In the literal guts of the worm Nakarand, the group are torn by what to do next? With Uentaru in tow, do the group try destroying the worm from where they are now or continue and see how far the hole leads?
“Guys, do what you can on the outside if you like,” Tobias stopped struggling against Algernon’s telekinesis and turned to his companions, “Best to get rid of that part of Nakarand in Ruk anyway. But isn’t it obvious that there’s more to Nakarand than a slimy fat worm? Look where we are.”
He gestured to the space around the now twenty metres wide and increasing in size, many times larger than the worm on Floor 199. The soft blue glow emanated from the walls themselves, so everything was lit by the dull blue light. The bubbles of pale blue liquid were starting to increase in numbers, and they were becoming increasingly more difficult to dodge. Now Tobias has stopped trying to pull away, Algernon used his telekinesis to push bubbles away.
“Thank you, Algernon. Nakarand is an intelligence and a place, and that’s where I want to go.”
“I think we’re there,” Algernon replied as a bubble he moved crashed into another and burst over Bruce’s arm. The armour silently steamed.
“This is Nakarand!” Bruce protested, pointing to the pockmarks. He glided over to the slowly pulsating walls and mimed the wall sucking him in, “Look, it’s eating me.”
Behind him, the wall secreted more blue liquid. As he shimmied unawares, the bubble burst, splashing him with more of the liquid. He yelped as exposed skin at his neck started burning and turned to see something metallic leave the wall. A warm bronzy coloured cylinder only about as wide as his hand slithered out to hang in space in front of him. Looking at it carefully, he recognised the item as a cypher and pocketed the very useful electrical null field.
“Can we please finish playing with this creature’s digestive tract and find out what’s at the other end?” Tobias complained, before Bruce pulled one of his Glocks, “Nothing personal, Bruce!”
“I just want to try something,” Bruce replied and levelled the gun at the oozing wall in front of him.
Blam. Blam. The sound of the gunfire was oddly muffled. A small chunk of the wall broke away, exposing raw tissue with more secreted white fluid now dribbling out.
“Algernon, stick a bubble in the hole,” Bruce pointed with his gun, and Algernon shrugged and did as he was asked. The bubble broke and splattered on the surface. The hole started closing up and healing before their eyes.
“Are you quite finished making stomach ulcers?” Tobias complained petulantly. He brushed blue dust off his clothes and hair, only to have half a dozen other bubbles make more burning patches somewhere else.
“We can burn away at this thing!” Bruce crowed his short-lived triumph at the creature.
“Yes, you could kill it…really slowly. In the meantime, you’re digested.”
As Bruce and Tobias bickered, the wall started producing more bubbles of fluid in response to the contact. Another cypher tough enough to survive inside the walls of Nakarand slithered out, and once more, Bruce grabbed it. A purple blob of nutrition gel, three days worth of food for an average person. Knowing where it had come from, it was unlikely anyone present would want to use that particular cypher.
Algernon pulled Bruce away from the wall as bubbles popped against bubbles sending a shower of blue fluid in their direction.
“It’s making more bubbles,” Bruce noted quizzically, fascinated with the natural process going on in front of them.
“Yes, they have food in their stomach. Let’s not stick around to become tomorrow’s waste!” Tobias complained, annoyed by the situation and Bruce’s preoccupation with the basic biology of the place.
Bruce pulled out his crowbar. He was desperate for an obvious enemy to smack. When it was clear none were going to appear and that the wall was virtually impervious to what mere mortals could do to it, he floated away and started following Tobias and the others down the worm tunnel.
The walls were starting to close in on the group with no sight of any ‘place’ or ‘being’. Tobias searched for signs of other individuals passing that way. They knew hundreds of Venom workers and troopers had been sent into Nakarand from Ruk alone. But, it seemed floating bodies made little impression on the systems of a giant worm, and he found nothing.
“People aren’t passing through Nakarand,” Bruce quipped, pleased to see the cocky Tobias struggle, “ Nakarand is passing them.”
“Hey, however it works, man,” Grumbled Tobias and continued.
