Day 1 (Part 2)–Slubes

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

Professor Zeth drove the Transpide southeast through the expansive, green Hackney Fields. The grass was tall off the beaten path, but there were no trees and but a few bushes here and there; the horizon stretched all the way to the ocean beyond the island’s edge. The tall volcano on the island, Mount Dynamo, loomed over them.

Cherry craned her neck to watch the mouth of the volcanic blackhead. “Do you think any shards fell into Mount Dynamo?”

“I would hope not,” Zeth said, looking back at them. “It would be rather difficult to get any that wer-”

“STOP!” Numer interrupted. Zeth quickly turned back around. They were about to crash into a fence! Zeth hit the brakes with his tail and swerved, spinning them out a bit. (Not the last time that’ll happen, let me tell you.)

“Did you ever learn to drive?” Cherry shouted.

“Well, what’s a fence doing out here?” Zeth asked.

Cherry sighed. “It’s Monaco’s farm.”

“Old farmer Monaco,” Numer said with wide eyes, recalling stories from his childhood. “He lives out here alone. Doesn’t let anyone on his property. If we had crashed into his fence…” He didn’t want to think about that.

“Look!” Cherry said, pointing to the farm. A shard had landed near a pond. A white fish larger than a slube called a carpple—another carp, this one with ears and a snout similar to cattle—was poking it with its snout.

“Let’s go get it, then,” Zeth said.

“We can’t go in there!” Numer yelled. “Old farmer Monaco will kill us!”

“He will?”

“Of course he won’t,” Cherry said, getting out of the Transpide.

“But… he might hit us with a Garden Weasel!” Numer yelled but climbed out and went after her; she was already inside the farm. Three seconds later came a shrill cry:

“WHO’S THERE IN MAH PROPERTEH?” The old, wrinkled slube farmer, wearing a straw hat and patchy overalls, slid his way out, holding a Garden Weasel in the air. “I’ll tell ya, I’ve got me a Garden Weasel here, and IIII’m not afraid to use it!” What is with them and garden weasels? I doubt anyone reading this even knows it’s a tool like a pitchfork, except with three sets of sharp, rotating prongs. … Well, I guess now they do.

“Put that down before you stab your eye out,” Cherry said to him, arms crossed.

“Listen here, little missy! I ain’t gonna take nothing from no one on my own land!”

“No, no, no, no!” Numer cried, dashing over between the two in panic. “If you’re going to hurt her, you have to go through-” The world tilted as Cherry pushed Numer to the side; he finished with a confused, “-me?”

“Do you know who I am?” Cherry asked the old farmer. “I’m Cherry! Mayor Caleco’s daughter.”

“You- Er, what? Mayor Caleco’s daughter?” Monaco slid back a little. Although officially the mayor of Nottle, everyone knew Mayor Caleco’s power extended through the whole of west Hackney. In fact, together with the mayor of east Hackney, the two mayors were the highest authority on the island.

“That’s right,” Cherry continued, “and all we’re here for is the crystal that fell in your farm.”

“The what?”

“This,” Numer said, picking up the crystal near the pond. The carpple that had been poking it mooed.

“That’s all we wanted,” Cherry said. “You can go back to being a crotchety, old farmer now.”

With that taken care of, they returned to the Transpide. Numer was glad nothing bad happened. Cherry was annoyed at Monaco. Zeth was still confused over the ordeal. Monaco didn’t want anything to do with this story.

They continued their drive through west Hackney. Along the way, Cherry asked Zeth if he would open the Transpide’s casing.

“Um… sure, but why?” Zeth asked.

“I want to feel the wind,” Cherry answered. Zeth opened the casing, and Cherry leaned out, letting the wind blow into her body.

Numer watched as she let out a long whoop. He looked outward and after a few moments of indecision he did like Cherry, leaning out to feel the wind. It blew him back, but he pushed against it, feeling the rush of air blow by him. He shut his eyes and shook with excitement; it was such a feeling unlike anything he’d felt before…

They drove by a shrub, and Numer got caught in it, falling out onto the ground.

“Oh! Numer! Numer fell out!” Cherry said. Zeth hit the brakes. They hurried out to see if he was okay.

Lying on the ground, Numer muttered, “On the bright side, at least I can’t get more black eyes than I already have…”

Once they got going again they crossed a wooden bridge, driving over the river that split west and east Hackney. There, Cherry finally asked a very important question: “Where exactly are we going?”

