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 "We'll come through for you!"
 The Evil Cluster's home dimension of Cadavra 






Night in Cadavra. Two moons bathed The Cluster’s mammoth fortress in an eerie light.

“They’re late! They were supposed to start the decoy attack before we burned in!” Josh whispered, after he and Denso had burned into Cadavra and were hiding in bushes a hundred yards from The Cluster’s fortress.

“They’ll come,” Denso said. He worked some toggle switches on his metal belt and a pair of glass lenses hummed quietly out of Denso’s shoulder mount. They were mounted on a hydraulic stem that telescoped to position the lenses in front of Denso’s eyes. Josh looked bewildered.

“Distance viewers. They can magnify an image up to five hundred times,” Denso said. He worked more switches and the lenses telescoped over to position themselves before Josh’s eyes. Josh looked through them, and saw the horror close up.

The Minions were repulsive creatures with purple skin, three-fingered hands, sunken eyes, and black uniforms. They carried chrome weapons that looked deadly and efficient. Just then, the Minions guarding this side of the fortress reacted to lightning flashes and explosions coming from the other side of the fortress. Most of their number scurried off to defend against the decoy attack, but two remained behind.

“The decoy worked, but we have to get past those two without them alerting the others,” Josh said, as Denso’s distance viewers hummed back into his shoulder mount.

“Leave it to me,” Denso replied with a grin of anticipation. “You bring the mine when it’s clear.”

Denso worked some switches on his gravity belt and silently rose straight up, vanishing into the darkness. Josh looked at the circular magnetic mine it was his duty to carry. It was shaped like a pie tin and amazingly light for a deadly device. What if he got himself killed on this mission? He didn’t want to think about it. His main concern now was that Spindle and Fractal keep up the decoy, and Denso somehow deal with the two Minion guards.

Josh looked back at the two Minions, wondering what sort of creatures would dedicate themselves to such evil purpose? Suddenly, Denso dropped down on them from above. He smashed their heads together. Their heads splattered into mush like rotten purple pumpkins and their bodies instantly crumbled into piles of dusty debris. It was a quick and nearly silent assault, which rendered the two Minions out of action, and then some. The sight sickened Josh. It was the first time he’d seen anyone killed. Denso beckoned. Still queasy, Josh hurried forward with the mine.

“You killed them!” Josh said to Denso in a whisper.

“They would have killed us,” Denso shrugged.

“But, killing, geez!”

Starla spoke in a hush over the burn bands. “Before the wars, a plague killed every living thing in Cadavra, except for the four that had found a way to immunize themselves. These four became The Evil Cluster. They then found a way to raise the corpses of their dead legions. Corpses they enlisted in an army of conquest.”

“Zombies,” Josh gulped.

“We call them dead walkers,” Starla clarified.

“Close enough!” Josh said with a sickened whine.

“So, there, you see?” Denso  grinned down at Josh. “They are already dead when we kill them!” Denso picked up one of the silver weapons the Minions had been holding and proffered it for Josh. “Don’t ever get shot with one of these,” he said. “Cell disruptors. Dissolves anything with living cell structures, organic or inorganic.”

“That would be—everyone,” Josh winced.

“Not quite,” Denso said, tossing the weapon aside. “They have no effect on Minions. That prevents us from capturing their weapons and using them against them.”

Ingenious, the boy thought. The Cluster could raise the dead, create fantastic weapons, and look into the future. Well, Josh was determined to take one of those capabilities away from them by destroying the time accelerator.

Josh and Denso headed for the fortress wall. Josh’s queasiness was replaced by a strange exhilaration he hadn’t expected. Here he was, a Kansas schoolboy who twelve hours ago was sleeping in his bedroom in the dimension he now knew was called Solaria. Earth, or at least earth’s solar system, was his safe environment, but it no longer existed as he knew it. He had discovered that there were strange worlds hidden in the spaces between the dimensions with which he was familiar. Now all had changed and he was joined by purpose with beings from those interdimensional worlds, super warriors who counted him as a colleague in their quest to win the Dimension Wars. Joshua Miles had come a long way, and now he was risking his life to help these rebels destroy a machine that threatened all the dimensions, including earth. Earth, where billions slept blissfully unaware of the epic struggle going on between their three comfortable dimensions.

Josh and Denso skidded to a stop. A vast chasm of smooth stone lay before them. It was obviously a structure designed to trap any army assaulting the fortress. It was similar to poured concrete and encircled the entire fortress like a deep empty moat the size of the Grand Canyon.

“I’ll have to anti-grav across,” Denso whispered. “Give me the magnetic mine.”

Josh was about to hand the mine to Denso when a purple disruptor beam shot right between them! Denso grabbed Josh and flung him to the ground behind a boulder just as more Minions opened up from atop the fortress wall.

