Authors: G. X. Knight
They worked the problem a few more minutes. “Main systems are locked out with security like I’ve never seen. Is your dad a computer genius?” Sway asked.
“Oh please.” Zora answered for her son, “That idiot couldn’t even turn on the DVD player.”
“So he’s not working alone,” Sway mused.
They had run out of time. The ship was rocked by the stormy ocean, and then shuddered as the Elvinite hull crumbled one of the outlying barrier boulders into sea dust. They had to do something, and Scion wasn’t going to be there in time. Sway grabbed X by the arm and ran out yelling, “Come with me.”
They sprinted past frightened guests, through the ship, and made their way down into the forward engineering decks. They found what she was looking for. Sway grabbed her black-diamond knife, tossed it to X, and ordered him to start cutting anything with a hose. She moved to a control board in front of a building-sized piece of machinery which spooled chain links as big as a bus. She went to work cutting wires and ripping out parts. After a few moments the machine began to spin as the chain sparked against the ship’s metal core with a riotous thumping.
It worked. They could hear the anchor lowering, and they felt the ship jerk as it caught. The counterweight machine had no more power to keep the anchor aloft, and with them unable to stop the ship at its current speed, she hoped that the anchor would cause enough of a drag to turn the boat. The tilt they began to feel, and the banging chain against the ship’s side, meant her plan was working. They were definitely beginning to turn, but then with another sound of metal and rock making contact, X and Sway both toppled forward as the ship ground to a complete stop.
X was excited, but Sway wasn’t so much. She had done the math, and he hadn’t. She grabbed the knife from him and ran back up onto the stormy deck. Her fear had been confirmed. The dropped anchor had turned them just in time for the lumbering vessel to get stuck up against the cliff-face of the island’s volcano. The vessel’s structural integrity would hold, but they were going to need a fresh coat of paint after getting lodged in the side of that rock.
“We’re stopped,” X said happily. When he saw Sway’s face he asked, “What’s the matter?” The ship lurched again under the force of the engines screws still turning. If not for the anchor, they could no longer pull up, the ship could push itself free, and they would be able to keep sailing.
Sway looked helplessly to the shattered remains of computers still clinging to her arms, and then pointed to the steam vent that spewed from the rock face. “The MPI’s were so damaged I couldn’t stop all of the pressure, so I used them to redirect the eruption. In a few minutes, fresh magma is going to explode out of the rock above us, and this “unbreakable” ship will fill up with lava like a fiery basin.
X shared her out-of-idea countenance. “What we do now?” he asked with a shrug.
The storm had gotten worse, so life boats were out of the question. The cliff they were wedged against was nearly vertical, so there was no getting anybody out that way either.
“We have to pull up the anchor,” She answered.
“But we broke the machine, and even if we got everybody on board to pull as a group, we wouldn’t be strong enough to budge that anchor.”
Sway’s wet hair tossed in the wind, and she made a hopeful glance back up toward the light of the bridge, “
aren’t strong enough. But there’s one who is.”
CAT GOT YOUR TONGUE
I was back in the dark space of the void again. The training studio was almost gone, but this time I was not alone. I could hear Yel stalking me in circles, waiting to see what I could do. I thought about his tactics, and how he had used the images of those I loved to stop me. I laid there and thought about what fake Sway had said about going out on a date. Yel was brutal to use such personal attacks, and it made me angry.
“I give you due credit,” Yel said, “I’ve never had a Ripping take this long. I don’t know how you are able to keep defending against me, but I can tell you’re almost done. Which is fine, I’ve got all the time in the world. I can see your plan, and what you and my meddling son fail to realize, is that you were too late the moment you began. You have been a worthy prey, but it’s time to end this.”
I let his words sink in, “Worthy Prey?” I was not his prey. I came hunting him. I remembered what X told me about my Cast. I had the spirit of a tiger. I am the hunter. I also remembered what he said about truth. I had to accept what I was. I had to embrace it. I had to believe it. If I were going to be strong, I had to make my Cast live.
“You’ve got it wrong,” I said, still lying on the floor trying to move.
“Oh yeah, and what is that,
?” Yel asked in a mocking tone. I was getting used to no one taking me seriously. It only fueled the fire of my soul’s recovery.
“I am the hunter,” I wheezed.