“I figure the best place to start would be Gelago City,” Zeth said, referring to the city in East Hackney.

“Why? With a higher density of people, there’s more gravitational pull, and so it’s more likely that some shards fell there?” Numer asked.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Zeth said.

“I know. That’s why I’m asking you for an explanation,” Numer responded.

“Because… um… over there, someone may have seen something!” Zeth settled on. Little did they realize that Numer’s guess was exactly what was happening and okay, actually, no, not really. Now that I’ve gotten you sufficiently confused, let’s get to Gelago City!

“My head is getting cold,” Numer complained, shifting the bag of melty ice.

***

While Nottle gave the full impression of a quaint village, Gelago City gave the full impression of a small city. As opposed to Nottle’s grassy land, stone streets crossed throughout Gelago City. Buildings with apartments and businesses lined the streets. Unlike Nottle, which was populated exclusively by slubes, Gelago City had slubes, ostriches, tan camel-like smarmel, and red crab-like crawbers.

“I haven’t been here for several years,” Numer said, looking around as the Transpide drove down the street. Everything was as he remembered it. That shop over there. That… one building. That… uh… fire hydrant. He guessed? Okay, he didn’t remember it all that well.

“You’ve been here?” Zeth asked.

“I was born here,” Numer said. “It was just a few years ago that I moved to Nottle.”

It soon became apparent that there were no crystals out in the open. If it was that easy we’d have no plot, not that we have much of a plot anyway.

“This is going nowhere. Stop here,” Cherry said. Zeth stopped, and Cherry left the Transpide. Numer and Zeth watched her go into a nearby building, above which was a sign: “Dojo”.

“Hello, everyone!” Cherry said as she entered the small, wooden, two-room dojo. Sitting inside on the floor was a slube (younger and shorter than Cherry), a smarmel, and two crawbers (although with the crawbers’ short stature and six legs, it was hard to tell they were sitting—at a third the height of a slube they were vaguely cube-sized). All of them wore white robes with waistbands save the crawbers, who wore nothing.

“It’s Miss Cherry!” said one of the crawbers. The other saluted her with a claw over the thin spine-like protrusion on his head, right above his beady eyes and pointy mouth. This was pretty much the crawber’s entire body.

The first crawber smacked the second with her claw. “That’s the military that salutes people!”

“Ah, Miss Cherry.” An elderly smarmel in a white robe walked up to Cherry, holding a walking stick; his armored back was slightly hunched.

“Master Smartel!” Cherry said and bowed.

Master Smartel smiled. Smarmel’s eyes appeared constantly closed, but Master Smartel’s eyes still had a look of kindness. Or, rather, his eyelids did. I guess?“You need not bow to me; after all, you did best me in combat,” he reminded her. “What is it that makes you grace our dojo with your presence?”

“Yeah, I thought you graduated,” said the slube student.

Numer and Zeth entered as Cherry finished explaining about the shattered crystal. “…so now we’re here looking for pieces of it, but our search has been fruitless thus far.”

“Uh… I saw some limestone, if that helps,” the second crawber said.

“I may know something,” the smarmel student spoke up. “I have heard that Mayor Chuck found a crystalline object near his house recently.”

“Did it look like this?” Zeth asked, showing the shard they had found at Monaco’s farm.

“I’m afraid I haven’t seen it,” the smarmel said.

“We’ll look into it,” Cherry said. “Thank you.”

“Good luck, my friends,” Master Smartel said, “and may the for- teachings you have learned from me help you on your quest.”

“Thanks, I’m sure they will,” Cherry said, and they bowed goodbye.

As they returned to the Transpide, Numer said, “I didn’t know this was a quest.”

“I had an instructor once who gave out quests,” Zeth said. “They were half quiz, half test!”

“Something else… I can never tell if a smarmel’s actually seeing me or not,” Numer said. “It makes me uneasy when I talk to one.”

“It’s been said that smarmel never open their eyes and yet are able to sense their surroundings and see without them,” Zeth said. “I suppose if they couldn’t, they would bump into everything!”

The three got in the Transpide and headed for the home of Mayor Chuck on the highest hill in the city. “Should we ask the mayor to keep watch for any other shards?” Numer wondered.

“We don’t even know if he’ll part with the one he has,” Zeth said.

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Cherry said.

