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Part 1: The Boring Exposition Bit
That was the year, 2300, when the dreams of a thousand sci-fi writers were fulfilled, and the Earth switched to 'credits' as the universal currency. There was no other option: everybody owed everybody else more money than in fact existed, and so the whole monetary scale was inverted. The real measure of economic success was not how much you owned, but how much you owed.
But change had been coming for many years now. Four decades before, the HyperInflatory Drive was invented, a sub-40kg device that could propel craft at speeds greater than light. Hobbyists bought them in droves, and retrofitted their cars, hover transports, and motorised bipeds. And the first great era of space colonisation got underway.
It had been a long time coming. For centuries, with interplanetary travel well within humanity's scientific reach, not a single flight had gone further than Mars. The great helium reserves of Jupiter, the metal ore of Saturn's moons, iron oxide on Mercury: all was unexploited. Large companies refused to even launch exploratory vessels, citing the enormous risk.
That was then; this is now. The HyperInflatory drive opened up not just the solar system but the whole galaxy, to any tough guy with a small wad of dough. It was lawless out there - space pirates, as they were called, made a living by trading in metals and information. And they spread further and further, until only the wildest rumours came back to Earth: tales of planets built from raw titanium, pirate gangs waging interstellar war, even hidden wormholes to the very edge of the Universe. Nobody believed a word of it.
It didn't matter to Guybrush. In his agile needlefighter Boss Hog, he was out there already.
Part 2: The Ropes
Guybrush hunched over the flight yoke, gently nudging Boss Hog left or right as he flew through the asteroid belt. Finally he relaxed, sat back, and set the controls to autopilot.
He turned to Wally, the short red haired kid sitting in the copilot seat. Wally, his feet barely reaching the edge of the seat, stared forward with a narrow gleam in his eyes. A second flight yoke was positioned in front of him, and Wally held onto it with pudgy, determined hands.
For the first time, Guybrush wondered why he'd taken this kid on.
"Not bad," he said to Wally. "You've got the steering down pretty well, and after a few more hours-"
But he didn't get a chance to finish. A large red light on the roof had begun to flash, and a speaker beeped thinly. Instantly Guybrush forgot about Wally. He swung around and glanced sharply at the console.
There was a green blip on the radarscope. "Aha," said Guybrush. "A type F needlefighter." He nudged Boss Hog's speed up. "Wally, I think it's time you got some combat skills."
Wally's confidence instantly dried up. He looked worriedly at Guybrush. "But... but... we aren't in any condition to fight. None of the weapons systems are ready."
"Relax, Wally," said Guybrush, as they gained on the craft.
Wally grew more nervous. "A type F needlefighter has permanently charged laser beams, automatic missile deflection and timewarp weapons!" he said, quoting his extensive starfighter memory. "We can't-"
"Calm down, Wally," said Guybrush. "I'm got a few combat tricks up my sleeve, stuff you don't find out in the manuals."
They were close enough now to actually see the type F needlefighter ahead. It was just rocketing along in a straight line, as if the pilot hadn't seen them. Wally knew better - type F needlefighters had ten times the surveillance of this antiquated wreck. Most probably, it didn't give a damn about them.
Guybrush hit a few switches. There was a mechanical groaning beneath them, almost as loud as Wally's. Carbon energy-seeking missiles. He couldn't believe it. There must be a thousand pirate starships out there, and he had to pick a ride with the one who was still using carbon missiles. They were slow. Unreliable. You could knock out their guidance system with even a hint of chaff. And this idiot wanted to use them to take down a type F needlefighter!
Wally tried to make himself inconspicuous. Not that it would help. The moment that needlefighter saw them attack, it would vaporize this whole ship.
Guybrush flicked on the intercom! Wally's teeth started chattering.
There was a face on the intercom, huge and brutish.
"My name is Guybrush Threepwood," said Guybrush. "Prepare to die."
He released the missile. With a whoosh that seemed to lurch the whole ship backward, it sped toward its target.
Part 3: A second attack
Wally clapped his hands over his eyes. They were doomed.
The brutish figure on the intercom laughed. "Haw haw haw! Guybrush Threepwood! I thought we'd seen the last of you in the Vacos wars. And what's this? A carbon missile?" Wally winced. "Speeding straight toward me!" continued the brutish figure, in mock horror. "Gosh, I hope this chaff button still works-" His arm moved downward. Then it stopped. "There are no clever moves that can help you now," said the brutish figure ominously. A finger stabbed downward.
Guybrush said, "Yes there are. You just never learned them."
The brutish figure suddenly stopped, puzzled, as the insult hit home. His arm wavered. "Ummm," he said, suddenly stuck for an appropriate retort.
The carbon missile struck. The ship exploded, in a cloud of white dust. Static on the intercom.
"Amateur," said Guybrush dismissively. He flew forward.
Wally opened his eyes. They were alive, and the type F needlefighter was space dust! What had happened?
"Let's see what cargo he was carrying," said Guybrush. He flew over the still-expanding cloud of debris, watching the scanner.
"Wow," said Wally, as Guybrush halted over a large red mass. "That was incredible! How did you do that?"
"The secret of space combat," said Guybrush, bringing Boss Hog down. "A good insult always catches your opponent off guard, and you can bring him down."
He opened the cargo doors. Tiny tractor beams pulled the red mass inside, and the doors shut again. "Interesting," said Guybrush, bringing Boss Hog up again.
Wally wasn't listening. There was a glow in his eyes. He leant forward, pressed a few buttons, and the flight yoke was in his hands.
Guybrush was about to say something then figured, Well, he knows what he's doing. Let him fly. Besides, Guybrush wanted to investigate that red object in the hold.
He stood up. The door behind them opened on a narrow metal hallway, two doors on either side, a doorway at the back, and a metal ladder leading up and down. Guybrush climbed down, into another hallway, grimed in oil. The second door on the left opened on a dark area. Guybrush hit a switch and the cargo bay area was illuminated.
It was about the size of a garage. There was a whole lot of junk in the corners, also like a garage. But right in the centre, sitting on the closed cargo doors, was an irregular reddish rock, the size of a small car.
Guybrush came forward, slowly. The rock seemed to gleam in the light, its edges sparkling with reflected light. He'd never seen anything like it. Guybrush reached for the rock. It was smooth, and slightly dusty. When he drew his hand back it was covered in red dust.
He didn't have the slightest clue what this was. But it looked valuable. Maybe very valuable.
Guybrush spent the next half hour exploring the properties of the rock. For one, it was tough. Even his most powerful equipment was unable to split it. Despite the thick coating of dust, machine sanders didn't make a dent in it. It was also, paradoxically, pretty light. Guybrush couldn't lift it, but he could push it along the floor without too much effort.
What other strange properties did this rock have? Guybrush didn't have time to investigate, because at that moment the entire ship was rocked by a laser blast.
Part 4: Wally proves himself
Guybrush picked himself up and pelted up the ladder. Boss Hog groaned around him, like a huge tin elephant suddenly awakened from sleep. Nuts screamed and bolts twisted as Guybrush ran down the hallway, full tilt toward the cabin. Something was burning, somewhere, and thin tendrils of smoke curled along the ceiling.
Guybrush threw open the cabin door.
Wally was at the controls, looking a bit puzzled. And there in the viewscreen, seemingly filling it from one side to the other, was a whole fleet of pirate vessels. They were roaring directly for Boss Hog, with a spiralling network of laser fire eager to beat them to the punch.
Guybrush didn't stand there rooted still with shock - space pirates prone to nerves or indecision didn't stay pirates for long. He lunged forward, and grappled with the steering yoke. Boss Hog twisted up and around, weaving a sinuous, entirely instinctive path through the curtain of laser bolts.
Now they were pointed away from the fleet, which was visible in the rear viewscreens. Guybrush opened the throttle.
"What are we running for?" said Wally, who looked annoyed at Guybrush's sudden seizure of the situation. "Let's fight them!"
Guybrush was scanning the viewscreens, dodging Boss Hog to avoid laser bolts, and didn't look up. "That's not a fight, that's suicide," he said. "What on earth did you think you were doing?"
"Well," said Wally, "I saw a blip on the radarscope, and thought I'd try and attack him. Then the blip sort of turned into a whole group of blips, and then the fleet showed up."
"Well, we might just get out of this alive," said Guybrush, still looking down at the viewscreens. "But that's the last time I leave you alone in the cabin. In fact, next stop I might just leave you behind."
Wally looked at him disbelievingly. Then he acted. He reactivated his steering yoke, and pulled them around in a full u-turn.
Guybrush nearly fell over. He looked up, to see Wally sending them straight into the heart of the pirate swarm. "Aargh!" screamed Guybrush. On the viewscreen, a thousand laser bolts flew directly at them. Guybrush ducked and rolled into the corner, awaiting the worst.
Wally, in a rapid jerk of his arm, brought Boss Hog to a standstill. Anything not physically tied down crumpled up in one corner of the cabin, the corner with Guybrush in it. Wally hit switches and brought the throttle back. They reversed.
Guybrush poked his head out of the mess. On the viewscreen, he could see those same thousand laser bolts, spearing toward their ship. But they weren't getting any closer. Wally was outrunning them! Backwards!
Wally hit a few switches, then experimentally nudged Boss Hog left and right. On the viewscreen, Guybrush saw the mass of laser bolts similarly duck left and right. Lasers didn't have guidance systems - they should fly in a straight line. It almost looked like Wally was leading them. Did he have some kind of tractor beam on all that energy?
Wally flicked Boss Hog a full hundred and eighty degrees, the lasers following in a sharp curve. Guybrush nearly lost his neck. Now they were flying for the pirate swarm, a cloud of laser bolts at their tail.
They dived into the heart of the swarm, at speeds Guybrush didn't know his ship was capable of. Wally worked the steering yoke like a demon, pitching them left and right and up and down. And one by one the laser bolts pulled behind them found a target. One pirate ship exploded, as Wally circled tightly around it. More detonated as they circled back and back again. The return fire was weak and sporadic. The pirates couldn't get a lock on Wally. They probably couldn't even see him, until it was too late.
Guybrush, squashed up in the corner, couldn't help but be gobsmacked, even though sitting in this cabin was like being trapped on Satan's rollercoaster. Wally was taking on a whole pirate fleet, and winning! This would be something to tell the kids.
There were now just two ships left. Wally ran a collision course with them, then ducked at the last minute. The two laser bolts following him, however, ran smack into their targets. Pirate fleet down.
It was then that Guybrush saw the cruiser. Somewhat behind the pirate fleet, it was a sleek black craft about four times the size of Boss Hog. Seeing it Guybrush felt a sudden chill, although going on what had just happened Wally would be able to deal with a ship ten times as big.
Boss Hog stopped dead.
It was that sudden. One moment they were zooming along, all going well, then everything stopped. Wally hit some buttons, growing more frantic as they failed to budge. Guybrush got up and tried a few, but there was no response. He looked up again to the black craft. It was a lot closer.
In the complete stillness of the cabin, Guybrush became aware of a red glow. It was seeping in from under the cabin door. He remembered the fire.
The black ship opened up a comm link with Boss Hog. From the speakers, the pilot spoke. And the voice, the horribly familiar voice, seemed to cut all of Guybrush's nerves.
Part 5: The Dread Upchuck
Guybrush's hand reacted faster than his brain. It whipped into his pocket, pulled out his blaster, and shot in the comm screen. Sparks flew from the console, as electricity discharged itself.
Still going on pure reaction, Guybrush turned and pulled open the passage door. For a second time, Guybrush remembered the fire. It was right before him, almost up to the doorway.
Smoke poured into the room.
Wally was up behind him. "Run!" said Guybrush. He pelted forward, leaping the flames where they licked along the floor. They crashed through smoke, bounced off the walls, and ended up in a junction of passages. Fire seemed to be coming from everywhere. It was an assault of orange light and hungry, crackling sound that came from everywhere.
"Move! Move! Move!" shouted Guybrush.
"Move where?" said Wally.
Guybrush was momentarily at a loss. "Over there!" he finally spluttered.
They ran over there.
"But it's a dead end."
It was. They had in fact ended up in front of the broom closet. They were trapped, hemmed in by a wall of flame only twelve feet away.
There was nothing to be done. Helpless, Guybrush and Wally just stood there, watching the flames turn the passage floor into dripping metal, hearing the ship disintegrating around them. They waited for the end...
* * *
Upchuck sat back, steepling his fingers and smiling.
He hadn't expected that. Guybrush would rather shoot up his comm link than talk to him! Upchuck could understand that, but only up to a point. There was nothing he would rather do than talk to Guybrush, preferably with Guybrush in a huge pit full of ten foot spikes.
Still, there remained the question of what to do now. The ship was just sitting there, its controls deadened by Upchuck's sophisticated magnetic weaponry, but it would not do to leave Guybrush alone. He could surprise you sometimes with his off-the-wall ingenuity.
Upchuck released the magnets, and flew toward Guybrush's prone ship...
Part 6: Out of the frying pan...
The flames licked closer. The heat was a solid thing now, literally shoving them back from the wall of fire. They were right up against the far side of the passage now. No way out.
Then Guybrush looked up, and saw one.
