The Cluster’s operations were completely disrupted, their jump chamber and tracking system were both completely destroyed, thousands of Minions “neutralized” and their prized prisoner, rescued. This called for a conference in The Cluster’s fortiﬁed underground bunker. Chaos stood before them.
“We have decided we must be bolder,” Number Two said, as if they hadn’t been so up to then.
“We feel your focus on the Solarian has been misplaced,” Number Three added. “It is the Peitgen that frustrates our efforts. Our new jump device will be ready soon, but we cannot continue to allow these self-appointed DimensioNoids to track our movements.”
“What do you propose?” Chaos grumbled. “Some time ago we put this question—rather forcefully—to the captive Zebulon scientists that design our weapons and jump capabilities,” Number Four explained. “Since our legions cannot penetrate the
, we had to ﬁnd some other tactic to neutralize the Peitgen.” Forbidden Land
Number Two took over. “The Zebulons have found a way to cloak the
in black light. The means for this are now in place.” Forbidden Land
“And this will beneﬁt us how?” Chaos wondered.
“It will deprive the Peitgen of the spectral light energy it needs to function,” Number Three said. “The Peitgen will die, and we can begin the new offensive.”
“New offensive?” Chaos matter-of-factly said, putting on an interested expression to conceal his seething anger at not being consulted earlier in these plans.
Number One spoke. His was a ragged, ancient voice, robotic, but frail. “A massive attack that will both widen our sphere of control and bring the Solarian into our grasp: the invasion of Solaria.”
* * *
The DimensioNoids and the kids from
were partying! They were celebrating Fractal’s rescue, but it was also a good-bye party for the Solarians. Josh, Billy and Emily were going home. It was therefore a mixture of revelry and melancholy that ﬁlled the black mountain command center. Kansas
Because her forms of both Emily and Emily’s mom were a distraction, mostly for the real Emily, Tempo had assumed, for the party, a form she thought pleasing to all Solarians: sexy rock star Rhonda Rhodes. Tempo got the speciﬁcations telepathically from Josh that ﬁrst night in his room. She ﬁled them away for a special occasion, such as this. Josh didn’t like Tempo this way. He liked her best when she was—well, Emily. Billy sat beside Rhonda, star stuck. Emily sat on the other side of her, picking at a plate of Starla’s party food. The real Emily was feeling more at ease among these interdimensional super warriors, thus, as was her nature, she was unafraid to speak her mind.
“Gawd, Tempo, turn into my mom again and make us some decent food, okay? This stuff is party foul!”
Starla would have raised a haughty eyebrow at this insult to its culinary talent, if Starla had eyebrows. Instead the Peitgen, with great élan, presented Fractal with a newly manufactured burn band to replace the one destroyed in the bombing of The Cluster’s tracking station.
“Let’s see your mother manufacture something like this,” the Peitgen said to Emily, a little more irritated than usual, before raising the burn band up to Fractal’s arm.
The new burn band attached itself to Fractal’s forearm with an electronic hiss.
“Thank you, Starla, but I have only my own foolhardiness to blame for my being captured. It was you, my friends, that made a success of the unfortunate episode.” And so, at the height of the celebration, Fractal, bringing down a good time as only he could, made a dubious announcement. “It will take some time for The Cluster to repair the damage we’ve done,” Fractal said. “During this cessation, I plan to visit Kolomogoro.”
Starla began to pulse faster and the constant light emanating from somewhere within it turned a bit redder.
“Kolomogoro is under Cluster control,” Starla pointed out. “It is very dangerous for you, there. You are a wanted man, and there are some who would gladly take The Cluster’s reward for your capture or—demise.”
“Still, I must go,” Fractal stated.
“We’ll go, too,” Denso oﬀered, “to guard your safety.”
“Yes,” Spindle added enthusiastically, “there is no doubt the killing of Minions will be on the tour!”
“No, I cannot risk your lives for a personal matter,” Fractal said. “I must ﬁnd my father. Because of my activities, he has recently been made The Cluster’s prisoner. I will ﬁnd a way to free him, then—I wish to bring him here for his protection.”
