Waking Up in an Underwater Hospital

Just then, Pem came swimming in. His arm appeared to be in some kind of cast and he had brownish bandage wrapped around his head. “Relax, Frank. Everything is fine. The Sheriff and his deputy made it back fine and Lowarden, as of yet, haven’t tried to retaliate.”

Retaliate for us having invaded their lands and destroyed their city, I almost replied, but I managed even in my mental fog to keep my mouth from going off with out me because I was much more interested in why they kept saying I had an injury but refused to tell me what kind.

“What happened to me?” I demanded, getting straight to the point. I was in no mood to play around.

“Your leg…”

“My…” I tried to maneuver myself in the water so I could see it – I couldn’t feel my right leg at all! – but I had trouble maneuvering.

“There was a lot of blood. I was surprised we were able to keep you alive all the way back here.

“My leg!? What about my leg!?!”

“It’s…gone.”

“Gone?” The word made no sense to me. “No. How can…How can that be? How can it be…?”

“You lost it in the explosion. When we were trying to escape, we entered the tunnel…You remember that, don’t you?”

I nodded.

“There was a torpedo…”

“Right.” I remembered frantically swimming away from it. “It exploded behind us.”

“We got caught it in its blast,” Pem continued. “We all were thrown about and took our bumps and bruises.”

I nodded again. Sure, that made sense.

“You were the closest to it, Frank. You got hit hard. You lost your leg. It was all we could do to keep you from bleeding out.”

I glanced down at my feet and there appeared to be two. “Lost? But I see it right there.”

Pem shook his head. “That’s a prosthesis. We were able to replace your lost limb with a cybernetic limb. It may take some time for it to sync completely to your brainwaves. It is, however, a Merapolian limb, so while it will drastically increase your maneuverability here in the water, up there on the land, it may not function as well. But it is all we have. We don’t get many landbreathers down here, but I’m sure it will be fine.”

I looked at the robotic limb. It ended with more of a flipper than a foot and it seemed to be a dark blue, though it was hard to tell under the sea. I traced it from the foot to the ankle to the calf up to where it connected to my thigh. This was all rather discombobulating.

“Maybe you should give it a try, Frank? We should check to make sure the interface is running efficiently.”

“Sure,” I said, uneasily. I just couldn’t believe it was real.

“Ok,” Pem said. “Just move slowly. Just slow, deliberate movements. First thing, just try moving the foot. Just wiggle it.”

I moved my robotic foot up and down.

“You’re awake!” Tam said, quickly paddling into the room. “Finally! Maybe now we can get out of here!”

“I don’t think that would be wise,” Pem said. “We haven’t finished calibrating…”

“I can take care of that. And don’t worry, Frank, I have a few ideas for how we can upgrade it.”

“Upgrade it?” I repeated. I was still getting used to the idea that I needed to have some kind of prosthesis. I wasn’t ready to start thinking about modifying it. I was barely ready to admit that I was even awake.

“It’ll be great, but we can worry about that after we leave.”

“He really shouldn’t…” Pem tried again, but Tam wouldn’t be dissuaded.

“Come on, Frank. We don’t have time for this. I have things to do. You have things to do. The Sheriff and his deputies have things to do. They have a village to get back to. We all have important things to take care of.”

“But what are you even doing here?” I asked, recalling the last time I had seen them. “You were supposed to have taken Gnomenasher out of here.”

“I did, Frank. I took him to the dimensional gateway with that habitat we mobilized and I dropped him off on the other side. And I waited, Frank. I waited a long time and you didn’t show up, so I came back to get you.”

“You waited?” That was a shock to me. He waited ‘a long time’? “How long was I out?”

“Not long at all,” Pem assured me. “Less than a day.”

“A day! A whole day!”

“Not a WHOLE day.”

“What does that mean? How long even is a day on this world? Can you even tell all the way down here?”

“Yes, Frank, we’re capable of telling time,” Pem said, sharply. “Maybe your friend is right. Maybe you should leave.”

I opened my mouth to apologize, but Tam jumped in. “You’re very right. It’s time for us to leave. Come on, Frank. Let’s get moving!”

Tam grabbed me and pulled me out of the room. “What are you doing?” I yelled.

“I’m getting you out of here, Frank. I’m getting us all out of here. We’ve all wasted too much time in this world. It’s about time we finally moved on to the next thing, back to what we set out to do.”

to be continued…

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To Make A Room Swim

“Just listen to me,” I told Tam. “We’re not inside a building. This room is only attached to a bunch of tubes. And aside from that, we’re already sealed in. All we have to do is detach the tubes and we’re ready to go.”

