Chapter 1 -Scenario green (Part 1 / Part 2); Chapter 2 -Koda Black (Part 3/ Part 4); Chapter 3 -Cricket (Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7) Chapter 4 -Parasitologistics (Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10/ Part 11)

A coughing fit tore me from the dark embrace of unconsciousness and thrust me into an electric grizzly hug. My chest hurt like somebody had a tap dance contest on top of me. The yellow steel grate on the ceiling looked familiar. Roaring and muffled banging accompanied somebody swearing.

I knew that music. Po must be cooking again. Ugh!
A helmet with a spray of red floated in front of my field of vision. Was that mine? It had “Kong” written on the top. Was that a Sharpie or blood? My head was throbbing. It must be mine then. I took a beating? Again? I hoped it was worth it. Somebody handed me my ass. Old habits died hard.
The beeping and booming were getting on my nerves, beaten up or not. I tried to listen. It was- oh, no! This was bad. The noise was a very bad alarm.

I sat up.

“JESUS! Koda!” Mother jumped.

The noise was the proximity alert! I looked at him and made him age another decade.

“We are crashing,” I said dumbly.
“One catastrophe at a time.” I saw where Mother had dragged me. I was inside the airlock, strapped to a bench by my middle section.
“I don’t think I was dead.” I offered helpfully. Something flashed outside, and the ship moved sideways.
“THAT’S IT! I’m revoking your adult card! Next time you decide to kill yourself, I’ll help. I swear, I’ll shoot you. Personally,” Mother points at my face and pulls two pads off of my chest. He is not looking at me for some reason. Guess I made him angry again. But I saw wet streaks on his cheeks and emergency kit wrappers floating inches off of the floor. I should feel guilty for putting him through this. Somewhere, deep down, I knew I should feel shame. “I have to help Shepherd, you oaf. Try not to die.”

“Why are we crashing?” He didn’t answer, and no gravity meant a big booboo for the ship. Oh, God. “Cricket?” I called into my headspace. “Crikey? Hey, Cricky? I said booboo for the ship, come and correct me. Cricks?” I was my old self again. “Come and unscramble me. Please?
Cricket’s presence flickered in the back of my mind. She was still there. I sighed most relieved.

Over the intercom, Po growled. Half suited up, Mother pushed himself off towards the panel and calmed her. He told her that I was alive, an idiot and that Shepherd was still out there. She swore. Bayard has been hit before.”Can you manage a bit longer?” Po answered with a growled uh-huh. We were lucky to have her piloting with her superhuman reflexes. The glider dove and bucked. I got slammed against the bench I was on. Luckily, there was no artificial gravity, and Mother was not thrown around like in a washing machine.

Finally, Cricket appeared, disheveled and tired. “What took you so long?” I burst out. Mother eyed me suspiciously, so I pointed to the airlock door where Cricket stood and glared at me with bloodshot eyes. He went over to the bull’s-eye to have a look too; first at me, then to the blotchy darkness of outer space. “Where are the shots coming from?” I asked.
After I unbuckled myself, I floated over too. My body was much sorer than I anticipated. I hovered over Mother Goose and planted my forehead briefly onto his dark curly hair. “No idea. The satellite, but somewhere else too. Drones?” He sighed, and suddenly, he seemed a lot smaller. Worn out over his abilities, I’ve never seen him in this state. Helpless has never been in his dictionary. Mother was the smartest man I knew, quick on his toes, angry, crafty, and mean. The ship did a barrel roll.

We could make out Shepherd, her artificial body in reflecting bright armor, engulfed by a swirling black mass in the fabric of space. Behind her, the dark was dotted with an army of icy grey rocks that started glistening around the satellite. She hung there with the grace of a dead fish. White and inert. My stomach did a summersault.

“What will you do?” When he answered, his voice was barely a whisper. 

“I-I. I don’t know yet…” He breathed. Supposedly, the nanobots were still at it, and there was no saving her. At least, I didn’t know how to. “You know, she tried to end – uh, end your suffering. I mean before…” Huh? Mother looked at his hands and bit his lips.

“What do you mean by that,” I asked him. He just waved his hand in a ‘forget-it’ manner. Flashes of a high-energy weapon illuminated the outside.

“We gotta do something. Who knows what side wants to make swiss cheese out of us. Tampo, the military, some weapon dealers, some mystery party? Either way, this is a nightmare.” He stared out into the void. “Shielding might help, and a very long rope. Remember Europa? We could do that,” my jaw hit the floor.

