Rocket Rogers, Phoenix, and Friashqazatla, better known as “Freddy,” were gathered in Shen Ming’s office when Tempi, the messenger boy, came in breathlessly explaining what had happened to Alec and Jackie in front of the palace courtyard. Shen Ming nodded seriously.
“What did Alec do?” asked Phoenix angrily.
“It seems, my young friends, that he put the Avenger helmet on his own head. And then he made young Jackie strip naked and run away with him to the Black Spider Palace. Tempi says the people in the courtyard could not stop him.”
“I always knew that Alec’s conversion to the White Spider’s service was the least likely to hold,” growled Phoenix.
“Gosh darn it! Now I need three brave caballeros to go attack the Black Spider Palace and bring them back. Especially the naked, pretty one.”
“We will do it, Shen Ming-sama. We’ll burn them out of there.” Rocket’s enthusiasm was almost too much.
“But we won’t burn our two classmates,” amended Phoenix a little more darkly. “At least, not the pretty naked one.”
“Good, good, young ones. If you make an oopsie and burn down the Black Spider Palace accidentally, don’t be too upset about it.”
A wide grin split Shen Ming-sensei’s face as the three boys left the office.
Phoenix was a little bit anxious about this test. Going back to the Black Spider Palace would not be an easy thing. He would be going back to a place where terrible things happened. But it was also the place where he would probably have to face Bone Daddy once again. And this time it would be different because he had betrayed his master, the wraith assassin from the planet Darkworld. And facing up to that betrayal was going to hurt.
Phoenix looked at his two companions. He was entirely confident of Rocket’s loyalty and friendship. But Freddy? Rocket had an arm around the younger Zaranian. He would be loyal to Rocket, but there were things Phoenix wouldn’t be able to order Freddy to do if the need arose.
“So, if we are going to track Alec and Jackie, we are going to need a good tracker,” Phoenix said. He and Rocket both looked at Freddy.
“The Black Wolf, huh?”
Freddy sniffed the air and immediately transformed into the small black wolf form his Psion power allowed him to become.
Ged and Naylund together brought the Super Rooster down smoothly in a wide golden field of grain. The Ugly Pod remained in low orbit, but Luigi the Onion Guy and Carrot Mabutu had come down to the planer with Ged and his students.
In a matter of minutes the field of wavy grain was populated with a huge circle of evil-looking vegetables that had stems of six to eight feet in height. Their so-called “heads” were either a bushy orb of purple thistle-down or sunflower-like blossoms. But all of them had eerie, human-like eyes.
“What are these things?” Ged asked Luigi.
“THrocKpodS! (best possible translation… though maybe, WeEds!) Two different bRands… (possibly cAtagories)” Luigi said.
“What’s with all the capital letters in wrong places?” Ged asked.
“Dunno, Ged-Aero-sensei. I programmed it with my Psion ability, all by intuition,” Gyro said by way of an excuse.
“Well, we better go out there to talk to them,” said Ged.
“Ask them to take you to their leader,” added Naylund.
“I foresee trouble, Ged-sensei,” said Billy, using his clairvoyance.
“Can you be more specific?” Ged asked.
“Sorry. That is as much as I can see. I think it depends on who we send out there to talk to them.”
“I will go myself. Junior and Sara are both telepaths. They will go with me. Does that change what you see, Billy?”
“No. Not better. Not worse.”
“Okay. Extreme caution, then. Junior, you will take the point with Gyro’s translator.”
Junior, wearing his white ninja cloth armor, led the way out through the airlock and down the ramp with the stink translator held out in front of him. Sara in a white top with ninja-armor pants followed close behind him so she could also see and hear the translator. Ged, giving them only minimal space ahead of him, followed them defensively from behind.
A thistle-headed Throckpod immediately moved in front of junior. It held up leafy branches, showing off wickedly sharp thorns as it’s weapons.
“Why are you threatening us?” Junior asked.
“I’m a superior Throckpod! Servant of the almighty Grain-Master! (Best translation.) I must oppose any who have no chlorophyl to sacrifice! (95% certain of translation.)”
Ged was surprised at how much clearer the Throckpod’s voice came through than either Luigi or Carrot. What made this one so different? Besides the creepy, human-like eyes?