The walls continued to contract until they were no more than twelve metres apart. Around a corner, a new landscape opened up, a field of what looked like yellow ferns. The fronds stretched out into the tunnel from all walls, floor and ceiling, filling the passage and making it unpassable without touching.
“What do you think it is, some sort of trap?” Algernon took out a piece of random equipment and pushed it into one of the ferns. The fronds recoiled and withdrew into a node on the wall. “Maybe it’s like a Venus flytrap. You have to touch a few times for it to spring.”
Bruce now pulled out his crowbar and started tapping fronds. They all shied away, hiding in the walls of the tunnel.
“I wonder if the metal is what they don’t like,” Tobias pulled out one of his silk scarves and wafted it towards a frond. Where it touched, the frond moved away, avoiding contact.
“Ha! Whack a mole,” Bruce laughed and started bopping fronds to make a path through the tunnel for the group.
“I wonder,” Peggy said out loud and allowed her metal body to glance off one of the ferns. As expected, the frond recoiled, but not before giving Peggy a boost, a jolt of vitality that sent shivers down her frame, “Oh! What a buzz!” She tried again to get a sample, this time, she did not feel the jolt, and the frond sample, once taken, withered and browned in her test vial.
“Hey, be careful,” Bruce said. When he saw her response, he stretched out a finger to touch the nearest frond. Algernon and Tobias themselves stooding clear of the reaching fronds , but did not try to stop him.
“Aren’t you going to do anything?” Bruce asked, sure that someone should.
“Hey man, you do you,” Tobias replied, surrendering Bruce to his fate.
“Bruce, what if they control your mind,” Algernon added as the frond made contact with Bruce’s finger. He shivered as the jolt course through him.
“That was gooood!” He said and tried again with another finger. This time, as with Peggy, the jolt did not come. He looked disappointedly at his fingers, wondering what he’d done differently.
“Would you like me to chop your finger off for examination at a later date?” Peggy asked, her scalpel ready.
“Not really. I’m very attached to it.”
“Shame,” The scalpel retracted.
Tobias, too did his experimentation as the group drifted along the tunnel . He had thought them out in The Strange unconnected to any recursion except possible that of Nakarand themselves. If that was true, why were they still in the same forms they took in Ruk? Was the worm an inapposite gate? He reached out and could hear the Allsong, a constant hubbub of information in the back of his mind. That meant they were still technically in Ruk. He tried to discover the undoing of Nakarand from the inside, using what he saw around him as a reference to his query. All he got back was a cryptic answer, more at home in one of Peggy’s questions to the Strange, Nothing more than me. A world within.
Yes, He thought to himself, the physical world of Nakarand. I’m thoroughly sick of it. Can we continue to the recursion of Nakarand?
They continued down the ever constricting passage . The ferns started to thin and eventually gave way completely. As it narrowed, the group became aware of a current as the bubbles were being pulled along. It wasn’t strong, and they could hold their position against it with ease, though it meant suffered the wrath of bubbles coming up from behind. Up ahead, the tunnel pinched in tight, and the bubbles formed a roiled spinning vortex down some unseen plughole ahead. Down the centre a clear passage of air, the eye of the storm. Bruce went to hold his crowbar against the flow, hoping to disturb the spin enough for everyone to pass. Before he could, Tobias lept passed, spinning effortlessly through the centre to the far side, without touching a bubble.
Seeing Tobias graceful attempt, he followed, not quite as gracefully, but in a workman-like fashion. Peggy had pulled a rope in an attempt to tie one end to Bruce so he could pull her through. Having lost her chance she offered the rope end to Algernon.
“That doesn’t look easy,” She said, the rope unmentioned between them.
“Allow me to help,” He replied, and with his telekinesis, threw her through the Vortex. Rope trailing behind and completely out of control, she plowed into the wall of bubbles. She made it through to Tobias and Bruce more pitted than when she started, but mostly whole. Algernon jumped through next, relying on his levitate and his balancing skills in flight. Unfortunately, it all did him no good as he slipped sideways into the vortex was churned around like a rag in a washing machine. Spat out the other end, Algernon steamed from chemical burns, and his head spinning from the battering against the walls of the tunnel. To add insult to injury, Peggy zapped him with her spark from her probe.
