Josh tried to be brave. The mission to Plutarus was a disaster. Denso had been lost, and Josh and Fractal were hopelessly entombed inside the asteroid. The darkness was so deep that, though close together in the small pocket within the collapsed tunnel, the two lost warriors could not see each other as they spoke. They whispered to preserve the remnants of air in their pitifully tiny breathers. Fractal blamed himself for the debacle, so Josh tried to get his mind off of self-hatred. With Fractal, a task monumental.
“Well, at least we’ve saved Starla,” Josh offered, sightless in the dark within the hurtling asteroid.
“If we destroyed the generator soon enough,” Fractal said, his thinking, as usual, negative.
“And your father—well, you’ve freed him from the humiliation of prison.”
“And now he is alone.”
“So are my parents,” Josh realized aloud, his mind drifting toward home.
“At least they have each other. My father has no one.”
“Oh, yeah. Your mother’s—” Josh began.
“Murdered,” was Fractal’s single word in the blackness.
“It was shortly after the wars began. My brother had given himself to The Cluster. My mother went to him, reminding him of our family’s tradition of service to Lord Lowe and the Great Coalition. Chaos ﬂew into a rage. He killed her with his new found powers. Murdered by her own son. I—I have many regrets, chief among them that I did not avenge my mother’s murder and kill my brother before I myself expired.”
Fractal’s beeping breather alarm went into a steady howl. He began to gasp. Being so much larger than Josh, Fractal had consumed his oxygen at a much greater rate. Soon, it was Josh who would be alone. Fractal’s breathing became extremely labored and, without complaint from the ever complaining Fractal, his breathing stopped.
“Fractal!” Josh sobbed. “Oh, Fractal! You and me—where no one will ever ﬁnd us!”
Josh’s thoughts returned to home. He’d never see the farm, again, or his parents, or his schoolmates. His breather alarm began to sound. He thought of Tempo. There was so much he’d wanted to say to her. So much he’d left unsaid. Then, came a vibration. More rock fell from the tunnel’s ceiling. Suddenly, a great shaft of sunlight poured in and the Quaternion mining drill that was Tempo burst through the ceiling. The sunlight and dust were blinding. By the time it cleared she’d morphed into Emily Kinicki, squatting like an elf in the opening she’d made.
“Tempo!” Josh gasped with what was nearly his last breath.
She hopped down into the pocket, crouched where he lay, touched him on the cheek, and spoke telepathically.
“Seems I returned from Cadavra just in time.”
“How’d you ever ﬁnd us?” he said, groggy.
“Due to the success of your mission, Starla has recovered and was able to track your location. Since your breathers were running low, Starla sent me to your rescue.”
“You don’t have a breather!” Josh gasped.
Tempo smiled, pointed to herself. “Inorganic.”
She turned and touched Fractal’s forehead. The healing light enveloped them brieﬂy, then winked out. “Let’s get Fractal out to the surface. There’s still time to save him.”
Tempo lifted the massive Fractal up onto one shoulder. It was bizarre to see what looked like petite Emily Kinicki, barefoot and in a purple bathing suit, climbing up the perfect half mile shaft like a monkey carrying a big banana. She tossed Fractal’s huge hulk out onto the surface with ease. Josh struggled to rise and began to climb. His breather alarm went into full alert. Before he knew it, she was back and had him on her shoulder, carrying him like a sack of half-baked potatoes.
“Where’s Denso?” she asked with apprehension.
“Lost,” was all Josh could gasp, before he fainted.
* * *
When Josh awoke, he was certain he was dead. The grinning face of Denso beamed down at him.
“Denso! You’re alive!”
“Yeah, we’ll both still have to eat Starla’s energy wafers, I’m afraid,” the welcome face smiled.
“What’s wrong with my wafers?” the rejuvenated spectral light entity said with a hint of insult taken.
“Starla! You’re okay, too!” Josh beamed.
“I’m very nearly perfect, actually,” Starla replied.