Suddenly, a branch shot forward and slapped away the translator device. Junior fell backwards to avoid a lashing pair of thorns. Sara was not so lucky. She stumbled forward directly into the grasp of a sunflower-headed fiend.
“What does it mean by no chlorophyl to sacrifice?” Ged asked, knowing the translator was now face down in the dirt. He didn’t expect an answer.
I aM aFraiD he meAns blood!… no, life force… poWer?? (no direct translation.)” Luigi was standing, or rather, onioning resolutely next to Ged.
Sara cried out as the sunflower-headed Throkpod began ripping her clothing off as if it were some kind of sex-crazed manga villain.
“This long-head-fur one will do nicely (rough translation)!” Gyro’s stink translator was still working extremely well at a distance. “We will tear off her blossom (possibly meaning head) and suck out all her sap (93% likely meaning blood.)”
Ged was not going to let that happen. He immediately began to change shape, into a giant green plant-eating armored ape like the ones he once had to hunt on the planet Misko Skoogalia.
“Let her go!” Ape-Ged roared. He leapt on the two offending Throckpods, rending their stems with his green gorilla hands. Then he proceeded to stuff the pieces of the Throckpods into his green mouth and noisily eat them.
It was then that he tasted a weirdly familiar genetic pattern. He couldn’t quite place it, but he knew it definitely wasn’t plant-based. Meanwhile, Junior had gathered up Sara, and he carried her back into the ship, aided by Luigi who bounced along like a basketball rather than running… having no legs to speak of.
Jadalaqstbr, more often called Jackie because Zaranian names are hard with no vowels at the end, was impressed by the way Alec had taken charge of the situation. She knew no one really liked or trusted Alec. He was abrasive and often not worthy of trust. But he had seduced her more than once by using his telepathy to invade her mind… more than three times already actually. And she liked it. There was something both sweet and sad about boys who were that pathetic and secretly needy. She had always had a soft spot for guys like that. Her own father had been like that before he died.
And she could teleport him to five hundred feet in the air and drop him on his head if he did anything really bad.
Jackie noticed Taffy was the one who retrieved the
“Do not touch the inside of that!” said Shen Ming-sensei with a frightening suddenness.
“Um, okay…” said Taffy, holding it gingerly. “Why?”
“Ah, so you see… I remember all of this now… when I could not recall any of it before… The Avenger helmet was created over 400 years ago to have an intelligence of its own. I overdid the wisdom circuits, however, and it blew out a morality capacitor. So, instead of using it to make our commanders smarter in battle, it simply went insane. We locked it away for four hundred years. It grew more and more insane with each passing year. Not only that, it can absorb the skills of those who wear it and amplify them. So, not only does it have Jai Chaing’s superior bow skill, it has Hassan Parker’s Psionic telepathy.”
“Oh! You mean it could take over my mind?” Horrified, Taffy dropped the helmet.
“Ah, this is better. So, perhaps a telepath should be the one to take this thing back to Mistress Li in the storage basement.”
“Right now, only Hassan and Alec are here with telepathy,” said Mai Ling.
“Ah, yes. Perhaps giving it back to Hassan is not the best of ideas. It did have him under its evil spell just moments ago.” Shen Ming smiled crazily as he shook his head no.
“Um, okay… I will take it to the storage basement,” Alec said rather hesitantly.
Jackie decided that if Alec was going to take such a risk, she was going with him to teleport him away the instant the evil thing showed the least sign of doing something bad.
Shen Ming and others walked towards the infirmary with Hassan while Alec and Jackie, with the helmet, started towards the stair to the palace basement.
Jackie was admiring Alec’s handsome face and not really paying attention to what Alec was looking it. He turned the helmet over and over in his hands, peering inside at the neural contact points.
“I wonder how this thing makes people put it on their heads?”
Jackie suddenly turned and looked directly at the former Black Spider student ninja.
“Hassan is the second strongest telepath on Gaijin. It must have a special power of its own,” she said.
No sooner had she said it than the helmet began to vibrate and glow. A powerful, dominating voice blasted through her head, probably doing the same to Alec.
