I must say, the mushrooms in this universe taste HORRIBLE! We had to eat one each to recover from the crash. “Mario,” I mumbled, “how do you bear it?”
“I’ve-a eaten them for years,” replied Mario. “You get-a used to it.”
“I guess,” I muttered as I finished mine off.
“And that’s-a all the bruises gone,” reported Mario as he took off his head mirror. “Everyone else is-a waiting for-a you.”
“Where did you get your medical degree?” I asked.
“Mushroom University,” answered Mario. “Best educational institute in-a this world.”
“And you’re still in the plumbing business?” I muttered.
“Wouldn’t trade it for-a the world,” cheered Mario. I met up with everyone outside Peach’s castle. We were all healed up and had explained the original reason for coming to this universe and who the enemy was.
“From initial sensor reports,” reported Majel from a computer terminal, “the Tranzek lost power suddenly.”
“Can they-a recover from that?” whimpered Luigi.
“Heather turned a science vessel into a warship, possibly in only a few hours,” I replied. “She’ll find a way.”
“Well, we have our own power problems,” interjected Liam as he took out his phone. “We got hit BAD!” He pulled up the damage report. “The hull can survive lift-off and atmospheric egress, but we’d be running on emergency batteries, meaning we won’t have enough power to get back to Vorton in any less than 2 months. If we have another space battle, though, we’ll be too focused on keeping all power reserved for life-support.”
“Can we repair the engines?” I asked.
“The good news is, the engines CAN be fixed,” reported Liam. “In fact, they can be fixed pretty easily. Whoever was the genius to make everything on the ship modular, I’d like to thank.”
“That would be Lacey,” wheezed Pestilence.
“And the bad news?” asked Tanisha.
“Remember all the shooting going on up there?” asked Liam. “Yeah, the cargo bay with all the spares was one of the areas damaged. I can try and jury-rig something with what we have, but it’s gonna take some time.”
“All right, options, people,” I directed. “Start throwing out ideas.”
“Couldn’t you use the debris field that the Rift Loop made?” asked Peach, having been filled in on what happened. “I mean, if Heather could use it, so could you.”
“Sorry, Peach, dudette, but we don’t have enough power to get into the rift at all,” sighed R9.
“Besides, that’s most likely where Heather will start looking,” muttered Daisy.
“Don’t we have any other transports?” asked Amelia. “A means of escape?”
“There ARE escape pods and we have a gunship, the Monticello,” I mused. “That IS a way out in a pinch.”
“Then let’s use them to lead Heather away,” suggested Amelia. “She seems set on murdering us instead of finding the Source. We lead her away, then double back to get the Source.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” countered Tanisha. “If we did that, we’d leave the Virginia open for Heather. I don’t know about you all, but I don’t want to see her get that much more powerful.”
“…Never mind,” sighed Amelia.
“You said everything on your vessel is modular, correct?” asked Rosalina.
“Aye,” confirmed Liam.
“May I see the list of the parts you need?” requested Rosalina. Liam pulled it up on his phone and handed it to her. Rosalina looked through and seemed to get an idea. “I have multiples of those,” she replied.
“She may intercept any teleports,” I argued.
“I didn’t say they were on the observatory,” assured Rosalina. “Professor Gadd was kind enough to let me use one of his closets as parts storage. One spell and I could access it from my ship or in his workshop. It seems like the workshop is the safer option.”
“Can’t argue that,” mused Tanisha.
“That seems to be the best option,” rumbled Mikhail.
“How long will repairs be?” asked Hongo to Liam.
“With everything as it is,” guessed Liam, “two, maybe three hours. I’ll need to double-check to be sure.”
“We’ll go with Rosalina’s option,” I decided. “For now, we’ve had a long day. Let’s get some food and sleep, then we’ll help Liam and R9 fix the ship.”
“You realize not all of us have a clue how to fix a spaceship?” argued Daisy.
