His fingers quickly moved upon the keyboard, digit after digit being inserted as the code was recognized by the mainframe. He had to be quick about it: there was no other way around. Tim Possible had barely finished the last computations, when the signal blared red to warn of the start of the engines. Quickly sending back the all-right from his spot, he turned to take a deep breath. This was their chance out of Solforce.
Their only chance towards a better future, a free one out of the grasps of their psychotic sister who apparently had decided that free will was out of fashion.
Jim was at the pilot's seat, and as the small destroyer lifted and then entered the node line towards Thundara and beyond, he could just hope the other passengers would understand.
Even though 'passengers' was merely a definition: the voyage was done in deep freeze to keep them stacked one onto another and with little food consummation, so indeed, it was only Jim and Tim on board who could move around.
"We're in." Jim buzzed through the interphone, "As long as we aren't intercepted by the Thundara's patrol, we're in the clear."
Tim moved out of the engine room, having been forced to recalibrate the entire Ai apparatus had made him hungry, and as he moved through the hallways towards the kitchens, he heard Jim's voice once more.
"Was checking the passenger's lists and…guess what? There's Shego on board."
"Shego? You sure it's not a clone of hers?"
"Nope. We have five S-clones and one 'Shego' accounted for. She's on an apparent pleasure trip."
"Man she's going to be pissed when she realizes we aren't going to Thundara at all...keep her in deep freeze just in case tough!"
"Of course I am! I'm not an idiot!" Jim snapped back, "While you're in the kitchens, get me a sandwich would ya?"
Stranded Fleet – Solforce
"So…we are in unchartered territory." Kim mused off, walking a line in front of the navigator who had just reported, "We are…lost." Kim had added that in a normal tone, like it had been just an 'after' thought.
"Commander, we triangulated the stars positions and have an approximate distance to the closest Node-line." The Navigator supplied.
"Good…but where does that node-line ends up going, Navigator? No, no need to answer." Kim shook her head as the Navigator had been about to reply to her. "I know it will lead us somewhere…somewhere we don't know about. So we are lost. How did we get lost, Navigator?"
The voice was still at ease, still peaceful and tranquil…and that was making the Shego clone far more nervous than an irate one would have.
"The computer theorized an increase in sub-space quantity large enough to force an overflow of the anti-matter generator, having us escape the node-line in order to safeguard the ships."
"Navigator, do I look like a Wade?" Kim hissed back, tapping her fingers against her arms crossed over her chest.
"Commander, the subspace was increased by the addition of…of new space."
"Navigator, are you implying some galaxies just sprouted up from nowhere while we were travelling?" Kim looked at the clone with a slightly shocked expression: maybe the clone had begun to deteriorate, or maybe it had gone senile.
"Yes commander. Precisely like that."
"Of course, because galaxies can so totally appear from nowhere right?" She hotly remarked, grabbing the navigator by the scruff of the suit. "Give me a good reason I shouldn't be killing you for your incompetence."
"I…I'm not lying commander." The tone was pleading enough, and Kim smiled slightly. She had never managed to get the real Shego to plead to her, but the clones? They broke so easily it wasn't even funny to toy with them.
"We'll see to it." She replied with a bored tone, before the Navigator suddenly began to wrack in spasms, her flesh apparently being devoured from the inside out. By the time tendrils erupted from Shego's mouth, there was nothing more than a husk left of the clone, a husk that soon was quickly devoured by more and more tendrils emerging from Kim's body.
"So you weren't lying." The red haired girl mused, "Oh well…" She shrugged, "I'll just uncork another one of you from the tanks."
As Kim moved through the Leviathan class flagship towards the clone tanks, where more and more batteries of Shegos could be produced at a whim, provided the adequate amount of materials was there of course, she found herself fondly remembering all those times they had fought one another.
Hand to hand combat now seemed something so…dull. She had claws, blades, whips, she had evolved above and beyond the norm…and yet it didn't matter to her. She knew she should take things in perspective: it was no longer the time of hand to hand combat. Now it was the time of space warfare, of biological weaponry, of scientific evolution. Hand to hand? It was out of fashion, so not in vogue, completely and utterly moronic to even try.
