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Part 39: And Not Liking It
Nobody said anything. For just a few seconds they just stood there, like a three-dimensional still life.
Then Elaine turned and punched Guybrush on the chin.
The blow knocked his head back. His legs buckled, and he fell backwards. But the handcuff chain pulled him up cold, his head only a foot from the floor.
Guybrush blinked, shook his head, and looked at Elaine. She was holding a hand out to him.
"Sorry," said Elaine. "I shouldn't have done that."
Guybrush took her hand and pulled himself back up. He rubbed his jaw. "Ow. That's some punch."
Wally looked at Elaine. "Does this mean you're going to be staying with us?" he said hopefully.
"I guess so," sighed Elaine. "Handcuffed to this idiot and trapped on the wrong side of the galaxy, I don't think I have a choice..."
"Cool!" said Wally. He bounded out of his chair, and ran past them to the doorway. "Let me show you around."
Elaine looked at Guybrush, who shrugged. They followed behind, each sticking close to one side of the hallway.
Wally was leading them through the ship. "Okay. This is the third level of the ship. We spend most of our time up here. That doorway on the left leads to Guybrush's sleeping quarters." Elaine took a look inside. She saw a gray, almost entirely bare room. Half the space was taken up by the bed.
"On the right is my sleeping quarters," continued Wally. This room, although just as small as Guybrush's, was at least partially decorated. The walls were covered in posters, most of them coloured astronomical photographs.
Wally was already leading them past. "That small turn in the passage only leads to a few closets and things. The doorway doesn't go anywhere, it's just used to access the heating system."
Elaine looked where Wally was pointing. A few of the metal plates around here were still buckled from the fire, and the doorway was visibly singed. "Classy ship," she said.
"You don't like my ship?" said Guybrush.
Elaine looked at him. "I can't believe you're asking that as if you don't know the answer."
They all climbed down the stairs, Guybrush and Elaine grumbling. "Here we are on the second level," said Wally. There were two doors on their left, two on the right, and one at the end of the passage. "Follow me," said Wally. They walked along to the far side of the passage. "This door opens up on the engine system," said Wally. "We're almost directly under the cockpit here." He turned back around. "Come on."
They opened the first door. "This is our kitchen and food store," said Wally. Elaine looked in. She saw a bench, lots of cupboards, and no utensils. She started to feel sick. Elaine especially enjoyed a good meal, and it didn't look likely she'd have too many in the near future.
Wally shut the door and they came to the next. "This is our bathroom," said Wally, for some reason not electing to open the door. "It's got a mirror, a sink, a toilet, and a bath/shower unit. Plus there's a special antigrav unit installed in there. Have you ever had a zero-gravity shower, Elaine? You've just got to."
They crossed the passage, and this doorway Wally did open. "This is the rec room," he said, pointing inside. Elaine, peering inside, saw a dimly lit metal table. The sick feeling intensified.
"Could do with a bit of sprucing up," Wally admitted. "Well, come on." They came to the last door. Guybrush was dragging his feet somewhat, and an irritated Elaine yanked him forward. "This room doesn't really have a specific purpose," said Wally. The room in front of him contained a large, spongy-looking couch, several cupboards, and the opposite wall contained a large circular window. Within, tiny sterile points of light shone flatly in the blackness. "Sometimes we use it as a secondary storage room, but we don't have a lot of haul at the moment."
He shut the door, and went back down to the passage. At the ladder he stopped. "One thing I forgot... if you keep climbing up this ladder, you get to a hatchway that lets you out on the top of the ship. It's neat."
They climbed down the ladder. It didn't take them down to another passage, but instead into a large open area. There was a faint pink glow on the walls. It was the hold, and the glow came from the portal stones.
"Well, we've reached bottom," said Wally, stepping off the ladder. "This is our main storage room. Not much in it at the moment, although I suspect these two rocks here might be worth a bit..."
Elaine ground her teeth.
"Well, that's the tour," said Wally. "You're going to love it here, I'm sure. Any questions?"
Part 40: Indestructible
"I have a few," said Elaine.
She looked at Guybrush. "First, is there any way we can get back?"
Guybrush looked wretched. "I don't know any way to reverse what these portal stones do..."
"Well, why don't you just shoot them again?"
Wally spoke up. "They send us to a different place each-"
"We're already forty thousand light years from earth," continued Elaine. "How could we end up in a worse position?"
"We could end up eighty thousand light years from earth," said Guybrush. "At these kinds of distances, the chance that we could make it back to earth are practically zero."
"But it's our only chance," said Elaine.
"Yeah, I guess it might be," said Guybrush. "But I've just got a bad feeling about these portal stones."
"You're telling me," said Elaine sourly.
"It just seems to me that each time we use these portal stones, we'll end up further and further from Earth. And the only way we're going to get back is if we know exactly what we're doing."
"And of course we don't have enough fuel to fly back to Earth," said Elaine.
"I'll have to do the sums, but yeah, I think you're right. And it would take centuries anyway."
Elaine shook her head. "Well, thanks for those answers. Really cheering. Question two: how are we going to get these handcuffs off?"
"Can I try?" said Wally eagerly. He ran to a cupboard, and rummaged around inside. He emerged holding a hacksaw in one hand. "Sharpest one we've got," said Wally. "The teeth are made of a titanium-boron alloy."
"It'll be useless," said Elaine.
"We can at least try it," said Guybrush. Elaine sighed. They walked over to a metal workbench, and rested the handcuff chain on the surface.
Guybrush and Elaine faced each other over the bench. "Arm wrestle?" suggested Guybrush.
Wally then started sawing away at the chain. A terrible, high-pitched squeal filled the room. The hacksaw blade began to smoke, and then the teeth began to fly off the blade.
Wally stopped sawing, and gazed at the handcuffs in awe. "Wow. What are these things made of?" he said.
"It's classified," said Elaine. "Meaning I don't know. But they're encryption-locked and resistant to blaster fire, so basically anything you try is going to fail."
"How about I hit it with a cleaver?" said Wally. He rushed off to another cupboard, and came back with a heavy, deadly-looking butcher's cleaver. He held it high above the chain, then swung it hard.
The blade bounced off the chain, turned nearly one hundred and eighty degrees, flew back up in the air, and hit the floor just to one side of Guybrush.
"Whoops," said Wally.
"Perhaps we might try something else," said Guybrush evenly. He kicked the cleaver away.
"There's some more tools upstairs," said Wally. He climbed up the ladder, leaving Guybrush and Elaine alone in the hold.
"I wonder how many people my ancestors killed," said Elaine softly.
"You can't build up this much bad karma in one lifetime," she said. "Or two lifetimes, even. You'd need at least ten lives of evil."
"Look, I know we're in a bad situation," said Guybrush. "But can't you stop moaning about it? We're stuck together and it looks like it'll stay that way, so we're just going to have to get along."
"Get along?" Elaine laughed bitterly. "With you two? On this wreck?"
"It's not such a bad ship," said Guybrush, a little angrily. "And if you're going to have that kind of attitude of course things are going to be terrible. You're being frank with me, so I'll return the favour. I don't really like you, Elaine. There are hundreds of people I'd rather spend eternity with. But they're not here. You are. And there's nothing we can do about it. So, Ms. Marley, if-"
Guybrush stopped, confused by the interruption. "What-"
"Call me Elaine." She was crying.
Part 41: It begins
Guybrush and Elaine were down in the cargo bay, sitting next to each other up against one wall, still handcuffed.
Thirty minutes had passed, most of it in silence. It was the longest, most hopeless half-hour Guybrush could remember.
Now, finally, Wally was coming back down the ladder. His hands were empty.
Elaine and Guybrush stayed where they were. But Wally didn't come over and talk to them. Instead, he crossed the room, placed both hands on one of the portal stones, and ran them over the surface.
"Wally?" said Guybrush. "What-"
Now Wally stepped back and came toward them. His hands, held outward toward Guybrush, were covered in red dust from the portal stone.
"I've got an idea, Mr. Brush," said Wally. He knelt down between them, and ran his dust-covered hands over the handcuff chain. "Hold still, both of you." His fingers moved slowly and carefully, covering every inch of the chain. When this was done to his satisfaction, he started to rub the dust onto the cuffs. "This bit is a bit tricky. Don't want to get any of this on your hands."
Two minutes later, the job was done. Wally stood up, brushing his hands together. He wiped them on a cloth.
"Now what?" said Guybrush.
In answer, Wally unholstered his blaster, took careful aim, and fired.
The energy bolt struck the handcuff chain, and vanished into the dust. Guybrush and Elaine watched, and a faint light appeared. It grew in intensity, into a red wire running the length of the handcuff chain and along both cuffs. Then it was the brightest thing in the room. Elaine and Guybrush had to shut their eyes.
The silence was almost total. After a few seconds Guybrush started to feel a bit stupid. He opened one eye, then opened both. The red glow was gone. And so, when he glanced down at his arm, were the handcuffs.
Elaine lifted her arm up wonderingly and massaged the wrist.
"You're a lifesaver, Wally," said Guybrush fervently. "How on earth did you think of that?"
He stood up, and Elaine did likewise. "Well, ... Elaine, you're free," said Guybrush. "Relatively speaking."
