tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Naked Weapon Pt. 05

The Naked Weapon Pt. 05

byDragonCobolt©

The Angel Grove flew out of a warp in the solar system Vega and Tycho collapsed backwards into my lap like a boneless noodle made of naked teenage psychic. A moment later, microgravity returned as the engines stopped burning and we went from flying increasingly fast to merely flying at a steady, continually fast speed. I wrapped my arms around Tycho, alarm filling me as the rest of the lance started to unbuckle from their seats.

"Tycho?" Magnum asked.

"M'fine," Tycho mumbled. "Just...fuck that was a trip." Her hand went to her nose. A bubble of slowly expanding blood -- filming around another, larger bubble of air -- started to grow from her nose like a mushroom. I reached up and applied some telekinetic pressure. The bubble popped, but since I had the psychic equivalent of tissue paper around it, the blood droplets didn't go flying off in every direction. My hand went to Tycho's forehead and I winced.

"She's burning up," I said.

"Teep shock," Opal said, her voice authoritative.

"I still can't believe you people use liquid in your brains," Ali said, her voice sounding less haughty and more 'deeply concerned.' "Have you considered fixing that?"

"Give Elon Musk a few weeks, okay?" I asked as Opal started to administer some first aid to Tycho. Warping from the somewhat unsuccessful beach planet to Vega had taken it out of Tycho. When psychics used our powers, we were basically taking a complex biological computer (our brains) and overlocking it to tap into the universe's cheat codes. Do you know what happens when you overclock a computer? It gets hot. And what happens when you heat a brain? Well, apparently, if a psychic pushed themselves way too fucking hard, their heads could literally pull a Scanners and explode.

This was not something the Doyen had to worry about.

Ali demonstrated why by pushing herself towards the edge of the room, giving us room to clutter around Tycho and look like we were all working hard. This movement set Ali's crystaline hair clicking and clattering -- each strand was actually made of dozens of little 'beads'. Those beads were merely a continuation of the crystaline structure under her head. That structure was her brain, and it was a lot less prone to 'boiling' than human brains. Also, tougher in some ways. Weaker in others. Doyen were really prone to crushing impacts and couldn't take the bio-synaptic shock of being shot the way humans could.

I mean, humans have been known to survive being shot in the head. And not glancing shots, I'm talking 'federales lining you up against a wall, shooting you nine times, then tenth in the head' shot in the head. El Fuselado. Look it up. It's a great Chumbawamba song. The practical upshot, beyond the fact that Chumbawamba is great, is that we humans are tougher than we sometimes like to give ourselves credit for.

Fuck. Now I had Tubthumping stuck in my head.

"All right, she'll be fine," Opal said, looking up from the medical brace she had attached to Tycho's forearm. "She'll be better if, say, a biokinetic helped her out. Man, if only-"

I started. "Oh! Fuck!"

Opal made a face as I put my hands to either side of Tycho's head. My face burned with shame. One of the downsides of having so many powers? You can kinda lose track of them. Yeah, I know, total #SupermanProblems. Fucking sue me. I closed my eyes. Biokinesis was easier to use if you knew how the inside of a brain and body functioned. Basic training had involved a lot of cross-training on various things, including how to survive in the wild, how to follow orders, how to shoot, how to fight with a psi-sword. That had included a crash course in first aid. But the real trick?

The only thing you actually needed to know was what someone's brain was supposed to look like when they were healthy. And a biokinetic could feel that out just by taking a few minutes every morning to skim a brain over with their talent. While I hadn't done that recently with Tycho, I had done it before we set out on this mission. And so, remembering that, I could easily feel what the issue was. Her brain felt hot. Shocker, I know. And so I mentally started to dial back on the internal temperature. I felt heat flowing into my hands, but I was careful to not go too far. Once I had finished cooler her to normal, I felt tiny spikes where her nerves and brain tissue had been scorched a bit, and started to gently massage those into being more like how they used to be.

Before the fuckery.

Tycho let out a slow, happy sigh. She opened her eyes and smiled up at me. "Thanks, Pirate," she said, then cupped my cheek with one hand. Remembering the conversation I had had with my girlfriend, about how she totally wanted me to bang another girl while she watched and perved, I coughed and stammered something between a'oh, don't think about it' and 'hurbrblburbblelerrr.'

