Having gotten Tam on board, I turned to the Sheriff. “If you and your deputies are too tired to come, they don’t have to. We’ve got this.”
“Whether it’s Gnomenasher or your friends,” the Sheriff replied, “we’re in as well. We came to help get you home. We’re not quitting now.”
“Well, I’m not going,” Haf said, putting a damper on our growing mood of unity,
“Oh, thanks,” Pem grumbled. “You know one of us is going to have to go with them until they’re out of here.”
“You’d rather deal with the LeechVine that doesn’t realize its people now? Because if you would…”
“No,” Pem stopped her there. “I’ll deal with the bipeds. You can have the leechvine all to yourself.”
Haf gave him an insincere smile. “You’re so kind.”
With that resolved, Pem led us down to the garage where we piled into what resembled a hovercraft if it had been designed to work underwater. There was no top, only a windshield, presumably to protect us from drag, except in this case the drag would be coming from water not wind. So I guess that makes it a watershield.
After we all piled into the craft, we sailed off into the ocean. It was a bit of a new experience for me, driving around under the sea without a roof over my head. But as far as strangeness goes, it really barely registered compared to the rest of the trip. I was driving out to save a giant gerbil with a bunch of trolls and a surly time-traveler.
“We’re coming up on the location of the blip,” Pem said as he slowed the seacraft down. “We’re going to have to be very careful. We don’t know what’s waiting us, but I’m getting a lot of activity up ahead. So be prepared for anything.”
And that’s when tentacles shot out of the ground and began trying to grab us. They were everywhere! It was like a forest of them. For a second, I began to fear that leechvine had returned. I didn’t want to be caught by that thing again. That was until I saw what it really was and then I reconsidered. It was a giant squid creature. It’s central body was several times bigger than our craft and it had over a dozen massive limbs.
Pem was able to keep us from its grasp but he couldn’t avoid the limbs altogether. We were struck hard by one of them and the craft went tumbling. We had no choice but to scatter and abandon our transport. Some of managed to get free of the vehicle with greater ease than others. Pem and Tam got away fine with almost no difficulty. But the trolls, however, had a much more difficult time. They became easy prey for the monster. It wrapped them up in its tentacles one after the other and I seemed destined to join them. But as a gigantic tentacle reached for me, and escape seemed unlikely, the giant squid suddenly began to convulse. The squid’s tentacles began to flail about randomly. Unfortunately, randomly flailing tentacles were still fairly dangerous to us all.
I was tossed back and forth by the surging waters, thrown upside down and all around. And just when it seemed to be at its worse. The squid exploded and I was thrown back through the waters with incredible force. If we had been on land, I would’ve smashed headlong into a wall or a cave or just slammed into the ground, but since we were in the ocean, I was slowed down by the water that pressed back against me. For the most part, it left me confused and mildly bruises, which was much preferred to broken legs and mildly concussed.
After righting myself, I swam back to the others. “What the hell just happened?”
“That was clearly a Lowardian borderbot,” Pem replied, “but I have no idea why it malfunctioned like that. They’re usually much better made.”
“It was made fairly well,” Tam said. “For primatives. But they completely slacked on their hackingware. I was able to override it easily. I slipped into its CPU, rearranged its mission statement, randomized its targeting systems, and greatly overclocked its OS. Piece of Cake.”
“Huh?” Crag grunted.
“They made it explode,” I explained.
“You couldn’t have done that before we lost our transport?” Pem grumbled, unhappily.
“Maybe you should build better transports,” Tam retorted.
“We have better transports! But I don’t get to check them out just so I can taxi landpeople around.”
“Fair enough,” I said, cutting in before they got into a fight, “but we can still follow the signal, right?”
“Yes, we can follow the signal,” Tam said. “I don’t need any of the Merapolian technology to track the ‘exotic particles’. I’m not even sure why we even needed this merapolian in the first place.”
“Because this is their home. He knows things about this world that we don’t.”
Tam glared at me, presumably unhappy that I had actually had a semi-valid answer. “That didn’t save us from that giant mechanical cephalopod, did it?”
“I had hoped that we’d be able to avoid the borderbot,” Pem said to his own defense, “since we were not in an attack vessel. But apparently the size of our vessel was not seen as little of a threat as I had hoped.”
“Never underestimate what mayhem one can get up to, no matter the size of their vessel,” Tam said, straight-faced.
“But can we still get there?” the Sheriff asked. “We need to save Gnomenasher. He’s counting on us.”
“The Giant Gerbil?” Tam snickered.
“Yes. The Giant Gerbil.”
“No offense, Sheriff, but I don’t think the gerbil has any idea we’re coming to rescue it.”
“It doesn’t matter if he knows or not,” I said, once again trying to keep Tam from instigating a fight. “What matters is that he needs us and that we’ll be there whenever he does.”
“That’s all well and good,” Pem said. “But how are we going to get there to save him? We don’t have a transport.”
“We swim,” I said.
“What about the traps they have laid out for us?”
“Avoiding ones like this shouldn’t be a problem,” Tam said. “Now that I know what to be on the lookout for.”
“And traps that are not like this?” Domoban asked.
“We’ll all just have to do our best to avoid those, won’t we?”
to be continued…