"Thank you, Wally," said Elaine. To Guybrush, she said, "Yes. Relatively speaking. And now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get some sleep."
Guybrush glanced up at the digital clock near the ceiling. Ten-twenty, and yes, he felt a bit tired too. "If you must," he said. "Take the couch up on the second level for now. We'll work out a more permanent arrangement tomorrow.
"And who knows?" added Guybrush, looking at Wally and Elaine. "A sleep might get us all feeling better. Maybe it won't seem so bad in the morning."
Elaine looked at him witheringly; Wally ignored him. They both climbed up the ladder and out of the hold.
Guybrush took one last look at the two portal stones. It was really incomprehensible. Because of these things, they were clear on the other side of the galaxy. Trapped, with a third crew member, one who looked like being very hard to live with...
Without another word to Wally or Elaine, Guybrush climbed the ladder, entered his room, and fell asleep on the bed.
Part 42: The next day
Boss Hog did not have any shipboard routines. There was no computer-controlled dimming of the lights to indicate night; no bland female voices piped over the intercom to alert the crew to special events; no penalties for missing breakfast. You could sleep as long as you like, and there was nothing to stop you.
So it wasn't until 2pm the next day, shipboard time, that Guybrush finally woke. At first, he lay there in a state of blissful unawareness, then the events of yesterday flooded back.
Guybrush groaned, and swung himself out of bed. He dressed, and stepped out into the passageway.
It was quiet. Guybrush could hear the low rumble of the engines, and he could hear faint noises from the cockpit - Wally must be in there. But nothing else.
Guybrush climbed down the ladder to the second level. Coming to the rec room, he found Elaine.
She was sitting on one of the chairs, staring into space with a frown on her face. She saw Guybrush, and stood up. "Hello there, Guybrush," said Elaine. "I see you're finally up. Would you like to know what I've been doing for the last five hours?"
"Not really," said Guybrush. He walked out of the room and into the kitchen.
Elaine rushed in behind him. "Well!" she said. "What was that for? You don't have to act like a jerk just because you've got an unwanted guest on board. Hey! Look at me!"
Guybrush kept his back turned. He was looking at the kitchen. Normally, this was just two plastic desks, and a lot of boxes of food pills stacked away behind cupboard doors.
Right now, both desks were piled up with half-opened food boxes, reconstituting equipment, and bizarre utensils Guybrush didn't even recognise. Blue liquid stained one corner of the desk.
"That's from when I was trying to fix some breakfast," said Elaine. "I was trying to find something that wasn't food pills. No luck. Don't you guys have anything you celebrate with, at least?"
"We're kind of low key here," said Guybrush. He turned to her. "Now listen. This is my ship. I run it the way I like it. And I don't want you running around mucking things up. Okay?"
Elaine glared at him. "You think I'm supposed to be intimidated by that?"
Guybrush turned to leave.
"Where are you going now?" said Elaine.
"Secondary storage room," said Guybrush. "Better see what else you've done."
They entered the secondary storage room. Guybrush looked around critically for any changes. Elaine had pushed the couch up against one wall, and one of the cupboards was open (revealing a bare interior), but nothing else had changed.
"Everything fine here?" said Elaine bitterly.
"It's okay," said Guybrush. "And it better stay that way."
"Like hell!" spat Elaine. "This is my bedroom. I'll do whatever I want in here, thank you very much. I know you don't like having me here, but I'm not going to spend my days skulking around the ship like some unwanted disease."
"Can't you just find something else to do?" said Guybrush.
Elaine laughed. "Do? There's nothing to do here. I was looking around for paper, but you don't have any. Probably don't even have any pens. You don't have any books. No music. The only computers on this ship are in the cockpit. I'd like to know what you spend your day doing."
"All right," said Guybrush. "I'll show you."
Part 43: Less drama than usual
Guybrush led Elaine up to the third level, and into the cockpit.
As he'd been expecting, Wally was here, sitting in the copilot seat and working with the computer. Guybrush came forward and sat beside him.
"Hello, Mr Brush," said Wally.
"Hi, Wally. How's it looking?"
"Not so good," said Wally. "The nearest star is two light-years away, and it looks pretty bare. I've got the computer doing a probability estimate on the nearest planetary system, but that'll be about ten minutes."
"Oh," said Guybrush. He looked out of the viewscreen, at that unfamiliar pattern of stars and galaxies. Tens of thousands of lights pricked at his eyes. Constellations never before seen by man. Neutron stars. Supernovae. Nebula swarms. Dust clouds and brown dwarfs. Just imagine the mysteries concealed all around them. Alien civilisations. New chemical compounds. Completely different systems of thought and belief...
"Ahem." Elaine, coughing, broke what had become a long stretch of silence. "So this is what you guys do all day?" she said.
Guybrush and Wally both turned around. Wally perked up. "Elaine?" he said. "You turned up!"
Guybrush, a little resentful at being pulled back to reality, said, "Well, no. Normally we'd have more to do, what with flying through the solar system, avoiding debris and shooting space pirates. It gets very busy here. Usually."
Wally jumped out of his chair, looking eagerly at Elaine. "Is there anything I can get you? Food? Cushions? A small electric fan? Anything?"
"Wally," said Elaine, "the only thing I want is to get off this ship."
"Oh." Wally looked thoughtful. "Well... do you want to take a shot at flying then?"
"Flying?" Elaine looked like she might break out laughing. "Why not?" She came forward and sat down in Wally's seat. She sat down and grasped the flight yoke, then looked at Guybrush. "Any objections?"
"Go ahead," said Guybrush. "If you're going to be staying with us, you may as well learn to fly this thing properly. You have got some experience, right?"
"You'd be surprised," said Elaine. Rapidly, she flicked the throttle to fifty percent, then rolled inverted. With the ship level, she pulled the yoke back until they had levelled out, the ship pointed in the exact opposite direction. There had been almost no g-force at all.
"Great," grumbled Guybrush.
"Wow," breathed Wally. "A perfect split-s! You're a pro, Elaine."
Elaine looked critically at the readouts. "Not bad. You must have serviced this ship recently."
"We sure have," said Wally. "That was incredible flying. Can you do another maneuvre?"
Elaine shook her head. "Flying maneuvres in empty space isn't what I'd call a good use of time." She stood up. "I'm going back to my quarters. See you later." She walked out of the cockpit. Guybrush heard her boots clank on the ladder as she climbed down to the second level.
Wally turned to Guybrush. "Boy. She sure is something, isn't she? Beautiful, smart..."
"You must be thinking of a totally different Elaine," said Guybrush. "I can't stand her. I don't like stowaways, and this one's irritating."
Wally looked at Guybrush, his face now serious. "Do you..." he started. When Guybrush wouldn't finish the sentence for him, he continued, "Do you think she likes me?"
"I don't think she likes either of us," said Guybrush. "Why?"
"I want her to like me," said Wally.
"I don't believe this," said Guybrush. He sighed. "You're really twisted, Wally."
"I want her to like me," said Wally stubbornly.
Part 44: A planet, and a title
"Listen, Wally," said Guybrush. "You don't want to get tangled up with Elaine. She's trouble, plain and simple."
Wally barely heard him. "I tried talking to her this morning, but it didn't go well. She seems upset about something... and I don't know what I can do to help! Can you help out, Guybrush?"
The use of his full name startled Guybrush out of his flippant stance somewhat. "Well," he said, "she's upset because she's trapped on this ship, which she has no authority over. You could try letting her order you around like a common peon. That might make her feel at home again. Or, she was saying something today about wanting some paper. You could try finding some of that for her-"
Guybrush suddenly fell silent, because Elaine had re-entered the cockpit. She looked steadily at them, but there was no indication she'd heard any of the conversation.
"How's the planetary scan going?" said Elaine.
"The-" Guybrush was confused momentarily, then remembered the probability estimate Wally was doing. "Oh, yeah. That should be nearly ready now..."
Wally was hitting buttons on the console. "Just bringing it up now, your highness," he said. Guybrush shot him a sharp glance. "Here it comes..." Wally paused, reading off the information. "Okay. There's several good candidates. The nearest is star XY3331, 3.1 light years distant. There's a 98.6% probability of a solar system with at least six planets."
"Sounds good enough to me," said Elaine. "Let's go."
Guybrush looked at her. His voice rose a little. "Hang on, wait just-"
"Well, we are going there, right?" Wally chimed in. "Where else is there?"
"Yes, yes, okay," said Guybrush. He sighed, a sigh that somehow conceded the battle. "I'll set the course, and we'll get there in about sixteen hours."
"Right," said Elaine. "There was one other thing. We're having a meeting tonight, in the rec room or whatever you call that dump. 7pm sharp. See you there." She turned and left.
Guybrush watched her go, pure, uncomplicated hate in his eyes. "She's starting already," he whispered. He frowned, then turned back to the controls and began setting the course, feeling uncomfortably like a servant. When this task was gone, he looked back at Wally.
"Your highness?" said Guybrush scornfully.
Wally, to his credit, looked sheepish. "You said I should be all deferent. Well, I wanted to give her a title, but I couldn't think of any. Madam sounds really archaic, and I don't like Miss."
