Chapter 9: Hospitality to Hostility

Note this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out


The lower level of Shellport featured the shipyard and docks, where ships all over Mintop docked with cargo. The Transpide sailed by steel beams as wide as the Transpide, holding the upper area of Shellport some hundred stories above the sea. Numer could never decide if Interpolis or Shellport was more impressive. Interpolis was bigger to the point of bafflement, but Shellport had no natural land at all. It existed entirely as steel built high in the air. That was so impressive that he had to avoid thinking about it or he felt his head would explode. People stood where there was no land; they stood on air supported by steel. They… Ow, his head hurt! He stopped thinking about it.

As the Transpide drove into the docks, a boat about the size of the Transpide cruised out to meet them. “Hold!” said a yellow-uniformed, dark pink-skinned verk’lon on the boat. “Do you have clearance to enter?”

“Clearance? Since when do we need clearance to enter?” Zeth asked.

“Do you or do you not have clearance?”

“From whom?” Cherry asked.

“City officials,” the verk’lon said. “You cannot dock here without permission.”

“Well, we don’t want to dock,” Zeth said. “We want to drive up out of the water and onto land. Well, metal walkways, but the same difference, really.”

“If you wish to enter without clearance, you must enter from Interp.”

“That’s dumb,” Cherry said.

“I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them,” the verk’lon said.

“That’s sure not a cliché,” Cherry said. “And if you did make the rules, would they be any better?”

“Look,” the verk’lon said, “if you three are going to make this difficult, I’m going to-”

“Hold on a moment!” A floggle popped her head out from the boat’s bridge. “I know them. Aren’t you three the slubes who stopped that kasdde from wrecking the port about a year ago?”

“Exactly, we are,” Zeth said.

“Are you sure about this?” the verk’lon asked.

“I’m positive,” said the floggle. “They’re even wearing the same clothes; it’s like they skipped the past year.”

“It’s exactly like that,” Zeth said.

“What’s your business here now, then?” asked the verk’lon.

“We’re looking for a place to stay for the night,” Cherry said.

“And you can’t find that at Interpolis?”

Cherry threw up her hands. “It’s already night!”

The verk’lon grumbled to herself. “Okay, fine. If I get in trouble for this, though,” and she pointed at the floggle, “you’re taking the fall.” She turned back to the slubes. “Go on through.”

They entered Shellport and drove up onto the metal ground. “Trouble with those officers, huh?” A green thyvae walked up to the slubes.

“Oh, wait, I know who you are,” Zeth said, “don’t tell me… You’re… I don’t know.”

“Yeah, well, you slubes all look alike to me, too,” the thyvae said. “Sheryl, remember? Sheryl’s Shell Surfer Shop?”

“How could I forget?” Numer said. He still hadn’t a full grasp on that name.

“Yeah, I’m still kicking,” Sheryl said. “After that whole incident last year, a bunch of soldiers from the big continent countries came down to help in guarding the area. They’re overzealous about it, though. Unless you’ve got money.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be us,” Numer said.

“On that note, we’re looking for a place to stay,” Zeth said.

“Well, don’t look at me,” Sheryl said. “I’ve hardly got enough room for myself. There’s inns around here, but they’re mostly for sailors.” She looked up. “If you’re looking for a place to stay, I’d head to the upper area. Unless you want to deal with a bunch of pretentious, bigheaded, aggrandizing carpple.”

Cherry cocked her head. “Uh, right. Thanks. See you around.”

“You might not,” Sheryl said. She walked away.

***

The Transpide drove into one of the three elevators in the middle of Shellport, lifts capable of carrying the Transpide thirty times over according to Zeth. They rode it to upper Shellport, a city quieter and calmer at night than Numer had expected, certainly more so than Interpolis. Noise and light pollution from lower Shellport still trickled up, though, and it definitely appeared active compared to Nottle, but the city reminded Numer of a steel Gelago City. He only saw a few cleeple out at a time and small vehicles such as motor scooters.

