The dark lifeless dimension of Cadavra enveloped the two travelers the instant they came out of their dimension burn. They both landed deftly in the darkness, and ran to the hilltop Starla had designated. The hill both blocked the view of their crackling ﬁre-ﬁlled arrival and provided a vantage point from which to watch The Cluster’s fortress.
“You have twelve minutes to get in, plant the mine and get out!” Josh whispered. “Better morph into Number Three!”
“Make better time as Emily Kinicki,” Tempo said as Emily, who turned to smile broadly at Josh. “Toodles!”
Before Josh had the chance to respond, she was gone, racing down the craggy hillside like a deer leaping boulders as she ran. She was a barefoot girl in a purple bathing suit, deadly magnetic mine slung on its strap across her back. She ran toward the dark silhouette of the towering fortress and reached its outer wall. She touched the vest Starla had made for her. The holographic healing shroud materialized as she morphed into Number Three. Just then, some Minions rounded the corner and were surprised to see a Cluster member out and about. In a most authentic robotic voice, Tempo demanded to be escorted to the jump chamber. The slow-witted Minions saluted and complied.
Tempo, in the guise of Number Three, glided past security and gained entry to the jump chamber. Here, the second wave of the invasion was being prepared. Another thousand Minion troops marched into the cavernous room that had walls, ﬂoor and ceiling covered with magnetic jump electronics. The Minions lined up in neat rows, packed together in the room so the chamber held all it could. Tempo left as the jump chamber began to power up. She judged how long it would be before the jump activated, and set the timer on the mine under her shroud of black fog. She slipped away and placed the mine against the main energy conduit on the outside wall of the jump chamber.
Tempo then went back past the circle of guards surrounding the jump chamber and out the front gate of the fortress. She morphed back into the form of Emily Kinicki as soon as she was clear. Young human legs served her well as she raced out of the darkness and up the hill toward Josh. Josh was once again made aware that, though she looked like Emily Kinicki, Tempo had athletic skills and abilities so superior, Josh wouldn’t have even made it down to the fortress in twelve minutes, let alone back safely and not the least bit winded. But knowing Tempo was safe soothed Josh’s feelings of inadequacy.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” she smiled, recalling Josh’s same remark during the Zebulon mission.
“Fractal and the others might be up to their butts in the ﬁrst wave. We’d better burn,” Josh suggested.
“First, we must be assured that we succeeded in disabling their jump facility.”
“Why isn’t it going off?” Josh worried after a moment. Then he checked his watch. “It’s been over twelve minutes!”
“I set it so they’d be trapped inside the burn tube.”
The hair on the back of Josh’s neck stood up. “How does that, uh, work?”
“They will be suspended in the tube for eternity. No escape. Since they are already dead and do not require the sustenance their former forms required—”
“They’ll exist forever in a swirling void.” Josh swallowed hard. “That’s real negative!” he added.
Confused, she touched his arm and read his mind. Her purpose was to discern what his words meant. Instead she found—disappointment.
“You think me cruel!” she gasped inside his head. “That makes me sad, Joshua Miles. They have slaughtered thousands of my kind. They wipe out entire civilizations. Starla’s dimension. The Minions killed them all. All but poor Starla. It is they who are cruel. Still, my actions against them make you think less of me.”
“I’m sorry, Tempo,” Josh replied. “For a moment I guess I forgot what they did to you and to Starla.”
As always, Starla was listening in over their communicators, but the last of the Peitgens said nothing.
The distant jump chamber began to glow. A high-pitched hum reached the ears of Josh and the sensors of Tempo, both concealed on the hilltop overlooking The Cluster’s fortress.
“They’re into their jump!” Tempo whispered. Then, Tempo’s mine went off. The glow of the jump chamber sputtered and winked out. Josh felt sick, for he knew that a thousand Minions had just been hurled into emptiness for all time. Tempo touched his arm again. This time she felt his feelings of distaste and regret.
“If we’d have let them go we would have to ﬁght them again. In the mean time, how many more would they kill?” she said, and was pleased to ﬁnd absolution in his thoughts.
