TUNE - Chapter 16


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         "Oh god... What have I done?" Andy moaned for the hundredth time. He lay sagging across the living room couch, head draped over the arm rest.

         "Andy, would you relax?" Yumi pleaded. "You didn't do anything wrong. It's not like you forced her to draw that stuff and leave it with you."

         She was nestled in the love seat beside Andy, typing feverishly into her laptop. She had a lot to catch up on since their startling experience in the holding cell half an hour ago. Shortly after the Praxians had abandoned the cell, the alarm ceased and the exhibits were all ordered back to their respective habitats.

         "But-- But-- She entrusted me with those drawings!" Andy protested. "I should have been more careful hiding them!"

         A fly buzzed into the livingroom and hovered above the coffee table between them. Mo morphed into his human form, but this time Andy was prepared. He snatched up the bathrobe set aside on the back of the couch and tossed it at Mo as soon as the Kyderon transformed.

         Yumi shut her laptop. "Mo! You're back!"

         Mo slipped into the bathrobe and sat on the coffee table. Eager for news, Yumi and Andy gathered around him like children at a camp fire.

         "So what's happening? What did you find out?" Yumi asked impatiently.

         "It's just like we heard," Mo said. "There was a 'dimensional breach.' Apparently a civilization from another parallel world has figured out how to jump through dimensions too. And they've been jumping in and out of Praxis. Curiously, only around different spots inside this zoo. I didn't overhear much more than that. The Praxians are still trying to figure out what these other dimensional travelers are after. This is the first time the shoe's been on the other foot with their world being trespassed upon. Up to now, the Praxians thought they were the only ones with this technology."

         "Who cares about all that!" Andy blurted. "Did you find out what's happening with Dash?"

         "Do you want the bad news or the worse news?"

         Andy inhaled through his teeth. "Oh no… What's going on?"

         "Well, the bad news is she's going to be executed," Mo answered flatly.

         Andy felt like he had just been punched in the stomach. He fell back in his seat, unable to speak.

         Yumi gasped. "Oh my god!" Then she did a double take. "Wait, there's worse news?"

         "You haven't seen the prison uniform she’ll be forced to wear," Mo said. "One word: pleats."

         "For drawing?” Andy rasped at last, voice trembling. “They're going to execute her for drawing?"

         "Oh, didn't you know? The punishment for any crime here is death," Mo answered prosaically, spreading his hands.

         Yumi and Andy stared at each other in disbelief.

         “That's... insane!” Yumi sputtered.

         Mo stretched. “Yup. But I bet you won't find a single piece of gum stuck to a sidewalk in Praxis either.”

         Andy was reeling, still trying to catch his breath. “Jesus... What kind of sick world is this?”

         “Look, you guys just don't get it,” Mo continued, scratching his neck. “Praxians don't value the individual, they value their progress as a species. They don't see this execution any differently than a gardener clipping off a sick branch to nurture the tree. D86 is going to the Feed station later tonight and taking Dash to the police himself.”

         Yumi sank into the loveseat, breathing heavily. "Her own father is going to let her be executed just for scribbling a bunch of doodles?"

         Andy sprang up and paced around the room, pulling on his hair as he ranted. "Oh my God oh my God...! This is all my fault! What do we do? What do we do?"

         "What's this 'we' stuff?" Mo yawned.

         Andy spun on his heels and surged up to Mo.

         "Wait, Mo! You! You can save her!"

         Mo choked on his yawn and blinked at Andy. "Excuse me?"

         "Mo, you're the only one who can!" Andy continued frantically. "You've got to fly over to the Feed station and warn Dash before D86 gets there!"

         "Andy... What in our previous interactions makes you think I would even entertain the notion of doing something like that?"

         Andy rattled him by the shoulders. "You've got to save her, Mo!"

         Mo slapped Andy’s hands away and shoved him back. "Forget it, kid! I had nothing to do with this! You can't expect me to clean up your mess. If I got caught trying to save her, I'd be the opening act for that electric chair. Besides, can we sip a little bit of reality juice here? Even if I wanted to, how the hell would I know where this Feed station is?"

         Yumi sighed, kneading her temples. “He does have a point, Andy," she muttered.

         Andy gawked back and forth between them, incredulous at their indifference. "What's wrong with you two? Don't you guys care at all? Don't you have a shred of compassion?"

         "Hey, don't lump me in with Kim Jong Un here!" Yumi retorted. "I was just saying--"

         "Kid, I understand you're writhing in guilt over this," Mo cut in, piercing Andy with his wintry eyes. "But don't try to wash your guilt off on me. My hands are clean! I might not go out of my way to help anyone, but I never screw anyone either." Then after a pause, he added with a smirk, "Well, unless we’re speaking sexually, of course..." Then he stretched up to his feet. "Now get me a couple of Poptarts and I'll be on my way."

