The Gateway opened to reveal Scorpainia stepping through. She had Turretorg, Technarain, Discornia, and Sludgiona with her. “I see you’ve had this place redecorated since I was here last,” observed Scorpainia.
“Looks a little…bright,” muttered Batman.
“Yeah, we needed to make it brighter,” I replied. “A few of us would rather NOT stumble with only blue lighting in a dark place. Some plant life also benefitted us. The oxygen generators were pretty taxed during the Vortech Wars.”
“And with the new lighting,” helped Lukas, “came a source of vitamin C, essential for us humans.” At that moment, the lights went off. “…Apparently, we need a better power source,” muttered Lukas.
“No, dudes,” called a surfer dude’s voice. “Just rerouting power!” The lights came back on as an R9 Astromech wheeled himself in. “Had a gnarly idea,” continued the Astromech, “that we could route some power from the sensors to the GUUUUNNS!”
“New guys, this is R9-D7, the only Astromech I know of that can speak Basic,” I introduced. “R9, these are the new guys.”
“I think the new guys are already familiar with the most RADICAL Astromech in the multiverse!” boasted R9.
“Remind me of his backstory again?” asked Liam.
“After the Vortech Wars,” I explained, “Vader left him behind. He was stuck on Vorton for a few weeks until X-PO found him. We fixed him up and installed vocal components so we don’t have to guess his beeping.”
“And it’s been awesome ever since!” cheered R9.
“R9,” called Emily, “quick question. How are the defenses going to shoot any invaders WITHOUT the sensors?”
“…Okay, so there ARE some holes in my idea,” conceded R9. “No need to be bugging or anything.”
“We’ll save modifications AFTER this adventure,” I suggested.
“Buzzkill,” muttered R9.
“All right, is everyone here for the briefing?” I asked.
“Wait, where’s Pup-X5?” asked Emmanuel.
“And Lexicon, for that matter,” supplied Sheela.
“We’re here!” called a woman’s voice. A large, gunmetal grey can with an antenna on top came in with a humanoid dog robot walking it. The dog robot was about Snoopy’s height. He detached the leash from the can and petted Kit-10. “Sorry about the wait,” remarked the can, Lexicon, a mobile datastore. “Pup-X5 insisted on getting a bite to eat. How you lot managed to install a stomach that can process food like you do, I’ll never understand.” Pup-X5 rolled his eyes and folded his arms.
“Well, you got here anyways,” I dismissed, “so thank you for coming. Now that we’re all here, X-PO, you may begin.”
“Thank you,” bid X-PO. He started up a PowerPoint with the Gateway. “As many of you know,” he began, “five Tarlaxian Jabarda class scout ships were deployed to scout for potential universes in case the Omega Protocols needed to be deployed again.”
“A future Tarlax 15?” quizzed Wyldstyle.
“Indeed,” confirmed Scorpainia. “I would have called you lot a little later, but SOMEONE decided to force the issue!” She glared at X-PO.
“We’ll turn him into a coffee maker later,” I joked.
“Thanks,” snarked X-PO. “Anyway, in the most recent logs, I discovered that they were going near five universes containing the Sources.”
“What IS a Source?” I asked.
“In this instance,” interjected Famine as she paused her snacking, “it’s the source of an aspect the five of us Horsemen represent. Each looks like a crystal ball, about the size of a human’s head, in our colors. Mine’s yellow, Pestilence’s green, Death’s blue, War’s orange, and Lacey inherited the purple one of Chaos.”
“Chaos?” I muttered.
“An apocalypse IS rather chaotic,” replied Lacey. “Besides, chaos is common when life exists.”
“Fair point,” I conceded.
“Does that mean we should call Lacey ‘Chaos’ instead?” asked Richard.
“Please, no!” groaned Lacey.
“Focus, please!” snapped X-PO.
“The Source Universes?” muttered Scorpainia. “What were they doing near there? They’re WAY too close to Foundation Prime. Besides, we’ve long established that they were inhabited.”
“We always look for universes with no life aside from plants on ANY of that universe’s planets,” supplied Sludgiona.
“What are the universes’ identifier strings?” I quizzed.
“5-P-L-4-T-0-0-N, D-1-5-N-3-Y, 5-U-P-3-R-M-4-R-1-0, T-3-4-M-F-0-R-T-R-3-5-5-2, and 5-4-1-L-0-R-M-0-0-N,” replied Discornia.
“So, Splatoon, Disney, Super Mario, Team Fortress 2, and Sailor Moon,” I guessed.
“Bingo,” answered Death. “Splatoon hold my Source because they’ve invented a way to circumvent death in a weapon-using sport, Disney holds War’s as it’s very peaceful, given the chaos it usually brings, Super Mario has a cure for all, so it hides Pestilence’s Source, Team Fortress 2’s inhabitants don’t get hungry, so Famine could hide her Source there, and Sailor Moon brings order, so Lacey’s Source is safe.”
