thin and flexible as cooked spaghetti, Sal thought thyvaes only looked slightly edible.
The officers held up their hands at Sal, and he stopped. “State your names and business,” the floggle said.
Sal smiled. “I am José Wiggleboggle.” To Terrent he whispered, “I just made up that on the spot.”
Terrent glared at the floggle and furrowed his brow. “We’re here looking for a ship.”
“Do you have a sailing license?” the floggle asked, looking at a clipboard.
“What?” Terrent shouted.
“Hey, Kel,” the thyvae said, walking forward, “isn’t that the kasdde described in the report?”
“How should I know?” said the floggle. “They all look alike to me.”
“Hey!” Terrent shouted. “Well, you all look like idi-”
“State your name,” the thyvae said.
“What? Hey, why should I?”
“Shellport is under strict guard. If you do not state your real name and business, we will have to ask you to leave.”
“Oh yeah?” Terrent said. “Sal, get ‘em!” Sal lifted his head high and screamed gibberish at the officers. The guards aimed pistols at Sal and Terrent. Sal shrieked and lunged off the walkway; Terrent gripped his head and shouted at him. The guards fired at them as they plummeted and screamed. They splashed into the sea.
Sal and Terrent resurfaced. “I don’t remember guards being there the last time I came here,” Terrent yelled.
Sal frowned. “What kind of a world do we live in where you can’t even leave a port unguarded for villains like us to come in and wreck the place?”
Numer, Cherry, and Zeth entered the south section of the sprawling city of Interpolis, a city that covered more than half of the island Interp. Its buildings rose into the sky, its streets were paved with concrete, and technology could be found everywhere, from self-powered vehicles to coffee shops. It truly connected the island to the modern world of the continents. When Numer had first gone there a year ago, the city had overwhelmed him. This time, it still overwhelmed him. He craned his neck and watched all the buildings that stretched into the sky.
Anyone who was anyone lived in Interpolis, they said. They also said that about Shellport, and Numer wasn’t sure who “they” were. It seemed to Numer more like everyone who was everyone lived there, with so many cleeple and a variety of species. Though few slubes could be found in the city, crawbers could occasionally be seen, as could many thyvaes, verk’lons, floggles, and shiffles (including the male shiffles, who, unlike the bald females such as Chee, were covered in hair). Also found in plentiful supply were stroos, birds slightly taller than slubes with necks and legs longer than their plump bellies.
“Are you sure the crystal is in the city?” Cherry asked. Numer rattled his head and returned his attention to inside the Transpide.
“Absolutely,” Zeth said. He patted the dashboard. “The radar detects a signal here.” He peered closely at it. “Wait. Hold on. I think it may be busted.”
“Seriously?” Numer asked, slapping his palm on his snout.
Zeth held up a finger. “Just a moment.” He fiddled inside the dashboard. “No, never mind, it’s working fine. The signal is coming from the heart of the city.”
“I thought it was coming from the crystal,” Numer said.
Zeth pointed ahead of the Transpide. “To the heart of- er, wait…” He pointed to the left of the Transpide. “To the heart of the-”
“Well, well! Is it really Professor Zeth and his amazing Transpide?” From the Transpide’s right walked up a green verk’lon with orange stripes on his sides.
“Say, I know you,” Zeth said. “You organized that street race last year, right?”
“That’s right, Marl’nt was my name,” the verk’lon said. “Well, was and still is. Since that race, the city officials haven’t let me hold another.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” Zeth said.
“Not at all; it was fun, but I’ve been quite busy with other things,” Marl’nt said. “We really never got to know each other, and I never met your friends, either. Are you busy? Have you had lunch? We could have lunch.”
“We’re kind of busy with a search at the moment,” Cherry said.
“Ooh, search? Search for what?” Marl’nt asked.
“Do you know where the heart of the city is?” Numer asked.
“Know where? I live there,” Marl’nt said. “If you’re heading that way, you could stop by my house for lunch. I could use a ride, though.”
“Sure, hop in,” Zeth said. Marl’nt climbed into the Transpide between Numer and Cherry. It was a bit of a tight squeeze, and Marl’nt stiff tail fell onto Numer a few times. He pushed it away, but it fell back to his side.
As they drove along, Cherry said, “Just be warned that we might be targeted, so you could be in danger.”
“I laugh at danger,” Marl’nt said. “Ha. See, I just did. They wouldn’t want to mess with old Marl’nt.”
“Why not?” Cherry asked.
“Well…” He scratched his eyelid. “At the very least, I wouldn’t want them to want to mess with me. Anyway, so what are you searching for in the city?”
Cherry slapped the crystal on the floor with her tail. “Crystals like this.”
“Ah, how very interesting,” Marl’nt said, leaning close to the crystal. “Quite big, too. Are you engaged in some archeology? I’ve been looking into ancient jewels, myself. It’s quite fascinating, although I haven’t actually seen any in-clerpson. Those two orbs you have are quite interesting, as well.”
“Have you done any research?” Cherry asked.