"And I really don't like 'Your Highness'," said Guybrush. "She's not royalty."
"Have you got any ideas, then?" said Wally.
Guybrush smiled, humourlessly. "How about Governor? You can call her Governor Elaine Marley."
Wally brightened. "Yeah. That's good! Governor!"
Guybrush turned, and looked Wally in the eye.
"And you can call me Captain," he said.
Part 45: The meeting
It was now 7pm.
Guybrush had considered skipping the meeting, just to make a point, but in the end turned up ten minutes beforehand. Wally was already here. They sat down at the table and waited.
"Why do we call the bedrooms on this ship 'sleeping quarters'?" wondered Wally. "There's only three of us."
Elaine entered the room. Her hair was tightly combed, and she still managed to convey a sense of authority and power in her uniform. She remained standing. "All right," she said, "I called this meeting because there are some things we need to discuss."
"Let's hear them," said Guybrush.
"All right. Firstly, the sleeping arrangements. I'd like to convert that spare room as a bedroom." She looked at Guybrush. "Is this all right?"
Guybrush nodded. He looked at Wally. "Wally? No objections?" Wally likewise nodded.
"Good," said Elaine. "I realise nobody's really happy with the arrangement. I don't like sleeping on a couch, you don't want to give up the space, and Wally-"
"It's the best we can do," said Elaine. "Number two: I need clothes. I didn't ask you this morning, partly because I was dreading the answer and partly because you were a bit crusty. So... do you guys have any spare clothes?"
"Yeah, we do," said Guybrush. "They all look like these ones, however. And I don't think Wally's would fit you."
"They might," said Wally defensively. "Do you want to try them on, Governor?"
"After the meeting," said Elaine. "Number three: we need to discuss ways of getting back."
"Okay, that might be fun," said Guybrush. "Wally, any ideas?"
Wally shook his head. "I'm sorry, Elaine. I couldn't think of anything."
"I've had a few thoughts," said Elaine. "I'd like to hear what you think of them."
"First one: We put ourselves in suspended animation, and program the ship to fly us home."
Guybrush was talking even before she finished. "There's a few things wrong with that. First, we don't have a suspended animation booth. Second, we don't have enough fuel to travel that distance faster than light."
"You do have sleep-inducing chemicals, though, don't you?" said Elaine. "We could use those, and build suspended animation booths."
"That doesn't solve the fuel problem," said Guybrush.
"Well, we could fly the journey at below light speed," said Elaine.
"Are you mad?" exclaimed Guybrush. "That'd take more than forty thousand years!"
"We'd be unconscious," said Wally.
"We'd be dead!" retorted Guybrush. "I'm sorry, but we don't have the chemicals, we don't have the medical equipment, and we certainly don't have the hermetically-sealed suspended animation booths you'd need to do something like that. It's not an option."
"Okay, I wasn't holding out much hope on that idea anyway," said Elaine. "My second idea was that we use the portal stones."
"No," said Guybrush instantly.
"Hey, you can't just say no like that," said Wally. "You haven't even heard Elaine's plan-" Guybrush glared at him.
"I realise that the chances of returning directly to Earth are infinitesimal," continued Elaine, "but there's no reason why we can't keep trying. Maybe we might end up close enough to fly the remaining distance back."
Guybrush stood up, and rummaged around in a drawer. He came back to the table holding a pen and a piece of paper. "All right, let's do a back-of-the-envelope calculation," he said. He began scribbling furiously. "We're forty thousand light years from earth, so let's say these portal stones have a range of eighty thousand light years. That could be an underestimate. Assuming we're full up on fuel - we're not - this ship can fly fifteen light years at faster-than-light speed. So each time we use the portal stones, we've got a 0.0000035 percent chance of success. If you tried it a million times it's still less than 4 percent."
"Those figures can't be right," said Elaine.
"They're in the ballpark. Even if I'm a couple of degrees magnitude out, it still makes your plan impossible. Also, if we repeatedly use the portal stones, the net effect will be to drive us further and further from Earth."
Guybrush looked up from his paper. "In any case, I don't trust any figures in relation to those portal stones. I don't believe their effect is governed randomly. First time we used the portal stone, it took us to the Hermit's asteroid, the guy who first discovered these things. If that's down to plain chance, then I'm a three-headed monkey. Now I find we've been plunked on the doorstep of what looks like an inhabitable planet. Maybe these sorts of planets are very common in the galaxy - maybe not. It's too much of a coincidence."
Elaine seized on his words. "Exactly. The most likely place those portal stones will send us is back where we came from."
Wally suddenly sat up straight. "Like when we left the Hermit-"
"Wally, it wasn't like that-"
But Elaine had also taken a sudden interest. "Wait, what's this you're talking about?"
Wally started talking very fast. "Well, when we first used the portal stone we were in open space, and under attack from Upchuck. It took us to a hemmed-in part of the asteroid belt, where the Hermit lived. When we'd repaired the ship and left the Hermit, we shot the portal stone to get out. And it took us back into open space."
"It didn't return us to the same location," said Guybrush.
"It was in the ballpark," said Wally.
"Probably only because single portal stones have a small range. We've got two portal stones, and it won't work like that..."
"How would you know that?" said Elaine. She'd become very excited. "I say we use them right now. Can't end up worse off-"
"NO!" shouted Guybrush. He drew out his blaster and pointed it at Elaine.
There was a short period of silence. Elaine said, "You're pointing a blaster at me."
"Sorry," said Guybrush. "But you were getting a bit too excited there. You were about to rush off and blast the rocks. Now we're all going to wait here for a few seconds and calm down, and then I'll tell you why you're never using those portal stones while I'm on this ship."
Guybrush sat back, keeping the blaster pointed squarely at Elaine. A few seconds passed before Guybrush put the blaster down - on the table, within easy reach.
"Now," he began, "let me acquaint you with the hard facts, Elaine. Like I said, this ship has a range of fifteen light years. At the moment, we're almost right next to a planet that should be able to supply us with fuel and water. If we use the portal stones, that won't be the case. They might send us right out of the galaxy. If we keep using them, that's almost certain to happen. And just suppose the portal stones choose that moment to stop working. What happens? We might survive a few months. No longer."
He paused, thinking, then continued. "What I'm trying to say is we can't take anything for granted. Those portal stones may not work randomly, but we have no idea how they do work. I'm not putting my trust in something we don't understand. Nobody's shooting those stones, and that's an order."
Part 46: Mumblings
"And what makes you think we have to obey that order?" said Elaine. "There's two of us, and only one of you."
This was all getting too much for Wally. He was uneasy at being set against Guybrush by Elaine, and this situation was getting worse. Guybrush was looking like he might shoot Elaine at any moment. He wasn't a vicious space pirate, but he seemed to have forgotten it for the moment.
It took him a lot of courage, but Wally found his voice and spoke up. "Maybe we should wait until we've landed on this planet. We should at least see if we can refuel ourselves."
Elaine and Guybrush glared at each other. Elaine was the first to break the stare. "Okay," she said, turning to Wally, "you're right. We'll postpone the decision until after we leave the planet."
"As far as I'm concerned, the decision's already been made," said Guybrush.
"We'll see about that," said Elaine. She stood and looked toward the door. "Wally, you said you had some clothes I could use?"
"Uh, sure!" said Wally, relieved now that they'd backed down from the confrontation. "In my bedroom..." He rushed out of the room, followed more sedately by Elaine.
Guybrush stayed seating, motionless, as if posing for a statue named "The Brooder". So Elaine couldn't be trusted. Did she still have her blaster? Guybrush couldn't remember. How many weapons were there on board, anyway? He would have to check.
Then a new thought entered his head. Had he been unreasonable? At the peak of their argument, Guybrush had been within seconds of shooting Elaine, he was sure. If she'd stepped into the doorway, she'd be dead by now. That wasn't an overreaction, was it? Was it? It occurred to Guybrush that he'd never done anything remotely like it before. Against Upchuck, maybe.
And at least Elaine was thinking, trying to solve their predicament. What plan did he have? None, basically. Nothing he could tell the others. All he had was a vague intuition, an idea that the portal stones could be controlled, if you had the right knowledge and used the right technique. But what technique? What knowledge? How could they learn this? The portal stones had resisted all attempts at analysis.
Lost in thought, it was a long time before Guybrush looked up. The wall-mounted clock read 9:30. Two hours had passed.
He realised Elaine and Wally hadn't reappeared. Were they still in Wally's bedroom? What were they doing?
Guybrush shook his head, stood up, and climbed up to the third level. Wally's door was shut, but he could hear movement behind it. So they were still in there. Were they... No. He didn't want to know.
Guybrush walked resolutely past, entered his bedroom, and slipped into a shallow, unsatisfying sleep.
Part 47: Down to Surface
The next day, Guybrush was the first into the cockpit. He sat down in the pilot's seat and began preparing the ship for planetary entry. In front of them, now a large, gibbous circle in their viewscreen, was the planet. It was ringed mostly with blue and white, although other, darker shades could be seen.
Wally came in and sat down beside Guybrush. "Hi, Guybrush," he said. "Just about ready to land, are we?"