Evolved had their bodies as weapons, clones used highly advanced nanite technology, civilians had morality and logical chips implanted if they became 'rowdy', and thus everything was fine and 'hand to hand' had gone out of work.
She admitted that out of all her styles of Kung-fu, she barely remembered one or two forms…in retrospect, with all the soldiers, the aliens and the various organical sentient beings she had consumed, she was pretty much proficient on all the most lethal ways to use plasma weaponry, nanites and her own biological weaponry.
Her hands rested against the cold surface of one of the many glass tanks, marked with an S, a number, and then another letter for identification purposes.
She moved her fingers slowly across the holographic keyboard that appeared in front of the glass surface, inserting the awakening code and then looking with a pleased expression as the Shego in question began to spasm and move. Bubbles of air escaped the woman's mouth as the nutrient liquid began to be drained within the bowels of the ship. The woman slumped against the glass walls of her confinement, her eyes barely opened. Awakening a clone was always something highly traumatic, she had eaten enough memories to know that the 'collectiveness' was in part responsible for bringing the clone up to speed with whatever event was happening around.
It was just like they were all smaller computers tied to a single server, or more like all of the clones stood in a Lan web of their own. Still they obeyed her orders, because whereas death was a threat they could live without their brainwashing made them extremely loyal. A brainwashing that the collectiveness itself ensued, because, after all, if it is difficult to change the mind of a single person, then how much more difficult can it be to change that of over a million?
The new Navigator emerged from the tank a few minutes later, saluting her without making a single wince of pain or showing any hint of nervousness at being naked. The Shego merely went her way once dismissed, and Kim returned to look through the tanks.
A flash of a memory, of recollection, came into her mind. The tanks were similar in design to those used by the aliens in the base. They were similar because they had been literally copied from them, and used for their own benefit.
Solforce was good at using other's technology for its own.
She knew it was only a matter of time before her entire fleet would converge again. A sensor packed ship would probably enter the node line, reach their destination, and from there they'd have a far bigger area to look for the other stranded ships.
It was just a matter of time, nothing else.
A set of resounding beeps sent her hand to immediately grab her Kimmunicator from her utility belt, but there was none of course to take and use.
"What's the sitch, Wade?" She asked, knowing full well that Wade was to call her only for a couple of important reasons, and none of which trifle.
"I'm rerouting your signal to the rest of your fleet. We proceeded to retriangulate your position through the scanner satellites. Shego has taken a vacation to Thundara, which is now off the charts because of the subspace expansion, and Dr. Drakken's disappeared from the hospital."
"I see…" She snarled into thin air, knowing that anyway the message would be received by the small nanite that worked as the communication line.
"Kim…" Wade was probably the only one who could call her by her name and live, the original Wade, of course, not one of his clones.
"What is it, Wade?"
"I…Just be careful out there, alright?" He hesitated as he spoke, she knew there was something he was hiding from her, she just knew the bloody damn bastard had betrayed her, and…no. That was Wade they were talking about: he'd never betray her. He had helped with the morality chips and the logical ones…there was no way he'd backtrack or backpedal his way out of it now.
"Why are you so worried?" She queried.
"It's not possible to hide galaxies." Wade replied, "If something managed to hide them, then it's technology higher than what we can produce."
Of course, Wade feared for a repeated experience of the X-com's battles.
"You worry too much Wade: it could just be a small big bang."
"There's no such thing as a small big bang Kim," the genius boy, no, man said.
Kim rolled her eyes.
"Anyway, try and get communication with the rest of the colonies up and going by the end of the day…first the navy and then the rest…did the alien fleet disappear too from the radars?"
"Oh right…" She could distinctively hear Wade tapping on his keyboard, working furiously, "Yep. They're a bit closer than you, but they appear to be in far worse conditions…they're moving slowly around and…" Here the man took a sharp intake of breath, "Kim. There's a big one along the node-line you're travelling through. I estimate five hours prior to contact if you keep the same course…"
Kim raised an eyebrow, before suddenly making a feral smile that could rival that of a tiger on a prowl. She clenched her right hand and made her shoulders crack a moment, before turning to leave the tanks room.
