It’s been a frustrating game of cat and mouse. Or I suppose it’s cat and cat, but then that means one of us alleycats is gonna get screwed with a prickly dick. Part of me wasn’t exactly eager to face him. Really made me wish I hadn’t taken along some of Max’s beer when Mobian showed up to offer me a ride. Since Mobian’s little glowing orb craft was able to appear within it, it also made me hope Mot lacked any sort of temporal manipulation.
I lowered the island’s shield long enough to fly out of there instead of resort to time shenanigans, also allowing me and the Riccan military to bring drones and other equipment out. Some things don’t fit so easily through Cape Diem’s portal network. Dr. Creeper’s new Mecha Troopers, for instance. Hopefully they’ll help, but I’d rather have tanks of some sort for this encounter. Light infantry and drones are ok for raids, not so much open warfare.
Mobian managed to sync up people worldwide with a line of communication to help us coordinate. It gave the heroes and Titan’s people a chance to try and counter some of the emergencies happening: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and a biopic of Dick Cheney. It was more than mankind could ever handle on its own. And then there was me, trying to fill Mobian in about the Three Hares and Barkiel.
“The alien, Barkiel, meant for Mot to draw those forces to the planet,” Mobian said, tapping the side of his nose in thought.
“Yeah, except they wanted me handed over to them,” I added. When Future Venus and Mobian claimed to need my help and then took me back to the time of dinosaurs, it was part of a deal they’d struck. The aliens who saved Earth from the rampaging Mot 30 years in the future wanted me as payment. “And the ones who came to collect me were the same ones from a world we raided.”
“What raid?” Mobian asked, looking up from the control panel on the raised dais.
“A team-building exercise among villains. When we finally cleared out the Institute of Science of experiments gone wrong and everything else that had been unleashed in the chaos from my disagreement with the guy, one room had a weird crystal that opened a doorway to an alien world. They had abducted some people I hired to help me and sent them back through the portal to attack us, so I returned the sentiment in kind and then closed the door. But before I left, I saw those same beings. To me, they resembled rangers.” I growled the last word. Couldn’t help it.
“Barkiel waited more than a thousand years, driven mad by hope. He implemented a plan to kill billions… when the way home was on that little island,” Mobian said. He shook his head. “The universe loves a tragedy.”
“Any chance we could just go back and take him?” I asked.
Mobian threw a switch. “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t kill me and try to fly the ship unless you want to die. It,” he flipped a toggle.” is,” another, “mine.” He spun a wheel around and turned to look at me. “History gets no rewrites on my watch.”
“Unless you want one, shouldn’t you get me to the battlefield already?” I asked.
“Trust me, you’re already there,” he said.
“I don’t feel there,” I said, looking around the ship.
Mobian pointed to the round wall of his ship. A view appeared of long rod in space that several l lights were zipping to and from. “That’s because you’re here now,” he said. “The Hinge of Shevara.”
“Any other day, I’d probably love to hear the story behind that, but shouldn’t we getting back?” I asked.
The Mobian snapped his fingers and the view rewound through a flash of light that showed us far above the eye of a hurricane in a city. Another glowing orb like the Mobian’s ship appeared then. The reversal reversed itself, showing us now quite close to the rod hinge of Che Guevara, or whatever. I noticed the line of communications to Earth had gone quiet too. “I’m here to stop that signal from getting through. You’re along for the ride.”
I threw up four hands. “Couldn’t you have done this AFTER dropping me off?”
“No!” he said. He turned and walked over to me, looking me over. “You are involved with this. You’re in the thick of it. I needed you to trace the signal.”
I holographically projected a raised eyebrow over one of the three false eyes of my helmet.
Mobian circled around me. “You don’t belong here. You’re supposed to be dead. Eliminated from the timeline. Ex-ter-” he stopped to cough. “Sorry, I’ve heard the phrase a touch too often but it came to mind.” He stopped in front of me, holding his pointers to his thumbs in my direction. “You are a direct cause of an event and not meant to be here, ergo my amazing ship was able to trace a causal-temporal link to find bring us here.”
I didn’t feel anything, but the Mobian smiled. “We’re here.”
“Nice as it is to know the universe partially revolves around me, whatever we’re here for, let’s do it quick.” I said, following him to the door. I dropped the bomb off inside the ship, hoping I wouldn’t have need to use it up before I got to its intended target. Besides, destroying space stations is much moe fun when I’m not on them. I half expected the ship to lock me inside again, but I passed through into a room with bright yellow wall panels.