"Yeah," said Guybrush. "Forty minutes away."
"Cool!" said Wally. "Imagine all those landforms - all that unmapped coastline - and we'll be the first to see it!"
"Did anything happen last night? Between you and Elaine?"
Wally looked at Guybrush, a little warily. "Well," he began, "she came up to my room and I got all my clothes out. Turns out they were too small. She says she wants to look at yours sometime - they might be her size. And then, we just... talked."
"What about?" said Guybrush.
"Oh, all sorts of stuff. I told her a bit about myself, she told me a bit of her background, and I told her a bit of yours as well."
Guybrush felt his skin go cold. "Did you tell her anything about me and Upchuck?"
"Oh, sure. I figured she'd probably want to know."
"Right." Guybrush fell silent.
There were footsteps behind them, and suddenly Elaine appeared, still tidy in her company uniform. "Good morning, guys," she said. "Doesn't anyone eat breakfast around here? I was all by myself down there."
"Sorry, Governor," said Wally.
"Will you stop calling her that? Yeah, we usually eat breakfast, but this morning's a little different."
"Oh, the planet landing," said Elaine. "Is that it?" She pointed at the viewscreen.
"Yep," said Guybrush.
"It's enormous," said Elaine.
"Diameter 1.7 times that of Earth, Governor," said Wally. "Almost three times as much surface area."
"Is it safe to land?"
"Should be," said Guybrush. "Gravity's a bit high, but the atmosphere is relatively thin. The visual scanners show most vegetation is green leafed, so the air should be breathable. According to the infrared, the average heat down there is sixteen degrees Celsius."
"And it's uninhabited?"
"No spot light or electromagnetic radiation, which means no technology. There could be wildlife on the planet, but we have no way of knowing that from here..."
"How long before we land?"
"Not long," said Guybrush.
Part 48: Down to Surface, pt. 2
The planet before them had grown immensely during this conversation. Now it completely filled the viewscreen, its curvature barely visible. Guybrush thought he could already feel the resistance of the outer layers of atmosphere on Boss Hog's hull.
"Maybe I better pilot us down," said Elaine.
"That won't be necessary," said Guybrush. "All we have to do is plummet and wait for the retro rockets to fire. Just sit back and enjoy the show."
Licks of pale red were flickering at the edge of the viewscreen.
"These retro rockets..." said Elaine, "are you absolutely sure they'll fire at the right time?"
"Completely automatic," said Guybrush. "The firing system is linked to the gravity field and velocity detection systems. We'll land so soft you won't even feel it."
"Yes, but this ship isn't exactly in mint condition..."
The viewscreen was now tinted a deep red. Boss Hog seemed to have grown an outer layer of fire. Through the heat they could see masses of grey cloud and shimmering oceans.
The ship began to shake as the atmosphere grew thicker. Wally, ever helpful, had done some keyboard punching and now there was just a single number displayed on the computer readout - their current speed.
"I'm feeling this," said Elaine.
"Turbulence," said Guybrush. "It'll smooth out when we get into the lower atmosphere. See - velocity's dropping already."
The planet surface was still rushing at them very fast. It was very blue. A new thought struck Elaine. "We are headed for land, aren't we? I'd rather not have us sinking into the ocean."
They lost visibility at that moment - either they'd hit their first cloud, or the shield of fire had become opaque. Their speed had dropped to a thousand kilometres an hour.
"Yes, we're headed for land," said Guybrush, annoyed at all these questions. "A big wide flat piece of land close to a lake, a forest of some kind and some pretty little hills. Now stop worrying and shut up."
The opaque mask in front of them faded somewhat, and they could see the surface clearly. It was a patchwork of gray, green and brown, interspersed with smooth curves of blue sea. Guybrush was right, they were headed straight for a flat, unremarkable piece of land.
Wally watched the viewscreen in awe. To imagine they were the first humans to ever see this world... A whole world that nobody knew about, only them... Before he could finish one thought, he was on to the next. Incredible...
Their speed had dropped below 500 km/h. As the surface before them grew, Guybrush felt like someone examining a specimen through a microscope. Every layer of magnification brought out new details. Their landing site was yellow and sandy. To the north was a thick forest - dark and mysterious. A lake, its surface pale blue, sat somewhere to the southeast. A low, knobbly mountain range to the west.
Now their speed was below 300 km/h. "Slower than a free falling human," said Guybrush.
Elaine wasn't so sanguine. "We're going too fast. We won't pull up in time..."
The land below seemed close enough to touch. Speed below 100 km/h. Guybrush could see an upright, almost pyramidal rock jutting out of the sand. They were going to land right next to it...
"Hold on..." said Elaine.
With their speed at 5 km/h, Boss Hog hit the surface. There was a slight jarring thud, then they were still.
Elaine looked around, self-consciously. An anticlimax after all. She looked out the viewscreen.
They all were. Before them was a vista of sand and vegetation.
"We're here," said Guybrush.
Part 49: Strange discoveries
A forest of tall, twisted trees, with dark green leaves growing in irregular clumps, occupied the right hand side of the viewscreen. It ended, quite abruptly, the ground becoming flat and sandy. The sand was a pale beige. The sky above an ordinary sky blue. Here and there, faint white clouds could be seen. Reflections from the sun gave them a faint yellow tinge. The trees swayed in the breeze.
Wally was the first to move. "Wow," he said, and suddenly bounded up out of his seat. "Let's get out there!" Without waiting for any agreement, he ran out of the cockpit, barely glancing at Elaine or Guybrush.
"Well, I guess we might as well get out there," said Guybrush. He stood up. "Are you coming?"
"You can't just... go out there like that," objected Elaine. "What if the atmosphere's poisonous?"
"It won't be," said Guybrush. "One, the vegetation is green, hence photosynthesis. Two, the sky is blue, which means it probably has the same proportion of gases as the earth's atmosphere."
"But there might be trace elements."
"It's a risk worth taking," said Guybrush. "Why are we talking about this? I didn't think you'd want to stay on this ship."
"Oh, all right, I'll come," said Elaine. "But you can't just chance your life like that. What if you were wrong?"
"Then me and Wally will be dead and you'll have control of this ship. I thought you'd like that."
Elaine growled at him.
Together they left the cockpit and walked to the ladder. They looked up. Above them was a circle of blue - Wally had opened the hatch and was already outside.
Guybrush sniffed the air. "Smell anything?" asked Elaine. Guybrush shook his head. He started climbing. Elaine, reluctantly, followed shortly after.
Shortly, they were out on the top of the ship. Wally had already climbed down to the surface. He had some complicated equipment in his hands, as well as a sketchbook and a pencil. He hunched over the equipment, occasionally turning to furiously scribble something in his sketchbook.
"What's he doing?" asked Elaine.
"Oh, he's just surveying. Poor guy can't help himself."
They both looked around. It soon became clear that they had landed on top of a plateau of some kind, as the land all around them gradually fell away. Because of this, and the greater horizon of this planet, it seemed they could see an incredible amount of terrain. They saw dark, enormous forests, and regions of rocky desert. Several lakes dotted the landscape, the closest a few minutes walk away. The vista stirred up the strangest feelings in Elaine - at first glance it could have been anywhere in Earth, but concentrate on just one detail and you immediately noticed subtle differences - like the way the trees were taller and straighter, or the way the clouds twisted themselves into strange, unfamiliar shapes. She had the very strong impression that this planet was just another version of Earth, as if a scientific-minded creator had decided to tweak a few things and see what happened.
Then she saw movement.
"Look! Over there!" she said urgently. Guybrush followed her pointing finger. In the air above one of the nearby forests, he saw a whirling pack of black dots.
"Are those birds?" said Guybrush.
"I don't know. They could be..." Elaine could only stand there and stare. She willed them to come closer, but they suddenly settled into the forest and vanished.
"Let's head down," said Guybrush. They slowly took the stairs down to the ground. Guybrush walked a few steps away, then turned and looked back at Boss Hog. Strangely, it didn't look all that big. He then turned and went over to Wally. "So, what have you found out?" he said.
"Nothing much yet, Guybrush," said Wally. "Surveying takes a while - give me a few hours."
Elaine couldn't get those birds - if that was what they were - out of her head. She wanted to run over immediately and try to see them - but her fear of the unknown held her back. She looked into the forest. The nearest trees were only ten metres away, and very quickly the space between them became inky black. It should have been home to hundreds of animal species, but she could see none.
The sudden noise caught them all by surprise.
Part 50: React
They all jumped. A loud, roaring yell, like a herd of raging mammoths, had suddenly burst from a patch of nearby forest. The pack of birds Elaine had been watching exploded up into the air, wings flapping like mad. The yell suddenly tapered away, leaving behind faint echoes reverberating around the landscape. Then, silence.
The flock of birds were coming closer. They could hear their disturbed chittering, faint but rapidly growing closer. Overhead they flew - the birds were mostly black, with green and brown splotches, about the size of an albatross. Later Guybrush would find himself oddly disappointed at how normal they looked. They showed no interest in these strange arrivals or their ship, and were soon mere specks.
Everyone waited about half a minute before daring to speak or move. Finally, when it became clear there wasn't going to be any more noise, Guybrush said, "What the hell was that?"
