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"We'll come through for you!"

Mission to the asteroid Plutarus






The loss of Starla’s direct energy input in command center operations was felt almost immediately. Heat was the first to go, then lights. Emergency power came on, but it was battery generated, produced no heat, and bathed the command center in an eerie red glow. They took portable heaters out of storage and put them in the ready room and in Fractal’s quarters where Fractal’s father was convalescing. They sealed off the rest of the complex.

In the ready room, Tempo tried her healing light on Starla, but to no avail. It was a matter of nutrition. Tempo could not create nutrition for Starla. She removed her hand from the Peitgen and turned to the others who looked on with great concern.

“I cannot help Starla, but even in its unconscious state, Starla sent me a telepathic message. The Forbidden Land has been cloaked with black light, blocking Starla’s access to the spectral energy it needs to live and to provide for us. Starla indicated that the black light is being generated from the asteroid Plutarus.”

“Asteroid?” Josh blinked, his breath already frosty.

“It is in orbit around this planet,” Fractal explained. “We need to conduct an assault right away. Tempo, you will need to put into action your plan to infiltrate Cadavra.”

All looked to Josh for confirmation. He hesitated.

“It’s the only way,” Tempo said. “Starla’s sensors are inoperable. We cannot know what the enemy is planning unless I get inside their inner circle.”

“I’ll go with you,” Josh offered.

“You and the others must attack the Minion station on Plutarus,” Tempo firmly replied. “Destroy the black light generator, or Starla will die.”

The thought of Tempo alone in Cadavra made Josh sick inside. Tempo touched his cheek and felt his concern.

“Don’t worry about me,” she smiled with Emily Kinicki’s lips, “if I’m discovered I’ll just turn into a Yotobian Fire Dragon.”

That gave Josh some relief, but he still worried over what might befall—the girl he loved. She read his thoughts, knew how he felt about her. She sent him her innermost feelings. He was shocked and elated to learn that she felt the same way! Both were happy to have someone care so much, impossible though that affection may be.

“I feel the affection you have for me,” she told Josh telepathically. “It’s only fair I reveal mine for you.”

“If anything happens to you—” Josh worried.

“We are both of us warriors for a great cause,” Tempo mentally interrupted, “one that holds in its victory the fate of the entire universe. The dilemma of two entities such as we must sadly be considered—insignificant.”

“What are we going to do?” Josh mentally asked.

“Our duty,” the Quaternion said inside Josh’s head.

The others, busy preparing for the assault on Plutarus, had no inkling of Josh’s dilemma. Except Denso. He glanced worriedly at the two as they touched and shared each other’s feelings. Denso knew how hopeless any future for them was; how dangerous it might be to them all.

The organic DimensioNoids had to wear breathers, for Plutarus had no atmosphere. The breathers were tiny metal masks that covered their mouths and noses, and had a short range communications ear plug attached. Each of them had a magnetic mine slung on a belt over their shoulders. Except for Tempo, who wore only that purple bathing suit and the tiny black vest that generated the holographic shroud she needed for her disguise. Josh then faced his first hurdle.

“You have to stay behind to guard the command center and to care for Starla and Fractal’s father,” Josh said to Spindle.

It wasn’t the best time, for Spindle was sharpening his spear in anticipation of killing Minions.

“What?” Spindle screeched. “First I’m a nanny, now I’m a nurse!”

“Those are my—orders,” Josh said firmly.

Spindle moved close to glare down at Josh. Though the smallest of the male DimensioNoids, Spindle still towered over the schoolboy from Kansas.

“Looks to me like Fractal’s running this operation,” Spindle said threateningly. “Not you!”

Josh swallowed hard, and prepared to be even more confrontational, when Fractal stepped between the two, his big broad glowering face inches from smaller Spindle’s.

“You are more impetuous even than I,” Fractal said. “You are a great warrior, Spindle. Deadly, and quick and loyal. An asset on any mission. But I need the Solarian’s brain to save Starla. Besides, there are only three working breathers. Starla never anticipated this.”

The tension in Spindle subsided. “Aw, okay. Those breathers don’t fit my beak too well, anyway.”

