as narrated by Guan “Sculpter” Ross
There’s nothing like being underground when a disaster is occurring. Both my genes and my upbringing told me that the Earth represented safety. In it’s embrace bad things couldn’t find us. I knew my siblings felt the same. Even as the glowing man, Helios, healed our wounds their eyes weren’t turned towards escaping the tunnels where we’d been injured. They wanted to venture in deeper. The problem was there wasn’t any safety to be found deeper in the world.
I could feel the earth around us shuddering with the impacts of a mighty beast above. We couldn’t did deep enough to escape it or move fast enough to outrun it. We certainly couldn’t fight it either.
“What are we going to do now?” Amphi, my sister, asked.
Anyone who might have replied to her was cut off by a tremendous crashing in the distance. I could feel the earth give way and collapse into one of the large metal vaults that the tunnel we were in led to.
“Moonbow!” Helius cried.
“I think they’re ok.” I told him quickly. I could feel a power far greater than my own holding the earth from falling any further. A moment later, the earth surged, still under the control of the power that held it in its grip. The bottom of the metal vault was carried up to the surface as the stone above it was blasted aside.
“How do you know?” Helios asked.
“I can sense the earth around me. Someone is controlling the part that collapsed and bringing the metal floor they’re on to the surface.” I explained.
“Groundstrike! I am so glad I sent him on this mission.” Helios said.
“We have to get to the surface too.” I said. My siblings looked at me like I’d gone insane.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s safe up there.” Amphi said.
“It’s not.” I told her, “But it’s worse down here. The creature up there can crush the earth whenever it wants to.We have to get away from it and the tunnels limit where we can go.”
“We might need to help Dad too.” M’Kala said.
Our father was a hero. He’d been fighting the hostile Muta-morphs before, and I was sure he would join in the battle against whatever giant beast was rampaging over us. Aside from my sister Alil, none of us had powers like he did. I mean, I can sense the Earth around me and even narrow that awareness to a single object and find the faults and structures within it but that’s not a hero’s ability. It just helps me with the sculpting that I do.
“The tunnels are dangerous too. I can protect you all better if I bring you back to our command center.” Helios said.
“We were just there before though?” Amphi objected.
“We should have kept you there, I’m sorry. The shelters should have been safer. Usually super villains and invasions make a point of attacking our command centers but this crisis seems to be following different rules.” Helios said.
“Are you all ok with moving?” Doctor Simone asked my siblings and the members of the Offworld’s Alliance. My siblings shifted around uneasily, but the Offworlders all looked more than happy with the idea. Since leaving was my idea, I spoke for my brothers and sisters.
“Helios has fixed us up well. We’re concerned about being above ground, but we’re in good shape to make the trip.”
“That’s good.” a new voice said. Ghost Step had appeared in our midst. “Helios, we need you back at the command center immediately. There’s an enormous monster attacking the city!”
“Another Muta-Morph?” Alil asked.
“I don’t think so. This thing doesn’t look like any kind of animal I’ve ever seen on Earth.” Ghost Step said.
“We should take a look too then.” Jeff, one of the alien college students, said. “It might be familiar to one of us.”
“I’ll send you all there then, if that’s ok?” Ghost Step asked, looking at Helios.
“Definitely.” he said.
She touched him and he simply vanished. The Offworlder’s Alliance was the next to go, followed by Amphi, Alil and the rest of my siblings. Doctor Simone and I went last.
The command center that we arrived in wasn’t the one we’d been in before. Given the rush and bustle I could guess what had happened. The old command center was gone. Destroyed by the creature and this new one was being assembled on the fly as fast as possible.
“This isn’t going to work!” I heard a young man say as he bumped into me from behind.
“I’m sorry!” we both said at the same time.
“It has to work. We need Moonbow to repeat her performance. It’s the only way we’ll get through to the force field generators quickly enough.” an old man said to the young one, not pausing to notice the collision between the young man and I.
“She has to destroy a generator to open a path! If we’re going to use the generators to provide the shielding for the shelters we can’t afford to lose another one!” the young man said.
“The force field has already shrunk. Fewer generators will be able to carry the load.” the old man insisted.
“It’s shrunk and we lost its protection over five of the shelters. We can’t lose another shelter. They’re above capacity already!” the young man said.
“We don’t have a choice! It’s not like we can just ask the Muta-morphs to go in there..for…us…and…” the old man’s words trailed off as they both turned to look at me.
