TUNE - Chapter 22

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Chapter 22

         An hour later, Yumi, Mo and Andy were back on the zoo grounds. Yumi and Andy were shoved out of D86's hovervan which was parked just inside the front gate. D86 nudged them forward with the barrel of his blaster rifle. Mo was draped over his shoulder like a dead fish, still out of it. Their bags and Andy's sword hung from D86's other shoulder.

         "Move it!" he barked. Andy and Yumi tumbled out of the rear hatch of the van, the chains of their handcuffs rattling behind their backs. Andy's lips were caked with blood. He felt lucky to have kept all his teeth.

         He squinted against the dawning sun as they trudged toward the main building. They were back on the same grounds, between the main wing of the zoo and the outer wall, where they had made their escape. The clumps of grass and dirt clipped out by Mo's unicorn hooves still littered the field. A huge throng of Praxians were milling about -- heavily armed guards patrolling the compound and a large repair crew patching up the window Mo had busted through. The wall surrounding the window was also pockmarked from all the blaster fire. Kiara and her troops were nowhere in sight; it seemed she had retreated to her dimension for the time being. In the meantime, the Praxians had beefed up their security to keep an eye out for her return.

         Every Praxian stopped what they were doing to gawk at the escaped animals. When they saw D86 had made the capture, applause broke out and rippled through the crowd. Two Praxians who looked to be in charge rushed up to D86. The taller one started to address him, "Sir--"

         D86 cut him off. "Prepare the holding cell. We'll keep them in there until their habitats have been refortified."

         "Yes, sir," he replied, reaching for Mo. "I can take him for you."

         "Thank you, A23." D86 passed the Kyderon from his shoulder to A23's. Then they all continued toward the main entrance with D86 taking the lead and the two other Praxians bringing up the rear.

         "Be careful, sir," the other Praxian said to A23. He pointed to Mo. "This one has morphing abilities."

         "You idiot," A23 snarled. "Don't you see the cerebral disruptor around his head, Z41? He won't be able to hold his piss, let alone transform."

         "Oh. Sorry, sir," Z41 whimpered. "I didn't see it underneath his hair."

         "It's not over yet," D86 cut in. "Unfortunately my daughter managed to escape. Alert the police."

         "Yes, sir!" A23 replied. He pressed the side of his helmet and contacted the police.

         "How heartless can you be?" Andy muttered bitterly. "That's your own daughter!"

         D86 whipped around and belted Andy in the shoulder with the butt of his rifle. Andy dropped to the ground on his knees. Yumi gasped.

         "Christ! Damn it, that hurt!" Andy spat.

         D86 scowled down at him. "Get up and shut up!"

         Andy pulled himself up and begrudgingly followed D86 through the main entrance. He glowered at Yumi. "You just had to go back to the Feed station, didn't you? Happy now?" He rattled the handcuffs behind his back.

         Yumi huffed and trotted ahead of him. "You know, for once I second what D86 said -- shut up!"

         Mo drooped from A23's shoulder, his silver locks swishing from side to side like wet seaweed. His face was twisted in agony, covered in sweat.

         D86 lead them through a labyrinth of corridors in the back of the zoo. Soon they were marching though a deserted hallway.

         D86 looked over his shoulder at A23. "How is the situation with the trespassers? Have there been any further dimensional breaches since I've been gone?"

         "No, sir. They haven't returned since these animals made their escape."

         "Uh, sir? Pardon me," Z41 addressed D86 nervously, "but the holding cell is that way." He pointed to the opposite fork in the corridors.

         "I know," D86 replied. "We're not going to the holding cell."

         "Sir?" A23 asked quizzically.

         Suddenly, Mo lifted his head and opened his eyes. He grinned at Z41 and said, "We're going to the tuner."

         "W-What--!" sputtered Z41. "The cerebral disruptor--"

         "--isn't on," Mo finished.

         Before either Praxian guard could react, Mo transformed into his snake form, sprang through the air off of A23's shoulder, and dug his fangs into Z41's face.

 

         Back outside, the foreman of the building repairs was growing impatient.

         "Come on! Let's go!" he shouted to the workers. "We need this area sealed off, pronto!" Then he turned to another supervisor. "Can you believe this mess? We just remodeled this wing last month! If I ever get my hands on those dimensional intruders, I'm going to..."

