TUNE - Chapter 23

Null

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Chapter 23

         "We know it's you, B101," D86 muttered gravely, pointing his rifle. "So turn off the hologuiser and drop the gun!" He pinned Dash with a withering look. She crumpled like an empty paper box. Then he called out to Mo. "And you! We have five flame throwers trained on you, so don't even think about transforming. Big or small, you're going to be fried."

         "Okay, okay," Andy cried. "Don't shoot!"

         They dropped their guns, and Dash deactivated her hologuiser. Mo took off his sword belt, but unbeknown to anyone, he pressed one of the gems studded into the buckle as he dropped it to the floor. Then he stepped forward with his hands raised.

         "Fellas. Relax," he said in a breezy voice. "I'm on your team. I was bringing them to you."

         Yumi, Dash and Andy simultaneously whipped their heads around and gawked at Mo. The Praxians looked around at each other as confused murmuring rippled through their ranks. Only D86 reacted like a stone wall.

         "You expect us to believe that?" he sneered, keeping his blaster trained on Mo.

         "Hey, I never wanted to escape in the first place," Mo said. "I just ran out of the zoo to get away from those Kyderons." Then he pointed a thumb toward Yumi, Dash and Andy. "You can kill these fools for all I care. Just toss me back in my cell and let me live out my little life in peace."

         "Oh, don't worry, we plan to," D86 growled.

         Yumi glared venomously at Mo, her hands knotted into trembling fists. "You... bastard," she hissed.

         Then she noticed something eerie in the corner of her eye. She turned and stared at a small sliver of light materializing in thin air, between her and the Praxians. Just like in Andy's cell the previous night, the glowing rift stretched, and a thunderous boom filled the room when it opened into a portal. Everyone in the hallway staggered back. Kiara and her troops peered out into the hallway from the other side of the dimensional window. The Kyderon princess spotted Mo immediately.

         "Mogens!" she cried.

         "Kiara, save me!" Mo shouted back swiftly, pointing to the Praxians. "They're going to kill me!"

         The next second erupted into chaos. Mo transformed into his gorilla form, gathered up Andy, Yumi, and Dash in his long, powerful arms, and swept them all back around the corner. Chunks of concrete and plaster exploded behind them as the Praxians opened fire. Kiara and her troops spilled out of the portal in a tidal wave of silver armor.

         "Protect the prince!" Kiara commanded. "I need him alive!"

         The first wave of Kyderon soldier marched into a line, side by side, and deflected the Praxian's blaster fire with metal shields the size of doors. A second row of soldiers gathered behind them, flinging energy bolts from their shooting stars through the gaps in the front line. At Kiara's command, both battalions surged forward into the Praxians with their swords and maces swinging, forcing the Praxians into close-quarter combat where they were at a disadvantage. Before the Praxians could be cornered into the back of the hallway, D86 charged like a battering ram into center of the shielded phalanx, shattering the Kyderon formation. Frenzied by their leader's successful attack, the rest of the Praxians followed D86's command and charged into the fray.

         The dimensional portal closed up and faded away as Kiara diverted her concentration to the battle.

         Back around the corner, Andy and his companions cowered on the floor, marveling at the savage battle erupting in front of the tuner room. Stray fire and shrapnel flew everywhere and the ghastly sounds of battle reverberated madly through the corridors.

         As soon as Mo transformed back into his native form, Yumi grabbed him by the neck and cocked her fist.

         "I knew we couldn't trust you! You slimy--"

         Mo kissed her before she could strike. That worked better than any counter attack. Yumi froze with shock and indignation.

         "I didn't mean any of that stuff I said, you dummy! I was just buying time until Kiara got here! Built into the belt buckle of every one of her soldiers is a homing beacon. In case someone is separated from his troop or he's left behind in a battle and needs to be rescued. That's how Kiara keeps track of her army. I activated it on the belt I was wearing before I dropped it. You think I stole that belt for looks? I took it just in case we needed Kiara’s help." He pointed in the direction of the battle. "This whole massive distraction that's happening right now so we can escape? That was me, sugar lips."

