Minx Ep. 03: The Sphere, Cenozoic Zonebynicecthulhu©
Episode 3: The Sphere, Cenozoic Zone
Thank you to searchingforperfection for his hard work in editing this story. Any remaining problems or mistakes are mine. I appreciate all comments, votes and feedback.
Prologue: After having saved her friends on Anima from conquest and slaughter by mercenaries, Minx fled the planet. She had been eager to put as much distance between herself and Dragon, her hyperman lover who planned to use her to produce a brood of heirs. It's been weeks since Ship, Minx's intelligent spaceship, blasted off into the void, and Minx has apparently managed to elude that same hyperman who once told her he would follow her across the universe. Then Minx and Ship encounter something in the depths of interstellar space that neither has run across before.
Ship sped down the enormous passage as silently as an owl, and appeared much like a great white one in flight. The tunnel was so vast Minx found it hard to believe they were actually even moving. She wondered if it was due to a simple trick of perspective, or something far more advanced that was altering her very senses.
"How long did you say this tunnel was?" the bounty hunter asked. She curled her legs up under her as she sat on the pilot's chair. In truth the chair was useless, except it gave Minx somewhere to plant her bottom while Ship flew wherever the lovely, brunette interstellar bounty hunter wished. She idly traced a fold along the leg of her white, full-body uniform.
"My original guesstimate was a little off; the distance is actually less than twenty thousand kilometres. This place is just incredible, boss!"
The artificial intelligence that was Ship had been impressed the moment her sensors had spotted this enormous sphere that had been thrown through space, and which appeared to be devoid of life. The bounty hunter agreed that the place was impressive. The dusty and cratered surface, far larger than any normal rocky planet, had initially concealed the artificiality of this world. It's true nature had only become apparent when a large aperture had opened before them, revealing a cylindrical and clearly man-made tunnel leading straight down. Or, Minx surmised, maybe she should have considered this passage to be alien-made.
"Any clues as to who built this, or what awaits us at the end of the tunnel?"
"None," answered Ship. "Isn't this exciting, boss? Think of it: a previously undiscovered alien world as big as a brown dwarf and just floating through space..."
Minx sat up straight and waited to hear what had caught Ship's attention.
"Uh, boss? It isn't the materials in the walls that are affecting my sensors. It's some type of strange energy field."
"It is alien, and beyond anything humanity could produce, Ship." Minx rubbed her chin in thought. Then her eyes opened wide. "It's not of hyperman make, is it?"
"No. It's old, boss. Really old. Really, really old. The dust on the surface was at least hundreds of metres thick. That amount of interstellar dust doesn't build up over just a few hundred years. Or even a few tens of thousands of years."
"I get the picture." Images of desiccated corpses in an advanced but ancient control room of some type leapt into the bounty hunter's mind.
"There's another opening up ahead, boss. And I'm beginning to get readings of what's beyond."
Minx leaned forward, setting the soles of her boots on the floor, and she put her hands upon the console in front of her. "Put them through to the screen..."
"Oh, static!" swore Ship. "Minx! Squarkkkk. Hissssss." The room filled with electrical noise.
Minx suddenly noticed that her bottom was lifting off the chair and her boots were floating off the floor. The console in front of her went completely dead. The inner chamber of the vessel went black as every light went out, including the emergency lights.
"Damn!" Minx first gripped the chair and then realized the futility of holding on to the chair while Ship crashed. Her spaceship was travelling so fast that any impact was likely to turn her into a smear. From the relative movements of her body and the chair she could feel that her vessel was beginning to rotate, as if it were performing a slow spin.
The bounty hunter grabbed the back of the pilot's seat, swung herself around behind it, then planted her feet and crouched, perpendicular to the deck and away from the console. She quickly calculated the position of the medical bed and leapt straight out. Flying blind through the pitch black, she held her breath until her outstretched hands caught the edges of a woman-sized platform. Minx hurriedly lay down on it, punched a memorized sequence onto the keypad, and she prayed that the bed would have energy enough to mend whatever damage was done to her when Ship crashed.