“We’d all like to have our loved ones live in safety,” Tempo said with the lips of Rhonda Rhodes and even a taste of Rhonda’s
drawl, “but isn’t it more dangerous for them here where The Cluster may strike at any time?” Texas
“Things are bad in Kolomogoro,” Fractal frowned. “Because of the great powers Kolomogorons possess, prisoners are held in restraint chairs, palms pinned down to negate their powers. Like Chaos did to me. It was humiliating.”
“Only victory can end the humiliation,” Starla said. “You serve your father better here, ﬁghting the necessary ﬁght.”
“My father is old. I cannot let his last days be spent in such torment. It is a son’s—duty!”
“A rescue, then,” Denso suggested. “Is there not a rebel underground in Kolomogoro that might help us free him, and then take him into their ranks?”
“Rebellion is for the young,” Fractal answered. “Age weakens our powers to such a degree, he will be a burden on the Underground. It is my responsibility.”
“The burden will be ours,” Starla coldly stated. “Are we not stretched to our limits staying operational?”
Fractal glared at the Peitgen. “I would expect such a lack of feeling from an inorganic entity!” he fumed. “If my father is going to be a burden to you, he and I can live elsewhere in the
!” Forbidden Land
“You’re being unreasonable,” Starla said. “You are suffering one of the many failings of carbon- based origins. You’re letting emotions countermand logic. Emotions, I might add, that are ‘peculiar’ to organic entities.”
“My decision is made!” Fractal bellowed, hammering a ﬁst on the table, which sent out a short burst of lightning and set ﬁre to one of the tactics benches. He turned and angrily stomped into his quarters, slamming his door. A security orb oozed out of Starla, ﬂew to the ﬁre, and put it out with a puff of very effective ﬂame retardant.
“Well, so much for party time,” Billy said in a quiet aside to Josh.
Fractal stormed back out of his quarters already packed, a backpack slung over one shoulder. He paused to talk pointedly to Starla. “I expect the cliff door to be open when I get there, or I shall open it with these!”
Fractal held up his open palms, then went out the open arch and down the corridor to the secret entrance.
“Well, he’s not wasting any time,” Josh sighed.
Once Fractal was out of earshot, Josh rose to his feet. “Am I not the leader of the DimensioNoids?” Josh rhetorically asked.
Emily and Billy looked at each other, wide- eyed. They’d never heard Josh talk this way.
The DimensioNoids heartily agreed that Josh was in command. Josh had been ordained their leader by the future, and his words were to be taken as mandate, even if they were the kinds of words Josh had never spoken before in his life!
“We will condone Fractal’s personal mission,” Josh decreed, “but after he leaves, Starla will track him, and Denso and I will burn into Kolomogoro and secretly shadow his efforts. Knowing Fractal, the worst could befall him, and he would not ask for help. Otherwise, we must let Fractal seek what will ease his conscience.”
Emily whispered to Billy. “He’s even starting to talk like they do!”
“Yeah. He must’ve aced that English test!”
“What are my orders?” Spindle asked.
“You and Tempo will take Emily and Billy back to Solaria,” Josh said.
“Me? A nest tender?” Spindle fumed. “Huh?
“A nanny,” Starla translated, then it recognized that Josh was still confused. “A babysitter?”
“It’s my decision,” Josh shrugged, hoping it would end there.
Tempo touched Spindle’s arm, and he quieted.
“You ready big guy?” Josh said to Denso. Denso nodded affirmatively.
“At least wait until I construct some armor for you, and some sort of weapon,” Starla pleaded of Josh.
“We’re too jammed,” Josh replied. “Let’s burn!” Josh and Denso hurried down the corridor, but Josh held up a hand and they stopped halfway. The door was still open and they could see Fractal initiate his burn and vanish in a portal of ﬁre, returning to his home dimension for the ﬁrst time since the onset of the Dimension Wars.
The two came outside. It was a clear, crisp day, the
’s huge red sun bathing the craggy cliffs and distant plains in crimson beneath an indigo sky. Forbidden Land
“The reward on you is now higher than on Fractal,” Starla said over Josh’s communicator. “If something happens to Denso, or you are separated, return burn immediately. I believe these efforts to be unwise.”
“Gotta do it, Starla,” Josh sighed. “He’s our friend.”
“Yes, friendship. Another burden organic beings seem unable to relieve themselves of.” One of Starla’s security orbs came out of the ice cliff door with a Frobenian cloak. “Solarians are non-existent where you are going. Wear this to conceal your—attributes.”
