Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
Mescho Caleco pushed through the crowd of slubes in the underground shelter and embraced Cherry. “I’m so glad you’re safe! When I saw the volcano… I thought you… I couldn’t imagine…”
“I’m glad you’re all safe, too,” Cherry said.
“Oh, yes, the town,” Caleco said. “Is it much damaged?”
“There’s just a few rocks here and there. The eruption didn’t last long.”
“Thank goodness,” Caleco sighed. “Everyone and everything is fine now, right? It’s all over?”
“Not yet,” Cherry said. “I just came down here so you would know I was okay. We still have something to do.”
“The Conqueror,” Caleco said. “Right… How will you get to him?”
“Zeth said he has an idea,” Cherry said. “Just stay down here until we come back.”
“And you will come back, yes?” Caleco said.
“Of course,” Cherry said. “I won’t let you down.”
Cherry knew—and she knew her father knew—those were empty words. Anything could happen. All she could do was hope and her best. Anything less would be letting everyone down. Anything more is out of her hands.
As for Zeth’s idea, it apparently consisted mostly of them sitting in the Transpide in the middle of Nottle with the completed crystal inside. Didn’t seem very useful.
“So how is this supposed to get us to The Conqueror?” Cherry asked.
“Well,” Zeth said, “The Conqueror originally tried to get the crystal by pulling it into the sky. Now that it’s complete, he might try it again, but this time he’ll get us with it.”
“So we’re just going to deliver the crystal right to him?” Cherry asked.
“He’ll try to take it anyway, right?” Zeth said. “We might as well use it to our advantage.”
“But what if he doesn’t try to take it?” Numer asked. “What if we just sit here forever?”
“Don’t worry.” Zeth held up a picnic basket. “I packed us a picnic lunch in case we’re here a-”
Then the entire world turned bright and lost its color. A screeching crackle shattered through the air, and the slubes felt themselves pulled into the air. The Transpide was lifting off the ground!
“We’re going!” Cherry shouted over the screeching. “Get ready!”
“What?” Numer screamed.
“This had better work, Zeth!” Cherry yelled.
“Oh, no! Oh, no!” Zeth shouted.
“What? What is it?” Cherry shouted.
“The picnic lunch is floating away!” The food Zeth had packed in the basket was floating out of it.
“Stop worrying about that, and start worrying about what we’re going to do once we’re up there!” Cherry yelled.
“Are you sure this is safe?” Numer yelled. “What if we have to go up into space?”
“Don’t worry!” Zeth shouted. “The Transpide is airtight! We’ll be safe all the way up!”
The slubes watched as they rose past the cloud layer and up towards the stars. The blue sky darkened to black, and far above they saw a collection of white spheres floating in space.
“That must be it,” Cherry said, the screeching dying down. “That must be where The Conqueror is.”
“I don’t mind saying that I’m nervous,” Numer said.
“Yeah, me too…” Cherry said.
“Wait, you, too?” Numer asked. “But we’ve fought ghosts! Robots! Magma that’s alive! We’ve done stuff I wouldn’t believe! We can… We, um…”
Cherry smiled. “You’re right. We can do this.”
“Um, yeah!” Numer said. “Look out, conqueror-guy! We’re taking you down!”
The Transpide entered the space station from below and floated up through a white tube. The slubes watched as they entered a hole into an empty room as big as a house. Above them sat a large machine like an arm, out from which the tractor beam originated.
Surrounding them were three gray, tall-headed creatures in white suits and helmets.
The creatures and the slubes stared at each other as the Transpide floated in the tractor beam.
“Um… What do we do now?” Numer asked.
The tractor beam disappeared, and the Transpide fell to the metal floor.
“We drive!” Zeth yelled, and he drove the Transpide ahead and through a passageway that shut behind them.
“Zeth, where are we even going?” Cherry asked.
“To find The Conqueror!” Zeth said.
“But we don’t even know what he looks like!” Cherry said. An alarm sounded as they drove down the gray hallway, and lights flashed above shut doorways.
“Well, if we can’t find him,” Zeth said, “maybe someone will bring us to him.”
“I’d rather not be brought to him,” Numer said.
“Right; we want to find him ourselves, be in a position of power,” Cherry said. “Just try going somewhere that looks important. Head down that hallway!”
“A map of the place would be useful,” Zeth said. “Look out for any kiosks that might sell maps.”
“What?” Numer asked.
They turned down one hallway to find a crowd of spleech, spun around, and drove the other way. “Not that way!” Zeth said.
After turning down a few more hallways, the Transpide crashed into a spleech who got stuck on the casing. The spleech screamed, prompting the slubes to scream and spin out to a stop.
“Flinn! Flinn, are you okay?” Two other spleech scurried after the Transpide while the third continues to scream while on the Transpide.
The slubes stared at the screaming spleech. Zeth opened the casing, knocking the spleech to the floor, and then closed it again.
“That alarm isn’t even for us!” one of the spleech said. “It must be for these jokers!”
“Come on, Zeth, let’s go,” Cherry said.
“Right.” Zeth drove the Transpide forward, but he skidded to a stop when a crowd of spleech turned the corner ahead. “Maybe not that way.”
“The other way doesn’t look good either,” Numer said; another crowd of spleech marched to them from behind.
“We’re trapped!” the screaming spleech said. “We’re trapped, we’re trapped!”