         "Don't you ever kiss me again," Yumi said, "...without my permission."

         Andy felt his face heat up with jealousy. He knew it was irrational to feel this way since the Yumi who had feelings for him wasn't the one being kissed, but he couldn't help his kneejerk reaction.

         While Dash peeked around the corner, she was brought up to speed on Kiara’s obsessive, power-driven hunt for Mo. "The Kyderons have pushed my people back," she reported excitedly. "Now there's a clear path to the tuner room entrance! Let's go! Everyone's so distracted with the fight, I think we can sneak in unnoticed."

         "Uh, are you sure about that?" Andy gulped.

         "Go! Go!" Yumi hollered, pushing Andy around the corner.

         Andy reluctantly tumbled into the hallway with the others, fully expecting to be cut down by blaster fire. But Dash was right. The battle had been pushed down the hallway, well past the tuner room doors. And the remaining combatants were too busy trying not to be pummeled by a shooting star or the butt of a rifle to notice the fugitives.

         "Run!" Mo cried. He morphed into a panther and bounded toward the tuner room. His three unlikely companions scrambled after him in a mad dash, jumping and tripping over fallen bodies. Dash tried to get one last glimpse of her father before she jumped into the tuner room, but he was out of sight, fighting away and barking orders somewhere in the heart of the battle.

         Suddenly they heard a piercing crack behind them. As Mo leaped the last few feet to the entrance, the end of a whip snapped onto one of his hind legs and yanked him back in midair. He slapped onto the floor with a painful howl. Yumi, Dash, and Andy spun on their heels and saw Kiara emerge from the battle, grasping the whip. This time she had come battle-ready. The lights of the hallway glinted off her silver armor which clattered menacingly, like the spurs of a cowboy, every time she took a step. A long purple cape, embroidered with the sigil of her kingdom, billowed behind her as she strode forward. Mo hissed savagely and reached for the whip with his front claws.

         "Oh, no, you don't!" Kiara cried. She chanted an eerie word and blue electricity crackled from her hand. A charge ran down the length of the whip and struck Mo in an explosion of light. As all his fur stood on end, he unleashed a blood-curdling scream and reverted back to his humanoid form. He writhed and convulsed on the floor for a couple of seconds before passing out.

         "We...are...getting...married!" Kiara screamed. Her beautiful face was twisted with mad determination. Then she unleashed a triumphant laugh and began reeling Mo in with the whip. Smoke trailed from the shape-shifter as he was dragged across the floor like a hunted animal.

         Andy scanned the hallway frantically for the blasters they had been forced to drop a few minutes ago. But the guns were nowhere to be seen, perhaps buried under the casualties. But as luck would have it, he spotted something equally effective -- a shooting star in the hand of a fallen Kyderon soldier. He swept it off the floor, whirled it until it charged and struck Kiara dead in the center of her chest with a bolt of energy. Screaming, she flew across the hallway and smashed into the far wall. Then she collapsed face-first onto the floor in a pile of armor. Lucky for her, her chest plate absorbed most of the impact. Andy stared at the shooting star in his hand and laughed in astonishment.

         "Holy shit, I actually did it!" he exclaimed. Kiara moaned on the floor. "Sorry, hot alien princess." He rushed over to Mo. "Mo! Are you okay?"

         Yumi and Dash helped Andy roll him onto his back. Yumi pushed his silver hair out of his face. He was out cold.

         Yumi shook him violently. "Mo! Say something!"

         Mo was unresponsive for a scary moment, but finally his eyelids slowly fluttered open. "That...bitch...cray," he uttered in a raspy groan.

         The others sighed in relief. Then without another moment's hesitation, Dash hefted Mo onto her shoulder and they charged into the tuner room. Behind them, the battle between the Praxians and Kiara's soldiers continued to rage down the hallway.