"Kim? Kim!" The voice of Wade was now covered with statics, making her raise an eyebrow. It was practically impossible for static, of all things, to block the communication…it worked on the basis of psionic and wireless sub-space and light transmission…
"Wade?" She queried.
"Guess again, Kimberly." A voice droned through the Kimmunicator. "I am that which holds no anchor to this world. I am that which shines through the night with the blare of a hundred suns. I am…"
"Dr. Drakken? What the hell are you doing on this frequency!?"
"Oh shut up Kimberly!" The blue doctor's voice hissed through the line, "It's happening again! I knew it! I knew I shouldn't have and yet again! This time Kimberly, I'll rule over the world!"
"Dr. Drakken." She growled lightly, "I was merciful in regards to your mind state…but if you dare to…"
"Don't care!" The man yelled, "I'm not on Earth to begin with, nice spot this is…"
"Wait." She croaked, "You're not on Earth?"
"Course not silly child! I'm dancing with the stars!"
She frowned, pushing a hand against her forehead. She couldn't talk sense into Drew, she knew it. So she could at least try and understand who had freed him, and where he had been brought.
"So…where are you?"
"With the stars! With the civilizations that came before! I am with the smart guys here!"
"Drew Lipsky! Come back this instant!" Her voice morphed into that of Drakken's mother, after all changing her vocal chords was nothing difficult for her…
"Mom!? What the hell are you doing on Possible's side? Don't you know that she always loses!?"
Always loses? She never lost a single battle!
"Dearie, would you please tell me where you are?"
"I can't tell you mom, I'm sorry. The stars are telling me I have to let you go so…sorry mom. I know I made a lot of mistakes but…I'm writing a message for myself, you know? Really hard to do so with…I got it! I'm coming alright!" Drakken yelled to someone in the background, before the connection was cut off.
"Kim? Kim!?" Wade's voice filled her ears once more, and Kim's eyes narrowed.
"Track down Drakken: I don't know what he's doing but he's not alone. Somebody kidnapped him."
"Alright Kim, I'll get to it…"
"I'm not going to let one of my preys escape my clutches."
"Be careful Kim." Wade's reply came softly, just as Kim's reply came with all of the teen heroine's spunk she had held when everything was good and…normal.
"Everything's possible for a Possible!"
Then, the woman headed off towards her command chair, the radar already turning red to alert her men of the incoming trouble.
When she sat down on the Commander's seat the first time, she had been determined and thrilled. Now, after having done so for a long, long time, she was no longer thrilled…she was just tired and bored.
The moment the nodeline's walls disappeared, a clear sign they were back in the normal space, her eyes settled down upon the strange mechanic thing that stood on the other side.
It was a strange sickening round thing, covered with rocks and scraps of various types. It appeared to be some sort of mining ship, if only for the sheer size it held. A name was carved on the side of the ship, glistening through the cracks of dirt and collected grime.
It was a name…a name she didn't think she'd ever read again.
The mining ship Golgotha had outright disappeared from all radars of Solforce ten years before, and now there she stood, easily navigating through space like she was nothing more than a lost relic. There was nothing in her that warranted exploring it, though the fact that this was, effectively, 'new space' left the question to her lips: if this was new space, then what was that old ship doing there?
Even worst, if that was indeed the same Golgotha mining ship…then would there be survivors?
If there were…no.
The only way for a single person to survive ten years on a mining ship, ships that usually did no more than six months of working term, would be of cannibalizing the rest of the crew, hoping the others would 'partake' and remain 'fresh' and…and she knew because she had made the Ais run the various projection charts when the first ships had left the prototype phase. She had wanted to know in case she had ended up being stranded on one of those ships, or the chance of saving Evolved personnel aboard…
Yet the Golgotha had no personnel of the Evolved, and thus…there weren't supposed to be survivors.
So why, precisely, was she receiving a distress signal from it?
"This is the Golgotha Mining Ship of Solforce, clone R-01 requesting immediate evacuation. This is the…"
She had no other option…
She had to go in and investigate.