“Give me the mine!” Denso repeated.

Josh was about to, then he reconsidered. “No! You’ll be a sitting duck—well, a flying duck, but a duck just the same!”

“What is a duck?” Denso asked above the whistling whine of multiple disruptor impacts.

“I’ve always wanted to say this, so I hope I live to tell about it!” Josh shouted. “Cover me!”

“Cover you? I have no blanket!” the confused Denso said, then a near miss caused him to focus on the Minions. He flipped the death beam switch on his gravity belt and raked the wall, thus diminishing the threat. When he looked back, Josh had the mine in one hand, and his skateboard in the other. He jumped into the abyss! In midair Josh mounted his board and hurled himself down into the empty moat. The walls of the moat contained some sort of metal for sparks flew from the wheels of his skateboard as he swooped down, gaining incredible speed. Minions high on the walls turned on searchlights and began firing cell disruptors in earnest! Beams of purple death impacted all around Josh until two missiles from Denso’s shoulder mount obliterated the Minion positions on the wall. Josh felt like he was doing ninety miles an hour across the flat bottom of the moat. He’d been counting the seconds from the moment he’d brought the board’s wheels in contact with the nearly vertical opposite slope of the moat. The other side was coming up fast. He added a few seconds, set the timer on the mine as Denso had shown him, shot up the other side of the moat and grabbed some awesome air. At the apogee of his arc he placed the mine halfway up the wall and it magnetically stuck there with a satisfying clink, just as Starla had promised it would. Then Josh turned in mid-air and brought his board down on the far slope of the moat. He hoped he’s given himself enough time as he zipped back into the depths, shot across the bottom, and up the other side, landing neatly next to an amazed Denso.

“You are indeed a great warrior!” Denso said in awe, then he threw Josh to the ground and fell upon the boy to protect him from the colossal blast of the magnetic mine.

“Uh, you gotta stop throwing me down and jumping on me,” Josh groaned, pinned down for the second time by what Starla called ‘the heaviest humanoid in creation.’

The two looked up as the smoke began to clear and they beheld Josh’s success. The wall had crumbled, taking with it dozens of Minions. There, exposed to attack, was the gigantic time accelerator. Denso and Josh stood up. Denso looked to Josh. Josh was confused, then he remembered how the DimensioNoids had put Josh in command. “Fire, already!” the boy shouted.

Denso smiled, and fired his six remaining missiles in rapid succession, then they both turned and ran.

“I hope six will be enough. I had to waste two missiles saving you!” the big blue DimensioNoid said.

“Sorry to be a nuisance!” Josh cracked.

Denso shouted, “Let’s burn!” and they both punched their burn bands, which Starla had preset.

Josh and Denso simultaneously evaporated into their return burns. The heat-seeking missiles arced in six divergent paths, but all came together at the time accelerator. Six overlapping explosions rocked the fortress, followed by colossal secondary explosions. Starla contacted all the dimensions to tell them that the hated time accelerator had been totally destroyed.

While flying through his burn tube Josh felt smug, though it really wasn’t his nature. The mission had gone exactly as—well, he’d planned, even though he hadn’t been aware he was planning anything at all. His innocent conversations had somehow led to a daring attack and the destruction of the time accelerator. Perhaps it was as Fractal said. Perhaps Josh was a natural leader. That’s when his burn hit terminus and he plunged headfirst into a snowdrift. Denso stood snow free, and chuckling.

“I’m never gonna get this terminus thing!” Josh sputtered  as he stood up looking like a snowman.

“Try landing at terminus velocity when your density is a thousand times that of any other dimension traveler.”

“No thanks!” Josh replied, dusting the snow off of himself.

Denso laughed again.

Josh and Denso’s burn back into the Forbidden Land had terminused at the edge of the snowfield on the black mountain. It was much closer to the command center than Josh’s first visit to the Forbidden Land. DimensioNoid policy was to never burn directly to the secret entrance of the command center. Still, Josh was forced to again make an arduous climb through deep snow and bitter wind. It was colder than during Josh’s first trek through the snowfield. At the halfway point, Denso used a low yield setting of his death beam to heat an exposed boulder to a rosy red. They squatted and held their freezing hands close to the warm glow. Josh wished he’d thought to bring gloves from home.

“It went well,” Josh grinned, finally unable to contain his pride at the mission’s success.

“Our first true victory in some time,” Denso replied, great puffs of white breath blowing from his mouth.

“You were great, big guy. Uh, I did okay, too, huh?”

"We are fortunate to have you as our leader.”

“Yeah, well, c’mon. I’m not really your leader. Fractal, and Starla. They’re your leaders, not me.”