         "You can have all the Poptarts you want in your new cell," boomed a gravelly voice behind them.

         They whipped around and faced the back wall. A doorway had opened up again and from the shadows emerged D86 and two other brawny Praxians armed with blaster rifles. D86 had a pistol strapped to his belt, and a flyswatter gripped in his hands. Yumi and Andy were speechless, but Mo gathered himself instantly.

         "Oh, hey, D86,” he said casually. “I'm glad you came by. I accidentally walked through the wrong door from the holding cell and got stuck in my neighbors’ habitat here." He chuckled like some bumbling fool.

         D86 narrowed his eyes. "We know about your shape-shifting abilities, Mogens Mishu III. Andy Go's memories yielded a lot more than I expected." Then he turned to Andy and grinned. "Thanks, monkey boy."

         Mo slapped a hand over his face and cursed Andy's name into it.

         "Mogens?" Andy asked.

         "Your real name is 'Mogens'?" Yumi snorted.

         Then Yumi and Andy looked at each other and burst into guffaws.

         "It's Mo, damn it," Mogens grumbled.

         D86 cut through their banter like a hot knife through butter. "And don't even think about morphing into a fly and trying to escape, Mogens. I've got a flyswatter and I'm not afraid to use it." Dripping with menace, he patted the business end of the flyswatter. "Now come quietly and no one gets hurt. We've got a new bug-tight cell waiting for you, pretty boy. You're going to be quite the attraction."

         Suddenly, a small slit of white light pierced the air between the living room and kitchen. It appeared like a rip in the very fabric of reality, and began to grow vertically until the sliver of light reached the floor. Then a tremendous boom blew everyone back and rattled the cell as the tear in reality split open and swelled into an oval portal, roughly the size of a door. A stunning, statuesque woman emerged from the other side, striding forth with the grace and majesty of a stag. Long hair, shimmering like a river of silver, rippled behind her over a flowing gown equally awash in silvery brilliance. Behind her, on the other side of the portal, Andy could see a column of soldiers trailing down a great hall.

         D86 staggered back, mouth agape. The flyswatter slipped from his hand and landed on the hardwood floor with a clatter. One of the Praxians behind him pointed wildly at the intruders. "D86! Sir! It's them! These are the perpetrators of the dimensional breaches we've been having!"

         The woman recognized the Praxian guard immediately.

         "You again! Back off!" she commanded. "I told you before, we simply--"

         Her breath caught in her throat. She did a double take when she spotted Mo. Mo was staring back like a deer caught in headlights. For a long moment, they stood frozen, gawking at each other in stunned silence. When they finally snapped out of it, every shred of this regal woman’s grace and poise had deteriorated.

         "Mogens!" she shrieked.

         Mo gasped in disbelief. "Kiara..."

         Threaded through Kiara’s porcelain skin glimmered the same kind of dermatological patterns as seen on Mo. And her exquisite garments -- although much more feminine in design -- clearly emerged from the same civilization, cut from the same movement in overall fashion.

         Mo gazed up at the ceiling and shook his head, as if he was imploring to some malevolent deity. "God damn it! I was afraid of this..."

         "You know this woman?" Yumi asked with bated breath. "What's going on?"

         "Is she single?" Andy asked.

         Kiara howled into the air, her voice splintering with furious anguish. “Finally! Mogens Mishu III, do you have any idea what I've been through looking for you? Get your ass over here! Now!" Her flawless skin flushed red and veins sprang up around her neck like bridge wire.

         Mo crumpled into his bathrobe, grasping at Yumi and Andy's shoulders for support. "I can't believe this," he muttered. "I can't believe they found me! I can't even escape in another goddamn universe..."

         As Yumi and Andy stared at each other in bewilderment, D86 stomped in between Mo and Kiara.

         "Wait a goddamn minute," he bellowed. "He's not going anywhere."

         Behind him, one of the Praxian guards pressed the side of his helmet and shouted. "Dimensional breach in wing 4, sector 2! Sound the alarm! And send reinforcements!"

         Immediately, the familiar alarm erupted into a wail through the zoo.

         Kiara snapped her gaze away from Mo and glared at the Praxians. Her eyes were wintry like Mo’s, but they crackled with flashes of green. "This man is a fugitive from our world," she proclaimed gravely. "He's coming back with us!"

         The soldiers behind her began to spill out into the cell through the portal. They rolled in like silver tanks, clasped head to toe in heavy plate armor. Their faces were shrouded under densely fortified helmets, every arm braced under the weight of a large escutcheon shield or a brooding medieval weapon.

         "The hell he is," snarled D86. "He belongs to the C.I.S. Zoo! I have a contract signed by Mogens Mishu III himself."