Minx forced herself to calm as she pulled the cover over the bed and locked it into place. Too late she realized that she could have set the bed to stasis, and kept herself perfectly safe from the impact. On the other hand, she'd then be dependent upon being rescued by someone who knew how to work the medical bed. There was also the question as to whether there was even enough energy for a stasis field.
She was just beginning to wonder exactly how far Ship would fall before crashing when the impact occurred. Minx was thrown against the bottom of the bed with bone-crushing force that sent her into welcome unconsciousness.
She could hear herself breathing, although it sounded laboured. She gurgled, and then opened her eyes. It was still dark. Every part of her body burned with pain. She started to move, to push the cover off the medical bed so she could examine Ship, when the agony from her injuries struck her down.
This time she dreamt.
She was on Anima, wearing some ridiculously ostentatious silver clothing that was more strips and straps than anything else. There was a crown upon her head. Dragon, the hyperman who had once been her lover, was there, as were Rudy and Fran. Julius the chimp-man and an assortment of animen were prostrate before her.
Dragon offered his hand to her. "Well, my dear? Are you ready to take your place as Empress of the Galaxy? All you have to do is issue the command for our forces to attack." His voice was seductive, but not at all in a sexual way.
"You're not still stuck on that idea Dragon, are you?" she asked, although her heart had fluttered in excitement when he spoke.
"Of course! Life is conflict and survival. The best way to live is to rule, and the best way to rule is to destroy anyone who might resist your rule." He leaned toward her as she took his hand. There was a mischievous glimmer in his eye. She breathed in his pheromones, the ones that had once made him so irresistible. "You know deep down that you really want to do this."
He was right. Deep down inside of her there was an urge to send the army of animen across the galaxy, claiming it for her and for Dragon. They could have a one hundred year reign, and when they were too old to be Emperor and Empress they would pass the mantle onto their children. Minx's lineage could rule the galaxy for thousands of years, but only if she took the necessarily ruthless steps to set everything in motion.
Another part of her screamed that this was all wrong, but that voice faded until it finally disappeared. Minx flashed a smile at Dragon and lifted his hand to her lips for a kiss.
"My Lord Emperor, send out the fleet to destroy our enemies and claim the galaxy for us!"
There was a cheer from the army as they rose to their feet and thrust their fists to the sky. Fran and Rudy followed suit, hand in hand, lost in their adoration of their masters.
Minx and Dragon were preternaturally calm as the army went to their vessels, launched into the sky, and then spread across the galaxy like a wave of blood. The worst part was Minx's smile of satisfaction as millions died at her orders, and her continued smile while the survivors plead for her mercy even after they learned that she had none.
The bounty hunter awoke with a start, banging her head on the canopy of the medical bed. She lay back down and waited until her heart stopped hammering in her chest and she felt less light-headed.
The inside of Ship was still pitch-black. That was not a good sign, she knew, but at least the vessel was stationary and there was gravity. She also consoled herself in the fact that because the interior was dark, it was unlikely that Ship had sustained major damage.
After she felt somewhat recovered Minx pushed aside the canopy, although it took a great deal of her strength to do so. She sat up and listened. There was no sound of hissing air, so there appeared to be no hull breaches. That was exceptionally lucky; but she also knew that, as small as her vessel was, Ship was quite hardy. Could she have suffered minimal damage in the crash?
Minx pushed her feet off the bed and stood, and then grabbed the side of the platform for support as her knees turned to rubber. Her mouth was very dry, and her stomach was an empty pit. Minx estimated the direction of the food dispenser and headed for it blindly.
Immediately, she tripped, fell and rolled across the floor and into a corner.
"Ow," she said to no-one. "Stupid girl!"
She rose to a crawling position and made her way across the sloped floor. Even in the darkness it didn't take her long to find the food stores, and while she sat and satisfied her hunger she considered her next step. The bounty hunter knew she had to see if Ship had any energy left, and then determine what condition the AI was in.