“Indubitably,” Marl’nt said. “There’s this huge library I had been visiting before I ran into you; I’ve read about ancient crowns, rare minerals, priceless objects…” He spoke faster; Numer could only catch some of the words. “It’s said that the crawbers who lived on Interp thousands of years ago had a blue jewel in the shape of a small, furry creature that they cherished. I also looked into an ancient artifact from the lands of Terrozona until I checked and discovered no such place exists. There have also been jewels of an unknown source actually found east of here, deep in the ocean. Most scholars believe-”
“Could you do research on these orbs?” Cherry asked.
“-a ship must have been downed there ages ago, but some believe a civilization was once situated there. Oh! What? Research on the orbs? You believe they may be ancient artifacts?”
“Well, they’re definitely a… mystery,” Numer said. “The red one I found held by a giant, flaming bird. The gray one came from a giant dragon… like a cloud dragon or something.”
Marl’nt laughed. The slubes said nothing. “Wait, are you serious?” Marl’nt asked. “You mean these orbs came from monsters? Great, ferocious beasts that hold the power of the elements! Yes! Yes! Fascinating! I’ll research these orbs with gusto. I’ll find all I-” Numer yelped. “-can about them. Huh? What is it?”
Numer pointed down the street to their right. “Look! At the side of the street.” Along the sidewalk slithered Sal, whose tail stretched down half a block. On his head sat Terrent, shorter even than a shiffle.
“Sal and Terrent,” Cherry said. “Oh, I so wish we wouldn’t have to mess with that stupid kid again.”
“The radar detects the crystal with them,” Zeth said.
“Okay, it’s time to get dangerous,” Cherry said.
Numer put his face in his palms. “Oh, no. Not in the middle of the city.”
Cherry handed Marl’nt the orbs. “You’ll want to go the rest of the way home without us. Keep these safe and find out what you can.”
“Come, now, I know how to deal with these types,” Marl’nt said. “They may be dangerous, but as long as you keep your wits about you, you can avoid being swindled by underhanded… and, er, no-handed jewel merchants.”
“They’re not going to sell us anything,” Cherry said.
“Not without lots of haggling, of course,” Marl’nt said.
Numer’s head dropped to his tail. “They’re going to try to kill us.”
Marl’nt tapped his fingers together. “Ah. Jewel thieves. I think, perhaps, I should stay back and keep these orbs safe.” He stepped out of the Transpide and waved to them. “Good luck, friends!”
Zeth drove after Sal and Terrent, or he at least tried to. With so many vehicles slowing traffic, the Transpide fell behind. “We need to go faster,” Cherry shouted. “After them!”
“What do you want me to do?” Zeth asked.
“Jump!” Cherry said. Zeth sprang the Transpide over the traffic and landed between vehicles. Drivers behind shouted, and they leaned out of their vehicles and shook fists at them. Numer shouted back apologies, though he doubted they heard. They might have even thought he insulted them. He stopped shouting apologies.
They reached within jumping distance of Sal and sprang towards him. Terrent turned around to the Transpide. He shouted and fell backwards off Sal’s head. The Transpide slammed onto Sal’s body. “Gack!” Sal screamed; he halted and snapped backwards to the ground. “That seemed unnecessary!”
Terrent climbed onto Sal’s head. “Hey, losers,” Terrent said. “Did you miss me?”
“Not at all,” said Numer. “Is this the part where we ask for the crystal?”
“We demand the crystal,” Cherry said.
“That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Terrent said. From within his shell he pulled out a round machine surrounded by bars in a hexagon shape. “You want a crystal from us?”
“Well, yes,” Zeth said, “that is why we-” Terrent threw the machine at the Transpide, and it bounced off to the ground.
“Too bad!” Terrent said. “The signal was a fake. There’s no crystal here, dummies.”
“That was a decoy?” Cherry shouted.
Terrent jumped onto the Transpide and pounded the glass roof. “Now give us your crystal!”
“Zeth, get us out of here,” Cherry said. Zeth drove off.
Sal bit onto the front of the Transpide and hung on, his body dragged under the Transpide. Terrent fell off the Transpide, and he grabbed the end of Sal’s tail. He shouted, “Hey! Hey! Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
Pedestrians screamed and jumped into doorways or to the relatively calmer street. “Sorry,” Numer shouted back to them, “it’s a matter of life and death!”
“Hey, no free rides for our enemies,” Zeth said.
Sal probably tried to retort, but he only shouted a moan. He flipped the back of his tail up and tossed Terrent onto the Transpide. “Hey, dummies,” Terrent said. He pulled from within his shell a metal box and attached it to the Transpide with a suction cup. The machine sparked like an overloaded outlet, and the Transpide slowed and sputtered.
“Hey! What are you doing out there?” Zeth yelled. “Knock it off, Numer.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Numer said.
“No, I mean use your mallet,” Zeth said. The glass roof opened. Numer smashed the box with his mallet, and the pieces fell to the ground. He bonked Terrent off the Transpide; Sal caught him with his tail. “Hold on, guys,” Zeth said, “I’m going to switch lanes.” Zeth turned right. The Transpide thumped off the sidewalk onto the street and careened off another vehicle. Numer gripped the safety straps as if they were ropes he dangled off a cliff with.