“You’re right,” Josh sighed. “You’re always right.”
Oddly, she laughed.
“What?” he blinked, perplexed.
“I’ve thought the same of you for some time, now,” she said with her own voice and Emily Kinicki’s lips.
Finally, Starla spoke up over their burn bands. “Joshua Miles, I’ve reset your burn band for Solaria. With their jump chamber damaged The Cluster cannot send more armies. The ﬁrst wave will be defeated or completely destroyed. There is no need to risk you in this ﬁght.”
“You’ve been listening in, Starla,” Josh said. “You think I don’t have the stomach for it.”
“Your strength comes from guile and strategy. You have no special powers. Return home. We will call you when we again need your services, Joshua Miles.”
“I get it,” Josh sighed, not really all that disappointed. Home sounded pretty good. He turned to Tempo. “You gonna be all right?” he said.
“Oh, well, duh!” the changeling said, using the same syntax the real Emily Kinicki favored. “We have another victory, thanks to you. That’s what’s important.”
With her ﬁngertips, which were Emily Kinicki’s ﬁngertips, Tempo brushed back that shock of brown hair that forever fell across Josh’s brow. She looked deep into his eyes.
“I shall miss you more this time than the last,” the Quaternion said, still in Emily’s form, but in a voice her own.
Josh was confused by the affection he was feeling for what looked and felt like Emily Kinicki, but was really a pulsating glutinous mass of ooze. This was not a good foundation for any kind of relationship.
“Do, uh, Quaternions—do they—have feelings? I mean, like Solarians do?” he asked.
Tempo smiled Emily’s smile. “Of course. We may not be organic, but we love our parents, our homeland, every bit as much as you love yours.” She caressed his cheek, thus connecting telepathically. “And we love—our mates,” she said inside his head.
“Well, we’re too young to have those—aren’t we?” he said, suddenly realizing that he had no idea of Tempo’s age! She could be a thousand year old mass of ooze!
Tempo read his thoughts, and laughed. “You and I are, well, we’re of the same age,”
she said aloud, awkwardly for her. “Teenagers, in Solarian terms.”
“Whew. Cool. I was worried you’d be, like, you know, a billion years old or something.”
Telepathically, which seemed somehow easier, Tempo said, “No, I’m what you would call in Solaria an adolescent. The same as you. But—there are other differences.”
“I know,” he interrupted mentally, stepping back so she lost her touch with his person, and thus her contact with his thoughts. He didn’t want her to see his thoughts, now.
Still, she knew what he was thinking. “Perhaps Emily Kinicki. The real Emily Kinicki,” she said in Emily’s voice, but with more honesty in her eyes than the real Emily’s eyes ever held for him.
“Nah. I don’t think so. She’s not—like you,” he said, then he felt foolish when he realized the irony.
“It is very difficult for Quaternions,” Tempo sighed the way Emily Kinicki sighed. “We can take the form of any living thing, inorganic or organic. But organic is the troubling one, because of these feelings you have. We don’t experience their full range. In this manifestation I don’t know how the real Emily feels about you. Since this form came from your mind, it’s more how you think she feels, or how you wish her to feel. You can see how confusing it can be—for both of us. Still—”
“It’s not unpleasant, these feelings a Solarian is capable of. But by the very nature of our being, Quaternions have to constantly remind ourselves—who we really are.”
With the chilling gurgling sound that came with each of her transformations, the creature that looked like Emily Kinicki returned herself to her normal state: the viscous mass of liquid metals and interdimensional minerals that was Tempo of Quaternion. Tempo shot out one of her silver tendrils and touched Josh’s cheek, again making telepathic contact.
“Be well, Joshua Miles,” she said within his mind.
“Good bye, Tempo,” Josh replied aloud, heart breaking.Then, before a tear could form in his eye as testimony to the hopelessness of his affection for her, Josh hit the activator button on his burn band and vanished again into interdimensional space.CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: SAVAGES