The slubes stopped at a one story-tall hotel and headed inside. While the outside walls of building were steel, the walls inside were a softer substance that felt like rock with the consistency of wood. Carpets covered the floor. It felt rather cozy compared to Shellport outside. Behind the front desk stood a slube who wore a coral-colored collared skesh. “Holy carp! Other slubes!” The hotel clerk stared and gaped as Numer, Cherry, and Zeth entered. He shook his head. “Sorry. I haven’t seen another slube for years.”

“I can’t say I expected to see another one up here at Shellport, either,” Cherry said. “Where are you from?”

The hotel clerk raised himself up. “Here in Shellport, born and raised.”

“Does that happen very often?” Numer asked.

“I might be the only one,” the clerk said. “If there are others, I haven’t met them. In fact, I haven’t seen a slube since… Well, I suppose I saw a few in the news about a year ago. I was so proud when the port was saved from… destruction by…” He stared and gaped at them again.

Cherry grinned. “Go on.”

“You three! You’re the ones who fought off that kasdde a year ago.” The clerk sleeged from the front desk and shook their hands. “I’m so glad to get to meet you. The name’s Shad. Are you here looking for a room for the night?”

“Yes, we are,” Cherry said. “How much would be a room for us?”

“Oh, for you three, no charge,” Shad said. “I would gladly allow you to stay here for the night for free.”

“Very generous of you,” Zeth said.

“Oh, it’s no problem at all,” Shad said. “My boss is a very nice fellow. I’m sure I can work out a deal with him. Just sign here on the check-in form, and I’ll find a room for you.”

As Cherry and Zeth spoke with Shad, Numer explored the hotel lobby. At the center, in front of a big sofa where sat several cleeple, a flashing, shiny box showed moving images. It was a story box (or television set, as they called it in Shellport). Numer couldn’t help but smile; he’d seen them in stores for years, but only a few cleeple had enough money to buy one in his hometown of Gelago City. He wogged up behind the sofa and watched it.

On the story box, words flashed by and faded in and out too quickly for Numer to read. He instead focused on the blue thyvae, who sat behind a desk and spoke to the viewers: “… announcement today by New Zhopolis snowble governor Christen that they would set aside a portion of the public building renovations budget to form a new district to create housing for the homeless…” Numer didn’t understand most of what the thyvae talked about. Still, the story box looked amazing. He could see someone move and talk who wasn’t there. So amazing.

“Hey, Numer.” Cherry and Zeth wogged up to him. “We’re heading to our rooms to plan for tomorrow. Come on.”

“In a moment,” Numer said. “I’ll be up there soon. Go ahead without me.” Cherry shrugged, and she and Zeth left Numer to watch the story box.

“Recapping our local top story, two reptiles caused a huge traffic accident along 58th street today. A kasdde and what appeared to be a giant snake hijacked a truck and caused the vehicles on the street to crash until stopping at the intersection of 58th and Kip. The kasdde and the snake are now in the central Interpolis prison…”

 

Duth_Olec: And now let’s spend several hours watching someone else watch television.

Wally_Plotch: I’m not going to write anything down about this.

Duth_Olec: Okay, fine, Numer is being boring. Let’s go watch Cherry, instead.

Wally_Plotch: Yes, let’s.

***

Cherry and Zeth entered their room and discussed the plan for tomorrow. Numer never followed them in, but that didn’t matter much; Cherry and Zeth failed to devise a plan anyway. Conrad was unimportant now; they needed Darmenzi and Chee, but they had no idea where to find them. Without an energy signal for the crystal, the next day they would hit a roadblock.

Cherry awoke the next morning to find Numer’s bed empty. Now she and Zeth worried; where did he go? He never woke up that early. Cherry quickly wogged out of their room, and she stumbled in the lobby. Numer sat on the sofa in front of the story box with a few other cleeple. Had he just been there all night? “Numer!”

“Oh, hi, Cherry,” Numer said, sipping from a glass. “They have juice in the other room. They don’t have shepas, but this stuff is pretty good, too. Most of the food they have is meat, though.”

“Numer,” Cherry said, her palm on her snout, “did you… ever go to bed last night?”