"Hey, Pirate," Magnum said, his voice soft. "I want you on the scanners."

I looked up. "Me?"

"You were trained, weren't you?" he grinned. "Since we're not currently being shot at, and we're not going down to the planet until Tycho is fully a hundred percent, what better time to see if you remember anything the DIs tried to teach you?"

I nodded, then pushed upwards towards the piloting closet. Once I was near him, Magnum grinned and whispered: "And maybe you can stop thinking about the fact you're being drawn inexorably towards harem anime status and focus on the mission?"

"Hey, I-" I spluttered. "I am not a harem anime character."

Magnum arched an eyebrow.

"I, for one thing, have absolutely no intention of waffling for a hundred and thirty episodes."

The eyebrow arched into the stratosphere.

"And I have a mecha."

"Shinji had a mecha."

"He did not!" I said. "He had an extended Oedipal metaphor!"

Magnum's face resumed normal impassive mode. But then I was in the closet and got my first up close and personal IRL impression of the amazing technology used by the United States Air Force. It looked like someone had taken a commercially available USB keyboard and jammed it into a metal frame, hooked it up to the cheapest LCD monitor, and projected an OS that looked like it could have run on Windows 3.1. Yeah, that sterling example of a GUI. There was no mouse, and the feed I was getting didn't look a thing like the space maps you might have seen on, say, EV Nova.

...right. I was the only person in the universe who remembered EV Nova.

Fine, it didn't look a thing like the space map you'd see in Elite Dangerous or No Man's Sky. Rather than a nice dot with the sun in the middle and rings with planets, all we were seeing was a star-field. Now, at several billion kilometers do you know what the difference between a planet and a star is? Besides a few hundred light years and several trillion metric tons of hydrogen, jack shit. One twinkly light looks a lot like every other twinkly light. Okay, I lie. They don't actually twinkle. That's an artifact of looking through an atmosphere.

Double lie! There was one star that was nice and easy to pick out: Vega herself. As blue as an Asari's titties, Vega was also close enough and big enough that it stuck out next to all the little twinkly dots. So, I locked it down in the parallax calculations with a few taps on the keyboard, my feet finding the notches in the piloting closet to keep me rooted. As I worked, I heard this little exchange.

"Eva is not a harem anime!" Opal sounded deeply, deeply offended.

"It totally is," Magnum said, utterly unflappable.

"No, you see, it's a deconstruction of a harem anime! It takes the tropes and it reuses them in a way that, when contrasted against the Judaeo-Christian symbolism replete through the series..."

"Oh gods, you got her started on Eva." That was Ebony, sounding long suffering.

Okay. We had the star in the this little solar system ready. It would serve as the reference point that I'd build a map from. I want you to do something for me. Stick your hand out with your thumb up and put it over some object that's far away from you. Like, a trash can or your own sense of shame. Now, move your head from side to side. Notice how the far away objects move in relation to the thumb? That's an example of parallax.

No, not the evil yellow space bug that took over Hal Jordan.

Using parallax -- contrasting the movement of all the little dots on the screen with the fixed position of Vega -- we could tell what was close and small and what was far away and very large. Picking those dots out, we could use different scanners to determine their atmospheric quality, their orbits, their ecologies, that kind of thing. Now, this would normally take a few weeks or more of careful observation using pitiful human eyes. It'd take maybe a few hours using a computer programmed to do it.

But we were psychic.

And so, I let my precognative senses slowly unspool. A hunch made me look here, and there, and over at that dot. Each dot turned out to be a planet, slewing fiercely as we shifted the view-point of the camera by jetting the Angel's Grove on a curving orbit. Once the planets were identified, I tapped away at keys to bring up the telescopes and the spectrometers. By taking the light bouncing off the planets, we could figure out the chemistry of their planets. Ali had said that one world of this system was used as the launching point to reach the Abyss.

"Ali!" I called over my shoulder. "What's the breathy stuff on the launching off point?"

"Normal!"

"Breathy stuff?" Tycho sounded like she could hardly believe herself.

So, the planet with an atmosphere made up of super-heated chlorine gas was not likely the place she was thinking of. The next planet had no atmosphere to speak of, save for a few wisps of methane. Ew. Ah! Oxygen, nitrogen, and a tiny sliver of carbon. Working with some math as old as poofy neck floofs and powdered wigs, I not only calculated the distance, but also the trajectory we'd need to take if we didn't have psychic powers.