“Put me on your head! You are in my power!” the voice directed at Alec. “Jackie, take off all your clothes! I am your master!” It directed at her.
She could see Alec struggling to disobey the voice, but the helmet slowly raised his hands above his head and slipped it into place on him, the fifth most powerful telepath on Gaijin.
And her own hands no longer obeyed her. She watched with horror as she completely undressed herself.
“We must escape to the Black Spider Castle!” the helmet said. The helmet did not sound like Alec. It seemed to have a voice of its own.
As much as it terrified her to see herself obeying the helmet, Jackie flung her clothing away and started to run. Alec, wearing the horrid, three-horned helmet ran after her. Where was she going? She didn’t know where the Black Spider Castle was, but apparently her bare legs did. She was headed to the last place in the universe where she wanted to be. And she was going there at high speed.
In the central courtyard of the Palace of a Thousand Years, the Avenger made its reappearance atop a young, completely nude boy. He ran into the courtyard full throttle, and suddenly pulling up in front of the animal handler, six of his young apprentices, and six mardenschmauz six-legged riding beasts. The Avenger then hit them with a mind-blast, proving that whoever was under the helmet was a powerful telepath. He did not, however, kill them. He merely put all seven people and six hexipedal riding beasts into a deep and restful involuntary slumber.
Of course, it was obvious that it wasn’t Alec under the helmet. Alec was especially aware that it wasn’t him, as he rushed to the scene of the attack knowing it had to be stopped, and most likely only by another telepath.
Besides Alec knowing that he wasn’t the telepath in the Avenger helmet, he knew it wasn’t Sara or Junir, because the naked body wasn’t a girl, and it definitely wasn’t blue. Besides, he was beginning to know and befriend the only Space Nudist among the students of the White Spider, and he now recognized Hassan Parker’s skinny butt and tiny penis.
Alec’s own telepathy was at least strong enough to protect him from any attack against him that naked Hassan could muster, in spite of Hassan’s telepathic superiority.
“Halt, Hassan! You must take that evil helmet off. You don’t want to hurt anyone.” Alec stood in Hassan’s way.
“I do not know this Hassan you speak of. I am the mighty Avenger! I have returned because of the foul crimes of Shen Ming. The wronged ones must be avenged!”
Others gathered around the scene of the Avenger’s sleep attack. Taffy King and Mai Ling arrived from across the courtyard. Jadalaqstbr teleported to Alec’s side and slipped her soft hand into his. And Shen Ming-sensei hustled across the green, lifting the skirts of his orange ceremonial robe with both hands.
“Bow before me, infidels! Or be destroyed in the name of Shen Ming!”
“I did not ask for any destruction in my name,” muttered Shen Ming, low enough that Alec almost didn’t hear him say it.
“So, Shen-sensei, the Avenger has now become Hassan?” Alec asked.
“Of course! Why didn’t I remember? It’s the stupid helmet!” Shen Ming said with a chuckle.
“You mean, it’s controlling his mind?” Alec asked.
“Undoubtedly. It is what it was designed for.”
Alec looked at Taffy and Mai Ling, both of whom had fearsome Psionic powers of telekinesis and no telepathic mind shields. If Hassan took over their minds… Oy! Everyone could die a horrible death.
Not willing to take chances, Alec ran towards Hassan the Avenger and forcefully applied his best roundhouse kick to the side of Hassan’s head, then reversed direction and kicked him in the midsection with the other leg. The helmet, once dislodged, flew through the air and landed in the grass more than two meters away from anyone.
Hassan was lying on the ground, still as death.
His heart in his throat, Alec leapt to Hassan’s aide. His own telepathy was healing-centered, and though Fangwoman of the Black Spiders had only taught Alec how to use it to inflict pain, he knew only too well that it could be reversed the way Sara Smith did it to heal instead of harm.
The green healing energy radiated from Alec’s hands. He poured his power into Hassan’s potentially damaged skull.
Slowly, Hassan opened his eyes again and came back to life.
“Alec, you freed me! That evil helmet takes over your mind. No matter how hard I fought it, it made me do things I did not want to do.”
“You have always been nice to me and helped me, even when I was horrible to you,” Alec admitted. “I couldn’t just let the Avenger thing do harm to my only male friend.”
