The Impossible Adventures of Jet Black and the Starship Crew

 

 

Jet Black, Return to the Planet of the Merwomen #15

 

Copyright Alan P. Ellis 2013ã

Copyright 2013. Copyright in all media and in all forms remains the property of caelin day pty ltd (aus). Any reproduction in whole or part is conditional on the written permission of caelin Day pty. ltd.

 

You must have made a mistake?” said Jet in disbelief.

The doctor replied in an affronted tone, “I can assure you there was no mistake; there was nothing that could be done.”

But… we have the technology, surely there was something you could have tried?”

There was nothing Mr. Black, we surgeons are not miracle workers.”

The shock and anger were abating; now self-pity was overwhelming Jet. “But surely there must have been something…”

Jets voice trailed away; as it did the surgeons indignation eased.

Mr. Black your leg was several times damaged. You’re knee, lower leg bones; ankle, in fact everything below your thigh had been crushed almost to a pulp when the creatures armoured body fell on it. To exacerbate that your kneecap had already been shattered by the creatures claw; and if all that wasn’t enough the Beta Keratin of the claw is breeding ground for everything from bacteria to fungi, I truly had no option but to amputate.”

Jet laid back on the gurney in despair.

A few days before being disabled was something that Jet had never given a moments thought to, even though in his days with special op’s the chances were high that would seriously damage some part of his body; and he had: but at the time it was even a greater possibility that he would die; and that was what he was careful not to let happen: seen in the light of such a scenario losing a single limb and to live was an acceptable option; but now he was smack bang in that dilemma: his lower leg had gone, and now it was the end of his life.

There would be no more treks through impossible forests; no more running from Benedicts thugs, in fact there would be no more independent mobility full stop: of course that was if he chose that way to be his future; but the rest of his life in a wheelchair wasn’t the only option; he could get up and try to walk, maybe even to run again; and that’s what he determined he would do.

 

In the following days of denial he dismissed Indigos suggestion as unnecessary: everything would work out, but he knew that in the dark days he was too steeped in self-pity to listen; but eventually…

Yes I do, but as I tried to explain he’s…” Indigo stopped for a moment in thought. “Actually; and it’s something I wouldn’t actually ask, but I don’t know if it’s a he or she: its sometimes difficult to tell with aliens?”

Jet didn’t know if it was supposed to be a witticism or a statement of fact, so he gave the slightest of smiles. “Yea; I know what you mean.”

Well whatever it is, it’s supposed to work miracles.”

From what I’ve heard of them they’re lizards: regrowing a limb isn’t a miracle to reptilians.”

There not lizards Jet; maybe they do look a bit like one: and if I were you I’d be careful not to make that kind of comment when one can hear you.”

Jet shrugged. “I’m more worried about ending up with a scaly green leg or with claws instead of toes, rather than getting one upset.” Jet’s reply was supposed to be a joke, but Indigo took him for real.

That isn’t going to happen Jet; I wouldn’t even suggest… him, if that was even a remote possibility.”

No; I didn’t think you would.” Jet agreed without adding another smart comment. “So… you’ll make the contact?”

Actually I already have: I spoke to him when you first… I didn’t won’t to say anything in case it wasn’t possible: there’d have been no point raising your hopes if he could do nothing at all?”

 

Jet refused the offers to accompany him and set the Tanatalia onto the landing area alone. GeAltKeem was on the boundary between what Jet thought of as the known galaxy and the great unknown beyond; and it was an exception in many ways.

Meeting someone of an alien race on the Galaxy Layby wasn’t particularly unusual, though it wasn’t as common to encounter one on most planets, and on this planet Jet was the alien; and the curious looks that were directed at him weren’t just down to the fact he was walking with crutches.

There was an expectation that when different species met that technology would pass between them, but the needs of the creatures of GeAltKeem were vastly different to what Jet accepted as normal and this set them apart from almost anything he had known. Sometimes it came down to prejudice; sometimes people believed the ways they had evolved over generations were better for no valid reason other than simple pride.

But it wasn’t just racism why people spurned strange alien solutions, as much as pure and simple practicality; aliens by definition of the word were different. The medical establishment Jet was familiar with considered prostheses simply as an aid to continue as before, here on GeAlt Keem they thought a little differently.

 

Jet had directions, but everything was unfamiliar and twice he stopped looking lost; each time of the crosses between a reptile and bird had stopped and pointed the way. It pleased Jet and made him wonder if the places were change would one of GeAltKeem’s citizens get the same helpful response? It made it all the more strange considering there was no way he and the average local could communicate: but his crutches and missing limb probably told them all they needed to know. Communicating was on his mind when he at last faced KeltPic.

Welcome to GeAltKeem Mr. Black.” KeltPic said in an entirely understandable voice: though in an unusually chirpy way.

Thanks Mr…” Jet remembered Indigos confusion and wondered if he had made a mistake.

KeltPic is the normal way my people acknowledge me Mr. Black.”

Jet smiled in an embarrassed way.

In our society there is no title for an individual, in fact we have no concept of an individual, all our structure is based on family and lineage; I am but a mere part of my heritage.”

It still didn’t make a lot of sense but Jet nodded.

Neither do we separate the male from the female, again it is family origins.” KeltPic looked at him with beady eyes set towards the side of the head. “My origins are female.”

Jet drew a deep breath; things weren’t going well. “I’m sorry I…”

No please it is of no consequence; we are in you own vernacular; alien, so our ways are beyond your experience as yours are to most of us.”

I’m sorry; maybe I’d better say nothing?”

In that case it will make it harder for me to make any diagnosis.”