He leapt, fist clenched, and punched open the air ventilation duct. A thin grate of metal clattered onto the floor. Ignoring Wally's protests, Guybrush picked the short pirate up and threw him into the gap. Then he jumped, grasping the sides of the opening, and pulled himself up.
They were in a tiny flat metal passage, full of smoke and noise. Guybrush pushed Wally forward. The metal beneath them yawed and cracked like a set of old floorboards, the heat below twisting them into new positions.
They scurried along, the passage neither heading left nor right. Guybrush's palms were already raw and blistering from the initial pull into the ventilation system. It didn't seem to be getting any cooler. The noise was the worst. Around him, Guybrush could hear his ship collapsing.
Suddenly Wally screamed, and vanished. Guybrush tried to stop, but he was too late. The floor gave way.
Or so it seemed. In actual fact Wally and Guybrush had found a ventilation shaft, a vertical metal passage that ran from the very bottom of the ship, at the hold, to the upper air-regulation machinery. From their position, it was a drop ten metres straight to the floor below. This would have meant certain death had the ventilation shaft ended in the hold ceiling, but in actual fact it curved around and exited horizontally through a wall. So instead of flattening themselves on the floor, Guybrush and Wally rocketed out of the hold wall, arms flailing uselessly, hit the floor, bounced up, hit it again, and skidded along, finally crashing into the far wall.
A set of tools hung on this wall wobbled, then overbalanced. Guybrush and Wally screamed.
Finally, it seemed all was still. Guybrush and Wally stood up, groaning. Though they could still hear the noise of the fire, down here it was cool. And no smoke.
There was a sudden crash, almost as if lightning had struck. A huge squalling noise came, passing directly overhead. Guybrush's hair stood on end, as he realised what was about to happen.
The fire had breached the hull. In a matter of seconds, this whole ship would be a depressurized wreck.
Even as the thought came, air started streaming past his face. It was heading towards one point.
The gaping ventilation shaft.
As one, Guybrush and Wally picked up a metal plate. They ran for the shaft, and flung the plate over the opening. With a noise like the last milk being sucked out with a straw, the suction pulled the plate flush over the opening, completing the seal.
The plate buckled inward. Then it held.
Guybrush slumped against the wall, his legs suddenly weak. The rest of the ship was a burnt-out wreck, they had no means of navigation, and the air in here would probably last about six hours, but they were still alive.
Then he remembered UpChuck.
Part 7: The art of escape.
"We're doomed," said Guybrush hollowly.
"Stop saying that," said Wally. He was looking around the hold area for something useful. So far, nothing had turned up.
He looked at the large red rock in the middle of the floor. "What's this?" he asked. "Don't remember seeing this before."
"It's just something I picked up from the last pirate we killed," said Guybrush morosely. "Who cares anyway? We're all dead."
Wally paid him little attention. He ran a hand over the surface of the rock. "Dusty," he said. "And smooth. And it seems to be glowing a bit. Hmmm."
Guybrush groaned. Wally was going to dredge his encyclopaedic memory and tell him some completely useless piece of esoterica about the rock. Guybrush had become acquainted with Wally's encyclopaedic knowledge for some time now. There was nothing he didn't know the answer to. It was annoying.
"Don't know what this is," said Wally, puzzled. "Have you got a spectrograph?" he asked.
"Ummm... maybe," said Guybrush.
"Strangely light," mused Wally, giving the rock a gentle shove. "Wonder what the melting point is..." He reached into his back pocket, and took out his blaster. Aiming for a point roughly in the centre of the rock, he fired.
The shot impacted on the rock and vanished. No crater. No rebounding blast. It was completely absorbed, as if Wally had fired into a black hole.
"Hmmm," said Wally. He started forward to examine the rock, then stopped.
The blaster shot seemed to have set something off inside the rock. It was glowing, pulsating from a deep, almost invisible black to a bright cherry red. Back and forth. Back and forth.
"What have you done now?" said Guybrush.
In a bizarrely anthropomorphic way, the rock seemed to be waking up. The pulsating rhythm was speeding up, and the rock was now vibrating, almost shivering. As if awesome forces were battling it about from within - and barely balancing.
The rock leapt into the air, and hovered. It turned slowly, executing a full 360 degrees. It stopped, and Guybrush got the strangest idea that the rock was looking at him.
The glowing light inside the rock waxed to full intensity. The hold was filled with ruby light so bright that Guybrush couldn't see past his own face. But no heat. No sound.
* * *
Boss Hog vanished.
Upchuck suddenly sat up, staring at the black space where his quarry had been. He tapped the instruments. Nothing. No radar, no visuals, no infra-red. Upchuck growled. Depressurized needlefighters didn't just vanish into thin space.
With a snarl, he brought his ship around and headed for home base. "I don't know where you are, Guybrush," said Upchuck, "but I'll find you. You know I will."
Part 8: On an asteroid.
Guybrush opened his eyes.
It felt like centuries had passed. Wally was on the floor beside him, out cold. The air tasted strange. And it was freezing.
The door at the top of the stairs opened.
The air supply, or what remained of it, whistled past Guybrush's face in a blistering cold gale. There was a figure up at the top of the stairs, clad in a spacesuit. The figure's face was hidden behind the black mask of his helmet.
The spacesuit had transparent legs. Guybrush took a while to work this out. At first he thought he was hallucinating. Then he thought maybe the figure had only put on the top half of the spacesuit. But no: the legs of the spacesuit were transparent. Guybrush could see a pair of bare feet, thin yellow calves, and hairy thighs.
Eventually it dawned on Guybrush that there was no more oxygen. He fainted.
* * *
The next day...
He was in a plush bedroom, lying down on a four poster bed. The room, and the bed, were entirely unfamiliar. He was enclosed in four metal walls in a strange place, and yet Guybrush didn't feel worried.
He got up and walked out into a thin featureless passageway. Where on earth was he? Fluorescent light strips ran down the passage ceiling, filling the passage with harsh yellow light.
Guybrush came to another doorway. Inside was a circular couch, and on the couch was Wally.
Wally looked up. "Mr Brush!" he said. "You woke up! I was a bit worried for a while."
"Er, thanks," said Guybrush. He looked around the lounge. "Do you happen to know where we are?"
"Um, no," said Wally.
"And come to that," added Guybrush, "why aren't we dead? And whose place is this?"
"I believe I can answer that," said a voice behind them.
Guybrush nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned, to see an old man standing proudly in the doorway. This old man, unlike most old men of Guybrush's acquaintance, wore a long dirty leather jacket, dirty flying goggles, and mechanics gloves. To go with this, he wasn't wearing any pants.
It suddenly came together for Guybrush. "The Hermit," he breathed.
The Hermit nodded, grinning.
"Who?" said Wally.
"The Hermit," said Guybrush, to Wally. "This man... well, legend has it that he invented the HyperInflatory drive. Flew out into space, and came back with a fortune in rare metals, before anyone had even thought of becoming a space pirate. Then he vanished, just as the first space pirates were jetting off. People said he found a remote area in the heart of the asteroid belt, unreachable by spacecraft, and became a hermit. If it wasn't for him, none of us would even be here today. Wow," he added, talking to the Hermit. "You mean we're inside the arc?"
"You are," said the Hermit, "and it's not unreachable by spacecraft, just very hard to get to."
"But why did you rescue us?" asked Guybrush.
The Hermit sat down. "I'm a curious man," he said. "Nobody's flown past my asteroid in forty years. No-one at all, except for me. Then all of a sudden, your spacecraft turns up. And when I check the radar, it looks like you didn't fly here - it looks like you just materialised somehow.
"So I flew up and checked. And there was more strangeness. The spacecraft was a Mark IV needlefighter. Old, but very large - three separate levels. And expensive. The only people who can afford to fly Mark IV are members of the larger pirate gangs. But your ship didn't have any identifying markings. Now I've been out in space a long time, and I've never heard of an independent pirate flying a Mark IV."
The Hermit looked straight at Guybrush. "So I want some answers. Now."
Part 9: The truth bared
Guybrush looked at the Hermit's suddenly stony face. No help there. He turned to Wally, helplessly.
"All right, I'll tell," said Guybrush. "But I don't like it."
The Hermit sat back. "Start, then."
"Okay. Wally, this'll be some news to you, but I've got a brother. His name is Upchuck."
Wally spilled his drink. (Did I forget to mention Wally had a drink? Well, he does. Er, except he doesn't have it now. It's on the floor. Wally's on his knees - hang on, I'll just get out of these brackets) - cleaning it up (phew - seamless)
"Now I think about it, my parents didn't really have much talent with names. First child out, they call him Upchuck. Second child out, they call Guybrush. There ought to be laws against that kind of thing.
"Upchuck was your typical bullying older brother. I never liked him that much. Still, he was my brother, and I had to live with him. But it was worse than that. My parents made me look up to him. They idolised him, I think... bloody hell, this is embarrassing. You guys aren't psychiatrists. Why am I wasting your time with this... okay, I'll cut to the chase.
"When he was twenty, Upchuck decided to become a space pirate. Except they weren't called space pirates then, they were space traders, usually small gangs who flew out to distant planets and moons, taking bite-sized loads of metals and minerals home because large companies didn't want to go to the risk of setting up a large-scale space mining operation. For some twisted reason, Upchuck wanted me to come along with him. Because of my parents, I had to agree.
"When we first flew out, it was just the two of us. I was in a tiny needlefighter you could hardly turn round in, and Upchuck's ship was hardly any larger. You could tell even before we left that we'd never make a fortune transporting metal.
"That wasn't Upchuck's plan, of course. I found out what he really wanted when we came across a couple of Mark IV needlefighters, bringing a large load of metal back to earth. Upchuck sent out a distress signal, and one of the craft came over to investigate. Upchuck waited for the pilot to come on board via the airlock, then he clubbed him. He took the Mark IV and shot the second ship. Upchuck got me on board the ship, put a gun in my hand, and told me to shoot the pilot. I couldn't do it, so Upchuck put his hand round mine and pulled the trigger. He tossed the gun in a safe, my prints all over it, then we had a talk.
"Upchuck told me that he was the first of the new breed. Just like the pirates of the 1500's and the cowboys of the 1800's, he was an outlaw on a new frontier. And if I ever crossed him or ran out, he'd hunt me down and kill me." Guybrush chuckled. "He hasn't been too successful with that bit yet."
He sighed. "Anyway, we became a roving band of space pirates, and we were the first. More people joined our gang, although more often than not Upchuck would kill potential entrants. We got famous, so much so that it got hard to sell our booty off back on earth. Upchuck got the strange idea that we should bury it, like the old pirates did, so there are huge stashes of valuable metals all over this solar system, and all the nearby stars. I can't touch those, at least not now - I think Upchuck watches them.
"So it was about five years ago. I was the number-two man in Upchuck's pirate gang. There were other pirate gangs, but none as successful as ours. Upchuck had a way with diplomacy and sheer-blooded brinkmanship that left most people gibbering.
"I hated it. I hated having to command people, tell them what to do, hated the two-plus-two-equals-five crowd Upchuck seemed to attract. I was plotting a way to escape - not only to escape, but to deal Upchuck a huge personal blow.
"My chance came when we seized the craft of a rival pirate gang. For the purposes of stealth, they had sent over a Mark IV with no identifying markings. I was intrigued, and used my influence to have the ship transported to my private hangar.
"I had the getaway vehicle. Now all I needed was the right time. It came a week later, when Upchuck decided to lead an attack on the Bludbarten gang. I faked a cold, and was left behind. Upchuck's base, a group of ramshackle metal sheds on a cold moon, was empty. I planted explosives, in each and every building. I took all the valuable stuff I could, and flew off.
"But the space around me wasn't clear. Upchuck was waiting. He'd suspected me for a while.
"I might have hated my job, but it didn't mean I wasn't good at it. I earnt my position. And we flew a hell of a dogfight there, above the moon, while Upchuck's fleet battled the Bludbarten fleet thousands of miles away. Slowly Upchuck got the upper hand, pulling himself into position to deliver a killing blow. I fought him off as long as I could, long enough for the fleet to come back from their successful annihilation of the Bludbarten fleet. Upchuck shouted at them to leave, and they flew down to the moon surface. That was his biggest mistake ever. He was suspicious of me, but not suspicious enough.
"By this time he was really frustrated. I wasn't trying to kill him, just flying to stay alive. And he couldn't pin me. He yelled at me, 'Only once have I met such a coward!'
"And I said, 'He must have taught you everything you know.'
"I don't know where that reply came from, but it completely floored Upchuck. He hesitated, and in that moment I detonated his base. A white flower of destruction blossomed on that dead surface, and while Upchuck floundered around in the shockwave, I turned and blasted his ship to smithereens. I flew away, and I thought he was dead.
"And so I'd thought - until today."
Part 10: But what now?
"This was all a few years ago," finished Guybrush. "So is that it? Can I stop now?"
"You can." The Hermit looked moderately pleased. "Not a bad story, but then I haven't heard one in a long while."
"What are you going to do with us?" said Wally.
"Do with you?" asked the Hermit rhetorically. "There's nothing I can do with you. You're stuck here until you can repair your ship. Luckily for you I keep a good set of tools maintained."
