TUNE - Chapter 18

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         "Hold tight!" Andy heard Mo cry out.

         Suddenly he felt himself tilting backward so he clasped onto Yumi's torso like a barnacle. Soon the sounds of blaster fire grew faint and Andy felt the night wind push harder against his face. The whole world grew quiet.

         "Oh, my God!" he heard Yumi belt out excitedly into the air.

         Andy finally cracked his eyes open and found himself surrounded by stars. He looked behind him and saw more of the same. Then he spotted the C.I.S. Zoo far below them, growing smaller with every second. And just in front of his dangling legs, giant white wings flapped powerfully on either side of Mo's torso. Mo had taken the form of a Pegasus, soaring up through the air!

         "I'm so wet right now," Yumi uttered.

         As they climbed higher into the sky, the entire city stretched out before them. And what a city it was. Fearsome skyscrapers jutting half a mile into the air carpeted the landscape as far as the eye could see. There was nary a square foot below which wasn't punctured with tiny dots of light from windows, vehicles and traffic lights. Lanes of flying cars zipped back and forth on multiple levels in the air between the soaring buildings. It was a metropolitan nightmare -- or dreamland, depending on your perspective.

         "Wow," Andy breathed.

         Yumi wheezed, gasping for air. "Andy... I think you can loosen your grip now. I kind of want to breathe..."

         They had leveled out, sailing smoothly forward, no longer climbing through the air.

         "Oh sorry," Andy blurted, letting his arms go slack around her waist. Yumi sucked in a great gulp of air and exhaled slowly.

         "This is your captain speaking," Mo smirked. "You are now free to move about my torso."

         Andy finally breathed a sigh of relief himself.

         "Hey, Captain," he said. "Thank you for all your help back there. My future kids really appreciate it."

         "I knew you had a heart in there somewhere," Yumi added, running her hand slowly through Mo's silvery mane.

         "Who says I'm doing this for you?" Mo retorted. "I overheard everything you guys said in the hallway. I want in."

         "Say what?" Yumi asked.

         "Now that I've been discovered, I need to get off this world, and you have the key to the Tuner. But you guys also need Dash, and there's only one pegasus in this world who can help you with that. So let's make a deal. I help you rescue Dash and you guys take me with you."

         "Do we look like an immigration office?" Yumi replied. "I don't know if--"

         "What was that? Did you say you want to see me fly upside down?" Mo started twisting into a barrel roll. Yumi and Andy felt themselves tilting perilously off his back.

         "Deal!" Andy exclaimed frantically. "You got yourself a deal!"

         Mo grinned and rolled back into a level position. Have you ever seen a horse grin? It's creepy as hell.

         Yumi groaned into her hand. "I can't believe this..."

         "What do you mean?" Andy asked over her shoulder. "This is fantastic! Now we can rescue Dash! She needs our help and you know it."

         Yumi threw up her hands. "Andy, didn't you hear what that Kiara woman said? Mo is a fugitive! You want to bring some alien criminal into one of our worlds? A criminal with magic powers, no less?"

         "I'm not a criminal," Mo stated flatly. "Unless you count running out on your wedding a crime."

         There was a moment of silence as Yumi and Andy came to grips with this revelation.

         "That woman... is your fiancé?" Yumi finally uttered. "You left her at the alter?"

         "She looked pretty pissed, huh?"

         Yumi curled her lips as if she smelled rotting garbage. "You know, just when I think you couldn't be any more of a douchebag, you somehow pull through."

         "Yeah, I'm full of surprises," Mo smiled.

         "Well, it looks like you pissed off the wrong bride, Romeo," Yumi retorted. "Every woman would despise you for what you pulled, but only one hell-bent on revenge would actually follow you into another universe to drag you back."

         "Oh right," Mo said. "That's because the wedding was also my coronation. She’s kind of set on being the queen of our planet and stuff."

         Yumi turned and she and Andy stared at each other in stunned silence.

         "And it looks like she hasn't changed," Mo continued nonchalantly. "But I never thought she'd figure out how to jump dimensions. She must have really beefed up her magical abilities while I've been gone."