My father had told us that humans would regard us with fear and hatred. I didn’t have much experience reading human emotions since I’d only seen them when my siblings and I spied on them. I was pretty sure fear and hatred didn’t include wide smiles spreading across their faces or squeals of joy.
“Hello there. You wouldn’t perhaps be one of the hybrids that Lux and Borderskipper met earlier would you?” the young man asked. He looked like he was ready to pounce on me.
“Yes, I am. My name is Guan.” I told him.
He threw his fists up on the air and cheered. I flinched back. My father had said that humans went mad sometimes and that seemed like a good description for what I was seeing.
“A moment’s restraint, Fire Forge. This addresses only one small part of our problem.” the old man said.
“Can I ask what you are talking about?” I inquired.
“The disaster shelters have been enclosed by a force field.” the old man explained.
“I know. We were trapped in one of them.” I said.
“Trapped? Were you unable to pass through the field?” the old man asked sounding worried.
I thought back and sighed when I remembered that none of my family had actually tried leaving through them. We’d just assumed we would be trapped too.
“Some of our group tried, but none of my siblings did.” I said.
“Don’t worry about that. Fear makes us blind to a lot of things.” the old man said.
“We think you should be able to pass freely through the force field with how its is configured now.” Fire Forge, the young man said.
“How does that help the people in the shelters?” I asked.
“The city is under attack by something worse than the Muta-Morphs. It’s a giant monster that’s strong enough to break its way through the force fields. Doctor Nightshade here thinks we can reconfigure the fields so that they’ll be focused only on things with the same dimensional energy signature as the monster.” Fire Forge said.
“Dimensional energy signature?” I asked.
“The creature is not a native of this Earth. By restricting what the force field is attuned to, I believe we can radically boost its strength, hopefully enough to withstand the beast’s assault.” Doctor Nightshade, the old man, explained.
“And how can I help with that?” I asked.
“The only place to reconfigure the force field’s properties is at one of the generators. They are all slaved together, so a change it one will ripple through the rest.” Doctor Nightshade said.
“The problem is that all of the generators are behind the force field, so we can’t get to them.” Fire Forge explained.
“But you can.” Doctor Nightshade said.
“How would I reconfigure a generator though? I don’t know anything about them.” I said.
“The controls were simply enough for that idiot Doctor Wyrd to work out, I’m sure we can show you what will need to be done.” Doctor Nightshade said.
“Yeah, the hard part will be figuring out what the settings should be. Since the field shouldn’t affect you, we can have you make adjustments, tell us the result and then we can refine the settings values to get focus the field better.” Fire Forge said.
I’m not a hero like my father is. I can’t fight all that well and I don’t like getting hurt or hurting people. This didn’t call for any of that though. This I could do!
“Let’s not waste time then.” I said.
* * *
Ghost Step transported both Princess, a dog/human hybrid, and myself to the location Moonbow deduced we could find another of the force field generators.
Princess had volunteered to go alone, but her fingers weren’t suited to the sort of delicate work that mine were capable of. Amphi and Alil had argued that they should come too but the heroes needed Alil for her sonic powers and my siblings needed Amphi to keep them from panicking any further after what they’d been through.
As bodyguard’s went I had no complaints with having Princess with me over my sisters. Amphi was tough and Alil’s power was impressive, but Princess was big. Maybe not on a city-stomping monster scale, but if we ran into any more hostile Muta-morphs, I was pretty sure the smarter ones would turn and flee rather than try to pick a fight with her.
“It should be on the other side of this barrier.” Princess said, indicating the force field that blocked off one of the tunnels.
I braced myself and started to slither forward when Princess stopped me.
“Let me go first. If there are enemies on the other side I deal with them.” she said. Without waiting for my answer she stepped forward and passed through the force field effortlessly. I waited, holding my breath out of nervousness for what felt like hours but was probably closer to twenty seconds before Princess emerged back through the barrier.
“There were no enemies. It is safe.” she said and stepped back through the force field.
I followed her and found a machine waiting for us that looked just as Fire Forged and Doctor Nightshade had described.
“This will take a few minutes.” I told Princess and opened the tool kit they had given me.
The generator was not designed for the sort of modifications I had to make to it. Doctor Nightshade hadn’t designed a “user interface” for altering it once it was in place. There were diagnostic components embedded in the device though that I could use with their direction.