“Oh, uh, no,” Numer said. “Actually, I fell asleep on this sofa here. The story box is really interesting. The opportunity to watch it kept me so excited I woke up the earliest I ever have, probably.”

“Well, Zeth and I spent the evening discussing what we do next,” Cherry said. “We didn’t come up with anything.”

Numer hopped out of his seat. “I have good news! This morning, on the story box, the news, it said, kind of coincidental, you know, it’s just a guess, but maybe, it might be a lead, so I thought-”

“Numer! Spit it out, already,” Cherry said.

“Oh, right, sorry!” Numer said. “Tremors! Last night there were tremors in the northern part of Interp.” He shrugged. “Like I said, this is just a guess, but they said tremors rarely happen on Interp, so maybe Darmenzi could be up there.”

“It’s not like we have any other leads,” Cherry said. “We might as well check it out.”

Cherry, Numer, and Zeth headed for the exit, but Shad jumped in front of them. “Oh, hey guys, you leaving?”

“Yeah, we have things to do,” Cherry said. “Thanks for the room, though.”

“Yeah, sure, yeah, you’re welcome,” Shad said. “There’s just one thing about that.”

“Your boss said we have to pay, didn’t he?” Numer asked.

“On the contrary, my friends.” Behind Shad walked up a floggle who wore a purple one-piece suit, the sleeves and leggings reaching all the way to his hands and feet. “I only wanted to meet you myself and thank you for what you did for this port and my family.” He shook their hands and introduced himself as Lee.

“You’re very welcome,” Zeth said. He cocked his head. “What did we do for your family?”

“My sister is captain of a ship that had docked here on that fateful day,” said Lee. “Had you not stopped that nasty little kasdde, her ship could have sunk. All her cargo—lost. What a terrible catastrophe that could have been.”

“Glad to hear nothing bad happened,” Cherry said. “What kind of cargo does she ship?”

“And there was I, just beginning my little hotel,” Lee said, making no acknowledgment of Cherry’s question. “I started it with help from my sister’s funds, you know. If her cargo had been lost, why, I may not have been able to stay open myself. It’s all thanks to you that I’m still here.”

“I guess that’s why you let us stay for the night,” Numer said.

“Oh, yes, my sister is very appreciative that you stepped—Er, I’m sorry, intervened against that kasdde when the police couldn’t have. She’s unable to be here to meet you now, but any time you wish to stay here, she has told me that she would pay all your fees.”

“That’s very generous of her,” Zeth said.

“Indeed, indeed,” Lee said, “and I thank you again. You are welcome here anytime.”

“If we ever need a place to stay, we’ll come by,” Cherry said. “We’ve got to get going, though.”

“Of course,” Lee said. “I’m sure you’re quite busy. Good day to you, and until next time.”

***

Numer, Cherry, and Zeth drove across the northern iron pathway to Interp. The guards there let them pass without incident—only those entering Shellport were scrutinized. They drove to the northern edge of Interp, a beach known as Rocky Beach. There the coastline was craggy stone, as if someone had piled together rocks and glued them together. The cliffs were small, but it would still be a chore to climb over the rough stone. It was less of a chore to bounce over it in the Transpide.

“Nobody’s around,” Cherry said.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Zeth said.

“There’s someone,” said Numer. Near the edge of the beach sat a lone figure in a straw hat: a smarmel. His eyes remained ever-closed like all smarmels’ eyes. He leaned the stiff hump on his back against a rock; they looked like cousins. The smarmel held a fishing pole cast into the sea.

The slubes drove up to the smarmel. “Hello, stranger,” Zeth said.

“Howdy,” the smarmel said. He moved nary a muscle.

“Excuse me, but do you know if there were tremors here last night?” Cherry asked.

“Felt ‘em,” the smarmel said. “My house’s bent a bit.” A wooden shack stood several meters inland on a small patch of flat rock.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Cherry said.

“Not a problem.”

“Did you happen to see anything strange around the time?” Zeth asked.

“Shiffle in a machine going to sea.”

“Chee!” Cherry said. “We’ve found her.” Zeth began to thank the smarmel, but a tremor shook the beach like a volcano. The Transpide tilted back and forth near the point of toppling.