“And we’re ready to sink,” Tam rebutted. “What do you think is holding us up?”

“Yes, we need a source of locomotion,” I admitted, “but how hard can that be?”

“How hard can that be?” Tam repeated incredulously. “To give locomotion to a large metal box? You do realize we’re in the bottom of the ocean, don’t you? It’s not like there’s an Engines R’ Us right next door? It’s not like there’s anywhere I can go buy a giant propeller.”

“Yes, I realize that,” I told them, as I treaded water, noting that both of us stayed above the surface despite both of us currently being able to breath underwater. “But I also realize you’re not just some joe schmoe off the street. And neither am I. We can do this. We can take this room, take the devices and electronics of the room and we can transform them into something that can help us. I know we can.”

“I’m not so sure. This is a room. Not a car. A holding cell, not an electronics shop.”

“What other options do we have?”

“You think we don’t have other options?”

“I’m open to whatever suggestion you have.”

“No, you’re not.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I’m not open to abandoning these people. I’m not open to letting this animal die.”

“See? You’re not open to any of my suggestions.”

“Are you going to be serious?”

“I am serious. We should leave these strangers and go and save our comrades.”

“Outside of Kink, you and your comrades are as much strangers to me as these people are.”

“That may be true, but we are aligned against a common foe.”

“And the Sheriff and his deputies helped me without having a common enemy, they helped me simply because I needed it. So now you want me to abandon them, just because things are getting tough? I should leave them just because their selfish needs are not necessarily the same as mine?“

“You know,” Tam replied. “Your insistence on playing the hero is going to get us killed.”

“If it keeps everyone else safe,” I said, “then so be it.”

“Do I count amongst the ‘everyone else’ who’s going to be safe?”

I smiled. “I sure hope so.”

Tam let out a long sigh. “Ok. Fine. How are we going to turn this half-filled deathtrap of a room into a magic school bus?”

“Hard work and clean living,” I replied.

“So, you have no idea?”

“Well, I haven’t gotten a chance to inspect the room yet, have I? I’ve been arguing with you this whole time!”

Tam said no more and the two of us got to work. Within no time at all, we were able to make the room seaworthy, even drained out most of the water so we could get in more oxygen, but in the end actual locomotion was going to need someone to go outside to make it happen.

“And let me guess,” Tam said. “It’s going to be me whose going to have to go out there.”

“It can be both of us,” I told them. “We’re in this together. And we can do it quicker that way.”

Tam rolled their eyes, but the two of us went outside together, quickly so as not to take on too much water. We immediately began to disconnect the tubes from the room. After we removed all the unimportant bits, we regrouped. “All right,” Tam said. “Now what?”

“Now we start working on making it go,” I told them.

“Yeah? You have a way to do that? Maybe some way to do it fast, too?” They gestured over to show that the city was far from deserted. There were patrols of squid people everywhere, presumably looking for us. And worst of all it seemed are time spent disconnecting the room hadn’t gone unnoticed. One of the patrols had spotted us and were coming our way.

“Stay here,” Tam said. “I’ll take care of them.”

“No,” I said. “You stay here. I’ll go.”

“This is no time to play hero, Frank.”

“I’m not. You can work on the room faster than I can. You have a better chance of getting Gnomenasher out of here safely than I do.”

“And that’s what we need to worry about?” Tam scoffed. “That gerbil?”

We didn’t have the time to float here and argue. So I didn’t. “Get him out of here!” I yelled before swimming off at the oncoming squidpeople.

Four squidpeople with guns immediately saw me and began to swim right at me. What could I do to stop them? I had no weapons. I had no abilities. I was alone with no one to help me. Not that I could really complain. I made this bed and I’m going to lie in it whether it gets me killed or not.

So I didn’t turn tail and run. Instead, I swam right back at them, that seemed to surprise the squid people enough to make them stop swimming. Once I saw them pause, I began to dive down as quickly as I could. When I started to tire, I glanced back up and saw they were all hot on my heels. Any advantage from surprising them I’d had was disappearing. But my goal had been to distract, to draw their attention, to keep them away from Tam, and it looked like I was doing it. Now, I just had to keep doing it. So I did the only thing I could to keep them focused squarely on me: I spun around and I surrendered.

to be continued…

How to Transport a Giant Gerbil through an Underwater City of People Trying to Kill You

“What’s this?” I asked, as we came up to the door.