“Alec, you have definitely changed,” said Taffy King, smiling at him.
“Yeah, maybe so… But please don’t tell Phoenix. I don’t want him to lose respect for me.”
“Oh, no worries there,” Taffy said about their old Black Spider classmate, “He doesn’t respect you, and probably never will.”
“Well, good then…” Alec muttered, though the disappointment from realizing the truth of that stung him deeply.
Canto 121 : Leafy Green Problems (That are Probably Nutritious if you Eat them)
As Gyro came through the weird blossom-like airlock without his helmet, just like the others, he saw Billy and Sara helping Junior clean plant secretions off Junior’s face, neck, and hair. Ged was also cleaning secretions off his hand-rocket and plasma pistol, a rather important thing to keep clean and free of particles that might cause a thermonuclear explosion.
“Hey, guys,” Gyro said, “that thing took my helmet off and ate it or something.”
“No flowering plant is ever going to want to eat your stinky helmet,” Sara said. “It smells too much like your spahnschloop ar nembhis.”
“So, you speak Nebulonin, now?” Gyro said with a dimpled blue grin.”
“Khompuruc sah, Gyro. All I have to do to learn an alien language is grab it out of your little Smurf brain with my telepathy. Kheehannan doh Churro.”
“What? You want to force me to eat Mexican cinnamon bread?”
“That’s not what that means, Gyro, and you know it well. It goes in the other end entirely.”
Gyro giggled. “I like your weird accent, though. It makes everything you say sound like a joke.”
“That’s practically what everything is when you translate it from Nebulonin,” said Junior with a wry grin of his own.
“Speaking of translating, that whole messy process used a semi caustic plant juice to sterilize us enough to enter this plant-filled environment. Do you still have the universal translator, Gyro?” Ged Aer0-semsei said. He was finishing the careful cleaning of his deadly weapon/transportation aide.
“Oh, no! It was in my helmet, Sensei.”
“The helmets came out on the other side of the blossom. Retrieve yours and take proper care of the translation device. There are strange alien beings aboard this strange alien ship”
Gyro suddenly had an anxious little knot in his stomach. The last thing he wanted to do was let his new friends and teachers down.
He retrieved his helmet. Using his Psionic ability to measure the molecules of the translator device, he soon discovered that, not only did he not have to worry about damage, but the thing was cleaner by far than it had been before passing through the blossom airlock. And besides, he was confident of fixing everything when all he had to do was shift the molecules that the thing was made from.
The inside of the alien thing was a complex of tunnels between root structures, flowering alien plants, savory-smelling herbs, and various plant-like leaves, branches, and brush.
“If this is an alien space craft, where are the crewmen?” asked Sara. “I sense alien minds, but I see nothing that looks like alien personnel.”
“I don’t sense any mechanical minds,” said Junior.
“Billy, do you intuit anything with your clairvoyance?” Ged asked the young shaman.
“I get a strange sensation of war and impending violence. But not here. It is coming from some place far away.”
Gyro looked all about himself. Nowhere was there anything, creature or machine, that looked like anything but a plant. But… maybe that was the key.
He bent over to look at a large, squat, onion-thing. The bulbous part at the bottom had a couple of fruit-like black orbs on it that almost resembled sad, expressive eyes. And a mouth-like hole was blowing visible clouds of onion-stink at him.
“You know, we haven’t seen any crew or technology. All we’ve seen are plants. Could it be that the plants are the technology? Maybe even the crew?”
Nobody responded to Gyro’s observation. They were obviously all deeply invested in their own wonderings.
So, Gyro wondered if the people on board this plant-like starship were plants… What would they look like? And how would they communicate?
He looked at the onion-thing. It blew another cloud of eye-watering onion-stink at him.
Was that the answer? Did they talk with odors instead of words?
He looked at the translator. There were parts of the translator’s battery system that he could repurpose to be a mini-material-synthesizer… to make smells of his own. And then he adjusted the microphones to become olfactory detectors. It was easy when all you had to due was shift atoms of hydrogen, lithium, and carbon into other elements that were even more useful. Soon, he had the smell-detector working hard. He reprogrammed the translator A-I to interpret smells as language. He set the new stink-sniffing detector to translating onion smells.