“We’ll tell them we captured these three. We can’t let them know we’re rebels.”
“We can’t turn them over to The Conqueror,” a spleech with glasses said.
“Have you not noticed the big crystal in their machine?”
“You’re not taking this crystal,” Cherry said.
“We’re not the ones who want it,” the glasses spleech said. It looked around and then opened a door. “Follow us.”
Zeth followed the spleech into what looked like a laboratory. “Are you really going to follow them?” Cherry asked.
“Would you prefer one of the bigger crowds?” Zeth asked.
The spleech pulled aside a hidden panel on the wall leading into a corridor, and Zeth drove into it.
“Why should we trust you?” Cherry asked.
“Because we just saved your lives!” a spleech yelled as they placed the panel back on the wall.
The screamy spleech softly shushed the other. “Please, they, they may hear us…”
“You might be leading us right to a trap,” Cherry said.
“A better trap than a hoard of spleech upon you?”
“Well, we spleech aren’t the strongest of creatures,” the glasses spleech said.
“Don’t encourage it!”
“Her,” Cherry said.
“Look, you’re the ones who brought the crystal here. Everything was fine until you showed up!”
“Because we ruined your leader’s plans,” Cherry said.
“We ruined our leader’s plans! I mean, The Conqueror’s plans!”
“Come on, this is no time to argue,” the glasses spleech said.
“Let’s just take a breather here,” Zeth said. “We can decide on our next course of action.”
“I believe in them,” Numer said.
“You do?” Cherry asked.
“Yeah. Look at him.”
“It,” the glasses spleech said.
Numer pointed to the screamy spleech. “Trembling body, fidgety… well, tentacles, twitchy eyes… It’s nervous. Skittish. Afraid. I know that feeling… The feeling that at any moment, everything is going to come crashing down.”
At that moment, the hidden panel came crashing down, and a crowd of spleech rushed in.
“All right, you can come along,” Zeth said; “just hang on!”
The three spleech jumped onto the Transpide, and they drove away from the crowd of spleech.
“So you ruined The Conqueror’s plans?” Cherry asked.
“We stopped him from getting the crystal!” the rather argumentative spleech said.
“And you three gathered the pieces, I gather,” the glasses spleech said. “We’re rebels against The Conqueror; most of us were captured, leaving just us three.”
“We might as well introduce ourselves. I’m Vado, the nervous guy is Flinn, and the one with glasses is Brainy Spleech.”
“My name is Probo,” the glasses spleech said.
“Well, if we’re really going to trust you, you might as well help us out,” Cherry said. “Where’s The Conqueror? We’re going to march right up to him and pulverize him!”
“Y-You can’t!” Flinn said.
“He’d kill you,” Probo said. “Kill you and take the crystal.”
“Yeah, you practically gathered the pieces of the crystal for him,” Vado said.
“We came up here to stop The Conqueror!” Cherry said.
“Right, and we were going to do that, too!” Probo said. They screamed as Zeth drove straight into a crowd of spleech, shoving them aside like a pile of fruit.
“Well, that was easy,” Zeth said.
“As long as you have that big crystal, why don’t you use it to supercharge this machine?” Vado asked.
“Well, for one, I’m in the middle of driving,” Zeth said. “Two, I don’t know how to do that. It’s not like I just hook it up to the battery and then shazoom! Probably not like that.”
“Not like we need it,” Numer said as they drove past spleech before they could react.
“So how were you going to stop The Conqueror?” Cherry asked.
“We were going to disable the energy core,” Probo said. “I worked on the design team for it, so I know how to shut it down. We can destroy this ship and strand The Conqueror!”
“Sounds dangerous,” Numer said. “If we destroy the ship, won’t we go with it?”
“It is a risk we must take!” Vado said. “We will still have time to reach the escape pods, but even if we don’t, our sacrifice would save the lives of everyone he’ll ever try to conquer!”
“I’m for it!” Cherry said.
“But… Cherry,” Numer said. “If we die here… then… then…”
“Don’t worry, Numer,” Cherry said. “We’ll make it.”
Numer wondered how she could be so confident. Was she just saying that? Was this whole thing a suicide mission?
No, Numer thought. He faced down a buzzsaw’s spikes, swam towards a whirlpool, got carried across a city by a bird (not his proudest moment), fell off a building, faced missiles and energy blasts and a flamethrower, got his tail caught under a big rock, and almost melted from magma.
He could do this.
“Okay, then, point the way!” Zeth said.
After Probo directed Zeth down a series of hallways, they stopped in front of a door as big as the hallway. It looked as thick as a safe. On the other side was a treasure: the means to defeating The Conqueror.
Probo pointed to an electronic lock on the wall. “I worked on the design team for the energy core so I know the password.” Zeth drove over to the lock, and Probo typed in a password. The door unlocked and split open.
“All right, let’s go!” Cherry said.
Inside was an expansive, circular room with gray, metal walls towering over them. It was like the inside of a giant tin can.
Most of the room was occupied by a massive cylinder in the center. It glowed in a green color, the bottom half surrounded by a black cylinder.
“The energy core,” Probo said. “The black casing around it is the control panel, used to keep the core balanced. If we can sabotage it we can-”
A steel cylinder suddenly rose before them. Incredibly thick, it surrounded the energy core like tremendous armor and descended into the floor with it. “Where’s it going?” Numer asked.
