Tag Archives: AeroQuest 3

AeroQuest 3… Canto 76

Canto 76 –Practicing Practical Practices

Ged had begun to feel at ease with the strange ninja powers he had absorbed by eating the Black Spider Leader while in the form of a dinosaur.  He was a master of The Discipline now.  Back on Earth in the time before travel between the stars, this Discipline had been known as K’ung Fu.  The Black Spider Leader had mastered the jump-kicks of WuShu and the graceful, swift hand-to-hand combat known as Wing Chung.  Because the skill had been trained into The Black Spider Leader’s muscle memory, Ged had absorbed it whole, even if he did not have the philosophies that were supposed to go with it.  One thing he liked about it, though, was that it allowed him to defeat and overpower an opponent without doing permanent damage.  Ged had never loved killing the way Trav Dalgoda loved it.  He always preferred the bloodless victory, whether over man or beast.  The prey was always to be honored and respected.  And the prey was not to be stalked if it was not capable of self-defense.

In the heart of the Celestial Dragon was a large, gym-like room that was perfect for giving students lessons in the art of the Discipline.  It had a soft, forgiving floor, plenty of room, and a pair of bathing pools that provided purified water for drinking or bathing.  It was in this room which Ged now called the Practice Center that he was trying to impart his skills to Shu Kwai, Junior, Billy Iowa, and Rocket Rogers.  The Phoenix and Hassan Parker sat at the side, both cross-legged, watching with great interest.

“The simplest form of this move is a shield, making it an effective block to the offensive strikes I have shown you,” said Ged, demonstrating an arc of the right arm in a circle to his right side.

“You know,” said Phoenix, “Master Bres taught Alec and me a very similar stroke, but it led to a killing strike to the neck or groin.”

Ged looked grimly at the red-haired boy.  “I prefer not to attach that sort of thing to this move, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.  I think I prefer your way,” said Phoenix with a smug grin.  “It will prolong the battle and make things much closer.  You know, more challenging.”

“It allows you to protect yourself without killing,” reminded Ged.  The other boys all looked at him with questioning faces.

“If Alec were here, he’d say it protects you better to end it quickly.  Bres would say that the kill is the only worthy goal.”

“I would rather not be compared to Bres, if you don’t mind.”

Phoenix smiled a more genuine smile.  “You don’t have to convince me, sensei.  You are much better at this than the new Black Spider Leader.  It is because your motives are so much purer than his, I think.”

“Thank you.”

Ged allowed Billy Iowa to try an offensive strike.  Four times he deflected it easily.  The move worked.

“Practice with your partner,” said Ged. 

Shu Kwai paired himself with Rocket.  Junior squared off with Billy.  All four of them were dressed simply in loin covers and tabai boots.  Rocket also wore his ever-present cowboy hat.  Ged watched bare arms and legs flashing as they worked on the technique.  All four boys were distinctly different from each other.  Shu’s skin was yellow-orange in the Gaijinese manner.  Rocket was a pale peach color like Ged himself.  Billy was Indian bronze, while Junior was blue.  Still, Ged couldn’t help but marvel at how they meshed together whenever they tried to accomplish the same goal.

“You know,” said Ged, “It is our differences that make us strong as a whole.  We are blessed by being different, complementing each other.”

            Phoenix laughed.  “Is that wisdom, sensei?”

“I hope it is,” said Ged, somewhat sheepishly.  It wasn’t easy to tell if he’d really won Phoenix over or not.  The boy was more dangerous than the others, his Galtorrian lizard eyes so much harder to read.

Suddenly there was a loud fwooping noise.  Two more students appeared in the Practice Center.  They were both naked and connected to each other in the most embarrassing way possible.  It was a deeply blushing Alec Songh with a writhing, moaning Jadalaqstbr held in his arms.

Ged was a little shocked, to say the least.

“What is going on here?” asked Shu Kwai, immediately incensed at what he saw.  Rocket and Billy couldn’t help but giggle.  Junior looked on with fascination.

“Ooops!” said Alec.  “I guess it’s pretty obvious what is going on.”  He pulled away from the girl, trying to cover his embarrassment with his hands.  “What I’m wondering is how we ended up here?”