The voice had changed and Jet got a strange feeling KeltPic was amused.

If you would remove your lower tunic; I will make the examination?”

It felt both extremely peculiar; having stubby little stumps touch and press and twist his leg, and at the same time slightly erotic. The weirdest picture came into his mind and he began to wonder if he was so much an alpha male that he could even contemplate what the mental image implied: maybe it told him more about himself than he cared to know. KeltPic saved him from any further speculation as she looked at him.

It was a swamp monster?’

Yes.”

Then you are quite lucky to have just lost the lower part. It isn’t bad hygiene; the swamp monster cultivates bacteria, and even fungi on its fighting claw, luckily for you it appears infection entered into your circulatory system at a point were it was going away from you heart. I’m assuming it was unable to return to your organs due to the return system being severed… or by the intervention of a tourniquet?” KeltPic looked at him enquiringly.

I was unconscious.”

As would be expected: whatever the reason that could have saved your life; Infections from swamp monsters are not generally fatal but I have the feeling that your one in particular one didn’t care much for a clean lifestyle?”

Jet was sure it was a joke, but he wasn’t keen to dwell on the experience: after all he was here for future consequences. “So, can you help me?”

Quite possibly.”

I want to get back to being normal again.”

Normal?”

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on crutches.”

What you do with the rest of your life is your choice Mr. Black.”

I realize that; I just want my leg back.”

That’s not what we do.”

Jets heart sank. “I was told you could work miracles?”

Then you were misled; whatever you may have imagine you cannot regrow you limb, but I can do the next best thing.”

Jet sighed. “I want to get something to help me to walk again; to start my life again as close to what it was, as it can ever be.”

KeltPic looked at him. “To just help you walk again? No Mr. Black that’s not what I do at all.”

 

When Jet woke he was in another hospital bed, but an entirely different one with a glowing yellow cover enclosing his entire body from his lower Jaw down. He went to move but couldn’t: his body wouldn’t respond; panic welled inside him, and he gasped out in fear. “I can’t move; help me?”

An alien came over and gently touched his forehead. It almost sang; a sweet chirp that somehow reassured him.

The alien was still caressing his brow when KeltPic loomed over.

I can’t move,” Jet said in alarm.

Mr. Black, don’t you remember; I did say you wouldn’t feel a thing?”

I thought you meant the pain?”

I did, but also that the compounds require you to be perfectly still until they are hardened.” The other alien was handing KeltPic a small machine, he attached two electrodes to either side of Jets temple. “I understand the treatment can be distressing depending on an individuals personality, so I’ll give you something to…”

Jet didn’t hear; everything went black: he didn’t even dream.

 

When Jet woke again the cover had gone and he felt reinvigorated. Looking under the sheet he saw that from below his groin to past where his toes once were, was enclosed in what appeared to be of all things, a quilt. The material was gossamer light, he couldn’t feel it on his flesh; it brought the realization to him he could feel his skin. Not exactly feel it but he knew it was there. He remembered the doctors on the Glorious Twenty Sixth telling him it was common to feel he still had the leg; the brain could still think it was there when it wasn’t, but it wasn’t just his brain, he knew the leg was there. He was confused: was it imagination or reality?

 

I know this sounds stupid...” Jet said to KeltPic, in a slightly embarrassed voice. “But I’ll swear I can move my toes.”

KeltPic made a noise that Jet couldn’t understand as he placed a gauze over Jets head. Jet felt it tighten and then tingle. “What’s this?”

KeltPic made a hissing sound that Jet assumed was telling him to keep quiet.

The tingling continued until the gauze went slack. KeltPic took it off. “Well that’s all fine; so you can move you’re toes Mr. Black?”

Jet didn’t feel so confident now. “I thought I could.”

KeltPic was removing the quilt.

Jet looked down in amazement; he was whole again. He had his leg back, but it wasn’t his leg he had, had a scar where a projectile had gone through the calf muscle a long time before; it was an injury he had come to live with that sometimes let him down, but now it wasn’t there.

KeltPic was gripping both Jets ankles, the original and the fake. He swung them over the bed and let them hang. Jet looked down and then at KeltPic.

Its worked?” Jet asked dreading what KeltPic may say.

Yes Mr. Black; did you think it wouldn’t?”

No... It just seems unbelievable.”

Everything depends on your level of belief Mr. Black. If you believe you have your old leg back you are wrong; if you believe you have a perfectly serviceable prosthesis that with do all you want it to; and maybe more, then that’s what you have.” KeltPic looked at him. “I must warn you Mr. Black human minds are fickle things yours may accept what I have done, and then again it may not. If your brain rejects the prosthesis it will cause you much mental anguish, and I will have to remove the limb; but hopefully that won’t be the case, and your leg will outlive you, as for now I can do no more for you Mr. Black; now you must learn to live with your leg all over again.”

 

Jet was waiting in the Galaxy Layby’s coffee lounges when the Silver Flyer arrived back. It pleased him to see the starship put down, and know that it was theirs again: at least technically; it was after all the property of the Three Galaxies Insurance Alliance. Jet had contacted James Rackham after it had been confiscated and returned to the insurance company, offering to buy the ship, and had put a good portion of the gold dust towards the spaceships purchase. Though as Rackham reminded him, until the last payment was made the ship was only on loan, and then only if he agreed to ‘do the odd thing’ for them. Rackham wouldn’t specify what an odd thing was, but Jet had little option but to agree.

