Twin explosions rocked The Cluster’s fortress. The second was much bigger than the ﬁrst. The Cluster felt them deep underground in their fortiﬁed conference chamber. Josh had asked Starla to design the bomb based on something Josh’s dad had seen on the news: two stage bombs taking out fortiﬁed bunkers. Nobody can hide from technology, his dad had said. Upon impact, the initial explosion blew open the roof, allowing high explosive munitions to fall inside the building where the primary blast blew out all the walls.
Outside the secret entrance to the command center, Starla, having been simultaneously monitoring the tracking station, Chaos, and the plane, said but one word: “Burn!”
The four DimensioNoids hit their activation buttons and all four burned away on their mission to rescue Fractal.
* * *
The Kansas State Police cruiser drove up the horseshoe drive before the Miles’s farmhouse. Lieutenant Tobin got out, leaving his driver, a uniformed state trooper, with the car. He trudged up to the house, a look of grave concern on his face. Mr. and Mrs. Miles greeted him on the porch with lemonade.
“Any word?” Tobin asked. The Mileses shook their heads “No” with the consequence of worry evident.
“We got back the forensics tests,” Tobin sighed, as Mr. Miles gestured to the chairs on the porch and they all sat down.
Tobin took out some official looking papers. “The black liquid we found on the ground was hemoglobin based. Mostly carbon with traces of mutant erythrocytes.”
“Any chance of you putting that into English, Lieutenant?” Mr. Miles requested.
“Blood,” Tobin said, causing Mrs. Miles to gasp and involuntarily bring fearful ﬁngertips to her face.
“Not human blood,” Tobin quickly added. “Not animal, either. Fact is, nobody’s ever seen anything like it.” He switched to another paper. “Same goes for the little daggers. The scientists had a duce of a time even scraping a sample from them. Some sort of hard metal, they decided, with traces of keratin in it.”
“Keratin? What’s that?” Mr. Miles wondered.
“The stuff we all have in our ﬁngernails,” Tobin replied, holding out his own ﬁngers and clicking the nails of thumb and middle ﬁnger together several times.
“What’s it all mean?” Mrs. Miles asked.
“We don’t know. Everybody at the lab has a theory, but most of them involve something we in law enforcement don’t normally consider valid.”
“And that would be?” Mr. Miles ventured.
“Aliens,” Tobin replied with a crooked, unconvinced grin.
“You mean they’ve been—abducted?” Mrs. Miles gulped. “Like on those UFO shows or something?”
“It’s just a theory,” Tobin shrugged. “Nothing else ﬁts. I dunno. These alien abductions. I’ve looked into them. Mostly crackpots, but at least they come back. You know, the aliens let them go, eventually.”
“The ones we know about,” Mr. Miles gravely stated.
* * *
Josh came out of his dimension burn ﬁfty yards from Chaos’s quarters. A hundred of The Cluster’s best had been posted all around Chaos’s fortified windowless domicile, which included the adjacent torture chamber. Two of the Minions closest to Josh raised their cell disruptor weapons. Before they could ﬁre, Denso materialized out of his burn right between Josh and the Minions. Starla had been wise enough to send Denso as a shield. After all, the Solarian boy had no special powers with which to ﬁght.
The two Minions ﬁred, but Denso deﬂected their deadly purple beams with his metal wrist bands. Denso walked swiftly toward the two Minions as more moved up behind their comrades. The ﬁrst two ﬁred again, and again Denso’s quick reﬂexes turned aside the beams. Before they could ﬁre a third time, Denso was upon them. His mammoth ﬁsts punched through their heads one after the other, turning ten or twelve Minions into piles of dusty debris.
The next group of zombie troops thought they were too far away for Denso to reach them with his ﬁsts before they could blast him. None of these poor souls had ever faced a Ramanujan, and they would never face anything again. Denso ﬂipped a switch on his belt and his death beam shot out its narrow white shaft from his shoulder mount. He turned his upper body so the beam raked across the entire contingent of Minions, cutting every one of them in half. “That was fun,” Denso grinned at Josh. Then, with a beckoning wave, he added, “Let’s ﬁnd Fractal.”