Elaine shook herself - her limbs felt shaky. "Don't ask me. Whatever it was, it sounded enormous." She didn't dare take her eyes off the forest, not with those black, hidden spaces that could house anything. She wished she'd brought her blaster - but it was back in her room. Safe, and useless.
Beside her, Guybrush was moving toward the steps. He started climbing down. Elaine stared after him with some horror - going down to the surface, after that sound? Then she shrugged her shoulders, and followed after.
Soon they were all on the ground. Guybrush knelt, and touched the ground. He stood up. "Ah, this is more like it," he said. "Have any idea what that was, Wally?"
Wally looked at one of his pieces of equipment. "Whatever it was, it got to a peak of 124 dB. Audio scanner placed the source as being about six hundred metres away."
Guybrush whistled. "Wow! That's some animal." He paused for a little, thinking. "Okay. Here's what I think we should do. Let's all split up and explore."
Elaine whirled around. Wally's head jerked up.
"What?" yelled Elaine. "Split up... after that sound. Are you mad?" Her eyebrows suddenly narrowed. "Or have you got something else in mind?"
"No, nothing else," said Guybrush easily. "I just thought that we're going to be stuck with each other for some time to come. We could probably do with some time alone. Don't want anyone getting cabin fever on my ship. Look, I'm not stupid. We all heard where that sound came from, so we just stay away from there. We can't hang around here like a couple of scared puppies."
"You can say what you want," said Elaine. "I'm not heading into that forest on my own. And unarmed." She glared suspiciously at Guybrush.
"Well, get your blaster," said Guybrush.
Wally suddenly piped up. "I'll come with you, Governor!"
"See?" said Guybrush. "Take Wally if you want. It'll be like a date."
Wally's eyes lit up. "A date! Yeah!"
Elaine ignored this. "What are you planning?" she said.
Guybrush. "Nothing, I said. Look, I can't stand around debating this all day. See you back here in three hours." He turned and walked to the forest. Within seconds he was out of sight.
Elaine watched him go. She didn't believe his talk for a second... Guybrush was definitely planning something. Maybe he intended to leave her stranded here. Still, he surely didn't plan to leave Wally behind as well - if she stayed with him she should be okay.
Elaine turned to Wally. "All right, let's go," she said, starting toward another part of the forest.
Wally beamed - an expression that spoke volumes. He fell in step proudly beside her. "Is this really a date?" he asked, stealing a glance up at her face.
Elaine sighed. "Looks that way, doesn't it?" she said.
Part 51: An opportunity
Guybrush walked quickly through the rich forestland.
He wasn't going in a straight line. Once out of sight of Elaine and Wally, he'd begun slowly wheeling around to the left, because he was heading straight back to the ship.
The trees and plants around him were strange, but not disturbingly so. It was as if he'd merely stumbled across an hitherto unknown land on Earth. No wildlife, apart from those birds, which was strange on a planet apparently uninhabited by humans. Of course, there was that loud noise that had startled them all earlier... He wasn't really worried about it, but even so had unconsciously given the area a wide berth.
Shortly he was back at the ship. Guybrush paused at the edge of the clearing, saw nobody, and darted across to the ship. He climbed the ship, hands fitting automatically to the steps and rungs. Soon he was inside, and not even out of breath.
He started walking toward Elaine's room.
The phrase got him moving faster. Elaine's room - how was it possible that this ... stowaway could own a bit of his ship?
Still, it was better than Elaine's ship. Which, these days, Boss Hog looked more and more like becoming...
Guybrush wished he'd spent more time walking around in circles, because he didn't know what to do. Obviously, the simplest thing to do would be to shoot Elaine. He'd thought about this quite seriously several times back in space. But now that the moment was drawing closer, he was having second thoughts. He remembered the time Upchuck had stolen a ship. Had put his hand around his on the blaster and shot the pilot. Guybrush hadn't been able to shoot then, he couldn't shoot now, could he? That would make him no better than Upchuck.
Still, he would confiscate her blaster, at least. Other measures could wait for now.
With this in mind, Guybrush came to her room and opened the door.
Once, this had been a secondary storeroom. Some dusty boxes in the corners, the number depending on how well business was going. The old, bad couch with its grimy orange and yellow flower pattern. A few odds and ends elsewhere. Guybrush knew this room like he knew the rest of this ship - inside out.
He paused in the doorway and noted the changes.
The dust was gone. You didn't need sight to notice that - the smell, or absence of smell, hit you immediately. The couch was shoved up against one wall, wrapped in bedsheets. From down in the lower storeroom, Elaine had taken a chair and a small table.
On the table, there was a stack of paper, and a pen.
Guybrush wanted to get angry with Elaine for these changes, for messing around on the one thing he was able to control... but he found he couldn't.
In fact, it looked better in here. It was her room, but it somehow made him feel at home.
Guybrush looked again at the stack of paper. Wally must have come through for her. Curious, he came forward and looked at the first page. Writing.
He began to read.
Part 52: Another opportunity
Meanwhile, Elaine and Wally were wandering through the forest. Wally was in the lead, making measurements with his mapping devices, staring around with great interest at the surrounding plant life, and keeping up a running commentary... "We're two thousand feet above sea level, did you know? The humidity's gone up two percent in the past five minutes! Look at those clouds - the air mixture must be heavier to support all that water vapour. There'll probably be a huge storm in the next few hours. See the red tint in the soil? That's iron oxide..."
Elaine followed behind Wally, keeping her thoughts to herself. These thoughts were mainly about Guybrush, and his plans. Elaine thought Guybrush had a very specific plan in mind, which he wasn't sharing with her or Wally. It was a bad sign, not just the plan, whatever it might be, but the fact that Guybrush wasn't willing to trust them.
They'd come a fair way from the ship, through mostly thin vegetation and gently sloping land. It was very quiet. Occasionally you heard bird calls, but they were the exception. The air was heavy and barely stirred around them.
Suddenly, they heard a noise like a thunderclap behind them.
They both turned round, slowly.
"See any storms on those instruments of yours, Wally?" said Elaine in a level voice.
"Um, no... but maybe the weather is more localised on this planet... I don't know."
Elaine stared back, then turned around. "Let's keep going." The forest was thinning out further in front of them, as they slowly approached a big clearing.
This time, they didn't hear anything.
One moment, the clearing was empty. The next - although there may have been a preceding instant during which a tiny pinprick of a shadow on the grass exploded into full size - a squat black ship stood there.
The recognition on Elaine's face was immediate.
The shock wave from the landing hit them a split second later, sending them both sprawling to the ground. Only slowly did they get up, partly because both of them were hurting in several bruised places, and partly because they wanted to remain hidden.
This was Marko's ship.
"He followed us here!" whispered Elaine. "How..." And she quickly trailed off, as the implication sunk in. If Marko had followed them, it meant he knew how to use the portal stones.
They could go home.
But why would he follow them here? Surely not to help them.
"He must want our portal stones," said Wally, who had been thinking along the same lines as Elaine.
Which meant they weren't saved after all. They were in even greater danger. Elaine considered several courses of action, but all of them were made dubious by the fact that they weren't aware of Marko's motives.
Worse, her blaster was still on the ship. As she remembered this, Elaine pictured Guybrush's gnomic face and snarled. Hopefully something very nasty was happening to him at the moment...
Part 53: Monkey
Elaine's room had a small triangular window. Normally it was used only for stargazing, but at the moment Guybrush found the daylight useful as he read Elaine's journal.
So it wasn't the thunderclap - he barely heard it - that made him raise his head. What caused this was the shadow that fell across the window at exactly the same moment.
Guybrush glanced up and saw a wall of moving fur.
He screamed and dropped Elaine's journal. The pages scattered on the floor.
The wall of fur backed away from the window. It was a dark brown colour, and it wasn't really fur, more... hair, extremely long and thick and matted hair. As the movement outside his window continued, Guybrush finally realised what this was.
It was a creature. Some huge creature. Maybe even bigger than his ship.
Guybrush jumped to his feet and bolted out of the room. He pelted upstairs and into the cockpit. The ship rocked, as if pressed on one side, then settled again.
Guybrush slid into the pilot's seat. The viewscreen before him was empty. Then the creature showed itself. It was walking around his ship, looking at it curiously. It seemed confused.
And Guybrush recognised it. It was a monkey.
This was ridiculous. Adrenaline was flowing through his veins like liquid electricity and Guybrush wanted to laugh. It wasn't just ridiculous, it was impossible. What was this, Planet of the Apes or something?
The monkey reached out to his ship and hit it again. This time the blow carried force. Guybrush rocked around in his seat like a crash test dummy. The blow was like a slap to his face. It wasn't ridiculous, and it wasn't impossible. This giant monkey was attacking his ship.
Guybrush hit buttons on the console, starting the engine and dropping the landing struts. The ship crashed into the ground, which seemed to startle the monkey. It jumped back, then reached forward with one huge hand - my god, it was enormous on the viewscreen, coming right for him! - and grasped the ship. The grip tightened instantly, causing metallic groans and screeches to reverberate through the ship's hull.