         He trailed off as a shadow engulfed him. He looked up and saw a squadron of police hovercars darkening the sky above him like a gathering cloud. They pulled into a tight formation and lowered onto the zoo grounds. Several feet in the air, before the leading hovercar had a chance to touch down, the rider in the passenger seat threw open the door and leaped out. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he marched toward the main entrance like an elephant on a warpath. All the C.I.S. workers and guards halted in their tracks and gaped in utter confusion. It was D86. Again. And he looked mad as hell.

         The foreman ran up to him. "What the...? D86? Sir...! How-- We just saw you enter the--"

         "No, you didn't," he said grimly. "Gather every armed guard."

 

         An hour ago, back at the Feed station...

         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." Then he shouted toward window. "Yumi Kwon! Don't do anything stupid, girl! Come out of the hovercar and give yourself up!"

         Suddenly, the cop threw his hand on D86's blaster and yanked it out of its holster. The cop pressed the barrel of the pistol against the side of D86's helmet.

         "Hey, there's no need to yell, Shortround," he said. "I'm right here."

         D86 glared incredulously at the officer from the corner of his eyes. "What the hell are you doing?"

         "Shut up and don't move a muscle!" the cop barked. Then he turned to Dash. "Dash, get over here and give me a hand."

         Dash rushed over and pressed a little device on D86's utility belt.

"Sorry, Dad," she mumbled woefully.

         At the press of the button, Mo's handcuffs unlatched automatically. Then Dash took the handcuffs and moved her father to a large pillar in the middle of the room. She wrapped D86's arms around it behind his back and snapped the handcuffs over his wrists. The cop diligently kept the gun pointed at D86 during the entire procedure.

         "There's no one inside the hovercar, genius," the cop smirked. "It's on autopilot. Gotcha!"

         Andy hurried over to D86 and unbuckled his belt. Seeing the tuner key attached, he quickly stuffed the belt into his satchel. "Okay, I got his tuner key! Plus a lot of other useful stuff, I'm sure."

         The cop clicked a little device on his own belt and he was instantly replaced with Yumi.

         "Boy, these hologuises sure work like a charm," she said in her own voice again.

         D86 shut his eyes and exhaled through his nose like an angry ox, berating himself for not figuring it out sooner.

         Andy turned to Yumi. "Is there anything else you stole from Dash that you want to tell us about?" he asked dryly.

         "No, just the tuner key and the hologuiser. It's all I could grab before I passed out."

         "You know, I was fired because you stole those things," Dash muttered in a wounded voice. "Everyone thought stupid Dash lost something again. Including myself..."

         "I know. I'm sorry, Dash," Yumi apologized emphatically. "But it was right there in front of my face on your belt. I couldn't resist! I had to make sure I had a way back home."

         Dash turned cheerfully to her father. "Did you hear that, Dad? I didn't lose them! See!"

         D86 was glowering down at the floor, refusing to utter a word. Meanwhile, Andy was trying to help Mo stand up, but the battered Kyderon wasn't getting any better. It was obvious he was still in great pain and incognizant of his surroundings. His eyes remained loose in their sockets and his body sagged like a boneless slab.

         Andy slapped him lightly on the cheek. "Mo, you okay? Come on, I'll help you up."

         Mo managed to push his upper body off the floor for a second with Andy's help, but he immediately collapsed back onto the floor with a mournful groan.

         Andy called out to Dash. "What the hell is wrong with him?"

         Dash turned away from her Dad and hurried over to Mo. She grabbed the metal headband around Mo's head and yanked it off. It was like a splash of cold water. Mo was instantly revitalized. His eyes snapped back into place and his muscles tightened. His mind was able to focus once again. Groaning, he slowly propped himself up on his elbows, still very woozy.

         "By the Unnamed Gods, am I glad to get that damn thing off," he groaned painfully, grabbing his head.

         Dash waved the headband in front of Andy. "Cerebral disruptor. It's like a migraine machine from Hell."

         Yumi knelt down, propping Mo up in her arms. "Are you okay?" she asked.

         Mo leaned in for a kiss. "A little mouth-to-mouth should revive me..."

         "Ugh!" Yumi dropped him onto the floor and bolted to her feet.

         "Ow!"

         "All right, enough horsing around," Andy cut in. "What the hell happened after you left us, Mo?"