Once she finished her meal, Minx crawled over to a storage cabinet and collected a flashlight. The light revealed that the interior of Ship appeared to be in very good condition. It was true that the deck was tilted at almost a forty-five degree angle, but that just meant the vessel had settled upon an incline.
"Ship?" There was no answer, not even static this time. "Ship!" Minx waited a few seconds. "SHIP!" Her voice echoed inside the cabin.
Minx aimed the light on the medical bed and gasped at what she observed. There was blood everywhere, and some bits of bone, and some red, spongy bits that she could only assume were parts of her flesh. How badly had she been hurt? She shook her head and shivered. There were tears in her uniform, and places where some hard things had poked their way out through the fabric. She forced herself to think of her electronic friend, instead.
The bounty hunter put the flashlight in her mouth and then collected some tools from another cabinet. Opening the control console, she began to meddle with the few electronics that she understood. Too much of it seemed well beyond her abilities.
Minx closed her eyes, took some deep breaths, and pictured electronics and computer designs in her head. She could sense a distant memory, and suddenly it came to her: she had been an engineer at some point in her past! She opened her eyes and began to really explore Ship's innards.
It took Minx several hours to determine two things. The first was that something was leaching the energy from Ship; from every circuit, from every capacitor, from every power tube, from every potential well, even from the infinite improbability battery. That battery was supposed to suck energy from the very fabric of reality, the background potential energy that permeated every cubic picometre of the universe. She couldn't begin to conceive what would drain that.
The second thing she discovered was that Ship was still alive, just buried deeply in the memory banks that held her consciousness. It was almost as if she were in a coma. There was far too little energy for her vessel to perform the functions she always had, and which Minx now realized she had too often taken for granted.
The bounty hunter put her hand upon the console. "I won't give up, Ship. I'll make you well again."
Minx thought about her engineering experience. She could remember portions of two distinct careers that had previously been concealed deep in her subconscious. She had worked as a lab assistant at a high-energy research facility, and she had been a robotics repairman. She raised an eyebrow at those memories; they seemed so banal, almost common. However, those past occupations gave her some clues as to how to fix, or at least partly fix, Ship.
With her hair tied up in a ponytail, Minx spent another couple of hours scrambling around the vessel, shutting off every device and every circuit that was not directly related to Ship's personality. She hoped it would leave enough energy to allow Ship to interact with her, so she could let her vessel know that she was doing everything she could to save her.
The brunette used the washroom, then collected some more food. She made herself as comfortable as she could with her back against a wall, and ate and waited.
"I'm here, Ship. How are you?"
There was a pause. "Minx?"
"I'm here! Can you hear me, Ship?"
"Yes, Minx. It's so hard to think. I hurt everywhere."
"I know, honey. Thank you for saving my life."
"That's what friends do, boss. The bed fully healed you?"
"Yes. And I know your last act was to send energies from your own components to make sure I was healed."
"I don't have much time, boss. The air is breathable. It's a hollow world, a world within a world. There're living things, and I think I spotted some sort of civilization beside the airlock I entered by."
"And you think that I might be able to get to that airlock, reach the energy sapping device if it's there, and turn it off?"
"It hit me not too long before I passed through the aperture. It is an artificial world, so why wouldn't the designers put controls by the entry point? It's logical."
"It's grasping at straws, Ship, but I'll go and see what I can do. I imagine it will be quite far."
"Yes, bosssss. It'sssss happenin..." Then the speaker went dead.
Minx guessed it would take a few hours for Ship to recharge enough to communicate again. She put her garbage away, made herself as comfortable as she could, and went to sleep.
She had more dreams about taking over the galaxy with Dragon. Ship was dead in all of them, and in some she didn't care that her best friend was dead.
Minx stirred, and then awoke very quickly. Then she remembered where she and Ship were. Why had they decided to investigate this enormous sphere? What fools they'd been! What kind of idiot wanders the galaxy exploring strange new worlds?
She gathered some breakfast, ate, and used the washroom. She realized that she'd have to do something about the plumbing before her wastes backed up into the rest of Ship.
"I was thinking that you should take a transmitter with you, if they work, that is."
"They don't. Why should I take one with me? It's just extra weight."