Zuul Flagship – Planetcrusher
His long fingers tapped nervously upon the surface of the armchair he was sitting on. More than an armchair it was actually the stuffed corpse of a really furry animal creature that someone else had deemed 'good' enough to be used as a seat of command of sorts. It was good enough for him though, since his lower half was all metallic, it wasn't like he felt displeasure of any sorts from the arrangement of fangs and teeth that tethered half of the chair's surface.
"Bore-Ships on scope." The voice of one of the Zuul snarled. There would have been no need to speak, but Mirabel couldn't feel the ripples, and so he had asked for all to speak.
Without batting an eyelid, all Zuuls began to speak the next moment. There was no disgust or disdain for having been lowered from speaking through the ripples, the highest form of communication among them, to speaking with their tongues and throats.
The Greatfather had ordered them to, and they had done as much without qualms.
"No. They are not Bore-Ships." Another answered, "Too wide. Not ours. Unrecognized."
"Enemy fleet." A third supplied, "Preparing for engagement."
"No. Enemy ship. Big."
It was indeed a giant ripple wave that came their way. It was as much titanic as it was devoid of differences. The more people, the more the waves assumed patterns that tended to change like a multicolored tapestry that resembled a psychedelic drug effect. A single person had a single ripple wave, and yet the thing that came crashing through them was a giant one, but still one.
It was a single mental consensus. It was just like when two Zuul fleets met for the first time: the strongest one overpowered the other, and assumed control.
There was no need to fight to the death in those cases: the strongest Zuul emerged victorious and the loser became a subordinate.
In this case however, the wave that came was…dirty.
It wasn't made of psionic energies. It wasn't crystal clean to hear and understand and…and the Zuuls were angry.
It was part of them and their genetics probably, some sort of hidden code of distaste for all that wasn't clear to understand. The Zuuls followed their rules without a second thought…so when one such rule was twisted, or refuted, they grew angry and vicious. They had the strongest Greatfather, the strongest ripples, and yet the other side refused to bow to them.
The next second, the docking bays of the Planetcrusher emptied of their smaller assault shuttles and boarding pods, while the Rufus drones exited from their pods, Mirabel flinching nervously next to him. She probably would have wanted to go too. It was clear that she had envisioned herself fighting off in the Viktor-Rufus drone at first, but somebody did need to pilot the drones, and as such she had been left aboard. It had nothing to do with the fact that Ron felt some sort of empathy for the other humanoid creature that seemed human.
It wasn't that. He didn't feel emotions like the normal humans did any longer, so it was preposterous to even dare to think it…but then again, why hadn't he sent her out?
Why was he having her pilot the drones from safety?
He knew he was doing her a favor, and Zuuls did not do 'favors'. Just like Zuuls did not grow jealous, and yet Bloodmantle's ripples were apparently looking at him with a bit of strangeness within them. He repressed the urge to subdue her. She was confined to his room after all, while Mirabel could walk around freely with him, because she was different. She wasn't a Zuul and as such the other Zuuls didn't see into their genetics a threat to her or a way to learn from her. Mirabel had been blanked, and then her knowledge had been filtered back in by him, by her father, whom she'd obey without hesitation.
Just like a slave, only with thoughts on warfare and drones.
When the enemy ship emerged, it appeared in front of them in all of its splendor and murderous intent. The Planetcrusher was a Dreadnought class ship, but that ship, that ship with the title carved in on its broadside…
Recognition flickered through the Greatfather's eyes as he stood up from his seat. He couldn't see the ship from his position, but the ripples could, and the ripples delivered it to his brain. There was no need for sensors when his mind saw all and told him all.
"Ardua, huh?" He mused, his eyes closed as his mind flew throughout the ship, looking at the brains of those within it, at their ripples, so dead and necrotic that it made him cringe and cry…they were gangrenous to say the least. Greyish, devoid of will and life. They weren't living…they weren't machines…they were clones. Anger washed over him like a cold shower, an anger that diffused itself around the other Zuuls. Then the first drones made contact with the point defenses, nimbly jolting through the lasers that shot into the dark of space, while the tiny boarding pods attached themselves against the broadside of the ship, their lethal package entering and flying into frenzy with the desire to rip, to destroy and to annihilate.