Besides the pain and discomfort to Jet himself his injuries had caused problems for the crew, as with continuing treatment he couldn’t fly away for any long trips: that was solved when James stepped up. Apparently he had some leave due and offered to replace Jet until he was ready to come back, but Jet didn’t like it at all. James was okay as a person, but he was also a rival, and since their brief intimacy James seemed to have wormed his way back into Rosie’s attention. Chub wasn’t happy either, he was sure James was a Galactic Militia agent spying on them, and considering how James acted he did nothing to dispel those thoughts.

 

Rosie was first to come over when they cleared the formalities.

Jet; how are you?”

Fine; no problems,” he replied, though for some inexplicable reason he feigned a slight limp. “How were the deliveries?”

Same, its good to have the Flyer back though… Oh, Seilan has been trying to contact you?”

He knew exactly who she was, but pretended not to remember. “Seilan?”

From the Water World?”

Oh, that Seilan?”

Rosie gave him a look that indicated she knew, he knew.

Why: what does she want?”

She wouldn’t tell me; she wanted to talk to you.”

 

Once back at the hotel Jet went to the bistro for a bite to eat. He would contact Seilan, but he wanted to think for a while and through the meal he went over what had happened at Paleria, but his mind couldn’t help thinking more of what happened after they left.

He never discovered why: after their escape, Rosie had become very quiet. She wasn’t the most extroverted of people at the best of times: Chub was enough for them both in that department; but Jet had missed Rosie’s sharp wit and always-ready one-liners.

She never spoke of her time apart from them on the planet, and it undoubtedly would have been frightening having three armed mermen corner anyone in a small room, so he never pushed her to tell.

If Rosie being unusually quite hadn’t been enough, Chub had acted strangely as well; although Chubs change could be explained: he had seemed to be getting quite fond of Thea, but the woman literally walked out of his life; probably something that if it didn’t pull his heart it certainly crushed his pride.

Still how could he judge the others, Seilan had penetrated Jets own shields and yet she had literally used him: not that he begrudged her doing that; in fact having a woman use him as he occasionally used them was at the very least an interesting experience. Jet raised his hand for the waiter.

"Sir?"

"Can I get the bill?"

"Room charge sir?"

Jet nodded and looked around the pool area. A brunette was looking directly at him across the sparkling clear water. It reminded him that he had had enough of water and strangely enough of women. He stood and went back to his room. To his annoyance his call to Seilan didn’t connect.

 

Chub was working on the Silver Flyer when Jet entered the hangar.

"I thought I would be back first?" Jet said in surprise.

"That depends on if I had been away," Chub replied.

Jet was a little concerned. "What happened?"

I don’t know what those idiots did to when they took her away, but we desperately need to a full refurbishment, I can keep repairing but sooner or later she’s gunna let us down.”

Jet didn’t like to even think of that happening. Jet felt guilty. “You should have called me; I’d have given you a hand?”

"Yea, maybe; but you’ve got your own problems, and I could manage so why."

"Still you should have… So where's Rosie?"

"Haven't seen her: why?"

"Nothing."

"She isn’t due back till evening,"

"No."

"You expected her back early?"

"No; it's just I thought she was acting a bit reticent."

Chub smiled in a sympathetic kind of way.

Jet decided to ignore the implications. “Any new contracts turned up?" he said, not expecting the positive.

"Yup; pickup and delivery; A.S.A.P, that’s part of why I decided to work through on the Flyer."

Jet’s mood lifted. "Great; what is it?"

Actually its not so great; its come through that James guy.”

It didn’t really surprise Jet; James seemed to have a lot of contacts. “It’s income coming in.”

Yes but from where?”

You still think he’s with the militia?”

And being financed by them.”

Jet smiled. “Your being paranoid Chub: whatever reason would they do that for?”

I don’t know; but me being paranoid doesn’t mean he hasn’t got some ulterior motive.”

A thought struck Jet. "We're not going into any forbidden or hostile zone?"

"No, no, no," Chub hesitated. "Pick up is at Peglaria."

Peglaria?” It couldn’t be coincidence, or could it; Jet wasn’t sure, but he suddenly felt his own paranoia. “If I remember correctly we're wanted criminals there?”

Yes I said that to him and he assured me that we were cleared of being part of the mermen's plan?’

I’d make sure of that before we land.”

We will.”

Besides that isn’t it still as good as a war zone?"

"Again according to James the conflict has been downgraded to skirmishing; and that happen all the time. Apparently it’s more or less peaceful?”

Jet wasn’t convinced. "I don’t like it Chub; I’m not saying James has a plan that will affect us but there’s too many what if’s?”

"Yea well, with you not being here it was down to me and Rosie and she’s sold on the idea, and with James being all smarmy she ignored my warnings.”

Ignored?’

The contract is signed, we go tomorrow.”

But if you feel so strongly why didn’t you veto it?”

Jet work has dried up, and if we renege on this contract all the other shippers will find out and we'll be parked on the ground forever."

 

When Rosie arrived she seemed eager to leave.

"It’s just one package Jet," she said making it sound easy.

"According to the consignment documents it’s one crate… Large," he countered.

She smiled. “And one huge payoff.”

 

Jet was sat by the scanner as they approached Valeria, and were passing over the belt of asteroids that circled the planet. On the screen Jet could see the rocks jostling and spinning. It was mostly small ones; they in turn had impacted on the occasional medium one to set that into crazy motion. The thought crossed his mind that it was only a matter of time before a mid-sized one nudged a large one out of orbit, and down to the planet. "What do you make of this Chub?"

Chub walked over to the screen showing the space between them and the planet. “Not a lot Jet.”

If this data is right the positions of the asteroids have changed?”

