Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
“Sea Mountain,” Zeth said.
“Yes, I see the mountain,” Numer said; “but what’s it named?”
“Sea Mountain!” Zeth repeated.
“I already told you I see the mountain!” Numer said, stifling a laugh. “What do they call it?”
Zeth paused and then said, “You’re just joking, aren’t you?” Numer let loose his laugh. The three of them were on the open ocean, traveling to Interp. To the east a huge, pointy rock jutted out of the sea called Sea Mountain. (That name totally wasn’t conjured up for just a single joke.) “Well, it’s good to see you’ve calmed down somewhat.”
Yes, the seas were calm, the sun shining, only one cloud in the sky; it was enough to make anyone forget their planet was currently under threat of destruction.
“So, when we arrive at Interp, we’re going to Interpolis, right?” Cherry asked. Interpolis: the largest city in the region, encompassing half the island.
“Ah, not at first. I thought we’d head to the port in the west first,” Zeth said.
“Shellport? Why would we go there?”
“It’s a fantastic place. Ships come from around the world; it’s the only place around here well-known in the continental areas.”
“We don’t have time for sight-seeing,” Cherry told him.
“Who said we’re sight-seeing? Something tells me there’s a shard there.”
“You mean your intuition?” Numer asked.
“No, the energy scanner,” Zeth answered.
After traveling northward through the ocean, Numer, Zeth, and Cherry reached their destination: the island of Interp. Ahead was rolling fields, and the tall buildings of Interpolis could be seen in the distance. Zeth drove the Transpide up onto Interp’s long southern beach, Sandy Beach.
“What kind of a name is that?” Cherry asked.
“Well… it’s sandy and it’s a beach!” Zeth answered. ”Hey, the north beach is known as Rocky Beach. Would you rather go there?”
“I would rather not,” Numer answered.
“Good; in that case, to Shellport.” Zeth drove off the beach and headed west.
As Zeth said, ships from all over Mintop came to deliver imports and exports, most going to and from the continental areas. While buildings in Nottle and Gelago City were almost all built of wood or stone, Shellport’s buildings were made of metal. In fact, Shellport’s ground was made of metal. It gave every impression of an industrial world.
The Transpide crossed the steel bridge to the port built far above the ocean off Interp’s cliff coast. Down below, ships large and small docked in the harbor. Massive steel beams holding the port in the air came out the bottom of the port, extending down into the sea below.
Below the metal ground of Shellport, ships sailed to the docks and shipyard. Three large elevators, dwarfing the one to Zeth’s lab, connected the docks with the upper area. From above, people and cargo could be brought down to ships. From below, people and cargo could leave the ships and head up into Interp. In the center of Shellport, a large hole let sunlight shine down to the docks.
It was all an astounding sight for someone like Numer, who had never seen a place bigger than Gelago City. In fact, despite living on an island, he had never seen a ship bigger than a canoe.
“Here we are,” Zeth announced, “the hub for shipment of goods in the whole chain of islands.”
Before Zeth could say anything more, they heard a scream from Shellport’s docks followed by the boom of an explosion. “What was that?” Cherry wondered. “Hurry! Step on it!”
“Step on- What? I don’t have feet!” Zeth yelled.
“Just go faster!” Cherry yelled, pushing against Zeth’s seat. Zeth hurried them across the bridge into Shellport. They arrived at the elevators to people rushing out and screaming; a few police officials were rushing in. The air smelled of sea salt, steel, smoke, and sweat.
“What’s going on?” Numer asked.
“Whatever it is, it’s at the docks! Let’s go!” Zeth said. Although guards and police were stationed to keep people from going down, the panic allowed the slubes to slip into an elevator and head down to the docks.
When they arrived they found more panicking by crawbers, ostriches, and thin, green thyvae (which looked sort of like rectangular cucumbers). One thyvae in particular was holding her head with her long, noodle-like arms. “No, no, no, no! This is terrible!”
“What is it?” Cherry asked. The Transpide came to a stop next to the thyvae, and the casing opened up.
“Just take a look!” yelled the thyvae, pointing out to the center of the port. The three slubes saw a turtle shell as wide as the Transpide surfing on the water at high velocity.