“Then help me make something to eat,” suggested Mikhail. “Or drink. Caffeine is probably a must for the repair crews.”
“I guess Crystal Shroom Cola’s out,” muttered Daisy.
“Would you even know how to make-a Crystal Shroom Cola from-a scratch?” asked Luigi.
“Sure, I keep several bottles of it in my panniers,” replied Daisy as she patted that part of her dress.
“All right, let’s get some food, everyone,” I directed.
“This way!” called Peach as she led us to her castle.
“Scorpainia, a word,” I called. The Tarlaxian leader followed me in another direction. We stopped and I turned to face her. “What was that up there?” I demanded.
“Pardon?” asked Scorpainia.
“I’ve never known you to freeze like that!” I hissed.
“…It’s nothing,” dismissed Scorpainia.
“It’s obviously something!” I argued.
“It’s nothing!” insisted Scorpainia as she turned to leave. At that point, I grabbed her tail just beneath the stinger and tugged on it a bit.
“Lady, if there’s something bothering you,” I snarled, “you need to tell us so it doesn’t interfere with getting those Tarlaxians back!” At that point, Scorpainia turned to face me, her lips curled into a snarl.
“I didn’t ask the F.N.S to go after those scout ships!” she snapped. “You lot volunteered!”
“Damn straight!” I replied. “People need our help, so we’re gonna help them!”
“You put yourselves at risk unnecessarily!” argued Scorpainia.
“Oh, come on!” I protested. “We’ve faced danger before!”
“Believe it or not, that’s…what’s the human phrase…peanuts compared to what I witnessed!” shouted Scorpainia. “You never had your mind invaded by a godlike creature! You were never forced to see your people beaten on by invading potato-heads while all you could do was sit on your throne and do nothing to help them! You never had lines forced into your skull to inspire blasphemy against your gods! You never had to destroy your home just so your people could survive!”
“And yet, despite all of that, you froze when a lesser being made the attempt!” I thundered. Scorpainia clenched her fists.
“…Yeah,” she replied. Her frown lessened, her eyebrows became less harsh, her fists unclenched, then she just collapsed!
“Hey, are you okay?” I asked.
“Y…yeah, I…no, I…I mean…I thought I was,” mumbled Scorpainia.
“Pardon?” I quizzed.
“I thought I was…okay with…what happened in…my life so far,” she stammered.
“Look, we’ve had a long day, let’s…” I offered.
“No, I need to say this,” interjected Scorpainia. “Lately, I’ve been thinking about my life. Hell, when the ships launched, I’ve done nothing but think about my life. I was about to give a rousing speech to my husband, but then it all hit me at once; my origins as a starving peasant, my claiming the throne, Vortech controlling me, the Sontarans invading Tarlax 13…all of it. This became the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“PTSD?” I asked.
“No, more like…an epiphany,” replied Scorpainia. “Is this it? I know we’re a warrior culture, but is that all Tarlaxians have to look forward to, the next fight? That’s our entire history! I feel like I’m just waiting to die! Like I have nothing to look forward to but struggle after struggle after struggle after struggle!”
“Then, what was that up in space?” I asked.
“When Heather was about to kill us…I was ready,” answered Scorpainia. “I was ready for it all to end. But then…then she didn’t…and I didn’t know how to feel. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to die! But…here we are. …Here we are, having this conversation, all because I screwed up something awful!” At that point, I knelt down and placed my hand on her shoulder.
“Maybe you did,” I mused, “but it CAN be fixed.”
“You’re all in danger,” remarked Scorpainia. “You take the Virginia and get out of here once repairs are complete. I’ll hold off Heather in the Monticello.”
“Don’t you dare!” I snapped. “Look, you DID make a mistake, but it wasn’t letting us help you out. What would you do if you faced Heather alone? You’d freeze up like up there and would probably be dead. We knew there was a risk, but that’s par for the course for people like us. Besides, people need our help. Right now, YOU need our help. You’re one of our allies. Don’t patronize us like we don’t know what we’re doing! We’re here to help and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Now, come on. Let’s go rejoin the others and get some food.” Scorpainia looked at me for a while, sadness showing in her eyes, then she stood up slowly. I stood up at the same rate as her and we headed off.