“And Tempo?” Josh said, still unsure his rescue by her wasn’t an hallucination induced by oxygen depletion.
“She’s healing Fractal,” Denso said. “There was some brain damage, but with Fractal, it was hard to tell.”
“How did you—?
“Escape certain death in the void?” Denso grinned. “I’m not as dumb as I look. When my grav-belt and burn band refused to cooperate, I set my mind to ﬁnding some method of propelling myself back home before my breather ran out. I had lost sight of the asteroid, but I was able to see this planet. I was slowly spinning, out of control, but when I’d rotate into the right attitude, I’d ﬁre one of my missiles. This sent me off in the opposite direction.”
“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction!” Josh laughed, sitting up on the foam bed in his quarters. “
“We call it Sparkalo’s Law,” Starla smugly inserted, “after a Peitgen genius who discovered it when your planet was still a sphere of nothing more than molten gas.”
“I was hanging in space when you blew the black light generator. I saw the cloak lift, and the
“Especially for me,” Starla dryly commented.
“Eventually, my missiles propelled me into the planet’s gravitational ﬁeld. That allowed my gravity belt to work again, and I set down on the other side of the planet. I hit my return burn and got back shortly after Tempo had left to rescue you and Fractal.”
“What did she learn in Cadavra?” Josh asked.
“Everything,” the big blue Ramanujan stated, his upbeat demeanor suddenly taking on the look of concern.
In the form of Emily Kinicki, Tempo came into Josh’s quarters. Denso began to leave so Josh and Tempo could be alone, but Starla wasn’t moving. Denso nudged Starla with one of his huge metal boots. The spectral light entity still didn’t get the message, so Denso gently booted Starla out of the room like an oversized soccer ball.
“Feeling better?” Tempo asked with her own voice through the beautiful face of Emily Kinicki.
“Yeah. Thanks for pulling my butt out of the ﬁre again.”
“There was no ﬁre on Plutarus,” she blinked confused.
He laughed. “I’m glad you got back okay from Cadavra.”
“But as we feared, The Cluster is planning an invasion. They have been putting all their efforts into a secret project. I discovered that they have constructed a jump gate. A massive portal through which they can not only take an entire army at one time, but attack skimmers and battle cruisers, as well.”
“Geez, any dimension they go after won’t stand a chance!”
Tempo looked at Josh gravely, and said, “The dimension they have chosen is—Solaria.”
Josh was shocked. It instantly became apparent to him that his actions had so angered The Cluster that they were going to use the invasion of his dimension as pay back. He’d come to save the universe, and now he was going to be the cause of earth’s destruction!
“We gotta stop ‘em!” Josh said, trying to get out of bed, but Tempo placed a gentle hand on his chest. Her touch calmed him, somehow.
“They won’t be ready for several days. You’ve just survived a mission nearly impossible for any organic entity to survive. You need to rest.”
“Rest? How can I rest? I’m too jammed!” the boy wailed.
Again he tried to get up. Tempo’s hand remained on him. Her touch felt so real. Not at all like the touch of an artiﬁcial form of the earth girl that Josh loved from afar. The real Emily Kinicki who, that hot summer night at the pool party, stole his heart without even knowing it. As always, Josh had to force himself to remember that the form Tempo took was from the image she telepathically found inside the deepest part of his mind. She was not what Emily was. She was what he thought Emily was. She’d become the perfect girl for Josh. No one could be that perfect. No one but Tempo.
“You need to heal,” she said inside his head.
Tempo’s white healing light came on and enveloped them both. He felt his worries lessen, his fears recede. He didn’t realize that he was already asleep.
He saw the family farm, the ﬁeld of wild ﬂowers that his dad left unplowed each planting season as a gift to his mom. He saw himself and Emily running through that ﬁeld of ﬂowers holding hands. She was wearing that yellow dress Josh liked instead of the purple bathing suit—which he also liked. The sun was, refreshingly, a normal sun. The grass and ﬂowers in the meadow were those common to his own sweet earth.
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER THIRTY: GATECRASHERS