“Ola, Mi AmiGos!” he heard from the speaker. The readout display said (Oopsie! Not Spanish!) Then the Galactic English translations started pouring out.
“ThanK bugbladDers! I can finally tAlk to you. I aM captain (best approximation) LuiGi the Onion-Guy!”
“Hey, guys! Come here and listen to this! I am talking to an onion, and he says he’s the captain of this ship.
“YeS! That’s nearlY, possibly right. YoU are on board the Cornucopean Ship, the… UglY Pod!
“We corNucopeans need Your HelP,” (said in really strong smells… possibly due to anxiety or excitement.)
“Wow, Gyro!” said Sara.
“Yeah, wow… I’m talking to an onion…” Gyro grinned sheepishly.
Junior Aero found the antique vacc suits somewhat clunky and uncomfortable compared to what the Aero Brothers had available on the Leaping Shadowcat. Not that he’d had one on more than once, briefly. But they had rigid sections in the thighs and upper arms that restricted fluid movements and joints that didn’t allow flexibility. And there was no intelligence at all ln the helmets or in the systems circuitry. It was like wearing the stupid Nebulon Danjer suits, one-piece protective organisms that Nebulons wore in space. But even though levels of stupidness were the same, the current space-wear had none of the fluid movements that the totally stupid Danjer-critters allowed.
Ged was the one taking the lead. He held the hand-rocket that moved them all through weightlessness in space. All four students were tethered behind him.
Billy Iowa was tethered directly behind Ged. Sarah was attached to his suit from behind him. Junior had fastened his tether cord to the metal loop on the lower back of her suit. And Gyro brought up the rear. After the boobie-spotting plan hatched in the little blue guy’s evil little brain, Junior felt it was right to put him as the rear end of the line. For a Nebulon, Gyro could be a real little rear end.
Stars filled the universe outside the airlock, nothing but perfect silence besides.
The alien “seed-pod ship” was lit by Gaijin’s yellow star and Junior noticed how flower-like it really seemed to be. Could it be just some sort of wandering interstellar organism? Junior really didn’t know. Still, it was no more deadly than anything else they had faced on Gaijin. Even stiller still, it was certainly no less deadly either.
Ged signaled the start of the journey across open, airless space with the first blast from the hand rocket. The line jerked each student forward in turn.
Sara turned and signaled that everything was okay. Junior gave the “OK” sign back.
As they neared the big blossom-looking appendage, the scanner pad that Ged was holding identified the structure as an airlock.
As Ged drew near enough, prehensile tentacles of some sort reached up to take hold of him.
“Ged Aero-sensei, do we run for it?” Billy asked over the comm system.
“Let’s allow it to perform its apparent function,” their master answered.
Junior then watched in horror as the tendrils latched onto Ged’s suit and pulled him inside. It looked for all the universe like the thing had eaten him.
“Ooh! I don’t know about this!” said Billy, alarmed as the thing slowly consumed him next.
“Does it hurt, Billy?” asked Gyro.
No sound, of course, came back in reply.
“Sara, can you pull them out again?” Junior pleaded.
Sara didn’t answer as the blossom-thing swallowed her next.
Then it was Junior’s turn.
“Shneejara sohk nahl, Junior-san,” saluted Gyro as the thing grabbed Junior by the feet. That meant in Nebulonin, of course, “It has been an honor adventuring with you, Junior-san.” Then, the moving, living tendrils were all over him. He could feel them pulling at his suit, twisting, turning, and then, horrifically, popping his helmet off. Slime covered his head and slid down into his suit. All he could see was a faint reddish glow through the tendrils’ translucent flesh. He sincerely hoped the slime was not digestive juices.
In the ready room where the borrowed Tech Level 9 Vacuum Suits were stowed, Tiki Astro, Gyro Sinjarac, and Billy Iowa were all three busy trying to figure out how best to carry out their orders. They had to prepare the five clunky-sized duro-steel deep-space suits to fit one normal-sized adult and four child-and-youth-sized bodies.
“It is going to be a difficult refit,” said Tiki, millions of calculations whirring through his Metaloid mind as he was thinking and talking. “Gyro, you and Junior Aero are both ‘Nebulons, so you are really no bigger than ten-year-old boys of the humanoid persuasion.”
