TUNE - Chapter 20


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         "Are you sure this is a good idea?" Andy asked, verging on panic. "What if Mo is on his way back to the riverbank right now and we miss him?"

         "I don't really see how we have any other option at the moment," replied Yumi, hands clasped on the steering wheel. "While we wait for Mo, D86 could be taking Dash in."


         "Do you want to save her or not? If you do, we can't risk sitting around while D86 makes his way over to the Feed station. Besides, if our positions were reversed, Mo wouldn't give a second thought about leaving us behind. Heck, if he had the tuner key, he would've grabbed Dash and been out of this world a long time ago without so much as a wave. All he cares about is himself. Don't get me wrong, I honor my deals and Mo's no exception to that, but if untenable circumstances prevent him from coming with us, well, excuse me if I don't sob over my hope chest about it."

         "I don't know... Did it ever occur to you that Mo could've just taken the key from you? How could we stop him if he wanted to?"

         Yumi was silent for a moment.

         "Well, it's all moot anyhow," she said finally, "we're already here."

         And indeed, the station was looming toward them outside of the windshield. Yumi killed the lights and veered straight toward the top floor, directly beneath the monstrous satellite dish. The size of the dish took their breath away. Andy was certain it could be spotted from space. At close-range, it obscured the entire sky.

         They began circling the building, but spotted Dash almost immediately inside a small window. She was in an austere office by herself, seated in front of a vast control desk, monitoring a large cluster of monitors and holographic projections.

         "There! Look!" Andy exclaimed, pointing excitedly.

         He also scanned the surrounding area for any sign of Mo -- like he had been doing the entire way to the station -- but found no trace of the Kyderon.

         Yumi steered the hovercar so the passenger side sidled up next to Dash's office. They were hoping Dash would spot them but she was faced away from the window, busy with her work. Andy rolled down his window and tried to tap her window from the car but it was out of his reach. The windows on this building were set several feet into the exterior wall, behind a wide ledge. Andy sighed, realizing there was only one way to get in there. Just in case, he grabbed the blaster pistol Mo had found in the car and tucked it into the back of his pants. Then he carefully pulled himself out of the passenger window.

         "Be careful!" Yumi called out to him.

         Andy couldn't believe it was happening again. Here he was, back up in the sky, half a mile from the ground, climbing out of a flying car... His bladder tightened as he threw his arms onto the ledge and clambered over the small gap between the hovercar and the building. "Just don't look down," he thought to himself repeatedly. The high winds lashed at him from every direction as he got his feet onto the ledge. Trembling like a leaf, he inched forward toward the window.

         Inside the office, Dash looked bored out of her skull. She was slumped forward in her seat, her head propped up on one hand. Her eyes were halfway closed as she gazed languidly between the various monitors and holograms, occasionally pushing a button or two. She bolted up and whirled in her seat when Andy tapped on the glass. Her eyes nearly popped out of her hollow helmet as she caught sight of Andy crouched on the ledge outside her window.

         "Andy Go?" Andy saw her mouth the words in disbelief. Then the very next second, she was bobbing up and down, shrieking his name with unbridled excitement. She sprang up from her chair and surged over to him.

         "Boy, it's good to see you!" she gushed, her voice muffled behind the dense glass.

         Then abruptly as always, her expression fell from sheer glee to utter befuddlement.

         "What are you doing outside my window?" she asked curiously.

         "Oh, you know, just needed some sugar, so I thought I'd stroll over."

         "Oh, okay," she chirped, spinning around. "There's some in the break room! I'll be back in a--"

         "Dash!" Andy shouted. "Get back here! Open the damn window!"

         Dash spun back around with a shrug and pushed a button below the window. The glass lowered like a car door, but only halfway down.

         "How did you get out of the zoo?" Dash asked abruptly. Apparently this question had just now entered her mind.

         "Christ, is this as low as it goes?" Andy grunted, struggling to fit through the narrow gap.

         "Andy--! What the hell are you doing?" Yumi shouted behind him. "Just shoot the glass and have her jump inside the car!"

         Dash hopped up and down, as if she was just now noticing Yumi and the police car hovering directly behind Andy. She waved hysterically at Yumi. "Oh! Yumi Kwon! Hey there! Do you need some sugar too?"

         Andy yelled back at Yumi. "No! If we start blasting away, it'll draw the other workers here or set off an alarm. We have do this ninja-style!"

         "We don't have to worry about that if we hoof it as soon as we bust her out," Yumi retorted. "Why the hell are you going inside?"