         "You're a… king?" Yumi asked breathlessly. "Of an entire planet?"

         "Well, technically, I'm just a prince until Kiara and I get married."

         "Just a prince!" Andy blurted.

         He and Yumi were still reeling from this discovery, but to Mo it seemed as mundane a detail as his shoe size. He turned the focus back to Kiara.

         "All those dimensional breaches were inside the zoo. She's been jumping into this dimension very close to me each time. That can't be a coincidence…”       

         "I guess that means she has a way of tracking you," Andy mused.

         "I can't believe you're going to be the king of your world…" Yumi was still aghast. "Why does every country in the multiverse have to be run by a complete tool?"

         Mo replied to Andy, ignoring Yumi. "Yeah, but she never appeared right in my cell. Tracking spells aren't that uncommon, but it must be tough casting it through dimensions. Looks like my general vicinity is the closest she can get to pinpointing my location. Which means I have to keep moving if I want to keep her off my tail..."

         Yumi kneaded her temples. "Spells? Magical abilities? Are we really having this conversation?"

         "Dude, you're riding a pegasus," Andy reminded her. "Who's actually a naked man."

         Yumi deflated. "Good point. Touché."

         "Speaking of moving,” Andy continued, “do you even know where we're going, Mo?"

         "Of course. To the Feed station. I told you, I've been sight-seeing around this city every night for a year now." Then after a pause, he added, "Oh, and it's kind of hard to miss."

         He veered left toward a soaring skyscraper crowned by a monstrous satellite dish a couple of miles ahead. It towered over every other building in the area.

         "That giant dish antenna you see on top of that building broadcasts the Feed to every single implanted antenna in every single Praxian brain across the entire planet," Mo said.

         "Holy," Andy muttered. This revelation ran through his brain like fresh oil through a parched engine. It triggered a screwball idea which slowly unfurled in his head... But he wasn't ready to share it with Yumi or Mo. So he kept quiet and let Yumi talk.

         "Wait, you told us before that you didn't know where the station was. So that was--"

         "Yup, total bullshit," Mo admitted. "I just didn't want to get involved. Hey, it had nothing to do with me at the time."

         "You're a regular Prince Charming," Yumi sneered.

         "Oh, you've read my biography," Mo smirked. "Did you know Regular Prince Charming is in its ninth printing back in my world?"

         "Who wrote it?" Andy asked. "Your Mom or--" Suddenly a blaster shot zipped past his head, this time actually scorching a lock of his hair. "Jesus!" he sputtered.

         Yumi and Andy whipped around and saw a flying police car zooming toward them. It aimed a flood light in their direction as the siren wailed. Praxian police cars had the same flashing, multi-colored lights as the ones back on Earth, it seemed.

         Mo grimaced. "Damn it! The C.I.S. must have alerted the police!"

         "You are under arrest!" blared the loudspeaker. "Land your... uh, horse... immediately!"

         "Shoot 'im down!" Mo declared.

         "But they're just doing their jobs," Andy started to say.

         "Don't worry, they're all equipped with parachutes," Mo shouted. "Just damage the hovercar enough to send it down."

         Yumi chimed in. "But what if we accidentally--"

         "Do you guys want to go home or not?" Mo barked.

         "All right, all right!" Andy cried.

         He yanked the blaster pistol out of his belt as the police hovercar pulled up to their left side. Andy could see a cop driving on the far side of the car and his partner in the passenger seat on the near side yelling into a mouthpiece.

         "I repeat, land your horse immediately! You're under arrest!"

         "Fire!" Mo cried.

         Andy pointed the barrel in the direction of the cop car and pulled the trigger. A second later, he found himself in midair, watching Mo and Yumi zooming away from him. The recoil of the blaster was so strong, it had sent him flying off of Mo's back. For a split second, Andy simply hovered in the air before the clutches of gravity took hold.

         "Fuck," he croaked.

         Then he screamed like a little girl while plummeting toward the ground. Somewhere above him, he heard Yumi holler his name.

