One hundred fifty-six

One hundred fifty-six

“Can’t get a good shot at him with all the bugs in the way,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara.

“No indication that a good shot will do any good,” O Tse. “Not at that size.”

“I’m not running--not just yet,” countered the capybara.

Something occurred to Jeanette. She pulled the necklace out from under her bodice, and spread it out so it was displayed prominently. Then she shouted, “WE NEED A CLEAR SHOT AT THE MONSTER!”

The result wasn’t instantaneous,  but a handful of larger bugs--mantises and spiders human-size and larger rose up out of the mass of bugs, those that had movable heads moved them towards her. Then the sea of smaller bugs detached themselves, and the mantises attacking the things face and eyes fell off. The capybara and the weasel-bear needed no command: they fired with gun and pikestaff at the gouged and bored chest of the thing.

The blast was dramatic if not decisive--a ragged-edged hole bigger than a tall man opened up in the monster, and though it didn’t fall, as a matter of fact it turned toward the travelers as if seeing the for the first time. But before it could do anything else, a flood of chitons and centipedes  rose up and poured into the gap, preventing it from re-forming, and noticeably distorting the rest of it.

Jeanette called out, not so loudly, “WE DESIRE A CONFERENCE.” A large mantis came up to them, and they all fell back into the cross-corridor, out of the line of sight of the creature.

“You wear the white gloves,” Jeanette’s bracelets clattered.

“Like you, we have been close to the Edge of Everything, and we seek to destroy the spawn of Deep Chaos,” the capybara said, with Jeanette standing right next to him.

“The thing has eaten and absorbed our Emperor-God, and we welcome any help, even though we deny kinship to you.” Did they know the damage we personally had done to this place and them, thought Jeanette, or were their lifespans too short?

“You service the trains of the transdimensional railway here,” Jeanette said. “Can you bring one of its engines here?”

The mantis chittered, “We have not the secret of their operation, only the ways of cleaning and restoring them. But we can bring one quickly. Even two.”

“We could not build one, but their power is prodigious, and we can use that,” Senhor Capoeira said. “Bring as many as you can, and charging couplings. Also a brief signal so that we don’t destroy thousands of you.”

“Thousands of us mean nothing, but say this,” and it emitted a series of clicks. “It means ‘Revenge’ in our oldest tongue.”

“We’ve recorded it,” the capybara said. And without another communication the mantis scrambled away.

“Hmph. Doesn’t like us much. But that was a splendid idea, Jeanette. I remain extremely proud of you,”

“I just thought of your warp gun, and warp drives. It was a guess,” she said.

“I’ll happily compliment you all day long, my dear, but let’s see if we can make it two warp guns.”

So Jeanette started reaching back behind her, and pulling a weapon from beyond the sixth wall. The first two had Senhor Capoeira shaking his head, but the third matched his.

Two massive engine cores, resembling teardrops nestled in a tangle of multicolored conduits,  were already coming near them on the backs of the largest beetles she had seen yet. Dog-sized wasps carried cable ends to the hallway mouth. The monster, heavily distorted but only partly impeded, had turned and moved towards them, pushing a ridge of bugs before it. O Tse and Lord Elphinstone moved into the open to defend them, and O Tse was firing thin searing bursts constantly at the creature.

Senhor Capoeira Capybara had fished a phone-like slab out of his wallet, and was moving it from gun to cable. “Gift of the Cowards,” he explained to Jeanette. “Remarkable little gadget.”

Then he said “Ah.” and brought the two together. He then shifted over to her. “Hold it close, and don’t drop the gun: it might vanish, and we don’t have time to do this over.” Jeanette could see two tilting circles on the screen. Then she could feel the stock of the gun make firm contact with the cable.

The capybara chittered the sound. The bugs flowed away, and O Tse and Silvertyger  ran to one side.

Jeanette and Senhor Capoeira fired as one, and suddenly half of the thing’s dark chest wasn’t there any more. Beyond Haven’s moon, probably. Another coordinated blast, and the top of the monster fell down on the lower legs, since the middle part was gone.

They fired again--the train cores were still giving them plenty of power--and for a brief moment there was the giddy feeling that they were really destroying it. Then the creature did something none of them--probably including the mantises--expected: it liquefied.

At first it simply a thin torrent spreading out over the floor, but burning and consuming every living or dead thing it touched. Then it started to ripple in ways that had nothing to do with gravity.

The buds started to scatter away from the crawling fluid, and Lord Elphinstone said “We have no weapons against this. We must go. Now.” There was no dissension as they ran down the hallway.

The hallway had plenty of bugs in it now, retreating as they were retreating. It was only a minute to the site of the half-drawn portal. Jeanette hit the shield button, and they were all within the opaque dome. She pulled out the purple chalk.

She hesitated. Her first impulse had been to return to Avalon--but could she bring this horror to Avalon’s beautiful trees and towers? She switched to her second thought, that of the planet Grammar and its moon Syntax. Incredibly advanced, but she was less in love with it. So she started to draw a crude outline of the All Souls’ College tower.

As she did so, one of the bugs still on the wall inside the shield fell on her arm, and her hand twitched badly. After brushing it off furiously--the thing was almost as big as a paperback book--Jeanette went back, rubbed away the wiggly part and then redrew. Then there was the sketch of the Decision Tree.

She grabbed the hands (paws--they all had paws) and jumped into the portal.


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