“So, the opposite aspects of your sources hides them,” I theorized.
“Exactly,” grunted War.
“But, as her Majesty asked, what were those ships doing there?” quizzed Technarain. “Their courses shouldn’t have taken them anywhere NEAR those universes.” Turretorg shuffled his feet. It’s not a quiet shuffle, given what his feet are made of.
“Turretorg,” hissed Scorpainia, “is there something you want to share with us?” No response. “Turretorg,” growled Scorpainia.
“I…I’m not at liberty to say,” stammered Turretorg.
“Not even to me?” snarled Scorpainia.
“…Sorry, but not even to you,” sighed Turretorg.
“That leaves us at liberty to speculate,” remarked Liam. He turned to Scorpainia. “You said they were near Foundation Prime, right?”
“They are,” confirmed Scorpainia. “As to why, I’ll let Death explain.”
“The Sources constantly project a barrier around Foundation Prime so no one, not even the Horsemen, could get to it,” explained Death. “However, if you’re clever enough you could find a chink in that barrier and get into Foundation Prime.”
“Vortech used me to that end,” remarked X-PO. “That’s how I got you guys into it.”
“So, when Vortech was beaten,” continued Death, “we reforged the barrier and shored up any flaws we could find. As such, using all five sources on the barrier will cause it to crumble and people could freely enter and exit Foundation Prime, restoring that square Vortech used to control the multiverse and bending it to their whims.”
“And, given the power we witnessed,” I guessed, “you didn’t WANT people to freely enter and exit that universe.”
“Exactly,” confirmed Death. “With all that in mind, those universes would make rather good defensive positions.”
“Hoping to control those universes?” Scorpainia asked Turretorg.
“Your Majesty,” sighed Turretorg, “I hope you’re not naïve enough to believe the Tarlaxian Senate DIDN’T want to use those universes.”
“No,” replied Scorpainia, “but I’m a little ticked that neither you nor the Senate brought the concern to my attention!”
“And?” quizzed Turretorg.
“And, if you didn’t tell her or your wife THAT,” hissed Moon-kyung as she nodded towards Discornia, “it makes us rather worried what ELSE you kept from her, or US, for that matter.”
“There wasn’t anything else to tell!” snarled Turretorg. “Their mission was to scout out potential universes in case the Omega Protocols were needed again. Yes, it WAS possible that they would pass by those universes. So, the Senate made it a secret parameter of said mission that, should they not find a threat to the Sources, they would gather data and intelligence relating to a defensive position to surround Foundation Prime. That is all!”
“It seems like a restructuring of the Senate is in order!” snarled Scorpainia. “I’d rather know about their concerns!”
“Well, from what I’ve picked up from a stray transmission,” interjected X-PO, “the crews of those ships weren’t too happy about that secret parameter either. Here’s something I picked up from the ship near 5-U-P-3-R-M-4-R-1-0.” He played a video of an apartment with three Tarlaxians in it.
“Wait, I thought you said that it’s from a scout ship,” recalled Richard. “That looks like Linkara’s old apartment.”
“With the stuff he had, too,” muttered Livia.
“My doing,” answered Technarain. “I heard about nerds in that universe turning a house into a spaceship, so I wanted to get a good look at any potential bridge designs. Linkara’s old apartment seemed like a more functional choice. He seemed okay with it.”
“If we could continue?!” grunted War.
“Thank you,” bid X-PO. He started the video. A two-headed, six-armed woman in a glossy, black exoskeleton, a spider’s rear end above her butt, eight eyes in a ring on each head with the two largest ones in the center, and claws on her fingers was at a workstation. The annotations identified her as Spidarachnimpa. A woman with a skirt that looked like a snail’s foot sat on Spidarachnimpa’s left. She had a snail’s antennae in place of her eyes, a snail’s shell, and secreted slime all over her body. It didn’t seem to affect her workstation. An annotation called her Escargripam. In the kitchen was a Tarlaxian man with a humanoid body shape, a skirt of eight octopus tentacles, a ring of eight tentacles around his shoulders, and the head of an octopus with a beak where a human’s mouth should be. He was called Octorpindar. Spidarachnimpa’s left head spoke into a communicator.
“This is the scout ship, Tranzek,” she called. “We have just entered Mushroom World territory and are ready to carry out our assignment. All lights are orange. No sign of any problems. We look forward to hearing from you in an hour. Tranzek out.” She switched the comms off.
“I still can’t believe it!” griped Octorpindar. “I mean, a year of planning this venture, three months to get to the universe we’re supposed to be at, then, just a few days before we get there, Tarlax calls saying, ‘Hey! Can you deviate from your flight plan by about 2 more months and check out a universe near Foundation Prime that holds Pestilence’s Source?’ I mean…!”