         Andy couldn't help but shut his eyes as his life flashed before him. But before he had passed the morning of his first bowl of phó in his mind's eye, his entire body was rocked as his fall came to a jolting halt. He blinked and found himself on his back rising up once again into the air.

         For a split second Andy thought he had already died. Was he being summoned up to Heaven? He pulled his head up onto his chest and looked between his knees. He was on the hood of another police hovercar, his feet propped up against the windshield. Another pair of cops inside the hovercar scowled back at him. They must have intercepted him on their way up to join the first cop hovercar now tailing Mo. Andy looked to either side of him and found two more cop hovercars close-by, soaring up to join the chase.

         Instinctively, Andy pulled his hand up to point the gun at the two cops behind the windshield, directly under his feet. But much to his dismay, he found his hand empty -- he had dropped the gun during his short fall. Before he could do anything else, the cop in the passenger seat leaned out of his window and threw his hand around Andy's left ankle.

         Just at that moment, Andy looked up and saw Mo diving toward him like a missile.

         "Hold on!" he hollered. "I'm coming!"

         Behind Mo, the first cop hovercar was on his tail hurtling a volley of blaster fire after him. As Mo whirled and twisted around the shots, Yumi spun around in her seat and fired her rifle. After seeing what happened to Andy, she made certain to brace herself correctly for the recoil. After a couple of wayward shots, she sent a blast directly into the front grill of the hovercar. The front half of the car exploded, smothering the entire vehicle in a plume of smoke and flames. The two cops inside leaped out before the smoldering hovercar plunged into the top of a nearby skyscraper. One of the cops tumbled violently onto the rooftop and the other one sailed toward the ground on a parachute.

         As soon as Yumi had made her shot, Mo swooped in and flew along the right side of the cop car on which Andy was stuck. The cop who had a hold of Andy's leg started to reel him in. Yumi pointed her rifle at the cop.

         "Let him go!"

         Andy panicked -- he was way too close to the intended target for his comfort."Yumi, no!" he cried. "Don't shoot!"

         But when the cop didn't budge, Yumi fired anyway. The cop released Andy and whipped his head back right before she pulled the trigger. So instead of hitting the cop in the passenger seat, Yumi's shot zipped by him and nailed the driver instead. The blast caught the cop right in the temple, sending his brains splattering across the driver side window.

         Yumi gasped in horror. "Oh shit! I forgot to set it back to stun! Oh god, oh god! I'm so sorry!"

         With the driver inert, the hovercar slowly began to plummet, tilting into a nose-dive. This caused Andy to slide down the hood toward the front edge of the car. He flailed madly for anything to hold onto but the slick metal surface and its aerodynamic design yielded nothing to his fingers. His feet slid off the edge and the rest of his body was quickly following into free fall. Then at the last minute, he remembered the sword on his belt. He unleashed it and drove it into the hood with every ounce of strength in his adrenaline-choked body. It worked! The sword was lodged into the hood and his slide of death jerked to a stop. He hung onto the hilt with both hands until his knuckles turned white. Of course, this did nothing to impede the fall of the hovercar, and Andy screamed like he had never screamed before as it plunged in circles toward the crowded city streets below. His heart pounded against his sternum as if it was trying to escape his body.

         "Andy!" Yumi shrieked after him.

         Her next words were cut short as one of the other cop hovercars swept past and struck her in the back with blaster fire. She slid off Mo's back unconscious, and fell through the air. But directly beneath her, the fourth police hovercar was ready with its trunk open. It scooped her up and sealed her inside. These were no amateurs. Meanwhile, the cops who had taken their shot at Yumi veered their hovercar in front of Mo and launched a giant net from a rear hatch. Caught off guard, Mo sailed right into it. With his wings ensnared into a useless tangle of feathers, he started to fall like a ball of lead.