The mayor’s home was larger than the other houses in the city but not by much. Other than being slightly oval-shaped, the house had no fancy or gaudy designs. Overall it was largely unassuming.

Once they had arrived they knocked on the front door a few times. It opened, and the first thing Numer saw inside was a clawed foot right in front of his face. He jumped back.

“Hey! Whoa! Don’t come any closer, son!” the ostrich yelled, wings spread out at his sides. He was slightly taller than the slubes, though slightly shorter than most ostriches. “I know at least twelve different styles of fighting, some of which are even illegal in the state of Terrozona[1]!”

“Wait, stop, time out; we aren’t here to fight or anything!” Zeth said. They were quickly starting off on the wrong foot (which is especially bad when you lack feet).

Chuck paused. “Ya aren’t?”

“No, Chuck, we aren’t.” Cherry strode up to him as if his foot wasn’t out and ready to fight. “And if we were, I could knock you out.”

After a moment, Mayor Chuck lowered his foot and said, “Oh, heh, howdy, Cherry. Didn’t recognize ya at first. How long’s it been?”

“A while, but I’m not here to catch up. Oh, uh, this is Professor Zeth, and this is Numer,” she introduced them.

“Pleased to meet ya,” said Chuck, tipping his bowler hat. “Just a bit nervous right now; folks been saying they saw this huge pillar of light coming down in the west island.”

“We know, we were there,” Cherry told him. “It hit Nottle.”

“It did?” Chuck yelled. “Everyone okay over there?”

“Yes, I don’t think anyone was hurt,” Cherry said, “but that crystal in the center of town was shattered. It’s been scattered all over.”

“We heard you had recently found a crystal. Is that right?” Zeth asked.

“Yeah, I did,” Chuck answered. “Come on in, I’ll go find it.”

Chuck’s home was fairly modest. There were all the normal comforts of a home—carpet, a couch, even a television, one with a rather thick casing and a screen no bigger than Numer’s head—but it wasn’t expansive. It probably wasn’t much more impressive than Numer’s parents’ house. Sure, it was more than what most had at Nottle, but that could be said for most people of Gelago City; Chuck’s house was nothing breathtaking.

There was something else on Numer’s mind, anyway. “I didn’t know Cherry knew Mayor Chuck,” he whispered to Zeth.

“Say, that’s right; I know your father was friends with Chuck but I didn’t know you knew him as well,” Zeth said to Cherry.

“Yeah, I’ve met him a few times before when he and my dad visited. I told you we wouldn’t have to worry.”

Chuck returned with a shard of the crystal no bigger than the others they had found. “Is this what you’re looking for?”

“Yes, that’s it!” Zeth said. He held out his hand, but Chuck pulled his back.

“Not so fast. How do I know you’re not aliens in disguise or something?”

“Seriously? Aliens in disguise?” Cherry asked.

“It’s a possibility. You knew about the pillar.”

“We were there.”

“You knew I had this here gem.”

“We heard it from the townsfolk.”

“You knew that I knew Cherry.”

“That’s because I AM CHERRY!”

“Well… aw, all right, I suppose you’re the real deal.” He handed the crystal to Zeth. “No alien could fake you, after all.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Cherry said.

“Guess I haven’t been too hospitable this morning,” Chuck said, scratching his head. “Say, feel like staying for lunch?”

Before Cherry could decline—they had quite a lot to do, after all—Numer yelled, “Yes!” All the sudden events going on had kept him from realizing how hungry he was. He hadn’t eaten at all today!

Chuck laughed. “All right, let’s see what I can whip up for ya. And let me get ya some more ice for those eyes; looks like your bag’s melted.”

“Thanks,” Numer said. All the moisture from his once-ice bag made it feel like his head was melting.

As Chuck fixed them some lunch in the kitchen, Numer, Zeth, and Cherry waited at a table. “You know, your home is quite a bit more… quaint than Caleco’s,” Zeth noted.

“Yeah, I guess that’s always how I’ve been,” Chuck agreed. “I never was one for a big, fancy lifestyle. Cal was, though.”

“Dad used to tell me it seemed strange that you and he became mayors where you did—that it made more sense the other way around—but that he thinks the way it turned out is actually better for the two towns.”

“Yeah, that just may be the case,” Chuck agreed. “Though, of course, I don’t need a big place, living alone. Just the occasional get-together of other folks. Cal, though, he’s got thr… twice as many people living with him. Say, speaking of Cal, I’m surprised he didn’t tell me you was coming.”