         Andy finally managed to squeeze through sideways, and dropped onto the office floor.

         "Just give me a minute," he called back.

         Yumi hit the steering wheel in frustration "Andy! What are you-- Oh, goddamn it!"

         "Wow, I didn't know Yumi could drive a hovercar," Dash marveled.

         Andy picked himself off the floor and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Listen, Dash -- your dad found out about your drawings! He's on his way here right now to have you arrested!"

         "When did you guys join the police force?" Dash asked curiously, staring out at the police hovercar.

         "Dash, focus," Andy snapped. "Did you hear what I just said? You're going to be executed!"

         Several seconds passed as his words finally began to penetrate the constant buzzing inside Dash's brain. Like the phases of the moon, her face slowly shifted from comprehension, to confusion, to disbelief, then finally to indignation.

         "What...? That's... My dad would never let that happen...!"

         "He would and he is! That sadistic bastard would probably tie the noose if you let him."

         Dash staggered back a step, staring into space like a deer caught in headlights. "How... How did he find out?"

         "Well... Okay, Dash... Please don't be mad," Andy gulped. "But Yumi left your drawings out on the coffee table and--"

         "Andy!" Yumi shrieked furiously into the room at the top of her lungs.

         "Look, it doesn't matter how he found out," Andy sputtered at Dash. "What matters is that he knows and he's going to follow through with the laws of your fucked up world and have you killed!"

         Dash continued staring at the wall in a daze as he spoke, then suddenly she snapped out of it and looked down at Andy.

         "Did he say anything about my drawings?" she asked in a tiny voice. "Did he like them?"

         Andy slapped a hand over his face and answered through his fingers. "Yes, he liked them. He like them so much he wants to send you into the after life where you can draw for all eternity."

         "Did he really say that?" Dash asked breathlessly, her eyes sodden with such crushing longing and sincerity, they put Bambi to shame.

         "Dash," Andy sighed, "we don't have time for this. He's going to be here any minute!"

         She started pacing around and muttering to herself as panic set in. "What do I do?" she bleated.

         Andy stopped her in her tracks and stared solemnly up at her. "Here's what you do. You come back with me to my world!"

         Dash jerked back. "What?"

         "Yeah! Think about it, Dash! You won't have to work this crappy job anymore. In my world you can draw to your heart's content. No one will persecute you for simply doing what you love to do. We can talk about art all day and take silk screening classes together at night! Doesn't that sound awesome?"

         She was skeptical at first, but luckily it didn't take much to convince Dash. By the time Andy finished talking, he had wound her up into a bouncing coil of anticipation.

         "Yeah...!" she said slowly, her voice swelling with wonder. Soon the cloud over her face was chased away by a smile luminous enough to power a thousand solar calculators. "Yeah, that sounds great!"

         Andy pumped his fist, beaming. "Yes! All right, let's--"

         Again like a light switch, Dash turned from joyous to despondent in an instant. She dropped her head and looked down her feet, her eyes murky with guilt and uncertainty.

         "But...," she mumbled.

         "But what?" Andy asked impatiently.

         "My dad... Boy, is he going to be mad..."

         Andy threw his hands into the air. "Who cares? One of the perks of living in our world is being away from that psycho dad of yours!"

         "That psycho dad loves me!" Dash erupted at the top of her lungs, and sent a fist smashing through the edge of the control desk.

         Andy was taken aback, both figuratively and literally. He had never seen Dash actually angry before. It was one of the most genuinely frightening things he had ever witnessed. But like a flash flood, the rush of anger had already come and gone. She turned docile again and looked away without expression.

         Andy took a slow step forward and moved carefully into her line of sight.

         "Then he'll understand why you have to leave," he said gingerly. "Look around you. What are you leaving behind? There's nothing for you here." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Have you ever accidentally shuffled a card from one deck into another? You're like that card. You don't belong here.

         "If your dad really loves you, he'll want you to be happy. Are you happy here?"

         Dash looked down and said nothing. Andy gave her some time to think. Then finally, he smiled and said, "I have a pastel set in my world with your name all over it."

         She looked back at him after one last moment of silence.

         "Does it have purple in it?" she murmured.

         "Three shades."

         "All right!" she hooted. "Let's go!"

         Yumi hollered from the idling hovercar. "Hey, do I look like a taxi? Hurry up!"

         Dash started skipping past Andy toward the window, but he grabbed her by the belt and reeled her back.

         "Wait, just a second," he said. "There's something I want to do here before we go. Let me ask you something... What exactly do you do here at the station?"


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