         "Aw, screw this!" her shouted and transformed into a dragon. A terrifying silver-scaled behemoth bristling with razor-sharp claws, horns and teeth. The cables of the net snapped apart as he grew and morphed into his full dragon form. Once Mo had burst free, he stretched out his leathery wings to their full forty feet wingspan and roared like a thousand lions. The cops in the two hovercars surrounding Mo instinctively fled like frightened rabbits. But after they muscled through the initial shock and fear, the cops quickly doubled back and began firing rapidly at Mo. Set to stun a normal person however, their shots had little effect. Before they could adjust their blaster settings, Mo sucked in a great gulp of air and unleashed a terrifying tornado of fire from his gaping jaws. It consumed one of hovercars and sent it spiraling toward the ground in flames.

         Meanwhile Andy was still spiraling towards the pavement himself on the hood of the nose-diving hovercar. He was clinging to the sword for dear life while his legs flapped above his head in freefall. He was screaming hysterically, but the only thing he could hear was the wind whipping past his ears. The cop in the passenger side was desperately trying to unbuckle and remove the dead officer in the driver seat. As the hovercar fell like stone into the concrete canyons of the city, that corner of the sprawling metropolis was thrown into chaos. Traffic went haywire as civilian hovercars veered and crashed into one another to avoid the plummeting police car. Windows in nearby skyscrapers became crowded with bulging Praxian eyes as everyone scrambled to see what was happening. But before long, Andy saw the cop finally manage to open the driver side door and shove the corpse out of the hovercar. Then he dove into the driver seat and yanked the car back up into the air only a few dozen feet before they crashed into a busy street. As the car shot upward, gravity pulled Andy's body back down onto the hood. He slammed into the metal of the car on his stomach, but somehow managed to keep his grip on the sword. Losing strength however, his arms started to unfold and he slid backward against the windshield. His momentary relief was replaced with another round of unbridled terror.

         Back above the city, Mo was swooping after the last police car. As he was catching up to it, the hovercar swerved sharply to its right and hit the brakes. Now Mo found himself hurtling straight toward the passenger side of the car. The window was down and the cop in passenger seat hoisted a rocket launcher aimed directly at Mo's oncoming snout. The rocket erupted from its barrel, coming in too fast and close for Mo to swerve out of the way. But at the instant before impact, Mo morphed into a rattlesnake and the rocket whizzed past him. Carried by the momentum of his flight while he was a dragon, Mo shot into the window of the police car and smacked directly into the face of the driver. The cop howled in agony as Mo dug his fangs savagely into his face. Then he sprang onto the dashboard and coiled around to face the other cop.

         "Get out!" he hissed.

         A second later, both cops could be seen voluntarily spilling out of the car onto a nearby rooftop.

         Just a few yards below, Andy was still racing toward the sky on the hood of the other police car. The cop driving was trying to regroup with his squad to capture Mo. Alas, he was having a hell of time seeing anything with Andy plastered across the windshield.

         "Get out of the way!" he shouted. As if Andy had any choice in the matter.

         When he couldn't order Andy aside, he began jolting the car up and down in hopes of shaking the human off. When that didn't work, he did a barrel roll and proceeded to fly upside down. Andy was fucked. He dangled from the upside down hovercar with nothing but his waning grip on the hilt of the sword keeping him from falling to his death. Blood began to trickle out between his fingers as his nails dug into his palms. The frosty night air numbing his limbs and whipping into his body at the tremendous speed of the hovercar certainly wasn't helping either. But somehow Andy held on. He didn't know where he found the strength, but like a mother inexplicably finding the muscle to push a car off her baby, he wouldn't let himself die. Maybe his body wouldn't let him die a virgin? Andy didn't know. But none of this mattered anyway, because the sword began to slide out of the car. There was no gravity holding it into the gash now, especially with Andy's full weight tugging on it. An awful metal-on-metal screech accompanied the blade as it slowly slid out of the hood. Andy would never forget that sound. Then the last inch of the sword popped free and Andy started to fall.

         Before he even had a chance to scream this time, he landed on the hood of another police hovercar which had been directly below him for how long he didn't know. He looked through the windshield and found Mo inside, driving in his humanoid form.

