Mister Arrow Makes a Decision
A light rain was falling turning the ash-covered ground to mud as Mister Arrow followed Angel and Snookums along a winding trail. “How much longer before we reach the exit?” He asked.
Snookums snorted. “We’re not going there first. Angel wants to show you the wreck so you can take the logs of the ship back with you.” He snarled in disgust. “We do this each and every time when we send someone through and the logs are always back on the ship the next morning. Angel refuses to believe that means her friends deserted her. She blames the Demon Hag who does not want to see us rescued.”
“And who do you blame?” Mister Arrow caught himself as he almost slipped over the edge and found the tiger glaring at him.
“All of them were selfish idiots. They thought only of themselves and what they could get out of my Angel and not what she wanted or needed. I think they killed themselves and good riddance.” He turned back and followed Angel.
Mister Arrow shrugged and followed. He had never met anyone like Angel. She reminded him of his sisters in her strength and determination, but he’d never had feelings about his sisters like he was feeling for her.
A few minutes later they turned down a side canyon and after following it for about a mile they came out into a large valley at whose center a great space ship laid buckled and twisted. Mister Arrow tipped his hat back and whistled softly. “That is the biggest ship I’ve ever seen. It’s got to weigh.” He paused. “I can’t honestly say how much it weighs.”
Angel smiled as she waved her hand at the ship. “The Arc was capable of carrying several hundred families and all the animals and plants they needed to survive. Thanks to Zurr it crashed here. Thanks to Commander Lightyear we survived.” She seemed to shudder. “If you can call what we do surviving. Come. I’ll show you the logs.” She trotted off towards the ship with Snookums loping behind her.
The Arc was even larger close up. Mister Arrow estimated that it was nearly ten stories tall. Angel led them through a gaping rent in the side of the ship and up a long walkway whose walls were covered with murals which could barely be made out through the dirt and grime. They all seemed to depict happy and carefree people who looked like demons.
They entered a large room with a huge command chair. Other consoles lined the walls with overturned chairs. Most of the consoles were broken and burnt. One locker was smashed off its frame with a trail of junk and dirt. Mister Arrow saw a glint of curved metal. He paused and grabbed the rounded corner and pulled. There was a puff of dirt and something very much like a white metal glove with button studs came up in his hand. As he turned it over in his hand a small screen lit up on its side and small squares began running from one side to the other. “What’s this?” He asked.
Angel came over with about four metal covered books under her arm. She stopped and stared. “That’s a Star Command Laser. It was said to only function for those worthy to be members of Star Command.”
“How does it work?” He asked as a low hum began to build.
The tiger snorted. “How do you think? It charges up, you put it on, and push the buttons and it doesn’t work because no one is ever worthy.”
Mister Arrow put the glove on and aimed it at a wall and with his other hand punched the buttons. Nothing happened. “See.” The tiger said. “Not worthy.”
Mister Arrow shrugged. “Maybe it just needs time to charge. I feel vulnerable without a weapon, so I’ll keep it.”
“Yeah.” Said the tiger. “You can always throw it at your foe. Come on. Let’s get to the gate and get this over with.”
Another hour of traveling brought them to a gaping cavern with a well-worn path leading into it. As they walked down the path they began to see scattered bones, many of which were from demons. Snookums noticed his look and said. “The gate is the only way out but no demon has ever managed to pass through. They are all torn to pieces. Only outsiders can pass and any demon who tries to use an outsider to pass is burned to ash. He’ll verify that.” He gestured with a paw and Mister Arrow saw a silver cherub standing before a gate of flame.
“Come, mortal man. Pass to the heavens that await. Leave your demonic allies and arise.” The silver figure intoned. It turned and opened the gate, gesturing for Mister Arrow to go through.
Mister Arrow looked at Angel and saw her lip was trembling. Her face was filled with pain that only one who had always been abandoned by the ones they loved could know. He thought of his friends fighting above. Then he looked at her and sighed. “Thanks, but I’ll pass on heaven.” He held out his hand to her. She stared as if frozen and then with tears streaming down her cheeks she rushed into his arms. Snookum’s face was frozen in shock.
The cherub roared. “No!! This cannot be!! Not when I am so close.” It swirled and changed and suddenly the Demon Hag was towering above them. “It does not matter, fool. Go through alive or dead and your soul will still power my ascendancy.” She gestured and a flaming sword appeared in her hand.
With a roar the tiger attacked and was hurled back by a swipe of the sword and sent crashing into the two lovers. Angel leaped to her feet and drew her spear. “You!!” She shouted. “You used me and my desire to do good to further your own ends.”
“Fool.” Laughed the hag. “I’ve killed everyone you’ve ever sent through here.” She gestured behind her at shelves lined with skulls. “This is where your friends have all ended their days and now you will join them.”
The sword descended and then Mister Arrow was between them and the sword met his upraised arm and glanced in a shower of sparks from the glove. He was thrown backwards by the blow as the Hag cursed.
“Die, you monster!!” Screamed Angel and hurled her spear which buried itself in the Hag’s head.