The door behind them slammed shut. “They must know what we’re up to!” Flinn realized.
“I’ve known all along, you sniveling traitor.” The energy core disappeared beneath the floor, revealing The Conqueror behind it, twice the height of a slube. “It was obvious you would try to come to the energy core, so I set a trap for you.”
“So you’re The Conqueror,” Zeth said.
“Correct. And you three have given me the most trouble I’ve ever had… with a scouting ship,” The Conqueror said, his voice flat, calm, and indifferent. “But I assure you that as soon as I have my tentacles on that crystal, I will return in full force, and it will be over quickly.”
“You’ll never get the crystal!” Cherry shouted. “You don’t even know what’ll happen if-”
“I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT WILL HAPPEN!” snapped The Conqueror, tentacle pointed at them. “Your planet will become the latest in my series of conquests! After all, let’s compare. I, The Conqueror, have conquered many a world, while you three are NOTHING!”
“That’s not true!” Numer said. “He’s a scientist, and she’s the daughter of a respected leader.” Numer jabbed his thumb at himself. “I am nothing.”
“You are too something,” Cherry told him.
“Perhaps, but when I am through with you, you will be nothing! I refuse to let anyone stop my cosmic conquest! YOU WILL SOON LEARN THE TRUE MIGHT OF CONRAD THE CONQUEROR!”
“… Your name is Conrad?” Numer asked.
“Y- no. Maybe!” He pulled out four ray guns, one for each tentacle. Without another word he opened fire. Zeth drove the Transpide along the circular wall, the shots right on their heels.
“Let’s take down this tentacled tyrant!” Cherry shouted.
“Right! Off we go, then!” Zeth turned, driving towards Conrad the Conqueror. The tentacled tyrant thrust his front tentacles forward and stopped the Transpide in its tracks.
“You think this simple machine can stop me?” Conrad asked. With his back tentacles he attempted to pry it open like a clam.
“If he hits us with that giant head of his, we’ll get crushed!” Cherry shouted.
“He wouldn’t risk his brain like that!” Vado said.
Conrad muttered, “No, but as soon as I’ve opened your pathetic machine…” Zeth blasted fire out of the Transpide onto Conrad. He immediately shoved the Transpide away, knocking it into the wall. “Perhaps I underestimated your machine.”
“Perhaps you have!” Zeth exclaimed.
“But it will make no difference,” Conrad said. A chamber opened on the floor. A bazooka popped out from it, and Conrad caught it. “I WILL STILL DESTROY IT!” Conrad shot explosive shells from the bazooka at the Transpide. Zeth drove off, the explosions just nipping at them.
“Faster! Faster!” Probo shouted, to no avail. One of the shells hit the Transpide, blasting it sideways. Zeth just barely kept it on its wheels.
“DON’T STOP!” Numer screamed, as Conrad continued to fire at them.
“What do you say we split up again?” Cherry asked.
Numer looked at Conrad. They had already gone up against magma that was alive. He shrugged. “Okay.”
As the Transpide raced along the room’s walls, the casing opened up. Numer and Cherry jumped out and ran in the opposite direction. Conrad paid them no heed.
“Letting your passengers go while you’re stuck in the firing line?” Conrad asked. He lined up for another shot on the Transpide.
Suddenly a red blur crashed into the bazooka, and it jerked out of Conrad’s grip. “We’re not just passengers!” Cherry said. She leapt at Conrad to punch him, but he slid to the side and grabbed hold of her tail.
“Perhaps I’ll give you a ride myself!” Conrad swung Cherry in a circle around himself.
“Cherry!” Numer grabbed Cherry and pulled but was only drawn into Conrad’s swing. As they screamed he let go and threw them into the wall.
“HEY, SO-CALLED CONQUEROR!”
Conrad turned; the spleech rebels had hold of the dropped bazooka. “You traitors!”
“Maybe, maybe, but it just might work!” Vado shouted. They blasted the bazooka at Conrad. Conrad fired his ray guns like a gunslinger, and the shell exploded early. He then opened fire on the bazooka itself. The rebels fled, and the bazooka exploded.
“CHARGE!” Zeth shouted, driving at Conrad. With a leap, Conrad landed behind the Transpide, and Zeth crashed into the wall. “I really need better shock absorbers!”
Conrad grabbed the Transpide from behind and slammed it back into the wall, shaking Zeth out of his seat. Conrad pulled the Transpide back, but Zeth hit the spark button to discharge electricity into Conrad.
Conrad’s scream filled the room. As soon as the electric flow stopped, he pulled himself back behind the core. “I see that you won’t go down quickly.” Part of the floor lowered him down below and out of sight.
“Did he give up?” Numer asked.
Something big rocketed out of the hole. Conrad now sat in a hover-chair shaped and colored like his head and secured his body below his neck. It had a headrest curved to the glass casing that made up the back of his head; his four tentacles stuck out of the sides.
Flying high above the floor, Conrad yelled, “You’re using your mechanical ride, so I’ll use mine: my hover-chair!” Three laser weapons connected to swaying cords emerged from it and opened fire down below.
“Aw, no,” Zeth muttered, “the Transpide can’t fly…”
Numer and Cherry ducked behind the Transpide. “Now what do we do?” Numer asked.
