Denso was bleeding, and his blood was blue. His tunic had been shredded by Chaos’s claws and slashers, and Chaos was blasting him with lightning bolts. Denso had deﬂected most of Chaos’s slasher attacks with his metal wristbands and boots. Still, some had gotten through. And Denso had gotten in a few good licks of his own, for one of Chaos’s eyes was swollen shut. His nose and lips were bleeding. In Chaos’s case, the blood was black.
Denso, an inhabitant of the dimension known as Ramanujan, had the highest density of any living creature in creation. He was thus so heavy he could not even stand without his gravity belt. Newborns in Ramanujan were swaddled in gravity belts the way Solarian children were wrapped in diapers. Losing the ﬁght, and out of options, Denso engaged the switch that activated full power on his gravity belt. The activator was a safety switch that had to be held down. Denso did so with the strength he had left. The belt hummed at full power. Extremely heavy Denso ﬂoated like a feather riding the wind, up out of range of Chaos’s lightning. Chaos sneered up at the high ﬂoating, nearly unconscious Denso and, with another martial arts-like move, sucked the last of the lightning back into his palms.
As Chaos was looking up at Denso, Fractal, Tempo and Spindle materialized facing Chaos some ﬁfty feet away. Chaos looked at them and ﬂexed his slasher blades, ready to attack. That’s when Josh appeared, coming out of his burn, tumbling into a bruising terminus, and landing between the combatants, right in the line of ﬁre! Chaos grinned and leaped forward, lashing out with his slashers. Josh cringed into a cowering ball, but he peeked just in time to see the warrior that was Tempo meet Chaos, swords to slashers, right above Josh’s head! Sparks ﬂew as honed metal met metal over and over! It was like deadly ﬁreworks only a few feet above Josh’s head. Spindle darted in with elongated arms that wrapped around Josh’s waist like a whip. Spindle snatched Josh away with surprising strength, just as a deﬂected blow sent blades slicing through the space Josh had just been occupying! Sparks arced off their weapons as Tempo and Chaos battled across the barren land. Suddenly, Chaos ensnared both of Tempo’s swords in one of his slashers then he sliced them in half with his other set. He then kicked out a huge foot, landing it in Tempo’s midsection and sending her ﬂying. She landed in a pool of molten lava and went under! Josh was horriﬁed!
Enraged, Fractal went into his Kolomogoron battle stance. This time, white clouds gathered over him. Snow began to fall and swirl around him like one of those little snowmen inside a globe of soap ﬂakes. An icy wind swept down out of the clouds and into Fractal’s body. Instantly, freezing gusts burst from Fractal’s palms. They were so powerful, they physically blew Chaos away. He ﬂew twenty yards, but landed adroitly on his feet!
“Fractal, you know how I hate the cold,” Chaos grinned then he struck his own battle pose, curved ﬁngers gesturing to the ground. Forces beneath the Forbidden Land obeyed, volcanic forces that ominously rumbled. A ﬁssure stitched its way between his feet, but he paid it no attention. Instead he thrust his palms toward Fractal. Twin streams of lava rose up out of the ﬁssure and into Chaos’s extended forearms. Lava blasts then shot out of his palms! Fractal met the oncoming lava streams with streams of freezing wind. The two forces met halfway between the brothers, each straining to overpower the other. Volcanic heat and freezing cold meeting in mid-air created a spectacular display. Josh and Spindle had to crouch behind Fractal, the big green Kolomogoron’s body shielding them from the heat and ﬂying debris. Several large chunks of jagged ice, blown high in the air, came down and stuck deep in the ground barely inches from Josh. Fractal began to weaken. His white clouds of freezing wind began to break up. The focal point of the two forces began to go against him. His freezing wind sputtered. He braced himself and physically pushed, but his heels slid back in the dark brown dirt of the Forbidden Land. Spindle and Josh were forced to back up, too. The exploding ball of ﬂame and ice moved closer!
That’s when Josh saw it.
