Denso realized that the kids, soaked to the skin, the girl barefoot, could never make the arduous climb through the snows of the black mountain. He’d set the burn bands to terminus right outside the secret door to the command center. It was risky, but Denso felt that they were already so imperiled by Fractal’s capture, landing here made little difference. The secret entrance cantilevered open, and the untidy group scurried into the warmth of the command center.
* * *
“This is getting to be a habit,” Lieutenant Tobin sighed, crouching in the ﬁeld looking for clues. Josh’s, Emily’s, and Billy’s parents stood as though attending a funeral while the state troopers searched the woods and ﬁeld. With Emily and Billy missing, Mr. and Mrs. Miles couldn’t conceal from the authorities the fact that Josh had vanished again.
Wearing thin white rubber gloves, Tobin ﬁngered the broken bits of model plane on the ground, while forensics people took ﬂash pictures and samples of the pools of strange black liquid they’d found near the plane’s wreckage.
“Motor oil?” Tobin asked.
“Don’t think so,” the forensics man responded.
“What do you suppose these things are?” a uniformed state trooper asked, showing Tobin two of Chaos’s claw projectiles he’d found stuck in trees across the ﬁeld.
Tobin shook his head. “You got me,” he sighed, running a thumb across the cutting edge of one blade. “Sharp as razors.” This brought a wave of hysterical weeping from Mrs. Kinicki. “Have them tested as soon as possible,” Tobin told the trooper, then he moved to the Mileses. “Okay. What do you know that we don’t know?”
“Not much,” Mr. Miles shrugged. “Josh said for us not to worry if he went missing again, but this?”
“Yeah, this looks bad,” sighed the big detective. “There’s a burned patch over there that looks a lot like what was on your kid’s wall the ﬁrst time he disappeared.”
“They’ll be all right,” Mrs. Miles said. “I just know it. This is really the third time.”
“The third?” Tobin sputtered. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“Because we trust Josh,” Josh’s dad jumped in.
“Yeah? Well, look what it’s gotten you.”
* * *
Josh, Emily and Billy stepped out of the Sonic Chamber. They were sparkling clean, clothes and hair dry. It was like they were going to a dance, except Emily had lost her shoes. Waiting in the corridor was the spectral light entity, Starla. “I will manufacture new shoes for you,” Starla said.
Emily and Billy were no longer terriﬁed of the glowing ball that scanned them upon their arrival. A prismatic beam shot out of Starla and played over Emily’s bare feet.
“That tickles!” she giggled, wiggling her toes.
Josh and Billy looked at each other and laughed.
“It is interesting that you can display amusement in what must be a very trying situation for you,” Starla said.
“Hey, things go bad, there’s no reason to get all bent out of shape,” Billy shrugged.
“Yes, I have had the same thought when confronted by these emotions you organic entities generate. I believe the phrase is: Get over it. Come, Joshua Miles, the others await your input. Our situation is more trying even than yours.”
They all marched down the corridor of blue lights and into the ready room where Denso, Spindle and Tempo waited, Tempo in the form of—Emily Kinicki!
The real Emily gasped. “What am I doing here? And why am I wearing my old one piece bathing suit? Puulleeez! It’s sooooo last century!”
Emily ﬂinched as the artiﬁcial Emily reached out a hand to tenderly touch her cheek. It was like looking in a mirror, which was one of the real Emily’s favorite things.
“Be not afraid, Emily Kinicki,” Tempo’s soothing voice said inside the girl’s head. “I am scanning your mind. Seeking a form you will ﬁnd more—comforting.”
With that chilling gurgling sound, Tempo’s Emily manifestation turned into that of Emily’s careworn mother!
“There, there, child,” the voice of Mrs. Kinicki said. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
“Mom!” Emily shrieked, startling everyone in the room. Emily ﬂung herself into the comfort of her mother’s arms. “Oh, mom! You have no idea what I’ve been through!”
“Oh, but I do, child,” Mrs. Kinicki said. “Being pursued by Chaos. Nearly drowned in that dreadful swamp.”
Emily blinked. “But how—? Wait a minute! You aren’t my mother!”
“Of course not,” Tempo smiled. “I’ve merely assumed her form to make you feel at ease.”
Emily pulled away from Tempo. “Nice try, weirdo!”
“My name is Tempo. I am a space/time morph.”
Emily screamed, “Joshua Miles, you take me home this instant!”
Starla said, “Not possible, Emily Kinicki. Our enemies have upgraded their tracking system using Fractal’s burn band. The Evil Cluster will track any burn into Solaria and follow you.”
“Evil Cluster? Is that some kind of weird candy?”
“Ha! I said the same thing!” Josh laughed.