         The tuner room was a cavernous hangar stuffed with Praxian technology. Vast clusters of industrial equipment hung from the ceiling amidst a jungle of chains and pulleys. The fugitives' steps echoed down its depths, through air heavy with the austere scent of metal and circuits. Mezzanine levels crowded with giant computers and futuristic machines boggling Andy's mind hugged the walls on either side of the hall. Stairs at the end of both mezzanine levels lead to a low, circular platform in the center of the room. There, underneath a spotlight, surrounded by maintenance equipment, sat the Tuner-1, still in its manhole cover form.

         "There it is!" Yumi shouted, hopping up and down.

         Andy was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. After a month of wallowing in the deepest depths of despair, there he was, by some miracle, looking upon the tuner. What was once the instrument of his incarceration was now the key to his freedom. He never dared to hope of seeing it again. It felt like a dream. He was mere steps away from his way back home, back to his family and friends. Back to Yumi. His Yumi.

         While he choked back a lump growing in his throat, the present bespectacled Yumi snapped him out of his reverie and got his ass moving.

         "Guys, get to the tuner and start it up!" she ordered. "I'll lock the doors!"

         "On it!" Dash called back cheerfully. She skipped toward the tuner with Mo groaning and flopping up and down on her shoulder.

         Yumi grabbed the large double doors and began to pull them together.

         "You sure you don't want some help?" Andy asked over his shoulder.

         "Go! I can lock a door!"

         But when the doors were mere inches away from shutting together, two massive hands shot through the gap and held them apart. Yumi looked down between the hands and saw a gleaming robotic eye glaring out of a hollow helmet.

         "Not so fast," D86 rasped. He growled like a pitbull, pushing the doors apart.

         Yumi gasped. "No!"

         She strained with every ounce of her might to pull the doors shut but it was no use. A human was no match for Praxian strength. Yumi stared helplessly as her hands were steadily pulled apart along with the doors.

         For a moment, Andy was frozen with fear and despair, all his new found hope evaporating. They were so close! He couldn't believe it was going to end here, with the tuner in sight. Then his Yumi's face flashed in his mind once again and he was flooded with renewed determination. He had to get back to her! His grip on the shooting star tightened like a vice. Trembling with sudden, desperate courage, he bit down on his lip and charged. He spun the shooting star, charging it up as he ran.

         "Yumi!" he cried. "Duck!"

         Catching Andy closing in from the corner of her eyes, Yumi released the doors and flung herself aside onto the floor. Suddenly free of any resistance, D86 burst through the doors like Kool-Aid Man through a brick wall. But just as he crossed the threshold of the doorway, his face was greeted with a thunderous blow from the studded ball of Andy's shooting star. It was charged with so much energy when Andy struck him, the walls shook from the force of the impact. D86 was sent hurtling back into the hallway as if he had been launched out of a canon. He plowed through the far wall of the hallway like a wrecking ball. Yumi quickly sprang to the doors and bolted them shut.

         Andy felt a triumphant rush he hadn't experienced since he won his first art contest. He roared into the air like a lion. "Damn, that felt good!"

         Yumi scooped him up in a suffocating hug. "Yes!" she cried, pressing her flustered cheek against his. His Yumi or no, it was still Yumi, and his face flushed like a ripe tomato. Then she puckered her lips and leaned in reflexively. But just before their lips met, she came to her senses and screeched to a halt.

         "Sorry," she stammered. "Confused you for my Andy there for a second..."

         She released Andy like she had accidentally grabbed a cactus. The awkwardness in the air could be cut with a knife.

         "Oh, it's okay," Andy mumbled. "I understand."

         Yumi beamed. "I didn't think you had that in you, to be honest. I think you just saved us, Andy."

         Andy smiled back, flushing all over again.

         Their quiet little celebration was cut short however. They heard some bustling migrate toward them from the battle in the hallway and soon there came a furious pounding against the doors.