As young Jackie came to her senses again, she couldn’t help but blush deeply also.  “I guess I lost control of my power.  I’m so sorry, Alec.”

“Hmm,” said Ged.  “I believe this is a breakthrough, although I would’ve preferred to find it out a different way.”

“What do you mean, sensei?” asked Shu Kwai.

“Well, we did not know before it was possible for a Psion like Jackie to teleport two people,” said Ged.  “We need to know if it can be done again.”

“I’m sorry, sensei,” said Jadalaqstbr.  “I was so overpowered by a new experience that I didn’t know what I was doing.  My inner eye activated almost by itself.”

“Can you teleport back to the room you were in, get your clothes on, and both come back here again?”

“I don’t know,” said the embarrassed girl.  “Do you think we have to be doing the same thing on the way back?”

“Yes!” said Rocket.  “Try that again!”

Jackie blushed.

“No,” said Ged.  “Hold onto him and try to take him with you.”

The girl gingerly took hold of Alec’s arms again.  The fwooping sounded again and the two students were gone as suddenly as they had come.

“Should you have let them go like that?” asked Shu Kwai.  “Don’t you think they need to be punished for what they were doing?”

Ged shook his head.  Perhaps Shu was right.  Still, who was Ged to judge the guilt of others in this area?  “We cannot punish them for being humanoid.  I will talk with Alec about it, but it is really a thing between their consciences and themselves.”

In a few more moments, the two children reappeared, this time fully clothed from head to toe.  It was obvious they had felt quite mortified by their experience.  Jadalaqstbr had demonstrated before that teleporting with clothes on was not difficult.

“Before the lectures begin,” said Alec with a frown, “I want to tell you, sensei, that I love her.  I am not just defying you.  And, Shu, it’s none of your frakking business what Jackie and I do.”

“I love him too, sensei,” said Jadalaqstbr.  “He didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do.”

Ged nodded.  “We need to have a private discussion.  This class is dismissed for now.”

The boys all filed away, Alec and Jackie staying behind to face the music.  Alec had a look of determined defiance on his face.  The music would have to be about birds and bees, and right and wrong.  Ged knew what a parent and teacher would have to say in this situation, his mother had once had this discussion with Ham and Ged.  It wasn’t going to make things any easier for any of them, though, especially Ged.

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AeroQuest 3… Canto 75

Canto 75 – The Music and the Gunfighter

     Arkin Cloudstalker and his friend Lazerstone walked into the starport center in the planet known as Ibiguy.  This stop on their journey had been a necessity brought on by lack of supplies and fuel aboard the little scout ship they now flew.  It was only one small needle-like wedge of mechanical parts to use in the quest to puncture holes in the fabric of space and re-unite Cloudstalker with his Lady Knights.

     Swirls of orange dust flew about the grand concourse in this starport.  It was a parched and cracked desert world, this Ibiguy.  It was one small discordant note in the symphony of space and time.  It was also a hardship to travelers.  There was no water and little hydrogen in this system to use as fuel for starships.  It had to be purchased at the starport in order to move along to the next stanza in their travels through the star lanes.

     Many alien eyes pondered the odd pair as they walked through the starport.  Birdlike aliens, wedge-headed aliens, oceanic aliens wearing suits filled with salty water, and star-fish shaped aliens known as Sparkies.  This world, rarely used by Galtorr Imperials, had become a haven to those who were persecuted, especially those known as Un-Humans because their make-up was not humanoid.  Freaks, too, who had slipped away from their forced servitude, found sanctuary in this place.  For obvious reasons, the starport had only planet-bound elements, a downport.  There was no space station or space port in the system.

     “I don’t understand,” said Arkin, inclining his cowboy-hatted head towards Lazerstone, “why are they watching us?”

     “I sense anticipation.  Their pulse and surge rates are all slightly elevated, indicating anxiety of some sort.”

     “Yes, I feel it.  Can you tell what might be causing it?”

     “Is there an angry cyborg in your past?”