Oozing out of the lava pit came a familiar gelatinous mass! She rolled up like a big metal ball and shot across the short distance to the conﬂict. Just in time, she turned into a large shield and spliced herself between the two forces meeting in midair. Tempo’s shield could take molten lava in stride. After all, her species was born of volcanic ﬁre. The shield that was Tempo advanced upon Chaos, curving herself into a concave form that channeled much of the molten lava back at him. His lava power began to fade. The lava streams supplying him sputtered and gurgled back down into the ﬁssures as, now, he weakened, too. Spindle and Josh, and an energy-drained Fractal, shuffled along behind the protective barrier that was Tempo. Spindle stretched his torso up above the shield to ﬁre ﬁve quick arrows from his crossbow. Chaos deﬂected four of the arrows away with his slashers. The ﬁfth, however, buried itself in Chaos’s shoulder. Chaos looked at the arrow a moment, then yanked it out. The unique wide blade tip had cut a long deep gash that spurted black blood, but Chaos seemed more enraged than hurt by it.
Chaos glared at his tormenters. “As always, brother, you let others protect you from your weaknesses!”
“It is you who are weak, brother!” Fractal replied.
Like a martial arts pro, Fractal stepped around the shield. Storm clouds instantly gathered overhead showering lightning down on Fractal. Fractal thrust his upturned palms forward and they issued twin arcs of jagged lightning. But Chaos had recovered, too, and matched Fractal’s pose. Lightning bolts sprang from his palms, as well. Again, powerful forces met midway between the two Kolomogorons. This time, four arcs of lightning locked in a spectacular ball of power. Some bolts were expelled from the massive display and tore up the hard brown earth or disintegrated a black boulder or shattered some of the strange cone shaped crystal formations. Both warriors sagged under the stalemate. Finally, both energy sources dwindled. Fractal and Chaos staggered, exhausted. Fractal fell to one knee. The shield that was Tempo returned to the armored female warrior with two gleaming blades. She stood with Spindle, who had spear in hand, one on each side of Fractal. They threatened the weakened Chaos, but he pointed his deadly ﬁngernail projectiles at the now unprotected Josh. Josh was stunned to see the nasty wound Spindle’s arrow had made in Chaos' shoulder heal up before his eyes!
“I’ll save your destruction for another time,” Chaos panted, like Fractal, drained. He then turned his glare toward Josh, “and I will have the Solarian’s brain!”
Electric arcs appeared around Chaos and he vanished into a patch of gray, his ability to dimension jump having been built into him by The Evil Cluster.
As Josh breathed a sigh of relief, the three warriors looked straight up with concern. A spattering of something blue landed on Josh’s shoulder. He looked up, following the line of sight of the others. There, ﬂoating high above, was badly injured Denso. Finally passing out, thus releasing the safety switch on his gravity belt, Denso fell.
“Uh, oh,” all three rebels said together. Fractal snatched Josh by the scruff of the neck, yanked him off his feet, and the rebels scattered in three different directions, running as fast as they could! Josh was soon to see why.
Denso’s great density brought him down with such force the ground trembled for miles in all directions. Everyone but Spindle was knocked off their feet. The slashed and bloody, and unconscious, Denso became embedded deep in the hard-packed soil of the Forbidden Land. They all ran back to him as the dust settled.
Tempo morphed from armored warrior into barefoot Emily Kinicki on the run. It still amazed Josh when she transformed. It probably always would. She reached Denso ﬁrst, and immediately knelt beside the big blue unconscious hulk who was embedded several feet into the ground. She placed her hand down onto Denso’s bloody forehead. A white glow enveloped both the girl and the colossal Denso.
“What is she doing?” Josh asked in a whisper.
“Tempo is not just a morph and a telepath. She is also a therapeut,” Fractal explained, “a healer that can absorb the injuries of others and dissipate them within her Quaternion system. It’s why we have survived for so long in our struggle. Tempo has, at one time or another, brought each of us back from the edge of death.”
Josh was astonished to see Denso’s bleeding reverse. The blue blood all over him oozed back into his wounds. The wounds closed and vanished, reappearing in the same places on Emily Kinicki’s pristine body. Denso’s eyes ﬂuttered open. Tempo took her hand away. The white glow winked out. Then Tempo closed her eyes, and her injuries vanished in the same way. If it was possible to be more in awe of Tempo, Josh was.
“Thanks, Tempo,” Denso groaned as he ﬂicked on his gravity belt, then climbed up out of the Denso-shaped impact crater in the ground. Denso helped the girl to her feet. Tempo seemed drained by the affair, and Denso helped her to sit down on a nearby black boulder.
“Wow, you are the freaky freak of the week!” Josh said to the girl. “Healing those wounds! And molten lava can’t hurt you? Are you kidding?”