“Steady on, Octorpindar,” interjected Spidarachnimpa’s right head.
“We knew this was a possibility,” continued her left head.
“Yeah, but,” grumbled Octorpindar, “they didn’t need to wait until practically the last minute to tell us! I mean if we manage to encounter Vortech’s prison…!”
“We won’t!” countered Spidarachnimpa’s left head. “We’ll be moving in parallel to the loop pattern and matching the velocity of the rift loop.”
“Plus we have automatic sealants,” continued her right head, “to take care of any pinpricks in this baby’s hull should any debris be caught in the rift loop’s orbit and flung at us.”
“I wish I shared your confidence,” remarked Octorpindar as he grabbed a sandwich from the fridge.
“Don’t worry about it, dude,” remarked Escargripam. “We’re not gonna find anything. I mean, the Doctor…”
“The Doctor!” interrupted Octorpindar. “There’s a Gallifreyan that is THAT arrogant to think they can heal their…!”
“The Doctor had practically tied Vortech’s prison into a pretty little bow!” continued Escargripam. “He’s stuck!”
“If he manages to wiggle out…!” protested Octorpindar.
“I think somebody’s a little cranky this morning,” remarked Spidarachnimpa’s left head as both turned to him.
“Somebody needs to sit in the comfy chair,” continued the right head. She tapped the unoccupied console as Octorpindar rolled his eyes. He entered the living room and sat down at the console. He looked around the apartment-bridge and sighed.
“This will never NOT be weird,” he muttered.
“We’ve been doing this for practically all our lives,” groaned Escargripam, “and you choose NOW to complain?!”
“We’re sitting in an apartment that once belonged to some nerd!” complained Octorpindar.
“We are sitting,” both of Spidarachnimpa’s heads snarled in unison, “on the bridge of the most advanced scout ship and we’re ready to make history! Now, I don’t care if it happens in a toilet stall or a nerd’s basement dwelling, as long as it gets us there and gets us home! So, put on your grown-up explorer boots and give me a read-out on engine consumption!”
“Sorry, sorry,” sighed Octorpindar as he checked his station. “Engine consumption’s nominal. Look, I’m just saying the multiverse can get crazy and weird.”
“Better weird than boring,” remarked Escargripam. She checked her station’s readings. “We’re approaching the Source Universe. Should be smooth sailing.”
“Belay that thought,” interjected Spidarachnimpa’s left head.
“Why?” quizzed Escargripam.
“I’m detecting a power signature out there,” reported Spidarachnimpa’s right head. They all looked at the reading on her console.
“How can anything have power this far out?” muttered Escargripam.
“Well, let’s find out,” replied Spidarachnimpa’s right head. “It’s about 170 cm in length, 89 cm in width, and…and coming at us in an attack vector!!” At this point, both heads were speaking in unison. “Hard about! Raise the…!” The ship lurched and tossed the Tarlaxian crew over their consoles. An explosion made the video end in static. We stood there in silence.
“…Are they…?” gulped Emmanuel.
“We’re STILL getting bio-signs,” replied Technarain, “so I don’t think so.”
“Now we REALLY need to rescue them,” I declared. “I had already decided to split us up into teams according to After Academy house, but I think a Keystone Bearer on each team would help.”
“And a Tarlaxian on each team,” interjected Scorpainia.
“And a robot,” called Kit-10.
“All right, then let’s get organized,” I affirmed. The teams went like so: Death, Haitao, Livia, Sheela, Colleen, Sophie, X-PO, Turretorg, and myself would go to 5-P-L-4-T-0-0-N to check on her Source, War, Gandalf, Michael, Hiroki, Irina, Alesandro, Charline, Kit-10, and Discornia would go to D-1-5-N-3-Y to check that Source’s status, Pestilence, Hongo, Emily, Mikhail, Tanisha, Liam, Amelia, R9-D7, and Scorpainia would use the Virginia to go to 5-U-P-3-R-M-4-R-1-0 and use its sensors to check that Source out, Famine, Wyldstyle, Richard, Emmanuel, Xiomara, Victor, Brenden, Pup-X5, and Technarain will confirm the Source’s condition in T-3-4-M-F-0-R-T-R-3-5-5-2, and Lacey, Batman, Joshua, Lukas, Tonje, Moon-kyung, Flora, Lexicon, and Sludgiona would check out 5-4-1-L-0-R-M-0-0-N for her Source. “Are the team assignments clear?” I asked. Everyone replied yes. “Then let’s hit the hay for now,” I declared. “It’s late at night and I don’t want anyone fighting their own fatigue on top of fighting whoever’s behind this.”
“Sleep sounds heavenly right now,” muttered Moon-kyung. We all retired to our rooms and hit the sack.