“If only I had built the Transpide with flight capabilities…” Zeth muttered.
“Well, we can’t sit here like a sitting chicken!” Cherry said. She and Numer climbed into the Transpide.
“Right, then, we’ll come up with something on the go!” Zeth drove around the room, trying to speed ahead of the lasers.
“Do you have any mirrors in here?” Cherry asked, looking through the compartments.
“No. Why?” Zeth asked.
“We don’t have any options!” Cherry shouted. “I thought we could try to bounce those lasers back, you know, like with that spiest, but… Wait, why don’t you have rear-view mirrors?” (I think the Transpide is still in a beta phase… or maybe alpha.)
“Really, you’ve overcome all my challengers thus far, yet you can’t do a thing to me?” Conrad asked, still firing.
“We have to find a way to get up there!” Numer said.
“The Transpide’s springs aren’t nearly that powerful,” Zeth said. “We’d need a higher boost… and I think I’ve got it! Hold on!” Zeth drove directly under Conrad.
“You can’t possibly think you can reach me from all the way down there!” Conrad said.
Zeth shot out an energy wave, keeping speed with it. The Transpide sprang up, and the wave exploded; the blast shot them up. In a matter of seconds they reached Conrad.
“We’re not as helpless as you think!” Zeth shouted. Before Zeth could hit another button Conrad’s hover-chair slammed down into the Transpide. Both machines plummeted to the ground as the slubes screamed. Under Conrad’s hover-chair, the Transpide crashed to the floor, and its casing cracked. Then it opened up, and Cherry leapt out at Conrad.
“Big mistake, coming down!” Cherry landed some punches on Conrad’s head. Numer swung his mallet at Conrad’s hover-chair; it flew away, and he missed and fell over.
Conrad whipped his hover-chair back and forth through the air. With all her might Cherry held on.
“Since you can’t seem to take a hint, I’ll force you off!” A miniature laser weapon connected to a pole popped out and shot Cherry. She lost her grip and fell down to the floor.
“I’ll catch you!” Numer shouted, arms out. Cherry crashed into him, and they fell out of the Transpide.
“You pests may have gotten a few cheap shots in, but I won’t let that happen again!” shouted Conrad. The three laser weapons moved together into a triangle, and a metal casing secured them together. As this happened, Numer and Cherry jumped into the Transpide.
“LET’S SEE YOU DEAL WITH THIS!” The trio of laser weapons discharged a laser over half the diameter of a slube. Zeth drove about the room with the laser right on their tail. It showed no signs of stopping.
“That has to be using a lot of energy!” Cherry said.
“It is three lasers combined together,” said Numer.
“It must have a powerful energy source,” Zeth said, swerving as he tried to avoid the laser. “The Transpide is running on empty…”
“No kidding! We’ve gotten a few hits in, but not enough compared to the firepower Conrad’s got up there!” Cherry said.
“Yeah,” Zeth sighed. “That high jump did more damage to the Transpide than I’d have liked.”
“Well, we’ve got to do something before we’re burnt to bits!” Numer said.
“Do you think you can destroy that laser?” Zeth asked.
“With mallet shots? I could try,” Numer said.
“It’s pretty much our last shot by now,” Zeth said. He opened the casing. Numer fired off shots at Conrad’s hover-chair. The Transpide made a sharp swerve, and he fell over.
“Ow! I can’t aim like this!” Numer yelled.
“TRY!” Cherry shouted. Numer got back up and swung his mallet back and forth with both hands. He used all the force he could muster to fire his mallet as quickly as possible.
“You’re hitting it!” Cherry exclaimed. Most of the shots smacked the laser gun. … Well, more like half. “Well, you’re mostly hitting it!” Then, the mallet stopped firing.
“What?” asked Numer, looking at the mallet. A tight swerve made him fall again. “What happened to the mallet?”
“You may have overloaded it,” Zeth said, still swerving. “If it fires too much too rapidly, it’ll temporarily deactivate so it doESN—” A tire blew out from the laser, and the Transpide faltered a bit. “No! No, come on, it’s just a flat tire; the Transpide can make it!”
“If it doesn’t start working again soon, more than just the mallet will… whatever!” Cherry shouted.
“When it’s ready, it’ll glow!” Zeth yelled. The Transpide kept on going but swerved wider.
“Come on, glow! Glow, glow, glow!” Numer shouted, shaking the mallet. Cherry screamed and ducked under the laser. Numer gripped the mallet with both hands and with a scream madly swung it side-to-side through the air.
At that moment the mallet, as if it sensed his wishes, fired off shots again. Numer nailed the laser gun with the shots until finally it ruptured. The laser gun exploded to the floor in pieces.
Cherry gave a sigh of relief. “You did it…”
Zeth stopped the Transpide. “I’m going to have to fix that tire…”
“Your persistence is becoming quite a thorn in my side!” Conrad shouted.
“… but obviously I have no time right now,” muttered Zeth.
A chamber opened along the circumference of Conrad’s hover-chair. Five missile launchers popped out and each blasted a missile towards the Transpide.
“No time at all!” Cherry yelled.
Zeth thrust the Transpide ahead, trying to out-speed the missiles as they flew down next to them. “GO TO THE RIGHT!” Cherry shouted. Zeth swerved right. A missile exploded next to them.