     “What?”  Arkin’s eyes grew round and fearful.

     “There is a being re-animated with artificial energy flows behind us.  He is seventy-two per cent metallic and eight per cent polymer.  He has been trailing us since we passed through the first security gate.”

     “It’s Ace Campfield.”  Arkin tried to pretend that the music of the universe was not pounding out an eerie tuba score that made the heart rate climb dramatically.

     “We know he’s there,” cautioned Lazerstone.  “I can see him even when he’s hiding because I don’t rely on eyes to see.  It gives us a tactical advantage.”

     “Tactical advantage?”

     “I can’t read minds, but I know he’s got a small plasma weapon that he is firing up for use.  We can attack first.”

     Arkin began to sweat profusely.  He only narrowly escaped the bounty-hunting Mechanoid the last time.  This would have to be a fatal confrontation, one way or another.

     “He’s hideous in a way,” commented Lazerstone.  “He is a creature who’s not fully alive and certainly not dead.  His cold heart seems to be without feeling.”

     “You’re going to say it again, aren’t you?”

     “What?  Fascinating?”

     “Yes, that.  You got it from ancient holovids, didn’t you Mr. Vulcan?”

     “Yes.  It’s a good word.  But I am not Spock.”

     “Fascinating.”

     Arkin pulled his gauss pistol and dove to the right.  Lazerstone dove to the left.  They both rolled and came up pointing their weapons at a surprised Ace Campfield.

     “What?  You will shoot me with those things?  A speedy slug thrower and a finger?”

     “Yes,” said Arkin, pulling the trigger.  The gauss pistol launched its accelerated slug at mach 4 and Lazerstone simultaneously launched crystal shards from the end of his finger.  The slug tore through Ace’s cranium, breaking circuitry and slagging connections.  The crystal shards flew past the rotted head and plunged into the ground in five places.

     The face of Ace Campfield wrinkled upwards into a skeletal grin of pure mockery.  “Didn’t feel a thing!”  He raised his plasma handgun to point it at Arkin’s white face.

     Out of the ground surrounding Campfield, five crystal arms rose out of the dirt like a scene from a George Romero movie.  Each grabbed the bounty-hunter, pulling at him from a different direction.

     “What the…?”

     Ace’s arms and legs splintered as the five new Lazerstones stood up, rending him limb from limb.

     “Curse you, you alien scum!” cried the limbless torso that was previously Ace Campfield.

     “Sorry there were only five of us to answer the call,” said Lazerstone, “but there’s a limited amount of harmonic quartz on this planet.”

     Arkin smiled and nodded at his friend.  “Fascinating!”

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Editing, Revising, and Re-writing

My new novel, finished the first time the day before yesterday, is not what writers call a rough draft. My writing process consists of doing rough draft, revision, and proofreading chapter by chapter. Or, as I call them, canto by canto.

It was written following an outline that existed first in my imagination as it was played out like a television show, dreamed up episode by episode knowing what would ultimately happen by the end of the story.

So, the process about to begin is not a second draft. It is not a revision-step either, though minor revisions may happen in the final pass before publishing. It is merely a final proofread where the story is reread as a whole, and given necessary corrections of typos and boo-boos. As a writing teacher, I have seen too many young writers skip this final, critical step. They don’t go back and read the whole thing as one piece of writing, stepping back far enough to view the work of art as a whole. How can any good writer only read the thing through as he or she writes it and figure it is good enough as it is? It may be that, but it is probably not.

Adjustments will occur for me because this new novel uses characters from a series of novels in which time passes and people change. Those adjustments are what you can safely call revisions. The character of Milt Morgan is appearing in the novel as a narrator. He has appeared in the story cycle three times now, in three different novels, and this is the first time he is ever used as a first-person narrator. He has changed and grown up a bit from novel to novel. This time he is no longer a virgin. He has freed himself from the cycle of abuse that he and his older sister both endured from alcoholic parents. He has a deeper understanding now of what magic really means and what meaning it gives to his life to call himself a wizard. But he has yet to come to terms with how lying and fantasizing about life can lead to consequences. That part of his future story will be tackled in another story that is a novel in my head, but not yet written out in novel form. That is a future writing project called The Wizard in His Keep. So, I must check this novel to be sure that all the pistons in the engine of his personal story arc firing properly in this book to ensure that it carries him forward into that new adult character he must later become. Those pistons in the engine are what revision is really all about.