“How am I supposed to know?” Tam replied.

“You led us here.”

“Because this is where my sensors led me.”

“Like they led to me.”

“Exactly,” Tam replied, looking at their arm display.

“So that means one of us is in there.”

“If there were an ‘us’, whatever’s inside wouldn’t be one of it.”

“Stop being difficult. You know what I mean.”

“There’s a non-native in that room,” Tam said. “I can tell you that. Whoever or whatever it is, it is emitting exotic material that is similar to the material that is emitted from your other ‘friends’. Is that clear enough for you? Because that’s all I can tell you with certainty.”

“Just open it,” I told them.

The door puckered open revealing the unmistakable giant gerbil known as Gnomenasher. But, before I could move, water began streaming into the room and I belatedly discovered that he had been kept in there with no rebreather. Meaning to keep him alive, they had kept him in a room filled with air. Air that was currently streaming out. In other words, I just killed Gnomenasher!

I hadn’t meant to do that. It had never occurred to me that the Lowarden wouldn’t have attached some kind of breathing apparatus to him, just as the Merapolian had done to us. But the air-filled room, now opened to the ocean, was beginning to fill with water and stream out all of its air. If we waited another second, Gnomenasher would surely be killed. Fortunately Tam realized this as soon as I did (perhaps sooner) and the two of us rushed inside, closing the door behind us.

The door sealed shut, but the room was already half-filled with water. And while Tam and I could conceivably keep breathing the oxygen in the water, Gnomenasher still needed the air to breath and we had just greatly reduced the amount of oxygen in the room. One would imagine, though, that the Lowardians were pumping air into this room, otherwise Gnomenasher probably would have died from CO2 poisoning hours ago. So, that meant there was a chance the room might even pump the water out of the room as well. It might just be wishful thinking, but I had to try to stay positive.

Unfortunately, getting out of there was still a major problem. We had to leave at some point, not only because we all wanted to get back to our homes, but also because the Lowardians would eventually figure out that we were hiding in here and imprison us, at the best. “Can you get Gnomenasher out of here safely?”

“Are you asking if I can somehow magically carry that big pile of meat out of here while somehow keeping him from drowning in that ocean of water we have to swim through and keeping him from being killed by the army of other dimensional beings that want us all to die?” Tam asked.

“I wouldn’t have used the word ‘magically’, but, yes, can you keep him from drowning and being shot?”

“And how do you think I can do that while also trying to escape with out dying myself?”

“I don’t know. A force field?”

“And I’d keep him from suffocating inside it, how?”

“The same way you keep yourself from suffocating.”

“Frank,” Tam replied, “I’ve been bioengineered to survive under extreme conditions. Your giant rabbit here, hasn’t gone through any of that. He’s going to die if we take him out there.”

“Ok. So then what are we going to do?”

“Well, the smart thing to do would be to just leave him and head straight to the portal and get out of this accident of a dimension, so that we can get back to saving all of time from those authoritarian watchmen run amok, but I get the sad feeling like that options off the table.”

“Yes,” I replied, unamused by Tam rhetoric. “Abandoning people in need who are counting on us is out of the question. We’re going to help these people, so tell me can you get all of us out of here safely? Or do we need to put our heads together and figure this out?”

“No, Frank. I cannot just carry your hamster out into the water and keep him safe. If you’re so desperate to save it, you’re going to have to come up with another solution.”

“Fine,” I told them. “I guess we’ll just have to come up with some other way to get us all out of here.”

“There’s no way out of here, except for that door, Frank,” Tam said. “Either we go through it or we stay here and return to the mercies of the Lowardians. Your friends aren’t going to come and save us, so you can count that out. We can’t just stay here. We have to move.”

“Except we have to stay here.”

“We can’t!” Tam growled. “We have to…”

“Stay here,” I said, getting an idea. “We have to stay here and we have to leave.”

“We can’t do both.”

“Except…we can! We can stay in here AND we can leave!”

“Maybe I should take a look at that rebreather,” Tam said, swimming closer to me.

I pushed them away. “I’m not loopy. I’m serious. All we have to do is leave the city without leaving the room!”

to be continued…

Moral Questions in Underwater Rescues

Tam started to swim off down the transparent tube and I did my best to keep up, but neither of us got very far before we were joined once again by the quintet of squid people looking slightly worse for wear. “I knew this was all your fault,” the lead squid said. “You tried to trick us, pretend that you and the Merapolian weren’t trying to spring a trap, but here it is, the trap. Now, we know. You were the distraction. And that,” he pointed at Tam, “was the trap. Or…are both of you the trap?”