“Not the cloak!” Josh whined, then he realized he was being childish, and this was no time for childish behavior, and no place for children. “Okay,” Josh said resignedly, snatching the cloak from the orb and putting it on. “Just see to it Emily and Billy get home safely.”
“Consider it a completed act,” Starla replied.
* * *
Josh and Denso burned into uninhabited desert some distance from the Kolomogoro city of
. They couldn’t let anyone see their terminus because The Cluster had made unsanctioned dimension travel punishable by death. The Cluster controlled Kolomogoro the way they controlled all their conquered dimensions, by imprisoning the opposition and rigorously restricting interdimensional travel. One had to be doing Cluster business to gain approval for a dimension burn. Rapacio
To The Cluster’s extreme displeasure, the restriction on dimension burns did not apply to the DimensioNoids. The DimensioNoids were the only rebels who could ﬁght between dimensions, because they were the only ones who counted a Peitgen among their number. Starla, the last spectral light being, was the only entity in the universe with the resources to provide the DimensioNoids with burn capability. This was why The Cluster considered the DimensioNoids to be the greatest threat to their supremacy.
Josh wore the hated Frobenian cloak that would mask his Solarian origins once they were in Rapacio and suspicious eyes were on them. The hooded cloak covered face and hands and its hem brushed the gritty ground along the way. Denso tied some of this torn tunic over his burn band, making it look like a recent wound.
Suddenly, Starla’s voice came in over their communicators. “Fractal’s deactivated his burn band.”
“Why? So The Cluster can’t track him?”
“So I can’t track him!” Starla said, miffed. “Your plan to have me locate him for you seems to be negated.”
“Well, once we get into the city, I’ll ask around,” Denso suggested. “Maybe someone’s seen him.”
“Asking questions attracts attention!” Starla scolded. “And Fractal will be doing his best to be inconspicuous!”
Denso chuckled. “Being inconspicuous is not one of Fractal’s strengths!”
Josh laughed, too. “Yeah, we could just wait for his temper to give him away. Look for the nearest lava blast!”
“Someday you will have to explain this peculiar sense of humor organic entities commonly possess,” Starla said. “Your other ﬁve senses make perfect—well, sense, but this sense of humor. Of all the idiosyncratic behavior!”
“Not now, Starla,” Denso said, then he turned to Josh, ﬂashing the boy his patented wry smile. “You know, there is a discreet way we can ﬁnd Fractal. Someone might be able to tell us where Fractal’s father is being held.”
“Good thinking, big guy! We ﬁnd pops. We watch him. You know Fractal’s gonna show, yo?”
“Yo,” Denso grinned.
“Sound strategy, Joshua Miles. Tremor is the focus of Fractal’s visit,” Starla said.
“Tremor?” Josh blinked.
“Fractal’s father,” Denso explained.
“Geez, here I am ﬂying through dimensions looking for a dude, and I don’t even know his name.”
Denso smiled. “What you do not know, I will know.”
“Or I will,” Starla added.
They walked across the hot sands like ancient desert nomads on a trek to new worlds. The city came into view. It looked wanton, reckless, even from afar.
“Why did Fractal burn to this particular city?” Josh wondered aloud.
“He can contact his old friends in the Underground here. They can lead him to his father,” Denso said. “Rapacio is an open city. A haven for the dregs of interdimensional space. We’ll ﬁt right in!”
They both laughed, but Starla, as usual, didn’t get the joke. Then Josh suddenly asked Denso, “What’s up with Fractal’s mother?”
This brought their brisk walk to a stop. A pall of doom crossed Denso’s broad blue face.
“Dead,” he said. “Fractal won’t talk about it, so the circumstances are—hazy.”
“There’s a lot going on in Fractal’s head,” Josh softly said, caught up in Denso’s trance, then to break the spell, Josh jokingly added, “not to mention in his hands!”
Denso and Josh both laughed and started walking again. Starla, again, didn’t get the joke.
“Yes, Fractal is one complicated entity,” Denso sighed, revealing a ﬁrm grip on the obvious.
“When we get into the city, you’d better stay in the background. A Solarian will attract more attention than Fractal would. You can pretend to be my Ramanujan battle companion.”
“You mean a fellow warrior?” “An unpaid servant.”They came to the outskirts of the city, and entered.CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE: RECRUITS