“Youch! I’m not feeling so well,” He said as Peggy took the opportunity of a stationary Algernon to take a few tissue samples. She then tried to scrape a few off her own metal shell, tearing a hole in one side where the metal had grown thin. A small piece of duck tape was applied to the hole, and Peggy was ready to move on.
“I think,” Tobias said quietly to Algernon as Peggy patch herself up, “the scariest thing in all the recursions is Peggy.”
And to that, Algernon had to agree.
The last to ride the vortex was Uentaru. She aimed and flung herself through the tunnel with impressive grace. Bruce rolled his eyes, mumbling something about showing off. Tobias sighed in admiration.
From the vortex, the tunnel started widening again appreciably. Within metres, it had expanded from three to fifty metres wide and was still expanding. Suddenly, after what felt like hours in the confining tunnels, the passage opened up into a massive vault stretching away for kilometres in all directions. Seemingly below them, a small blue and white mottled planetoid approximately 2 kilometres in diameter sat comfortably in the space. From a wall over their left shoulders, a long umbilical cord sinuously stretched out into the void. Where the cord touched the planetoid, a blocky metal building sat, looking oddly out of place amongst all the organic skin and organs.
Tobias basked in his own cleverness. This, or something like it, was what he’d been looking for. The centre of the being the reason for everything, and he couldn’t wait to see what was down on the surface. Popping out his wings for the first time that trip, he soared around the open space taking it all in. Bruce stood just inside chasm, gawping, his crowbar slack in his hands. The faint gravity, merely a suggestion of weight, tugged innocently at the group, and Bruce scrambled back for the entrance.
“I can’t fly! How am I going to get down.” He said, staring dumbfounded at the small world below.
“What do you mean you can’t fly? You’ve been doing it for hours,” Algernon protested, zooming past the entrance.
“Not for much longer, though, when that thing starts pulling me down!”
“You could climb down the umbilical if you want,” Algernon suggested, pointing out the twenty-metre wide rope attached to both the wall and planet.
“That makes sense,” Bruce agreed and floated over, without hindrance from gravity.
It was what you expect from a planet-sized umbilical cord. Thick sinew and other tissues made up the body of the cord. Translucent villi carried creamy blue bubbles not towards but away from the planet. It seemed Nakarand was feeding off whatever was down on that planetoid. Peggy was sure this massive structure was natural to the creature that was Nakarand, though the shiny metal building certainly was out of place in the organic surroundings.
“If we break the umbilical cord away from the planet, can we starve Nakarand to death, do you think?” Algernon surmised after Peggy had shared her findings.
“Probably, but too slowly for our purposes,” She replied, turning to their quiet companion, “Uentaru, what do you think?”
What Uentaru thought was never heard as their view of the surface became clearer. Besides the small metal building, every piece of the planetoid was covered in bodies. Around the planet, like veins, pipes pumped the creamy blue fluid around and between the bodies. Sometimes the bodies floated in the liquid. Sometimes they were mottled, the natural skin colour disappearing as the fluid replaced it. Some bodies were blue statues of solid minerals. Venom workers moved through the bodies, pulling out the solid blue, leaving any mottled bodies behind. Like the bodies, the workers were also mottled blue, also being digested by Nakarand.
“It’s people. Spiral Dust is people,” Peggy whispered, shocked at the magnitude of what she was witnessing.
Considering the size of the planetoid and the average surface area of a person, she and Algernon guesstimated that there could be as many as thirteen million people on the planetoid, and that was if the bodies were only one layer deep.
Almost none of this got through to Tobias, who had ceased flying and hung petrified above the surface. He didn’t see the planetoid, the umbilical cord and the warehouse building as memories of another time flooded back in a nauseous wave of sensation.
Choking white dust covered a pit of bodies, mottling their skins, turning them slowly into white statues. All around him, a broiling river of bodies silently waited. He tried to swim towards land, but arms, heads and torsos engulfed him. It turned him around until he didn’t know which was up or down. The bodies slithered against each other, threatening to crush him. Everywhere he moved his head, there were faces, armpits, legs and torsos. And it was getting hard to breathe. He grasped limbs slick with blood, sweat, and worse and pulled himself back up to the surface. Breaking through, he took a breath of clean air before slipping and falling back again into the darkness surrounded by death.