“What does he mean, this ‘freaky freak’ and this ‘kidding’ term?” a confused Spindle asked of Fractal.
“How should I know?” the big green guy muttered. “The Solarian is even stranger than you are!”
Josh looked over the Forbidden Land. It was desolate. All hard-packed brown earth studded with black boulders from horizon to horizon. It reminded Josh of the surface of Mars as seen by Earth’s unmanned spacecraft landing there—except for a distant black mountain with a snowy white peak.
“This is one creeped out place,” Josh muttered.
“It is our deliverance,” the voice said over the burn bands. “Denso brought Chaos here because the Minions cannot penetrate this dimension.”
“Minions?” Josh blinked.
“Warriors for The Evil Cluster brought back from the dead,” Denso said. “Dead walkers.”
“Oh, yeah. The zombies. I almost forgot about the zombies!”
“The Forbidden Land is surrounded by the strongest magnetic ﬁelds in interdimensional space,” Starla explained. “The Cluster’s dimension jump activator is based on magnetic energy. They cannot get through to the Forbidden Land without disastrous effect.”
“It didn’t seem to bother Chaos,” Josh noted.
“He is not Cadavran,” Fractal said. “He is from my dimension, Kolomogoro, and thus unharmed. But The Cluster and their Minions cannot enter here. This is why we chose it as the perfect place to construct our command center.”
“Somehow I knew you dudes had a command center.”
“What are ‘dudes?’” Spindle wanted to know.
Fractal gestured to Denso who scooped the wilted Tempo up in his arms. Crossbow in hand, elastic Spindle elongated one leg and sprang ahead as their scout. They all headed toward the black mountain that had a snowcapped icy summit. Along the way, they passed towering formations of crystal, and went through a dark forest made darker by trees and leaves that were all deep black. Somehow photosynthesis here, if that’s what it was, produced a different color scheme for nature. They crossed grassy plains of waist-deep black grass where herds of animals that reminded Josh of musk ox thundered off at their approach. The oxen were green and yellow striped, and trumpeted like elephants. Huge predatory ﬂying reptiles circled high over the herds, swooping down to fell a ﬂeeing ox with beaks the size of broad swords. When an ox was killed the rest of the reptiles landed and fed in a frenzy. This was a world every bit as deadly as darkest Africa.
In time, they reached the black mountain, hiked up its side, and into the snowﬁeld. Josh was freezing, but determined to conceal it as the others must be doing. Tempo was wearing only a bathing suit. Still, she slept peacefully in the able arms of Denso who carried her through the rising blizzard. She still retained the form of Emily Kinicki, so Josh felt a ridiculous pang of jealousy that she should be in Denso’s arms instead of his. Then he remembered that the suit itself was a mirage, created in the same manner as the hair, those eyes, that voice. None of it was real.
To get his mind back on track, Josh asked a stupid question. “This command center of yours,” Josh called out above the biting wind that grew more bitter the higher they went. “What is it? An igloo?”
“I do not understand this word,” Fractal answered.
“This mountain is gnarly, man!”
“Why live here? It’s freaking freezing!”
“Ah, the snow and the ice,” Fractal nodded.
“Don’t forget the wind!” Spindle shouted.
“Chaos is cold blooded,” Fractal explained. “He cannot stand the cold. Not unless he wears some sort of protective suit. He would then ﬁnd his weapons and powers compromised. The Forbidden Land has many advantages for us.”
“Whoa, dude,” Josh said, thinking it through, “if you and Chaos are brothers, aren’t you cold blooded, too?”
"Again, this ‘dude’ reference!" Spindle squawked.
“Chaos was altered when he joined forces with The Evil Cluster," Fractal grumbled. "They added to his Kolomogoron powers that had been eternally pledged to peace by our dimension. They built into him the most dangerous weapons. The most evil intent. The evil in Chaos could only exist in a being whose blood ran cold. Chaos is a ruthless criminal.”
“No brotherly love, eh?” Josh ventured.
“There once was, but it was one-sided. My brother was always possessed by a mean spirit. But nothing like what The Cluster instilled in him. He had the seeds, they were the fertilizer. The Cluster came for him when we were about your age, so he knew what was happening to him. He could have escaped, but Chaos grew to enjoy the new powers given him. He’s my brother no more.”