Characters will die in this novel, as they do in almost every novel I write. Usually at least one bad guy, and one good guy. Of course, the doomed ones are not fated to change in this book. The story is set. I won’t be surprised by a death in this story the way I was with Snow Babies, and The Bicycle-Wheel-Genius. Of course, this story is about Immortals, and it is possible that a character dies in this book who doesn’t stay dead.

The final pass through The Boy… Forever will not be a rewrite either. Rewriting is what I am doing to AeroQuest where whole chapters (cantos) are added and left out, New characters are created. Old ones are deleted. And the plot changes in how the details come together. And though the main plot points remain, spread over four books instead of one, they are reorganized and better fleshed out.

That book is becoming books. The original and the rewritten are quite different from each other. For one thing, the new versions will make use of my cartooning skill and allow the books to be far more illustration-filled. Rewriting is a total do-over.

So, my baby book is still not quite ready to be born. But it is a complete book. Only the messy business of giving birth remains.

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AeroQuest 3… Canto 74

Canto 74 – Jungle Jingles (The Green Thread)

The planet Stanley was beautiful in a primitive sort of way, but covered with an endless, nearly unbroken jungle on its entire land surface.  Strange reptilian birds fluttered through stifling, pollen-saturated air.  Primitive Lemurians called out from height to height in the tops of the jungle canopy.  Their simian cries spoke of fear and death and loneliness, the need of the semi-intelligent to cling to each other in the face of the predatory jungle darkness.

The pinnace rode upward on a pillar of repulsor force, using magnetic pulses to push away from the planet’s wild green surface.  King Killer, Dr. Hooey, and Willie Culver watched it go with grim faces.  Marooned on a jungle planet full of unknown creatures that hunt all that lives and breathes.

“What will we do now?” asked Willie.

“We’ll be fine,” assured Hooey.  “What Admiral Tang doesn’t know is that I’ve already read how this turns out.  There is an Ancient archaeological site in the southern hemisphere that contains an Ancient artifact known to the Time Knights as a “transmat”.  It turns anything that steps onto it into a tachyon stream that can physically transport anyone or any physical thing to any other time and place in the galaxy that has another transmat.”

“What are you saying?” said King.  “You are planning to scramble our molecules and send them on a particle beam across space?  You really know how to do this?  You’ve done it before?”

“Well… no.  I’ve never done it before.  But the book says I will figure it out in time to save us from certain death.  You and I will be fine, King.”

“What about me?” asked Willie.  “Do I make it out too?”

“Well,” said Hooey, “you’re kinda the one-episode character.  The kind the writer sends along on the mission to allow for a terrible death without killing off a main character.”

“What!  I’m gonna die?  AAARGH!”

“Don’t panic yet,” said King.  “We are quite capable of surviving this.  All of us.”

“Yes, quite,” said Hooey, “now we need to head for the archeological site.”

“Is it close by?” asked Willie.

“About eight hundred kilometers to the south.”

“Good Lord!” growled King.  “You aren’t making this any easier, are you?”

“What do you mean?” said Hooey.  “I just have to follow the right timeline.  I didn’t choose any of this.”

At about that moment something large gave them a glimpse of itself in the undergrowth.  It was the creature soon to be known as the Stanley Damnthing.  It was a large porcine predator with ears like an elephant, a mouth like a toothy wolverine, and the overall body shape of a ten-ton hog.

“Oh, gawd!” sighed Willie.  “That thing is hunting us, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”  King looked grimmer than his usual grim.

“It won’t be able to catch all of us, though,” reassured Hooey with an eerie smile.

Willie Culver wet himself.

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AeroQuest 3… Canto 73

Canto 73 – Star Nomads – (The Silver Thread)

Tron and Maggie needed the Megadeath and her crew to bolster the defense forces of Outpost.  So, it was simply a matter of finding a ship they could spare to send Artran to safety with Ged on whatever planet the hunter now inhabited.