         "Let's go home!" Andy cried.

         They whirled around and made a mad scramble for the tuner. Dash had left the hatch open for them. But before they were even halfway there, the double doors were blasted off their hinges. The doors nearly flattened Andy and Yumi when they hurtled through the air and crashed onto the floor on either side of the fleeing humans. D86 had already recovered and rounded up a handful of Praxians away from the battle to help stop the fugitives.

         "Fire!" D86 commanded. "They're after the tuner!" Blood splattered into the air from his mouth as he hollered.

         Yumi and Andy sprinted faster than they had ever thought capable. They danced their way to the tuner, weaving around blaster fire dogging their every step. The Praxians nearly clipped them several times.

         Mo poked his head out of the tuner, finally back on his feet. "Andy, you idiot! You've got the--" His eyes widened into the size saucers as he saw Andy and Yumi zooming toward him with a pack of Praxians firing away on their heels.

         "Heads up!" Yumi shouted.

         They leaped the last several yards like lemurs on fire, inches ahead of shots shredding the floor around them. They plowed into Mo, and the three of them tumbled down the ladder in a tangle of bodies. They smacked onto the floor of the tuner control room with a cacophony of pain. As soon as they were inside, Dash pressed a button on the console, and the manhole cover sealed shut automatically. She was already strapped into a seat.

         "Yay!" she cheered. "We're all back together again!"

         The others groaned miserably and slowly untangled themselves.

         "We made it," Andy gasped. "Holy shit, we made it!"

         Then he felt something cool on his face and looked up. His forehead was cradling Mo's testicles. And his eyes were eye to eye with the Kyderon's brown eye. Andy unleashed a shriek which probably shattered some lightbulbs and erupted from the pile of bodies. He continued screaming for a full minute and wiped his hands madly across his face like a skin scrubber at a Korean spa.

         "Thanks for saving the jewels, kid," Mo chuckled. "If I ever meet him, I'll name my next illegitimate kid after you."

         While Andy was flopping around wailing for Purelle and antibiotics, D86 and the other Praxians above gathered around the tuner hatch and began unloading their blasters against it. The sound of the blasts reverberated frightfully inside the tuner. Andy and his companions felt like bugs inside a tin can being hit with canon fire.

         "Dash, what are you waiting for?" Yumi cried. "Make the jump! Now!"

         "You morons!" Mo shouted back. "Andy has the other tuner key, remember?"

         Yumi facepalmed.

         "Oh, goddamn it!" Andy groaned. He whipped out D86's tuner key from his satchel and bolted to the console.

         "Hurry!" Yumi shouted, running to another seat.

         Dash was laughing merrily. "Look, Andy Go! It's like old times! Back together in the tuner!"

         The blaster fire from above continued to shake the room. Andy looked around wildly at the smorgasbord of knobs, buttons, switches, levers, screens, holograms, and blinking lights on the console. His head was swimming.

         "Dash, where do I stick it in?" he asked frantically. "Where do I stick it in?"

         Mo chuckled. "I'm starting to see why you're a virgin." He strapped himself into the seat next to Yumi.

         Yumi's head snapped up. "Andy, you're a virgin?"

         "The slot with the label above it," Dash called out to Andy.

         "Which label?" Andy cried.

         "The one that reads, 'Insert Tuner Key Here'," she said, pointing across the controls.

         Yumi groaned. Andy ignored her and shoved the key into the slot. The tuner hummed to life. It was the most beautiful sound Andy had ever heard.

         "Dash, punch in the coordinates for Andy's dimension," Mo said. "I've got to visit this 'Hooters' place he's been telling me about."

         Then he screamed in agony as a round of blaster fire came out of nowhere and hit him in the temple. Half the air in the room was sucked away by his companion's collective gasps.