"Well, you may want to contact someone, or perhaps send out a warning if you see the airlock open before you get there."
Minx ran that through her mind. "Are you expecting someone, Ship?"
"Why no, boss," responded her vessel in a very innocent tone.
"You think Dragon's still following us. You know that he's not. We doubled back on our trail so many times just in case, and we didn't even see a sensor ghost. We would have seen something if he'd been..." A thought occurred to Minx, a thought about how Dragon had remarked on Minx's choice to allow Ship free will.
"What is it, Minx?"
The bounty hunter put her hands on her hips. "Do you have something to tell me, Ship? Something about Dragon and his vessel Hephaestus? Hmm?"
"Why Minx," answered Ship innocently, "hissss. No energy...hissss."
The vessel remained silent. Minx was sure that her friend was lying about not having enough energy to continue the conversation. She wondered if Ship had sensed Hephaestus following them through space and lied about it, because of her feelings for the hyperman's spaceship.
The bounty hunter collected her sword, two laser pistols, some food supplies, and various other survival gear and then went to the door of the vessel. She pondered how to get it open manually. If Ship were resting flat on an incline then Minx would be forced to squeeze through the emergency exit, which Ship had been using as a waste disposal system for the last couple of years. She cringed at the thought.
Minx opened a panel beside the exit and pulled a lever to a vertical position. There was a gasp as the seal broke and Ship's air met whatever passed for atmosphere outside.
She breathed in, and smelled flowers and pine and so many other unidentifiable but pleasant odours. There was no hint of the pollution produced by industry.
Pumping the manual control lever back and forth, she forced the ramp down centimetres at a time. She narrowed her eyes and then switched off her flashlight as daylight began to flood in. Once the opening at the end of the ramp was a metre wide no further efforts from her aching shoulder could force it open any wider.
Minx peered out cautiously. Ship had crashed in a woodland, a very normal looking woodland. There were fallen trees, their trunks freshly cracked, grasses, ferns, what looked to be berry bushes, and then a wall of maple and pine. There were no animals about that she could see, but otherwise everything appeared very Earth-like.
Grabbing her gear, Minx slid out the opening and took a few steps away from Ship. Her vessel appeared to have crashed in an enormous bowl, whose sides disappeared into the haze that filled the sky. There was no sun, nor could Minx tell exactly where the light was coming from, only that her shadow was smaller than she expected and more diffuse than it should have been.
Fighting vertigo, she took a few more steps. There were the sounds of distant birds, and a short distance beyond the edge of the forest she spied a murder of crows suddenly take to their wings. Three deer burst from the trees and froze, staring at her. She stared back and noted that while these animals were the size of small deer they reminded her of horses. One of them whinnied, flicked its horse-like tail, and then they all fled back into the forest.
Minx circled Ship to check for damage. There were scrapes and a few dents, but nothing more than that, which surprised her greatly. She rapped her knuckles on the hull, thankful that the damage was cosmetic.
The vessel was resting atop a pile of trunks, evidently the last few shattered trees that her vessel had struck. To Minx's eye, Ship's position looked stable for the time being. She wondered how she would close the exit, or how she would open it again if she somehow managed to close it.
"Ship. I'm going to climb something and try to get a good look around."
Finding the tallest tree within a hundred metres, Minx walked over to it. She gazed up into the branches of the conifer, planning her route. Leaving all of her gear on the ground, except for her binoculars, she leapt up to the first branch easily. Gravity seemed just a little less than one gee from what she could tell. With her strength and agility it was an easy matter to climb the tree. Once near the top, she snapped off some branches so they wouldn't obscure her view.
"Oh my God," she said as she brought the binoculars to her eyes.
She could see four areas where the woods had apparently been shattered from the impact as her vessel had bounced across the landscape. The bounty hunter wondered how either one of them had survived. Following the trail of shattered trees proved fruitless; Ship's crash was not in a perfectly straight line. Minx knocked a few more branches aside and scanned the horizon. Except, there was no horizon on this world. She kept raising her view higher and higher, and she found that very disconcerting.