Guybrush rose. "I think it's time we took a look at Boss Hog."
* * *
Several minutes later, three figures in old rusty spacesuits stepped out onto the asteroid surface.
The spacesuits had come from a locker in the Hermit's dwelling. Guybrush hated wearing a spacesuit at the best of times, and this unfamiliar garment seemed to have mothballs inside. It chafed his joints. Beside Guybrush waddled Wally, the waddle coming about because the Hermit didn't have very many spacesuits, and this one was far too big.
Then, beside them both, was the Hermit with his transparent legs. Guybrush tried not to look much in that direction.
It wasn't hard, because just over the asteroid's tiny horizon Guybrush saw Boss Hog. It was a complete wreck. The whole upper deck was open to the vacuum of space. Holes dotted the outer superstructure. Seen under the pitiless black sky of space, Guybrush's ship looked like a pathetic has-been. Only one area of the ship looked in remotely servicable condition, and that was the storage basement, the tiny room which had sustained them all the way to this asteroid. Looking at that tiny room, Guybrush felt a surge of love for his ship.
All the spacesuits had intercoms in their helmets, and now Guybrush heard Wally's voice. "We'll never be able to fix this," said Wally despairingly.
"No, it looks worse than it is," said the Hermit. "Most of the inner structure seems intact."
"Nevertheless," said Guybrush, "we're going to be here a long time."
Part 11: A daring invasion
Meanwhile, a long way away...
Chora Luna. A manmade asteroid, four kilometres in diameter, it orbited Saturn at a distance of two million kilometres. Chora Luna was one of the few outposts of space civilisation. It was set up as a trading post and minerals warehouse, storing all the valuable materials mined from Saturn's moons.
If this wasn't enough to make Chora Luna unique, it wasn't run by an ex-con or some strutting space pirate. Chora Luna represented the first foray into space by a major earth corporation. And amazingly, it wasn't doing too bad. There was much speculation about who ran the place - in the cutthroat world of outer space, it'd have to be someone tough as nails, able to kill without compunction when the time came.
Not far off, a squadron of pirate fighters was converging on it to attack.
Squadron Leader Marko Bent cracked his knuckles and sat back in the pilot's chair. Around him flew a fleet of twenty fighters, all flown by Upchuck's best men. Acknowledgements of position crackled over the radio. "Red rear locked and ready" "Blue point locked and ready." "Green attack locked and ready."
It was all done. Marko stared at the shining orb of Chora Luna, now filling nearly half his viewscreen. In a minute they would be detected. Marko smiled. In ten years of operation, not one pirate had dared to attack Chora Luna. Its formidable defenses had warned off even the most suicidal of wayfarers.
Marko wasn't worried. They had a perfect attack plan.
He spoke into the radio. "Interception in twenty seconds. Break off on count of three. One - two - three."
The sphere of fighters around him expanded, as they suddenly sped forward. Marko hung back, dawdling somewhat. He had a special role in the operation.
The radio suddenly crackled to life. "You are in unauthorized territory," snapped a computer generated voice. "Identify yourselves immediately." Without waiting for a response, the Chora Luna defense systems kicked into life. A spray of laser bolts were flung out in all directions. Upchuck's fighters dodged around, shooting at the surface of Chora Luna. Energy beams radiated out from the metal surface, buffeting Marko's slowly moving craft. He bumped up the frontal shields.
Vents opened in the Chora Luna surface, and a squadron of six fighters flew out. Marko whistled. Twenty seconds and already they had a few craft out and fighting. The whispers about a formidable defense system had not been exaggerated.
But this was what he'd been waiting for. Marko flipped on his cloaking device, and kicked up the speed. With the cloaking device enabled, he was nearly invisible, but couldn't fire anything. This should not be a problem.
Marko's tiny craft accelerated. All around him flew screeching hulks of metal, as Upchuck's fighters met the Chora Luna fighters. Marko paid the battle little attention. After all, it was just a decoy.
Marko had his eyes firmly fixed on the nearest vent. It was still open - maybe they intended to send more fighters out. His craft now little more than a blur, Marko sped toward it.
The metal surface of Chora Luna flew at him, like a plate falling from the sky. With a tiny jink left, Marko pulled the craft into the vent.
The vent was low and sheer, a rectangular passage of metal. It banked left and right, with twisting turns meant to be navigated by slow-moving craft that had barely taken off. But Marko took the turns perfectly, hunched over the controls, all concentration.
The vent widened into a fighter hangar. Four craft were out on the hangar floor, and pilots walked toward them with helmets in hand. They didn't even have time to lift their heads in amazement as Marko zoomed overhead, to a passage at the rear of the hangar.
The passage dived. Wider than the fighter vent, this was meant to be navigated by freighters, carrying ore from the centre of the asteroid out to the transport bays. Marko knew; he'd studied the maps. Other passages branched off from this one, and Marko periodically made turns left and right.
He was getting close. Not to the main ore storage area, but then that wasn't his goal. The informer who had come to see him two weeks ago had told him of a far more valuable prize. One that would be undefended.
A flash of blue made Marko bring his fighter to a total halt. Yes, there it was, a large blue door on his left. He was here.
Part 12: The Invasion Revealed
Elaine Marley sat in the far corner of the tiny storage room, her blaster resting on the floor beside her. The only noise in here came from a small radio on her belt - the whistle and crack of laser fire against Chora Luna's surface, the emotionless professionalism of the computer-controlled defense, giving orders to the ten fighter pilots already out there.
So far, there were no reports of any enemy breakthroughs. But Elaine didn't trust this, nor did she trust the attack plan these pirates were showing. Surely the goal in any attack on Chora Luna would be the main ore reserves. But there were no freighters amongst that fleet.
A lump of reddish rock sat on the floor in front of her, about ten feet in diameter. Elaine didn't know exactly what this was, or what it did, but her intuition told her it was the most valuable material in the galaxy. Just as she now knew it was under threat.
Grim faced, Elaine picked up the blaster, her eyes set like stone on the door.
* * *
Marko looked left and right. Nothing was coming. He didn't expect any traffic - this was one of the least used corners of Chora Luna.
With a slight hiss of reluctance, Marko turned off the cloaking device. Aiming his hovering fighter with precision, Marko shot a continuous beam of laser fire at the door. It punched a hole through the thick metal almost instantly. Marko brought the laser around in a wide circle, cutting a pathway through the door.
The thick metal circle tumbled to the floor. Marko edged his fighter through the gap.
The informer hadn't been wrong. Down on the floor was a lump of reddish rock - and nothing to stop him taking it. Marko inched right above it, and opened the cargo doors.
Elaine Marley dropped from the roof, landing on the nose of Marko's fighter. She scrambled to her feet and aimed a shot at Marko from point blank range. The laser bolt went straight through the unshielded windscreen and punched a flaming hole in the seat, right beside Mario's neck. Stunned, Marko dived for the floor. The next shot went right through the seat where his chest had been.
Marko cursed his impatience in not checking every corner of the room. Now a red-headed woman was taking potshots at him, while his only blaster was sitting two rooms away in the back cupboard. There was only one thing he could do. From the floor, Marko seized the flight yoke and shoved it upward.
The fighter suddenly tilted forward. Elaine lost her footing and slipped to her knees. She flung her arms out and grasped the nose of the fighter.
The tail end of the fighter ploughed into the ceiling. The shudder nearly shook Elaine off. One arm came free, and she was left clinging by one hand to a slender hook. She could see Marko through the windscreen, now standing up, and aimed a shot at him with her free hand. It went wide.
The fighter suddenly began spinning rapidly. Marko was grinning now, enjoying her plight. The revolutions came faster and faster, then Marko brought his hand down and stopped them instantly.
Elaine lost her grip and crashed flat into the wall. She fell three metres and hit the floor, her body slumped and bruised.
Marko dismissed her, and brought his fighter above the rock for a second time. Now he engaged the tractor beams, and in a matter of seconds brought the find up into his cargo bay. It was time to be going...
Marko flew out, and ran the throttle. The turns and twists of the underground passage rocketed past. He burst through the hangar, out the vent, and into space.
Part 13: The double cross
Three dozen spacecraft were wheeling around in a ballet of violence. Cloaked once more, Marko flew through the battle. When he was a safe distance away, he shut off the cloak and sent a signal to his squadron. Instantly the pirate ships wheeled away, leaving the defenders befuddled by the seemingly pointless assault. Marko looked at his squadron. Fifteen fighters left - not bad. Now all they had to do was fly back to Upchuck's headquarters.
But Marko had other plans. He waited until they were flying in formation, then set the autopilot. He stood up, and climbed down a ladder into the hold.
The oily, mostly empty room was almost completely filled by the lump of reddish rock. Marko remembered what the informer had told him - shoot it with a blaster...
Marko had his blaster in his right hand, taken from the back cupboard. He aimed it at the heart of the rock, and fired.
* * *
Right at the centre of Upchuck's squadron, Marko's fighter vanished.
* * *
On Chora Luna, the last of the fighters had returned to base. Two men lost - not many, but Bon Adams rued every death. He sat at a desk in the main control room, surrounded by a group of ten data-gatherers analysing the incursion.
This was a new experience for Bon. Sure enough, the computer-controlled defense system, installed at Elaine's insistence, had performed admirably. But there had been losses, and Bon hadn't been able to do a damn thing about them. All he could do, here at the nominal seat of command, was sit and push paper. For the first time in many years, Bon was chafing at the bit.
Where the hell is Elaine, he thought irritably. Okay, she doesn't have anything to do, but surely the head of Chora Luna could at least put in an appearance to keep up morale... very unprofessional.
The doorway opened. Bon saw Elaine.
"Elaine!" he said. But even before he rose to his feet, he could see something was wrong. Elaine was slumped against the doorframe as if she could barely stand. Blood oozed from a cut in her scalp, and her left arm hung at an unnatural angle.
Bon was taken aback. "What happened?" he said.
Elaine turned a weary eye toward him. "I fell down the stairs," she said.
"What are you doing here? You should be in the sick bay."
"I'll go there in a moment - I had to find out what happened with this attack."
All of Bon's previous ill-feeling evaporated, leaving only a guilty residue. "Well, I think we were lucky," he said. "Lost two men, but we managed to drive off twenty pirate fighters."
Elaine looked at him. No matter how injured she might be, those eyes were alert and alive. "None of the fighters got through the defenses?"
"None," said Bon. "Your system performed admirably."
Elaine seemed to chew this over. "Still, I wonder what their goal was."
"The ore reserves, I suppose," said Bon.
"But no freighters, or heaavy-duty fighters," said Elaine. "No, I think this was just a test run. They were probing our defences."
"Which means they might be back," said Elaine, with a note of urgency in her voice. "And not just here. Our other bases might be under threat - Iriquois, Theta Sigma, and Pael." Pael was where Elaine kept the second of her reddish lumps of rock - this thought she kept secret from Bon. "I want the security stepped up in all sections."
Bon snapped to attention. "Yes, sir!"
Elaine roused herself from the doorframe. "I think I'll drag myself off to sick bay," she said. Refusing all offers of help, she limped off, already planning the defense of Pael. Because she knew they would strike there next.
Part 14: Just what is this stuff, anyway?
Guybrush gave the wrench a huge pull, and locked the last nut into place. "Done this side," he said to Wally, who he could hear straining away on the opposite side of the ship.
The repairs were going well. With the intial help of the Hermit, they'd managed to shift Boss Hog into a large metal hangar. Despite the structure being only temporary, somehow the Hermit was able to get a breathable atmosphere inside, allowing them to work without suits. Having helped them this far, the Hermit had left them some days ago to finish the job on their own. Even now that he had visitors, the Hermit was extremely hard to pin down. Sometimes they went for days without seeing him.
"I'm done," said Wally. He dropped his wrench to the rocky ground and wiped his sweaty brow. "Time for a break, don't you think Mr Brush?"
"Yeah, all right," said Guybrush. "We're nearly done anyway."
He stood back and looked at their work. The outer hull had been completely replaced. Inside, there hadn't been much to do, as the general structure was intact. Most of the repairs had involved replacing burnt wiring.
Guybrush looked down to the base of the ship, the one area they hadn't had to do any work in at all.
There was still that mystery to work out. And maybe he could talk to the Hermit about it...
"Take an hour," said Guybrush. "I've got to see the Hermit."
* * *
He found him in the lounge, picking over a PCB board with a metal toothpick.
"Look, I've got to ask you something," said Guybrush.
"Hmmm?" said the Hermit, not looking up.
Guybrush sat down. "What's that rock in my ship? Wally fired a blaster shot at it and now we're stuck here. And I know you know something about it, because you haven't asked me about my cargo once. So tell me: what is this stuff, and what is it doing in my ship?"
"Well, that's a tough question," said the Hermit. "I can't tell you what it is: I don't think it even has a name. I call them Portal Stones, but you might think that's a pretty bad name-"
"Them?" interjected Guybrush.
"I'll get to that. You told me a story, and now I'll tell you one. 'Bout thirty years ago, I was flying around the outer moons of Saturn, looking for minerals. Didn't find any, but when I landed in this large rocky valley, I came across a small group of reddish rocks. Like the one in your ship.
