A Head Start
It took me a while to get to sleep after the note I'd found in my sketchbook. Was it just another sign of psychosis? Was I hallucinating objects and messages as well? Should I tell the others?
I eventually decided against it, though I couldn't bring myself to throw away the lock of hair. Hallucination or not, it made me feel happy, so I slipped it through the silver chain of a necklace I'd worn as a child (Ironically, the old pendant was shaped like a dragon's claw), and slipped it around my neck. The silken strands brushed against my bare chest as I slipped it beneath my keikogi.
The message itself bothered me; if it was all a hallucination, it was pretty clear my mind was trying to tell me something. Had I noticed something that my subconscious worked out before I did?
After a fitful sleep, I awoke before anyone else. With little else to do and not wanting to dwell on other matters, I headed for the kitchen to prepare a little breakfast for everyone. I had just set down a plate of pancakes when One walked into the room, his tiny plush face pinched, and his hair ruffled.
“Morning, Jimmy.” He said as I picked him up and set him on the table.
“Morning One. You left in a hurry last night.”
“I didn't leave.” One said as he pulled a thick, fluffy pancake onto an empty plate. “Luck ambushed me at our room in Wukice. Kept me up all night, not that I'm complaining.”
I grinned. “Are you good for today?”
He nodding, trying his best to cover his mouth as he yawned. “Syrup?”
I poured some syrup onto his pancake, and set the bottle beside him. Using his fork like a shovel, he asked, “So, what's the plan?”
“Go to Teh Nation of Noobs, get the princess, capture the kidnapper, and get back to Wenapaj.” I hefted my pack. It was heavy, but manageable. “Hopefully we can catch him out of the dragon, but if not, we'll put it out of commission. Sound good?”
“Depends on what kind of surprises the kidnapper has prepared for us. He's holed up in an amusement park, one themed after video games. Mark my words, there will be traps.”
“After all we've been through, I'm sure we'll be able to handle it.” I said with genuine confidence.
He nodded approvingly. “Well said. You got any crystallic cider?”
I poured him some of the magical pick-me-up into a small condiment bowl, the closest thing to a cup I could give him. As he drank up, Terry came into the room, plasma rifle slung over his armored shoulder. Without a word, he sat next to One and let his armored head hit the table.
“One just pointed out that there might be traps waiting for us. What do you think?”
He groaned, not lifting his head from the table.
“Well put.” I said, patting him on the helmet. “Say, what did you want to tell me last night?”
“Sir?” came the muffled reply.
“You were trying to tell me something before we figured out the dragon was fake. I know you wanted to wait, but it's been bugging me a little.”
He lifted his head and said, “The dragon's a fake?”
“Yeesh. Get this man some coffee.” One said, chuckling.
Casey walked through the doorway a moment later. She was loading her camera with some kind of silvery film, her notebook tucked under her arm. Arc was right behind her, looking surprisingly alert for a change.
“Morning, all.” Arc said cheerily, sitting down beside Terry as Casey absently took the seat beside him. He knocked his knuckles against Terry's helmet, adding, “You still in there, Terry?”
“Aren't you just a bundle of sunshine?” Terry said, swatting away Arc's hand. Arc just chuckled and turned his attention to the food.
“Okay,” I said, “That just leaves Meryli and Mick.”
The message in the sketchbook flashed through my mind. I was still thinking about it when Meryli pushed through one of the swinging doors.
“Mornin' everyone.” Meryli said as she pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. “Breakfast? Why, aren't you a sweetie?”
“Eat up.” I said, rising from my chair. “Terry, could you fill Meryli in on what's going on while I go find Mick?”
“Uh, I don't really …” I could see the edges of his cheeks turn red.
“I'll do it.” Casey said with a laugh. “Sounds like Terry could use a reminder anyway.”
I checked the living room and the lobby to no avail. I started to check the rooms when it occurred to me that I had a faster way.
“Bethany?” I asked, holding the PIM to my mouth. “Have you seen Mick?”
“Yes, he stopped by before leaving this morning.”
I stopped moving instantly. “What?! Where did he go?”
“The Nation of teh Noobs.” She sounded uneasy. “He didn't tell you?”
“No! We were supposed to head there today! Did he say why he was leaving early?”
“He seemed concerned that the person controlling the dragon knew you were coming.”
“Well, that's fine, but why in the name of the Creator would he head off alone?”
“He thought that since he's faster on foot, he could sneak into the park and rescue Princess Sera before her abductor was prepared. I told him he should run it by you, and he said he would. From your response, I'm guessing he didn't.”
“By the Creator.” I said, honestly a little hurt that Mick ditched us. “Can you reach him with the teleporter?”
“I should be able to-” She frowned. “That's strange; someone put the teleportation systems on a full maintenance cycle.”