A shout from the shore, “Hier! Ik zag iets bewegen. Kijken!”
“O mijn God! Er leeft nog iemand daarbinnen!” Another voice, closer, “Help me daar beneden!”
“Je gaat toch niet naar binnen?”
“Heb je een ander idee?”
The river moved. Ripples left the shore. It made the bodies slither and settle against each other. A body rolled over, pinning him in place. Stuck fast, he couldn’t reach the surface again.
“Zwaai met je hand! Maak een beweging zodat ik je kan vinden!”
He didn’t understand the words, but they sounded compelling, urgent. Standing on the back of someone below, he stretched as tall as he could and drove his hand through the river to the surface.
“O mijn God! O mijn God! Zie je het?”
Now he could hear as well as feel the movement. A grunting, spitting retching as someone swam out to him, riding the wave of bodies towards him.
“Geef mij je hand…Geef mij je hand…” A voice, choking and panting said over and over again.
A rough, heavy hand took his and pulled him forward.
“Je hebt ons hier gebracht. Je gaat!”
“Give me your hand, Rain,” Said another voice, tinny and metallic but full of calm compassion.
“You hear me, Rain! You brought us here. You’re going!”
“Don’t, Bruce…he’s…we’ll be along…”
“Oh no. This is what he wanted. Here it is!”
Tobias clasped his fingers around the metal claw, the fingers turning white with the pressure.
“Hier ben ik…” He whispered under his breath.
“I said leave it, Bruce! He just needs a moment.”
Tobias blinked…and blinked again. Peggy and Bruce were beside him, Peggy’s gentle metal claw holding his left hand, Bruce pulling at his right. When the planetoid came back into focus he instinctually, pulled away from both before realising finally what had to be done.
“Just…find a place…to land…” He gasped, exhaling and inhaled greedy gulps of air. Closing his eyes, he let the giddy relief suffuse him. He relaxed, and between Bruce and Peggy, they guided Tobias down to the warehouse.
Inside, a dozen venom workers filtered in and out, stacking up bodies like planks of wood at one end of the warehouse. Others were processing the stiff blue statues, breaking them into smaller lumps and shovelling them into piles. If there had been any doubt over the origins of Spiral Dust, the proof was collected in large piles all around the warehouse. Venting pent up anger at what he was seeing, Bruce swung away on one of the statues nearby, and it smashed into dust and chunks before his eyes.
“Is this why you brought us here?” He rounded on Tobias, who had sunk to his knees trying to breathe, “Do you want more of this stuff?”
“No,” He sobbed. Melissa Romero and all the other people lost to Spiral Dust. No, this was far from what he’d wanted.
From off the left, behind piles of blue rock, a movement caught Bruce, Peggy and Algernon’s attention. Slinking around, trying not to be seen, a woman covered in blue dust hid from the venom workers. In one sudden movement, Bruce was on her, his crowbar held high. He threatened the woman who could do nothing but cower.
“Who are you?!” He demanded before noticing the red ring on her hand. The missing Whole Body Grafts scientist, Dram-Shara, in whose footsteps they’d been following. Peggy projected the hologram she’d made of Dram-Shara off the security footage from Dram-Shara’s apartment. Apart from the layer of blue dust, she was the same woman.
“You know what’s happening here? Your company was part of all this. What’s going on?”
“Please, believe me, very few of us knew what was going on in the Nakarand project,” The woman put up her hands in surrender.
“What did you think was going on?” Peggy asked, floating beside Bruce.
“Ur-Dust paid the company well, no questions asked. But the tissue samples, so radically different from anything we’d seen. I had to know.”
“How long has the company been studying the creature?”
“I think only Bel-Tamar knew about the creature. I didn’t until I went and looked for myself. As for how long, I couldn’t say…years.” There was a resignation to her gestures, “And now I’m stuck down here with no way back.”
“You could translate out,” Algernon suggested, and she shook her head.
“I’ve tried. I even brought a cypher down here to create a portal back to Ruk. The only thing is I think we’re still in Ruk..somehow.”