Fractal clapped a warm hand on Spindle’s shoulder, then he, Josh and Denso ran down the tunnel to the secret entrance. With Starla out of commission they had to use the manual cranks to open the ice cliff door. A blast of icy wind blew in. When opened manually, a system of weights engaged after a short time to close the door automatically.

“We’ll have to jam it open,” Denso shouted above the freezing wind that gripped the Forbidden Land like never before. “There’s no way to open it from the outside.”

“No!” Fractal ordered. “The cold will reach the inner chambers quicker with the door open. Let it close.” As the door closed, he added, “If we succeed, Starla will be able to open it upon our return. Thus, we must not fail.”

A do or die mission! Josh swallowed hard once again as the party ventured out into the cold. It was midday, yet darkness covered the planet like a veil of death.

“It’s the black light,” Fractal said. “It blocks our star, and thus it’s warmth. We must hurry.”

“Until our return burn,” Tempo said to Josh with her thoughts.

He hadn’t even realized they were holding hands. Then she took her hand from his and stepped away. She turned and locked eyes with him as she hit her activation button, and was gone to Cadavra.

“We may have to split up to search Plutarus. We’ll only have short range communications,” Fractal said, “but we should be able to talk to each other from any place on the asteroid.”

“Will the burn bands work without Starla?”

“They have an emergency power reserve,” Fractal said, “good for several burns without Starla’s input. But we’ll have to set them ourselves.”

Fractal and Denso set their burn bands. “Plutarus is very small, and a moving target,” Denso warned. “Miss it, and you may burn into space.”

Fractal leaned over to punch in the terminus data on Josh’s burn band key pad. “If that happens, hit your burn band activator. It’s preprogrammed to return you here.” Fractal made a mistake and had to reset the buttons. “Wish Starla was doing this instead of me.”

“So do I!” Josh winced.

“An alarm will sound when our breathers get low on air,” Denso explained. “We barely have time to blow the black light generator and return burn. Any burn that originates on Plutarus will have no oxygen inside the burn tube, so we actually have even less time.”

“That cuts it kind of close,” Josh nervously laughed.

“Is that not the way of the DimensioNoids?” Denso smiled in that big blue teddy bear manner he had.

All of them, even Josh, were aware of the great danger of their mission. It was ironic that these organic beings should risk all to save an inorganic ball of light.

Plutarus was a barren rock in orbit around the central planet of the Forbidden Land. The Forbidden Land was really a dimension with its own solar system. The central planet, as the Universal Word put it, was the one with an atmosphere and the essentials to maintain life. This “central planet” reference was later amended to include planets in dimensions that in some fashion sustained intelligent non-carbon-based or inorganic beings where oxygen was unnecessary. Plutarus could sustain neither. It was just one more lifeless rock among the billions that drifted aimlessly in more than a thousand dimensions.

Upon arrival on the asteroid Plutarus, Josh and Fractal landed firmly, but when Denso’s feet hit the surface, he immediately caromed off the asteroid and into space!

“Denso!” Josh screamed over the intercom.

“My anti-gravity belt has worked against me!” Denso said over the short range radio head sets which were already garbling his words with static. “That damned asteroid has almost no gravity!”

“It’s going to be all right. Just return burn to the command center, and the mission will remain for the two of us to complete,” Fractal said.

“And freeze to death outside the ice cliff door that you didn’t want to leave open!” Denso said, “Nice option!”

As Denso drifted further and further away, they could see him hitting his burn band, but it merely sputtered and the big Ramanujan kept floating off into the blackness.

“It’s not working!” Josh cried out.

“I have made a terrible mistake!” Fractal woefully wailed. “Without gravity, the burn cannot take hold!”

Then, as Denso struggled against the lack of gravity and his ineffective burn band, he became a speck lost in the vastness. Through the growing static, Denso replied, “Not your fault. I should have known.” Then mostly static. Then only five more words that they could hear: “Tell Tempo” followed later by “finish the mission” then only static and the speck that was the lovable Denso disappeared.

Fractal buried his face in his hands. “I should have let you plan this mission!”

“Nonsense,” Josh said, choking back tears. “I’d have done everything the same way. Besides, you had to take over because—you thought my feelings for Tempo were endangering us all. It’s true. They were.”