“I can’t afford to send a single Pinwheel or White Sword out of system.  We lost too many to defend our planet already.  And we have to assume this base is no longer a secret to Grand Admiral Tang.”  Tron glared at his difficult wife.

“This is our only son we are talking about,” argued Maggie.  “He is a cargo worth protecting.  That’s why we are bothering to send him to Ged Aero in the first place.”

“Perhaps I can be of assistance, sir,” offered Bill the Postman (secretly Scarpigo Snarcs).  “Your wife is going to win this argument, or I don’t know anything about wives.”

“Have you been married before?” asked Tron, fixing the clown with a laser-eyed look from both his artificial eye and his natural one.

“Of course not!  I told you I knew all about wives didn’t I?”

“So, what’s your worthless advice, then?”

“I am disguised as a competent member of the Imperial Scout Service.  So, I can take him to his destination without being fired upon in any X-boat that is delivering mail.”

“How is that secure enough for my precious boy?” asked Maggie.

“Well, I will be delivering the Imperial mail.  You know the Imperial Space Navy does not shoot down its own mail service, even on the frontier.”

“He has a good point, Maggie,” said an exasperated Tron.

“What about Star Dogs?  They do attack Scout ships of all kinds.”

“That’s true, dogs does chase postmen,” offered Quintillius Blorghoffer (secretly Cinco Snarcs disguised as a Scout Service Postman), “But me brudder an’ I is two of de bestest secret-type agent-men going, an’ our X-boat is secretly armed with a meson cannon, don’t ya know.  Ain’t that right, Pontoffel Poggs?”

Zero Snarcs (disguised as the above-mentioned Poggs the Postman) vigorously shook his head.

“He says you don’t?” asked Maggie angrily.

“Oh, he don’t know no better.  He shakes his head like that when he means ta say yes.  He’s just too stupid to talk.”

“Okay, I have my doubts now, too,” said Tron.

“Please, sir,” said Tiki Astro, “I am fully programmed to problem-solve and defend Artran.  Who better to send along with him as he travels in secret than I?”

Tron looked at the artificial child.  With his new skin covering his metalloid body, he was completely indistinguishable from a real child.  He would indeed be the perfect travelling companion to keep Artran safe.

“Yes.  That settles it.  Artran goes in the X-boat with the three idiots to be with Ged Aero in relative safety.”

Maggie sighed and nodded agreement.

Happy Jack sighed and then hugged his artificial son goodbye.

The three idiot postmen and the two children boarded the balloon-shaped X-boat and immediately took off from Outpost.

Once they reached the orbital jump point, Bill the Postman turned to Pontoffel Poggs (which was actually Scarpigo Snarcs turning to Zero Snarcs) and said, “Okay, boy, spin the directional dial and then spin the distance dial.”

Poggs (who was actually Snarcs) spun both dials like he was playing Intergalactic Wheel of Fortune.

“It says we are jumping a hundred and twelve parsecs into the middle of unknown space,” warned Blorghoffer (who was also secretly Snarcs).

“That’s perfect!” said Bill (secretly… well, you know).  He then smashed the jump button and folded space to a distance that would normally destroy an X-boat.

After an undeterminable amount of time they exited jump space into a black void.  But at it’s center glittered a multitude of artificial lights from a construct seemingly sewn together with steel beams and made from junk spaceship fuselages, broken satellites, abandoned space stations, and unidentifiable metal things from unknown space.

“Ah, I didn’t actually think that would work,” said Bill.

“Where are we?” asked Artran and Tiki at almost the same moment.

“This, my boys, is Nomad.  This is the home of the Star Nomads.”

“An’ I always thinked that Star Nomads be Myths,” said Blorghoffer.

“Just because something is a myth doesn’t mean it’s not true,” said Bill.

Poggs vigorously nodded his stupid head.