"I didn't know what they were, so I loaded them all up and set off for the nearest trading post. The assayer didn't know what they were either, so I went to another trading post and auctioned them all off as 'unknown treasures'. Made quite a bit of money out of that. But I still didn't know what I'd found.
"I'd hung onto one of the rocks just in case, and I tried to analyse it. But no luck. Then, one day when I was probably a bit frustrated, I took out my blaster and shot the damn thing. And I ended up in here."
Part 15: The Ubiquitous Space Bar
In the dimmest corner of the Space Canaille, the black-hooded figure sat and watched. It was approaching the busiest shift of the day, and the air was close with smoke and smell. The patrons of the bar (or, as they might more accurately be known, denizens) sat in small, quiet groups, or sat alone. A new visitor to the bar would be surprised by the melancholy mood, but there were precious few boisterous space pirates. Everyone was too busy making their fortune.
A short waiter came and gave the black-hooded man his order: a Bloody Mary. He paid silently, not taking his eyes off the automatic doors. He was expecting company.
Suddenly, there was a loud blare of music. All the patrons, even the black-hooded man, looked around. The automatic doors whooshed open, and a swirling pattern of coloured light floated in. It swayed around the clientele, giving some drinkers an almost saintly aura, then came down in a bare patch of floor. The swirling pattern silently exploded, filling the room to the back of every eyeball with unbearably intense sensations.
When the light faded, standing in the vacant space with his hands on his hips and a dramatic look on his face, was Marko Bent.
There were astonished gasps and shouts of recognition. Marko Bent was quite famous, as space pirates went, and it seemed everybody in the room knew him. Amid cries of "It's Marko!" "Good old Marko!" "Good to see you, Marko!" he was fairly dragged over to the bar and given about six different drinks to have a shot at.
The black-hooded man ground his teeth. He watched silently, his anger growing, as Marko joked and drank with the rest of the pirates. Everyone except for the black-hooded man was now at the bar, and the mood had definitely picked up a notch. There was laughter, shouts and even a few songs being sung.
Finally Marko was able to drag himself free. With a final wave to the pirates, he came over to the black-hooded man and sat down. The man, now finding himself the centre of attention, looked very flustered.
"So, how's it going?" said Marko. Noticing the Bloody Mary, he picked it up and drank half.
"This was supposed to be a clandestine meeting!" hissed the black-hooded man. "Upchuck's put your name out, and you turn up in public!"
"Relax. Upchuck won't even know I've gone yet. Besides, these are all good friends of mine. You can't expect me to come slinking in here like some common loser."
"So... you have it?"
"Yep," said Marko nonchalantly. "Got a big lump of red rock in the storage room of my ship. Although, I can't really see what all the fuss is about."
"You can't?" The black-hooded man sat back and steepled his fingers.
"When I shot that thing, it transported me through space, right? Well, when I checked my sensors, turns out the rock only transported me two million kilometres away. I mean, that's barely useful even in a battle. You're on the outer edge of long-range scanners, and if your opponent is at all interested in finding you, before long he'll know where you are."
The black-hooded man smiled. "So, you don't want it?"
Marko shrugged. "It'd be nice to have, but it just seems pretty useless. Of course, I'll still expect to get paid. In full."
"Ten million credits."
"It's a high price."
"After this," said Marko, "I'll never be able to return to space. I need enough to set me up for life."
"I have it," said the black-hooded man, "in my ship." He stood up. "Let's take a walk."
Part 16: Aborted plans
They walked out the automatic doors, Marko waving to the pirates, and into the hangar.
The hangar was a huge metal shed a kilometre long, dimly lit by rows and rows of fluorescent tubing. It was nearly full with privately owned ships, most of which were about the length of a bus and the width of two.
As they walked, the black-hooded man talked. Out of sight of the revelling crowd, he seemed more relaxed. "I suppose there's no harm in telling you this," he said. "The effect of those rocks - portal stones is the name, I believe - is cumulative. One rock, as you've seen, barely transports you anywhere. Two portal stones, placed together in the single ship, seem to form some kind of critical mass. With two stones, you can be transported anywhere in the galaxy."
This startled Marko. "What? How do you know that?"
The black-hooded man shook his head. "I couldn't tell you that. Three stones is even more interesting. Put three together, shoot them, and you'll be transported anywhere in the Universe."
Marko, taken aback, whistled. "What about four?"
"I don't believe anybody's ever collected four portal stones before. Or if they have, they haven't come back to tell the tale."
They'd come to a small, nondescript ship tucked away between two huge Dworkians. It almost seemed to huddle... a shy spaceship.
Marko looked up at it sceptically. "This is your ship."
"Yes." The black-hooded man touched a button on his remote. A door slid open in the side of the ship, and a ladder folded down to the metal floor.
"And you expect me to believe you've got ten million credits?"
"I told you, it's in here." The black-hooded man gestured impatiently to him from the top of the ladder.
Marko looked around, then started climbing. He entered the ship.
The black-hooded man was moving to the flight room. Marko, standing in the passage, called after him, "So where's the money?"
The black-hooded man reappeared, and he was holding a blaster. Marko held up his hands. "Now, let's not do anything rash..."
The black-hooded man shot him. Marko crumpled to the floor. The black-hooded man shoved him to one side, then went to the flight room. He sat down, brought the ship up, and flew around the hangar until he saw Marko's ship. He set down beside it. He got up, rummaged around in Marko's clothes, and found the remote.
Five minutes later, and he had two portal stones in the storage room of the ship. The black-hooded man opened up a communications channel with Canaille flight control. "ACF344 requesting exit permission, Roger," he said.
"Negative," said flight control. "Where's Marko?"
Part 17: Pact
The black-hooded man gaped. "What?" he blurted. "Uh, flight control, that last message was a bit garbled. Could-"
"Repeat: where's Marko?"
The black-hooded man looked around, now worried. And the worry doubled when he saw Marko standing woozily in the doorway. Marko sauntered - or staggered - in, and spoke into the mike: "Hey, I'm here. No worries."
"Received," replied flight control. "Awaiting further instructions."
Marko stood up, reached under his shirt, and threw the blaster shielding to the floor. It had turned a lethal bolt into a mere stun. "They always aim for the chest," he said dismissively. He pulled a blaster on the black-hooded man. "Now, you said something about ten million credits?"
The black-hooded man thought fast. "Uh... it's in-"
"Spare me the story. You don't have ten million credits."
There didn't seem to be any point in lying. "No."
Marko cocked the blaster. "I guess this ship might raise a couple. And maybe they can boil your corpse down for a few bucks..."
"Wait!" said the black-hooded man urgently. He turned to the switchboard and pointed to a large red button. "This is wired to a bomb I set on your ship." He rested his finger on the button.
"I could just shoot you anyway," said Marko.
"We're still hovering above the hangar floor," said the black-hooded man. "I'm connected to at least four different controls at the moment. Shoot me and you might save your ship, but you won't save yourself."
"Hmmm," said Marko.
The black-hooded man sensed he was about to be shot. "Look. Listen to this. How about you join forces with me?"
Marko snorted. "With you?"
"Yes! Don't you see? With two portal stones and a large freighter, we can make a lot more than ten million credits. We could make a fortune in precious minerals! And I know where we can get a third."
Marko was listening. "Go on," he said.
The black-hooded man swallowed. "I work for Elaine's mining company. Recently she came into possession of two portal stones. One of them you've already stolen. The second is on Pael."
"You might know where it is, but you'll need me to get past security. If it wasn't for my instructions you'd never have made it into Chora Luna either."
"You said yourself you couldn't go back to pirating because of the price on your head. If we've got two portal stones, Upchuck can't possibly follow us!"
Marko thought. "Okay," he said. "I'll let you live, at least until we find the third portal stone. Then we'll see. But one thing..."
The black-hooded figure looked at him apprehensively. "What?"
"I need a name," said Marko. "I can't go around saying 'Hey you' all the time. What's your name?"
The black-hooded figure thought. "You can call me... Simon."
* * *
Part 18: Bad news
The second lieutenant grovelled on the floor in front of Upchuck. "I'm sorry!" he wailed for the umpteenth time. "We don't know how he got away! We-"
Upchuck interrupted. "When did you notice he was missing?" he asked.
"Three hours after leaving Chora Luna, Upchuck sir!" The second lieutenant was frantic with fear. Marko had been right in the centre of the fleet, but nobody had had wits enough to check their scanners for him. This looked like becoming a fatal indiscretion.
"What did you do when you noticed he was missing?" asked Upchuck.
"Um, we immediately switched on the long-range scanners. We couldn't see anything. None of us know how he got away so fast! It's not possible to get that far away so quickly!"
"Thank you," said Upchuck. "You may leave."
The second lieutenant looked at him, too frightened to hope. "Sir?"
The second lieutenant hurriedly stood up and left Upchuck alone.
Upchuck sat there, brooding. Suddenly he slammed his fist down on the desk, dinting the wood. He stood up and kicked at the wall, punched it, and screamed obscenities. A bookcase went tumbling to the floor.
Soon he calmed down, and sat back down at his desk. The rage out of his system, Upchuck was starting to think. And it soon became obvious that this development explained quite a few things.
First of all, it explained what the red stuff had done. Upchuck had always suspected something like this. Which was why he'd put Marko in charge of the operation - up until now, he'd been the most trustworthy of the pirates under Upchuck's command.
It also explained Guybrush's disappearance. He must have found a lump of red rock somewhere. Upchuck put this on his list of things to talk to Guybrush about.
Now, what to do. He already had a bulletin out on Guybrush's ship - it was time to add Marko's. Plus their tactics would need to be revised, to counter this secret weapon up the sleeve of their opponents.
Upchuck turned his attention to their informer. He must have gone behind Upchuck's back and contacted Marko directly. What really bugged Upchuck was that they didn't have any idea of their informer's identity. He'd made the initial contact with Bozna, head of Upchuck's intelligence office. Maybe it was time to reassign Bozna.
Upchuck pressed a button on his desk. A door slid open, revealing a worried second lieutenant, who saluted.
"Put out an bulletin on Marko Bent," said Upchuck. "Bounty of five hundred thousand credits. Every pirate under my command is to devote their whole time to finding Marko and Guybrush. Do I make myself clear? I want the most intense search ever mounted in space."
The second lieutenant saluted. "Yes, sir!"
Part 19: Departure
Guybrush climbed into Boss Hog. The repairs were complete, and the whole ship was shiny and new. The metal walls gleamed, and the vaguely off-putting smell was gone.
He entered the flight room. "Did you find him?" asked Wally.
Guybrush shook his head. He'd been scouring the Hermit's makeshift asteroid home, but he couldn't find him anywhere. "I left him a note," he said.
"Is that all?" asked Wally. "Wouldn't he want some kind of payment?"
"I don't think so," said Guybrush. "So, are we ready?"
Wally pulled back on the yoke, and they slowly lifted up into space. "Where to?" he asked as they hovered over the asteroid.
"Wait," said Guybrush. "I've got to go to the storage room."
In fact, this was one of the features of the Hermit's remote dwelling. This pocket of space was so tightly ringed with asteroids that you simply could not pilot a ship in or out. The only way through was direct transportation.
In the storage room, Guybrush shot the red rock. Portal stones - huh. What a name.
Not too long later, they were slowly shuttling along through empty space.
Wally was checking the scanners. "Nothing in sight."
Guybrush nodded. Just as well. They'd been able to get their ship spaceworthy again, but Hermit didn't have everything. Until they were able to get a few parts, Boss Hog would only be able to attain twenty percent of her normal velocity. Guybrush didn't like being a sitting duck.
"So where are we going?" asked Wally.
"Well, the nearest station is Pael, so I guess we're going there. It'll probably take about two weeks."
"All right, I've set the coordinates," said Wally. "Autopilot engaged."
They sat back. A couple of minutes passed.
"So, what are we going to do for the next two weeks?"
Part 20: The hardest part is the waiting
Guybrush and Wally were sitting in the rec room.
It wasn't much of a rec room, even after their refurbishment work on the Hermit's asteroid. There was a single forty-watt bulb in the ceiling, giving the room the dim, smoky air of an illegal gambling den. Under the light was a round metal table. There were a few cupboards, all full of board games, jigsaws and other useless stuff. A dartboard hung on the wall, but there were no darts. No pool table, either. No electronic entertainment. There was a small stereo, but the only CD was 'Soft Rock Classics Vol 443'. It was currently in about twenty pieces.
Guybrush and Wally sat at the table, bored out of their brain.
"Let's play Monopoly," suggested Wally.
"Finished it an hour ago," said Guybrush. "Besides, half the money is missing."
"We're both illiterate and you know it. Last time we played there wasn't a word on the board with more than three letters."
"A card game?"
"Give me a yell if you can find the rule book. And the cards."
They sat there in melancholy silence. Wally tapped the table a few times. "We can't just sit here all day. I'm going to fix the ion stabiliser." He stood up.
"You fixed it yesterday," said Guybrush.
Wally paused at the door. "The solar flare shields?"
"I checked them this morning."
"The navcomp settings?"
"You did it before you had breakfast."
Wally sighed and came back to the table. He rested his head on the metal surface. "Bored," he said.