“What’s that?” Numer asked.
“Don’t you know anything?” the thyvae said, turning her square head to them. “It’s a Shell Surfer!”
“I’ve heard of those,” Zeth said. “They’re like surfboards, right?”
“Not just surfboards! They’re also fully functional submarines!” the thyvae said. “I’m Sheryl, owner of Sheryl’s Shell Surfer Shop.”
“That’s a mouthful,” Numer interjected, going through the name in his head.
“One of my Shell Surfers was stolen earlier, and I’m positive that one out there’s the stolen one!” Sheryl explained.
“Wait, back up, what was that boom earlier?” Cherry asked.
Before Sheryl could explain, another boom interrupted her. An explosion rocked the side of a docked ship, putting cracks in it. “That’s what’s causing it,” Sheryl answered. “Someone must’ve modified the Shell Surfer, because it’s been shooting torpedoes left and right out here!”
The Shell Surfer fired another torpedo, this one towards the dock. Everyone backed away, and the torpedo exploded. People fell over from the thud, and chunks of the metal floor fell into the water.
That wasn’t the only damage that had been done—small, single-passenger boats, those manned by police officers, could be seen in broken chunks on the docks and in the water. That machine was wrecking everything.
“This is terrible! It’s like a publicity stunt, only for bad publicity!” Sheryl yelled. “It’s gonna make everyone hate the Shell Surfers!”
“How do we stop it?” Cherry asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that. If we flip it over, its propulsion will be rendered useless. The only problem is how do we flip it over or even get close to it?” wondered Sheryl.
The Shell Surfer fired another torpedo, blasting another docked ship. “… Would jumping on it work?” Numer asked, unsure if he should have suggested it. He was at a loss otherwise.
“Not to worry, just leave this to me!” Zeth proclaimed and then hopped back into the Transpide. He drove off the docks, and the Transpide splashed into the water.
Sheryl muttered, “Uh-huh. Now you just need to avoid being blown to bits.”
“I need to what?” Zeth asked.
“You need to avoid being blown to bits!” Cherry screamed. A torpedo surged towards the Transpide. Zeth swerved away, and the torpedo blasted the dock.
“Come on, Zeth, hurry up! There’ll probably be a hole in one of these ships soon!” Cherry shouted.
“Or this dock!” Numer added, looking at the chunks blasted off from it.
“All right, I’m going!” Zeth shouted back. He fired an energy wave from the Transpide, and it skimmed across the water’s surface. The wave slid underneath the Shell Surfer.
The wave blew up, and water splashed out, flipping the Shell Surfer through the air. It splashed down into the water upside-down. There it floated, its movement stopped.
“Pretty good, sluggy,” Sheryl said.
“That’s Zeth,” he said. “Professor Zeth!”
“I don’t think it’s over yet,” Cherry said. The bottom of the Shell Surfer had opened up. Out climbed from inside a turtle who appeared to be a child. He stood on two legs at no more than half a slube’s height. His beak and claws were short and undeveloped; his green skin and shell were doused with water.
The turtle proceeded to whine. “You jerks! You jerks, you jerks, you jerks!” He hopped up and down and shook his fists. “How dare you ruin my fun?”
“FUN?” Sheryl shouted. “You were destroying ships, destroying the docks, and destroying the reputation of my Shell Surfers!”
“Pfft. I was making them look cool!” retorted the round-headed turtle. “Thanks to this thing.” He held up a spherical machine about half his size with a ray gun connected to it.
“What’s that?” Cherry asked.
“A roboty mechanical thing, duh! I don’t know where this doohickey came from, but it zapped me, and suddenly I’m doing all sorts of stuff, like stealing this Shell Surfer! And modifying it to shoot torpedoes!”
“Where’d he even get torpedoes?” Numer asked.
With her hand on her head, Sheryl muttered, “A ship carrying them stopped at the port earlier this morning…”
“That’s right! Now I’m working for The Conqueror and if I get this crystal thingy I found to him, maybe he’ll… get me some nachos or something!” (Not exactly shooting high, is he?)
“Wait, The Conqueror?” Cherry asked, looking between the turtle and the machine.
