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Thundering Across the Stars, Chapter Four

by Doc Sherwood 5 months ago in Sci Fi
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By Doc Sherwood

Even here it held true that bullies would do well to pick on those their own size. Though Flashthunder’s sinister suitor howled horribly under the renewed bombardment and flailed its free hand in a fury, none of this could keep its vegetable vastness from catching alight. Joe saw they were finally making inroads, but even so it wouldn’t do to drag things out. Contamination was still embroiled in his death-race and Flashthunder more at risk than ever, for the fires had spread to the monster’s other fist and were licking at the frame to which he was bound, charring away the thin organic braces so only metal uprights remained. These even now were slipping apart, and in mere minutes would slide out from underneath Flashthunder and leave him in free-fall. Flashtease jumped up and ran to the rooftop elevator.

“Stand by to uncouple the Courage!” he instructed, as the doors sealed shut behind him.

“Is he proficient in its operation?” Joe asked the company.

“He knows his way around that cockpit,” replied Flashstanch, with a smirk.

Thomthar ran over to take the controls Flashtease had vacated, as Joe steered the Heroism I headlong for the foe. Twin flamethrowers and heavy ordnance made mulch of the monstrosity, blowing it to burning briquettes even as the assemblage in its paw disintegrated likewise. Flashthunder amid a jumble of steel straws was tumbling head over hemline.

Twixt conflagration and canyon floor, Flashtease hit the Courage’s hover-jets then opened the canopy and stood. He wasn’t sure which was more embarrassing, the pink-painted spacecraft or the way the whipping wind was turning his tunic inside-out, although any pants-showing contest between his yellow ones and Flashthunder’s red would surely have been declared a draw. He threw his arms wide and moments later a friend dropped in.

“For an Alliance Mini-Flash I’ve surprisingly few complaints about your faction right now,” moaned Flashthunder, as the last blackened bits of monster rained by.

“It wasn’t the aeroplanes,” Flashtease comforted him. Then the boys sat down with a bump, and one sitting snugly on the other’s knee set course for the Heroism I and home.

Contamination had gained the exit-portal and was driving it in deep, the horror-show on hubs still hot on his heels. Even here at the event-horizon it was like tacking into a gale. He had made it through fine going in the opposite direction, but any realm of Antroar’s was certain to be easier in than out. All Contamination could do was put his heart into it, and for him that was no figure of speech. Nucleonic fission sluiced from his living physis through the space-racer’s pipelines and linkages to flood the reactor-core. Either he’d crack, or his pursuers would. Contamination was game to find out which.

In his rear-view he saw the wolfman wipe out first, tipped from his saddle and whirled away with a wail surely meant for the moon. Someone’s combat performance was still as shabby as the fur that coated him, though Contamination wondered he’d been able to concentrate at all with four Mini-Flashes around. The green silent spouses had split their truck along the vertical to jangle a mess of iron chains between, and for a second or two looked set to strangle Contamination in their snare. Grimly that one weathered the windshear and bore down, trusting that the forces he fought would work for him in turn. Sure enough those relentless cross-currents rammed one Frankenstinium into its better half, and tangled together in their own net they plummeted. Bandages went next, and the burnished barge he sat on. Ferocious Forcelife held out to the last, hunkered atop his wavering wing to hurl grenades into the maelstrom, until inevitably these were turned back and writhing and detonating Forcelife fell.

Contamination watched his once friends go. They had been victims like him, and if one day he ever learned the truth about himself he might return and help them do the same. For now however it was best they lick their wounds. Looking into the vortex that lay ahead, Contamination was starting to think he’d handed them the soft option.

This might be it. He felt like he was breaking up. It was how he’d expected it would be though, just as he’d always lived, revving this ramped-up old escape-pod out there in the storm.

Others however were not content to see Contamination perish alone.

Suddenly there was shelter, as a barrier rose between him and the tempest at his tailpipes. He was under the lee of the Heroism I. Not long after that greater gunwales enfolded them all, as Croldon Thragg and Thomthar welcomed both windswept barks to the transport-ship’s loading-bay. Having raised the ramp and battened down the hatches they then sat back with a well-earned cup of tea, letting the boosters do the last of the work and carry them safely to knocking-off time.

Never had our heroes been happier to behold the black starry arch of the universe proper, whose spectrum offered not a hint of Antroar’s circumscribed crimson-tinged cosmos. Flashtease indeed opined that the only red he ever wished to see again was that of Flashthunder’s lucky pants, at which Flashstanch and Flashbuoy and even Flashthunder himself voiced laughing concurrence.

Cherry awaited them. The girl with constellations in her hair was standing with her band by their interplanetary tour-bus, which was parked on a ledge-like planetoid overlooking the portal’s flip-side. As the transport landed and our heroes disembarked, her hands-on-hips pose communicated due gratitude while not letting anyone forget she’d had to cancel bookings because of this. However, even the least perspicacious among them saw Cherry melt with sentimentality as Flashthunder sank sobbing into her arms.

“As a sidekick he was less than useless,” Contamination told her fondly. “Take care of that one, female. Someone should.”

Cherry looked to him. While one of her lissome hands continued to gently console Flashthunder, the other she outstretched and held palm-open by Contamination’s glowing head. Then Cherry closed her dark eyes, and concentrated.

Joe caught his breath when his own psychic powers divined what it was she was attempting. Was it possible? Such a feat would be well beyond him, though Neetra or Degris might manage it, and Cherry’s mysterious telepathy was so different to any found on Earth. Here in the glittering gulfs Joe was almost ready to believe one girl might accomplish that which the foremost extrasensory scholars had judged theoretical at best, and out of the residual astral ambience which had surrounded those spectres from Contamination’s past refine a small flawless facet of fact.

Our hero was equal at least to knowing when it was over. Though Cherry typically scorned direct speech, in this case she made an exception.

“Halge-Jyrast,” were her whispered words. “Of the House of Jalge.”

And that was right. Contamination knew it in an instant. Those sun-soaked stretches hiding deep inside, the sum of his life before the experiment which he yearned to know better though they pained him so, were all at once inviting him. The agonies these were wont to wreak softened under the soothing balm of Cherry’s tender tones, and there was magic in her syllables too, an incantatory potential to unlock each shard of sunlight’s secrets and transform scattered vestiges to vistas and tableaux.

She had spoken aloud his name.

“Yes,” Contamination breathed to her, as tears ran steaming down his radiant cheeks.

He wasn’t the only one whose memory had just been jogged. Joe reached into his pocket, remembering he had something of Contamination’s to return to him before they parted company. It was no surprise to our hero it had taken him until now to think of it. Spend enough time around Contamination the callous and uncaring, and you could almost forget Contamination who even in the throes of troubles all his own took the time to make sure a friend had a happy day. Almost. But that particular one of Contamination’s secrets was staying safe with Joe.

So it was that presently a party of man and moth and Mini-Flashes and musicians, Joe in the midst of them all, waved off Contamination’s cobalt-blue space-racer until its last luminescent afterimage had dwindled and disappeared. Our hero smiled, thinking of the army-tag his friend took with him. He wished Contamination good fortune on his quest for his identity, but for Joe there was token enough in that trinket of the man he already knew him to be.

“Goodbye, Contamination,” murmured Flashthunder.

“Let the trail lead where it may,” Joe declared. “He will follow.”


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Doc Sherwood

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