“Very clever, Mick.” I said. “How long will it take for the cycle to finish?”
“Three days. I can override, but stopping in mid-cycle will probably cause some alignment issues.”
I winced; a misaligned teleporter node was always trouble. If you were lucky, you'd be teleported to the wrong place. If you weren't … well, places would be a more apt description of where you'd end up.
I shook my head and said, “We need to catch up to him fast. If the draconis knows he's Glyche, he'll have prepared for it.”
“It would be difficult to match his speed on foot.” Bethany said. “Fortunately, I have a solution. Get the others and meet me outside the mansion.”
I hurried back to the kitchen and shoved the door open. Everyone looked up at me, surprised by my abrupt entrance.
“Mick went to the Nation of teh Noobs.” I said.
“What?” Everyone said, none louder than Meryli as she rose to her feet.
I nodded. “He thinks he can get there and rescue the princess without putting us at risk.”
“Can't Bethany just teleport him back?” asked Arc. “I was half-way to Salutier when she grabbed me.”
“She could it someone hadn't activated some kind of transporter maintenance cycle.”
“Mick?” Casey asked.
I nodded. “Most likely.”
“Dude, the dragon's going to eat him alive!” Arc hopped out of his chair and grabbed his sword from the corner. “We gotta go after him!”
“Agreed.” Terry said, rising as well. “We should go now. He's got a big lead on us, but even he has to stop and recharge.”
“Grab anything you need and meet me outside.” I said. “Bethany says she has something that might help us catch up with him.”
Everyone else hurried to their rooms while Arc and I made for the front door. As my eyes adjusted to the light of the morning suns, I spotted what Bethany had prepared for us. My jaw immediately dropped. Arc stumbled out the door a moment later, his reaction the same as mine.
It floated just off the ground at the same place where we had so nearly crashed the floater, a sleek machine distinctly Glyche in design. It looked more like a small spacecraft than a floater, though here and there I could spot components salvaged from the floater we so nearly wrecked.
Bethany appeared in the driver's seat, smiling. “I had the prototype schematics in my database, but lacked a few key components. Then you lot nearly crashed a floater into the mansion. You've probably lost the deposit on it anyway, so I figured why not?”
“Awesome! Way to go, Beth!” Arc hurried onboard, presumably to claim a seat.
I followed him into the vehicle; it was nice and roomy, with plenty of space for a group twice as large as ours. Each seat was complete with an overhead compartment, a comfy reclining chair, and a personal computer console. Bethany indicated one of the seats that had in addition to the other features a small sword stand. I couldn't help but smile as I laid Glint on the stand, several small latches immediately securing it in place.
As I put my pack in an overhead compartment, Bethany said, “I call her the Ascendant.”
“The Ascendant.” I repeated, taking the booth behind the pilot seat. “I like it.”
Meryli and Casey stepped out of the Saybaro, followed shortly by Terry and One. All looked stunned as they beheld the sleek ship.
“All aboard!” Bethany said, motioning for them to ride.
“Don't have to tell me twice.” Meryli said, climbing into the vehicle.
Bethany vanished from the driver seat, appearing again in the main walkway, one hand gesturing for Meryli to take the driver's seat.
“I'm driving?” Meryli asked, sounding surprised.
“Of course.” Bethany said, “I can't stray too far from the facility. Besides, you used to repair floaters; surely you can handle this.”
“Heck yeah, I can handle this!” She tossed her UBTs in a locker behind driver's seat and strapped herself into the chair, hands slightly shaking with excitement.
I hesitated, the warning in my sketchbook again coming to mind. What would I say, though? That my imaginary girlfriend left me a note telling me that Meryli shouldn't drive? I could only imagine how well that announcement would go over.
For that matter, how did I know Meryli was the tekker in question? It could be Arc, as he would have needed a basic course in general technology before beginning Kindred Studies. Perhaps Terry or Casey were tekkers on the sly, or maybe the message was referencing Narrator Number One; Builders were essentially just extremely skilled tekkers, after all. Even I was technically a tekker, what with all the work I did on the Saybaro. Maybe the warning wasn't about a person at all, but was advising me to look at things from a more technical standpoint. In the end, I said nothing, though I resolved to keep an eye on Meryli.
Once Terry was onboard, Bethany looked at us from the view screen in the front of the Ascendant. “Good luck everyone. I will remain in contact as long as I can; once you're out of facility range, you'll need Mick to activate his link for us to converse.”
“Don't worry, Miss Bethany.” Terry said. “We'll bring Mick home.”
“And the princess.” Arc chimed in.
Bethany smiled at us. “I know you will. Stay safe, everyone.”
As her image vanished from the view screen, Meryli grabbed the controls. “Everyone make sure your strapped in; I'm gonna see what this baby can do!”