         "Again? Really?" Mo muttered as he passed out. He slumped in his seat, held up only by the seat belts around his torso. His chin sagged onto his chest as a trail of drool began to run down his lip.

         Andy whipped his head up and saw that the manhole cover was still sealed and intact, holding back the blaster fire from the Praxians above. So how...?

         From the shadows of a corridor emerged a powerful, stocky figure. D86 stomped into the light, holding a smoking blaster rifle.

         "Put your hands up. I don't want to see a finger on that console," he hissed. "Now!"

         Andy, Yumi and Dash did as they were told.

         "What...?" Andy muttered, looking back and forth between D86 and the sealed hatch above. "How the hell..."

         "'Dash isn't the only one with a hologuiser, monkey boy," D86 snarled. "I've been waiting for you down here since I arrived, as the last line of defense. Just for security, really, never imagining you idiots would actually make it to the tuner. I have to admit, I'm impressed," he said coldly.

         Meanwhile, back up above, the other D86 and his troops continued to fire away at the tuner hatch. Behind them in the hallway, the battle between the rest of the Praxians and the Kyderons was winding down.

         One of the guards shooting at the hatch stopped and turned to D86. "It's useless, sir," he said.

         D86 pressed the hologuiser on his belt and reverted to his true form. It was T21, the field commander of the C.I.S. guards. A tall, arrogant Praxian last seen by Andy, Yumi, and Mo in the holding cell. He gently rubbed his bloody face, still stinging from Andy's blow.

         "Damn it," he said, spitting out a tooth. "The tuner force field is too strong. It's nearly impenetrable. Never thought it would work against us though," he grumbled bitterly. "We're going to need explosives... And we have to hurry, they could tune any minute! K16, take a couple of men to the arms room. We'll need--" He halted as a call came through in his helmet. "Wait! It's D86!" He pressed the side of his helmet and listened closely. "Chief! Talk to me!"

 

         "Captain, stand down and hold your position," D86 ordered from the tuner control room. "I've got things under control down here. I'll be out in a minute with the fugitives. D86 out."

         Then he fixed his steely gaze back on Andy, Yumi, and Dash. They sat frozen, hands above their heads and sweat beading up on their faces. Yumi and Andy exchanged a furtive glance. They were equally lost for action. Andy's shooting star was on the floor, just out of reach.

         For a long, drawn-out moment, D86 did nothing but stare at Dash. His daughter wilted under his glare. She looked down at the floor, her head and shoulders drooping as if the weight of her shame had turned literal.

         "You really want to join these animals, B101?"

         Andy was taken aback by the tender voice which rumbled out of D86. An ember of anger faded from his eyes with each word.

         "I..." Dash opened her mouth then closed it again. All her words were catching in her throat.

         "You think these animals are your friends?" asked her father. "Don't be so naive, B101. Can't you see? They're just using you to operate the tuner."

         Dash slowly raised her head and looked at Andy.

         "Dash! You know that's not true," Andy cried. "Don't listen to him! He's just trying to turn you against us."

         "You listen to your father!" D86 bellowed at Dash. Then he slowly turned his head to face the two humans and spoke quietly. "It's the truth. I saw it in Mogens' memories."

         B101's innocent face crumpled in on itself, like a planet being collapsed into a black hole. Her huge, innocent eyes became glassy with tears.

         "Now wait a minute," Yumi stammered.

         D86 cut her off. "Running away with these primitive life forms isn't going to solve anything, B101," he said. "You're not one of them. In one of their worlds, you'll be a freak."

         Andy turned to Dash. "And in this world, you're going to be a pile of ash on an electric chair!" Then he glared at D86. "This is insanity! Killing someone just for drawing? It's madness!"

         D86 tossed his head back and uncorked a slow, callous laugh, dripping with patronization.

         "You poor, stupid animal... What you call 'art' is a disease which cripples and retards your civilization. Without the 'madness' of our laws, Praxians would be wasting time on useless, self-absorbed pursuits just like you backward 'homo sapiens.' While you amoebas pluck strings and splatter colored mud, we're terraforming planets and treading through your inbred dimension!"