“Relax, wherever you’re going, you’re already there. You don’t trust yourself?”
I didn’t hesitate a moment to answer, “No.”
“Fine. We just need to find the Communications Transit Depot. Simple enough,” he walked on into a crowd of aliens of all shapes and sizes. Hearts, stars, mushrooms, clovers and blue moons. Those aren’t lucky charms, those are just some of the body shapes I saw on display. They all steered clear of this one race that looked remarkably humanoid but for the intense orange skin, bald heads, and tiny hands.
“Oh don’t touch them. They’re belligerent,” said Mobian, catching me staring.
“They seem familiar, but I just can’t place them,” I said. “Hey, you said communications transit?”
“Right. Yes, well, the universe is a large place and no matter how good your communications network is, it can take awhile to get there and you risk signal degradation. The Hinge serves many purposes, but it also has a Communications Transit Depot where it stores incoming signals, cleans and enhances the signal, then boosts them to the appropriate destination.” He explained it all to me without breaking stride, even as a red creature floated by hanging from twin gas bladders that helped it resemble the cartoonish heart shape.
“You think we got here in time?” I hurried after, dodging a crowd of things green things with long, thin bodies and limbs. To me, the faces looked female, but they lacked boobage. Instead, they had four long, leafy protrusions extending from their necks, which is why I had nicknamed them Clovers. Given they might be plant-based, I’m going to ignore the hand gesture one gave me that the others responded to with noises like rapid creaks. I couldn’t help but the first music to come to mind.
“Is that from the Mos Eisley Cantina? Anyway, here we are,” Mobian said, leading me to a room with multiple consoles on glowing platforms. Each one had different sets of controls all in different marked-off areas of the console. He picked one empty of anyone else and headed over there. “These depots are amazing, but they tend to be backed up.” He turned to look around, then slipped something out of his jacket pocket. One weird whizzy sound later, a holographic monitor appeared and scrolled through to something in a language I couldn’t understand.
“Here it is. Yes, it just arrived yesterday. My, that’s impressive speed.” He nodded and turned to glance at me. I just shrugged. “If you knew how far away from Earth we were right now, you’d be impressed.”
“Yeah, while I’d normally love the prospect of tearing up an alien space station or getting a second chance to rampage through time, my mind’s on Mot,” I told him. Behind us, another party entered, heading toward us. It looked like a white giraffe with a smaller muzzle and eyes on the front, in armor like chunky rocks. There were twenty others, most of them short little things in chunky rock armor, all of them in helmets. There was one of the heart-shaped aliens, though. Just like the others, it had a big round disk, like a wheel, pointed at us. “Mobian,”
The giraffe said something and Mobian’s head whipped around. “Cheretha! I hadn’t thought I’d run into you here.”
The giraffe answered back. I couldn’t make out what she was saying. My translator programs’ good, but there’s several worlds of difference between figuring out the human languages and tongues of the extraterrestrials. Note to self: Tongues of the Extraterrestrials is also a good name for a band. And a porno. And a Scientology book.
“Mobian, do I need to give us some privacy?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No! No, that would be a bad idea for all of us. We’ll be more than happy to come with you, just let me finish my transaction.” Mobian turned and pointed back to the console. The giraffe barked and one of the rocky little dwarfs fired a transparent wave from the disk, blowing up the console and shorting out the hologram.
I ahemed. “You sure, Mobian?”
“Do not tempt me with watching you get your arse handed to you here and now, Gecko. Let’s go with the nice, friendly staff and get this cleared up.” Mobian smiled and raised his hands to walk out. I sighed and a hologram of me walked along with him, hands raised, leaving me behind unseen. It might’ve worked until the heart—alien swam over to me, honking and huffing. That one could see me, and brought the attention of some of the dwarfs. They pointed their disks all over, but at least a couple had them in the right direction.
“Fine, fine,” I said, appearing and raising my hands for real. I just had to take comfort in the fact that we do show back up at the battle, right?