Most of the journey had been like this. They were only four days out from the Hermit's asteroid, and they'd already done everything. Fixed everything twice, played every game three times, and there was nothing left to do. They'd chosen their course to minimize the possibility of encountering other ships, and so far hadn't seen a single one.
Guybrush was starting to wish he'd packed a few Tom Clancy novels. Heck, even some Ratliff would have done. He was trying to hide it from Wally, but in fact he was just as desperate for something to occupy his time.
"What's there to do?" wailed Wally.
"Well... we could talk about something," said Guybrush.
Wally looked at him strangely. "Talk?"
Guybrush looked a little surprised at himself. "Yeah. Talk."
Wally looked a little dubious, but he shrugged his shoulders. "Okay. Ummm... do you ever think about women?"
Part 21: Spacedreaming
Guybrush looked at Wally, startled. "What?"
"There aren't many out here in space." A wistful, daydreamy look had gone over Wally's face. "I don't think I've seen a woman in months. There was Alice at that orbiting satellite... hmmm..."
Guybrush snorted. Wally was a newbie by pirate standards. He, and most of the hardened space pirates hadn't seen a woman in years.
"...she had this long, really well combed black hair, and she always smiled when she saw me passing by..."
Nevertheless, something about this line of conversation was making Guybrush uncomfortable. He coughed.
It brought Wally out of his reverie. He looked at Guybrush. "Don't you sometimes wish we could get a chance to know some women?"
"No," said Guybrush.
"It'd be nice," said Wally. "An extra two people around the ship, somebody to have a real conversation with... no more lonely journeys through space."
"It wouldn't be like that," said Guybrush. "It would be hell."
"No it wouldn't," said Wally. "Women are nice people."
"Look, Wally... I guess I should tell you some things. Women and space pirates do NOT mix. If you want to be a space pirate, you've got to be a hardened loner, able to spend whole months in isolation. How many successful space pirates do you know who are married?"
Wally thought for a bit. He couldn't come up with any names.
"Exactly. Maybe it'd all be love and roses the first few days, but after two months you'll want to kill each other. You'll be too busy fighting each other to make any real money."
"I still think it'd be nice," said Wally defiantly. "Anyway I can still dream about it." Which he did, sitting there with a blissful smile on his face, occasionally murmuring faint words.
Guybrush ground his teeth and tried to shut out the noise. Boredom was bad enough, but this was torture...
Part 22: Security
The man-made planetoid Pael. Bigger than Chora Luna, it was also the first REAL space colony - that is, one that supported a civilian population. There were barbers, bakers, and even real estate agents. In total, about two thousand people lived on Pael.
Seven of them were gathered in security headquarters. They sat at a polished oval table, away from the main consoles and videoscreens. Six of them were security personnel, and the seventh was Elaine. She'd called this meeting together, and she looked worried.
She had good reason to be. They were being watched.
In a small cramped room some way above security headquarters, Simon sat watching a small screen. On it was the display from a security camera trained on the oval, siphoned off from the main security system - undetected, of course. The image was crisp and the sound clear.
The door opened and Marko came in. He was panting. "It's hard finding this place," he said. "All those stairs and panels - nearly got lost." He saw the image on the screen. "Have they-"
"It's just starting."
Elaine looked at the security personnel. "Gentlemen, I'm sure you're all aware of the attack on Chora Luna. I called this meeting together because I believe the next target of the space pirates is Pael. If you look at the Chora Luna assault on its own, it seems pointless. Clearly, it was just a feint. The enemy is testing our strength, our defenses - and they will attack again."
One of the security personnel interjected: "Won't that mean they attack Chora Luna again? If their purpose was to test our security..."
"That is a possibility," admitted Elaine. "But from their point of view Pael is a much more valuable prize. Perhaps the attack on Chora Luna was designed precisely to divert our attention away from Pael."
Marko smirked. "Course, she can't tell them why she's really concentrating her efforts here - the portal stone!"
"And so," said Elaine, "I want security stepped up. Twenty fighters have been transferred from Chora Luna and will arrive in two hours. I want you to let in the barest minimum of traffic. If they look remotely like a space pirate, send them elsewhere."
She paused. "I also want you to consider the possibility of evacuation."
Simon leant forward. "Here it comes..."
One of the security personnel said, "We've produced a comprehensive evacuation plan..."
"I've read it," said Elaine. "It seems weak. According to the plan, everybody on Pael leaves through the same exit. An enemy who had knowledge of our intentions could easily block this off."
"Impossible. There are no security leaks on-"
"Gentlemen, you must consider this possibility. The attack on Chora Luna was very well-coordinated, and I think they had inside information."
"All this might be true," said one of the security personnel, "but the gate is the only way in and out of Pael. It's wide enough to take freight and fighters, and I think the enemy, whoever they might be, would have trouble blocking it off."
Elaine looked at the security personnel. "Are there any other ways off this station?"
The security men looked at each other. "There is the exit hatch on level 4-G. We used it during the construction phase. It was supposed to be sealed over, but I don't think they got around to it. It's very narrow, though - only small fighters could get through it, one at a time."
"Send a team to fix up the exit and get it in working order," said Elaine.
Simon sat back. "Rats."
"What?" said Marko.
"She's not going to give us any clues as to where the portal stone is. She just called this meeting together to secure an escape route."
Marko nodded. They'd been watching the security system - through Simon's hookup - right around the clock, working in shifts. They'd monitored Elaine's every move, and she hadn't once gone near the portal stone. They had a very large list of places it wasn't, but still no idea where it was.
Marko tapped the screen. "Well, we better keep watching."
Part 23: Sighted
One of Upchuck's lieutenants hurried through the twisty passages of their home base. He was headed for Upchuck's headquarters. Normally you never hurried there - unless you had to - but the lieutenant had good news. He wanted to be the first to share it.
Upchuck was alone at his desk. He looked up and glared at the lieutenant, who saluted. "Sir!"
"What is it?" said Upchuck impatiently.
"Guybrush Threepwood has just been spotted."
Upchuck's eyes opened wide and lost their bleary haze.
"He's headed for Pael," said the second lieutenant. "Going very slowly. At the rate he's going, it's about two hours away."
Upchuck stood up and started to pace the floor. "How many ships do we have nearby?" he asked.
The lieutenant had checked this before coming. "Forty are within four hours' flight."
"I want them assembled into a fleet," said Upchuck. "We are attacking Pael immediately. Alert all our fighters. I want that space station pulverized.
* * *
Guybrush and Wally were in the flight cabin, and the grey sphere of Pael floated ahead of them in the viewscreen.
"It doesn't look very big," said Wally.
"That's cause we haven't got very close yet. By the time we reach the hangar opening, it'll be the biggest thing you've ever seen."
"You've been here before?" said Wally.
"Once," said Guybrush.
"So what makes you think they're going to let us in?"
"Two things. One, this is a different ship. Two, we're only travelling at twenty percent speed, and nobody in their right mind could possibly consider us a threat." Guybrush checked a few controls. "Okay, I think we're in communications range. Wally, open up a comm link."
Wally pressed a few buttons.
Guybrush leant forward and spoke into a microphone. "Pael flight control, requesting permission to land."
Part 24: Let us in!
In the main security room on Pael, five pairs of eyes looked at the viewscreens. Four of them belonged to the regular security personnel, and the fifth was Elaine. In the last few days, she'd spent a lot of time in here, a look of constant worry on her face. The feeling was growing ever more certain inside her that Pael would be attacked. Soon.
At the moment, they were all looking at a low-fi transmission of Guybrush's face. "State your name and business," one of the security personnel said in reply to Guybrush's message.
"Glen Williams," said Guybrush smoothly. "I'm a new space trader. Just came across a seam of rubidium, and I'd like to trade it in."
"A new trader?" said one of the security personnel dubiously. "In that old ship?"
"Hey, it was all I could afford," Guybrush protested. "That's sorta why I'm here... to get a few things fixed."
"Received. Please await our decision."
The security man cut off the mike and a discussion began. "What do you reckon, guys?"
"I'm not sure," said one. "It's an old Mark IV - pirates used to fly them."
"Not recently they don't. I mean look at that thing. Even for a Mark IV it's out of shape."
One of the security personnel looked up from his computer. "It doesn't have identifying markings corresponding to any known space pirate. Looks legitimate."
"Computer scan shows no visible weapons, and the on-board computer says minimal systems are functional. Plus they can barely get twenty percent yield out of their engines."
"So, we let them in?"
Elaine, who'd kept quiet during the discussion, spoke up. "I say yes. If that rusting hulk is a possible threat we might as well pack this whole operation in now."
This was a somewhat unexpected comment from Elaine, given the way she'd acted over the past few days. "Uh, okay," said one of the men. He flipped open the comm channel. "Glen Williams, we've given you a twelve hour landing permit. Proceed through the main gateway and land in sector G."
* * *
"Received," said Guybrush. He cut the line and laughed. "See? I was right. No problem at all."
He pushed them forward, heading toward a tiny black letterbox in the centre of this huge metal sphere. As they flew forward, Pael stopped looking like something small and insignificant and started to loom. The grey metal surface was almost featureless, and by the time they were almost at the gateway it ran straight up and down nearly vertically. Wally had the feeling they were rushing into the longest, deepest tunnel ever constructed.
Boss Hog passed through the gateway. The tunnel around them was wide and high, and ran straight ahead for a short distance. After two seconds they emerged into a huge lighted hangar. A squadron of fighters was lined up on the floor underneath them, set up and ready for instant takeoff.
Guybrush flew left, passing over space trader ships and general transport vessels. Finally, he found Sector G, which was about half-full. He brought Boss Hog gently down onto the hangar floor, right next to a small, unassuming craft.
Guybrush cut the power. The rumble and whine of Boss Hog's engines gradually faded away, into an unfamiliar silence. "We're here," he said.
Part 25: A Shopping Expedition
Elaine stood by herself and wondered what on earth had prompted that outburst.
She knew she'd been a pain over the past few days. More than once, one of the security personnel had politely suggested to her that maybe they were qualified to handle security, and there really wasn't much she could do to help. But she hadn't just let this ship in to win back the confidence of her employees. She'd done it to try and reassure herself. Reassure herself that she wasn't losing her mind, that she could still objectively assess the security threat posed by a decrepit spaceship.
The strain of being the only one to know about the red stone was beginning to tell. If there was someone to confide in, someone she could discuss strategy with, it might be better. But there was nobody she could trust. Certainly, nobody after Chora Luna. She'd even grown so paranoid as to avoid the portal stone together, as if her movements could alert possible enemies to the right location.
Now Elaine wondered if she'd been hasty in letting that ship in.
She knew she shouldn't worry. But she couldn't help it...
* * *
Inside Boss Hog, Guybrush was gathering together all the tools he'd need. "Okay, Wally," he said, "I want you to stay behind while I'm out getting all the parts. Make sure nobody tries to sell the ship, or pawn off a few dodgy items, the usual."
Wally, sitting down on the spongy couch, nodded. "Okay, Mr. Brush. I'll keep an eye out."
Guybrush had got together the last of his tools. He piled them all into a small backpack. He pulled the backpack on, then looked confused. "What parts were they again?" he asked.
"The rear flux stabiliser, the lateral phase inducers..." Seeing Guybrush's look he said, "Want me to write them down?" Guybrush nodded. Wally found a slip of paper and jotted down six items. "They're all fairly well related," said Wally. "You should find them all in the same shop."
"Thanks." Guybrush pulled a ladder down from the ceiling and climbed up to a trapdoor hatch, which he pulled open. Warm, scented air flowed into the ship - the gateway acted as an atmospheric force field, keeping all the oxygen in. Guybrush breathed in deeply.
Eventually he climbed up onto the top of the ship. Recessed steps in the side of the ship led down. He carefully picked his way downward, until he was standing on the hangar floor.
There were a few people about, mostly pit crews doing repair work on the ships. Nobody paid him any attention. A PA somewhere nearby was giving instructions in a soft, computer-generated voice.
Guybrush looked down. Coloured arrows set in the floor pointed out the way. They changed direction as he walked, constantly pointing out the right way to go. He was being led to a high, wide gateway on the far side of the hangar.
Guybrush passed through the gateway. He walked along a few silent passages, each wide enough to accommodate a small starship, then came to a stop. A street stretched out before him. It was thronged with people, who walked lazily along, chatting to each other and looking at the shopfronts. Small hovertaxis zoomed above. Coloured lights hung from the ceiling in bright bunches, whirling around slowly. A neon Chinatown.
He walked through the mass of people, alongside people who wore old leather jackets, dusty helmets and had blasters strapped at their hips. They shared the street with suit-wearing businessmen, young mothers with bright dyed hair and confident, world-weary kids. The crowd was interesting enough on its own, but Guybrush was even more interested in the shops he was passing.
Eventually he came to one that looked about perfect. Bremin's Space Auto Parts and Accessories. There were a few customers in Bremin's, which seemed to be doing good business.
Guybrush didn't go in. Instead he walked away, to the very end of the street. Standing in a dim corner, he reached into his backpack and took out an electric screwdriver. He knelt down and began unscrewing the panel at his feet.