         Mo rubbed the back of his head and glared at D86.

         "Bastard used that damn memory extractor on me. Found out everything..."

         Andy sighed. "No wonder!"

         "But how did he catch you in the first place?" Yumi asked.

         "Well, I was circling the building trying to find Dash when I was suddenly fired upon. I looked down and saw Stumpy over here firing away. He had just parked his hovervan and was on his way into the station when he spotted me."

         Andy scratched his head. "What? But weren't you in bird form? How the heck did he know you were--"

         "Turns out crows have been extinct on this world for centuries," Mo grumbled. "So when he saw one flying around..."

         Yumi facepalmed. "Oy vey."

         "Hey, I did give him a run for his money though. We had a long, drag-out fight." Mo turned his gaze back to D86. "You do know how to fight. I'll give you that, Stumpy."

         D86 continued glaring silently at the floor. Something had been dislodged inside him. He wasn't the same since he saw Dash on the fugitives' side.

         "You have no idea," Dash said. "My dad was a soldier his whole life before he started to work for the C.I.S. Lost his eye in the first interstellar war..."

         "Well, I had Sgt. War Monger here on the ropes when he slapped that damn cerebral disruptor thing on me," Mo muttered bitterly. "Anyway, we better get out of here, quick! The real cops are on their way. Once D86 discovered from my memories what we were up to and where you two were hiding, he alerted a cop car near the river to capture you guys. When the cops checked under the bridge and found it deserted, D86 guessed you guys might already be up here with Dash. That's when he dragged me up here as his hostage."

         Yumi didn't waste another second. She sprang to the window, gesturing to the others to follow. The police car hovered patiently on autopilot outside.

         "Well, what are you all waiting for?" she asked impatiently. "Everyone, back in the hovercar! Let's go!"

         Dash and Andy were helping Mo to the window when D86's booming voice punched through the room.

         "B101!"

         Everyone stopped in their tracks and spun around to face D86. He had such a commanding presence, they couldn't help themselves.

         "You're really joining these... animals?" His spiteful growl ran through the others' ears like barbed wire.

         Dash whimpered. "Dad..."

         D86 bore into Dash with a piercing, paternal stare. His robotic eye gleamed. "You listen to me very carefully, young lady. They--"

         Suddenly, without warning, a round of blaster fire burst into his face. D86's head snapped back and smacked against the concrete column behind him. He slumped to the floor unconscious.

         Dash screamed. "No!"

         She whipped around and saw Mo holding a smoking blaster pistol in his hand. He had pulled it out from the back of Andy's pants.

         "Relax," he said. "I'm not a monster like your Pops here. I just stunned him." Mo continued talking as he uncuffed D86, dragged his unconscious body into a closet, recuffed him, and shut the door. "He knows too much. He'd tell the cops everything once they got here. Hopefully now they won't find him for a little while and buy us some time to--"

         Several rounds of blaster fire ripped through the door. Luckily they all missed except for one which zipped by right under Mo's chin and trimmed a lock of his lengthy hair.

         "Too late," Yumi gasped. "They're already here!"

         Mo shrieked. "Noooo! My hair!"

         The butt of a blaster rifle busted through the frosted window of the door, sending shards of glass flying into the room. A dozen cops could be glimpsed crowding behind the door.

         "That was a warning shot!" a cop shouted. "Drop your weapons and give yourselves up!"

         Summoned all of her strength, Dash hoisted an enormous filing and hurled it against the door. The room shook upon impact. The police retaliated immediately with a barrage of blaster fire which ripped into the other side of the filing cabinet.

         "That should slow them down," Dash panted.

         "Run!" Yumi cried, bounding out of the window. The others scrambled after her. Bringing up the rear, Dash gave one last, regretful glance over her shoulder at the closet door.

         "Goodbye, Dad," she murmured, holding back tears. Then she spun around and leaped into the hovercar.

 

         They sent the police on a wild goose chase immediately after their escape from the Feed station. While the cops were busting through the filing cabinet, they abandoned the police hovercar and sent it off on autopilot in the opposite direction of the C.I.S. Zoo. The cops chased after the empty hovercar, and the fugitives highjacked D86's hovervan. It was a good thing Andy had taken the entire belt from D86. The car keys were in one of the belt's many compartments. And Mo remembered the van's location in the Feed station parking lot since he and D86 had battled around it.