“He’s, you know, busy, trying to keep everyone in Nottle calm,” Cherry said.

None of the conversation registered in Numer’s head. (I wish I could say the same for me.)Instead he was fiddling with the remote control to the living room television, turned so the screen faced the kitchen. He had never been able to watch one before—they weren’t widespread in Gelago City, and his parents hadn’t been able to afford one. Now he had a chance, and it wouldn’t turn on.

“Um, Mayor Chuck?” Numer spoke up. “Your television isn’t working, I think…”

“Really? Gonna have to take a look at that… but for now, soup!” Chuck brought four hot bowls of homemade tomato soup, so I’m going to use this as my lunch break.

{THIS ISN’T VERY PROFESSIONAL}

Since when do you care about professionalism?

{Riiiight. Food!}

***

Well, that was nice. Maybe Duth isn’t so bad.

{THAT MEAL IS COMING OUT OF YOUR PAYCHECK}

… What?

{Just kidding. You don’t get a paycheck. Go on, go on; get back to typing.}

Right… With their meal complete, Numer, Zeth, and Cherry prepared to leave. “See ya, Chuck,” Cherry said.

“Thanks for the meal!” Zeth added.

“Not a problem. You can come by anytime. Well, not anytime. I’d appreciate it if ya didn’t come around two in the morning, of course.”

Numer laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think I’d like that either.”

“Oh yeah, and give my regards to Cal, would ya? I haven’t visited him in a while.”

“I’ll do that,” Cherry said, and they waved goodbye.

Upon returning to the Transpide, they noticed a repeated beeping coming from it. “Someone tried to call the Transpide’s phone!” Zeth realized.

“This thing has a phone?” Numer asked. Zeth hit play, and a very distraught voice spoke:

“Professor Zeth! This is Mayor Caleco! Get over here immediately! Cherry’s gone missing, and with this recent crisis, I can only imagine something horrible has happened! So get out of your cave and get over here!”

The message ended. Numer and Zeth stared at Cherry in silence. She didn’t meet their stares.

Finally, Zeth remarked, “‘Of course he does,’ you said.”

“Well… I didn’t think it would matter!” Cherry said. “I didn’t think he’d freak out and…” She dropped her head. “Who am I kidding; of course I knew he would. He’s always worrying about me, and if I told him what I was doing I just know he would do everything he could to stop me. I know why he does it, but…”

“Because he… loves you?” Numer asked, the last two words getting stuck in his throat.

“Because of the accident. And because of mom. He doesn’t want to lose me but he’s become overprotective because of it…”

Ah yes, her mother. Numer had wondered where her mother was when he first came to Nottle. It was a touchy subject, according to the townsfolk. Apparently Cherry’s mother had been quite energetic and used to play with her outside quite a lot, but one day they both took a nasty fall from a tree. Cherry came out of it with minor injuries that a young slube could quickly heal; her mother had hit her head. She never regained consciousness.

Boy, that sure took a turn for the depressing. Let’s go back to eating lunch.

Ouch. Okay, Duth just threw a piece of lasagna at me. I guess that broke the momentary lapse of silliness.

“Well, I think it’s time to tell him how you feel,” Zeth said, starting up the Transpide. “Save the world or save your father’s sanity?”

“Do either of those really apply to this situation?” Cherry asked. “And would they necessarily be at odds?”

Zeth opened his mouth to speak but then just started driving back to Nottle. It was time for Caleco to understand Cherry’s plight.

Along the way a thought occurred to Numer: “Wait, why would the mayor call you?”

Zeth answered, “I work for him when I’m not private, which is… whenever I’m broke.”

***

When Cherry, Numer, and, Zeth arrived at Nottle, they found the townspeople had emerged from their homes. As Zeth drove in, everyone stared at the Transpide, keeping their distance.

“You’ve never driven this outside the lab, have you?” Numer asked.

“I’ve never had it running before this morning,” Zeth answered.

Southwest of Nottle sat another island connected to it by a solid, wooden bridge. Taking up almost all of the island’s space was a two-story building two or three times bigger than all the other houses in Nottle.

This was the mayor’s house. As said before, Mayor Caleco was one more for a fancy lifestyle, thus the lavish house in stark contrast to the rest of the small town. Standing on the porch of the almost-mansion was a slube wearing orange: Mayor Caleco.