“Do you want to stop it?” Bruce asked, getting back on task.
“If it means getting out of here, count me in!” Dram-Shara replied adamantly.
“So, how do they get people out of here?”
“Ur-Dust comes every once in a while and translates out with broken up bodies and dust.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“No, but what am I supposed to do?”
“What about the cannon?” Peggy suggested, gesturing to a wall almost two kilometres away.
“Great toy, but a one-shot. Let’s face it. It won’t kill this thing.”
Just as Bruce lamented the flaws in the Stranger Killer, he noticed Uentaru stiffen and draw her weapon. She turned, sweeping a wide arch until she stopped at a darker shadow, a purple haze that shifted as the group drew their attention to it.
“Uentaru, have you brought these intruders to my stomach for us to destroy together?” Whispered a voice in all their minds. Without hesitation, Uentaru shot at the shadow, but it merely moved on unharmed.
“We weren’t forced to come. We came to learn and understand,” Peggy called out to the shadow, but the voice ignored her, focusing it on Uen-Taru.
“We have worked together a while, have we not, Uentaru? In all that time I watched your plans and schemes. You searched The Strange for a thousand-year until you finally found the progenitor, Earth and the Aleph component buried deep in its crust. I admit, for much of that time, I had no idea what you were up to. If I had known, I would have stopped you sooner…”
“Liar!” Uentaru shouted, firing her gun a second time. The dust just moved away as before.
Algernon, forgotten in the background of the drama swirling through the warehouse, tried to read the surface thoughts of Uentaru. Instead of the jumble of thoughts and impressions, Uentaru was blank. Either there were no thoughts to read, or she was better at covering them up than most.
“The Aleph component,” The voice seemed to direct its attention to the group now, “Is what makes Earth special. It is part of the machine that first created the Strange billions of years ago. When it crashed into your barely formed proto world, it formed the moon, all the quickened and all the recursions. So you can see it is not such a small thing.”
“Show yourself, Dust, so I can finally rid the universe of you and your murderous plots,” Uentaru yelled out into the warehouse. Turning to Peggy, Bruce and Algernon, she argued her defence, “ Nakarand is the vile worm of a thing that eats humans. It would do anything to keep control over that resource.”
“Now, now Uentaru. Have you not told them about your tragic past? The loss of your Mycaeum to a planetvoir? She knows that if she can power the component, she can create a recursion in the likeness of that world, isn’t that right?” The voice of the Dustman insinuated, “I finally realised why you wanted to help me so badly, my dust, spread all over the Earth, awakening the minds of millions.”
“But why?” Tobias croaked, shakily standing to address the voice or maybe Uentaru, “Why go to all the trouble with the dust? Why save us in the graveyard?” His thoughts came out a jumble of ideas that made little sense that confused his friends.
“That’s how it eats, Rain. The dust translates them here,” Peggy explained quietly.
Tobias shook his head and looked up at Uentaru for the first time since entering this cavern. He saw worry, that was to be expected, but he saw surprise and…betrayal. She was surprised that Nakarand had worked it out. He rethought her words, her actions since the shadow of the Dustman appeared and realised she’d been vamping, scrambling to recover what she saw as a betrayal by Nakarand. She’d done a marvellous job of convincing them…him, of her sincerity. Did he ever question her motive? One healing cypher in the middle of a battle, and he’d been blinded.
Looking up, Tobias signed to Algernon to read his mind. Misinterpreting, Algernon signed back he’d tried but couldn’t get through. Tobias shook his head sadly and repeated, Mind link, me. This Algernon nodded, and as simply as he could, Tobias laid out his deductions. Algernon nodded and confronted Uentaru.
“Uentaru, what I don’t understand is why the network? Why did Nakarand have the spiral dust sellers spread out all over the world in a pattern?”
“What network? I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Uentaru replied, but by that time, it was hard to believe anything she was saying. Tobias walked over to Peggy and touched her metal box, sharing with her what he’d discovered.
Of course, Nakarand had the answer, “Yes, Uentaru, that confused me for a long while too. But the dust does more than feed me, drawing users to me. All those minds alive and connected to the Strange all over the Earth. They would also power the Aleph component, wouldn’t they Uentaru.”