“Well, I don’t think you need to insult us just because we’re Space Smurfs,” said Gyro.
“You are calling yourself that name again, Buddy,” reminded Billy. “That’s an insult to your race you know.”
“Oh, yeah… sorry.”
“No need to apologize to me. I’m a Space Texan… I mean, Space Cowboy. And neither of those names is an insult.”
“You are bigger than the Nebulons, but you are smaller than Ged Aero-sensei. Your suit will have to be cut down to size too,” said Tiki. “We best get started cutting and repairing.”
“Oh, no need for that,” said Gyro. “My powers make it easy to shrink the suits to fit just by Psion ability alone.”
“Oh, right. I am not familiar enough with how your powers work to add that to my calculations.”
“You don’t need to worry about the computer science-y stuff. I can handle the modifications without that. I just reduce the spaces in the atoms themselves with Psionic squishy-power.”
“Cool,” said Billy.
“Watch me fit this suit for Billy.” Gyro’s hands began to generate a reddish glow. He then touched Billy with one hand and the space suit with the other. The glow transferred something unseen from Billy’s body to the bronze-colored vacc suit. The suit immediately shrank to Billy-size.
Billy then tried the suit on. Gyro had tailored it to fit perfectly without cutting it up and putting it back together again.
“That is much more efficient than the way I thought we would have to do this.” The robot-boy tried to smile, but, being a Metaloid and clueless about how humanoids actually did that, it looked more like a pained grimace.
“Why do I get the sense that you have something evil in mind, Gyro?” Billy asked.
“Um, well… Sara’s the only girl on this mission. I was just thinking…”
“She can read your mind better than I can,” Billy reminded him.
“But not if she doesn’t suspect anything. And she does have mammary glands that the rest of us don’t have…”
“Breasts, you mean.”
“Yeah, um… I mean, I could just tell her because of those… well, she would have to be topless to make it fit right.”
“Is that actually true?” Tiki asked.
“Yes… um, kinda…”
“Tiki can’t read minds, and even he knows you’re lying,” Billy warned.
“Yes, but… well, for a chance to look at her perfect mammary glands…”
“Yeah. She’s seen all of us naked. But we never got to see her,” ruminated Billy, not-so-innocently either.
When Ged Aero-sensei brought the rest of the team into the ready room, Gyro and Billy were already suited up, all except for their helmets.
“Gyro has an easy fix for resizing the suits,” said Billy. “All he has to do is read you by putting a hand on your shoulder and then resize your suits with his other hand.”
Junior Aero was wearing only a t-shirt and briefs, so Gyro demonstrated by slapping a small blue hand on his ,shoulder and then shrinking the vacc suit to the perfect small size.
“You have a really amazingly useful Psion power, Gyro-kun. You are adapting to White Spider training really well,” said Ged Aero-sensei.
Gyro grinned with obvious pride.
“He does have one small problem though,” said Billy.
“What is it?” Junior asked.
“Um… Sara, er… in the front you have… um…” Gyro gestured helplessly with both hands in front of him.
“The word in Nebulonin is spahnkharas,” said Junior helpfully.
“Oh, my breasts. What about them?”
“To, ah… to shape the suit properly, um… you need to… take your shirt off?”
“Is that all?” Sara quickly pulled her shirt off over her head.
Gyro’s eyes grew larger by a couple of sizes. He reached out his small blue hand. It was trembling. He placed it on her shoulder hesitantly, never moving his gaze from those two gorgeous…
“Gyro, what’s wrong with you?” asked Sara, doubt creeping into her voice.
Gyro smiled. “I can see your naked front parts, Sara.”
Sara smiled back at him. “Just do what you have to do, Gyro. Or I will ask Junior to remove your… What’s the word in Nebulonin, Junior?”
The control panel on the bridge of the Super Rooster was made up mostly of the remnants of Dr. Naylund Smith’s old space ship, the one he had crashed and eventually junked a mere two hundred twelve years before. But it was like riding a bicycle to sit in front of the familiar controls. That, Naylund supposed was why Ged had asked him to be the pilot, taking over the role that Ged would’ve much preferred had gone to his brother Ham, but he would not take for himself.
