Josh tries to work The Cluster's holocomputer
Golanka. Night. Denso silently crushed the skulls of the two Minion guards outside the Registry, then he burned open the locked metal doors with the versatile beam generated by his shoulder mount. The directory sent them to the ﬁfth ﬂoor records room. Inside was a small metal desk with a silver cube on it. Behind the desk squatted a chair contoured to ﬁt Minion anatomy.
Denso groaned, “I expected hard copy ﬁles. I’m no good with computers!”
“Computer? This is a computer?” Josh said confused, but excited. “C’mon. Starla must have built a big computer somewhere in the command center.”
“No,” Denso said, “Starla is our computer.”
“Ahhh, right,” Josh nodded.
“Is there a seating contrivance?” Starla said over their burn bands.
“Yes,” Josh and Denso said together.
“Place yourself in it. That should activate the device.”
Josh sat in the chair at the desk. Immediately, a keyboard appeared suspended just above the silver cube. “Whoa! Holographic keyboard!” Josh gasped in awe.
“Standard Cluster issue,” Starla droned.
It was fortunate that the long dead savior of interdimensional space, Englishman Eddington Lowe, spread the Universal Word to every dimension. The letters on the keyboard were almost identical to Josh’s Solarian alphabet, though the keys were not in the same odd places as they were on Solarian keyboards. They were in different odd places. The symbols and operational keys were a lot diﬀerent, though. The differences between American English and English English still existed, a ﬂashlight was called a torch and a torch a ﬁrebrand. Still, Josh could extrapolate most meanings. He hit a key that read ‘activate’ and the computer powered up. The sounds it made were different from Solarian computers. It hissed and gasped, as though its functioning somehow relied on breathy vacuums and exchanges of air.
Suddenly, a large holographic screen appeared right in front of Josh’s eyes. At ﬁrst its sudden appearance scared him, then he remembered Starla telling him that almost all organic beings in interdimensional space had two “ocular scanners,” as the Peitgen put it, “—that produce the deﬁnitive focal point, carbon-based evolution ﬁnding that bi-optical entities, beings with two eyes, had the highest propensity for survival.” Of course, Starla didn’t hesitate to add that, “Organic evolution is an inexact approach to survival,” and that inorganic beings had a “completely different methodology for imaging,” which was “superior and far more efficient.” Most inorganic entities, like Starla and Tempo, didn’t really have, or need, eyes at all.
Josh could read and understand almost everything the fantastic computer displayed on its holographic screen. Josh wasn’t a mouse potato, nor was he inept. His father had been amazed at how quickly Josh picked up computer savvy. Josh’s father still used a pencil to ﬁgure, and he licked the point every time he wrote something down. Josh’s interest in computers quickly leveled off. He used them now just for school and for occasional video games. Web surﬁng and social forums were never his thing. A computer was just a tool. He typed in ‘Tremor’ and hit activate. The computer worked a few seconds, going over millions of ﬁles. A list appeared hanging in the air. It showed hundreds of prisoners named Tremor. Josh tried ‘Tremor father of Fractal’. The list shortened to six.
Josh turned and looked to Denso.
Josh added ‘husband of Windra’ and hit activate. The list changed into a holographic image of the prison over the words: Prison Colony Number Fourteen. There was a ﬂashing red dot that indicated a small cubicle near the center of the prison designated as ‘chair 14-1024.’
“Good,” Denso said.
“Not so good for ol’ Tremor,” Josh muttered to himself.
“Exactly where in Kolomogoro is this prison?” Denso asked, leaning over Josh’s shoulder to try to understand better the workings of the holo- computer. Josh typed in ‘location prison colony fourteen’ and the computer obliged, the image shifting to a wide overview. It included several cities, among them Rapacio and Golanka, and the location of the prison colony with respect to those landmarks. The computer moved in slowly on the prison as several digital readouts gave direction and distance from Josh’s seat.
“Got it,” Denso said, dialing in his burn band. But Denso didn’t get the chance to dial in Josh’s band.
“I detect an armed force approaching,” Starla said over their burn bands an instant before Minion security arrived. Their ﬁrst volley of disruptor ﬁre hit the computer desk, sending it into a holographic frenzy. As bizarre images danced around the room, Denso’s death beam cut the ﬁrst group of Minions in half. More Minions poured in. Josh and Denso were cut off from the exit.
“Can’t risk burning through thick walls such as these!” Denso said. “We have to get outside!”
Denso turned and ﬁred a missile from his shoulder mount, blowing a large hole in one wall. He grabbed Josh around the waist, raced across the room, and leaped out of the break with him. They were on the ﬁfth ﬂoor. It was a long drop, so Denso used his gravity belt to ﬂy both of them away. But Denso couldn’t ﬂy very fast. Minions came racing around both corners of the building and began ﬁring up at them. The ones in the computer room were ﬁring at them, too! Before they could be targeted, Denso hit his burn band activator and he and Josh vanished in mid-air!
Josh and Denso terminused with perfect landings behind a hill some distance from the prison colony. They lay down on the ground, crawled up on their bellies, and peeked over the rise. Denso employed his distance viewers to study the prison. The guard strewn walls were high, with block houses at the corners bristling with weapons. There was a magnetic shock barrier along the entire top of the wall. It hummed in blue. The captors wanted their prisoners to know it was there. Any escapee attempting to go over the wall would be crispy in an instant.