* * *
The Evil Cluster, of course, did not call themselves ‘Evil.’ The four beings bent on conquering all dimensions referred to themselves simply as The Cluster. Each wore a shroud of black fog like a cloak. It was a medicinal force ﬁeld that protected them from the pathogens that killed everyone else in Cadavra. The black fog covered their entire tall, gaunt bodies, allowing only their gray dead faces and three ﬁngered hands to show. Their faces were sunken and sad, with deep black eyes, four small vertical slits for nostrils, lipless mouths. They were humanoid, but barely.
When Chaos reported in, he didn’t fear retribution for his failure to acquire Josh’s brain. The Cluster feared their own odious creation. They had made Chaos powerful, entrenched in him every heinous ability their insidious talents could impart. They needed him to defeat the rebels who opposed The Cluster’s rule.
“The Solarian is with the rebels, then,” Number Two rasped in that tinny robotic voice with which every member of The Cluster spoke.
“Yes,” Chaos replied, his injuries from his ﬁght with the DimensioNoids having already healed thanks to the recuperative powers built into his physiological make up. “They have probably taken the boy to their base somewhere in the Forbidden Land, where our Minions cannot penetrate.”
“Do you have a plan?” Number Four asked Chaos.
“I will again employ the time accelerator,” Chaos offered. “See if I can observe the rebels’ designs on the future. Search the Solarian dimension for clues to the whereabouts and weaknesses of this Joshua Miles.”
“But like our jump activator, the time accelerator cannot penetrate the magnetic ﬁeld surrounding the Forbidden Land,” reminded Number Two.
“True, but if the Solarian returns to his own dimension, I will ﬁnd him.”
“You have told us that it is important that we acquire the Solarian’s brain,” Number Three, the only female Cluster member, noted.
“That his intellect is the key to our victory,” Number Four, the ambitious one, added pointedly.
“It is, and we shall have it,” Chaos promised, holding in the contempt he felt for his creators, then he turned and briskly left The Cluster’s chambers.
Number One, leader of The Evil Cluster, said nothing throughout the brief conference. He seldom spoke. Number One didn’t trust Chaos. None of them did. Chaos always seemed to have his own agenda. But they needed him. They were not mobile. Their frail physiques could not take the forces of a dimension jump. They had to let Chaos lead the way.
Chaos made his way down the long corridor leading from The Cluster’s chambers at the center of a vast fortress. Chaos had to cross a large courtyard where captives under interrogation hung chained to posts or held in one of the barred cells along one wall. Petty measures, Chaos thought. He had bigger plans. Chaos knew that the quest for Josh’s brain was far more important to his than to The Cluster’s cause. He did not reveal to them that he’d discovered just how important to his future the Solarian boy was. Chaos passed through the heavy security protecting the building that housed the time accelerator and went inside.
The time accelerator was a fantastic machine. It towered in the fortiﬁed room nearly touching the vaulted ceiling that was at least thirty feet high. The Cluster had stumbled onto the time accelerator’s precognitive abilities when they were trying to develop a tracking device to track the movements of rebel bands throughout the dimensions. At the time accelerator’s base was the operations chair, designed to ﬁt Chaos’s form, for only his physically ﬁt Kolomogoron body could take the strain of the time accelerator. As soon as he sat down, the machine whirred to life. Great pulses of magnetic energy throbbed through the circuits and neurological pathways generated by the time accelerator. The twin brain sensors hummed in, placing their crackling terminal tips against Chaos’s temples.
Searching the future caused great pain in Chaos’s head. He enjoyed it, until he thought back to the vision the time accelerator had shown him only the night before. It came as pictures of the distant future always did: a fragmentary burst of himself on the ground, dying, and Joshua Miles standing over him in green armor. The time accelerator was much clearer when viewing the near future, things that were going to happen in the next moments. It was an effective way to track rebels, but Chaos wasn’t interested in them just now. He had to ﬁnd the Solarian, and change the future.
On the operations console, Chaos dialed in the dimension known as Solaria. His mission was a search for clues to the whereabouts and weaknesses of Joshua Miles, the Solarian who had become the critical prize in the Dimension Wars. He began his search in the little town of Wheatland and the school where the boy studied, the farm where he lived. The boy would return home.“A boy always returns home,” Chaos said to himself remembering, vaguely, that even he was once a boy.CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER FIVE: TACTICS