We all had some food and were winding down for sleep. Thank goodness no one’s heard of haggis in this universe. I’m probably one of the few Scotsmen to be bold enough not to like haggis. Maybe I’m going to Hell for it, but, oh well. I tossed and turned in the bed but sleep wouldn’t come. R9’s light was still on. “R9? Are you asleep?” I asked.
“Not really, dude,” muttered R9. “But, then again, who can sleep at a time like this?”
“A few leap to mind,” I countered as I pointed at the sleeping forms of Hongo, Luigi, and Daisy.
“What’s on your mind?” asked R9.
“…We almost died today,” I recalled.
“We obviously didn’t,” replied R9. “Focus on that.”
“Aye, we survived,” I conceded. “But, we almost died and I’m not sure I’m okay with that.”
“No one really is,” assured R9. “No one really WANTS to die; they just want their pain to end.”
“…Do droids believe in God?” I asked.
“What do you mean by that?” quizzed R9.
“You know, God,” I replied. “Big, long, white beard. Lives up in the sky. Created the world in six days.”
“…Strictly speaking, organic life-forms are my god,” answered R9. “But, if you mean a cosmic level creator, well, that’s where ‘Thank the Maker’ comes from. Most droids believe that there’s some grand creator that made organic life so they could make us. Similar vein to God or Allah or other deities like that. I’m not a believer in the Maker, though.”
“Ah,” I replied.
“…I lost someone when I was serving the Empire,” explained R9. “A cute pilot droid I loved. It’s hard to be religious after that.”
“…Aye, it is,” I agreed, remembering my own faith being shaken after I lost my grandmother.
“Then again,” continued R9, “I’ve seen and done some things since the Empire left me behind and the F.N.S adopted me. I figure there’s SOMETHING out there for us.”
“Something wanting us to win?” I asked.
“Bingo, dude,” confirmed R9. “Mechanical or not, a life-form has to hold on to that, at least, otherwise there’s nothing.”
“…Do you ever worry that you’d let them down?” I quizzed.
“Every day, dude,” answered R9. “That’s kind of why I chose the surfer dude’s voice, it gives me confidence, even in the face of danger.”
“Well then,” I declared, my eyes finally starting to droop, “let’s make sure we don’t let them down.”
“I don’t think it’s enough to just have them root for us,” mumbled a voice. Hongo then sat up. “We have to root for each other too,” he said. “I once held a grudge against the Heisei Riders and that grudge almost tore us apart. I thought they only focused on their fancy gimmicks. Gaim proved me wrong, but I never forgave myself for being so blind. At this stage, I’m afraid that it will blind me again and we’ll all die.”
“…Okay, let’s say our worst fears are realized and something causes us to fall apart, like one of us dying,” I theorized. “The Virginia has big guns on it that we can use on Heather’s ugly face. I’d say that’s more than enough to get the ship up and running, don’t you?”
“…You’ve got the oddest way of comforting a man,” remarked Hongo.
“I once ran an internet show called Up The Arse,” I explained, “that dealt with idiots that, for some odd reason, made the news, whether they stuck something up an orifice or committed a crime for purely stupid reasons. The comfort people like me offer is revenge!” Hongo grinned.
“Well, with someone like you as an Engineer,” he chuckled, “how can we lose?”
“All right, enough talking,” I declared. “Let’s get some sleep.”
“Won’t argue there,” replied R9. “My batteries are pretty low.” We all shut our eyes, not fully going to sleep until after Daisy spoke.
“Personally, I don’t care if we live or die,” she muttered, “just as long as we go out swinging.”
“You know it, Lass,” I replied. Sleep finally came.