Emily shouted, “Joshua Miles, I want to go home!”
“I repeat: not possible. The Cluster can now track any burn out of the
,” Starla said. “With Fractal’s burn band integrated into their tracking station they can compute where you will terminus.” Forbidden Land
“We need to blow up that tracking station before we go in to rescue Fractal!” Denso said as he, Spindle, Josh and Tempo took to their tactics benches.
The Cluster’s fortress in Cadavra instantly came up on their screens with the tracking station highlighted by Starla, who noted, “It’s at the center of the fortress. You cannot sneak up and destroy it like you did the time accelerator. They have already moved in four legions to protect that building. Even if we do ﬁnd a way to neutralize their tracking station, our greater task still eludes us: the rescue of Fractal.
“If Fractal is still alive they most likely would have him in their prison area or in their mesmer room,” Tempo suggested, still in the form of Mrs. Kinicki.
“Why can’t you ﬁnd him, Starla?” Josh wanted to know.
“I can monitor a place, trace a dimension burn, or track any entity wearing a burn band,” Starla said. “Without his burn band, there’s no way for me to track him.”
“Try a random scan of areas within the fortress compound,” Tempo suggested in the form of Mrs. Kinicki.
Emily rolled her eyes. It was impossible for her to accept the vision of her mother in a high tech tactics bench discussing battle options with beings from other dimensions! “This is not happening!” she said in a sing-song voice.
Josh looked over at Fractal’s empty tactics bench. He felt just as empty. “Chaos hates Fractal so much, he wouldn’t be able to resist interrogating him personally,” Josh decided. “Do we know where Chaos is?”
Chaos’s location became highlighted on everyone’s screen. “His built-in dimension burn capability makes tracking him relatively easy. They must have sent a decoy out to deceive me when they invaded Huen.”
“Hmmm. I just know Fractal is with him. If we all burn in surrounding that location, I have a hunch we’ll ﬁnd Fractal. Trouble is we’ll ﬁnd Chaos, too.”
Spindle grinned a lipless grin. “Good, then we’ll have the opportunity to kill him.”
“But if we don’t destroy their tracking station, we can’t even launch a rescue,” Denso reminded them. “They’ll know we’re coming!”
“Yes, our ﬁrst priority has to be the tracking station, but how to neutralize it without actually burning you into Cadavra?” Starla puzzled.
Just then, one of Starla’s marble sized security orbs entered levitating two stylish shiny new shoes before it.
“Will these suffice, Emily Kinicki?” Starla said, knowing full well that they would.
“Oh, yes!” Emily squealed, leaping to her bare feet. “They’re exactly like the one’s I saw at Pretty Pumps! They cost a hundred and ninety dollars! I wanted them terribly, but daddy said something about hell and freezing.” She grabbed the shoes right out of the air and put them on.
“They aren’t actually made from the hides of sentient creatures,” Starla noted, “but I created an apt synthetic.”
“They ﬁt perfectly! How did you know?” Emily asked.
“Tempo glimpsed them when she was in telepathic communication with you,” Starla explained.
“You mean she’s got ESPN?” Emily said with awe.
“She simply transferred the images to me. I constructed the shoes to the speciﬁcations I acquired earlier when I, uh, tickled your feet,” Starla clariﬁed.
Josh and Billy looked at each other, and laughed again.
Emily looked at Tempo, who still held the form of Emily’s mother. Tempo smiled. Emily smiled back. “Thanks.”
The incident put a new thought into Josh’s mind.
“Can you do that with anything, Starla?”
“Do what, exactly?
“Construct! Build! Manufacture! Like my shower. Denso’s missiles. Emily’s shoes.”
“My, yes. Just about anything. Anything inorganic. I have the raw materials. Three hundred and eighty-nine of the four hundred and three known minerals and elements in interdimensional space exist within this very mountain. I can fabricate anything from incendiary explosives to, well, pretty little pumps.”
“Starla, try to stay focused,” Josh scolded. “What if there were a way to burn a device into Cadavra that we could control from here. Something that could carry, say, a bomb?”
“The Cluster would most likely track and intercept it,” Starla responded.
“Not if it’s fast, and it can ﬂy!” Josh excitedly said, turning in the tactics bench to look at Billy.
“Uh, wh-why are you looking at me?” Billy stammered.
Josh had Tempo establish telepathic contact with Billy, who held in his mind the components and speciﬁcations of a model plane, including how a remote control console worked. Tempo put her other hand on Starla. The information was instantly passed from Billy to Starla through Tempo. Starla and his security orbs set to work building a remote controlled flying bomb.CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER TWENTY ONE: SURPRISES