“There was no trap!” I insisted.

“We’ve come for our people,” Tam said, shutting down the explanation I was about to make. “If you want the destruction to end, you’ll return them.”

“The only…” the squid person began to say, but once again Tam interrupted.

“I don’t care. You give them to us or we take them. Those are your only choices.”

“We can’t kill them,” I told them.

I can,” Tam replied, putting heavy emphasis on the singular pronoun.

“No.”

“He’s right,” the squidperson said. “You will not. It will be us who ends you.”

“Ok,” Tam agreed. Maybe I won’t kill you. But I will do this.“ They raised their hand and ice began to shoot out. Within seconds, the squidpeople were imprisoned in ice formations. Tam then looked at me. “See? Still alive. How about that?”

“You can shoot ice out of your hands!” I exclaimed.

“No. Don’t be ridiculous. I can modify the energy output of the molecules around me. The fact that water this far below the surface is already pretty cold only makes it all that easier.”

The water didn’t feel very cold to me, but I just chalked that up to the rebreather working its magic. “And they’ll be fine like that?”

“They will…” Then Tam turned back to the squidpeople and a threatening tone returned to their voice, “as long as they tell me where the others are.”

“We’ll…tell…you…nothing!” the squid man said, stammering from the ice.

“Fine. Then stay like that. I can find the others just as easily with my scanners. Come on, Frank.”

“Wait,” I said. “Is that true?”

“I found you, didn’t I?”

“And what about them?”

“What about them?”

“We can’t just leave them there trapped in ice!”

“And what would you rather us do, Frank? Bring them with us?”

“We can…”

“Forget them. They’ll be fine. They’re not humans. The cold isn’t so bad for them. You should worry about finding your friends or whatever they are.”

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” I said, though to be honest I really had no idea how the biology of these squid people actually functioned. For all I knew, their bodies would just go into a hibernation until the ice around them melted and they’d wake up fine.

“You know your problem, Frank,” Tam said. “You won’t take ‘everything’s fine’ as am answer. The amount of problems we have right now and you’re worried that the people standing in our way, who imprisoned you, who continue to threaten you, aren’t resting safely in a nice soft bed.”

“You know the problem with you, Tam,” I retorted. “You think ‘not killing people’ is an ask too far.”

“I’m not killing anyone.”

I pointed at the explosions beneath us.

“Ok. But I’m not killing these people. They’re fine.”

“And those people down there?”

“…They started it?”

“Are you kidding me? They started it?”

Tam gave me an unhappy look, then raised their hand. I could see the waves emanating outward, then I could feel the shaking. The eyes of the imprisoned squid people rolled up into the top of the heads. Then the ice around them shattered.

“What did you just do?” I demanded. “Did you…?”

“Relax,” Tam said. “They’re alive. I just sent an emission wave to break the ice that just so happened to have the effect of knocking our weakened adversaries out. Now, can we finally get on to saving your friends?”

I looked at the unconscious squid people and I looked down through the transparent floor at the destroyed city below. There hadn’t been any new explosions in a while. That was good, but I knew it was also bad. That meant they’d be coming for us now. No more explosions meant no more people getting hurt. Or at least, less people getting hurt. But less explosions also meant less distractions, which meant we were now the only thing this entire city of squid people had to worry about. “Maybe we should get going,” I said.

“Finally,” Tam said before quickly swimming away. I did my best to keep up.

After a few minutes, they took us through a hole in the transparent tube hallway and out into open water. I was surprised to feel little difference in the water. Was that the rebreather protecting me from the presumably very cold deep waters, I wondered. I didn’t need to worry about that for long because soon enough we were breaking our way back into another tube on our way to a part of the city that wasn’t see-through.

to be continued…

Can’t Stop the Mouth from Closing

There seemed to be at least a dozen of them. It was hard to get a completely accurate count while they were rushing toward us. However, I was able to a few observations. The main thing I noticed about them was the bottom half of their bodies, in that they didn’t have legs or even fishtails like the Meropolians. Instead, the lower half of their bodies were made up by tentacles. At first, I mistakenly thought that they were riding octopi, but then I soon realized that, no, those was actually their legs. They were squid people and they were attacking us.

“Run!” I yelled as I began to swim as fast a I could away from our attackers. Pem, the Sheriff, and Toleuk all swam with me. But Tam, however, chose to fight, firing laser blasts into the oncoming squid person horde. This took the squid people by surprise. They clearly had no been expecting a counter-attack. Their charge broke down into panic as they began to retreat.