Guybrush knew security cameras watched every corner of Pael. This was a calculated risk, because it would take very little time to get out of their gaze. They'd pick him up later, of course, when they went through their tapes - but by then he'd be long gone.
The panel lifted up. Guybrush grasped the edges and lowered himself into the space below.
He knelt down. He was in a dark, cramped world of panels and metal piping. The air smelt of disinfectant, as if everyone dumped their detergent down here. Guybrush put the panel back in place and screwed it in. Then he set off.
Above, he'd memorised the distance from Bremin's. Now he paced and counted, hunched over to avoid banging his head on tubes and transformer boxes. Soon, he stood directly under Bremin's.
The sound of people was muted, but clearly audible. There were still people in there. However, Guybrush knew that on Pael people worked in shifts. In a few hours, all the stores above would close shop as the old staff left and their replacements arrived. The five minute window should be just enough time.
Part 26: Attack
Seated in the command chair of his vessel, Upchuck watched the long-range radarscope. From every direction, tiny blips were converging on his ship. And some way off, a somewhat larger blip waited, at unawares.
An inner retinue of command staff surrounded Upchuck, working feverishly.
"The fleet is ready?" asked Upchuck.
One of his staff looked up and saluted. "Fifty-three ships have arrived, Upchuck sir. We expect thirty more in two hours."
"That will be quite sufficient," said Upchuck. "Open the address system."
A few buttons were pressed. A sleek black microphone rose from the desk, and Upchuck spoke into it. "Pirates," said Upchuck, "you know our plan and you know our objectives. We have allowed Pael, and all the other corporate-funded spacestations, far too much freedom. This ends today. Today we are going to completely destroy Pael. Leave nothing but spacedust. Reclaim the space that is rightfully ours. And so, on my word-"
Upchuck paused. There was silence around him, his command staff not daring to breathe.
* * *
One of the men in Pael's main security room glanced at the long-range radar, and froze. He blinked, and tapped the screen with his finger. When he spoke up, his voice was uneven.
"Large group of ships detected, sir."
"What?" The security staff all clustered around the man. "How many?" said one.
"Thirty... no, forty. Fifty-three, and they're all fighter class ships."
Elaine's blood ran so cold she felt dizzy. She grasped the bench behind her to avoid falling over. The long-range radarscope was on the main viewscreen, and she could see the invasion force for herself. It was a cluster of white dots, speeding straight toward them.
This was no feint. There were so many ships they could only have one purpose - the utter destruction of Pael.
Or maybe - this thought made Elaine even dizzier - maybe this was a feint. Maybe they knew about the red rock.
Maybe they were already inside...
Elaine remembered Glen Williams, and she flushed with anger. Trading his ship, was he? She knew she shouldn't have trusted him...
The security staff weren't doing anything, and Elaine gradually realised they were all looking at her, waiting for orders. Why were they doing that? They were all trained for these situations. She shouldn't even be here!
Elaine swallowed, and tried to steady her voice. "Okay. One, ready all fighters. Anything we've got that can shoot, get it out there. Two, prepare for evacuation."
"Sir, are you sure? I think we can fight off this fleet-"
Elaine glanced at the long-range radarscope, and shivered. Instinctively, she knew there was no chance. Pael was doomed.
"Prepare for evacuation," she repeated. "You all know the procedure." Then she turned and headed for the door.
There were protests and shouts behind her. But Elaine ignored them all. She had to get that red rock, and do it fast...
Part 27: Evacuate
Simon lifted the headphones off his head and stood up. "That's it," he said excitedly. "She's going after the portal stone. Marko, get out there and- Marko?"
Marko wasn't paying much attention. He was staring at the video feed of the long-range radarscope. All those ships... There was only one pirate who could muster that many fighters - Upchuck. He must really be mad at someone, and Marko could only think of one person.
"How the hell did he find out?" he said. "Nobody knows we're here!"
Simon looked at him. "Upchuck's the least of our worries at the moment. We've got to follow Elaine-"
Marko cut him off. "Upchuck's the least of our worries?!? Look at that fleet. There's not going to be a single rivet left in this place!"
"Who cares?" said Simon. "We're not in any trouble. We'll just use the secondary exit Elaine asked about. Upchuck won't be expecting anybody to leave that way, and if we cloak our ship they won't even see us. And if there's no other alternative, we can shoot the portal stones."
"And end up anywhere in the Universe."
Simon shrugged. "It had to happen sometime. Now, I've set the video to follow Elaine, and sent a feed into our ship. We'll follow her from there."
* * *
Guybrush was patiently waiting below the street when he heard a loud voice on the PA. Down here, the words were somewhat indistinct. Guybrush caught the words 'prepare' and 'drill'. Whatever the message, it sounded important. The noise above him increased further, first with the sound of lots of people talking to each other very loudly, then with the sound of lots of people moving very quickly. It sounded like a stampede up there.
This noise gradually faded. When it was gone, there was almost total silence above. Guybrush listened hard, but there was nobody in the store. Or even in the street.
Well, whatever they'd all gone away for - maybe some kind of town meeting - it made Guybrush's job easier. He got out the screwdriver, and loosened a panel above. It clattered to the floor. Guybrush reached up and pulled himself into the store.
As he'd thought, everyone was gone. The store was empty, and so was the street outside. It looked like people had left in a hurry. Litter, half-eaten food and even a few backpacks dotted the street outside.
Guybrush shrugged, and started examining the ship parts.
Part 28: Caught
It had been an eventful past few minutes for Wally.
He was sitting up on the hull of Boss Hog, enjoying the fully oxygenated air, when red lights began flashing all around and a warning address blared over the PA. Then, like ants from a stirred nest, the hangar was suddenly full of people. They swarmed over the ground, working with speed and more than a hint of panic. All around Wally ships were powering up and rising from the ground. A man saw Wally's ship and started to say something, then he got a closer look at it and thought better of it.
It was all very quick. A minute later, there were only two ships in the whole hangar, and everybody had gone. Wally scratched his head, wondering what was going on.
Then he saw two figures, one hidden in a black hood, come in from a side entrance. They ran for the ship beside him, the small unassuming ship he'd never really taken any notice of. Both of them got in, and ten seconds later the ship was up in the air. This one didn't head for the main entrance, like the others, but instead flew toward one of the interior gateways. It dawdled about at one for a bit, then entered.
This left the hangar empty and silent. Wally felt very alone.
Then the entire hangar shook.
* * *
Outside Pael, it was chaos. Wave after wave of fighters streamed out of the Pael gateway, straight into an intense hail of pirate fire. Most of the older, less manoeuvrable craft were cut down before they had a chance to return fire. Those that made it out alive were instantly faced with the problem of finding an enemy target when the space around you was filled with laser blasts and speed-blurred fighters. Radio-communication was almost nonexistent, and fighters just went after whatever targets they could spot.
Upchuck's black command vessel, situated some way back from the action, could take a more sober view of the situation. Already at this early stage, they had the upper hand. Most of the casualties were Pael craft, and the battlecruiser hovering on the edge of the battle had just scored its first major hit on the planetoid itself.
Upchuck himself took little part in the battle, which was being directed by the group of command officers in front of him. However, this didn't prevent him from watching proceedings with eagle eyes. While the others around him worked, Upchuck sat back, almost unmoving, and gazed at the main videoscreen.
Hence, he was one of the first to see the second wave of ships leaving the Pael gateway, a tiny forest of green blips on the radarscope. He leant forward. "What's the status of that second group of ships?" he growled, to the nearest officer.
The officer adjusted his headset and tapped a few commands into his console. "They seem to be civilian ships, mostly. Little offensive capability. Packed nearly full with passengers. Probably an evacuation fleet. Should we send a group of fighters to intercept them?"
Upchuck cursed, silently. It was too soon. While the overall outcome of the battle was not in doubt, right now things still hung in the balance, and he couldn't spare enough fighters to annihilate the evacuation fleet. How on earth had they prepared so quickly? Upchuck was sure there'd been no word leaked of their attack plan.
"No," he finally said. "Leave the fleet for the present. Send two fighters to watch over them - if one of the ships is a Mark IV, destroy it."
The officer saluted.
Upchuck sat back again and stared at the main viewscreen, as a second blast hit Pael. You're not getting out of this, Guybrush. Like hell you're not.
* * *
Elaine rushed through the wide grey corridors of Pael. With the evacuation fleet out in space, the corridors were empty and quiet. Even Elaine, running as fast as she could, made little noise on the shock-absorbent floor.
She wasn't expecting to see anyone still around, so it came as a shock when she saw ahead of her, at a junction of several passages, a man walking hurriedly along.
Elaine slowed a little. Already suspicious, the suspicion grew when she saw the way the man walked. He was walking with exaggerated care and constantly glanced from side to side - but not, as yet, straight behind - as if he was scouting out enemy territory. And the suspicion became a certainty when she recognised, in profile, the face of Glen Williams.
Elaine's face flushed red with anger. She'd been right. Here was the culprit. He wasn't anywhere near her red rock at the moment, but doubtless that would change...
Quickly Elaine darted into an alcove. She drew out her blaster and primed the energy cells. Shifting the blaster into her left hand, she reached into her back pocket with the right and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. The metal was encryption-locked and gunfire resistant. She locked one cuff around her right wrist and held the other in her hand.
This had taken maybe five seconds. Elaine ducked back out into the passageway, and immediately began running for Glen, keeping her head low and footfalls silent. He hadn't gotten far in the five seconds he'd been out of sight, and still he wasn't looking back. Elaine quickly closed the gap, her eyes fixed on a spot high on his back.
Now right behind him, she leapt up into the air and yelled.
Guybrush, startled, nearly had a heart attack. Before he could do anything other than flinch, a handcuff was slapped down on his wrist. He slowly turned around, to see a flushed, headstrong woman with long red hair.
"You're under arrest," said Elaine.
Part 29: Tracking
Marko, seated at the controls of Simon's ship, flew them at a slow but safe speed through the long, wide corridors of Pael. On a small monitor rising from the control deck, the view changed constantly as various security cameras tracked Elaine. Her current position on Pael was shown on a glowing orange overlay. They'd had to cover a lot of distance, since the security quarters were a fair distance from the hangars, but now they were getting close.
Behind him, Simon came up the metal ladder from the basement. "The storage area's clear," he said, coming forward and sitting beside Marko. "How's it going? Have we got her?"
Marko nodded, pointing at the monitor.
"Good," said Simon. "Hang back for the moment. Give her a chance to get where she's going."
Marko grunted. Simon felt uncomfortable. This alliance Marko had entered into would be only temporary, Simon knew, unless he could somehow convince Marko otherwise. He'd been trying day after day, but Marko showed no interest in the various schemes Simon put forward. Probably he still saw Simon as dispensable.
Which only left one other way out of his predicament - and Marko had thought of that too. Before they'd even left the Space Canaille, Marko had forced Simon, at gunpoint, to get rid of all his blasters, knives and heavy tools. Now the only weapons Simon had were his hands, and he was no good with either of them.
Marko suddenly sat up, startling Simon out of his worries. "What's she doing?" said Marko, staring at the monitor.
Simon looked. On the monitor was an image of Elaine, taken from a security camera in the ceiling. She was crouching in a dark alcove, a blaster raised high in one hand, the other reaching in her pockets. As they watched, she drew out a pair of cuffs and locked one around her wrist.
"What happened?" said Simon. Very quickly, it seemed to have gotten hotter in here.
Marko looked confused. "I don't know. She saw this guy-"
On the monitor, they saw Elaine duck out of the alcove and start running. Now Simon could see another figure on the monitor, a distant hurrying figure. Elaine was running straight for him.
"How am I supposed to know? She saw him, and then she ducked into that alcove and started fiddling with her blaster..."
The distant figure was growing larger on the monitor. They watched, bewildered, as Elaine got right behind him, jumped up, and cuffed him. The figure turned.
Marko's jaw dropped. "GUYBRUSH??"
At times like these, you acted on instinct. Marko jammed the throttle down.
Part 30: Glen Unmasked
Guybrush finally managed to speak. "Wh- who are you?" he said.
Elaine gestured impatiently with her blaster. "I'm Elaine Marley, and don't pretend you don't know it. Now get a move on."
She jammed the end of the blaster at the back of his head. Guybrush started walking, pushed on by Elaine. "Where are we going?" he said. In space, the penalties for stealing could be quite high, but maybe they had different rules here...
"I'm taking you to Security," said Elaine grimly. "When the attack force sees you've been captured, they might have second thoughts."
"Attack force?" blurted Guybrush, confused. He'd thought he was being arrested for shoplifting, but this Elaine Marley seemed to have a different idea. "Pael's under attack?"
He couldn't see it, but he could feel Elaine's stare on the back of his head. "Nice try, but don't think you can bluff your way out of this one, Glen - not that that's your real name, of course. I know you're acting as an agent of Upchuck's. I know what you're here for. You're not getting it!"
Guybrush's throat had gone dry. "Upchuck?" he said. "This attack fleet you're talking about is being commanded by Upchuck?"
Elaine rolled her eyes. "Spare us the innocence shtick. Who else is it going to be, Father Christmas?"
"And... you're going to take me to Security? To show my face to Upchuck?"
"That's the plan," said Elaine. "And it'll be your job to convince him to call off the attack. Fail and you'll die."