With his back to Uentaru, Tobias faced Bruce and quietly told him what he’d worked out.
“Yeah, I figured,” Bruce replied, not taking his eyes offUentaru.
“Will you shoot her with the cannon?” Tobias asked resignedly.
Bruce shook his head, “We made a promise to use it on the Dustman.”
Three metres away, the shadow settled and started to thicken, coalescing into a shape. Once more, the voice of Nakarand appealed to the group. Peggy withdrew the battery rod they’d recovered from Gwendyn Wurtz’ home. Bruce palmed the electrical null field, and Algernon did the same with a small force field projector.
“I suggest a new proposal, humans. The Aleph component is already waking. I don’t know if it will give Uentaru the power over reality to resurrect her world. But I know one thing. When it is triggered to do her bidding, the Earth and its recursions will shatter. Of course, these are my hunting grounds, I don’t want to see Earth and the recursion destroyed. If you or someone in your organisation can reach the Aleph component buried beneath the Earth’s mantle, I have something that might shut it down. Though, of course, it may already be past the point of no return.”
The body of the Dustman formed and shaped before them. Bruce stepped up, watching as Uentaru levelled her gun. As the arc of time-space energy left the muzzle, Bruce shot the Dustman with the Stranger Killer and ran in, Crowbar held high. The Dustman recoiled, his form wavering from the impact. From deep in his form, a purple light glowed. The light intensified as the Dustman held out his hands, and an object, the size and shape of a football, appeared. He held out the object to Bruce. Uentaru sent out another shot hitting the Dustman, his essence scattered. The purple ball dropped into Bruce’s outstretched arms.
The Dustman seemingly gone, Algernon’s armour bristles with ice crystals ready for the fight. Instead, he saw the determined look Uentaru’s face as she raised her gun again, this time on Bruce. Algernon threw the cypher in his hand between Uentaru and Bruce. Uentaru jumped in surprise as the light shield formed itself in front of Bruce and the object.
“Drop it! You don’t know what it is!” She yelled, looking down her gun at Bruce. So intent on Bruce, she did not sense Peggy floating up behind her. Down plunged the battery rod like a dagger in Uentaru’s back. Uentaru yelled, her arms thrust wide in surprise and shock. Bruce ran around the shield, passed off the item to Algernon before swinging at Uentaru. Even with the battery draining her energy, Uentaru was still faster than Bruce and dodged away from his attack.
She stepped back from Bruce’s swing, brought up her gun to shoot him at point-blank range. But the unwieldiness of her long rifle made it hard to bring to bear, and Bruce dodged the shot. Peggy stabbed again, siphoning off even more energy.
Behind them all, Tobias pulled out a cypher he’d kept for just this moment. Drawing the power of The Strange trapped in the device, he focused his thoughts on one word. In that word, he weaved the power of The Strange, and reached out to touch the mind of Uentaru.
“Help,” He said as the cypher disintegrated to dust and blew away, “Help me.”
All the external fight went out of Uentaru as she fought an internal battle to control her mind.
“Help me save my world. Help me create your world, but not at the expense of all the lives on Earth and in the shoals, please, Uentaru.”
Taking his chance, Bruce swung up to hit Uentaru. Tobias smoothly stepped between them and looked up at Bruce. Bruce’s swing went wide as he tried to miss Tobias, and the crowbar failed to connect.
“She has to pay! She would have, still could, destroy the world. She can’t kill billions because of her sorrow, Rain!” Bruce yelled in frustration, but Tobias stood his ground, ready to take the next blow. It never came. Bruce lowered his Crowbar, still fuming and snatched Uentaru’s gun from her hands.
“We can’t live in the past, Uentaru,” Tobias said over his shoulder as Uentaru finally succumbed to the word of command, “I appreciate you wanting to rebuild your world, but not at the expense of other’s futures.”
“Why are we talking to her! Humanity is not a plaything for these people!” Bruce continued his rant at Tobias, who said nothing but accepted his friend’s anger.