Jet they get knocked about by perturbations all the time Jet.”

I guess?”

"There are always collisions and bumping in asteroid belts.”

I know, but I don’t remember this kind of activity before, it’s as if they’ve acquired energy from somewhere?”

Chub looked at him strangely. “Jet asteroid belts don’t just suddenly become energetic?”

No…I must be imagining things?”

 

We’re getting close.” Jet looked at Rosie. "You’ve got the co-ordinates?"

"Yes, we should be picking up a beacon to guide us onto the platform any moment."

Suddenly they heard the beacon; locking on they followed the signal and descended to water lever; but there was no platform as far as their eyes, or the scanner could see.

"Where is it?" Muttered Jet, "There's nothing below but water?”

Chub was looking out of the view port. “Maybe they expect us to land on one of those floating reed beds…" He stopped speaking as they saw a large shipping container bobbing in the water beside one of the reed islands.

"They’ve got to be joking?" Muttered Jet. “Where’s James?”

A couple of minutes later James came onto the command deck. “We’ve arrived?”

What’s that?” Jet said accusingly.

James adjusted the gain on the screen. “That looks like it.”

Jet couldn’t believe James seemed so unsurprised. “It: the crate we have to pick up has been left dumped on an island in the middle of an ocean”

Jet you’ve been here before; everything is below the water; they’re saving you the time and trouble by giving you easy access?”

Looking at it that way Jet had to admit it did save time; but he had other concerns as well. "It looks big; what are its dimensions?"

Chub scanned the container. "It's okay Jet, it'll fit in the main hold with room to spare.”

Getting closer they could see a woman waving and Jet felt a nice feeling sweep through him. "Okay, so how’s this going to happen?

I can hover over it?”

Chub shook his head. “That wont work Rosie, unless you want to chase it around in the downwash.”

Okay so if we hover over the adjacent island then?”

Chub shook his head. “The downwash will sink it.”

Then what do I do?”

Land on the island.”

Chub your joking; do you know how heavy the Flyer is?”

Actually Rosie I now exactly how heavy the Flyer is. The landing struts will go through but the belly will distribute the weight. It’ll be fine.”

I hope you know what your doing Chub?’

Trust me… But to be on the safe side be ready for a quick lift.”

Still muttering Rosie brought the starship down, but landing wasn’t as easy as she had assumed as the reed bed was not only lifting and falling on the rough water, but was rippling and flexing from wave crest to wave crest.

Rosie's insistent voice brought more unease. "The landing feet are breaking through."

Jet wanted to say something but giving advice would show his lack of confidence in her piloting.

"It’s just point pressure," Chub said as if it was something normal. "The underbelly should settle okay,"

Jet hoped it would.

"I'll leave hover on till were safe… Were breaking through… We’re holding… We’re down." Rosie said in relief

Suddenly they were up again, and down again as the wave action transferred to the spaceship.

"This is no good," she snapped. "We have to shut down hover and put down properly.”

Chub was grabbing for something to hold steady with. “It’ll be okay.

Jet just wanted to make sure they didn’t end up being down forever.

The Silver Flyer settled onto the reeds pushing them under the water to the point where wave crests washed straight over them.

 

Jet, Chub and James went through to the hold and opened the cargo door, as it did they watched ocean surge under the Flyer.

"Jeese; I hope that container isn’t as heavy as it looks," mumbled Chub.

Jet looked at him anxiously. “Now’s not the time to loose confidence Chub.”

They saw Seilan dive gracefully into the water and almost without a ripple she sliced effortlessly towards them.

"Wow," gasped James. "Always thought it was just my fantasy but this is as close to a mermaid as I’m ever going to be in this lifetime."

Seilan reached up with one arm and lifted her body from the water. The clothes she wore clung to her as water ran down her perfectly shaped thighs. "I thought you would land over there?" She gestured back to the crate.

The tree men stared at her speechless.

There’s a reason?”

Jet found his voice first. He coughed to cover his staring at her. “I... we… we thought if we would sink it?"

"It's not… Heavy." She said; her expression had a guilty look about it.

Chub looked around at the open Ocean. "Heavy or not why here?"

"It is rather complicated: maybe we could load up and get out of the water and then I’ll explain?"

Jet tore his eyes away from her. “James, make yourself useful and help me get some hauling lines; we need to do a bit of fishing."

 

Seilan swam out a hauling line under the ogling stare of all three and secured it to the container. Chub activated the winch and a short while later it was alongside and he was preparing the robo-arm, "How heavy is it?" he said deliberately not looking at Seilan.

"Its not as heavy as it looks; I'm not sure." She said uneasily.

Chub aimed a spectrometer at the crate. "Okay density; now volume." Another beam flashed over the container. "Okay that’s the crate; are you prepared to tell us what's inside?"

Do you need to know?”

Jet was slightly surprised at her reluctance. “Actually no, but if the contents are dangerous in any way we have to consider the safety of the ship?”

No; they are perfectly safe; I promise.”

 

Chub extended the arm and they felt the Flyer tip a little’ moments later the engine hum increased and the spaceship righted. He powered the arm up again.

They were all expecting the flyer to tip over a second time but there was no effect and the arm lifted the container with ease.

They all looked at Seilan and she smiled back as they brought it inside. She waited while it was secured to the floor of the spaceship and then spoke. “I… have a confession. Actually…" she began hesitantly, as her eyes jumped from one curious gaze to another. "We have a second pick up?”

Jet looked at her, implications entering his mind. “Will it take us long?’

If everything goes to plan it shouldn’t; it’s not far.

Jet nodded. “Okay.”’