“Well,” said Zeth to the turtle, “unfortunately for you, we need that shard.”
“No way, barf-face! You probably couldn’t even get a crystal from a shovel!”
“That’s what you think!” Numer called out. “We got one from a buzzsaw!”
“What? That’s dumb. Why would a buzzsaw have—” The turtle paused and then said, “Wait, you have a crystal? Okay, cool! I’ll take it from you! Prepare to go down at the hands of Terrent!”
“Your name is Terrent?” Numer asked.
“Well, I thought about giving myself some sort of super-sounding nickname like ‘The Turtle Tackle’, but that just sounded dumb. Like you guys!”
“That’s it!” yelled Cherry, attention back to Terrent. She leapt off the docks and landed on top of the Transpide. “You’re an annoying pest!”
“I’m more than that; I’m Terrent!” he responded.
“Are you sure this is wise?” Zeth asked; the Transpide bounded up and down in the water like a buoy.
Terrent jumped into the water and pushed the Shell Surfer back onto its bottom. “Prepare for a torrent of awesomeness!” He stomped the top of the Shell Surfer, and another torpedo fired at the Transpide.
“Hold on!” Zeth exclaimed, swerving away from it. Cherry nearly fell off, just barely holding on.
The torpedo blasted into the docks (again), and Numer stumbled back from the explosion. “Cherry! Be careful!” As the Transpide bounced up and down in the rough waves, Cherry just barely hung on, let alone stood on the round top of the Transpide.
“You can’t surf on junk like that!” Terrent laughed, doing pointless handstands and flips as he surfed on the shell.
“JUNK?” Zeth yelled. “We’ll see who has the junk!”
“You know, I don’t take kindly to you calling my product junk, even if it is trying to blow you up!” Sheryl called out. The Transpide shot an electric spark at Terrent. He jumped up and over the spark and landed on the Shell Surfer with a handstand.
“Missed me! Missed me! Now you’ve gotta kiss my torpedoes!” Terrent taunted. Another torpedo blasted towards the Transpide.
“Jump over it this time,” Cherry said.
“Do what?” Zeth asked.
“Thrust the Transpide out of the water!” she clarified. The torpedo cut through the water directly at them. Zeth descended and when the torpedo was close drove up. The Transpide splashed out of the water, hovering just over the torpedo.
The torpedo exploded. Gravity pulled the two slubes down as the Transpide was thrown into the air. At the apex Cherry leapt off.
Terrent laughed, but when he looked up, screamed; Cherry flew down at him like a rocket. She slammed into him and knocked him into the water.
“How do you like that?” Cherry asked, standing over him on the Shell Surfer.
Terrent groaned. He began to… cry. “YOU MEANIES! I’LL SHOW YOU!” Terrent swam underneath the Shell Surfer and climbed inside it.
“Hey, wait! Get back here!” Cherry demanded, looking into the water. The Shell Surfer began to spin in place, quickly picking up speed. Before she could react, Cherry was thrown off and splashed into the water.
With the increasing velocity, the water in Shellport began to churn into a whirlpool. It surged towards the Shell Surfer, taking Cherry along with it. She yelped and paddled against the pull to no avail.
Zeth drove the Transpide over and pulled her in. “You okay? Let’s get away from that… er…” Zeth tried to drive the Transpide away, but they went nowhere in a manner quite contrary to the… manner of… where… they… THEY WERE GOIN’ NOWHERE FAST! The Transpide couldn’t push against the rushing water. “No! Move! This isn’t working!”
“Can’t you fire one of those waves at him?” Cherry asked.
“I would have to turn around, and we would likely be swept up by the whirlpool and by then we’d likely be hit by a torpedo,” Zeth said.
Cherry turned to the docks. Numer was up there watching. “NUMER! Get down here and help us!”
Numer muttered to himself and began to back up.
“Well?” Sheryl asked, looking at Numer. “Aren’t you going to-?”
Before she finished, Numer dashed forward. He leapt off the docks and over the water, aiming to reach the Shell Surfer. The water churned below him like an evil soup in a blender (although I don’t know why you would put soup in a blender).
Numer splashed into the water not five feet from the docks.