“Well, we can’t burn into that place. Not through those walls,” Josh said.
“There’s a wide yard at the center of the complex open to the sky, but it would be a tricky burn to set,” Denso noted.
“Yes, Denso,” Starla broke in over their burn bands, “a burn would require extremely precise settings. Even I can’t set your bands that precisely. Off by a fraction and you terminus inside a wall. And even if I ﬁgured it correctly, once you came out of your burn the guards on the walls would have you zeroed in with their cell disruptors and wall cannons.”
“So? What do we do, Starla?” Josh said, frustrated.
“We wait,” Starla replied. “Tremor is here. Eventually, Fractal will be here. This is where Fractal will face the most danger. Here is where you can best help him.”
“Agreed,” Denso said. “We’ll go back a ways and make camp.”
“I will continue to monitor communications and dimension travel in Kolomogoro,” Starla said. “I’ll alert you of any pertinent information.”
Because of Chaos’s unexpected attack at the Miles’s farm, Josh didn’t have his helmet, skateboard or backpack on this trip. He had no protein bars or cookies. He was forced to eat Starla’s idea of food, which they’d brought with them in the pockets within Josh’s Frobenian cloak. There was dried bloofa meat, the origins of which Josh didn’t really want to know, the standard green bread, and some chemical wafers Starla ‘cooked up.’ Starla said the wafers contained all the nutrients an organic entity needed to survive, and they tasted like it. Josh and Denso found a crystal stream that trickled down from the majestic mountains overlooking the prison. There they set up their encampment, for the location also provided a good view of the approaches to the prison. The water from the crystal stream was tastier and more refreshing than even the best bottled water in
“Tempo’s lucky,” Josh said, wincing as he tried to ingest one of Starla’s wafers. “Wish I could absorb food from the air and ground like she does. Wouldn’t have to eat these. Yuck.”
“I heard that!” Starla said over Josh’s burn band.
“You care a great deal for Tempo, don’t you?” Denso said, seizing the opportunity to delve into a subject that had been bothering him.
“Tempo? Uh, well, yeah, but—” Josh stammered.
“But she is a Quaternion. She is incompatible with you, you being a Solarian,” Denso pointed out.
“Incompatible? We get along great!”
“I speak of deeper things,” Denso went on, munching a wafer, and wincing mightily. “There have been interdimensional unions, but never between organic and inorganic entities. It’s—well, it’s impossible.”
“Without question,” Starla jumped in. “You would be unable to engage in the reproductive process peculiar to organic beings.”
“Whoa. I don’t think of her—that way,” Josh insisted with a short, nervous laugh.
“But you do. I’ve seen the way you two are together,” Denso said.
“You think she—likes me?”
“I hope not. It would be futile.”
“You’re right, bro,” Josh sighed.
“The Solarian Emily Kinicki,” Starla suggested. “She is compatible with you,”
“Yeah, I’ve had a crush on her since I was a kid,” Josh chuckled, then realized how much he’d grown.
“Crush? You mean you want to squeeze the life out of her as I do the Minions?” Denso genuinely asked.
“No. Well, sometimes. I dunno. She just doesn’t hold the same attraction for me since—”
“Since you met Tempo.”
Josh sighed and looked off across the beautiful and wild dimension of Kolomogoro.
“Denso, did you ever—?”
“Really care about someone?” Denso said, as though he knew the question was coming. “I did. Once. She was from the dimension of Chrysalia. They’re organic. Born in pods.”
“Unlike all other organic beings in interdimensional space,” Starla contributed, “Chysalians are born fully mature. At the end of the normal life cycle of carbon-based organisms. As they age, they get younger, until they disperse into molecules the way the rest of you begin.”
“We were the same age when we met,” Denso told Josh. “Only a few years older than you are. We fell in love, but we began aging in opposite directions. It wasn’t long before, well—”
“Denso—!” Josh began, painfully relating to it.
Josh didn’t get the chance to ﬁnish for Starla burst in and had a hint of anxiety in its normally unemotional inorganic voice. “Fractal has reactivated his burn band! Exactly four point six kilometers from your position. Just on the other side of the prison!” Then Starla would have gasped if it had a mouth. “He’s gone into a burn! It’s a short one!”
“Lemme guess,” Denso said. “Inside the prison!”
As if to conﬁrm Denso’s conclusion, there came distant disruptor ﬁre from inside the prison and the unmistakable response of Fractal’s lightning bolts and lava blasts.
“Yes, the central courtyard. It was a successful burn but he’s surrounded! Fractal, burn out of there!” Starla pleaded over the communicators.
“He’s not going to leave without his father,” Denso said, rising to his feet and tossing the remains of a food wafer aside. “Hard to break out of prison. Easy to break in.” Denso ﬂicked the switches on his broad metal gravity belt and began to rise in the air.
“Denso, don’t!” Starla called out.
“Gotta do it,” Denso said, pointedly, looking at Josh. “He’s our friend.”
Denso anti-graved away, rising skyward and, gaining speed, ﬁnally disappearing into the sparse white clouds. Josh could only watch him go, helpless.
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN: PRISONERS