They put us in alcoves off in a quiet corner and down a hallway. There was a circular desk that another dwarf sat at, still with its helmet on. Another led us into our little nooks and left alone. I tried stepping back out and was thrown against the padded wall as a result. “Huh, guess the padded room wasn’t meant specifically for me this time,” I said, sliding down to a seated position. In another alcove, this big rodent thing chittered away at my predicament. It had two front paws that looked more hands, while another four stretched down to the ground. Like a capybara centaur with a blue hair spiked out from left to right over its head. If the Planet of the Rats had a statue of liberty, that’s what its head would look like. And long, droopy sideburns, if you can say that about a thing with fur all over its body.
Mobian had gotten comfortable laying down on his bed, but waved a hand toward the capybara. “It’s her first time off planet. I swear, can’t take her anywhere.”
The capybara clucked at Mobian, who responded with, “Earth. I’m saving it again.”
If they were worried about the guard, they didn’t show it. It just sat there at its desk, watching something on a holographic monitor. I could almost make it out on my side, but not enough to be helpful in whatever language it was.
“No, you’re sitting in a cell,” I said. “How does being incarcerated help us, by the way?”
“I will work this out, I promise. Cheretha and I have to talk, that’s all. We left things in a bad place, and I’m not supposed to be back here if we’re being honest.”
“Wow, trespassing on your ex’s property. Now all we need’s the new boyfriend out here in a tank top,” I said.
The station shook. Mobian sat up and the capybara quieted down. “Does that normally happen?” I asked. The guard at the desk looked up at us, but twisted and pulled frantically at something on his desk, checking a holographic screen.
“Only when something’s gone terrible wrong,” he said. “A disaster like a redirected meteor that no one intercepted, or a rogue black hole, or even-” he stopped as a sound started up that even I could recognize as an alarm. “invasion.”
The guard stood up, pulled a disk out from under the desk, looked at us, then hightailed it out of there.
The capybara started chewing on the wall of its alcove then. We heard other sounds. Turns out in space, you CAN hear people scream. The odd shake didn’t help matters. I looked up and around, trying to see about hand holds or obvious weaknesses.
Meanwhile, the capybara chewed on something that sparked. It tested a paw and found the barrier gone and ran out of the cell before ducking under the desk. A mess of robotic parts stepped in on a nest of mechanical legs. It had a big round head with lenses all around, and a thin mechanical pincer with something held in it. At this point, I’m just assuming anyone or anything holding anything else is a weapon.
“Hello gents,” said Mobian. “I see you’re from the Collective. Don’t mind me. I’m just a prisoner.”
It checked the other two nooks in there before turning to Mobian. After a second, another joined it in the room, a round saucer on a tripod with a lens on a cable stalk. Just assuming whatever rotated around at the top of the saucer but on the outside of the eye stalk was a weapon too. The noises they made were like synthesizer music, but sounds without a tune. They stepped closer, losing track of the rest of the room from the way the capybara rushed out from under the desk and slapped the wall next to my nook.
The machine thingies turned to stare at the capybara. The one with all the extra eyes stalked closer on its tentacles. It blared noises, backing the capybara up against the wall of my cell. It made music like laughter.
Then I yanked it up to where I hid on the ceiling, tearing it apart and spraying the lower part of the cell with oil and parts. I dropped from my handholds in the ceiling, uncoiling more like, becoming visible one again. The tripod just looked at me as I raised my three-eyed helmet toward it and released a joyful “Haaaa!” from my fanged mask.
The tripod let out a loud, dissonant tone and fired at me, missing and hitting the walls with sparking ball lightning. I jumped and slammed it into Mobian’s nook’s barrier. It bounced off and onto my thrusting arm which went through it. I lifted it up as the machine shook and went still, then tossed it aside and hit the panel to free Mobian. “You know, I just wanted to kill a guy and get it done with, but you wanted to go sight-seeing.”
“Be that as it may, we need to fight through the Machine Collective’s invasion, gain access to that file, and stop it from getting to its destination. Otherwise, the same aliens that stopped Mot before will come to Earth and it won’t matter if you beat him or not. Are we on the same page?” he turned to me.
The capybara saluted with the boxy thing that the first of the machines had held in its pincer. I looked between the two of them. “Aw fuck. If you’re gonna mess with my schedule like this, it better at least be fun, star prince.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “This is nothing serious. We’ve got time enough for an adventure, and I never thought I’d see the day I faced the Machine Collective with you on my side. Brilliant.”
He ran out of the room, leaving me to laugh as I realized. “A trip to the intergalactic mail depot where I get to go on a killing spree? Hey Mobian, does this mean we’re going postal?!”