Sal snagged under the wheels of another vehicle and lost his grip on the Transpide. His scream died away as the slubes left him to be roadkill. “Well, that was a bust,” Cherry said. “Zeth, where do we need to go now?”
“Just a moment,” Zeth said. “Let me check the-” Sal shouted and lunged at them from above. Zeth swerved to another lane. Sal splatted onto the pavement. “Out of my way,” Zeth shouted, swerving between vehicles. “I’ve got an oversized garden hose after me!” Laser blasts exploded around the Transpide. Zeth closed the bubble roof. Several vehicles hit by blasts screeched to a halt.
“Your insults stink, and so do you!” Terrent stood atop a truck and shot a ray gun at the Transpide. “You smell like banana or something.”
“I hate banana!” Sal shouted, piled in a heap in front of a nearby vehicle. With the end of his tail he opened the passenger door of the truck Terrent stood on. He pulled himself inside. The floggle truck driver screamed as Sal shouted gibberish. “I’m hijacking this truck!” He grabbed the floggle with his tail and threw him out onto the sidewalk. He grabbed the steering wheel with his mouth and wobbled left and right. “I have no idea how to drive!”
Numer screamed and shook Zeth’s seat. “He’s going to run us over! Hurry!”
“Stop shaking my seat or he won’t have to run us off the street,” Zeth said. The truck swerved about and knocked into other vehicles. They crashed into buildings, onto the sidewalk, and along the road behind the Transpide. Numer curled into a ball and groaned.
“Okay, I’m bailing out,” Sal said. He bashed open the truck’s driver-side door and leaned out towards the Transpide. He lunged at it, but it sprang over him. Sal’s face hit the ground. The Transpide landed on his head. “Okay, ow, ow, ow; that really hurts!” Sal fell out of the truck and tangled around the Transpide. It toppled and tumbled forward, bouncing off vehicles. The world appeared as a jumble of metal and concrete and snake. The slubes and Sal screamed until they slowed to a stop at an intersection, the Transpide on its side.
Numer looked up. The truck freewheeled towards them. He curled back into a ball. They were going to be pulverized. The truck sailed past them by the mere thickness of a leaf and crashed into a stoplight pole. The pole fell and banged Sal’s head. “Ow! Okay, okay, look, can we just take a breather for a moment?” Sal slowly untangled himself from the Transpide. “I think I need a glass of water… and maybe a repaving. Ow.”
“That was intense,” Cherry said. She hung from her safety straps over Numer.
Numer uncurled his body. “Is it over?”
“That reminds me: guess what I’ve added to the Transpide?” Zeth pushed a button, and a metal bar popped out of the Transpide’s side, righting it onto its wheels. “Falling over’s no problem now.”
“Halt! Everyone stay where you are!” A group of at least fifty uniformed officers arrived in vehicles and on the ground. Each held a gun and wore a gray uniform and body armor. “You are under arrest for destruction of property.” Numer curled up again. He couldn’t deal with this; the police were trivial in his hometown of Gelago City, but in a big city like Interpolis, who knew what they would do?
An officer screamed and collapsed to the ground. “You ain’t getting me, coppers!” Atop the truck, Terrent aimed and fired at the officers a rifle longer than his body. He downed one officer after another. They retaliated with gunfire that bounced off Terrent’s shell.
“Why is life in the city so violent?” Sal screamed, ducking against the ground below the gunfire.
“Guys, let’s get out of here,” Cherry said.
“Right. We don’t have time to deal with a lengthy questioning process,” Zeth said. While the officers were preoccupied with Terrent, the slubes drove away from the area.
Atop a building some twenty stories above the scene stood a machine fitted with an arced tail and drill arms. Chee sat in her machine and watched the officers move closer, capture Sal, and soon after climb onto the truck and take Terrent into custody. She watched the slubes in the Transpide leave the scene, still holding one of the three crystal fragments.
Chee knew those two idiots of The Conqueror’s couldn’t take down those slubes. They probably couldn’t take down a tree. Those slubes would no doubt head for location gamma: The Conqueror’s base. Chee pressed a button on her dashboard and brought up a communication channel. “They still have the crystal.”
“And are they making way for location gamma?” asked Darmenzi through a speaker.
“They should be on their way,” Chee said. “Soon the crystal will be whole again.”
“Then I must prepare. I’m sure my new friend will want to be ready, as well. For now, you can prepare our ride. It shan’t be long before we’re prepared to leave, Cheesy.”
Chee furrowed her brow. “Do not call me that.” She closed the communicator, and her machine jumped off the roof to another building. She headed north. Soon she could begin amassing power. So many years ago they thought her a bad egg. No, they thought her a good egg fallen into a crowd of bad eggs. They tried to raise her to be a good egg, but that egg would soon hatch, and everyone would find that egg had more bad in it than they imagined.
Soon she would rule the roost. Then the bad egg would fry dissenters and bring order to the scrambled society. Then no one would be soft and boil her anger.
Duth_Olec: Hey, Wally, what do you say we stop and have an omelette?
Wally_Plotch: Sounds good to me. Seems like a good place to stop the chapter, anyway. Let’s eat.