“Bigger this time,” the smarmel said without so much a stutter. As the beach continued to shake, the sea splashed; water rose and split apart. A steel pillar wider than a lighthouse rose from below the ocean. “Something new,” the smarmel said. The tremor ended as the pillar stopped. It stuck out of the sea like a steel arm.

“Okay, that tears it; we need to find out what’s going on down there,” Cherry said.

“Be careful,” Zeth said to the smarmel. They drove into the sea.

“Same to you,” the smarmel said.

***

Under the ocean off the coast of Interp, Numer, Cherry, and Zeth found that the pillar emerged from what appeared to be a sunken island or maybe a giant pie. Either way, it was at least as big as Nottle. From the side of the sunken pie jutted a blue metal box about the size of Numer’s house. Zeth drove to a door on the side of the box, and it slid open. The slubes entered a submerged room, in which a sign read “NO ADMITTANCE: Trespassers will be vaporized”. Zeth said, “Sounds like Chee.”

After passing through another submerged room, they encountered a door that wouldn’t open. “How do we get through?” Numer asked.

“There must be some mechanism of entering without leaving a safe vehicle,” Zeth said.

“The Transpide is safe?” Cherry said.

“Har har,” Zeth said. The door behind them closed.

“We’re trapped!” Numer shouted.

“And here we were worried about a trap at Conrad’s place,” Zeth said. Numer heard a gurgling, and looked around the room for the source. The water in the room drained. “Ah, no, it’s not a trap,” Zeth said. “This room removes the water so that the entire ocean doesn’t come flooding into the place.” Once the water drained, the door ahead opened. “Now let’s find out what’s going on around here,” Zeth said. They passed through the doorway.

“A lot that we weren’t aware of,” Cherry said. They entered near the top of a shaft as wide as Nottle. It looked like a cavern, and throughout the shaft rooms had been carved around the perimeter, giving the steel floors a stacked appearance. Walkways crisscrossed the empty center. The slubes stared as they emerged from the entrance hallway. Red and yellow paint colored the walls.

Numer couldn’t bring himself to look below their current floor. Instead he looked up. Just below the top of the shaft stood a yellow iron platform supported by iron beams from the walls, above which stretched a thinner steel shaft. On the platform sat a rocket engine at least half as wide as the shaft, the thrusters aimed downward. Numer stared at the upper shaft; the pillar that had emerged outside housed a rocket ship. “This place is far more impressive than your lab, Zeth,” Cherry said.

“Oh, be quiet,” Zeth said. “Let’s investigate this place.” They circled the central shaft. Doors stood along the concave wall. A ramp ahead led to the upper shaft where the rocket stood. “Ah, here we go. Top floor, please. That’s where the CEO will be.”

As they drove to the ramp, Numer heard shouting through one of the doors. He ducked; there were definitely others there. “Na, na! No coffee for you, shorty.”

“I need my coffee! Come on, stop being a feathery asshole.”

“Ha! Don’t talk to your superiors that way. No coffee break for you.”

“You’re not my superior, we’re the same rank.”

“All crawbers are lower ranks than others. Hey, Stan, catch!”

A crash and a scream followed, and the door swung open. A shiffle, his hair soaked and steaming, burst out of the room. “I’m going to strangle you for that, Fannie!” The shiffle charged into another room.

A crawber and a stroo emerged from the first door; the crawber wore a jagged black hat with two blue stripes, and the stroo wore a black jacket also with two blue stripes. “No, my coffee,” the crawber said, his claws outstretched.

The stroo kicked the crawber. “Nuts to you and your coffee.”

“I wish,” the crawber said. “Nut-flavored coffee is way out of my price range.”

The stroo kicked the crawber again. “I ought to throw you down that pit.”

The crawber jumped onto the stroo’s shoulders and screamed, “And I ought to claw your eyes-” The two stopped stiff and stared at the Transpide as it drove by. Numer stared straight ahead. If he ignored those two, maybe they would ignore the Transpide.