On the other side of Chaos’s quarters, Spindle had arrived at the same instant Denso did. He didn’t bother with his crossbow. He deﬂected several disruptor beams with the wide blade of his short handled spear, and waded into the throng of Minions. The elastic Frobenian extended his arms and speared and sliced every one of them into dust.
Tempo appeared at the rear of the compound wearing the form of Mrs. Kinicki so she could ﬁt in the burn tube. Seeing a dowdy, middle-aged Solarian woman facing them made the Minions guarding the rear of the compound pause. It also made them overconﬁdent.
“This is what they send against us, now?” the Minion captain laughed. “Let killing it be my pleasure.”
He took out his sidearm and leveled it at Mrs. Kinicki, but Mrs. Kinicki instantly transformed into a Yotobian Fire Dragon. Yotobian Fire Dragons have large deadly claws, but so do many creatures in interdimensional space. Tempo’s reason for choosing this particular creature was its scales. They were made of Trillium, a rare material impervious to disruptor fire. The captain’s shot merely bounced off the dragon’s skin, as did the salvo directed at her by the other Minions. In one great leap, the dragon was amongst them, shredding them with its claws and cutting them in half with broad sweeps of it sharp-edged tail.
Several Minions tried to run. Tempo’s dragon shot a fifty foot blast of fire from her fang-filled mouth. The discharge of molten flame overtook the fleeing Minions. It took longer for a zombie to die from being set afire. The Minions hit by the dragon fire probably wished they’d had stayed and fought and had their spines severed or their heads taken off. We will never know their wishes, for the burning Minions’ screams became softer and softer as their bodies crumbled into heaps of smoldering, flame-blackened debris.
The DimensioNoids all came together at the front of the torture chamber, the only flank where no DimensioNoid had been sent. The forty Minions guarding the front were crack troops, battle tested—they didn’t stand a chance.
Once all the Minions were dispatched, the DimensioNoids stepped up to the huge metal door of the windowless torture chamber.
“I could blow it open with a missile,” Denso offered, “but if Fractal’s inside—”
Since Yotobian Fire Dragons have no speech capability, Tempo couldn’t say anything. She put one of her massive claws down on Denso’s broad shoulder, thus making telepathic contact with the big blue Ramanujan, and inside his head simply said, “Allow me.”
The fifteen foot dragon thudded up to the huge metal door, drove her claws into the top of the door jamb and simply ripped the door away. Through the open doorway the DimensioNoids saw a horrifying sight. Fractal sat battered and bloody in Chaos’s torture room. Chaos stood behind the restraint chair. His slashers were extended, one set positioned right above Fractal’s throat.
“We’ve been expecting you,” Chaos grinned. “Lose the lizard look, Quaternion, or Fractal loses his head!”
Tempo thought it over. What would seem least threatening, least likely to get Fractal killed? Tempo morphed into Emily Kinicki. This was a relief to Josh, for he was already formulating a plan.
“Good. Now, surrender the Solarian!” Chaos shouted, again inching his slasher blades toward Fractal’s exposed throat.
“Do not consider my welfare!” the beaten and bloodied Fractal rasped. “Kill him!”
That’s when Denso got that prickly feeling on the back of his neck. It was the feeling Ramanujans get when they had better look behind them. Denso whirled, and Spindle and Tempo did the same, to see thousands of Minions closing in. They had several attack skimmers and a few battle cruisers.
“Uh, we’re surrounded,” Denso grimly muttered.
Tempo, in the form of Emily Kinicki, turned to Chaos. “This will be a bloody fight. It will take the cruisers’ blasters to defeat us,” she told him. “Likely this building will be demolished, with you in it,” she pointedly added.
“I’ll take that chance,” Chaos grinned, “but none of it need happen. All I want is the Solarian.”
“Then prepare to die!” Denso roared, about to fire his missiles in through the doorway at Chaos, but Josh stepped in front of him.
“I’ll stay,” Josh said standing in the broken doorway of the chamber, “if you let them all go. Including Fractal.”
“You are in no position to bargain,” Chaos sneered.“Very well,” Josh said, straining to be resolute and to not let his voice waver. “Keep me and Fractal and you live, or reject this final offer and—we all die.”CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER TWENTY THREE: BARGAINS