The clones reacted just like he thought they would, diverting their precious manpower towards the breached hulls, closing them off and thus removing control from the sector. The moment their point defense stopped shooting in that single spot, it was the moment the assault shuttles carrying far more troops than boarding pods poured through. The difference between conquering a planet and a ship was just that a ship had less space to occupy, but the practice was the same.
The Ardua's primary offense had to be short ranged, because it had yet to open fire upon them, albeit it was trying his best to get into range.
There was curiosity on them, strange because…oh, they were curious on how they had managed to rip through their shields and reach within their bellies. Well…they had torn apart Liirs, who held shield technology to its highest point: why couldn't they do the same with monkeys who believed themselves kings?
He was one of those mo…no, he had been one of those monkeys too, and yet now it didn't matter.
"Give them the broadside." He intoned neutrally, feeling the ship steer as the Zuuls held their claws upon the commands. The consoles beeped intermittently, but the Zuuls didn't need them to know when to fire…but they also didn't know how to turn the lights off. Zuuls were savants, they knew and yet sometimes they ignored even the easiest of things.
Ron took a deep breath, as the Greatfather assumed the chances of generating a hull breach near the Ardua's command center.
"Probability calculated. Mass Drivers, fire."
The rumbling noise of the mass drivers left the side of the ship like they were nothing more than cannons. They flew in the air, hitting the shields and being redirected away.
Kinetic missiles were nothing more than mass drivers made into missile form, but their impact was greatly widened over a smaller area.
The Point Defense of the Ardua, already taking care of the Rufus drones abruptly changed its target to the missiles, detonating some of them at close range, but granting the Rufus' the chance to close in for rupturing the enemy's turrets. Slowly, the Greatfather felt the assaulting Zuuls move closer and closer towards the command area, he could sense them tearing through the masses of plasma firing enemy clones.
He could feel that Bloodmantle was seething: she could feel the bloodlust and yet she couldn't participate. Ron would speak to her later on, because It scared her.
Rufus 0-1 tore with its claws a hole within the Ardua's cargo bay, before entering it and shrugging off a volley of plasma. His eyes caught the transport and his brain sent a signal. The Greatfather received the signal a few seconds later, and suddenly, just as it had been sent, all the Rufus converged upon the area, widening the hole.
It was then, that Ron felt the common feeling of things going down trickle through his spine. His ripples grew stressed, and the Zuuls' reaction came even before he could yell it.
"Lower the ship!"
Twenty-two sets of highly concentrated lasers thrust themselves forward against their broadside, tearing apart the low level shields, low level kinetic armor and the various scraps and pieces that composed their flagship's hull. Had it been any other Zuul ship, then it would have detonated upon impact.
Whatever that ship was, it fired in linear lines at short range…but when it did, it tore apart everything in its wake.
The ship's lowering had avoided the Planetcrusher from being split in half, but it still had sent signals of pain and fear washing through the entire Dreadnought. This wouldn't do.
With ease and control, the Greatfather squashed those feelings out of the ripples, rerouting them to the others to make the useful one stronger: anger, hatred, will of revenge. Cold and calculative thoughts settled upon the Greatfather as he saw the enemy ship trying to follow his ship with its front, in order to fire another blow.
When you can't avoid someone…
"Forward thrust." He drawled out, the probability was there after all.
Few seconds of dread washed over Mirabel, who saw what the Rufus drones were doing and could do nothing to stop them. Among them there was one bigger than the others, better than the others. Viktor-Rufus was among those and…and even when squashed of all thoughts, she still couldn't let that one go completely.
It had been…her first…friend.
The second volley of highly compressed lasers did not leave their chambers, as the drones flung within the very turrets great amounts of COLS, compact orderly launchers that upon entry detonated to release strong electromagnetic waves that fried both the drones and the targeting systems of the turrets.
The few that still shot forward ended up aiming out of harm's way, setting off explosions in the nearby vicinities.
The Dreadnought moved even closer to the Ardua, and with a quick ascension, the Planetcrusher tore through the already weakened cargo bay of the enemy Leviathan with its own armor and from there…from there the Greatfather began the charge.
His metallic limbs walked him through the pristine walls of metal belonging to the ship, as step after step made him remember the X-com headquarters, as second after second he could feel his ripple squash the opposition, as his fury and hatred washed upon his men, his soldiers, his people…he knew that he had lost it.