“You can save your world,” Uentaru said through gritted teeth, gesturing to Algernon and the device, “That’s an Entropic seed, a computational singularity that can splinter the rules of a recursion. If used on a prime world like Earth, it will splinter reality on all its linked recursions as well.”
“But it could be used to remove your…thing from the Earth,” Bruce asked.
“Possibly…yes.” Uentaru agreed grudgingly, and all that remained was a deep sorrow as all her dreams and plans crumbled like the dust at her feet.
A few strides away behind the force field, Algernon examined the purple glowing object. He’d heard of such things, almost legendary devices that could bend reality to a user’s will. It seemed Nakarand had spoken the truth, they had a device that could save the Earth. Or it could destroy the Earth and all the recursions with it.
“How can we save the Earth?” Peggy said, realising the enormity of the task, “Even if we have a magical wish device, how are we going to get to this Aleph component in the Earth’s mantle? What sort of transport could go through solid rock?”
The image of Hertzfeld and his phasing invention appeared in everyone’s mind at the same time.
“Didn’t Hertzfeld say he only needed an energy source for his contraption?” Tobias asked, pointing at the battery in Peggy’s hands.
“Oh yes!” She exclaimed, “I can charge this thing up on the umbilical cord!”
Now that the umbilical cord had been drawn to their attention, Bruce discovered a new recipient for his righteous anger. As soon as Peggy had filled the battery, he started hacking away at the cord with his crowbar.
“Hey, little help here,” He called, and Algernon turned to Uentaru.
“Can you help us break this connection?”
Uentaru picked up her forgotten rifle with a silent nod and started blasting a line through the cord.
He watched the duo slice and hack through the umbilical cord as the blue -white liquid continued to find other channels to Nakarand. Regardless what they did here, Nakarand would find a way of fixing the damage and contine on as usual. His biochemical training led Algernon down a well trodden path to poison.
Poison…No, I don’t know what would be poisonous to a giant space worm. Acid…better… delivered directly into the digestive system. He looked around the planetoid and his mind boggled at the enormity of the task.
“I think I can help too,” Algernon contemplated a moment, “I can change the laws of this place and replace the white fluid with acid.”
“You can do that? ” Tobias asked incredulous, “A whole inter-spacial parasite?”
“I was thinking of starting smaller; with a planetoid,” Algernon replied more casually than he felt.
He had an idea what the chemical structure of the blue fluid was, he’d seen Peggy’s tests on Sprial Dust and knew it affects while fresh. In his mind he saw the chemical structures, the molecules and their base elements. He pulled a few a part like Lego pieces and put them back together forming a new chemical, a highly reactive and crossive acid.
In his mind, he dropped his first molecule back into the streams and rivers of digestive fluid that flowed all over the planetoid. From far behind him, a hole into Strange space appeared. Engery flowed from fractal space , through him and into the the molecule of acid. Like a nuclear chain reaction, all the other molecules around it exploded, setting off still others. The atoms reformed into the acid and slowly started replacing the digestive liquid.
Outside the reaction, veins on the surface of the planetoid turned from creamy blue to a sickly yellow-green. The colour change was soon picked up by the umbilical cord and sent up into Nakarand itself. Along with the colour change, there was a deep rumble from the planetoid as the ground began to buckle and crack. Where the acid rose through the umbilical cord, it shrivelled and twisted.
Good, now just to turn off the power, He thought to himself as he focused his efforts on closing the passage to the Strange. Creating the chemical to destroy Nakarand had been a simple mind exercise in comparrison to fighting the force of the Strange. Like flood gates, the Strange poured through him, washing away his resolve and drowning his sense of self. With a mental push that would have sent Bruce flying into the nearest wall a kilometre away, he slamed the shut the doors on reality.
“Anyone for getting out of here?” He heard Peggy say as the ground beneath them shuddered. Algernon couldn’t tell if it was the ground or him that was shaking. He wanted to run and hide and rest somewhere safe.
“We can’t go now. We’re having an effect!” Bruce swung at the umbilical cord. It was cutting, though slowly. A fissure opened up under Bruce’s feet. He stepped away quickly, avoid the fall and doubled his efforts on the umbilical.
“I have a grenade?” Algernon offered groggily, reaching into his backpack without thought.