“What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”
“I am the hunter,” I said again as I pulled up to my knees.
“Still not following,” Yel said between maniacal laughs.
I stood, ran to him, and punched him in face so hard he flew off of his feet and onto his backside. “I am the hunter!” I shouted as I stood over him.
Suddenly I was whole once more. My cyborg arms and eyes were back, my Dragonstones blazed on the back my hand, and the blackness of the void retreated from the light of my power. My pain was gone, and I smiled to myself as I realized that as a Cyborg, and as an Infinite, I considered myself complete.
Yel tried to shuffle back away, and I raised my fist to finish him as the anger and pain of what he had done filled me. The faces of my new family flashed in front of me. I thought about his abuse of their love, combined with the shame of my own failure. I prepared to crush him with all the anger and hatred I could force into the strength of my metal arms. I took a step toward him to end this, but I kicked a residual element still left from the training mirage. A shimmer in the shadows caught my attention. I bent down and scooped the face plate of one of the broken training bots I had so angrily broken. The sobering reminder of what I didn’t like about m myself was enough to make me stop.
I stared into the lifeless eyepiece. I was in danger of becoming just as broken and empty if I didn’t get a handle on my anger.
I dropped the bot-remnant and took a step back from Yel. He was down, but he was not out. I smiled at him. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. We’ve been so busy playing, you haven’t met all of me. Allow me to introduce you to my Cast.” I stretched out my hand and from my Dragonstones the green energy left my body and took the stones with it. The swirling mass glowed as bright as a star and then formed into my Cast… a dump-truck-sized tiger.
It had fangs as long as my arm. Its fur was the same green as my stones, and it was crossed with black stripes etched with silver runes marking the names of all the Thantosas who had wielded the Dragonstones before me.
The tiger stalked Yel with a growl that shook the void.
“Okay, okay.” Yel said as the tiger pushed him back to the ground and placed its massive paw on his chest. “I’ll talk.”
“How do I stop the ship?”
“You can’t. It’s being controlled by remote. Once I uploaded the virus I became a passenger just like everyone else.”
He then spilled his plan about ramming the volcano, releasing the prisoners, and using the Diamond to take over people’s bodies. But then he spoke of the backup plan in case the ship was able to be stopped. The Volcano was going to blow, and many of the spirits had already been freed into the lava pools. They were getting out no matter what, and the Soul Diamond was on something of an automatic spiritual timer. As soon as spirits began leaving the prison they would be sucked toward the ship anyway, and they would still possess the bodies of those who were on it.
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
Yel laughed, “There are so many reasons. All of which are bigger than your quest to become an Infinite, or mine to stick-it-to my blasted wife.”
“How do I stop the Soul Diamond?”
The tiger growled in Yel’s face.
“Seriously,” Yel pleaded. “I suppose you could always try a good old fashioned smashing?”
“How are you supposed to smash a diamond?”
“That’s your problem,” Yel said, and then disappeared with a scream as the tiger began spiritually mauling him.
I felt the void begin to slip as the connection between myself and Yel was breaking. We were out of time, Yel would give us no more, and the tiger knew that. The tiger came back over and nuzzled into my chest with deep breaths that felt warm against the metal of my skin. Right before we returned to the real world, one of the silver runes glowed white hot, left the stripe it had been written on, and turned into an image of a man. He was shirtless and wore a brown headband that had each of my Dragonstones on it.
“Pimnoss,” I said recognizing the look from Largo’s book.
“No,” He replied examining the green of my hair with great curiosity. “Talking to the dead is unnatural, and violates great laws. I’m the one who made Pimnoss, the first Scion, and all the other Thantosa Infinites what they were.” He tussled my hair, “The Thantosa’s have certainly come a long way.” He chuckled, still enthralled by the green of my hair. Then he took the stones from his headband and placed them back on my hands. “Whenever you are truly in need of a little extra help, just ask. But let me caution you now, I don’t always answer in the way you might think.”
Instantly I was pulled back to the real world. Yel had been exhausted by his ordeal and was easily captured by Zora’s guards. She gave him an earful as he crumpled into a drooling mass of hysteria.
I burst into the bridge, grabbed the yellow box that held the Soul Diamond, and immediately spied Sway and X down on the front deck. The ship had been wedged against a cliff on one side, and they were peering over the other viewing where a massive chain had entered the water. I had no idea how long I had been gone, or what had happened while I was away, but I knew I had to act fast if I was going to stop the Soul Diamond.