Essentially… its here?”

Here?”

Yes here.”

Here on this planet?”

Just over there; here.”

Jet stared at her in confusion. “What’s inside the container?” he said in an insistent voice.

Actually it's… Full of reeds."

They didn’t react too much at first, assuming there was a reason for the cargo.

Its reeds just like those.” She pointed to the adjacent island.

Nobody spoke; they just stared at her in disbelief; at last it was James who did. "You're serious?"

"Yes… well, really it’s seaweed and reeds, and maybe other kinds of vegetation, but basically… reeds."

Jet shook his head. "We're used to carrying pretty much anything across the galaxy; no questions asked but never have we been asked to transport…"

His words were broken into by a thundering crack from above them. They all quickly looked skyward to see a flaming meteor streak across the horizon. The watched transfixed as the rumbling slowly ebbed and flames became a vapor trail; at last their disbelieving eyes came back to Seilan. The sight seemed to have given her strength. "That’s the reason I called you?” Her hesitancy left her and she became confident. “Maybe we should go to Rosie; I need you all to hear what I have to say.”

 

The crew found somewhere to sit or something to lean against while Seilan stood in front of them; even the sight of her body; still in moist figure hugging clothing didn’t stop them hanging on every word.

It’s happening with increasing frequency, and the disruption they are causing is intensifying. At first our scientists were at a loss to explain the bombardment, they hypothesized everything. They now believe we have wandered into the remnants of a destroyed planet.

Her explanation solved a puzzle Jet hadn’t been thinking of; the waters on the planet had nothing to stop them circling the sphere and, built into high swells, but arriving this time the surface had seemed more confused than before. Jet realized she had finished speaking.

That figures.” Said Jet. “Coming through the asteroids we noticed some instability.”

Yes, that explains everything.” Added James. “Any large bodies passing would create instability.”

No.” Seilan said firmly. “Nothing we have observed backs the dead planet idea up. The scientists are only saying that because they don’t know.”

Whatever it is a container full of grass is going to solve it?" said Chub in a slightly annoyed voice.

No, but what I want to put in it will solve everything." Again she seemed to lose confidence. "The attack by the Mermen on our city was to take slaves; but it had another reason… Some time ago we saw things that led us to believe that the Swamp Monsters were evolving?”

Seilan suddenly had Jets attention.

And evolving in a dangerous way; at the research facility we tried to pass on those suspicions, but we had no hard proof and almost everyone we tried to tell didn’t take us seriously. There was only one option that we could see and that was to study them ourselves. Some time ago we brought a young monster here; as one of the earliest and longest watched it has only deepened our suspicions. In that time it has grown into an adult and has come to the point were interaction with it is impossible; the only way we can study it now is by observation. That’s when all our problems began...”

Your problems began,” Jet said accusingly, “When you first brought it here?”

Yes; but somebody had to begin to understand them.”

What’s all this got to do with us and the crate?” Chub suddenly realized he already knew. “The containers for it; isn’t it?”

Seilan nodded. “We realized some while ago that keeping it was becoming too dangerous so we were going to return it to its planet but then the Mermen began to get aggressive. We didn’t realize at the time but they knew what we believed and thought they could control its power; so they took it.”

"They took it?" said Jet not entirely sure why he should be concerned whether Mermaids or Mermen had it.

"Yes, now I need to get it back." She looked at the crate. "…In there."

Jet had begun to laugh. "Now let me just get this straight; you brought us here to raid the Mermens city, capture the monster; and somehow get it into that crate?"

She stared at him challengingly. "No jet; we won't need to attack the Mermen if we can just slip in and out, without them knowing?”

We do this with a five meter tall, screaming mass of hate and vile that will be almost certainly making racket that will wake every Merman on the planet?”

My medium of preference is water, but I don’t have the brain of a sea slug.” She said indignantly.

I’m not trying to suggest anything of the sort; I’m just pointing out that without them knowing isn’t an option.”

It’s going to be difficult I know that and I couldn’t tell you before; you wouldn’t have come."

"Yea, well you got that right," muttered Chub.

Seilan’s proposition was so absurd that Jet had begun to laugh. "I'm gunna have to assume you have a plan?"

"Kind of."

"And if we ignore everything in between; once we get the monster in the crate what do we do with it?"

"We take it back where it belongs."

"If we don’t ignore everything in between,” said James. “And we manage to somehow sneak into the Mermen's lair, locate and get the monster into the container; and get it home, and if we can do all that; what has it all got to do with what's happening up there," James pointed into the sky.

"The Swamp Monster is causing the meteors to fall; if its gone they will stop."

They were all looking at her in disbelief, buts she answered James.

"They are telepathic, and what we didn’t realize at the beginning when we first brought it here; but what we have come to suspect now, is that they are also telekinetic’s.”

All the crew had gone silent.

It seems the Swamp Monster began using its power the day we brought it here on dust and grains. It can move something so small easily. Dust hits grains; grains nudge pebbles; they bumped into larger pebbles. Over time it has caused rocks and boulders to move: imperceptibly at first, but collision after collision can build until they could move mountains. What your seeing now the beginning; they'll be more and bigger. If we don’t stop then falling the ocean will become a cauldron of wild seas and maelstroms: a planet wide storm of such violence that will trap us below the surface; and even if there is no direct hit our cities domes are not designed to withstand the shockwave if a large meteor was to strike even close by. If we don’t get rid of the creature it will destroy our entire civilization," she looked at them pleadingly.

Listening to the woman plead Jet realized his fear of the Swamp Monsters abilities was insignificant when compared to what it could do.