While I stopped to admire Tam’s work, the others did not. They continued swimming onwards, oblivious to the fact that they were no longer being chased. “Nicely done,” I said as I swam up to Tam, trying to avoid the unconscious squid people, floating about them.

“Thank you,” they said. “But they weren’t..”

“Hold that thought,” I told them. “Because we need to hurry up and catch up to the others.”

“The others?” Tam looked for them.

“Yeah, they never stopped running, so they’re a bit down the ways.”

“Running,” Tam sneered, bubbles coming out of their nose. “Let’s go.” Before they started swimming after them, Tam added, “Well, they didn’t even slow down, did they?”

We swam after them as best we could, calling to them to stop, but they didn’t seem to be able to hear us for the longest time. Then, finally, I noticed the Sheriff glance over his shoulder. After a second glance, he got the others to finally come to a stop. All three of them turned around and waved for us to catch up. Though that helped no one, as we were already on our way, Tam going much faster than I. But their actions did have more dire consequences, as while they were waving us, they were unable to see what was happening ahead of them, namely that a giant sea monster was emerging from out the sand right behind their backs.

All we, Tam and I, could see of the monster was its large open mouth towering over the others. We tried to yell for them to move, to get out of the way, but we were too late and they were too slow. By the time they turned back around to see what was happening behind them, the mouth was already closing down around them.

Tam immediately accelerated, leaving me in the dust. As they got near, they began firing lasers at the monster, trying to stop it from eating our friends. I, on the other hand, was left unable to do more than keep swimming and yell as loud as I could the word, “Run!” But in the end, it didn’t matter. Neither of us could save our friends from disappearing into the mouth of that monster.

The creature then proceeded to sink back down into the ground. “Now what?” I said when I caught up to Tam. I half-expected them to suggest we turn back. With just the two of us, it seemed unlikely we would be able to save Gnomenasher on our own and Tam had never really been a fan of this plan. The last thing I had expected them to do was to dive down into the ground in pursuit of the monster. But Tam did that and that’s what happened.

I was suddenly all alone at the bottom of the sea, in the middle of the ocean in a dimension I now had no way to get out of.

Things were not looking up for me.

Going back to Merapolis was not an option. Firstly, because I did not really know the way back to the city. And secondly, because I just couldn’t abandon my friends. I certainly couldn’t get home without them. I had to hope that they were still alive. I couldn’t believe otherwise, I refused. And if they were alive, then they were in danger. I had to save them. I was going to save them. I began swimming onward.

It was lonely swimming by myself. I filled the time by worrying about if I was going the right way or not. Those worries disappeared, however, as I began to notice an object heading my way. As we got closer to each other, it continued to get larger and larger. This large mysterious object didn’t move like any submarine I had seen. Instead, it wriggled through the water like an eel, like a giant (presumably) killer eel. I immediately wanted to turn and run, but I had very strong doubts that I could get away. For one, it was much faster than me. And two, I was the visitor here, down under the water, this was its home. Really, my only chance of survival was to hide. But where to hide? There were no trees or bushes down here to hide in. No caves or giant corral reefs. I was out here in the open with nowhere to go.

I dropped to the seafloor and tried to bury myself underneath the sand. I’d seen fish do it in documentaries, why couldn’t it work for me? Because I was bigger than most fish and my hands weren’t made for digging, for starters, but I kept trying anyway. I was pretty much out of other options.

The giant eel was upon me before I had even made a dent on the seafloor. Its mouth opened wide, more than large enough to fit me inside. But just as it started to strike, I leapt out of its path and began swimming as hard as I could. The giant mouth went right by me, but it sent me spinning around in its wake.

By the time, I righted myself, the eel was already twisting its head back toward me. I knew that this time I wasn’t going to escape. I could see its sharp fangs glint in the light provided by the rebreather as it struck. I could see down the dark chasm that was its throat as I went falling into it. It swallowed me whole and I went bouncing down its gullet.

to be continued…

The Rescue Mission Hits a Bit of a Snag

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…

In Search of a Giant Gerbil

“No way?” Haf laughed. “Really?”

The Sheriff glared at her. “Yes, really. Not only do we care greatly for him. But Gnomenasher is also a magic finder. He can sniff out a drop of magic miles away. We’ll never be able to find the portal without him. The portal is invisible and over open water. There are no landmarks. Without Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck here forever!”