“Oh carp,” the stroo said. “Stop them, shorty!” She threw the crawber at the Transpide and ran. The crawber landed on the Transpide. He shouted and bashed his claws onto the bubble roof.

“Would you stop that up there?” Zeth asked. “You’re giving me a headache.” He opened the bubble roof, and the crawber slipped off to the floor. “That’s better.” An alarm sounded throughout the shaft. “Never mind.”

Several doors opened across the floor and cleeple emerged running and shouting. Many wore black jackets with stripes of various colors and held guns. Zeth closed the bubble roof. “I have an idea,” Numer yelled, “let’s get out of here!”

“Not until we find out what’s going on,” Cherry said. Bullets ricocheted off the Transpide as those with guns opened fire. A few fired energized substances like the Mallet Blaster.

“Yeah, but we want to get out of here in one piece, don’t we?” Numer said. The Transpide shuddered. A dark yellow verk’lon appeared from thin air hanging onto the front of the Transpide. Zeth yelped and smacked the brakes.

The verk’lon held up a long, pointed steel rod and stabbed the end onto the bubble roof. She grinned. “You losers are in for a world of hurt. Just be glad you’re stopping here and won’t have to get pulverized by the boss.” She stabbed the bubble roof again.

“Zeth, open the roof,” Numer said.

“What?” Zeth asked. “Why?”

“What, are you surrendering?” the verk’lon asked.

“Oh, uh, yes, we surrender,” Numer said.

“No we don’t,” Cherry yelled.

“Just open the roof before it breaks it, Zeth!” Numer yelled. Zeth hit a button, and the roof opened.

The verk’lon lifted her rod. “Chee’s gang don’t take prisoners, suckers!”

Numer swung his mallet and knocked the verk’lon’s rod away. He shut his eyes and swung at the verk’lon, shouting “Go away!” repeatedly. He only stopped after swinging at air several times. He saw the verk’lon lying on the floor. The entire shaft turned silent.

“Get down, Numer!” Cherry yelled. She pulled him below the Transpide’s wall. The bullets and energized shots resumed battering the Transpide. They drove ahead towards the ramp to the upper shaft. Numer held the head of his mallet above the Transpide and fired, although he couldn’t say if this helped at all.

The Transpide reached the ramp. Numer felt his mallet jerk up, and he lifted into the air. A floggle, crouched atop some type of hovering disc, had grabbed Numer’s mallet and pulled him up. “Hey, let go! It’s my mallet,” Numer said.

“You want me to let go, huh?” the floggle asked.

Numer looked down. He hovered over a pit longer than the distance between upper and lower Shellport. A jagged stone bottom threatened to skewer him. Numer felt dizzy, and he clenched his eyes shut. He looked up at the floggle. “Actually…”

“Now you know why folks don’t drop in here,” the floggle said, and he let go of Numer’s mallet. Cherry and Zeth screamed Numer’s name as he fell. Numer just screamed. The air rushed past him as if he slid down a jagged steel chute. He’d be crushed like a bucket of berries.

As Numer fell, several more members of Chee’s gang flew out on hovering discs below him. He flailed his arms. As he dropped by the discs he grabbed onto one. It flipped around and hurled the crawber on it to one of the floors. Numer flipped around with the disc but lost his grip. He crashed into a thyvae on another disc, knocking her off. Numer heard the crawber briefly shout, “I’m okay!” He only heard a scream from the thyvae down the shaft until it stopped with a grunt like the sound of squashed fruit. Numer clenched his eyes shut; he did not want to see what happened to her.

Numer opened his eyes to see a stroo on another disc point a gun at him. “How do you want to die?” the stroo asked. “Instantly, or do you want to resume your drop?” Numer ducked, and his disc flipped from under him. The stroo fired. Numer heard a couple clinks, and the stroo cried out. Numer’s disc flipped upside-down, and he clung to the edges. He saw the stroo fall off her disc, screaming all the way to the shaft bottom.

Numer looked at the disc he hung under. The fourth disc floated down until its crawber rider floated at eye-level with Numer. The crawber crossed his claws. Numer flailed his tail, but his disc did not flip around. “How do you control these things?” Numer yelled.