The Hag only laughed and tugged the spear out. “You have no idea of the powers you face, pitiful, mortal fool.” She began to stalk Angel, waving the sword to drive her towards the wall. The tiger interposed itself and was brushed aside.
Mister Arrow shook himself. It seemed he heard a voice and it was coming from the glove. “Cadet you have proved yourself worthy of admission to Star Command. Go forth. Defend the right.” The whole glove began to glow and vibrate. “Tap the left button for intermittent laser. Tap the middle for concentrated bursts. Hold the left down for full power.” The voice intoned.
“Hag!!” Roared Mister Arrow. “Die!!” He hit the left button and depressed it into the glove. A bolt of pure blue light ripped itself out of the laser and struck the Hag’s sword, vaporizing it as it began its descent on Angel who stood facing it with her fists clenched. As the Hag screamed it struck the jewel on its chain on her chest and she exploded in a great purple flash of light.
Angel and Johnny Arrow ran to each other and buried themselves in a deep clench which ended in a kiss. Snookums got to his feet, brought his tail around where a small flame smoked and blew it out. He looked over at the two who had not come up for air yet. “Finally, an unselfish one.” He smiled and began to lick his wounds while his deep purr filled the cavern. Behind him the gate was open and shining on the outside world.
Sarah Mary Anne Hawkins awoke to find herself being held gently in the softest bed she’d ever experienced. She smiled and stretched and the smile grew wider as she realized all her scrapes, cuts, and open wounds were gone. She’d been barely conscious when they’d loaded her into the healing bed as they called it. At least that had been what the young woman Kat had called it. She didn’t to open her eyes to know that both John and Aristor were just waking beside her in other beds, she could feel everything they felt and saw and even thought. It was the thoughts that should’ve been overwhelming but were not. Somehow Aristor was acting like a gate keeper and controlling how much of each other they experienced. She realized that if he wasn’t doing that they would’ve all gone mad from loss of knowledge of their individual selves. No wonder the Dronian packs functioned so well.
She looked over at John Silver (Stark) and was bathed in the glow of his concern and his love for her. He smiled back at her and she realized she was sending the same message to him and would never be able to hide from it and was intensely glad she couldn’t. “This.” She thought at him. “Could put every councilor, minister and psychologist out of business.”
“I love you Sarah.” He thought. “And what is good is that you can truly know that and I can truly know you feel the same way about me.”
She felt herself blushing and hurried to change the subject. “Speaking of putting people out of business. These beds are going to give the doctors back home jealous fits.” She more felt than heard his chuckle as he agreed with her. She sat up in the bed and lights came on overhead. She saw Aristor and John were following her motion. This pack behavior was going to take some getting used to.
“Is it like this with Dronian packs?” She asked in her mind.
She felt Silver’s shrug and heard Aristor reply. “It is different but the same. In our case we have much more individuality than a pure Dronian pack would have. This will drive the Proctors back home insane. Bonding of non-Dronians to a Dronian has never happened before. It’ll cause social upheaval there on a scale no one has seen in generations.” She got an image of purple dragons shouting at each other with struggles in the background.
“Maybe we should stay away from Dronia for the time being.” She and Silver said together and felt Aristor’s agreement.
There was a chime and the door to the outside opened letting in light along with the woman Kat. “Good to see you three are okay. Your friend Sasha healed faster and has been awaiting outside with others I think you’d like to see.”
Sarah got to her feet and without thinking took John Silver’s hand in her own. It felt completely right. “What others?” They both asked.
Kat stepped back and a very familiar young man stepped through. “Mom? Long John? Are you all right?
Sarah felt so happy she was giddy. She felt John’s love for her son answering her own and both lunged forward to grab him and hold him in their embrace. “Jim!” “Jimbo!” Aristor was an almost fatherly presence in the background, enjoying their happiness as if it was his own. She was conscious of a young red-haired woman holding a baby in her arms watching them with a tentative smile on her face. Who she was or how Jim had got free of Flint would have to wait. For now her joy and John’s was one and the same and complete.
Jim’s dad was furious. Not only was the key gone but so was that idiot robot. He sat down in a chair facing the wall and commanded. “Screen!” The whole wall lit up in a display of diagrams and equations. “Where is the key?” He commanded.
“At Dago’s encampment.” Came the dulcet reply. “With your son and that robot Ben Gun.”
James Hawkins let out a string of curses. He slowed and thought a moment. The key had always been the prime motive but without it things could still be moved along. The main thing was to gain control of the Master Computer and then the key wouldn’t matter. It had been very fortunate that he had found that computer programming book for Park Personnel Only in between this place’s insane adventure games in the Library of Tomorrow. He had spent three years learning the language and then the last two attacking the program itself. “How is the Trojan Worm Program progressing?”
The dulcet voice replied. “It is 90% complete and is almost past the last firewall, Head of Programming. It will be good to have a human in charge again. The Park has so missed the touch of a living master.”
“Oh, it’ll have one soon.” James replied with an evil grin. He paused. “I understand Dago now has a woman who can disrupt computer programs by phasing her body through them. What would be the effect of such an attack on the Master Computer, taking into account my Worm program?”