Guybrush drew in a breath. "Lady-"
Elaine knocked his head with the blaster. "Ms. Marley," she snapped.
Guybrush wanted to rub his head, but didn't dare. "All right, Ms. Marley... what you're about to do is a very bad idea. If Upchuck sees me, it's not going to have the effect you want. In fact, he'll probably try twice as hard to destroy this starbase."
"Shut up," said Elaine. But she was troubled. Glen - or whoever he was - was not at all acting like a captured secret agent. His surprise at hearing about the attack had seemed genuine. Maybe he was just a good actor. But what about his reaction to the name Upchuck? She'd seen him start at the name. Why would he pretend Upchuck was his enemy? It couldn't help him.
"Stop," said Elaine suddenly. She came forward and studied Guybrush's face closely. Guybrush, a little embarrassed by the close attention, tried to look elsewhere.
Elaine gasped. "Guybrush Threepwood!"
Guybrush said, hastily, "It's not what you-"
Elaine looked at him with barely suppressed rage. "Oh, you're a good actor, Guybrush. Nearly had me taken in!"
"Look, a few things have happened since-"
"Upchuck's right hand man. And you've got the cheek to try and pretend he's got nothing to do with you!"
"I never said that he-"
"Move." Elaine jammed the blaster back against his head, harder than before. She shoved at his back, pushing him into a half run.
"Will you listen to me? Upchuck doesn't-"
But Guybrush's words were drowned out. A loud noise filled the corridor behind them, quickly growing louder.
Part 31: Wally Helps Out
Pulling up right before them, nearly filling the corridor from side to side, was Boss Hog.
Guybrush had never been so happy to see it. "Wally!" he shouted.
A window on the front of Boss Hog slid open, and Wally poked his head out. "There you are!" he said. "I've been trying to find you for ages. There's some kind of battle going on outside!"
"I know," said Guybrush. "Now let's get out of here-"
Wally noticed Elaine. He peered at her. "Who's that?" he said.
"This?" said Guybrush. "This is Elaine Marley. She runs this place, I think."
"Hello there," said Wally.
Elaine's confusion returned. When she'd first seen the ship, Elaine had thought it was one of Upchuck's vessels, already inside her starbase. But this red-haired kid was surely too young to be a space pirate. And he was carrying on like he was at a tea party!
"Well, don't just stand there," said Wally. "We better get going. I don't think it's going to be very safe around here." He drew his head back in the window, which slid shut. A hatch opened in the base of Boss Hog, and a metal ladder came down to the floor.
As soon as she saw it, Elaine knew what Guybrush intended to do. But Guybrush was faster. He spun around and struck Elaine's hand, knocking the blaster free. Before she could reach for it, Guybrush ran for the ladder, dragging Elaine after him. Elaine pulled and strained, but she couldn't quite stop his forward progress.
Like two people in a tug-of-war, Guybrush and Elaine slowly moved across the floor. Guybrush's right hand grasped the edge of the metal ladder. He felt around until he found the retractor button on the side, and pressed it. The ladder began to rise. Elaine redoubled her struggles, now frantically pulling at the cuffs, doing her best to pull him off the ladder. Guybrush held on one-handed, his face going red.
Elaine's feet left the ground. She thrashed about in the air, and to Guybrush it felt like his arm was about to fall out. Then they were up in cargo bay. The square hatch below them shut, and gratefully Guybrush let go of the ladder.
He landed on Elaine. "Get off me!" she shouted, pushing at him. Guybrush rolled to one side, and Elaine sat up. "Well, thanks a lot," she said. "Now put me back down!"
The ship rumbled beneath them, as Wally got them moving again.
"Be glad to," said Guybrush. "Unlock these handcuffs and we can get going."
"That's not possible. One, I still don't think you're innocent. Two, I don't carry a key for these cuffs. You have to go to Security to get them unlocked."
Guybrush groaned. "Great. Guess we're stuck together, then. Wonderful."
Elaine looked around, and her eyes widened. "A red rock!"
Guybrush looked at her. "You know what this stuff is?"
Elaine frowned at him. "I used to have one of these on Chora Luna, until Upchuck stole it. No doubt you had something to do with it."
"Upchuck doesn't like me anymore," said Guybrush. "Tried to tell you that earlier. And I didn't get this from Chora Luna - I retrieved it from a wrecked space pirate vessel. Now will you get up? I want to get to the cockpit."
Elaine stood up. She didn't know what to believe anymore. One thing she could see, however, was that this wasn't her red rock. With all the tests she'd subjected the stuff to - all inconclusive - she'd come to recognise each little contour, hollow, and outcrop on the surface of the rock. This rock was completely different.
Guybrush was dragging her away. "Come on," he said.
Elaine was lost in thought, and she put up little resistance to Guybrush's tuggings. She couldn't be sure yet, but it looked like Guybrush was telling the truth. Which meant Upchuck didn't know he was here. So what was Upchuck after? It couldn't be as simple as a direct assault on Pael, could it?
She was still thinking this over when they entered the cockpit. "Great to see you, Wally," said Guybrush, giving his copilot a slap on the back. "Let's get out of here."
These words jolted Elaine back to life. "Hey, what are you talking about? You're not going anywhere! I'm needed here!"
Wally looked around, and did a double take. "Wow!" he blurted out. "What's she doing here?"
"It's a long story," said Guybrush.
Wally looked adoringly at Elaine. "You're beautiful!" he said.
"Oh, shut up," said Elaine.
Wally was still staring at her. Completely oblivious to the view out the front viewscreen, where a tiny black shape at the end of the passage was rapidly growing in magnitude. "Watch out!" shouted Guybrush, and leapt for the controls. Unfortunately, the handcuffs were too short, and he ended up on the floor instead.
Elaine took over. Seeing the oncoming threat, she leant forward over Guybrush and cut the throttle. They came to a dead halt.
Wally finally looked around. In the passage before them, blocking the way out, was a squat black ship. "Oh dear," said Wally.
Part 32: Marko v. Guybrush
"Who is that?" said Guybrush. "It doesn't look like one of Upchuck's fighters. Does Pael have ships like this?"
"No," said Elaine. They were all staring at the black ship, which had not yet moved.
Then the comm link flickered, which meant the ship was about to communicate with them. A face appeared on the screen, and as they saw it Elaine and Guybrush began to speak at once.
"That's the man that stole my red rock!" said Elaine indignantly. "He-"
"That's Marko Bent!" exclaimed Guybrush. "He's one of Upchuck's guys-"
"-the fighters must be inside Pael! Upchuck's already got his men-"
"-they're after me! Marko never liked me-"
They both shut up, because Marko had begun talking. "Guybrush Threepwood," he said, in an even voice. "I'll keep this short and simple. I know you've got Elaine Marley on your ship. Hi there, Governess," he added for Elaine's benefit, his voice not changing at all. "Put her down on the floor of this passage, then fly off, and I'll pick her up. You have precisely one minute to do this. If you don't do as I say, you get blasted into tiny hot bits. All understood?"
Elaine leant forward over the comms equipment. "You bastard," she said. "Upchuck's sent you to get my second rock, did he? What'd you do with the first?"
Marko paled momentarily at the mention of Upchuck, then he laughed. "Oh no, this has nothing to do with Upchuck. Strictly freelance."
"I wouldn't try anything, Marko," warned Guybrush. "We've got you out-powered and outgunned."
Marko laughed again. "You never did know how to bluff, Guybrush. Remember. One minute." Then he shut off the link.
Immediately, Elaine turned to Guybrush and an urgent discussion began.
"How fast can this thing go?" said Elaine.
"Normally - quite fast," said Guybrush. Seeing Elaine's face he added, "At the moment, not very fast at all."
"So there's no chance of outrunning them?"
"Until we get a chance to repair, I wouldn't trust this ship to turn around safely."
"What about firepower?"
"Fifty seconds left," announced Wally.
"Ummm... well, we don't have much of it."
"Right. So you're basically saying we're sitting ducks."
Elaine thought. "Maybe if I was to get off the ship, run underneath their ship, and sabotage it somehow..."
"They'd be watching," said Guybrush. "Besides, you're still handcuffed to me."
"Don't remind me," said Elaine bitterly. She could feel the seconds ticking away, not just the seconds on Marko's minute, but the seconds as Upchuck's fighters, vastly superior in numbers and technology, swarmed around Pael and slowly gained the upper hand.
There was very little time left in which to save Pael. Maybe already it was too late...
Part 33: Hack and a Half
Elaine bit her lip. To hell with it...
She looked at Guybrush. "Does this ship have a NC-10 communications terminal?"
"It does," said Wally. "Thirty seconds," he added.
"Show me the controls."
Wally scrambled out of his seat, nearly tripping in his haste. "Right here!" he said, pointing to a small black keyboard. Elaine came forward and sat down, with Guybrush dragged helplessly behind. She began typing furiously.
"What are you doing?" said Guybrush, his handcuffed hand being jerked around by all the movement.
Elaine's eyes never left the monochrome readout and her fingers never left the keyboard. "Hacking into Pael's maintenance AI bot. It's supposed to be impregnable, but I know most of the passwords."
"How long is this going to take?" said a worried Guybrush.
"Twenty seconds," Wally and Elaine said simultaneously. They looked at each other. "Or so," added Elaine. She stopped typing for a moment, looked up, and studied the walls on either side of the ship. "Wally, is it? I think it might be a good idea if we back up a few metres."
Wally jumped into the pilot's chair, and grabbed the flight yoke. Right away, the ship jerked backward.
The next instant, Marko fired.
It was a glancing blow, and the only indication that anything had been hit was the sudden dip and flash of the room's lighting, and a barely felt shudder that was gone even as it came.
"Warning shot," said Guybrush.
"Ten seconds," said Wally.
Elaine ignored them. Her fingers whipped across the keyboard like a video stuck on fast-forward.
Without any warning, a thick metal wall shot up right before them, closing off the passageway.
Elaine sat back and sighed. "Did it," she said. "That should hold them for a while."
Guybrush stared at the blank, featureless metal wall. There was perhaps a couple of inches clearance between it and the ship. "What did you do?" he said.
"All these passages are closed off at regular intervals by bulkheads," said Elaine. "We use them for various security purposes... don't think I'm going to tell you what these are..."
"Are there others in this passage?" said Guybrush, interrupting. He'd just had an idea. "I mean, if there's one behind Marko's ship, we could trap him!"
Elaine sat up, an irritated look on her face. "Never thought of that." She typed away for five seconds, then sat back again. "Done."
"Did it work?" asked Wally.
"Can't tell," said Elaine. "They might have reversed in time. They might be trapped inside. The bulkhead might have cut their ship in half."
She stood up, and looked at them both. "Now let's go-"
Elaine suddenly stopped. She had no idea what she'd been about to say.
"Go?" asked Guybrush. "Go where?"
Part 34: Elaine Joins Up
Elaine's view of the cockpit:
In front of her, in the left corner of her vision, the slightly short guy Guybrush called Wally. Red hair, pudgy hands, intense, guileless eyes. The monocle made him look somewhat like an otter. On her right, closer, the space pirate Guybrush Threepwood. Medium-sized, long lanky ponytail, filthy clothes and unwashed face. All around them, the cockpit. An oily, grimy floor; walls hung with tattered photos of Earth landscapes, family and friends, and tacky tourist souvenirs; the ceiling dim and dotted here and there by hanging clumps of wire.
Looking at this, Elaine began to get very depressed. She could see the future stretching out in front of her...
But there was only one thing they could do.
Elaine began talking. "I've got another of those red rocks, here on Pael."
"We call them portal stones," said Guybrush.
"Can't say I've heard that name before. Anyway, I'm almost certain Marko knows about it. He probably knows where it is. I'd never ask this in a normal situation, but I'd like you two to help me pick it up."
Guybrush brightened up. Handcuffed or not to this hostile stranger, the prospect of imminent enrichment still had its allure.
"We'll be glad to!" said Wally excitedly. He was back in the flight chair. "Can I fly you there? You can give me directions."
Elaine sighed. "All right. Left up here..."
As they started moving, Guybrush began thinking. If they handled this right, they could come out of it with two portal stones. Once it was in the hold, a quick phaser shot and they could be off. Immediately, however, Guybrush had a vision of being handcuffed to a corpse for all eternity. Urgh... better set the phaser to stun.
But what was Elaine planning? Having seen her outwit Marko Bent, Guybrush knew she wasn't slow. She must know they would plan to steal her portal stone. Which meant she would have a counter plan... some way of keeping them on Pael until she could summon reinforcements. Maybe she already had - she'd certainly used the keyboard for a long time.
And if all that wasn't enough to worry about, there was Upchuck's pirate fleet. Why was it here? To destroy Pael? Get the portal stone? Or get Guybrush? The appearance of Marko was too extraordinary to be a coincidence, but what did it signify?
Dozens of unanswered questions floated through Guybrush's head, making him dizzy. It seemed like only a few seconds had passed before Wally pulled up and Elaine said, "Here we are."
She sat down, again pulling Guybrush forward, and typed commands into the NC-10. Guybrush looked out the viewscreen, and saw a blank metal wall with a horizontal slit in it - twice the width of their ship - about halfway up. As he watched, the slit widened into a thin rectangle as the two halves of the door pulled away from each other. The room beyond was very dark.