“I think Cherry was right about those rear-view mirrors!” Numer yelled. The Transpide swerved again but spun out.
“I can’t get enough traction!” Zeth shouted. A missile blasted into the Transpide, shattering the casing. The slubes screamed and ducked for cover as the Transpide wheeled to a stop.
“Well,” Zeth sighed, “we don’t have much to lose now. Try to hit the missiles in the air!”
Numer nodded. Five more missiles were fired. Numer shot at them, but only blew up a couple. The Transpide swerved, crashed into a wall, and another missile blasted it.
“We’re really in the danger zone,” Numer said.
Zeth sighed. “We’re going to have to bail.”
“What?” Cherry shouted.
“I don’t want to… but the Transpide is at the breaking point. Any more strain, and it’ll go dead.”
“Then let’s get out now!” Numer shouted. Five more missiles were on their way. Zeth grabbed the shard, and they bailed.
The five missiles hit. The Transpide exploded, destroyed; it looked like it had gotten caught in a lava flow and pushed off a cliff into a stockpile of dynamite.
“Alas, poor Transpide, I-”
“We don’t have time for that!” Cherry interrupted Zeth.
“Do you surrender yet?” Conrad asked.
“NEVER!” Cherry shouted.
“THEN DIE!” Conrad shouted back. He again fired off five missiles.
“SPLIT UP!” Cherry shouted. They all ran in different directions. One missile zoomed at Zeth, while two went for Numer and Cherry each.
Cherry flipped about to dodge the missiles. Zeth fell over and rolled away. Numer fired at one of the missiles and then dove as the other flew overhead. He got up and looked at Conrad’s hover-chair.
“And there’s plenty more where that came from!” Conrad shouted. Five more missiles prepared to launch. Suddenly the launchers were barraged with energy shots. “What now?”
Down below, Numer swung his mallet. Shots blasted at Conrad’s hover-chair.
“Do you think that toy can stop me?” Conrad hit the launch button. There was no launch. Instead, the launchers sparked, and the missiles exploded without launching. The explosion engulfed Conrad’s hover-chair.
“Numer! You did it!” Cherry exclaimed.
“I did? Hey, I did!” (Conrad should’ve remembered that “toy” already wrecked his laser gun.)
“It’s coming down!” Zeth said. Conrad’s hover-chair slowly descended to the floor. It shook like an old auto with a dying engine.
“Did we destroy it?” Cherry asked.
“Not likely!” Conrad shouted. “You’ve damaged the propulsion system, but it still has enough power to wipe you out!” Two more missile launchers opened on the sides. The missiles fired, prompting the slubes to flee once more.
“I can just blow them up!” Numer yelled. He shot the two missiles. Conrad launched two more.
“No matter how many missiles you hit, I’ll fire two more!”
Cherry leapt onto Conrad’s hover-chair, screaming a battle cry. She pummeled him with her fists and tail. “Ow! You—pain in the—GRAH!” Conrad slammed a button. The miniature laser gun popped out again and shot Cherry off his hover-chair. Conrad followed by launching a missile at her.
“CHERRY!” Numer cried. He fired at the missile before it hit her. It exploded, and the edge of the shockwave hit Cherry.
“I’ve got you!” Zeth said. He caught Cherry. She was unconscious but otherwise looked fine.
“So, it seems you really are all alone now!” Conrad said.
Numer scowled at Conrad. He had almost killed Cherry…
Conrad fired two missiles at Numer. Numer blew both up with energy shots. “Just try to defend against this onslaught!” Conrad continually launched missiles at Numer one at a time. Numer slammed his mallet down, launching himself over the missiles and Conrad’s hover-chair. A perfect landing on his tail, and the missiles followed towards Conrad.
“Fancy moves, but not good enough!” The miniature laser gun rapidly fired at the missiles. They all exploded before they hit Conrad.
Numer swung his mallet with charged smashes, jostling Conrad’s hover-chair with each hit. “THIS! IS! FOR! HURTING! CHERRY!” Numer screamed, shouting each word upon each swing.
Conrad shot the miniature laser gun at Numer. He jumped over the shot and smashed off the laser gun with his mallet; it bonked into Conrad’s head.
“OW! You damned little…” Numer smashed off a chunk of Conrad’s hover-chair, exposing the inside. A few more pounds, and the chair sparked. “What?” It dropped to the ground, went silent, and fell over. Conrad toggled the controls. “Not responding?”
Numer was ready to swing his mallet at Conrad. Before he could, Conrad activated the quick release, springing him out of the chair. “I WILL NOT BE MADE A FOOL OF!” He pulled himself to the center of the room, and the floor lowered him out of sight.
By now, Numer was breathing heavily. “Numer!” Zeth exclaimed, carrying Cherry on his back. “That was…”
“I’m not sure what just happened,” muttered Numer as if he wasn’t really there. He looked at Cherry. “Is she okay?”
“Yes, I believe so,” Zeth answered. “That was amazing, though. You really gave it your all there.”
“I think I’m ready to pass out now,” Numer muttered.
“I knew there was something special about you,” Zeth said, patting his back. “When the time comes, you can really bring it home!”
“Well…” Numer started. He felt like his body had acted without him controlling it. Something else, deep inside him, took over…
The room began to shake. “What now?” The middle of the floor opened up. The energy core, surrounded by the control panel, rose up to tower over them. At its controls was Conrad.
