TUNE - Chapter 21


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         Fifteen minutes later, Dash pushed one last button on the control desk and they were done.

         "There, that should do it," she said.

         Andy held out his fist. "Excellent! Pound it!"

         Dash stared curiously back and forth between Andy's face and his outstretched fist. Then she shrugged and bumped it. A second later, Andy found himself on the other side of the room, the back of his chair plastered against the wall. That's what happens when you're in a rolling office chair and Dash "taps" your fist. During his excitement, Andy had forgotten just how strong she was.

         "A little lighter next time," he whimpered, shaking out his hand. "Ow..."

         "Come on! Let's go!" Yumi cried from the hovercar. She was nervously scanning the night sky. "Who knows how many people have spotted me out here by now! Someone's bound to get suspicious!"

         Without dallying another second, Dash and Andy squeezed through the office window and clambered into the car. Then Yumi pulled the hovercar away from the building, and hit the gas.

         "It's about time!" Yumi snapped. "What the heck were you two doing in there?"

         Andy replied from the backseat. "We got away before anybody spotted us, so what difference does it make? Just get us to the zoo before it opens. We'll have a much better chance of sneaking into the tuner room at night when most of the Praxians are at home. And now that Dash is with us, she can lead us right to it." Andy beamed and patted Dash on the shoulder. "Right, Dash?"

         Yumi turned to Dash. "You can operate the tuner by yourself, I hope?"

         "Sure," answered Dash. Then she frowned. "Wait, but I lost my--"

         "Key?" Yumi cut in. "Don't worry about it. I got it covered."

         "You have my tuner key?" Dash asked quizzically.

         Yumi looked sheepish. "Look, I said I have it covered. You just worry about getting us back to our dimensions."

         Dash shrugged. "Okay." Then after a moment, she turned and asked, "How did you get my dad's key?"

         Yumi and Andy looked at each other through the rear view mirror.

         "What the hell are you talking about?" Yumi asked Dash, alarm creeping into her voice.

         "Well, you said you have it covered, so I assume you have both keys?"

         "Why would we need both keys?" Andy asked nervously, dreading the answer.

         "Because you need both keys to start the tuner," Dash answered. "You know that, right?"

         Yumi hit the brakes and left the car hovering in the air. Then with a loud thud, she dropped her head onto the steering wheel. All the hope and excitement Andy had been riding high on since Dash had joined them evaporated.

         "So you were really paying attention to how they operated it, huh?" he scoffed at Yumi. "Hey, how hard could it be!"

         But instead of responding to him, Yumi continued pounding her head into the steering wheel repeatedly. Andy quickly felt guilty for his verbal jab. He thought back to when Dash and D86 were operating the tuner just before they had made the jump. Andy had been so busy listening to Dash and watching her, he didn't even remember paying any attention to D86's procedures. Even if he had, D86 was seated on the opposite side of the console, so Andy couldn't have seen what D86 was doing anyway. Yumi must have made the same mistake.

         "Do you guys know how expensive that tuner is?" Dash asked. "There are only two in existence and the C.I.S. needs at least another ten years of revenue before they can construct another one. There's no way they're going to trust a tuner to a single individual."

         Suddenly, Yumi hit the accelerator. She spun the steering wheel and tore through the sky in the opposite direction. Her face was rigid with fierce determination.

         "Yumi!" Andy cried. "What are you doing?"

         "We're going to get the other key, of course," she said. Dash and Andy stared dumbfounded at Yumi. "I can't believe our luck," she continued with a devilish smirk. "The other key is falling right into our laps! We know D86 is coming to the Feed station to take Dash away. All we have to do is wait inside her office and ambush him." She docked the hovercar alongside Dash's office window again as she talked. "As soon as D86 opens that door, we shoot him unconscious and take his key!"