         Kiara scowled. "I'm getting really tired of your insolence, stumpy one. I don't care if he signed a contract in blood with the Fever God himself. He's coming back with us!" She turned to a towering Kyderon guard and gestured in Mo's direction. "Seize him!"

         The massive soldier unsheathed a staggering sword nearly the length of a spear and pounded toward Mo. Yumi and Andy vaulted out of the way in terror like they had been launched by a catapult.

         D86 growled and lunged after Mo himself. Seeing the commanding Praxian on the move, the Kyderon soldier leaned into a sprint to reach the shape-shifter first. But a split-second before either assailant could lay a hand upon him, Mo transformed into a hummingbird and zipped into the air. The soldier and D86 smashed into each other like two monster trucks, creating a thunderous crash.

         The two Praxian guards stared aghast as D86 and the Kyderon soldier collapsed onto the floor, knocked unconscious. They raised their blaster rifles at the intruders in a flurry, but found themselves immobilized by fear and uncertainty. Until the rest of the zoo guards came to their aid, the two standing Praxians were wildly outnumbered. But Kiara's soldiers didn’t pay them any heed in any event. They were too busy trying to nab Mo out of the air, scrabbling and jumping on top of each other like a pile of giant, silver beetles. Taking advantage of the pandemonium, Yumi and Andy scuttled off to the other side of the cell and hid behind the archway of the kitchen.

         “Use your nets, you fools!” Kiara hollered.

         But as the soldiers were reaching for their belts, the hummingbird ballooned into a colossal blue hulk reminiscent of a rhinoceros, only twice as big and armed with five massive horns -- three up the snout and two along its jagged brow. It dropped to the floor and shook the room like a crashing comet.

         "I'm not going anywhere with either of you!" Mo roared, loud enough to rattle the plates of the soldiers' armor. Then he charged into the Kyderons, sending them flying like bowling pins. The rear wall of the cell didn't fare any better. Mo smashed through like it was made of balsa wood and stormed into the depths of the zoo. He charged down a corridor, shredding the walls on either side to tatters.

         The few soldiers still standing lifted their maces and twisted a ring around the top of the handle. This released the head -- a cruel, iron ball studded for maximum damage -- on a chain which rattled out of the hollow shaft, effectively turning the mace into a morning star. But these were no ordinary morning stars, they were "shooting stars," the magical, signature weapon of Kiara's soldiers. An eerie green glow pulsed from the studded head as the Kyderon guards spun it, growing brighter with each rotation. After a few spins, they snapped the chain like a whip in Mo’s direction, and the green glow shot from the iron ball as a missile of energy. But Mo morphed back into a hummingbird at the last second and expertly darted away from every blast, finally ducking out of sight around a corner. The bolts of energy exploded like buckshots into the walls, showering the hallway with debris.

         Kiara barked at her soldiers. "After him!"

         The Kyderons who had been knocked aside forced themselves up and rumbled after Mo. They were followed by another squadron of soldiers who came pouring out of the dimensional portal. Once the flow of soldier had stopped, Kiara grasped a brilliant sapphire-laden medallion shimmering around her neck and closed her eyes. Then she began muttering in a strange tongue, her brow knitted with fierce concentration. The medallion responded with a blue glow, glimmering like the reflection of the sun on the sea. As she finished her incantation, the portal collapsed, shrinking back to its nascent form as a sliver of white light. Before long, the rip between dimensions had disappeared altogether and the glow from the medallion faded away. Kiara opened her eyes and rushed after her soldiers, a flurry of silver fabric.

         One of the two Praxian guards dashed after Kiara down the corridor, yelling something into his communicator. The other guard rushed over to D86 who was starting to regain consciousness.

         "D86! Are you okay? We were--"

         D86 brushed him aside. "What are you standing around here for? Get them!"

         After the Praxian guard had reluctantly left him, D86 wobbled up and pressed the communicator on his helmet. The towering Kyderon soldier who had crashed into him was still out cold on the floor. Yumi and Andy held their breath behind the archway of the kitchen.

         "All units, listen up!" D86 ordered. "Specimen HS-638 is on the run. I want him captured immediately!" He grunted and popped his neck back into place. "Dimensional breach is still in progress! Detain or exterminate any unregistered alien you come across!"

         Then Andy and Yumi heard him stomping away down the corridor. Soon his footsteps were out of earshot and the alarm was the only sound filling the room. It seemed everyone had forgotten about the two humans in the midst of all the chaos. Yumi and Andy sat side by side on the kitchen floor, their backs to the archway, not daring to speak for a good minute. In the distance, they could hear the faint ringing of blaster fire.

         "What... the hell just happened?" Andy uttered finally.

         "I have no idea," Yumi replied. "But I know an escape route when I see one. Quick, grab your shit and let's get the hell out of here!"


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