"You have told your own people?" said Rosie somberly.

"Yes; and they don’t believe me."

Rosie stared at her. "Then if nobody is listening, why should we?"

Seilan didn’t answer the question. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's not…” she hesitated, afraid to say what she was going to. “The Swamp Monster told me what it is going to do."

Rosie looked at the others.

Please; I’m not crazy; I’m telling you the truth… you have to believe me.”

Well you've got one thing right,” said Rosie. “We would not have come if you had told us… but," she looked up as several small meteors showered down. "But whatever the cause something is happening up there that wasn’t happening before, and it defies any explanation that I can come up with, so now we’re here maybe we should take a quick look."

 

Hovering above the ocean the entrance to the Mermens city was hidden in plain sight. A colossal whirlpool churned in the water below. It was well big enough for the Flyer, but to descend into it was nerve wracking for them all; especially after Seilan pointed out that if under attack the Mermen could seal the drain of the vortex, causing it to collapse. Even fully open the smallest of misjudgments could have the Flyer touch the swirling sides and be swept into the vortex by the weight and speed of the water. Once consumed none of them had any hope of surfacing again.

Almost at the choke point an opening in the cliff face jutted out and offered sanctuary: of sorts. The cavern they followed was huge and obviously excavated out. They glided passed more turn offs; each with signs that only Seilan could interpret.

Jet was concerned; they were obviously deep underground and far into the Mermens lair, but they hadn’t seen a single sign of life. Considering what they were about to attempt that was a good thing and his worries were unspoken as the spacecraft settled into an alcove. In front was a heavy steel doorway, flanked by flickering lights.

"We must stay hidden," Seilan looked at Rosie. "This is an area forbidden to females; if we were found we would instantly place everyone in danger."

Jet nodded: "Where is everybody?"

"It is the celebration of the Bachanal; everybody will be wherever they have claimed as their ceremonial place."

"How many guards should we expect to meet?"

"None, it is everyone’s celebration time."

Jet was surprised. "No one is left to guard; what about security?"

"The Mermen fear no others; they are the alpha species. Guards are unnecessary: it is why I chose this very time."

Jet felt a certain amount of relief. "Then all we have to face is the Swamp Monster."

"That too will be no problem. It will be sedated; it will be meek and compliant. It has to be otherwise it will be impossible to coax it into the container."

Jets relief faded, it was just too easy, and he didn’t believe anything was too easy.

 

As Jet led Chub and James across to the door, James stepped by. “There may be no guards Jet but that doesn’t men they don’t have something guarding the door.” Jet and Chub stood back as James examined it closely. “If there is any alarm system then it’s on the other side,” he said at last.

Jet pulled down an oversized lever to the doors left. There was a faint rumble and the door slowly rolled to one side. Beyond was much the same as where they were and they strode forward. Following Seilan’s instructions they found the tunnel and opened another door. In front of them, partitioning the room in two was the wall of a cage; behind was the swamp monster. Stood in the doorway their feet felt like lead; the creature was crouched down as if it was ready to pounce but it didn’t move a muscle: not even to blink an eye. It stared straight at them and slowly opened its jaw. It was to all intents as if it was taking a breath but it could equally have been salivating. Nervously they moved over to the control panel. They couldn’t read the Mermens script but there wasn’t any need; another lever was center to the panel; it was painted bright red and held down by a clip to ensue it was not accidentally knocked.

Jet looked at the others; Chub was holding his ray gun; Jet didn’t want remind him it had been useless before. James seemed less troubled and he unhooked the clip and looked at Jet. “Are you guys ready?”

Chub wasn’t. “We can believe her when she says it’s sedated, cant we?”

Jet nodded to James and he pulled the switch, as he did an impulse flooded Jet’s mind; it told him freedom. Jet was stunned and looked quickly at the others, but his eyes were forced back to the cage; it was parting in the middle. A red light was flashing above the opening and an alarm had begun ringing.

What the hell is that?” snapped James.

That’s your alarm system,” grumbled Chub.

James was anxious. “We need to hurry.”

Sure.” Said Chub, “Why don’t you wonder over there to our friend and ask they get a move on?”

Guy’s we haven’t got time to argue…” As Jet intervened the swamp monster was lifting itself up: they all began to back away.

The creature’s movements were sluggish and in slow deliberate steps it moved forward and out of the cage.

James voice was raised. “What do we do now?”

We could slip a rope around it neck; or we could just back away and hope it follows us,”

Great plan Jet,” muttered Chub, backing away.

But it seemed to be working; it was following. Jet hoped that it wasn’t pretending to be docile, especially as it hadn’t taken its eyes of him for a single moment.”

 

When they heard to commotion they were halfway along the passage. Further down the tunnel there was shouting and it didn’t take too much thinking to know the Mermen had been alerted. The Swamp monster had obviously heard too as it stopped and looked back down the tunnel, but then the din died away and there was silence again. The monster turned towards Jet and without reason Jet heard himself mutter, ‘Just us’ again they slowly trudged on.

Every moment they expected more and closer Mermen, but nobody came; nobody stopped them

Getting the creature to follow was one thing but when they got to the Flyer, just how would thy coax it into the container. Seilan was outside when they arrived; she stared at the creature as it lumbered after the three men. She stepped in front of them as they got close and confronted the creature, before she backed off into the container. It veered away but not without turning its head to Jet; opening its jaws and exposing its teeth it gave a chilling sound between a gargle and rattle in its throat.

Jet watched helplessly as its bulk closed of the containers entrance trapping Seilan inside. He wanted to shout or do something to warn her but it was already too late and she did know.