“LIKE I SAID, I WILL NOT BE MADE A FOOL OF!” Conrad shouted. A massive, black cavity opened on the control panel wall. A green glow radiated from inside. “This energy discharger draws power directly from the energy core! Anyone caught in its blast will be annihilated! PREPARE TO BE TURNED INTO DUST!”
“WHAT DO WE DO?” Numer screamed. He and Zeth tried to run out of its range. The control panel swiveled, easily following them.
“Don’t even try!” Conrad shouted. “This thing can hit you from anywhere in the room; there’s nowhere to hide!”
“Fire at it!” Zeth yelled. Numer fired his mallet at the cannon. Nothing happened. “Well, that’s all I’ve got.”
“Like I said,” Conrad said, “I am a conqueror of worlds, while you three are nothing! Attempting to defeat me was suicidal!”
This was it, Numer thought. They had come so far, gotten so close… but they were at the end of the road now. They were trapped, up against the wall; what could they do to save themselves now?
“Cherry! Wake up!” shouted Numer, holding her. “Wake up! Wake up!” His voice cracked. He was about to fall apart. Numer couldn’t let himself go out without telling Cherry his true feelings…
Zeth looked at the shard in his hand…
Cherry began to wake up. “Ouch… What happened?”
“Cherry!” Numer exclaimed. He tried to think of the easiest way to say, “Um, well, w-we’re… about to be… annihilated?”
“What?” Cherry stood up and looked at the energy discharger. A hostile hum grew as it prepared to blast them. “What can we do? We have to get away!”
Numer held Cherry’s arm. “There’s nothing; we can’t; I just; before we go; I wanted; there’s something; I always…” It was just too difficult to tell her the simple truth. The simple truth of his undying love for her. The only reason he went on this insane escapade. To be with her. To protect her. All because he loved her.
I’m sure nobody saw that coming.
“Numer, snap out of it!” Cherry yelled. “We have to do something!”
Numer clenched his eyes shut. Stressful tears came out. “Cherry, I’m sorry, but if this is it for us I just need to say-”
“I WIN!” Conrad interrupted. The energy discharger unleashed a massive green energy blast. Its monstrous glow blinded them as the light surged towards them.
Zeth held up the shard at the cannon. “NO!”
The energy blast hit. The blast hit the crystal. It went no further. The blast did not hit Zeth. Its energy was absorbed by the crystal. Then, it ended.
Conrad was shocked. They survived? How? Then he saw it; the one with glasses held a shard of the crystal.
“That was…” Zeth muttered. He had nothing to say after that.
The same blast suddenly discharged from the shard. Zeth was hurled backwards into Numer and Cherry, and all three of them slammed into the wall. The energy blast slammed into the energy discharger, and it sparked violently.
“Yes… they brought a shard here…” Conrad remembered, paying no notice to the ruined energy discharger. He pressed a button.
“What was that?” Numer asked, sitting against the wall. Cherry laughed and stood up.
“We’re alive! We made it! There’s always hope. No matter how grim things are, there’s hope somewhere.”
“And all because of this shard,” Zeth said, staring at it. “This single shard alone can do that. The whole crystal itself would-”
Before they considered it further a crowd of spleech swarmed them. The spleech jumped onto the slubes, trying to pin them down. “Ow! Hey! Get off me!” Cherry shouted.
“Go away!” Numer shouted at the spleech. “There’s too many of them!” He tried to knock them away with his mallet. They held onto his arm to keep it from moving.
“They’re trying to pull us down!” Zeth realized. They fell to the floor struggling. A tentacle plucked the shard from Zeth’s hand. Conrad examined it, towering over them.
“You know, you were right. There’s always hope… for me. I said I win. I always win. For now, just a shard… but soon, the whole crystal!”
“No!” Numer shouted.
“You don’t know what will happen if you remove th-!” Cherry’s mouth was shut by a spleech, as were Numer’s and Zeth’s.
“I know full well what will happen: I will have the most powerful fleet in the universe!” shouted Conrad. “Too bad you won’t be around to see it happen. Your luck’s run out, and-”
“No, your luck has run out!” Conrad turned around. Rapidly typing at the control panel was Probo, Vado and Flinn sitting next to it.
“You traitors! Your rebellion is OVER!” Conrad shouted.
“That may be, but so is your reign of terror!” Vado shouted back.
“Even if you shut off the energy core, I can still escape! The space station will crash to the planet with you in it, but I’ll be far away in an escape pod by then,” Conrad said, walking towards the control panel.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Vado asked.
“No, wait, I changed my mind!” Flinn yelled, trying to pull Probo back. “It’s too dangerous!”
“Too late for that,” Probo said. It finished typing, and a siren sounded throughout the space station. “This core is set to explode!”
“WHAT?” Conrad shouted. “HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW TO DO THAT?”
“Being on the team that designed this core helped!” Probo said. “I know all the ins and outs of it, including how to overload it!” The green energy core began to hum.
Conrad pulled himself up next to the control panel. “It won’t work! I can stop the overloading sequence!”
“Not before we stop you!” Vado shouted. It leapt at Conrad with a shout. Conrad slapped it away with his tentacle like it was a bug.