“Well, no one wants that,” the merwoman said. She seemed to think this was a joke, but no one else was laughing. “But if he is a airbreather like you, then I don’t know what to tell you. It must be too late for him by now.”

“She does have a point,” I said. “We lost contact with him when we were on the island. The island’s gone now. I think we may have lost him for good.”

The trolls were quiet for a few moments, then the Sheriff said through gritted teeth, “Fine. If there’s nothing we can do about it, then there’s nothing we can do. But that still leaves the problem of getting home. Without Gnomenasher, how are we going to find the portal home?”

“We should be able to find your portal no problem,” Haf said.

“We can?” Pem asked.

“Sure. We just use our satellites to search for exotic matter.”

“Assuming that the portals are always open,” I said, “as I guess we hope they are, they should be expelling some form of matter at all times. Even if they’re just on the subatomic level, something should be coming out, like an accretion disc on a black hole.”

“Whatever that means,” the Sheriff said. “But will it work?”

“I don’t know,” Pem replied, “but it’s certainly worth a shot.”

We all swam off to their communications laboratory where dozens of other merpeople were working. As we made our way toward the lab, I took in the city around us. It was strange seeing all these mermen and merwomen and merchildren just living their lives. They were strange and exotic to me, but here I was the strange one. Though, to be honest, I think they found the trolls even stranger than they did me.

When we reached the lab, Pem swam right up to the machine and moved a few columns about. The crystal display bursted into life. “That should do it.”

“This is us,” Haf said, pointing at one of the dots on the display. “So presumably that is you. This one is near where we found you, so that must be the portal.”

“Wait,” I said. “That’s us. That’s the portal. Then what,” I said pointing to the third dot on the screen, “is this one?”

“That’s…” Haf started, but came up short. She looked closer at the screen. “I don’t know what that is.”

Pem moved closer so he could see. “Whatever it is, it’s on the move.”

“Where’s it going?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t help with the where it’s going,” Tam said. “But it certainly looks like where it was coming from, is right around here.”

“Something else came through the portal?” Pem asked, sounding concerned. “What other creatures could you have unleashed on our unsuspecting world?”

“No one,” the Sheriff said. “We left people by the portal, but they would have never come through without my command.”

“That’s what you say.”

“It’s the truth.”

“If not some other weird creature from your world, then what could that thing be?”

“You misunderstand me,” the Sheriff said. “I think a weird creature from our world is exactly what this thing is.”

“Excuse me?” Pem said, confused.

“You see, I think this creature is Gnomenasher.”

“Your magicfinding giant gerbil?” Tam asked

“Exactly!”

“That’s incredibly unlikely,” Pem said. “It is highly improbable that your ‘gerbil’ could have survived in this environment. Judging by the rest of you, it’s most likely he’s also a land dweller and unable to breath water.”

The Sheriff countered simply with, “It’s him.”

“I think it’s worth a look,” I said.

“Oh, come on,” Tam countered. “We’re not going to waste time because a blip could be a gerbil, are we?”

“Tam, we need to the gerbil to find the portal.”

“Are you kidding me?” They pointed at the screen. “The portal’s right there!”

“Ok,” I relented, seeing that that wasn’t getting us anywhere. “How about we do it because Gnomenasher is important to them.”

“You know what should be important to them,” Tam replied. “Living to see another day. Having other days for them to live to see.”

“Fine. Fair enough. But what if that blip isn’t Gnomenasher? What if it’s Kink? Or Wu? Or G’fon? Shouldn’t we go looking for them?”

“It’s not G’fon or Kink or your friend, Lu Wu,” Tam replied, growing frustrated with me.

“How can you know that? You were sent here. Why not them?”

“Yes, I was sent here by those mysterious cloaked figures, but you were not. We weren’t all sent to the same world. Whatever those hooded figures were, they wanted us to be scattered across the omnibrane.”

“Maybe. But you have to admit there’s a possibility that that is a friend.”

Tam glared at me, then sighed. “Fine…there’s a possibility.”

“So we’re agreed. We’re going to go find out who that is and we’re going to save them.”

“Unless that someone turns out to be something horrible that wants to kill us,” Tam said. “And then we will all die.”

“We just escaped from something horrible that wanted to kill us. We want to go back to something horrible that wants to kill us. When isn’t there something horrible that wants to kill us? That’s the life we live. We might as well try to save someone while we’re at it.”

“You win, Frank. We’re going to go risk our lives and the future of the omnibrane for some stupid gerbil. Let’s just do it already.”

to be continued…