The work of getting at those diagnostic components was not trivial however. The wiring made a rat’s nest look tidy, the positioning of the circuit boards left only tiny gap to get tools into and, if I should happen to damage any of the components too badly, the generator would shut down and release the horde of Psi-Lords in the attached containment sphere to assault our minds.
On the bright side, I could feel that the giant monster was still destroying the south end of town, so I wasn’t in immediate danger. Unless I screwed up that is.
“You have quite the vocabulary of curses.” Princess observed after I’d been working for a couple of minutes.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” I said. “I don’t usually speak like that.”
“I am not offended. I am merely curious where you learned some of those epithets.” Princess said.
“My siblings and I would take turns sneaking away from home to spy on the humans we lived near. I always liked to watch the street artists. I think some of their speech patterns rubbed off on me.” I explained.
“You have an interesting family.” Princess said.
“I guess. They’re the only one I’ve ever known, so to me it’s everyone else who seems interesting.” I said.
“I should not be distracting you.” Princess said.
“It’s ok. I have it the settings in place. I just need to engage the switchover circuit and the force field emitters will use the new configuration.” I said. “Here goes.”
I flipped the switch and braced for an explosion or something else unpleasant. Instead the generator very calmly changed modes and the force field’s texture rippled to a new state.
“Now all we need to do is report the new readings to Fire Forge.” I said. I tried to walk through the force field and smashed into it like it was a wall of concrete.
“I can’t get out either.” Princess said, testing the force field with her hands.
“I must have messed up part of the configuration!” I said, feeling panic rising up from the tip of my tail.
I dove back into the exposed components of the generator and began comparing the values that Doctor Nightshade had told me to set versus the ones that I’d actually input. I found the problem immediately. One of the filters was set incorrectly. I changed it to the proper value and triggered the switch again. I tried the force field but it was still solid. Another check back on the configuration showed that the value I was inputting was back to it’s original state.
“I think part of the generator is broken.” I told Princess.
“It seems to be producing the force field correctly.” she said.
“Yes, but its not accepting changes to one of its settings. Let me take a deeper look at it.” I said and focused my awareness down onto the generator alone.
The machine was a million times more complex than the simple carvings I usually used my power on. It felt like my mind was going to come apart if I tried to take it all in, but I coiled up and pushed on. One part stood out as different from the rest almost immediately. Probing that further I saw why. There was a dead component in the generator but it had been sloppily wired out of the system by some cables that had none of the careful design and assembly of the rest of the generator.
Fire Forge had warned me that Doctor Wyrd might have “updated” the generators from what Doctor Nightshade originally designed. What I saw inside the machine was far from an “update” though. I didn’t have much technical expertise but even I could tell the work Doctor Wyrd had done was crude at best. Unfortunately I didn’t have the tools or parts to correct his crud “repair”. The only thing I could do was to work around it.
I didn’t understand the theory behind how the machine worked. Large areas of it made no sense whatsoever. When I set those aside however and looked at their place in the greater scheme of the device I was able to puzzle out the working of the rest, or at least enough of the rest that I saw a way to make a path around Doctor Wyrd’s “repair”.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this right, but I think I can fix the machine.” I told Princess.
“Then you should try. We cannot leave the shelters exposed.” she said.
I nodded at that and got to work.
The adjustment was simple enough – which is why I was able to figure it out I suppose. What I wasn’t ready for was the voice that I heard in my mind as I neared completion of it.
“Please. You mustn’t do that do that.” it said.
“What? Who are you?” I asked.
“We are trapped in your machine. If you change it like that we will die.” they said.
“Who are you speaking to?” Princess asked.
“There are voices talking to me from the machine” I said.
“Psi-Lords.” she said with a growl.
“Tell your companion she is right but her anger shows she has met the ones who are not like us.” the voice said.
“They’re saying they are but that you met different ones.” I said.
“What do they want?” she asked.
“They want me to leave the device as it is. They’re saying if I change it, it will kill them.” I said.
“If you do not, the shelters will be destroyed.” Princess said.
I looked at the soldering iron in my hand. Just a few more connections would save one set of people and damn another. I could choose who would live and who would die. Kill the Psi-Lords or abandon the humans destruction by a giant monster.
I breathed steadily and calmed my mind. I was afraid. Fear makes us blind. It forces us to choose before we can think.
“What if there’s another way?” I asked.
I didn’t expect to hear an answer and none fell upon my ears.
Instead the answer came from within me.