“Oh, that’s easy,” the crawber said. “You just lean in the direction you want to go, and to go up you press- Wait a minute, why am I-” Numer pushed his disc at the crawber, knocking him off his disc to the nearest walkway. The crawber waved its claws. It was still alive. Good.

Numer climbed onto the crawber’s right-side-up disc and pressed a button on it with his tail. The disc dropped. “Wrong button!” He pressed another, and the disc rose. “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.” He rose back to the floor he had fallen from. All the members of Chee’s gang on that floor stood at the edge, watching Numer as he rose. Had they just watched the entire thing play out? The Transpide sat all alone at the ramp bottom. Numer wobbled his disc over the Transpide and dropped in. “Drive!” he screamed.

Zeth shut the bubble roof and drove the Transpide up the ramp. All the gang members shouted and opened fire again. “Are you okay?” Cherry asked.

“I’m alive,” Numer said, panting as if he had not breathed since leaving the Transpide. “That’s good enough for right now.” He looked out the Transpide at the gang, the walls, and the rocket. They drove up a steel ramp that circled the rocket. “Where are we even going?”

“Away from those guards,” Cherry said. Chee’s gang charged up the ramp, but they hindered each other’s paths so much they barely trickled up it.

“Look up there,” Zeth shouted. He pointed to a hatch in the ship near the top. Two tiny figures walked into the hatch: Darmenzi and a female shiffle, certainly Chee. The alarm stopped blaring, replaced by a mechanical voice that counted down from fifty.

“So if they’re leaving the planet, can we just not care?” Numer asked.

“I don’t think they’re looking for a new home,” Zeth said. “We need to get in there before they leave.”

Numer’s eyes widened, and he grimaced. “You mean actually enter the rocket ship?” he screamed. They drove halfway up the rocket.

“We’re too late,” Cherry said. “The door they entered already closed.” The countdown reached thirty, and the ceiling opened to the sky.

Zeth looked around. “There.” He pointed to a hatch open on the rocket a floor below. A few of Chee’s gang stood on the walkway to the hatch, occasionally spitting off the walkway. “Hang on.” Zeth drove off the ramp. They slammed onto the lower walkway, and the members of Chee’s gang jumped back. Before they reacted further Zeth drove into the rocket, and the slubes shut the door.

“Are you sure being in here is a good idea?” Numer asked. The inside appeared dark, lit only by a dim light every few yards or so. A round container as tall as several Transpides stood built into the wall, labeled by a big, red “FUEL” printed on it. A grating composed half of the floor, below which could be seen a machine as wide as the rocket. A ramp curved around the wall rose to the top.

“It’s the only way we can get to them,” Cherry said. “Let’s get up there and find them.” Zeth drove the Transpide up the ramp. They reached the top, and the countdown reached zero. The rocket shook like an erupting volcano. “The rocket’s going!” Cherry shouted through the rumble of the engines.

Numer cowered against his seat. “I really don’t want to be here right now!” He felt like he would be shaken up into a smoothie.

Zeth shouted. “We’re going backwards! There’s too much vibration! I can’t get enough friction on the wheels to go forward!” They screamed as the Transpide rolled down the ramp. The turbulence ended just as they rolled to the bottom.

“Well, that sucks,” Cherry said.

“Great, so we’re going into space again?” Numer asked. He must have been nervous. He felt hot and sticky.

“I guess so,” Zeth said. “If we don’t get back up the ramp soon, though, we’ll probably be burnt up from being so close to the engines.” Oh, Numer figured that was why he felt so hot.

“Isn’t the Transpide supposed to be heatproof?” Cherry asked.

“Engines!” Zeth yelled. “Yes. Let’s get dangerous.”

Numer facepalmed. “Let’s not.”

“What do you mean, Zeth?” Cherry asked.

Zeth drove back up the ramp. “The engine is below the floor down there, and the fuel is stored near it. If we can break the fuel container, we may be able to leak it out and leave them with no fuel for the trip.”

“But won’t we crash, then?” Numer asked.