         Upside down, the cop above them looked below and gasped as he caught sight of Mo in the driver seat. Mo had his left arm out of the driver side window, pointing the barrel of a blaster pistol directly at the cop's forehead. Mo grinned and pulled the trigger, blasting the cop right between the eyes. Then Mo veered his hovercar away as the cop spiraled out of control and crashed into the side of a nearby skyscraper.

         Somewhere in the distance, Andy could hear more sirens approaching. Mo killed all the hovercar's lights and zoomed toward the outskirts of the city. Andy sheathed his sword and plastered himself against the passenger side of the windshield like a gecko. When the lights of the city shrank to distant dots, they slowly sailed down toward a river below. Careful not to shake Andy off or draw any attention, Mo quietly maneuvered the hovercar under a bridge. Then he gently landed it on the riverbank, tucked away from view.

         Andy's heart was still pounding furiously. As soon as they landed, he tumbled off the hood and hugged the riverbank. He was so happy to be on solid ground again, he didn't want to move. He just laid in the dirt, holding onto his chest, gulping for air.

         "Whoever said... flying... is the safest way to travel... needs to be shot..."

         Mo jumped out of the car and headed directly for the trunk without so much as a glance at Andy.

         "I'm fine!" Andy hollered. "Thanks for asking!"

         Mo ignored him and popped the trunk. That's when Andy realized Yumi was missing. He bolted up in a panic. "Hey, where's Yumi?"

         Mo gently lifted Yumi out of the trunk in response. Out cold, she drooped languidly over his arms. Andy rushed over to her side as Mo carefully set her down on a patch of grass.

         "Oh no," Andy whispered. "Is she okay? Is she..."

         "She's fine," Mo said, checking her pulse and breathing. "They had their blasters set to stun." He straightened her glasses on her face.

         "Oh thank god," Andy breathed. A wave of immense relief washed over him.

         For a moment, they simply watched her breath, at a loss for words. Then Mo leaned down toward her face.

         "A little mouth to mouth should revive her," he said, puckering his lips.

         Andy shoved him aside. "Get away from her!"

         "What is that smell?" Mo sniffed.

         "Sorry," Andy mumbled. "I kind of pissed myself up there. Just a little bit." Mo tilted his body away from Andy, curling his lips in disgust. "Hey, I was falling to my death, all right? You should be commending me for not crapping my pants!"

         Yumi began to stir. Her eyelids fluttered. "What happened?" she croaked.

         "You were stunned by one of the cops," Andy said. "But don't worry, I took care of 'em."

         Mo rolled his eyes. Then Yumi gasped as she noticed the cop car a few yards in front of her. She started scrambling backward, pointing frantically at the hovercar.

         "Hey, hey--!" she sputtered.

         "No, no, it's cool!" Andy said. "There's nobody in there. It's ours."

         "It's a blessing is what it is," said Mo. "Now we'll be able to move around freely." Then he pointed to the city skyline where the Feed station stood out prominently. "And look, the station's just a few miles away. The one advantage we have is the Praxians not knowing where we're headed. They probably think we're just making a mad dash for it."

         Yumi began to stand up, her knees wobbling.

         "Well, what are we waiting for?" she muttered, groggily holding her head. "Let's go." But her knees gave out on her and she toppled to the ground.

         Then they all froze as the sound of a hovercar approached. They spotted a police car hovering around the river in the distance, combing the surrounding area with a spotlight. Holding their breath, they crowded deep into the corner where the underside of the bridge met the embankment. Soon, the cop car cruised by overhead and drifted out of sight.

         Mo whispered. "We should lay low for an hour or two. Let the search die down a little bit. But we better wait inside the car."

         "Good idea," Yumi agreed. "We should be ready to take off at any moment in case we get spotted."

         Mo looked down at his naked crotch. "Actually, I just want to get out of the cold to stop this shrinkage."

         "Do I smell asparagus?" Yumi sniffed as Andy helped her up.

         "Pissed yourself too, huh?" Andy asked.

         "No," she said.

         "Oh," he said, blushing wildly.


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