“Thank you for organizing this mission, Naylund-sensei. I am not used to doing the job of a space captain myself.”
“It is nothing, Ged-dono. Sitting in front of these controls is a little like arriving home again. And this is the first time in the history of Gaijin that the planet can mount a response to an incoming possible threat.”
“Have we learned anything more from the scanners?”
“Not much. It is coming up on the viewscreen now. It is still 5,000 miles away. Computer, enhance viewscreen 500 percent.”
The image enlarged in the holo-digital viewscreen.
“That looks like a big piece of driftwood with a flower on its side,” said Sara, looking over her father’s shoulder.
“The sensors indicate the whole thing is alive,” said Junior Aero, sitting behind Ged. “It functions as a space ship, though. It maneuvers. And it orients itself to the gravity well of the planet like an incoming spaceship. It has to be something like the living space-whale ships of my people.”
Junior was born a Nebulon, blue-skinned and red-cheeked, and later adopted by the Aero Brothers.
Naylund looked at the plant-like thing and squinted. Hoping to see… what exactly?
“I don’t think it’s connected to your terrorist, Ged. It’s like some sort of seed pod.”
Ged looked at Naylund skeptically. “It seems almost impossible that it would be a coincidence, Naylund.”
But Jai Chang, the ninja under the Avenger helmet, was a native-born Gaijinese who had never been off planet and never known to have any off-world contacts. If there was a connection, it was not an obvious one.
“Sara, can you tell anything about it with your telepathy?” he asked his daughter.
“I hear voices, but it’s confusing,” she answered. “Could the whole thing be a disguise? I can read alien minds there… but it’s all garbled. I can usually understand anything the mind I read understands.”
Junior suddenly also looked quite confused. “I can’t read any computers on board, A-I or otherwise. How can they navigate?”
“They can’t. No starship we know of can operate without a computerized brain of some sort. Anything less than Tech-level Nine wouldn’t be able to find its way through jump space.” Naylund could only guess at the weird alien technology behind this interstellar seed-pod.
“There is a breathable oxygen-nitrogen-carbon dioxide atmosphere inside,” said Ged, reading the latest sensor scan. “We will have to go inside. Time to use your antique vacc suits, Naylund.”
“Be my guest. I will fly the Super Rooster and wait for your return in the ship.”
“You and the robot-boy, Tiki Astro. That should be enough problem-solving help to leave on this end. I will take Sara, Junior, Billy, and Gyro with me. We have five usable suits.”
“Don’t take any unnecessary risks, Ged-dono. I am trusting you with my daughter, after all. Something I would only do with the one true White Spider.” “I promise, Naylund-sensei. On my life, I promise.”
“What do we know about the unknown ship?” Ged asked Naylund.
“Very little. Scanners don’t get normal life-form readings. We can’t identify the craft by its design or visible features. It is a mystery apparently come from deep space in the unknown.”
“Monsters from outer space?” asked Sara with an ironic smile.
“Possibly. You and Junior should go with Naylund and I to look it over out there.” Ged put a hand on her shoulder. “Who else among the students would prove useful?”
“Billy Iowa’s clairvoyance can help us anticipate dangers and see beyond walls. And he probably won’t go without Gyro. But Gyro’s molecular transmutations could come in handy too maybe.”
“You have become quite an insightful leader,” said Naylund. “You make me proud.”
“Thank you, Daddy. But part of what we have been learning is how to rely on multiple leaders who can shift responsibilities as needed on the spur of the moment.”
“Go find Junior, Billy, and Gyro and give them the orders,” Ged commanded Sara.
“Yes, Sensei. By your command.” She scampered off towards the Akito House.
“Do you know where we can get workable vacuum suits?” Ged asked Naylund.
“Yes. There a little bit steam punk and a little bit old-fashioned, but they are serviceable Tech Level Nine. They are actually from my old starship that brought me here over a century ago.”
“Okay… Then I imagined they are thoroughly broken in.”
“Yes, but hopefully not too broken. Space travel has not been a common thing on this planet for over a thousand years.”