“I did it because I was hasty,” Fractal said. “Because Starla is near death, I became impulsive, reckless. I didn’t think the mission through! Starla would have never let me make that mistake. But I don’t have Starla. Don’t have—” Fractal looked off across the barren asteroid. “Denso was with me from the start. Our first mission, when there was just the two of us, we blew up a Minion munitions plant. The power packs for their disruptors and big guns were highly volatile back then, so we thought if we could just get one of Denso’s missiles in there. We didn’t have Starla, then. We had to buy dimension burns on the black market.”

Fractal looked at the planet that was their home base. It was the only planet with an atmosphere in the Forbidden Land, and now it was cloaked in a black veil.

“I was hiding out in Ramanujan. A misunderstanding back in Kolomogoro. I needed some credits, so I entered a Ramanujan wrestling game. I couldn’t use my palm powers, and Denso, well, his missiles and death beam were out. We faced each other man-to-man, and became friends.”

“Hey! Just like me and Billy Engle when we were seven!” Josh blurted out, drawing a scowl from Fractal.

They searched in silence for awhile, then Josh said, “So who won?”

“Denso beat the plant sap out of me, as our friend Spindle would say,” Fractal laughed, as though he’d been waiting for Josh to ask. Then Fractal got serious again. “I can’t believe Denso is gone. We must complete the mission. He would.”

Plutarus was elliptical, two miles long, one wide. The lack of gravity allowed Josh and Fractal to make great long leaps as they searched. It almost would have been fun, had they not lost forever the heart of the DimensioNoids, Denso. The two explored the entire surface, finding no evidence of a Minion station. Their oxygen level read half empty when Fractal spotted a metallic protuberance atop a mound on the burnt brown surface. They climbed the mound and found a transmitter array coming out of a shaft that seemed to go down to the asteroid’s very core.

“This is what is transmitting the black light,” Fractal said. “The generator is deep within Plutarus. That’s how they were able to construct it without Starla monitoring them. We’ll have to climb down this shaft to destroy it.”

“Can’t we just blow the transmitter?” Josh hoped.

“They will just erect a new one,” Fractal replied. “We need to destroy the entire station, and,” he vengefully added, “it may give us the chance to kill some Minions.”

They conveniently found metal rungs imbedded in the walls of the shaft.

“We must approach undiscovered,” Fractal noted, “plant our mines and climb out before they detonate. We can’t burn out from down there. We must return to the surface in order to leave.”

Josh and Fractal gingerly climbed down the shaft. They descended for half a mile, then they began to hear the throbbing of the black light generator. They came out on the roof of the complex, but Fractal felt they needed to set their mines at its base to insure total destruction. When they reached the base of the complex, they found that the Minions had excavated several tunnels, probably leading to supply rooms and living quarters, if indeed dead zombies could actually occupy living quarters.

They planted and set their mines on two sides of the huge chamber housing the generator.  As they started back for the shaft, ten Minions emerged from a tunnel and cut them off. The Minions fired their disruptors. Fractal tried to answer back, but when he did the martial arts movements and thrust his palms forward—nothing happened!

“This way!” Fractal shouted as, out of necessity, they ran down a tunnel which led away from their escape route. They became lost among the twisting passageways.

“Why didn’t your powers work?” Josh wondered.

“Another blunder!” Fractal answered. “There are no weather elements on this cursed asteroid. My powers harness the elements, but with none to harness—”

Fractal didn’t need to say more. They were lost in the bowels of an asteroid with no means to defend themselves. That’s when the entire asteroid shook from two explosions. It wasn’t just the mines they’d set, but there came a massive secondary explosion as the black light generator’s energy core exploded. This brought down the tunnel they were in, and Josh and Fractal found themselves sealed in a pocket that would be an eternal tomb. They were silent for some time, there in the pitch darkness, their oxygen breathers near their limit.

“Can you quake us out of this?” Josh finally ventured.

“No,” was Fractal’s reply from the total darkness. “This asteroid has no molten core. I can only cause a quake if there are geotectonic forces at a planet’s center.”

The alarm began to sound on Fractal’s breather. It was a steady beeping, a metronome of doom!

“Our burn bands—” Josh hopelessly offered.

“The transmission wouldn’t even get to the surface. We’d be trapped in solid rock. I have led us to oblivion, Joshua Miles. And with me, taken the last hope for the universe. You!”