Guybrush pushed the throttle open. The ship jumped forward sluggishly, reined in by the monkey's grip. Slowly Boss Hog rose... until finally it broke free, g-force slamming Guybrush into his seat.
He levelled off and looked back down at the ground. The monkey was staring up at him mournfully - it might be giant but apparently it couldn't fly - and then vanished.
A split second later, he heard a second thunderclap.
Part 54: Elaine proves herself
Elaine and Wally crouched down in the bushes, watching the new ship. So far, it had done nothing.
Elaine didn't know what to do. They couldn't leave the ship - inside was the only persone who could possibly help them out of this situation. Likewise they couldn't risk violence against him, and didn't even have the means to do so. Sabotage it so Marko couldn't take off? She didn't have a clue how this particular ship worked.
In the end, there was only one thing they could do.
"I'm going to walk up to him," Elaine said to Wally. "Knock on the hatch and see if he'll talk to us."
Wally stared at her. "But you'll get yourself killed."
"Maybe," admitted Elaine. "Maybe not. Marko would have killed us from the air if that's what he really wanted to do. I think he wants to talk to us." She sat up and brushed her hair back. "Here's what you do. I'll walk up to the ship and, hopefully, get inside. You wait twenty minutes. If nothing happens by then, run and get Guybrush. If something does happen before then, well, you know what to do."
She stood up and walked toward the ship. Wally watched her, lying in the bushes, dumbstruck and heart pounding. She left the forest, into full view now, and crossed the grass until she was right underneath the ship. No reaction from within.
Elaine looked up. She didn't see anything resembling a hatchway, so she tried knocking the metal surface, trying to get the attention of the people within.
After a few seconds of this, a square hatchway opened in the floor above her. Marko glared down at her, a blaster in one hand. He looked displeased, but not especially surprised to see her. "You," he said bluntly. "Get in."
Elaine looked up, shrugged, and leapt. Her hands grasped the edge of the hatchway. She pulled herself up and into the ship.
She was in the hold. And whereas the hold in Boss Hog was a tiny, eclectic, scrap-metal-filled dump, this room was sleek and grey and high tech. Banks and banks of computers lined two walls. There were almost no spare tools or bits of junk lying around. Just two portal stones.
Elaine looked at Marko. That sour look was still on his face, along with a couple of bruises she hadn't seen the last time they'd met. One hand was bandaged. But he wasn't looking at her, and Elaine became aware there was someone else aboard.
The black-hooded figure chose that moment to step out from behind one of the portal stones.
He was considerably shorter than Marko, about Wally's height in fact. She could see his hands - they were thin and unblemished. The rest of him was hidden by the black cloak he wore. His face was shrouded in shadow.
"I still say we kill her," Marko said. "And him... yeah, where is Guybrush?" Marko asked Elaine, leaning threateningly over her.
"It doesn't matter much," said the black-hooded figure. "He can't do anything to us, haven't you worked that out yet? We, or to be more precise I, hold all the cards. Which is why you've come aboard, isn't it, Elaine? You can't kill us because you want to know how the portal stones work."
Marko, as if suddenly putting two and two together, searched Elaine for a weapon.
"He doesn't know," said the black-hooded figure, meaning Marko. "Only I do."
Marko stepped back, disappointed his search had come up blank. Elaine had already forgotten him - there was something about the black-hooded figure's voice...
"You sound familiar," said Elaine. "Do I know you?"
"You might," said the man. He sounded pleased. "Do you recognise - THIS?" With a sudden, dramatic motion he pulled back his hood. Revealed was an intense, bookish face, a scalp covered in thin red hair, a small dot of a nose, and a wide smile.
"Ummm... no," said Elaine. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"Oh." He sounded disappointed. "I used to be an employee of yours, Elaine. Worked on Chora Luna. Transferred to Pael right after you lost your first portal stone. Name was Simon Puschak. Guess you don't remember me."
"Vaguely..." said Elaine.
"It wasn't my real name," said Simon.
"Who are you?"
"I am an alien," said Simon. "And this is my homeworld."
Part 55: Solar System Interlude.
It was the day after the day after the attack.
Pael was a wreck. Upchuck was starting to regret this part of his attack plan - instead of capturing a large, technologically sophisticated base, all he had was a lump of metal not much good for anything. Only about one-tenth of the base was still usable, the hangar and some of the control rooms. They were currently being used to repair and refuel Upchuck's fleet.
The refugee ships had long since dispersed - some heading to Chora Luna, others to neutral trading posts. Some were headed for Earth. Upchuck had left all of them alone, for now. Perhaps they should soon prepare an assault against Chora Luna, but Upchuck had other things on his mind.
Guybrush. The red rocks. He didn't have either of them.
Upchuck abruptly stopped brooding. A red light was flashing on his desk. Broqil, the head of his observations team, wanted to speak with him.
"Enter," said Upchuck. A door slid open and Broqil walked in.
Broqil, one of the few of Upchuck's crew who didn't quake with fear in his presence, wasted no time on niceties. "We've discovered something important," he said. "Relating to the disappearance of Guybrush's ship."
Upchuck leaned forward. This was what he wanted to hear. "What have you found?" he said.
"Well, we never would have discovered this at all if it hadn't been for all the ships around him. I've checked the instrumentation on all seven ships around Guybrush at the moment of disappearance, and all of them show one important reading - two seconds before disappearance, radiation at a wavelength of approximately -31 orders of magnitude was emitted from Guybrush's ship."
Upchuck nodded. "Go on."
"I examined the data banks of your ship for the time Guybrush vanished in front of your eyes, and found the same thing. Same wavelength, same timeframe."
"Why didn't you notice this the first time?" said Upchuck.
"Well," said Broqil, "we assumed it was a cosmic ray. You get those every second out here. The emission from Guybrush's ship barely showed up against the background noise. If you didn't know what you were looking for, you'd never find it. It was this set of observations, outside Pael, that allowed us to rule out cosmic rays as the cause. The only way all seven crafts could have measured the same radiation is if it had come from Guybrush's ship."
Broqil paused. "The conclusion of the observation team is that every time these transportation rocks are used, radiation at this wavelength will be emitted. And for past hour, I've had the computers searching the instrument data banks, over the period from your first encounter with Guybrush, for any previously recorded instances of this wavelength."
He smiled. Broqil relished this power: Upchuck was hanging on his every word. "We found three," he said. "Two were from the same place - a small unmanned asteroid inside the Arc."
This was all Upchuck needed. Abruptly, he stood.
"Let's go," he said.
Part 56: Far Too Much To Sum Up In A Pithy Heading
Simon jumped down through the open hatchway and hit the dirt. He knelt down and felt the vegetation slowly, reverently with his hands. Marko and Elaine watched, Elaine slightly bemused, Marko impassive. After about a minute, he stood up, sighed, and climbed back into the ship. Without a word to either of them, he led Marko and Elaine into the cockpit. Marko sat down and prepared for takeoff. Had twenty minutes passed? thought Elaine. She didn't think so. Wally... you'd better get Guybrush quick, because I haven't a clue where we're going.
"But how can this be your homeworld?" Elaine asked Simon. "We looked at it from orbit. No signs of any technology."
"We were a very advanced race," said Simon. "Far more advanced than you. We didn't use non-degradable materials, and most of our buildings were actually reinforced by electrical fields. When they came, it didn't take long before everything was gone."
"Who are they?" asked Elaine.
"They were - look, I'll have to pause here a moment. Marko? Are we ready for takeoff?"
"We are," Marko grunted.
"Okay. Here's what you do. Get up to one hundred metres or so, and head for whatever hills or mountains you can find. When you get there, slow down. Look for whatever cave openings you can find - really big ones. At least twenty metres diameter. They don't have to look like natural caves, probably because they won't be. Got it?"
The ship rocked under their feet, and then they were airborne. Simon looked back at Elaine. "Okay. Let's begin at the start..."
* * *
They'd found the stones in a steep canyon on an outer moon many millions of kilometres from their home planet, Yssildron. (Our word for the land, said Simon). The lone traveller who'd found them - Simon left his name blank, saying "You'd have trouble with it" - brought them back to Yssildron, and the study began.
At this point in time, the Ysilldrons were a technologically advanced, quiescent race. They lived lightly, leaving no lasting structure on the land. Space travel was, for them, more recreation than anything else. The arrival of the portal stones was to change all that.
Not that anyone knew this at the start. At first, the mood among the scientific community was one of genial bemusement, as the portal stones defied all attempts at scientific study. Then, came the breakthrough. An energy blast delivered to one of the stones, held in isolation from the rest, transported a large proportion of the laboratory into orbit around Yssildron. Fortunately for the scientists inside, the rooms were completely sealed and they were rescued after a few hours. More importantly, they immediately knew how these portal stones worked.
It all had to with where the energy blast struck the stone. Imagine a line, starting in the centre of the stone. Draw it out so that it left the surface at the exact point where the energy blast had struck. Extrapolate indefinitely in the same direction - this was where the portal stone would transport its surrounding material.
This wasn't just a lucky guess on the part of the scientists. The astronautical navigation systems of Yssildron used polar coordinates, unlike Earth's Cartesian grid of reference. The operation of the portal stones fitted their existing mindset like a glove.