“You’re just an ordinary spleech!” Conrad said. “You can do nothing.” He looked up at the core, which was changing color from green to yellow. He looked back to Probo and Flinn. “Now, out of my way before I squeeze the life out of you.” Probo held his ground, while Flinn cowered behind it.
“Psst, hey,” one of the spleech holding down Numer said. “Should we flee? The core is starting to overload…”
“Nah, it’s fine,” said another. “The Conqueror can handle this. There’s just three rebels.”
“Hey, by the way,” asked one on Zeth, “why did they call The Conqueror ‘Conrad’?”
“Um… they didn’t?” said one on Cherry. “I didn’t hear them call him any- Hey!” Cherry began to rock and shuffle, trying to flip over. “Stop moving so much or we’ll-”
A blast to the right sent a few spleech flying into the air, followed by a scream. Numer stood up, having pressed the Mallet Blaster’s energy shot button. Now the side of his shirt was charred. “That hurt, that hurt!” He knocked the other spleech off himself with his mallet and ran—well, limped quickly—to the control panel. “Ow, ow, ow!”
He turned back as the spleech tried to grab him again and knocked them away, making his way up the stairs to the control panel backwards. As soon as he reached the top, a long tentacle grabbed his neck. Conrad lifted him up inches away from his face.
“I am going to make your death slow and painful,” Conrad said. “I will make you an example to all in the universe, that none may challenge the might of-!” Numer swung his mallet at Conrad. Conrad held Numer out at tentacle’s reach, and he missed. “Ha! A fighter to the end; but for you, the end can’t come soo-”
Numer threw his mallet at Conrad and hit him right between the eyes. Conrad shouted and stumbled back, holding his head where the mallet hit. He glared at Numer and growled; Numer smiled and tried to look innocent. Conrad lifted him up, his growling becoming a full scream, and prepared to throw him to the ground.
Conrad shouted and stopped as energy shots smacked into him. Finn and Probo were holding up the Mallet Blaster, firing it at Conrad.
Conrad screamed again and whipped Numer at the rebels; they ran to the side, Numer was slammed into the control panel, and then it all went black.
Then it all went white.
Numer opened his eyes. Everything around him was completely blank. White here, white there, white everywhere. It was as if whiteout had been spilled all over the entire universe.
Numer looked at himself. He still had his yellow and blue color. It contrasted against the white, hurting his eyes a little.
Numer seemed to be floating. His tail hung down; it was like he was in limbo or something. He could move. He could see. But… he couldn’t feel. As if he had lost all his nerves. If he did feel, it was the feeling of nothingness. Was he dead?
“Welcome to the galaxy!” said a disembodied voice. A puff of smoke appeared in front of Numer. When it subsided, there was… more smoke. No, wait—it was a cloud. “Well, not really galaxy, more like just empty space. I would’ve set up a table and some chairs but I was rushed for time.”
“What’s going on? Is this a dream?” Numer asked.
“Not a dream, but a meeting,” The Cloud said. “Unless I’m mixing things up again. I don’t like to try and label things as dream or not dream; you start getting into philosophy and the next thing you know you’ve frustrated everyone by saying everything they did was empty and futile.”
“A talking cloud…” Numer said. “So I am talking to a cloud. It has to be a dream.”
“Not just a cloud… The Cloud! I am The Cloud. You will refer to me as such.”
Numer stared at The Cloud. He tried to remember the last thing he did.
“You got suplexed or something by Conrad into the control panel,” said The Cloud.
“I what?” Numer asked, having not said anything.
“I’ll give you the live video feed.” The Cloud grew in height and sprouted a monitor on itself. This is what was on the monitor:
In the energy core room, Numer lied on the control panel, which sparked and smoked. Conrad and the rebels stared at him.
Probo turned to Conrad. “Well, you can’t stop the overloading sequence now,” it said. The core was now a bright yellow color; all the other spleech in the room fled, freeing Zeth and Cherry.
“Get back here, you cowards!” Conrad shouted. He turned to the rebels. “I am going to kill you and then get to my escape pod! You may avert me for a little while, but Conrad the Conqueror will not end here!”
A cry from behind Conrad made him turn around—Cherry leapt at Conrad and slammed her tail into him. He stumbled back and fell off the control panel to the floor below.
“WE HAVE TO GO, NOW!” Zeth shouted.
“Is Numer okay?” Cherry asked the rebels.
“I don’t know!” Probo said. “Your anatomy is different; I can’t tell what’s normal for you.”
Cherry picked Numer up; he had scorch marks on his body.
“Am I dead?” Numer asked.
“Please, do not interrupt!” The Cloud said. “You’re perfectly alive… as Cherry just said while I was talking. This is what happens when you interrupt a movie: other people have to tell you what you missed.” Numer tried to speak again. “No! No talking!”
So, yeah, Numer was alive but unconscious. Cherry hoisted him onto her back as the energy core changed from yellow to red. As the spleech rebels hurried to the exit, Cherry jumped off the control panel to Conrad down below; he, too, appeared to be unconscious, and Cherry grabbed the shard.
“Where did you disappear to back there, anyway?” Zeth asked.
“You and Conrad were so busy fighting each other that we went unnoticed up against the wall!” Probo said.
They ran out of the room as the energy core began to crackle like a giant Tesla coil. “How much time do we have left?” Cherry asked.
“About three minutes,” Probo said.