         So with Dash using the hologuiser to mimic her father, they had successfully infiltrated the C.I.S. Zoo. After Mo had taken out A23 and Z41, he morphed back into his humanoid self and gathered up their blaster rifles. Dash -- in the form of D86 -- unlatched the handcuffs from Andy and Yumi and handed back their bags.

         "Man, we should start a community theater," Andy said. "That was some good acting, everyone."

         "I'm sorry I hit you on the shoulder, Andy Go," Dash apologized profusely. "But I wanted to be convincing."

         Andy rubbed his shoulder, smiling weakly. "No worries, Dash. Never liked this shoulder anyway."

         Mo tossed the two blasters at Andy and Yumi. "Here," he said. Then he turned to Dash. "Give me the sword."

         "Aw, I wanted the sword!" Andy protested.

         "You don't need it anymore, you've got a blaster," Mo replied dryly.

         "What do you need it for anyway? You can turn into a friggin' dragon!"

         "You don't even know how to use it, kid. You'll just end up poking your eyes out. Or stick it in a wall..."

         Andy rolled his eyes. "I wasn't going to use it. I just wanted to look cool..."

         "Well, then it's settled. Nothing can make you look cool."

         Mo grabbed the sword from Dash and strapped on the belt.

         "Jesus, look at you. You look absolutely ridiculous," Andy said. "Standing there butt naked with nothing but a belt on."

         "Don't forget my... sword." Mo cocked an eyebrow and smirked.

         "Ugh," Yumi groaned, averting her eyes. "I never thought I'd say this, but that's even worse than a guy Donald Ducking it."

         Dash tilted her head, befuddled. "Donald Ducking it?"

         "Shirt, no bottom," Yumi gagged. "It's the worst look for a guy ever. At least I thought it was until now."

         Mo grinned. "Fine, give me one of your socks and I'll put it on. It should make it halfway up the sha--"

         "Anyway!" Andy cried. "Okay, which way to the tuner room, Dash?"

         "This way! Follow me!" Dash bolted down the corridor and the others scrambled closely behind her. They left A23 and Z41 passed out on the floor. "You know, public use of a hologuiser is against the law," Dash said as they ran. "Only those with a government issued license are allowed to use it. And now that I'm no longer an employee of the C.I.S..."

         "What are they going to do? Execute you twice?" Yumi asked wryly. She pulled out the tuner key from her bag and tossed it at Dash. "Hey, here's something else you're going to use illegally in a minute."

         Dash caught it excitedly and clipped it on her belt. "I knew I didn't lose you," she beamed.

         Just then, two C.I.S. employees rounded the corner and spotted them. "Hey! What the--"

         Dash stunned them immediately with her blaster and kept marching. "Sorry, N46! Sorry, T97!" she apologized over her shoulder.

         "Hey, wouldn't it be better if you kept pretending to be D86 and we kept pretending to be your prisoners?" Andy suggested. "Then we could just slip by all these Praxians."

         "Wouldn't work," Dash replied. "There's no reason my Dad or any Praxian would be taking you guys to the tuner room. Returning an animal to its native dimension rarely happens. Three animals from three different dimensions at the same time? That would never happen. Something like that would be planned long in advance and everyone working here would have known about it. As soon as someone checked the tuners' scheduled jumps, they would know we were lying."

         Mo clenched his jaw. "She's right. From here on in, we have to push our way in."

         "Besides, we're almost there," Dash rejoiced. "Just around this next corner!"

         As they leaned into a sprint, Yumi and Andy exchanged a smile wrought with emotion. A smile that silently spoke of everything they had been through together to get to this moment. Andy's heart raced. He could hardly believe they were so close to going back home.

         "It's do or die time, kids!" Mo exclaimed. "Have your guns ready and blast anybody that gets in our--"

         They skidded to a halt as soon as they turned the corner. A horde of armed Praxians -- both zoo guards and police officers -- were stuffed into the hallway, barring the entrance to the tuner room. Andy's knees buckled under him as he stared down the barrel of three dozen blasters. And spearheading this mob was none other than D86.

         "--way," Mo finished in a tiny voice.

         "Drop you weapons," D86 bellowed. "Now!"

CHAPTER 23 >>


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