I probably should have stayed to get a situation report, but I ran out to join the two out in the storm. I was greeted by a handshake from X, and an awkward nod from Sway.
“This is bad,” I said skipping the pleasantries. “It’s still going to blow?”
Sway yelled over the thundering storm, “Yes. It’s going to come out there.” She pointed to the rock that was releasing rising clouds of steam just above our heads.
Just then the mountain shook and a few boulders crumbled around us against the deck.
“That’s going to kill us all.” I screamed.
“No shit.” Sway screamed back, “We have to get away.”
“It won’t do us any good. The lava has been filled with spirits already. When it blows they’re going to be released, and we can’t stop the Soul Diamond from bringing them here. Even if we get away, we’re still finished, unless we can destroy the diamond.”
I was amazed by the speed Sway snatched the box out of my hand, lifted the top, and stabbed the pink Soul Diamond with her black-diamond blade. Like a balloon that been filled past capacity, the gem flashed and then shattered into a pink pile of crumbled pieces.
Sway closed the box on the harmless remains. “One down,” she said. She turned to meet my tired gaze with one of her own. “Now it’s your turn.”
The steam vent blew out and a splattering of spirit filled lava flew over our heads. One of the white wisps zipped toward Sway. Thankfully, X was there. He used his tattooed Ripper mojo to swat the thing away like a gnat. No longer able to use the power of the Soul Diamond, it flew away in search of a more willing host.
A few more splatters erupted, but X was able to protect us. We left X there to work against the attacking soul wisps. Sway led me down to the room where the anchor counter pulley they destroyed was located. She pointed the massive metal chain and said “Pull.”
“There’s no way.” I said. I was strong, but this was just… stupid. I couldn’t even get my hands on that big chain to get enough of a grip. “Why don’t we cut it?”
“It’s unbreakable,” Sway answered.
“We’ll see about that,” I said. I felt the tiger winking to me as I jumped for the link closest to the opening.
I hit the chain so hard it bucked against the wall. Sparks flew off my hands and off the side where it bounced under the force of my strikes. After about a dozen more all-or-nothing swings, I dented it. I hit like a mad man until the link began to tear. I worked at the damaged portion until the stressed metal began to pull apart. Another half-dozen strikes, and complete exhaustion later, the chain snapped with a ferocious clamber. The ship groaned against the rock face as it started to inch forward until free.
I fell to the floor as the broken chain ripped away. My hands took some damage and wept the Bio-Tiff from the sores. I was hurt, but I’d be fine.
I was long past the point of freaking out over my new, weird accomplishments. I laughed so loud it echoed around the massive bay. Still doing what they say can’t be done.
Eat your heart out, Burt Reynolds, there’s a new Bandit in town.
I was feeling pretty good about myself, rather about my Cast and the image of Pimnoss. What I had done was special. It was probably for the best I not take on anymore anchor chains anytime soon.
Back out on the deck, the sky began to clear and the waters stilled as X dodged lava spews while using his Veil Ripping abilities to block a host of attacking spirits. The ship was indeed pulling away from the volcano, but not as fast as I would have liked. We were almost clear when a large spray of magma flew right at us. I managed to produce my shield for Sway and X to hide behind.
Sway found herself up under the protection of my arm. I held her there until we were clear. Just as the ship hit a safe distance, the entire side of the volcano erupted. Countless gallons of lava poured out safely into the ocean. Unfortunately, an untold number of prisoners escaped their volcanic confines as well. There was nothing we could do about them now. That issue would have to be settled later.
“Did we miss all the fun?” Largo asked joining us as X, Sway, and I watched a new kind of firework show be given by Frostwick’s volcano.
“Just in time,” I hugged Largo, and even Kata seemed happy to see me, “Better late than never.”
Sway shook her head, “Oh trust me… they were right on time.”
Exhaustion took over us all, all but Largo that is. I could feel my bed calling, but he was still in work mode. I had been on the receiving end of his work ethic during too many of his classes, so I knew what was coming as he spoke, “Well I hate to break up the party, but come on kids, job isn’t done. We need to get control of the ship back, and then snoop around for answers. It’s clear somebody much more powerful had their hand at work here today. We need to know why.”