“I’m here, mayor!” Zeth said, parking the Transpide next to the bridge.

“I can see that, professor,” Caleco said. He normally had an air of confidence around him, one that almost made you wonder if he was royalty. Calm and collected, he always seemed to have things in order. At the moment, none of this was true as he was panicking. “What took you so long?”

“Sorry, we were searching for shattered pieces of the crystal,” explained Zeth; he and Numer climbed out of the Transpide.

“Right, the crystal,” Caleco said, trying to regain his composure. “I’ve been trying to keep the town calm after this unexpected disaster…”

A group of townsfolk were crowded around the small crystal. “It’s smaller than before,” one spoke up.

“Well of course, that giant pillar must’ve destroyed most of it,” another said.

“What if it took it away?”

“He’s got a point; it was sucking things around it like a vacuum.”

“Then why would it have left part of it behind?”

Caleco continued, “…and as I was trying to calm them down, I came to the realization that my daughter was missing.”

“I’m right here,” Cherry said, coming out of the Transpide.

“CHERRY!” Caleco cried and he rushed over to hug her. “Are you okay? What happened? These two didn’t kidnap you, did they?”

“They didn’t kidnap me!” Cherry yelled before either Numer or Zeth could speak. “I went to Zeth to help try and figure out what was going on with the crystal. Then we started gathering pieces that had scattered around and we went to Gelago City and also Chuck said to give you his regards,” she quickly rattled off with a single breath.

“You two let my daughter go out at this time?” Caleco yelled at Numer and Zeth. “We were under attack! Who knows what could be out there?”

“Mayor, don’t you think you’re overreacting a little?” Zeth asked.

“No, you’re overreacting a lot,” Cherry muttered.

Caleco looked at Cherry. “My little cherry blossom… I can’t let you hurt yourself. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did.”

“I’m not little anymore, dad,” Cherry said, her voice strained. “Forget the accident. I can take care of myself now. I know you want to protect me, but…” She stammered a bit, trying to find the right words to explain it. She finally just shouted, “You’ve been suffocating me!”

Caleco couldn’t respond. His face sagged more than usual; wrinkles were visible under his eyes.

Cherry continued, though she found it hard to look at her dad. “When you let me take karate lessons, I finally thought… maybe, that you were finally letting me go, be on my own, but right after that it went back to the way before. I can’t take it anymore.”

“Cherry, please… I…”

“Mr. Mayor, sir!” Numer interrupted, coming over. “I… know I don’t look like much. The fact is I’m not much. But I will guarantee that if Cherry comes with us, she will return home safe and sound. I would guard her with my life.”

Before Caleco could respond, Zeth played his hand. “Mayor, you’ve known me for several years now, right?”

“Yes, and that is why it is against my better judgment to let her go with you,” Caleco said.

Zeth dropped his head. “Oh, come on, I haven’t messed up that often, have I?” (Apparently he didn’t have a good hand.)

“Dad, there’s one fact in all this you haven’t considered yet,” Cherry said, speaking slowly and carefully. She was ready to break free and wanted to do it tactfully…

“What’s that?” Caleco asked.

I DON’T NEED YOUR PERMISSION!” she shouted, causing her father to stumble back. (I don’t think that was very tactful!) “I’m sorry if that sounded harsh, but I’m an adult. Something bad is going on. It needs to be resolved. And I’m going to help.”

Cherry turned and walked back to the Transpide. Before she got in she felt a hand on her arm. She turned around, and her father hugged her, softly saying, “Okay. Okay. I’m sorry, I’ve always just… Well… you know, with your mother gone… Just… come back in one piece, please?”

“Of course,” Cherry said, returning the hug. “I know you’re just worried for me and I know you’re going to be a nervous wreck whether or not I tell you to not worry, but I’ll be fine. I promise.”

Once the tender moment was over, Caleco turned to Numer and Zeth. He cleared his throat and said with the force of an ancient mountain, “And you two make sure she comes back unharmed or there will be dire consequences, understand?”

Numer slowly nodded. Cherry rolled her eyes.

“Okay, well, bye, dad!” Cherry said, returning to the Transpide.

“You’re leaving already? Without stopping to rest or anything? Have you even eaten lunch today?” Caleco asked.

Before Numer could speak he was cut off by Cherry saying, “Yes, yes we have.”