Fortunately, we did have psychic powers, because that trajectory would have taken us, like, two fucking years. Literal fucking years.

Space was too big for its own goddamn good sometimes. Honestly.

I pushed out of the piloting closet and grinned. "Hey, whose the best planet finder?"

"The Keppler space telescope," Ebony said, voice flat.

"Kirk!" Opal sang out.

"Technically, that'd be Qin the Conqueror, who expanded the Doyen Empire by fifteen solar systems a thousand years ago," Ali said, cheerfully. "But you're very good too, honey."

I pouted. "The planet's fifteen AU off. I think there's a big ass asteroid belt near its orbti."

"Fun," Magnum said.

***

I was no Tycho. But I still could open enough of a warp to get the Angel Grove into orbit around The Gates of the Damned and the Doomed. Don't look at me, I didn't name it. Ali looked a bit chagrined when we had looked at her. Opal had been the one to vocalize what all of us (even Magnum) had to be thinking: "Seriously?"

"It was named by some of the first people to return from the Abyss, before the Doyen truly understood what they wished," Ali said, sounding defensive. "Besides, we almost always shorten it in casual conversation."

"To what?" I asked.

"The Gates of the Damned!" she said, nodding. Seeing our looks, she flushed. "The word doomed in Doyenese is actually a highly complex, technical term, that, uh...nevermind."

Once we were actually in orbit and could get nice, high resolution pictures of the planet, I had to admit, I was really liking how fucking gorgeous space was. The world was a massive golden-brown sphere. A few dots of white clouds gave hint that moisture existed somewhere, but overall, the entire planet looked as if it had been consumed by deserts. There were thick rocky mountains that we could pick out, and near the polar regions, there were huge swaths of water and greenery. But most of the equator and the bulk of the planet was all desert.

"Arrakis," I whispered. "Dune. The desert planet. Home of the Spice Melange."

"That's a much better name!" Ali said. "Arrakis. I love it."

"Original name, do not steal," I said, managing to keep my face straight.

"Where's the main settlement?" Magnum asked, glancing at our princess. Ali smiled, then pointed at the projection of the planet. Her finger poked at a huge mass of rock and earth that rose out of the equatorial desert.

"It's a city bored out of the mountain by mindless slaves, called The Home of Eternity," she said. "Doyen Pilgrims and those of the vassal races that can afford to come here wait for the Abyss to call to them. It's a nasty place, but it is also kept sacred and safe by Imperial Law. Anyone who breaks it will face the Abyss' own servants. They're creatures of pure blackness, who can tear a Doyen Paladin apart like that." She snapped her fingers.

"We should still go in undercover," Magnum said, rubbing his face.

"I will not wear a gold bikini again," Ebony said, her voice flat, her arms crossed over her chest, her arms squishing her breasts slightly. Behind her, Opal's face fell.

"Oh, no, no, no Doyen would ever bring their pleasure chattel here," Ali said, shaking her head. "You'll need to either fake being bodyguards or fake being sacrificial libraries for the Abyss."

"I vote bodyguards," Tycho said.

"I too vote bodyguard," I said, quickly. We both glanced at the rest of the group. Opal scoffed.

"What? No, dude, what doesn't sound rad about being a library?" She stuck her tongue out at us, then pushed back. She was already going for the disguises.

***

We stepped out of the warp and to the entrance of the Home of Eternity. The first thing I learned was that this planet had not evolved naturally to be a desert world. The hints were stark and they had been nearly invisible from orbit, doubly so with only a so-so telescopic lens primarily meant to get a rough idea of what the continents looked like. What were those hints? Trees. Hundreds upon hundreds of trees. Their shattered trunks thrust up from the silty, brownish sand. Except it wasn't sand. A lot of it looked a lot more like ancient tanbark -- you know, that awful shit that people replace sand with on a playground if they're literally Satan and hate children?