The doors were now fully open. Wally edged them forward. He hit a few switches and lights came on, repainting the room yellow.
The portal stone sat alone on the floor, starkly defined in the light.
Elaine breathed a sigh of relief. Guybrush whistled. "It's big," he said. "Where'd you get it?"
Elaine ignored him. She turned to Wally. "All right, turn us round to face the door. If Marko comes along, we'll be ready."
This did not particularly please Guybrush. "Pardon me, Ms. Marley, but that's not a good idea. If Marko knows where the portal stone is, he'll expect us to be here waiting for him. And Marko is the kind of guy who comes up with counter-measures. You've got to get this stone elsewhere while you still can. I know you're not about to trust us, but that's really all you can do."
Elaine sighed. "Okay, we'll do it your way. Wally, pull it up."
Part 35: Not Much Time
A few seconds later, there were two portal stones in the hold. The moment they were secured, Guybrush tapped Wally on the shoulder. "Time to go," he said.
Wally looked at Guybrush, then he turned to Elaine. "Where do you want us to go?" he asked politely.
Guybrush ground his teeth. His handcuffed hand twitched. "Wally-"
"Anywhere," said Elaine. "Just keep us moving."
Gently, Wally moved Boss Hog out into the passageway. Once they were moving, Elaine came forward again and reached for the NC-10 controls, dragging an unwilling Guybrush along.
"Do you really have to do that now?" Guybrush protested.
Elaine wasn't paying much attention. She was back in the cyberworld of Pael's automated machine systems. Intrigued despite himself, Guybrush stopped pulling back and took a look over her shoulder.
The small flat-LCD screen of the NC-10 was tiled with various videoscreen images. Most of them were of empty passages, tilted strangely and viewed from above. Guybrush realised Elaine was taking a look through the security cameras.
Perhaps sensing Guybrush peering over her shoulder, Elaine launched into an explanation. "I'm looking for Marko," she said. "Don't want him sneaking up on us unexpectedly..."
She stopped. Guybrush felt her freeze.
A new image had appeared on the NC-10, apparently taken from a security camera in the main hangar. Unlike all the other static passages, this one was full of energy and movement. Fighters whizzed about at unsafe speeds, explosions lit up the background with flickering orange light, and laser fire shot across the screen. No sound, but Guybrush could imagine it well enough.
Upchuck's fighters had penetrated Pael's defence.
"It's over," said Elaine. There was barely any emotion in her voice. "Upchuck's got Pael. Ten billion credits gone." She looked disoriented and confused. Wally offered her a tissue, which was ignored.
"We've got to get out," said Guybrush. He felt like his arteries were filled with liquid ice. The NC-10 image was stuck on that main hangar, but Guybrush could well imagine the fighters penetrating further, spreading out... and finally coming to them. No way out.
This changed everything.
He shook Elaine. "Is there any other way out?" Guybrush said urgently.
Elaine seemed to come back to her senses. "Yes..." she began tentatively, before a sudden urgency gripped her. "Yes there is. A construction exit that hasn't been used in ages."
"How do we get there?"
"I'll fly." Elaine sat down in the seat next to Wally. She reached forward for the controls, with Guybrush's arm an unwanted appendage.
They sped away. Within seconds Elaine had twice sent them crashing into the passage walls, admittedly glancing blows but the ship shuddered terribly. "Are you sure you can fly these things?" said Guybrush, gripping a seat leg.
"I haven't in a while," said Elaine. "These controls are too heavy..."
Steadily she improved her flying, and the crashes became fewer. They sped up. Passages flew by in a blur, but Elaine was prudent enough to slow down carefully for each corner. Guybrush found himself glancing out the rear viewscreen occasionally. No pursuit yet.
"How much further?" said Wally.
Part 36: Escape
The passage abruptly ended. "We're here," announced Elaine. She swivelled around, and typed a few commands into the NC-10. The hatchway in front of them opened.
They flew forward into a small airlock, barely large enough to house Boss Hog. "Wait a bit," said Elaine. A few seconds later, she said, "The back hatchway's closed." She typed some more, then the hatchway at their front opened. Beyond was the dotted emptiness of space.
"Wally," said Guybrush, "floor it."
They sped out from the hatchway.
* * *
Several minutes ago, the battle had been won. Upchuck's fighters, and the Pael defence, had been concentrated around the main gateway. As the last Pael fighter was blown into smithereens (whatever they are) Upchuck immediately put phase two of his plan into operation. Half the fighters were to enter Pael and flush it out. A few more would check out the evacuation fleet, make sure Guybrush wasn't among them. And the rest were to spread out evenly over Pael's surface, keeping every inch under scrutiny.
If they'd managed to leave five minutes earlier, Guybrush, Elaine and Wally would most probably have gotten away without being seen. Now, the moment they left the hangar Boss Hog was spotted by seven pirate craft. The craft flew straight for them, lasers firing.
Wally jerked the controls, and Guybrush jumped up into the air. He ran for the door. The handcuffs pulled him up short, and Guybrush fell on his back. "Come on!" he shouted at Elaine, as he got back to his feet. He grabbed her hand and pulled her along behind him.
"What are you doing?" shouted Elaine as they ran down the narrow passage.
"We've only got one chance!" said Guybrush. "Wally can't outrun these guys..."
He came to a ladder and half-ran, half fell down it. Elaine was nearly dragged through headfirst. In the passage below, Guybrush ran forward to a door and threw it open. The hold.
They ran inside, and Guybrush reached for his hip. Nothing there. Of course - he'd left his blaster back in the cockpit. He glanced at Elaine, and saw a blaster hanging off her belt.
Guybrush pointed at the portal stones. They sat side by side, nearly touching. "Shoot them," he said.
Elaine looked at him unbelievingly. "What? Why?"
Desperation: "Just do it!"
Elaine drew her blaster, not very convinced. She aimed at Guybrush's portal stone, and fired.
* * *
Seven laser bolts impacted on empty space. Two seconds later, the pirate craft crashed into each other. Where Boss Hog had been, there was nothing.
Part 37: Another Exit
Marko and Simon were speeding through the main Pael passages, desperately searching for Guybrush's ship.
It had all gone terribly wrong. Marko knew he'd been handling things badly, knew the one minute time limit had been a mistake. He'd been about to blow them up when the metal bulkhead cut them off. He'd made the mistake of underestimating Guybrush. And Elaine Marley.
Simon was not in the cockpit with him. When the bulkhead had swished up, Marko had immediately hit reverse. A few seconds later another bulkhead, behind the first, had also shut. They'd nearly been cut in half, making it out with only a few metres to spare. From this point on, Marko had been flying flat out through these twisting passages, trying to get as far away from Elaine as possible. If she could control bulkheads remotely - and who else would have done that? - then it would not pay to hang around. Next time she might get them. All the breakneck turns and sharp acceleration had bumped Simon around a bit, and maybe he'd left because he'd had enough bruises. But Marko thought otherwise. He guessed Simon had gotten a good, close look at his face, at the anger which Marko knew must be clouding his features. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to realise that if they didn't get Elaine's portal stone, their relationship would need a very rapid reappraisal...
As he flew, however, and as Simon continued not to appear, Marko grew more nervous. Finally he pulled the ship to a halt, and stood up from the pilot's seat. He took his blaster and primed it, setting the power setting to lethal. Should have shot him as soon as they'd taken off... more mistakes from Marko.
He paused at the doorway. The main passage stretched out in front of him, short and narrow. Well lit. No space for an ambush. Marko edged forward, blaster held high, slowing as he approached doorways. At each doorway he whipped the blaster around, ducked, and rolled in. In each room, the end result was the same - no Simon.
He came to a hatchway in the floor. The two portal stones were here - it led down to the hold. Marko, rather than bending down for the latches, kicked it up. He jumped back and waited for the blaster fire.
None. Marko edged forward, sighting down his blaster. The ladder ran down to the floor in front of him, and he couldn't see Simon. But most of the room was hidden from view, and how could he get down there? Just walking down would present his legs as perfect targets. Going down head first was even more ludicrous.
Time for bold measures. Marko jumped down, hitting the metal floor with a loud clatter. He sprang up, and darted behind a cupboard. Then, ever so slowly, he turned to look at the room.
The portal stones took up most of the hold. Standing between them was Simon, his head visible. One hand was held up, and in it was a blaster.
No time for thought. No time to wonder where Simon had sprung the blaster from. Marko fired. As he ducked back into cover, he heard the 'spang!' as his blast hit a metal wall. Simon must have ducked in time.
Before Marko could take any more action, Simon spoke up. "I think you should listen very carefully, Marko," he called out. Sounded like he was sprawled on the floor. "I thought you might try to kill me. So I may as well warn you that this blaster I'm holding is pressed against one of the portal stones. If you try that again, I'll fire."
"That's all?" said Marko. The threat didn't worry him much... with Upchuck apparently set to destroy Pael, teleportation might be their only way out. It shouldn't be too hard to reverse the process. "Even if you do it, I'll just kill you afterward."
"Ah, but then how will you get back? You might find, Marko, that you're stranded on the other side of the galaxy. How are you going to make the portal stones transport you back to the Solar System? Know any ways?"
"And you do?" countered Marko. He edged out from behind the cupboard. The portal stones still hid Simon from sight. Marko edged forward, using them as cover.
"I know a few techniques," said Simon.
Moving with a quickness and agility that surprised even himself, Marko rounded the portal stone, and fired into the gap between the stones.
Simon wasn't there. Even before the sound of his shot had faded, Marko felt the air move behind him. Blaster in hand, Simon had come around from behind the other portal stone.
"Oh dear," said Simon. "Seems I can't trust you, Marko." His finger tightened on the trigger.
Marko had no time to move, and his blaster was pointed wholly in the wrong direction. He shot it anyway.
The blast hit one of the portal stones. Together, they suddenly fired with a red glow. Simon looked around, his jaw dropping. "You-"
Marko charged at him.
Part 38: Alone
"Cute," said Elaine.
Guybrush glanced at her, caught by surprise.
"Most interesting," she continued. "Rocks that flash when you shoot them, before jumping into the air and spinning around a bit. Neat party trick. Now," here her voice grew more serious, "why the hell did we have to do that?"
Guybrush pulled her back to the doorway. It had worked, and Guybrush was feeling better now. They still had this woman, but at least they were out of danger. "Come on, I'll show you," he said, "Ms. Marley."
They went back up the ladder and along the passageway. In the cockpit, they found Wally checking the various controls. Everything looked fairly normal.
"So, where are we, Wally?" said Guybrush.
Beside Guybrush, Elaine suddenly stopped, and raised a hand to her mouth. Right in front of her, out of the viewscreen, was nothing but empty space. What had happened to all the pirate ships? The huge bulk of Pael? "What... happened?" she said.
Guybrush looked at her, waiting for Elaine to piece it together.
"You mean... when I shot the portal stones they... they're some kind of matter transportation system?"
"That's right," said Guybrush. "And they've already saved our neck twice."
"Uh, Guybrush..." said Wally.
"Wow!" said Elaine, suddenly seized by a overwhelming vision. "Imagine what you could do with this stuff! You could save a fortune on fuel... set up rapid transport between the planets..."
"Guybrush, I think something's wrong," said Wally.
This got their attention. "What is it, Wally?" said Guybrush.
"I don't know where we are."
This shouldn't have been any cause for alarm. As far as they knew, the portal stones sent them to entirely random locations in the Solar System. Of course they wouldn't know where they were... at least, until they'd had a bit of a look around. But some intuition made Guybrush look up, back out the viewscreen. And he felt the first stirrings of alarm.
The stars were unrecognisable.
To someone on earth this might not have seemed very ominous, but on earth the view of the night sky was affected by latitude and rotation. Out in the freedom of space there was just one backdrop, the Milky Way as seen from this small far-flung corner. Because the stars were so far away, there was barely any parallax as you moved from Mercury to Pluto. Space Pirates, those that spent their lives out in the deep of space, soon knew the backdrop of stars like the back of their hand.
Now, this familiar vista was nowhere to be seen. Confronting Guybrush were constellations and groupings of stars that were completely unfamiliar. He started to get a very bad idea.
This was lost on Elaine, who hadn't spent the same amount of time in space. She was merely confused. "What do you mean you don't know where we are?" she asked Wally.
Wally looked up from the controls. "Uh, the portal stones take us to a different location each time. It's randomised somehow."
"But we are in the Solar System, right?"
Wally looked uncomfortable. "Well, we should be..."
Elaine's mouth dropped open again. "What do you mean should be? Where are we?" She looked to Guybrush, hoping for some sanity, but the blank look on his face didn't help at all.
"The onboard computer is just calculating the distances to the stars on the viewscreen," said Wally. "Once it does that, it'll be able to pinpoint our place in the galaxy."
"In the GALAXY!?!"
"It's just coming up..." There were five seconds of tense silence, with Elaine and Oscar staring at the computer readout, and Guybrush somewhat lost beside them, staring out into space, trying to puzzle out the stars.
A figure flashed up.
"We're forty thousand light years from Earth," read Wally.