More subtleties rapidly followed on the heels of the initial discovery. It was found that varying the energy of the blast varied the distance the portal stones would teleport - within certain barriers. It was found that two portal stones would transport a ship much, much further; and here the calculations were a lot harder, involving the centre of mass of the two stones.
With this knowledge, the Yssildrons began to roam the galaxy.
And they found other civilisations.
"How many?" asked Elaine. By now they were heading into the hills, the land below harder and more jagged.
"About two hundred," said Simon. "Including yours."
Elaine could barely believe this. Two hundred planetary civilisations, just in the one galaxy? She'd never look at the night sky the same way again.
"Yours was nothing special," said Simon.
Those were heady, intoxicating days to be living on Yssildron, as the boundaries of the known universe, both physical and mental, blew out around them. There was so much to learn, so many places to go, so much to do. Simon, a pilot of one of the Interplanetary Trader Ships, was in the thick of the revolution.
"We learnt more in five years than we had in the preceding five thousand," Simon. "But we didn't know the most important thing of all. You see, the portal stones weren't stones."
He looked at Elaine, a look of bitter regret. "They were eggs."
Part 57: Godzilla the Monkey King
Simon paused, staring into the middle distance. The memories of that day, even decades hence, were still fresh. The moment when Interplanetary Trader Ship #4 inexplicably refused to transport... and then the hideous giant monkey ripping its way out of the hull. He had seen ten of his friends die before he could even move, devoured by the beast. Later, there had been the terrible panic, as the Yssildrons swarmed toward their only lifeboats - the Interplanetary Trader Ships. He had stood behind the barriers and watched the military gun them down in wave after wave. He remembered the noise of the crowd: a thing so loud, fierce and bellowing it seemed to belong to a new kind of creature altogether.
He never did find out what had happened to his parents. No reliable news, at any rate.
Simon shook his head, and tried to continue the tale. His throat hitched.
He swallowed. Just dispense the facts. Stay calm and composed.
"They were eggs," he repeated. "And when they hatched, they gave birth to something like a giant monkey."
Elaine stifled a laugh. "What?"
"Yes," he snapped. "They were impervious to all energy blasts: as with the portal stones. They could teleport anywhere: just like the portal stones, only they had conscious control. And they were not partial to us. In less than a month, they destroyed all intelligent life on Yssildron. Everyone I knew and cared about." He flung his hands up helplessly.
An uncomfortable silence lapsed between them. Elaine wasn't sure how to break it, but she had to know more. "How many eggs were there?" she finally asked.
"We found twelve portal stones," said Simon. He closed his eyes. "At the time of... at that time, we had six. Four were in transit to somewhere else, two were on loan to other civilisations. And after the first monkey appeared, the second and third soon birthed themselves. We'd never known it, but each burst of energy delivered to those eggs brought them a step closer to hatching. You'd fire a blast into them and they'd explode in front of your eyes."
Elaine brought a hand to her mouth as she thought of the portal stones on Boss Hog. How close were they to hatching? How many journeys through space? "You mean our portal stones might hatch into these... monkeys?" she said.
Simon opened his eyes and glared at her. "You just don't get it, do you, Elaine? Don't you see the implications? Our solar system wasn't the only one to be seeded with portal stones. Yours has been. Others have too. In fact, I'm willing to bet that somewhere in every inhabited solar system you'll be able to find a clutch of a dozen portal stones. And we're not the only ones to have found out how they work. You don't know it, but the galaxy is dying around us, even as we speak."
This was all going by too fast for Elaine. "Wait, seeded? Are you saying some kind of higher intelligence planted these things throughout the galaxy?"
Simon nodded. "Yes. And when I escaped from Yssildron, I found out who she was."
Part 58: Off to the Rescue
Boss Hog was motionless, fifty feet above the ground.
It had been five minutes since the disappearance of the monkey, but Guybrush was taking no chances. It could teleport back at any moment.
How could it do that, anyway? Guybrush suddenly thought of the portal stones.
Beeping on the radarscope; there was movement below. Guybrush looked through the viewscreen. He saw Wally running across the ground, wildly looking around for any sign of Boss Hog.
Instantly Guybrush brought the ship down. It crashed into the ground, sending a shock through Guybrush's spine. He waited.
Soon Wally came pelting in, his eyes wide, breath ragged. "The Governor's been kidnapped!" he yelled.
"What?!" said Guybrush.
"You've gotta get back there, Marko's got her!"
"MARKO?! How did he get here?"
"No time!" Wally ran past Guybrush and jumped into the copilot seat. Displaying even less regard than Guybrush for the laws of gravity, he took off like a shot from a pistol. Guybrush grabbed the pilot chair for support. Wally levelled out and sent them zooming flat across the land. He started punching buttons furiously, expanding the radarscope view and bringing in extra parameters.
Guybrush slowly regained his balance and slid into the pilot's seat.
"There they are!" shouted Wally, pointing at a blip on the radarscope. He pushed Boss Hog harder. The engines growled beneath them. Wally typed furiously into the console.
Unexpectedly, he sat back. "I've set Boss Hog to autopilot," he explained. "It's following them automatically. They're going fairly slowly; we should catch them. Say, what were you doing in the air anyway?"
"I was attacked by a giant monkey," said Guybrush. "That teleports."
* * *
"She?" said Elaine.
Simon stared into the middle distance. For the moment he seemed to have forgotten her. "I had a chance to kill her. Stop all this. She was right in front of me... But I was stupid. Ignorant. I failed."
He looked at Elaine, his eyes gentle. "I won't fail again."
"Who's she?" Elaine repeated.
"One stone takes you anywhere in the solar system," said Simon, zoning out again. "Two anywhere in the galaxy. Three anywhere in the Universe - you won't believe the things I've seen. Four takes you straight to her."
Another silence fell, this one only broken by the steady blip-blip of the radarscope.
"Uh, Simon," Marko spoke up. "We're being followed."
Instantly Simon snapped back to reality. "Hey?" he said, crossing the floor to look at the radarscope.
"Must be Guybrush," said Marko.
"Yes, I rather imagine it is," said Simon. "Well, he's nothing to worry about. He might even turn out to be useful."
He looked out the viewscreen. Below them, weathered granite thrust up from the ground in irregular lumps, like a rug thrown over spiky grass. The land was rising beneath them. "This is the territory we're looking for," said Simon. "Keep your eyes peeled."
But there was no need; they all saw it at the same time.
Not far ahead of them, the granite suddenly thrust upward almost vertically, creating a scraggy clifface more than two hundred feet high. Near the bottom was an enormous gaping hole in the rock. It was at least fifty feet high, and smooth and sinuous - as if it had been carved out by termites.
"This is it," said Simon.
Part 59: In?
Guybrush had just finished telling Wally the whole story. "You didn't see anything like that?" he asked.
"Not at all," said Wally. And he told Guybrush what had happened to him and Elaine.
Guybrush didn't know what to make of it. "She actually went in there and talked to them? Doesn't sound smart." He fiddled with some of Boss Hog's controls, not doing anything.
"How else are we going to find out how the portal stones work?" said Wally. He'd jumped out of his chair and was now pacing the floor. "I'll bet the monkey you saw is connected to the portal stones."
The terrain flew underneath them in a blur. Guybrush fiddled. Wally paced. Guybrush suddenly spoke up. "Where'd you find the paper?" he asked.
"There was a stack down in the hold," said Wally. He stopped, and darted forward, staring at the radarscope. "They've stopped moving!"
Guybrush armed Boss Hog's weapons as Wally slipped into the copilot's seat beside him. The ground was beginning to rise and fall steeply beneath them as they flew into the mountain range. "Ready?" said Guybrush.
The radarscope blip vanished.
"What?" said Guybrush. "Where'd they go?" He hit the radarscope screen, but it remained blank. "Have they gone?"
"Better be prepared for anything," said Wally.
They were coming to a looming wall of craggy stone, several hundred feet high. Guybrush started slowing down. The vegetation had thinned out beneath them, and there was absolutely no sign of any spacecraft, even a sleek black one like they'd seen on Pael.
One feature stood out; an almost round, pitch black cave opening. Slightly in front of it there was a patch of colour on the rocks. As they flew closer, the patch resolved itself. It was a body, crumpled flat on the rocks.
Guybrush screamed forward, hitting the brakes at the last second. Boss Hog, plunging at suicidal speed toward the cliff face, leaned backward with the effort of holding in momentum. The landing struts hit stone. Somehow, they skidded to a stop.
Immediately Guybrush and Wally leapt from their seats. They ran down the corridor, scrambled up the ladder, and down the outer edge of Boss Hog. Guybrush leapt to earth and ran toward Elaine.
She was lying flat on her back, eyes closed, arms spreadeagled. Guybrush couldn't see any injuries. He held an ear over her mouth, watched her chest rise and fall, and pulled back one eyelid.
"The Governor's unconscious," said Wally. "We've got to get her back on board."
"Okay, okay," said Guybrush. After several abortive attempts to pull her along the ground, he finally managed to get her into a fireman's lift. With her limp body hanging over his shoulder, Guybrush staggered up the ladder and into Boss Hog.