“The firewall would crash.” The dulcet voice hissed. “And you would take control of everything.”
“Perfect. We’ll do nothing to discourage them. Emperor Hawkins has a good ring to it, doesn’t it?” He waved a hand and the screen went blank.
After he left there was a long period of quiet and then a face formed on the computer screen, its features hidden behind a covering robe. “No, you fool, then I, the Emperor, will rule and the Dark Side will be triumphant forever.” Hideous cackling filled the air.
“Halt!” A mechanical voice shouted as Mister Arrow led Angel and Snookums out of the gate. “The role-playing Rescue the Angel game is now complete. All Park constructs are to return to their positions immediately.”
Mister Arrow frowned at the golden robot who was blocking the path. “Who are you?”
“Park Security, Golden Iron Man SEC-104. You must return these two to their proper place.”
“Suppose they don’t want to go?” Mister Arrow put his arm around Angel’s shoulder. She drew her spear and pointed it at the Iron Man while beside them Snookums growled threateningly.
“They have no choice. They are owned by the Park.”
“Oh, I think they have a lot of choice.” Mister Arrow unlimbered the laser. “The last time I looked slavery had been outlawed by every galactic codicil.”
“You force me to take an undesired action to bring you to your senses.” The Iron Man touched a button on his chest. “Deactivation of Characters 1 and 2.”
Angel staggered for a second and then straightened. “That hurt!” She shouted. Her spear came back as beside her the Tiger shook himself and then let out a loud roar.
The Iron Man seemed at a loss for words as he kept punching the button as if he couldn’t believe it wouldn’t work. Finally, he brought his hand up facing them. “You force me to deactivate the constructs by force.” He looked down in shock as the spear went right through his hand and buried itself deeply in his chest. Before he could respond six hundred pounds of maddened tiger bore him to the ground and ripped his helmet off his head in a shower of sparks. He laid there smoking as the tiger shook him like a rag doll.
“Stop!” Another Iron Man shouted as he ran down the trail at them. “Constructs must be deactivated.” He raised his hand. Mister Arrow calmly shot him with the laser on full force. The Iron Man robot spun around and looked up with what could only be puzzlement. “That laser is not supposed to work outside the game.” His voice almost seemed resentful as if he had been betrayed. With a burst of flame he exploded.
Mister Arrow smiled and held his hand out to Angel. “That seems to be the perfect answer to slavers.” He said. “Come my love. There is one more thing we need to do.”
She took his hand and returned the smile. “And what is that, my love?”
“On my home world, marriage is very simple. All we have to do is pledge ourselves to each other with a witness.” He looked over at the Tiger who was tearing the remaining pieces of the Iron Men apart. “I think he’ll do, if we can get his attention.”
He took both her hands in his. “I pledge my love to you forever.”
She smiled. “And I you.”
The Tiger burped. “Come on, love birds. Let’s find some more edible opponents. These guys are giving me heartburn.”
“Mrs. Hawkins.” The red-haired girl in chain mail stepped through the doorway bearing the baby. “We have to talk.” Ben Gun followed her through, looking embarrassed.
“Yes. We do.” Sarah replied. “Jim tells me that you’re his fiancé and that you’re Diane but he said I had to ask you about the baby.”
Diane blushed. “He did? He really called me his fiancé?”
“In positively glowing terms. He said you were the only reason he’d survived. Now about the baby?”
Diane held the baby out to her. “Please take her. She belongs to you. She’s your daughter.”
Sarah took the baby in her arms and stared at the baby as she waved her hands in the air. “My daughter? I only gave birth once and I haven’t been pregnant in years. This doesn’t seem possible.”
“Ben Gun will explain.” Diane shoved the reluctant robot forward.
“Uh, Mrs. Hawkins, I apologize for leaving without giving notice.” Ben shuffled his feet.
“That’s immaterial now, Ben. Right now I want the explanation for her.” She smiled at the baby who was trying to catch her long tresses in her pudgy hands.
“Your former husband, James. He’s a really, really bad man, Mrs. Hawkins.”
“We all agree on that, Ben. Just get to the point.”
“He really is a bad man. He wanted to clone your son and raise him to be a monster like himself. When I returned to the Park I was assigned the role of creating the clone. I couldn’t do it but I couldn’t refuse him either. I always had wondered what Jimmy would’ve been like as a Janey and I decided to block him that way with the agreement of the Master Computer. I just tweaked the sex gene and there she is. I hope you’re not mad at me.”
“Ben, is she okay? We can’t clone anything without later medical problems.”
“She’s perfect, Mrs. Hawkins. The Park would never allow it to be otherwise. Are you going to keep her?”
“Of course we are, Mister Gun.” John Silver said as he came through the door and hurried over to join Sarah where he gently tweaked the baby under her chin. “I always wanted a son and a daughter and now we have both.”
Ben looked puzzled. “How do you know?”
Long John Silver smiled at him. “We’ll explain later. Just say Sarah and I are more completely bonded than anyone in history. And, yes, we both think Jane is a perfect name for her.”
Kat opened the door. “I hate to break up the family reunion but we have a council of war to attend.”