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AeroQuest 3… Canto 72

Canto 72: When the Ocean Rises Up (the Blood-Red Thread)

As the Leaping Shadowcat pulled into orbit around the third planet of the Red Giant called FarStar 181 and its white dwarf companion Littlebit 181, we were playing a fierce game of Antarean Canasta while watching local television to get a clue or two about what was happening in the star system.  The planet Farwind was a center of trade, culture, and travel along the Galtorrian Imperial Rim.

“I have a run of five showing,” I said to Sinbadh, Ham, and Duke Ferrari.  “It will cost you each a thousand credits to find out if I can complete it.”  I was winning the hand again and glorying in it.  I regularly made killings in card games because I could keep track of all the cards and the odds in my head.

“Something just isn’t right here,” moaned Ham Aero.  “I’ve never seen a nerdy guy like you win so often at a game of chance.”

“Oi seconds the observation, Doctor Marou,” said Sinbadh.  “Ye play a cutthroat game ye do.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Sinbadh.  I may not be a capable pirate like you, but I earn my respect in more than one way.”

“Aye, ‘tis true,” sighed Sinbadh.  “I can’t afford to call yer jolly bluff, Doc.  I folds.”

“Me too,” said Duke Ferrari stroking his handlebar moustache with a nervous finger as he tossed his hand down.  “I don’t know how you are cheating, Dr. Marou, but I must say, you are good at it!”

“Well,” said Ham with grim determination, “I may lose all my savings, but I have to know if it’s a bluff or not.”

Ham threw the last of his credit chips onto the game board.

“I was hoping somebody would,” I said.  I laid down the six and seven of clovers to make a run of seven.  “I guess I win.”

“Nobody is that good at cards,” Ham said, shaking his blond head sadly.

The holo-news was describing a recent political rally in the government center of Farwind.  People there were upset about the despotic rule of the Galtorr Imperium.  The taxes paid to old Emperor Slythinus were bad enough, but the local sector head, Emperor Mong of the planet Mingo, was placing burden after burden on the people, and on top of that, demanded that they yield up their buried dead to Centralis Controllis, the Master Computer of Mingo Sector.

“I guess I’m going to have to go down there and make an official appearance,” said Duke Ferrari.  His face was long and worried.  “The political situation here is still degenerating.”

“Word has come,” said the talking head from the holo-news, “That Sector Duke Han Ferrari has returned to us and is in orbit even as we speak.”

Ferrari was aghast.  “How did they know that?”

The warning sirens from the auto-sensors came on at that same moment.  A system defense boat was fast approaching from the upper atmosphere of the planet.

“Oh, God help us,” said Ham, overturning the game board and scattering my earnings everywhere.  “We have got such trouble!”

We all followed Ham from the lounge area to the bridge.  The screens were showing a large system defense ship bristling like a porcupine with defensive weaponry.

“It’s definitely a government ship!” said Duke Ferrari.  “If we let them arrest me without resistance, it’s possible they will let the rest of you go free.”

“That clunky thing cannot out-fly me,” swore Ham, “If you want me to run…”

“No,” said the Duke.  “Let’s hail them.”

The captain of the defense boat was quickly called up and on screen.

“You are here for me, I take it,” the Duke said to the on-screen captain.

“Yessir!”  The captain of the other ship saluted crisply.  “By the command of the people of Farwind, we humbly request that you let us escort you to Farwind Downport.”

“Escort us?”

“Yes, your highness.  The people of Farwind have just completed a coup of the government.  We want a democracy like you tried to institute on Coventry, and we want you to lead us!”

The Duke’s surprise was enormous.  “The people decided this?”

“Yessir!  There’s only one little problem for you to deal with first.  The governors of the Imperium have fortified themselves inside the undersea dome at Farwind Center.  It’s a well-guarded and very secure facility.  The people want you to lead the assault.”

“Good god, man,” moaned Ferrari, a hand dragging across the left side of his face where he’d just slapped himself.  “I’m no military leader.  Is this mission even possible?”

“We hope so, sir.  It’s the will of the people.”

Ferrari looked at all of us aboard the Shadowcat.  “I can’t ask any of you to sacrifice yourselves on this fool’s mission.  We will be killed and it will all be for nothing.”