The creature’s tail was all that was left outside when a door at the rear opened and Seilan jumped out slamming it behind her. Chub and James were doing the same at the front. In seconds it was done and the swamp monster was contained.

Chub was leaning against the container wiping his brow. “Wow that was intense.”

James was grinning. “I cant believe how easy that was,” he said punching the air in delight.

Jet couldn’t feel the same euphoria, and Seilan saw it. “It talked to you didn’t it?” she said softly.

Something had happened but Jet didn’t know what. “I don’t know? But I do know it wanted us to bring it out.”

Rosie voice blared out over the intercom. “When you guys have finished celebrating we need the hold door closed, and to get out of here.”

 

As fast as they dared they traversed the tunnels back to find a torrent of water blocking the way out.

They have closed off the vortex,” Seilan said in fear.

Without hesitation Rosie plunged through, and immediately hit the anti-gravity. Suddenly they all felt incredibly heavy and sitting at the controls Rosie was the only one not to have her feet buckle under her. Fighting the feeling of rapid acceleration she was pressed onto her seat as the Silver Flyer forced its way up against tons of water falling onto them from the collapsing whirlpool. The whole ship was shuddering; the noise of crashing water was deafening but without warning it was over and lifting her arms she grabbed the controls again, and took them into the atmosphere.

Jet and the others lifted themselves up off the floor, as Rosie looked back over her shoulder smiling. "Straight to the Ant Planet then?" Nobody contradicted her so she set course for above the asteroid belt but quickly saw what she intended and where the Flyer was going we're not the same.

Jet could see something was wrong, "Rosie?" he said, slightly mystified.

"Something's playing up in guidance system Chub?"

"I didn’t do anything to the guidance system Rosie; it was working fine." Even so he began to upload a diagnostic. A minute later he looked at Rosie with a reproachful smile. "You've got the auto pilot on."

Rosie felt a flood of embarrassment as she went to disconnect; but it wasn’t on. "No I haven’t," she said haughtily.

Chubs smile faded as he checked his data. “Yes you have and we’re set on a course directly into the asteroid belt;” his words slowed to become concerned, "And we're accelerating?"

 

They plunged into the field, and asteroids of every conceivable size and shape hurled past them as the ship ploughed through. What at first had been a faint hiss became a scream as the billions of grains of rock filling the voids between the rocks hit and slid down the spacecraft's sleek sides. As the noise became unbearable, it suddenly stopped and they hurled into deep space.

They looked at each other mystified as to what had happened until Chub broke the silence. "We're still accelerating."

"It's impossible," gasped Rosie. "All my controls are working, but they are not responding."

"It's the Swamp Monster." Said Seilan, calmest of them all.

Jet looked at her.

"I told you it was telekinetic. It wants the spaceship."

Rosie shook her head. "You want us to believe that thing can somehow take over the controls?"

"All you are doing is sending electrical impulses; they can be diverted; changed: it can influence the electrical field with its mind."

Jet doubted it could but he wasn’t going to take chances. "Well it aint gunna have my starship," he said angrily. "Chub disconnect auto; take it completely off line."

Moments later Chub stared at him. "I can't Jet; my terminal is cut off from the system too."

"Where are we going Rosie, back to its planet?"

"No Jet. If our velocity keeps increasing and stays on this course we are heading out of the galaxy."

"That doesn’t make sense; Seilan can you read it?"

"Jet we were only beginning to understand its powers; it is the expert."

"We need to find out what it wants before we all end up dead in the void."

 

The answer wasn’t long in coming as they began a sweeping turn and returned to the same trajectory in reverse, and at almost maximum speed.

Rosie gasped. "Jet we're heading back towards the planet."

"Wherever were going it intends to kill us," grumbled Chub, “It’s going to burn us up in the atmosphere.”

"No," said Jet adamantly. "It could have killed us any time, it intends to do something more than that."

A look of horror came over Seilan’s face. "The planet?"

"No, we’ll be just another meteor, we wont affect the… " Jet raced to the display." Rosie exactly where are we going?"

"Directly to the planet Jet."

"But exactly where are we going can you get a precise course before we hit?"

Moments later she turned to him. "We're heading through the asteroid belt, and…" A computed image appeared on the screen; a red line entered the asteroid belt but did not emerge. She hit magnification and they saw the line stopped at an asteroid.

"We're going to impact an asteroid; that one," she said slowly. They all looked in horror: the asteroid was immense.

"That’s a relief," muttered Chub. “We’re not going to be burned up, we're just gunna get vaporized into dust on impact."

Jet shook his head. "It doesn’t care what happens to us; or to itself. Rosie run a scenario through; what happens after we hit?"

A tiny stylized explosion on the screen made them wince, but nothing happened.

Chub sighed. "It looks like it is us Jet?" as he spoke they saw the asteroid wobble almost imperceptibly.

"Speed it up," said Jet urgently.

The asteroid was moving now: off its course and towards the edge of the belt, but Jet knew what was about to happen. "Faster."

Moments later the asteroid dropped away, and towards the planet in a decreasing spiral that as it entered the atmosphere; it turned it red with fire. Almost simultaneously the forward face plunged into the ocean. A klick's high column of water erupted; and as the asteroid hit the seabed a circle of fire spread out turning the atmosphere afire. In moments the oceans were boiling and the entire planet was engulfed in flame. Volcanoes had begun erupting through the fireball as Jet turned away. "That’s enough,” he said.

They stared at each other dumfounded.

Jet looked at Rosie. "How long do we have?"

She looked at him hopelessly. "Twenty; maybe a little less."