“We stopped by Mayor Chuck’s for a little while; didn’t Cherry mention it?” Zeth asked.

“Oh, yes, right. She went so fast I hardly noticed it.”

“Okay, goodbye,” Cherry said, giving him another quick hug. “We have things to do, a crystal to rebuild, and maybe even a planet to save.”

“All right.” Caleco finally let them go. “Goodbye and good luck, my cherry blossom…” As he waved goodbye to them, he stopped himself. Dashing after them he shouted, “Wait, the entire planet? What do you mean? Is it really… that sounds… Cherry!”

But they were already gone, Cherry’s mind shouting to itself: FREEDOM!

***

Numer, Zeth, and Cherry returned to Gelago City to resume their crystal search. Without any real lead, they took to asking the residents if they’d seen anything. The following is an abridged list of the responses they received:

“No.” “Uh-uh.” “Can’t help you there.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “I haven’t heard anything.” “If I’d found one, I’d have sold it.” “These crystals aren’t from the sky, I’m afraid.” “We haven’t heard anything.” “They’re called pants.” “Sounds like hippy nonsense.” “All I found was a rainbow that dropped colored gold.” “I prefer Mary over Bo Peep. Bo keeps losing her lambs.” “It’s a dragonfly that swims. It’s like an oxymoron or something.” “Ich bin ein Pfannkuchen.” “A phonograph.” “Are you taking a survey or something?” “To get to the other side.”

Some of those didn’t even make sense but whatever.

As they went through this nonsense, Numer noticed that everything powered by electricity was turned off. Lights, televisions in shop windows… everything was off. Finally his curiosity got the better of him. After Zeth and Cherry succeeded in getting nothing out of a crawber, Numer asked, “By the way… is… Why does it seem like everything electrical is off?”

The crawber thought to himself for a moment. “Oh, that’s right! Apparently some big crystal thingy fell into the power station recently and got caught in the turbines. They’ve been jammed for a while now, actually.”

Cherry stared at the crawber. “Well, WHY HASN’T SOMEONE TOLD US?”

“Let’s go check out the power station, then,” Zeth said. “I’m sure I can find some way to get it out.”

Several minutes later, however:

“I can’t find some way to get it out!” Zeth cried. They were now outside the power station with some engineers.

“I told you, we tried everything,” said a smarmel.

Numer didn’t think he could be of any help but asked, “What happens when you try to run it normally?”

“Nothing. The engine won’t start with that gem stuck in there.”

“Or… perhaps it just needs a little more oomph!” Zeth said. “I think I’ve got an idea.”

Apparently that idea was to have himself sit in the Transpide alone in the middle of the road while a crowd watched. That’s sure going to help.

Like some sort of salesman, Zeth said, “Lost power? Cold home? Need to move a large boulder from the path? No problem! With the Transpide, you can do all this and get from point A to point B faster than ever before! Just watch!”

Zeth pressed a button, and a flat wave of energy shot out from below the Transpide. As it traveled along the ground, Zeth continued, “This concentrated wave of energy will expand and explode when I send the signal.” He pressed a second button, and the wave exploded, its energy concentrated upwards. It also destroyed part of the stone path, leaving a hole in it. At this the crowd began to yell at him:

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I thought you were going to fix the power station, not blow up our walkways!”

“How would you like to drive over potholes each day?”

“Do we even have cars in this city?”

“Why is he doing this it is so pointless!”

Zeth ducked a little and said, “Er… whoops, sorry about that! Don’t worry, I promise this next part will be less destructive!” (He said that but probably shouldn’t have considering the next thing was a flamethrower.) He pressed another button, and a stream of fire shot out from the front. It set a tree on fire. “Oops, oops, oops, someone should really put that out!” he panicked, flailing his arms a little.

Cherry just shook her head. Numer ran over to a fire hydrant and yanked opened the valve. The water burst out and knocked him over but it also put out the burning tree.

“Phew. Okay, this last one won’t destroy anything, I promise,” Zeth said. “Instead, it will bring electricity back to the city!” He drove the Transpide over to the power station and pressed another button. From the Transpide came a crackle and out shot an electric spark slightly bigger than Zeth’s head. The spark shot into the generator. “You see, the idea is that with enough charge the turbines should start up fast enough to force the shard out.”

“Excuse me,” an ostrich spoke up, “what if forcing the turbines to go when jammed damages and ruins them, rendering the generator completely inoperable?”