“You want to drag her behind Bayard?!”

“She’d do the same for each of us.” He stopped and looked at me, defeated.”Well, close enough. I don’t have the luxury of other choices. Help me out here,” Mother’s gaze could perforate. I drew a blank but knew that he was right. He always was.

“You know, I had skies on my feet and pillow-like snow below those, and I got lifted by a very gentle ice-geyser.” I tried.”I had bragged about it out of pure necessity. I got a reputation to keep up with.” I helped him finish prepping and suited him up.

I started to put my suit back on. The intensity of his reaction surprised me nevertheless. “NO! I can’t do this. I can’t keep losing you.” He threw his glove at me.

“Where you go, I go.” I smiled peacefully. I could take on his anger anytime. Maybe this wasn’t all just rage, it dawned on me. I caught a whiff of something much more complex hidden in the situation. Cricket yanked it away, with a zip-it-up-for-now door that slammed shut into my face. “I thought I made that clear on Europa. Besides, she’s my sweetheart.” I grinned and nodded towards Shepherd. There was no way I would leave my best friend, or this little band of freaks I call family, alone. We dealt with problems we chose for ourselves, by ourselves. Together. Mother just needed a reminder that he didn’t have to shoulder it all alone. Yeah. Po flew a loop to hide behind a big chunk of metal, maybe the remnants of a ship. She was such an awesome pilot.

“Together,” I told him. Mother nodded slowly, and I handed him his glove back. I suited up too. We were going to make Shepherd into a nice bundle and drag her out of danger and then try to come up with a solution. Hopefully, she survived. Hopefully, we all did.

Out we went into the cold nothingness, dark and full of rogue projectiles, debris, nanobots, and some unknown source of energy weapons. Just like in the war, jumping into the maw of death. “YEEHHHHAAAAAAAWWW!” I screamed and shoved Mother forward, out of the airlock. The adrenalin sang in my veins like I was twenty and invincible again.

Our positioning jets came to life and we accelerated towards Shepherd, who was still being eaten alive. Cricket projected a map into my head and was about to tell Mother about it when the military ships showed up. Just on the edge of the ice and debris field, but in firing range. Those were some nice and deadly Jaeger25 approaching and I would have ogled to my heart’s content if I wouldn’t have been so damn busy.

“Why do we have to cut it so closely? Every damn time!” Mother swore. He reached Shepherd first but was unable to physically touch her. The black cloud of nanobots swirled menacingly. It lashed out at us, in the form of a misty whip, it slashed off our end of the tether.

“Yep. Dangercloud. No touching.” I got that warning.

That was the exact moment the military opened fire. A series of blasts sang past Bayard. Some of them impacted Tampo’s hidey-hole. It exploded into bright molten metal and plumes of fire. I briefly thought about the frozen methane around us and wondered if we were going to feel the blast that’d end us. We’d be next with bull’s eyes on our backs, that was sure.

There was no panic. No sense of the hot mess state I usually was in by this time. I missed the screaming and running around for cover, but out here, there was nothing. Just us, sitting ducks, and Bayard, our precious ticket to safety.

I felt naked, exposed, and more alone than ever. Bare bones. Not even Mother’s presence weighed enough for me to feel comfortable again. I felt rotten. Luckily, the military vessels seemed to have their very own problems with the magnetic fields and the debris, but they started to close a ring around us.

Something strange happened as soon as we were attacked. Tampo, or what was left of him, started covering Shepherd with metal bits that it caught drifting by. He made a shield for her, that was my first thought. I pulled Mother back. It needed space to work, to save Shepherd. There wasn’t much else to do. We stood back. The cloud was fast. I stared at it, amazed; that there. All that, all of it, was only one being, one person.

Cricket nodded somewhere in my mind. “Millions of nanobots emulate one person with a hive mind. I am the same as him,” she said. I would have looked at her weirdly if she wasn’t in my head. Shepherd had a coat of scrap metal now. I took the tether out of Mother’s hand and held it towards the nanobots. Lo and behold, a fine tendril of particles took it and secured my sweetheart to Bayard.

Tampo surprised the heck out of Mother and me, by leaving Shepherd alone and going for the weapons and airlock of the nearest Jaeger. He attacked!

….to be continued

11 thoughts on “Chapter 5 – voluntold evolution

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