"Chub break me out a couple plasma pistols. Rosie keep on trying to get the Flyer back." Chub handed him the weapons as Jet walked to the door.

"Jet you can't; it knows." Seilan called to him.

"Yep."

"It's my fault, let me."

"Not in this ship; you stay here."

"Then I’m coming with you," she said determinedly. "Maybe I can get through to it?"

"I doubt it’s going to be listening, but if you want to try its up to you.”

 

Jet apprehensively opened the cargo bay door and was totally unprepared for what he saw. The Swamp monster was out of the container.

It looked at him unafraid and snarled threateningly.

Face to face the ugliness of the creature overwhelmed him. Over time Jet had encountered many creatures and many that had to his human eyes appeared revolting; but thing wasn’t just repulsive; it seemed as if some creator had taken the worst bits of people's nightmares and stuck them all together. "We mean you no harm." He said meekly, knowing the pistols had been useless in his last encounter.

It didn’t move or make any sound, until Seilan stepped forward. "He has done you no wrong." She said in a voice calmer than Jet felt. "It was me who brought you here."

Now it moved slowly transferring its gaze from Jet to her.

"I'm sorry, I was wrong. I abused you; I took your dignity, and I was wrong. You have abilities that I... we wanted for our own; but you know all I can admit to; all I can say is that we should not have."

Suddenly the creature lashed out; its clawed hand swept Seilan off her feet and effortlessly threw her at the bulkhead: where she collapsed unconscious, or dead; Jet had no idea, and self-preservation forbade him to move to find out; but he had moved and now he held the pistols up and directly at the Monster.

"Okay," he said softly. "If it's going to be that way."

Suddenly it let out a roar that thundered around the cargo bay, and undoubtedly right up to the command cabin.

Jet tightened his grip. "Ready when you are," but he wasn’t and even though he dodged the swipe another lash from its arm sent one of the pistols flying from his hand; replacing it with a gash across the back of his hand. Jet felt no pain, his adrenalin was pumping and in anticipation of another swipe he threw himself under the creature: rolling and twisting he fired the pistol into its underbelly. It screamed in pain and spun faster than he would have thought possible. Its arm slammed down towards him and he thought he was dead but instead it scooped him up into the air and threw him back down onto the decking.

Jet rolled painfully onto his side where he was able to look up from under his bushy black eyebrows. It was standing behind and over him. He couldn’t see for certain, but he knew it was looking down: drooling in anticipation.

At that moment Chub and James burst through the door and the monster turned to them snarling.

Jet rolled to his feet. “Get back out.” He shouted as he dodged around the monsters back sweeping Seilan off her feet as he passed her.

The monster was twisting around as he ducked in behind the container. It roared again and grasped the front of the crate as it tried to tear it from its securing hooks. One, then another snapped off as the creature tried to push it back to crush Jet and Seilan.

Jet desperately looked around the hold for something to use or a way to escape, and then he saw the control panel. The creature hesitated at the same moment as Jet looked at the door control, it roared in anger but Jet was already half way there and before the Swamp monster could reach him he threw the control lever into the open position.

The door did not open instantaneously but it did open. Between the holds floor and up each end of the wall the pitch darkness of space appeared. The monster roared again but the roar of escaping air overwhelmed its roar, as anything not secured was moving across the floor; including Jet, Seilan and the monster. It was scraping its claws on the metal and grasping for anything it could hold onto.

Seilan was screaming as she slid over the smooth decking towards the now gaping hole, but Jet was caught wrong footed, his bad leg was the one in position to propel him and he didn’t have time to change before she would slip out into space. He kicked the wall as hard as he could, and felt the prosthetic foot crush with the impact; suddenly it repelled him forward with such a force that he was thrust across the hold, sweeping up the girl as he passed her. He grasped a tie down bracket with one hand and with Seilan clutched in the other arm they all; monster included began to gasp for air.

Jet struggled to breath but wouldn’t let go off the girl as with a final metallic crack the last securing ties snapped and the container lifted off the floor. Jet cringed as it missed them by centimeter as it swung sideways and it smashed into the roof of the hold, before twisting and sliding with a metallic scream towards the now wide open door.

The monsters mouth was curled in an evil snarl. There was no noise as it struggled to get out of the way of the container, but it couldn’t and with a last shudder the container swept out into space carrying the monster before it.

Their mouths gaping, eyes bulging and bodies tingling Jet and Seilan watched both the Swamp Monster and the container diminish. Jet was starting to lose consciousness, in moments he would also lose his grip but as his eyesight began to blur he saw the hold door closing.

There was a loud hiss as the hold re-filled with air.

He felt Seilan struggle in his arms and realized he still held her in an iron grip. He looked down at her face only centimeters away.

"You did it Jet.” She said in a soft voice. “You've saved the planet.”

"It was nothing," he said, knowing it was everything an instant before her hungry lips came up to cover his in a passionate kiss.

The door opened and Chub raced in. “Je…” he began before he saw them in a passionate embrace. He smiled and stepped back blocking both James and Rosie, before he shut the door.

 

It was an eternity when Jet at last pulled away from the woman. He said nothing. He had no need.

She sadly lowered her eyes. "You're going, aren't you?”

"I have to, we’ve done what we came to do."

She had begun to weep. "Do you really have to?”

She stared down at his face, knowing it was already too late. His eyes were looking beyond her. The words rolled from his mouth as they had so many times before.

"My work here is finished. Somewhere up there another planet needs…”

She put her finger to his lips.

"I know.” she said softly. "You must go home. To your home amongst the star's”

29

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