Nowhere close to the Shell Surfer, Numer barely resurfaced. He sputtered out water as he was spun around in the whirlpool. Why did he think that was a good idea? He looked at the center of the whirlpool, the Shell Surfer. Flailing in the churning water, Numer struggled to stay above the surface as he was pulled towards the center.
“Numer! Look out!” Cherry shouted, but it was too late—Numer reached the center of the whirlpool and was dragged below the watery surface.
There was a loud bang, and the Shell Surfer flew out of the whirlpool. It skidded across the water’s surface and came to a stop floating on the water, smoke billowing out the back. The whirlpool died down and came to an end.
“He must have knocked that machine right out of its whirlpool!” Zeth exclaimed. “Wait… where did he go?”
Not far from the former center of the whirlpool Numer surfaced, gasping for air and coughing out water. Zeth drove the Transpide to Numer and opened the casing. Cherry pulled him up out of the water and asked, “Are you okay, Numer?”
Numer realized Cherry was holding him, and his body went limp; all he could do was stammer like someone whose mind went blank at the beginning of an important speech.
While Numer was stammering, the top half of the Shell Surfer opened up like a clam shell, and smoke rushed out. Terrent coughed out, “What’s with this piece of junk?” He kicked the controls, and a light came on. “What? The ‘service engine’ light? Don’t do that to me! Work!” Terrent began pummeling the controls with his fists. “Work, gaddfern it! Come on! Work!” he whined.
Instead, it blew up. The Shell Surfer exploded (for some reason—the torpedoes were probably set off inside), and Terrent was thrown screaming into the air and out of the port. Also thrown out from the explosion was another crystal.
Zeth drove over to the crystal floating in the water. Numer was still stammering, at least until Cherry shook him. “Uh, sorry,” Numer said, starting to blush. “I-I’m fine.” Cherry pulled him in as Zeth leaned out to grab the shard.
“Hear this, so-called The Conqueror!” Zeth proclaimed, holding the shard above him like a mystical sword.
“I don’t think it can hear you,” Numer said.
Zeth muttered and put his arm down. “But I was going to make an epic speech about how we won’t be deterred and stuff…”
With Zeth’s chance for a speech gone, and the threat at Shellport over, the Transpide returned to the docks. As it transformed back into wheeled mode, Sheryl remarked, “That’s one fancy ride you have, isn’t it?” A crowd of people who had stayed behind and officers (who ultimately proved useless in stopping Terrent) began to gather. “I guess you three are heroes.”
“Heroes?” Numer asked. He had never thought of himself like that…
“And, as heroes, you should have a heroes’ feast!” Sheryl suggested.
“Thanks, but we don’t have time to stick arou-”
Sheryl grabbed Cherry and brought her close. “Could you just do this for me?” she whispered. “If people see you three, after stopping the port’s near-destruction (by one of my Shell Surfers), eating with me in my shop, it’ll be some good publicity after this awful act. I might get shut down if people suspect me a part of it!”
“Uh… okay, I guess,” Cherry agreed. “We can’t stay too long, though.”
Sheryl’s shop was just a cramped little space, hardly enough room for the four of them, with a back where the Shell Surfers were stored. There was a table, though, and soon it was covered with food from the sea. Though there was some meat, slubes did not usually eat meat, and so the meal was primarily made of fruit and vegetables.
Being a port town connected with many other lands, some of the food was exotic, such as a starchy sort of mush Sheryl called mashed potatoes. Numer was iffy at the exotic stuff and stayed within the boundaries he knew, such as the melon.
A crowd gathered outside as they ate, wanting a glimpse at the heroes. They remained outside so to not interrupt them; the reporters took care of that instead. They entered the shop and immediately asked a barrage of questions.
“Was this all a big publicity stunt?” “Did you know the perpetrator behind this?” “Do all Shell Surfers have the same destructive capability?” “What brought you to Shellport at the time it was under attack?”
“We are trying to eat here,” Cherry said, buttering a biscuit. She ignored them the rest of the time. Numer muttered uncertain utterances to every question.
Zeth answered questions about the Transpide, speaking of its capabilities and his work on it. At one point a reporter asked, “Are you entering the Transpide in the big race at Interpolis tomorrow?”