 

         Meanwhile, back up above, T21 and the other Praxians were waiting restlessly.

         "What the hell is taking so long?" T21 grumbled. "D86 should be--"

         He was cut short by an energy bolt from a shooting star striking him in the back. He flew forward and crashed onto his battered face.

         The other Praxian guards spun around to see Kiara and a horde of her troops flooding into the tuner room. The Kyderons had won the battle, and the defeated Praxians were left strewn out in the hallway. Kiara staggered in holding her head, having just been revived by one of her soldiers. The center of her chest plate was mangled by a large, charred crater. Her remaining troops were whirling their shooting stars, ready to fire at her command. The Praxians aimed their blasters back at the Kyderons, but they were laughably outnumbered.

         "Where is Mogens Mishu?" Kiara demanded. "Why are you trying to kill him?"

         T21 coughed, still conscious and struggling to push himself up. "We're not trying to kill him. He told you that so you'd create a diversion for him. And you fell for it, you fool!"

         "What...?" Kiara muttered, scowling.

         "He's inside this hatch trying to escape from this dimension."

         Kiara grew pale. "No! We've got to stop him! Do you know how long it took me to track him down to this dimension?"

         "Then just back off and let us do our jobs, you insufferable pest!" T21 snarled.

         Kiara turned crimson. She didn't take kindly to being ordered around, especially by a "commoner." "You insolent, little-- Why don't you back off, and we'll take him ourselves," she huffed.

         "How many times do we have to tell you, he belongs to the C.I.S. zoo!"

         "He belongs to me!" Kiara barked back, holding aloft a massive engagement ring on her left hand.

         One of the Praxians leaned toward T21 and whispered. "Sir, we're outnumbered two to one."

         "Outnumbered by animals," T21 spat. "Are you telling me you're scared of these animals, K16?"

         "All right, you want to do this the hard way," Kiara hissed, snapping the whip from her belt.

         "I don't see anything hard about it!" T21 bolted up and opened fire like Al Pacino in Scarface.

         Kiara and her troops scattered out of the way and fired back. The hangar erupted into another dreadful battle.

        

         Meanwhile, back down in the tuner, D86 continued lecturing Andy.

         "Your species and mine -- we've been evolving for the same amount of time. If your world's system is so much better than ours, why am I the zookeeper and you the animal?"

         "You're right. It must be better here," Andy replied. He pointed to Dash. "I mean, look how happy she is."

         Heavy tears were rolling down her invisible cheeks and gathering into a pool at the bottom of her helmet. She kept her gaze on the floor, looking absolutely crushed. D86 seem to deflate at the sight of his crestfallen daughter. He tried to say something, but the words would not escape his mouth.

         Finally, without looking up, Dash spoke in a tiny voice. "Dad... you just can't get over what happened to Mom."

         She was answered by a chilling silence, as if a blanket of snow had settled on the room. D86 looked as though he had been slapped. Then he trembled in a silent rage. But before he could launch into another tirade, he was interrupted by a thunderous pounding on the tuner hatch.

 

         T21 and the remaining Praxian guards lay unconscious, strewn across the floor of the hangar. Kiara and her troops had made short work of them. Now the Kyderons were gathered around the tuner hatch, pounding away with their shooting stars in mace form. The captain wiped his brow and turned to Kiara.

         "It's no use, your highness," he panted. "Not even a crack."

 

         D86 glared up at the hatch, confused and irritated.

         "What is that fool doing?" he grumbled. "How he made it all the way to field commander, I'll never know. All right, enough of this! Out of the tuner, all of you. Now!" He motioned to the hatch with his rifle.

         While D86 was looking up the hatch, Andy snuck a peek at Mo and saw him stir. The Kyderon was beginning to wake up.

         "Wait," Andy said. "D86, I just want to say one more thing before you take us in."