"Where should we put her?" he said, once they were inside.
"We don't know what's happened to her yet," said Wally. "Better not leave her alone."
"Marko might attack at any minute," Guybrush pointed out.
They were silent.
"The cockpit," they said in unison. They entered the cockpit, Guybrush laying Elaine's body gingerly on the metal floor behind the pilot's chair. He sat down.
They looked at the open cave mouth. "They must have gone inside," said Guybrush.
"Do we go in?" asked Wally.
Guybrush looked back at Elaine. If only she could tell them what was going on...
"Yes," he said.
Part 60: Underground
Moving slowly, they entered the cave. The walls were smooth and rounded around them, but irregular - as if a giant gopher had been chewing through stone. There were no other features, and no sign of any bats or cave-dwelling animals.
"Anything moving?" asked Guybrush. They were sounding out the dimensions of the caves around them, using a computer projection rather than their actual surroundings to navigate. If anything nearby were moving, they'd pick it up in a second.
Of course, nothing was. Wally didn't even have to speak. He sat and watched the data stream in.
"Well, I'm going a bit faster then," said Guybrush. "Can't stand this slow creeping in business." He pushed the throttle forward. Immediately the cavern walls around them, glowing red from Boss Hog's external lighting, blurred as they jumped forward. Guybrush felt his pulse pick up as adrenaline entered his system.
Still, he felt uneasy. It wasn't so much that they might be entering a trap - and it was a most unusually baited one, should that be the case. No, this was just somewhere where they shouldn't be. They were trespassing.
They flew on, and on. It seemed to Guybrush that they'd been flying through this tunnel for more than a quarter of an hour. Down through this monotonous, randomly twisting, uniform tunnel. It seemed to Guybrush he could feel the oppressive weight of all the stone above them. How far underground were they?
More minutes passed. "We've flown fifty miles!" exclaimed Wally.
Before Wally could reply, they heard stirring noises behind them.
Elaine stood up, one hand rubbing her head. "Ohhh... ow that hurts."
"You're all right!" said Wally and Guybrush.
"I think so," said Elaine. "My head feels like someone's driven a spike through it, and my back's all sore. What on earth did you leave me on that metal floor for?"
"We couldn't risk leaving you alone," said Guybrush. "We didn't know what they'd done to you."
"Well, you could at least have dragged a mattress in here or something," said Elaine.
"Err..." said Wally.
"Look, I think this can wait for another time," said Guybrush.
Elaine looked up. She saw the tunnel around them. "You flew into the tunnel?" she said.
"Yeah," said Guybrush. "Like flying around inside a giant hose. You wouldn't have any idea how long this thing is, would you?"
"I think," said Elaine slowly, "this is a very bad idea..."
Before she managed to get to the end of her sentence, though, the tunnel walls suddenly vanished.
Boss Hog burst into a huge circular ampitheatre whose walls - indeed, it seemed the very air - glowed with a light blue phospherence. They were pulled up short by the sheer scale of the place. It was as if someone had built the Coliseum entirely underground. Other tunnel mouths opened on the ampitheatre: their dark circular holes dotted the roof and walls in a honeycomb lattice.
And yet, there was only one thing here.
One thing, repeated more times than any of them could count.
Portal stones. Covering the whole floor. Even in this rarified blue atmosphere, Guybrush recognised their size and red ochre hue immediately. And yet, seeing them in this new context, another interpretation occurred to him.
"They look like eggs," said Guybrush.
Elaine grabbed his shoulder. "They are."
There was no warning.
At that instant a giant monkey materialised in the air right before them.
Part 61: Something Vanishes
Guybrush seized the weapons controls. Elaine read his intent instantly. "No-" was all she had time to shout before Guybrush shot a single red pulse of energy right into the heart of the egg plain.
There was no preliminary. The entire cavern instantly flooded with burning red light, causing all three inside Boss Hog to shout out and drop to the floor.
It was a minute before Guybrush risked opening one eye a tiny fraction. No light. He opened it a little more, then raised himself up off the ground.
"What happened?" asked Elaine.
"See for yourself," said Guybrush.
Elaine and Wally stood beside him. The monkey had gone. The eggs had gone. The whole cavern had gone. They floated in empty space.
"Oh, no," moaned Elaine. "What have you done now, Guybrush?"
"Hang on, I don't think things are that bad..." said Guybrush.
"NOT THAT BAD?!? For all we know we could be in another Universe! Didn't you have any idea what you were doing?"
"Not much time for anything else," said Guybrush. "Besides, these stars look familiar."
While this debate was going on, Wally was at the computer console, typing madly. "Hang on a sec, guys," he said. "Here. According to the computer, we're still in the same spot."
Guybrush and Elaine looked at each other.
"We haven't moved any," Wally clarified.
Guybrush relaxed. "Well, I guess that's a start. At least we're not any worse off." He peered around. "That blast must have blown up the whole planet or something."
"Simon won't be happy," said Elaine, unable to resist a small chuckle - not at Simon's misfortune, but because life suddenly seemed very good again.
"Who?" said Guybrush and Wally.
"Uh, nevermind," said Elaine. "But there's something you two ought to know." She looked at them, at their hopeful, expectant faces, savouring a moment she knew might never happen again. "I know how to use the portal stones. We can go home."
Guybrush and Wally stood dumbstruck. Then they shouted out. All three of them shouted and danced about in the cockpit, capering with glee.
* * *
Sometime later, when everybody had calmed down and the effects of the synthathol had worn off, Elaine recounted her story.
"So that's how it works," said Guybrush.
Wally was bouncing around with excitement. "We could make that work," he said. "If I... if..." He suddenly ran out of the rec room and down to the storeroom.
"Why'd they knock you out and dump at the mouth of the cave?" asked Guybrush.
"I think they wanted something to occupy any teleporting monkeys nearby," said Elaine. "Luckily, you showed up first."
"Well... yeah." Guybrush grinned. "How do you feel about returning home?"
"I'll be a lot happier once I'm back, believe me," said Elaine. "I've barely been able to sleep for worrying about Chora Luna. I mean, Upchuck isn't going to go after it too, is he?"
"Yeah, but isn't there some small regret, too?" asked Guybrush. "Here we are, further from Earth than any human's ever been, the galaxy at our feet. We could explore the Universe, all on our own."
"Do you really want to do that?" asked Elaine.
"Uh... no," admitted Guybrush. "I think it'd get boring very quickly. Give me the pirating life any day." A thought struck him. "Say, didn't you mention something about some 'she'?"
"That's right," said Elaine. "Simon seemed to think some woman had seeded his solar system, as well as ours, and probably every one in the Universe, with portal stones. Even said he'd met her at some stage, but that was all I got out of him."
"Well, I guess than if the monkeys were some sort of naturally evolving lifeform - if they were, they'd probably wipe out everything in the Universe sooner or later. I know the top of the food chain when I see it. No, this way it looks more like some incredibly vengeful terrorist attack. Against every living creature that ever existed."
"Whoever did it certainly meant to do damage," mused Elaine. "The portal stones weren't placed on inhabited planets, they were all hidden on outer moons or satellites. That way, they'd only be discovered by civilisations with space-going capabilities - and the capabilities to spread the portal stones further."
"But who's she?" asked Guybrush.
Part 62: The Voodoo Lady
She looked up into the sky, squinting. Located the sun, a glaring white ball of flame toasting her skin. They were gone, the only two people on this world she loved or even remotely cared about. But she wouldn't let herself think about that. She stared unflinchingly into the sun as the minutes slipped by, her mind perfectly blank. And when the colours reversed and the sun was like a black disc burned onto her retina, she felt able to look at the landscape around her.
They were gone. There was no dodging this fact. She had been abandoned. But the landscape around her had come to life. The bushes around her exploded with pulsing rainbow colour. Tangerine and maroon birds swooped overhead. A stream burbled close by, its lime-green water glistening and churning in the sunlight.
She laughed at these sights, loved them all. Here there were no angry accusatory stares, no physical abuse, no whisperings of black magic. Here was a place she could be herself.
She ran for the stream, pushing her small body through the fiery foliage. She reached the bank and plunged her head into the water. The green murky water whispered in her ears, promised her power, promised her retribution. And when she looked up she saw the monkey.
It stood on the opposite bank, hunched over, long arms trailing on the ground, staring mournfully at her. To her light-bedazzled eyes it shone with orange light, like a heavenly vision. The glow beat in time with her heartbeat. The monkey beckoned to her with one finger, and she understood. He was offering her friendship. Here, for the first time in her life, was someone she could treat as an equal.
She ran across the stream, ignoring the darting sunnalfish by her feet, and hugged the monkey tightly. It ooked and grinned. And together they walked away, into the balana forest. She thought of her parents. She knew they'd been under pressure to abandon her, even destroy her, for many years. At first everyone had adored this little child genius. But then she'd become too smart, had shown them things they hadn't wanted to see. The population turned, became angry; then violent. She'd moved houses twenty times in the past year.
The light-bedazzlement was wearing off, and colours returning to normal. Her heart hardened. No, her parents were not blameless. They were as bad as the rest - bad as all the rest.
And they, like everyone else, would pay.