Ham grinned.  He was handsome when he smiled.  “If Goofy were here right now, he’d say what are we waiting for?”

“You… you mean, you want to come with me?”

“We live for adventure!  Don’t we, guys?”

“Well, er… woof, that is,” said Sinbadh.

“No, I surely don’t,” I said.

“See,” said Ham, “it’s settled!  When do we attack?  And why do you call yourself Shirley Doant, professor?”

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AeroQuest 3… Canto 71

Canto 71 – In the Belly of the Dragon (the White Thread)

Inside the massive ancient device shaped like a dragon, the students of Ged Aero discovered a long corridor and a number of rooms that looked like the inside of a spaceship, yet not like any spaceship any of them had ever entered.

“It’s something like a Nebulon Space Whale,” said Gyro. “The walls and floors and ceilings are all made of pliable materials that bend and warp as the artificial creature moves, yet I can sense that it is entirely unliving in the same way as something made of stone or rigid metal.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty weird in here,” said little Mai Ling.

“Junior?  Are you still in telepathic contact with its artificial mind?” Ged asked.

“Yes, Sensei.  But it is complex.  It thinks in algorithms faster than I can learn from it.”

“We have to master this wonderful thing,” said Phoenix.  “It is the most elegant and brilliant travel machine I have ever seen.”

“Where is the control center… the bridge for the ship?” asked Shu Kwai.

“Directly above us,” answered Junior, straining to keep up with the flood of input from his unique form of telepathy.

“Can you find the way in?” asked Sara.

“I think I can open it.”

Red, blue, and yellow lights flashed in pulsating patterns along the red-brown walls.  Then a hidden hatchway opened above their heads.  A ladder that was made of some sort of high-tech bone or stone dropped to the floor.

“Permission to lead the way?” asked Billy.  “I can use my clairvoyance to see what’s ahead.”

“Yes, Billy-san, lead the way,” said Ged with a satisfied smile.

Billy Iowa climbed like squirrel monkey, zipping up through the hole in the ceiling in almost no time.  Then he signaled the others to follow.  One by one they all scaled the ladder and entered the large control room of the dragon ship.

It was a room shaped like the top of the dragon’s head in the carved statue of the dragon gate that existed outside and all around the ancient device.

“This will be such a shame to shatter the walls and city gate in order to use this spaceship,” Ged muttered, intending to talk to himself mainly.

“As far as I can tell, we don’t have to destroy the gate or walls to free the dragon from them.  It is showing me a schematic that suggests the whole thing teleports from here out into space.  The structure of the city walls and gate were built to remain standing when the dragon leaves.  It can also return and hide in the same place.”  Junior had answered in an almost mechanical way.

“Junior?  Do you need to rest your telepathy a bit?” suggested Sara.

“Um, well… let me do two more things first.”

The panels where the dragon’s eyes were located on the outside of the gate suddenly irised open, though nothing could be seen through them.  The six holes in the ceiling that then opened up each lowered a helmet attached to a long, glowing filament that tethered it to the computerized brain above.

“What are these for?” asked Hassan.

Junior fell to his knees, practically exhausted to the point of unconsciousness.

“Junior!”  Sara took hold of him and cradled him on her lap on the control-room floor.

“We… we are going to have to experiment.  So much of this is too complicated for me to understand without a great deal of study.”  Junior closed his eyes, and was immediately asleep.

“So, when do we move our stuff from the Palace into this thing?” asked Alec.

“There is no hurry.  We need to give Junior time to learn this thing’s complicated operations.  And we need to explore the whole of the ship.  We cannot simply jump into a thing like this and take off.  We don’t even know yet where we must go.  Somebody is going to have to study those damned books of prophecy too.” Ged surveyed the faces of his students.  Freddy, Rocket, Phoenix, and Billy had started grinning at each other when Ged had mentioned the word, “explore”.  Gyro was lost in thought examining a helmet. Hassan was looking about with a bored expression. Jackie, Mai Ling, Taffy, and Sara were all gathered around Junior and tending to him or lending concern.  Only Alec was glaring back at Ged.

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