“So this is just gonna be beautiful,” Vado said. Out in the corridor all the spleech were in a panic. They shouted, rushed about, and generally made it very hard to move through.
“They’re heading to the escape pods, aren’t they?” Cherry asked.
Probo tried to shout over the panic, “Please, everyone, calm down and make way for the escape pods in an orderly—” It paused and its eyes widened.
“What is it?” Zeth asked.
“Our families! The other rebels! They must still be trapped!” Probo realized.
“Then let’s go get ‘em!” Vado said. “You two, go on ahead! Don’t worry about us!”
Cherry nodded. She, carrying Numer, and Zeth hurried to the escape pods. Probo, Vado, and Flinn pushed through the other spleech to the prison. There they found the other rebels still behind bars.
“Guys! Guys! We’re here!” Probo exclaimed.
“Ach! So, ya three made it, then!” the robotic-tentacle spleech said.
“It sounds like you started the self-destruct sequence!” another said.
“Right, but we only have a few minutes,” said Probo.
“That’s not much time to get out.”
“Well, uh, we sort of, um, forgot about you,” Flinn said.
“I’m so hurt!” another moaned with its tentacle on its head. “What do we look like, flat characters? Well, those two might.”
Zeth and Cherry continued to the escape pods. “Hey, stop pushing!” Cherry shouted. The spleech seemed to pay them no heed. They just scrambled for the escape pods, neither helping nor hindering them.
“We’re almost there!” Zeth said. The escape pods were directly ahead.
“Come on, we have to make it!” Cherry said.
In the energy core room, the core had become a deep red. It seemed to be falling apart from the inside. It changed color one final time, becoming a dark eggplant color.
The core spun, whirling faster and faster. The control panel broke apart from the radiating energy. The hum became a siren growing wildly out of control.
Conrad had vanished. The door was shut. Cracks, fissures formed all over the energy core. Finally…
It was gone. The explosion ripped apart the space station and tore it into pieces. The force was so powerful that some pieces rocketed into space. Other chunks shot down towards Mintop.
And some escape pods, too…
Numer held his head and shook it. “Why didn’t you show me us getting into the escape pods? We didn’t make it, did we? I am dead!”
“No, you’re not dead! I just wanted to add a little suspense, so I guess I just ruined it. Whoops.”
“Ruined it? For who? How did you have video of that? Who are you?”
“Enough with the questions!” The Cloud said. “This is a meeting, not a questionnaire.”
“But… who are you?” Numer asked again.
“I’m The Cloud. And you, my friend, are waking up.”
Numer opened his eyes. This time he was looking up into a familiar blue sky. “Am I…”
“HE’S AWAKE!” Numer heard cheering and sat up. He was in Nottle with all the townsslubes watching him. Lying next to him were Zeth and Cherry, who also began to wake up.
“What happened?” Cherry asked, sitting up.
“My cherry blossom!” Caleco exclaimed, Jake next to him. Caleco bent down and hugged her. “You’re safe!”
“Dad, c’mon, the whole town is watching…” Cherry said but hugged him back.
“So, what happened?” asked a townsslube.
Zeth stood up. “Friends, acquaintances, slubes who have no idea who I am, I am pleased to report that we have stopped disaster from befalling our planet.”
“Does that mean you’re heroes?”
“Heroes in our little town!”
“And Numer, too! Who’d have thought?”
Numer laughed to himself. Yeah… who would have thought? “But how did we…?” He looked around and saw a small pod no wider than a door embedded in the dirt in the town.
“You guys came down in that,” Gern said and laughed. “Boy, when it fell, everyone panicked and thought we were under attack again!”
“Were there any others?” Numer asked.
“That’s right; a whole bunch probably should have come down somewhere,” Cherry said.
“That’s the only one anyone saw.”
“I wonder if those rebels made it to an escape pod…” Numer said.
“They went to free the other ones,” Cherry said. “We only had a few minutes to get out, so we didn’t see them again…”
“I know,” Numer said. “The others were all locked up, but…” Numer stopped.
“You know what?” Cherry asked.
Numer realized he had seen everything that happened while unconscious. There was no way that he could explain that. “Uh, nothing, never mind. I think I must have had a dream while knocked out…” He looked up; some clouds gently floated through the sky…
“And what of the final shard?” asked Caleco.
“Ah, yes, of course,” said Zeth. He placed the shard in the final hole of the crystal. It seemed to shine with radiance.
“I knew we could do it!” Cherry said, putting her arms around Numer and Zeth. “We all did it. Together.”
That night, Nottle held a celebration in honor of the three heroes. During the celebration, Numer, Zeth, and Cherry recounted their adventure to the townsslubes. Afterwards, Mescho Caleco proclaimed that the day would be made into a national holiday.
Well, a town holiday. They weren’t actually a nation.
And, though the world may never know it, it owed them its thanks.
And something, just for a moment, glowed inside the crystal…
A pair of eyes.
Scraps of metal splashed into a blue blanket, disrupting the otherwise-calm ocean surface. Some scraps floated, others sank.
The remains of Conrad’s space station fell to the sea below to be washed away from everyone’s memories… but scrap wasn’t the only thing to fall.
Escape pods splashed down, bobbing up and down in the waves.
One escape pod in particular dwarfed all the others. The door to it opened, and a long, gray tentacle emerged…
It takes more than that to wash away a memory of 5000 years.