“They have great powers, true,” Denso shrugged, “but power is not always the strength of muscle or of machine.”

“So, we’re back to my brain, again,” Josh sighed.

“It is what we need to have any hope. It’s what Chaos needs, as well.”

“Old Snake Head. Glad he didn’t show up. He must have been drawn to the decoy.”

“Yes. Fractal and Spindle would’ve had to face him,” Denso worriedly said. “I hope they survived.”

Matching the mood, the warm glow of the heated boulder dimmed, and the two of them continued up the mountain and entered the hidden command center.

Starla provided more food, but Josh opted for one of his protein bars. Odd how a bit of food from home could make a boy feel homesick.

Fully recovered, Tempo put her hand on his shoulder, the tactile contact necessary for a Quaternion to telepathically converse with another being mind-to-mind.

“You’ll be able to go home, now,” Tempo said in the pleasing form of Emily Kinicki, but with her own haunting voice.

“I will?”

“Without the time accelerator, Chaos won’t be able to track you.”

“Well, gee, when can I get going?”

“Whenever you wish,” she warmly said.

“Yo. Maybe I ought to stick around awhile. What if something comes up?”

“Starla can call you on your burn band. You’ll burn to wherever you’re needed.”

“Yeah, I’ll be sitting in math class, then all of a sudden, Whoosh! I’ll vanish in a puff of smoke like a magician’s assistant.”

“You and Starla can find a way to keep your secret.”

“Well, I’m gonna stay. At least until Fractal and Spindle get back.”

She smiled, pleased. “Ahhh, you intend to hang with your peeps,” she said in Emily’s voice.

Josh laughed, but just then the viewers over the four tactics benches winked on, and Fractal and Spindle appeared, trudging through the snow to the secret entrance. Spindle had been injured, leaning on Fractal for support. Josh was shocked to see one of Spindle’s legs had been cut off at the knee! In moments, they were in the ready room, Fractal helping Spindle to his tactics bench.

“So Chaos hacked off my leg, so what? I have another one,” Spindle joked, in pain, but trying to make light of it.

“It was a small price to pay,” Fractal submitted.

“Oh, yeah,” Spindle sarcastically agreed.

“We destroyed the time accelerator and we killed hundreds of them,” Fractal vengefully stated.

“Exactly,” Spindle affirmed, tongue-in-cheek.

Frobenians didn’t really have tongues, nor did they have lips, both lips and tongues being critical in the formation of words. Their speech came via a highly evolved syrinx, a bird larynx, which forced air into squeaky vocalization. They did have teeth, which were all one solid unit and yellow, like the beaks of birds.

Starla moved to Spindle’s side and scanned him with the prismatic inspection light. The leg of Spindle’s bright red uniform was cut off at the knee and hung raggedly off the edge of the tactics bench. Yet there was no bleeding. Frobenian systems were botanically based. They didn't have blood, but instead had a kind of plant sap that sealed and cauterized their wounds reflexively. Still, without a leg, Spindle was of little use to the cause.

Starla said, “Joshua Miles, you and Tempo must go to Frobenius and acquire for Spindle a—spare part.”

Josh figured he was being teased by a light entity with a dark sense of humor. Then Tempo spoke up.

“Starla is right,” Tempo said. “My healing powers cannot replace a limb.”

“It’s a plant called regeneroot. It can generate a new limb for Spindle. This just demonstrates how troublesome arms and legs can be,” Starla went on as two of its floating orbs arrived levitating two hooded cloaks before them. “Wear these. You will blend in among the gatherers.”

“Gatherers?” Josh blinked, putting on the cloak, which was way too big for him.

“My dimension is one big bountiful jungle,” Spindle explained. “We gather fruits, vegetables, and rare medicines. We used to trade with other dimensions. Now it all goes to The Cluster, who occupy Frobenius. You’ll need to acquire at least five hundred grams of regeneroot to mend this,” he said, lifting up the stub of his leg. “Make sure you get the purple ones, not the maroon. I’d hate to end up with two left feet.” Josh’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “I’m joking!” Spindle laughed, which brought him a wince of pain. “Five hundred grams of any regeneroot will do. But The Cluster knows this plant is vital to Frobenian regeneration. They guard the regeneroot crops at all times and destroy most of it when it’s harvested.”

“There are clandestine growers,” Starla noted. “Perhaps you can acquire the needed material from one of them.”

“Uh, look, I’m not chickening out, or anything,” Josh said, swimming in the oversized Frobenian cloak, “but wouldn’t one of the big guys be better for this mission?”

“Therein lies the problem,” Starla replied. “Fractal and Denso are too big. Twice the size of adult Frobenians.  They will stand out. You and Tempo, however, will pass cursory inspection—as Frobenian children.”