“Something we probably should’ve thought of when we borrowed the Ancient Hammer to build our space port.”
“You are probably right.”
The walking and talking ended in front of the Super Rooster on the old-fashioned launch gantry that Junior, Gyro, and Taffy King had created for it. It was a strange-looking craft that made Ged long for even the Megadeath to look at it. It had none of the elegance of the Leaping Shadowcat.
Gyro met them in front of the launch gantry. He was also all smiles, but with none of the irony Ged had detected in Sara’s grin.
“I built this thing, Sensei,” Gyro said proudly.
“I know you did. But you built it for Shen-Ming-sama, did you not?”
“Perhaps I better ask him to borrow it.”
“You know it is the only other spaceship besides the Red Dragon that we have available, and that Ancient thing could be way too dangerous to use for this mission,” reminded Naylund.
“You go on ahead. I need to ask…”
Ged turned back towards the Palace of a Thousand Years and focused his signal on Shen’s Tower to avoid the message being intercepted.
“What is it, my son?” Shen Ming asked when Ged keyed the commo-dot on his. neck.
“I need to borrow the car keys, Dad.”
“The keys to the Rooster, you mean. By all means. But drink no gargleblasters and wreck it not. Until the new ones are designed and built, it is the only car we really have.”
“I promise. Not a scratch or a dent.”
“Go with my blessing, then.”
Ged turned back to where Gyro was watching for his return.
Canto 117 – The Bogey… and Probably Not Humphrey Bogart
Ged and Shen Ming walked slowly back to the Administrative Offices in Shen Ming’s Tower.
“You really can’t tell me anything more about this whole Avenger thing?”
“Ah, Ged-sensei, you know how it is for old men… especially really old men more than five hundred. You forget stuff… you have hair growing out of your ears… you fart more often than you would really like…”
“No, I really don’t know about that yet. I am older than I look, but I have not yet experienced aging as you have.”
“And you will not. If I know anything at all about Psion shape-changers… and I probably don’t know anything, you will not age because your cells refresh themselves constantly with your ability.”
Ged nodded. He wasn’t sure how much he believed it, but he knew it was a possibility that he had even sensed within himself.
“How old is Bres the Black Spider?”
“Him? This I do not know. He appeared in Kiro five years ago, having possibly come here from space in response to the White Spider Prophecy.”
“He thought he was the White Spider?”
“No. He wanted to see the White Spider killed and the Prophecy defeated.”
“I hope so, Ged-dono. At least as well as I see.”
Suddenly, Hassan Parker was running towards them at full speed, completely naked except for his red fez hat and his red courtesy towel.
“Ah, so… the naked child approaches,” said Shen Ming with an Alfred E. Neuman grin.
“Ged Aero-sensei! You must come quickly! There is a bogey in orbit!”
“Humphrey Bogart is in orbit?” asked Shen Ming.
“No, no… an unidentified…” Hassan had to stop and catch his breath. He dropped the towel as he panted.
“Ah, a very beautiful child. But not so very smart, I think. He never seems to remember to wear pants.”
“Take your time, Hassan-kun. Tell us what this is about.”
“…an unidentified space craft of strange design… in orbit… maybe connected to… the intruder.”
“Ah, connected to the Avenger it is not…” said Shen Ming. “Master Jai Chang has never been off this planet.”
“Who spotted the intruder?” Ged asked.
“I was sent to tell you by Naylund Smith-sama. He’s in the newly built spaceport, at the Super-Rooster on landing pad seventeen.”
“We have seventeen landing pads already?” Ged gaped.
“The Ancient Hammer of God builds things very fast,” said Shen Ming. “We borrowed it from your planet Don’t Go Here, you know.”
“Ah… Ancient artifacts again. I worry sometimes…”
“Ged you must go and investigate. This lovely little Space Nudist is a good telepath, is he not?”
“Yes. Only Sara Smith is better on this planet.”
“Very good. I will take Hassan to help me find out why Master Jai Chang put on the helmet and where it came from. You go defend the planet from terrible intruding space creatures.”
Ged hesitated momentarily. There was something concerning about what Shen Ming had recently said and done. But what he should do about it, and what it might have to do with the White Spider Prophecy… well, he was afraid to ask.