“Algernon, do you still have your dynamite?” Tobias asked.
“Oh yeah!” He replied with genuine surprise and returned to his backpack, pulling out the stack of six sticks.
As everyone pulled back from the planetoid’s surface, Bruce hacked holes, and Algernon laid his dynamite. Those waiting could see the walls of the chamber were shrinking in on the planetoid. Brown mottled patches showed where the acid had reached the body of Nakarand. Algernon was last to leave the planetoid, and for a moment, he floated and watched with the others as the whole surface withered under the influence of his power.
“With great power comes great responsibility, “ Tobias whispered to Algernon, awed at the destruction his friend had wrought.
“Spiderman, right? I remember those documentaries.” Algernon replied.
“And me, “ He acknowledged, as he realised he was the scary one. He threw the grenade and with the last of his will, guided it to where the explosives lay. A pop was quickly followed by a larger bang! A cloud of blue dust and the umbilical cord whipped away from the surface out into the cavern. A roar of triumph rose from Bruce. Forgetting gravity for the moment, he spun in the air, elated with the defeat of the worm. Meanwhile, the cavern was still shrinking. Convulsions rippled through the walls setting everything, even the air, to shiver.
“Time to go,” Tobias touched Peggy and sent the last of The Strange flowing through her. The group, including Dram-Shara and Uen-Taru, formed a circle, and Peggy led the translation. As the others waited for Peggy to make the connection, the other watched the walls collapse in. They pressed around the planetoid, crushing it like a rotten walnut and driving them closer to the same oblivion. As the walls reached them, the translation took hold, and they were all swept away, the walls falling in on the space they had occupied.
They returned to Peggy’s lab, where Hertzfeld was pacing, seemingly waiting for them.
“Thank goodness you’re back. Something is coming out of the Earth crust!” Then he saw Dram-Shara and Uen-Taru, the latter having her rifled once more confiscated by Bruce. “Who have you brought back this time?”
“Hello Hertzfeld, yes we know. Can you get some security down here?” She pointed to Uen-Taru, “This one needs to be searched and restrained. She’s trying to destroy the world. The other needs an escort back to Ruk.”
Hertzfeld did a double-take but quickly called for security. As the guards restrained and took Uentaru away, Bruce thought to look at her through his glasses.
Origin: Mycaeum (lost to plantvoir)
Occupation: Chaos Templar (founder). A group of survivors from shattered prime worlds. In response, pledge themselves to the killing of planetvoirs.
“Peggy, what is going on?” Hertzfeld asked as the guard’s left with Uentaru.
“There’s a device in the mantle of the planet. With it, she intended to reseed her own lost world. The only thing is, it would have destroyed the Earth and any connected recursion with it. It still may if we don’t do something about it.”
“I’ve been working on my transport. It still needs an energy source and a time to plan…”
“Energy source we have, time we don’t. Show me your lab.” Peggy displayed the fully charged battery rod and followed Hertzfeld out of her lab.
Tobias hadn’t moved from where he’d watched the guard take Uentaru away. Bruce now saw this as his opportunity.
“What were you thinking! I don’t care who she is. Grief is no excuse for evil, and what she planned was evil of the worst degree.”
Coated in blue dust, streaked where sweat and tears had washed it away, Tobias looked tiredly up at his noble friend, ”I’m glad you can take the high moral ground.”
“What? Don’t say you empathise with her? You’ve had more than your reason to hurt people with your grief, but you haven’t.”
“Haven’t I? I guess not since meeting you. I don’t know Bruce,” He wiped his face, and the exhaustion was drawn through the lines on his face, “ I can’t shake the feeling that if I’d known part of what she did…had the opportunity she did… I just can’t see everything as black and white as you.”
“Hey, I’ve got a lot of ‘grey’ for those who were just caught up with the wrong circumstance. They just need options and a nudge. We all need nudges and reminders to keep us working towards betterment. Where it’s not intrinsic to the being’s very purpose and existence, well… judge the sin not the sinner.”
Algernon, too hadn’t moved. He still held the Entropic seed in his arms like a precious newborn. And precious it was. With it, they hoped to save a planet or doomed it, the recursions and themselves to oblivion.