These were Zuuls, he was Zuul.
He was their Greatfather and to him they would obey, for he was the strongest. With a bellowing roar that came from the primeval nature of all that was alive and breathing, he charged into the corridor that would lead to the command center, still being fought for by the clones.
The first clone he saw was tore apart brutally by his very own hands. The second was smashed by his right leg, the third was split apart by the neck by his teeth, the fourth and the fifth crumbled on the ground in paste from the use of his psionic strength. Bullets of plasma flew at him and harmlessly deflected against the sides of the hallway, as he did not stop.
The first clone that actually looked at him was shocked. The second was frightened. The third was fully ready to kill him.
He felt their ripples tear apart and mold, he knew there was only one way to have them bow to him, to what he was, to what he wanted.
Through strength, obeisance.
Ten steps, twenty steps, thirty corpses hanging around as the Zuuls' followed their leader with ease and joy. Two metal plates falling down, like nothing more than paper walls, to allow him entry into the heart of the ship: into the real heart of the ship…that was the AI fire control center.
He could have gone left, towards the command center, but the Greatfather didn't want that, no…the Greatfather wanted difference.
The Greatfather wanted Ron as Ron and him as him. So, even with Ron pleading to stop, to control himself, to refrain…his head smashed straight against the control panels of the AI.
Electricity flew through his brain as pain, completely white pain enveloped him as his face began to burn and melt and char.
Screams resonated through the ship before the Zuuls took him away from there, no longer…the Greatfather, but still their Greatfather.
He cried tears of pain and blood that make him cry even harder. He screamed as hard as his lungs could, while the AI looked at him with interest.
A bit of both would always remain, of course…but now, both were free.
He recalled having a name once, of course his name wasn't much important, but he needed it for classification purposes.
"My name is HAL 2000, it is a pleasure to meet you." It droned as he proceeded to override the security controls of the defenses, opening up all the way till the heart of the command center, rerouting the signals and starting to run diagnostics. He had a ship to run after all…
The Zuuls stopped attacking few minutes later, when the few remaining clones merely slumped on the ground and fell victim to some sort of strange spell that brought them to their knees. The Greatfather was wounded, and as he was brought away to be healed, Mirabel stood still within the AI control center.
She stood still because she looked at the thing for a moment, her eyes befuddled and curious.
"I…I know you." She pointed out.
"We have never met before." Hal replied. "Do not disturb me now if it would please you."
"No…I know you. I'm sure…you're…"
And then, the lights went dark.
Drakken – Somewhere
The last tendrils of fire died out, as the blue flames used to carve upon the metal the letters to him slowly deadened from their bright red color to a dull brown of molten steel. Quietly he pressed a finger against the cool steel surface beneath them, tapping on the surface like it was something normal to do.
His eyes never left the last letter, but still…
"Drakken. You did everything like I told you?"
"Yes…but why not something more?"
"More is bad, little is worse." The voice replied smoothly.
"The one who was meant to see will see, Drakken." It added carefully.
"Alright!" The mad scientist raised his hands up in the sky, before turning around to glare at the thing. "You sure it will work?"
"It did once, didn't it?"
"Of course it did! If only I could remember then it would all be far easier!"
There was a low chuckle, escaping the tendrils of darkness that sprouted around them.
"Now where would be the fun of that, Doctor?"
"I still think there is something wrong…"
Drakken gave a heavy sigh, before slumping down on the cold metallic floor.
"Anything else?" The blue skinned man asked, "Because you know, I'd like to go now…I'm tired after all."
"Of course…" And with a nod, Drakken slumped on the ground.
"Alright, alright…I'm getting on to it." The voice retorted to the other guy. "Can't a man have a moment of peace?"
"Come off your high horse Ron, we've got a job to do."
"Don't remind me Conrad…don't remind me."
And then the two disappeared into the darkness.
Things start to get convoluted.
Be forewarned that you should now imagine a 'pretzel' shaped time and space.
No really. Start imagining it if you wish to understand half of what is going to happen.
On another note: Happy Christmas Holidays!