For those of you fortunate enough to have never seen or felt the scourge of tanbark, imagine taking a tree, then shredding it into chunks. Now, replicate that on an entire planetary scale. The trees hadn't burned, though. I mean, I'm calling them trees. For all I knew, they had been armored in silicate and only combust at nuclear fusion temperatures. Instead, the remains of the trees had fossilized, leaving bone white skeletons stretching on for miles and miles and miles. Some were buried under the tanbark sand. Others remained thrusting upwards. The only ones that had been removed were the ones that had been where I now stood. In their place was a landing platform of psionic energy, humming quietly in the desolate, utterly chill wind of this vast, dead planet.

I shuddered slowly as I looked around.

"That's what happens when you are near an asteroid belt without Jupiter, I guess," Magnum whispered. Even he sounded awed.

"I'm sorry for snarking on the name, Ali," Opal said, reaching out to pat Ali on the shoulder. My girlfriend looked a bit grim as well as she surveyed the landscape. She was dressed in her Doyen armor, which meant she looked like a particularly sexy (and pointy) geode at the moment.

"It's all right," she said. "Come on."

As we walked along the narrow bridge of psionic energy that led from the landing point to the massive mound of sandstone that thrust from the desert of powderized trees, I looked around myself at the landscape again. Then I started as I saw the tanbark shift and clatter. A huge dorsal fin -- easily the size of a house -- thrust up from the distance. Tree-stumps didn't shift as it passed, despite the creature clearly being huge. Instead, it eeled and flowed through the massive, dead forest as if it had been born there. Then the dorsal fin started to submerve.

"The fucking fuck was that?" I asked.

"Oh," Ali said. "Those are the desert worms."

"Ah."

We came to the front gate. The entrance to the city was not made of psionic energy. Instead, the opening was merely protected by a massive gate of stone and wood and bits of bronze, all of it worked to show off disquieting images of beings with elongated heads, bowing before a throne. Seated upon the throne was a figure that was bisected by the center of the gate, whose features had been left deliberately vague. There were hints of hooves and tubes and curved things that might have been horn. The only thing I could see clearly was a single raised hand, like he was signaling for an Uber.

The guards at the gate were a pair of inky blotches on the skein of reality that should not have been. So, you know. Par for the course.

One of the hideous masses of pure darkness stepped forward. At least, I think it did. The actual definition of the creature was hard to pin down. After-images and pre-images hazed its limbs, transcribing arcs where it would be going and where it had been. The faint sounds of its footsteps came five or six seconds after it had come to a stop, and a set of six glowing yellow eyes flickered across the curved mask visage of its vaguely defined head. The only thing it held that had any certainty at all was a long lance made of psy-crystal, which had been colored black. Either by paint or by long exposure to the being of obvious pure fucking evil.

"Welcome to the Gate, Princess Tzali," the creature said. The creepy thing was its voice, other than sounding echoy like he was talking up and out of a well, sounded nicely human. Modulated and calm, it was the kind of voice I expected to hear from a laid back game show announcer or someone pitched to narrate the newest edition of the Twilight Zone.

Ali bowed her head, her long braids of crystlaine hair clinking and clattering along the shoulders of her armor.

"And your...friends," the creature asked.

"They are my bodyguards," Ali said, her voice firm.

"I am Pirate Mask, of the Fremen," I said, casually.

"Blue within blue eyes," the creature said, his voice echoing with amusement. "We are not here to reveal the secrets of any who visit, Ali of the PsiCom. But, so to, are we not here to be lied too."

Ali kept her face impassive through a sheer force of will. I glanced at Magnum, who pursed his lips. Slowly, Magnum stepped forward. "How do you know about our race?" he asked -- managing to sound nice and calm despite the fact that the evil ink-blot black hole alien had just dropped a fucking Frank Herbert reference despite the fact we were, like, a hundred light years from Earth and even most Earthlings hadn't read Dune. I mean, yeah, it was hugely popular, but it wasn't like Twilight. I wouldn't have been that shocked if an alien had made a Twilight reference.

Disappointed, yes.

Shocked. Also yes, if I wasn't being facetious. But still.

"We have intercommunication between parallel braneworlds, some of which contain substring echos of a Platonic ideal originating at some point within the Spiral." The figure chuckled. "This intercom has provided subtext for human intercourse." He leaned forward. "You may call me Mr. Mordin."

My spine prickled.

I had once read a book where a human had said: If an alien ever introduces itself as a fictional character, take it as a warning. If an alien slouched up and introduced itself as Count Dracula, would you let it near your neck?

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