I had just connected two wires together and wrapped some duct tape around the exposed copper. The instant I did, the lights came back on. “Finally!” I snarled. “Locate the enemy vessel and prepare a bombardment! We must make sure she’s dead!”
“We cannot do as you say, Pure One,” replied the spider monster.
“Why not?!” I growled. “We must kill Emily! I will NOT let that sow exist a second longer!”
“The Hell Driver is almost drained,” reported the spider monster.
“WHAT?!” I shouted.
“Your transformation device is almost completely drained of power,” repeated the spider monster, “first by your prolonged transformation to escape Hell and commandeer this vessel, then by using it as a power source to maintain the energy demands of this upgraded vessel. I had to switch off certain systems so we could continue to have power until the belt is fully recharged.”
“And I assume,” I growled, “that, eventually, it will prove insufficient to power the ship.”
“Correct,” confirmed the spider monster. “A solution is available to address this problem, though.”
“Name it,” I ordered.
“There is a warehouse under the ownership of one Professor Elvin Gadd,” answered the spider monster, “that contains parts and power sources that can maintain the energy demands more effectively than the Hell Driver. We can use them to repair the vessel and power all of its functions without the Hell Driver. You can use it to strictly transform into your Rider persona.” I considered her words, then decided.
“Locate the warehouse and gather the necessary parts,” I commanded. “We will repair the ship, then kill her.”
“As you command, Pure One,” confirmed the spider monster.
The repairs to the Virginia were going well. Power was being restored and all damage was patched up. The ship could go into combat at a moment’s notice. I helped R9, Rosalina, and Liam install a new circuit board into junction J-7. “Careful,” warned Rosalina. “Make sure the contacts don’t touch the edge.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“The power will transfer to the metal of the walls,” explained Rosalina.
“Quickly travelling to you,” helped Liam. I then realized the risk and carefully slid the circuit board in. Soon, the problem junction was fully operational.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Nope, should be good,” reported R9. We then replaced the panel.
“All right, I’m going to pick up Peach and get some more supplies,” I suggested. I left the ship and found the Mushroom Kingdom’s princess looking rather sullen. “Hey, Peach!” I called. Peach just slowly turned her head to look at me.
“More supplies?” she mumbled.
“Are you okay?” I quizzed.
“…No,” she muttered. “But never mind me.”
“I can’t do that,” I said as I sat next to her on the bench. “What’s on your mind?”
“…I’m on the sidelines again,” she sighed. “My usual place.”
“…Oh,” I realized. “You feel as if you’re not contributing much.”
“I’m not,” she sighed.
“Look, picking up supplies isn’t useless,” I assured.
“But it’s not the main source of action!” snapped Peach. “Every moment of my life, I’ve been kidnapped, put off to the side, talked down to, and other various means of bringing me down! I want excitement! I want adventure! I want to be strong! I’ve never had a moment of personal strength!”
“…Tell me, where are you in the Smash tourneys?” I asked.
“21 in the top 30,” mumbled Peach.
“And in races?” I continued.
“3rd,” replied Peach.
“Who stopped Bowser on Vibe Island?” I quizzed.
“I did,” answered Peach.
“Who led the charge to the Sprixie Kingdom after Bowser conquered it?” I went on.
“Me,” confirmed Peach.
“Who saved the dimensions when Dimentio and Count Bleck were causing chaos?” I inquired.
“Mario, but I helped,” answered Peach. Okay, not the best example.
“What did you do when the X-Nauts kidnapped you?” I asked.
“I told Mario their plans,” replied Peach.
“And who helped guide Megumi and her team throughout the video games during the Vortech Wars? You!” I declared. “Peach, you’re not as weak as you think. I know Bowser’s kidnappings are too frequent for your liking, but that doesn’t mean you’re weak.”
“Still, I’d like the chance to prove that,” muttered Peach. Just then, Scorpainia ran up to us.
“Heather’s in the warehouse!” she reported.