         D86 exhaled heavily. "What?"

         "I just want to thank you."

         D86's eyes narrowed, both organic and robotic. "What are you talking about?"

 

         Kiara paced around the tuner like a hungry wolf circling a rabbit hole. "All right," she growled. "We'll melt it open!"

         The captain swallowed. "Your highness... Are you certain that's a good idea? I'm not sure this hall is big enough to..."

         Once more, Kiara grasped the brilliant sapphire-laden medallion shimmering around her neck and shut her eyes. Soon, another glowing rip between dimensions appeared in the back of the room as she muttered an incantation.

 

         "Well, despite all the grief you've caused me," Andy continued in the tuner below. "I have to admit, the accommodations in my habitat? Five stars. I do have to thank you for that."

         D86 snorted. "Stop embarrassing yourself, you primitive primate. Whatever you're trying to pull, it's not going to work."

         "I mean providing me with a TV and having every channel from my dimension transmitted into it? Don't think I didn't appreciate that."

         D86 lost his patience and barked. "Shut up and move your scrawny ass!"

         Yumi gawked nonplussed at Andy. What the hell was he doing?

         "I do have to agree with you on one thing, D86" Andy continued unabated. "The technology you Praxians pull off is just mind-boggling. Dash told me that the station she works at not only transmits the Feed but also picks up all the channels from my world and broadcasts them to my cell. Imagine that, pulling channels all the way from another dimension! You Praxians really are amazing. And when I found out Dash directs the programming for the Feed..."

         D86 stared back and forth between Andy and Dash, a cloud of dread slowly gathering over his eyes. "What... did you do?" he demanded.

         Andy looked over at Dash. She wiped her tears and nodded. Andy turned back to D86 and smirked.

         "...I figured a cultural exchange was in order," he finished.

 

         Kiara continued to mumble the incantation in fierce concentration, her sweaty face lit from below by the eerie blue glow of the medallion. This time, the portal stretched much larger, reaching all the way to the ceiling. On the other side of the portal, another battalion of her soldiers stood ready. At last, Kiara halted her spell casting and opened her eyes.

         "Bring him out," she called into the portal. Her voice quavered. "Now! I can't maintain a portal of this size much longer."

         The soldiers parted to make way for a massive, hulking shape looming into view. A dragon! Twice the size of the silver breed Mo had morphed into. With thunderous steps, the behemoth lumbered through the portal and filled the tuner room. It stood nearly thirty feet tall, its head crowned with jutting horns which grazed the ceiling. Crimson scales gleamed around a fierce scowl, and long leather reins trailed from his snout to a rider on his back. The rider, shrouded in a black cloak and blood red plate armor, was in full control of her fearsome steed. In a haunting, unnatural voice which sent shivers up the backs of the other troops, she hissed a strange, guttural word at the dragon while yanking on the reins. The red dragon halted upon the command and knelt before Kiara.

 

         "What the hell did you do?" The words slowly rumbled out of D86, seething with menace.

         Andy grinned. "Oh, you haven't been watching the Feed lately? You're missing one hell of a show."

         D86 gazed fiercely into Andy's eyes, scouring them for a hint of deception. Andy stared right back, unsettling the veteran Praxian with a sudden display of confidence. Then D86's eyes glazed over as he pulled his focus to the Feed running in the back of his brain. He had been so preoccupied with the capture of the fugitives, he hadn't checked into the Feed the entire night.

         A wave of supreme satisfaction washed over Andy as he watched D86's jaw slowly go slack. As a matter of fact, the same reaction was playing out on the faces of millions of Praxians all across the planet. The Feed was streaming something most Praxians had never seen, let alone conceived of. They were stopped in their tracks on the streets, hovering motionlessly in the air in their flying cars, sitting still in their chairs at work, all staring in dumbfounded befuddlement and disbelief at what they were seeing.

CHAPTER 24 >>


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