“We’ll be fine if we land in the ocean,” Zeth said. “It’s that or space.”

Numer sighed. Really wonderful choices there. “All right, how do we do it?”

Zeth stopped the Transpide five floors above the bottom and opened the bubble roof. “Fire down at the base of the fuel container. Enough shots and it should rupture.”

Numer shrugged and fired his mallet. After a barrage of energy shots, a hole burst open on the bottom of the container. A pale purple liquid leaked out onto the floor and through the grating. “So why did you drive all the way up here, first?” Numer asked.

“Because of the explosion,” Zeth said.

Explosion?” Numer screamed. The fuel burst into flames, and the bottom of the room exploded. The blast left a gaping hole where the engines had been.

“Well, yes,” Zeth said, “an engine is basically a controlled explosion, and between the charged particles of the Mallet Blaster and the fuel…” The ship tipped over. The Transpide slid onto the wall. “Look, it’s science. If it’s not science, then I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Zeth, what do we do now?” Cherry yelled. “Fall out of the ship and die?”

“No, ride the ship until it splashes down, then confront Chee and Darmenzi,” Zeth said. The ship tipped further until the top was below them. “Or, if the rocket ship flips upside-down…” The Transpide slid off the walkway and fell down to the top of the ship. “… we’ll fall into the cockpit and confront them now!” They screamed as the Transpide slammed through the door. They fell through a room lined with machines and crashed through another door into the cockpit.

“-rocket just fine, I don’t know what-” Chee ceased yelling at Darmenzi as the Transpide crashed into her chair, shoving her against the dashboard. Chee screamed like a banshee. “You! I should’ve known you were the intruders! Why didn’t you kill them when you had the chance?”

“I’m afraid I forgot about them,” Darmenzi said. “Taunting Conrad was just so much fun.”

The cockpit was no place for a vehicle—between Chee’s padded chair, the dashboard, and Darmenzi, the Transpide only fit by smashing Chee between her chair and the dashboard. Numer stared wide-eyed out the front windshield. The ocean slowly closed in. Chee moaned and thumped her head onto the control panel. She shook her head and sighed. “Well, now you’ve wrecked my rocket ship, and we are going to crash. Are you happy?”

“Not until I know I’m not going to die,” Numer said.

Zeth smiled. “I’m pleased.”

Chee screamed and mashed a button. A door opened to outside. The wind blew out almost all other sound. “Get them out of here before I-!” The rest of Chee’s sentence was lost to the wind.

“So sorry, but your flight has been canceled,” Darmenzi said, speaking over the wind as if its voice were the wind. “As you are stowaways, you will not be reimbursed, and with all luck, you will not be happy.” Darmenzi shot the Transpide with blasts from its lower claws until the vehicle tumbled out the door. Numer screamed as they fell away from the rocket. The pressure felt like an invisible wall crushing him. A big blanket of blue rose straight at the slubes. They continued to scream until they could scream no more.

***

Chee watched the rocket sink into the ocean as the sun sank under the horizon. She sat on an inflatable lifeboat just big enough for her, an outboard motor sitting on the back. “That’s it for that rocket.” She looked at Darmenzi floating above her.

“Ah,” Darmenzi said, “but what is one fallen rocket as an obstacle for world domination?”

Chee stood up. The lifeboat rocked as she screamed, “Do you know how long I spent building-” She grabbed her head. “Okay. Calm down, Chee. Keep yourself in order.” Her voice wavered between a murmur and a yell. “Do not rage. You will not ragequit. You will keep yourself calm and ordered. You will round up all the slubes in prison camps once you rule. You will stop talking to yourself.”

Darmenzi chuckled. “At least those three slubes are out of the way.”

“Right,” Chee said, her voice back to its flat norm. “At least, out of the way long enough. I should have the second ship ready to fly within two days.” She had to make this flight a success. Darmenzi would never wait around for the time it would take to build a third rocket. She had really wanted to scrap the second ship for supplies, too. Chee drove the boat back to her base and left the wrecked rocket ship to sink below the waves.


Chapter 10: Crazy Eyes | Table of Contents

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