“The big what?”
“Yes, he is,” Sheryl claimed, putting her arm around Zeth’s shoulders, “with Sheryl’s Shell Surfer Shop as his official sponsor!”
Sheryl whispered to Zeth, “There’s a crystal as the prize just like the one you took from that turtle.”
“Yes, I am!” Zeth exclaimed.
After the reporters left and the slubes and Sheryl finished the meal, Sheryl gave the slubes directions on where to sign up for the race. They said their goodbyes and left for Interpolis.
Even before arriving at Interpolis they could see the buildings rising on the horizon. The sheer magnitude of them was overwhelming when they arrived. Though none of the buildings quite reached Mount Dynamo’s height, the vast number of buildings would surely fill the volcano hundreds of times. Interpolis was the biggest city in the surrounding chain of islands.
If Gelago City gave the full impression of a city, Interpolis gave the full impression of a metropolis. Buildings made of metal rose into the sky. The streets of pavement had cars or at least vehicles that looked like cars. In every way it was a city connected to the modern world of the continental areas.
It may be notable that very few slubes lived there. For those like Numer and Cherry who had never been anywhere bigger than Gelago City, the size was incredible. For Zeth, it was home, though a very loud home, he’d admit—being cooped up in that cave made him used to the silence.
“This place is huge…” Numer said, breathless as he looked up and all around. Lampposts lit up as the sky grew dark; evening was upon them.
The directions Zeth had led to a small building (at least compared to the tallness of the rest of the city). It looked like a house with a metal tower in the center. “Hmm. It doesn’t look very professional,” Zeth said.
“Well, go in,” Cherry said. Zeth got out of the Transpide and went inside. He found himself in a small room that would have been cramped had Numer and Cherry come with him; there was a closet on the left, a square table in the middle with an empty chair behind it, and a door on the other side.
“No one here…” Zeth rang the bell on the desk to see if someone would come. With a yelp, a chameleon became visible behind the front desk and fell out of his chair to the floor.
“Oof. Oh, hey. Sorry about that, I dozed off there,” the green chameleon said, pulling himself up. He had orange zigzag lines on his sides. Like all chameleons on Mintop he had two crests on the top of his head, a tail half as long as his body, and front-facing eyes with conjoined eyelids. “Are you here to sign up for tomorrow’s engineer race?”
“That I am! I’m Professor Zeth,” he said.
“Marl’nt,” the chameleon introduced himself. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of you…”
“I live down south in Nottle,” Zeth explained. “But I do have a vehicle I’ve built myself.”
“Well, that’s all you need!” Marl’nt said. “That and drive. You know, so you can drive your vehicle!” He laughed at his joke. (I didn’t.) “Here’s the sign-in sheet.” He passed a sheet to Zeth, who filled it out. (Apparently it never crossed his mind to just explain to this fellow why they need the shard.)
Soon, Zeth returned outside to Numer and Cherry. “All right, I’m signed up!”
“Great. Now you just need to, you know, win,” Cherry said.
“Don’t worry; I’ll win for sure,” Zeth said.
“I doubt that.” Behind the slubes stood an ostrich wearing shades and a black denim jacket watching them. To his left was a crawber wearing goggles on his forehead (if crawbers even have foreheads). To his right, a shiffle, a creature covered in fur that looked sort of like a sack of hay with a fur-covered head. This one in particular had brown, combed hair.
“If anyone is winning that race, it’s me,” the ostrich declared.
“Or me!” the crawber added, snapping his claws.
“No. I don’t think so,” the ostrich asserted, then turned back to the slubes. “I’m Troy, the coolest engineer in Interpolis.”
“There’s not really a ‘cool’ factor when comparing the capabilities of contraptions,” Zeth mused, scratching his head.
“Unless it’s a machine designed to… make… cool?” the crawber said. “Like a…n icebox or something.”
Ignoring the crawber, Troy pointed at the Transpide. “And a pathetic plaything like that is gonna be no factor in deciding the race winner.”
“Pathetic?” Zeth yelled. “The Transpide is my pride and joy, my premiere invention!”
Numer thought the Mallet Blaster would be dismayed at that, if it could talk. (That’s a… weird thought.)