Zeth just mumbled to himself.

Some creaking and screeching came from the turbines, followed by the generator springing to life. This was followed by a lot of rapid clanging.

Suddenly the crystal shot out of the generator like a cannonball, flew through the crowd, and smashed into a crawber.

Zeth mumbled to himself again. Numer began inching towards the Transpide.

The Crawber, on the ground, muttered, “If it wasn’t for my hard shell, I’d probably be injured…” Cherry dashed over and grabbed the shard.

“Okay… I think maybe perhaps we should leave before anything else happens?” Zeth said.

“Yes, let’s,” Cherry said. She hopped into the Transpide. Numer jumped in on the other side, and Zeth drove away before the crowd became an angry mob.

Once they were out of the crowd’s line of sight, Zeth said, “That… could have gone better. But it could have gone worse, so it’s okay with me! What should we do next?”

“We keep the search going!” Cherry answered. “Let’s not waste any time!”

Numer watched the setting sun. “It’s getting kind of late, though…”

“Well, we can’t keep on going all night,” Zeth said. “We should be well-rested for tomorrow.”

“But by tomorrow things may have gotten worse!” Cherry said.

“We can’t stop things from getting worse in one night,” Zeth said. “We shouldn’t run ourselves ragged.”

“Fine…” Cherry yielded.

“Say, Numer, you said your parents live here, right? Think we could stay with them instead of driving all the way back to Nottle then all the way back here tomorrow?” Zeth asked.

Numer paused for a moment. He didn’t really like the idea. His parents were fussy, and he could very easily run into the same problem Cherry had with her father.

No, wait, he thought. He’d run into the opposite problem: they’d be excited that he’s actually doing something of use. No! That’s not good. Cherry could find out what a lazy loser he really is. His parents would embarrass him to no end!

“No!” Numer exclaimed. “I mean, I don’t think it’s a good idea to drop in without letting them know first. Let’s just head back to Nottle.”

***

It was nearly dark when they returned to Nottle, and so they turned in for the night. Tomorrow they would resume the search.

However… up where the sun was more visible, where night and day did not mean dark and light… The Conqueror’s space station continued its orbit.

“WHY HAVEN’T YOU GOTTEN THE CRYSTAL YET?” The Conqueror shouted, shaking a spleech in the air by its neck.

“W-w-w-we did-d find s-something of n-note, though!” the spleech, Executive Spleech in Charge of Keeping Things Orderly, stuttered as it was shaken.

The Conqueror put the spleech down to let it speak. Executive Spleech cleared its throat and read through a clipboard. “You know there are many areas on the planet where the crystal has broken up and fallen…”

“Get on with it.” The Conqueror had no time for games.

“W-well, what we’ve found,” Executive Spleech continued, holding the clipboard like a shield, “is that one of the ‘areas’ happens to be moving.”

Executive Spleech pressed a button, and a monitor turned on. It brought up a map of Hackney with a line traced between the far west side of Hackney and the eastern area. “Repeated scans show an energy signal that is moving. The original spot of the crystal also has a signal that is getting stronger.”

“WHAT?” The Conqueror shouted. “That can only mean that some inhabitants are collecting it! That crystal is mine, and I will not have this! First rebels on my ship, now rebels on a planet I have yet to conquer!”

“Shall we go down and exterminate them, sir?” Executive Spleech asked.

“No. We can’t make our presence too noticeable yet. Instead, we shall have the planet’s inhabitants do it for us!” The Conqueror pulled himself forward with his tentacles and left the control room. Executive Spleech followed.

They arrived in the weaponry room. The Conqueror knew he had these things developed for a reason. He activated a computer and brought up information on a round machine with two mechanical tentacles: the Animator, designed to bring sapience to inanimate objects.

“But won’t this alert them to our presence?” asked Executive Spleech.

“It will alert them to something,” The Conqueror said, “but they will have no idea that it is The Conqueror who is doing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the inhabitants of these islands believe in magic. Now, we will send down an Animator to where the crystal has fallen and take it back by force—covert force.”

Outside, an opening appeared on one of the spheres that made up the space station. A small rocket shot out and its thrusters activated. Onto Mintop it descended, its coordinates set, its goal programmed: animate anything near the fallen crystal to work for great justice. I mean, for The Conqueror.


[1] Terrozona does not exist.

Day 2 (Part 1) | Table of Contents

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