         Dash and Andy stood sentry on opposite sides of the office door, their backs to the wall. They had their blasters pointed nervously at the door, Andy with the police pistol, and Dash with Yumi's rifle. They couldn't have returned to the station a minute too soon. As they had been climbing back into the office, Dash received a call from the receptionist at the lobby announcing that D86 had come to see her. They scrambled into position as soon as Dash had gotten the message. Luckily, it would take D86 a little time to get all the way up to the top floor of the building, so they had more than enough time to get ready. Dash and Andy exchanged one last furtive glance as they waited with bated breath. Her face -- that is, her floating eyes and mouth -- was a reluctant mix of determination and terror. Andy couldn't imagine the conflicted thoughts she must have been wrestling with, getting ready to shoot the man who raised her. Even on a stun setting, just the thought of firing a gun at your own father -- especially one as stern as D86 -- must have been rattling. But there was no more time to think as the sound of heavy footsteps approached from the hallway outside. Soon the footsteps ceased and they could see the unmistakably silhouette of D86 appear behind the frosted glass window of the office door. Andy gulped and held his gun steady. He made sure to hold the pistol with both hands this time and really steady himself for the recoil. There came a firm knock on the door.

         "Come in," Dash said in a quaky voice.

         Andy started to tighten his grip on the trigger as the door slid open. But when D86 came into view, Andy gasped and tore his finger away from the trigger. D86 stood in the doorway with a blaster pointed at Mo's head. He held Mo by the neck like a hunter posing for a photo with a dead duck. The Kyderon was incapacitated, drugged perhaps. He hung limply from D86's vice-like grip, eyes lolling around aimlessly in their sockets. A metallic headband was wrapped around his head, and his wrists were handcuffed behind his back. His face was pinched with terrible pain. Andy was momentarily immobilized with shock.

         D86 took a quick survey of the situation. He noticed Andy first and shot him a searing glare. Next his eyes darted to the police car hovering outside the window. Then he spotted Dash on the other side of the room and shock flashed across his face. For the first time, Andy saw D86 visibly taken aback. It was also the first time Andy saw the commanding Praxian hesitate with uncertainty. Then D86's face hardened...

         "Drop the guns," he growled. "Or beast boy here gets a brain full of blaster fire. The gun's set to kill."

         Dash and Andy exchanged a quick, helpless glance and did as they were told. Once the blasters had been placed on the floor they stood back up and put their hands in the air.

         Then D86 turned to Dash. "503(4)-0717.04.23.B101... What the hell do you think you're doing?"

         Dash looked shamefully down at the floor.

         "You're pointing a gun at me?" D86 seemed genuinely surprised. And hurt. "After everything I've done for you?"

         B101 looked around the floor, searching for an answer, but all the words seemed to be caught in her throat.

         Andy answered for her. "You've got some nerve!" he blurted. "Aren't you here to send your own daughter to the electric chair? Talk about the kettle making the pot... I mean, the pot calling the pan... Dude, you suck!"

         While Andy was groping for analogies, D86 tossed Mo aside like a sack of garbage. Mo landed on the ground with a heavy thud. He coughed up a groan, but seemed unable to move or function in any other capacity.

         "And what did you do to Mo?" Andy demanded. "What's wrong with him?"

         Without warning, D86 clocked Andy in the face with his pistol. The world went white for a blinding second as the young artist dropped to the ground holding a bloody mouth.

         D86 was trembling with rage. "You... stupid animal. Do you have any idea what you've done? I'm going to--"

         "Dad, is it true?" Dash murmured in a quavering voice. "Am I really going to be executed?"

         D86 was silent for moment. "You know what you've done," he muttered finally. "You know the law. No one is exempt from the law. Not even daughters."

         Dash's hands slowly drifted down to her sides. She was unable to muster another word.

         "I've already alerted the police," D86 continued, avoiding his daughter's gaze. "When they arrive, you'll surrender yourself and await your trial. Understood?"

         As if on cue, a cop hustled into view from the hallway. He stared wide-eyed around the room, taken aback by the scene. "Is everything under control here?" he asked fretfully.

         D86 tucked his blaster into his holster and pointed at Dash. His gaze dropped heavily to the floor. "That's her, officer. She's in violation of code 091. You may arrest her. These other two are the escaped animals from the C.I.S. Zoo. There should be one more in the stolen police car hovering outside that window. They're mine."


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