“I can believe it,” Troy said. “You slubes aren’t known for being very sharp, are you?”
“HEY!” Cherry yelled, leaning forward on the Transpide’s front seat. “If you’re going to make fun of someone, you should at least have something to back it up with!”
“Oh, I do,” Troy claimed. “And tomorrow, you’ll see why I will be the obvious winner of this race! So long, Slosers!” With that, the three of them left.
“We’ll see about that…” Zeth muttered and got back in the Transpide.
“I hope jerks like that aren’t common in a city like this,” Cherry said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Numer said, “you can beat him.”
“Yes, let’s just hope so,” Zeth said. “For now, it’s getting late, isn’t it? Perhaps we should find a place to stay for the night.”
They found and checked into a hotel, splitting the cost. Unfortunately, Numer’s lack of funds meant Zeth and Cherry had to split the cost, and since any money either one of them had was from Mayor Caleco, that really just meant Caleco paid for it. They headed into their rooms for the night, and Cherry called her father.
“I thought you said you would be home tonight!”
“Dad, dad, calm down, it’s okay, I’m fine. We just went a bit far so we checked into a hotel for the night.”
“Well, how far could you have gone?”
“We’re up in Interpolis. That crystal scattered pretty far.” A pause. “… Dad?”
“Did you say Interpolis?”
“Yeah. It’s fine, the place-”
“Fine? It’s the big city! So far away from Nottle, even the island! I couldn’t help you if I had to! And there’s burglars and thieves and assassins and used vehicle salesmen and-”
“Dad, listen, it’s fine; we’ll be okay. We’ve run into far worse than just thieves already.”
“What? Far worse? Cherry, what have you been doing? Listen, I’m coming up there to make sure you’re safe-”
“Dad, don’t! You don’t know what you’re thinking!”
At this point they tried to talk over each other, and the conversation was too muddled to pick it all up. I understood “you’re overreacting”, “can’t go by yourself”, “get yourself hurt”, “more important”, “Zeth and Numer are still here”, and “can’t trust anyone in the city”. At about this point Cherry rose her voice over her father’s, told him not to follow, and hung up.
Numer shuddered in the adjacent room. “I can’t imagine having a parent like that. I think it’d be easy for me, though. My parents always pushed me to go.” Zeth stifled a laugh. “What so funny about that?”
“Oh, sorry, sorry,” Zeth said, pulling a nightshirt onto himself from the tail up. “It’s not something I should laugh about, but I always do so when I look back on it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“When I was younger I was always into mechanics and built my very own boat from scrap. I then promptly crashed it on the rocks up north and nearly injured myself. My parents did everything to steer me away from mechanics, but it never quite worked.”
“Wow. That’s kind of like Cherry, isn’t it?”
“Yep. It all worked out in the end, though,” Zeth said. “Welp! Let’s get to bed; we have a long day tomorrow!”
As they slept, The Conqueror brooded. He slammed the floor with a tentacle upon hearing the news, his other tentacle holding a cup of coffee. “FAILURES! We should have aimed for a better creature! What we got was useless!” He brought the cup of coffee up to his… “Wait, I don’t have a mouth.” He tossed the cup onto a nearby spleech, dumping the coffee onto it.
“Um, sir, perhaps you might like to hear this,” Executive Spleech said. “It seems that we have come across some strange readings on the first island—readings that our research points to being, um… supernatural.”
“Supernatural…” The Conqueror said, stroking his face above his neck.
“GhoOoOoOosts!” the spleech covered in coffee wailed, waving its tentacles in the air. “GhoOoOoOoOosts! GhoOoOoOoO-”
The Conqueror squashed the spleech down with a tentacle and bunched another tentacle into a ball like a fist. “This may just be the break I’m looking for. Prepare the Gene Splicer!”
“We’re going to genetically alter what may already be supernatural?” Executive Spleech asked, quivering a bit.
“Of course,” The Conqueror answered. “I’ll not risk it being insufficient! Overkill is better than no kill! They’ll rue the day they messed with me! I’ll have it that these pests are dragged into the netherworld!”
 Minced oath used on Mintop in roughly the same way as the Earth minced oath “dang it” or “darn it”.