Welcome to the next chapter in our continuing saga. Chapter 8 was a little slow to get started, but once I added just a small touch of my own to the winning answer, everything started flowing quite nicely.
Before you begin, if you’d like to see the answers for Chapter 7’s question, “How does the standoff end?”, you can find them here. And in case you haven’t read them yet, here are the previous chapters: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6 & Chapter 7.
Please enjoy Chapter 8 of our story where we find out how the standoff comes to a conclusion.
The time for Rick to make a decision was non-existent, but he was used to it. Nothing helps you learn quicker than the fear of death, which is what made up the bulk of his training to become a Galaxy Gifted. It didn’t matter that it was all part of an elaborate virtual simulation.
When someone dies in their sleep, it’s only because they were too old, too lazy or too cowardly to stand up to their own damn dreams.
Rick was never asleep during his simulations, but the idea was the same. One mistake in the simulator and the “neural bomb” as he liked to call it would go off. Split second decision-making relied heavily on a cool, calm demeanor, an idea he learned the hard way when the skin on his chest burned completely off after he let fear get the best of him during the routine dismantling of a flash bomb. The pain of that event still lingered as a reminder.
Within the time it took Jaden to raise the gun and pull the trigger, a limitless amount of options flashed through Rick’s mind. He paired them down to three viable scenarios, all of which would keep Jaden from serious harm — maybe.
Scenario #1: Disarm Jaden by firing at the gun. Possible outcomes include disintegration of Jaden’s hand, which could lead to irreparable shock.
Scenario #2: Jump through the window and work out a new plan of attack. (Live to fight another day!) Possible outcomes include complete transformation of Jaden into Salinar’s slave. Even if a rescue mission was successful, prolonged exposure to the Osteris could lead to complete mind alteration.
Scenario #3: Leap into the kitchen and use the element of surprise to take out Salinar once and for all. Possible outcomes include Jaden falling into a catatonic state due to his connection to Salinar through the Osteris.
Rick didn’t care for any of the options, but the third scenario was the only one that would give him the chance to cut the head off the snake. Salinar was the shape-shifter’s lead strategist and combat operative. Without her, the rest of her faction would resort to making futile mistakes that would allow the Galaxy Gifted to finally put an end to their tyranny throughout the realms. No matter what it might do to Jaden, it was his best option.
As the first bullet sped from the barrel of Jaden’s gun, Rick dove into the kitchen. Another shot may have been fired as his body slid across the kitchen floor, but he was too preoccupied with mitigating the pain of his back hitting the pantry while simultaneously firing a direct hit against Salinar. Only it wasn’t Salinar he saw sitting against the counter and staring into the distance like a corpse on a ventilator.
Rick had been a millisecond away from killing his brother.
The whole thing could very well be another trick. The Osteris was powerful enough to keep Rick from seeing the truth, which meant it had the ability to play games with his mind. He wasn’t willing to take that chance, so he boosted the energy acceleration of his weapon to full power and kept it aimed at the zombie sitting in front of him.
“Salinar,” he said with command. “You know what I’m capable of. If you leave now without harming my brother, you will live. If not, you’re life is over.”
The laugh that followed sprinkled across Rick’s ear like a wine glass shattering over a glass floor. “I’m more powerful now than ever, Rick,” Salinar said. “You can’t kill me, not with your childish weapons.”
“I never said I would kill you, Salinar. The Galaxy Gifted will know what happened here, and they will not let it rest. Leave now and I will protect you from them.”
“I always knew you loved me.” Salinar’s voice (which still sounded uncomfortably like Jaden) was right above him on the other side of the counter. “Let me make you an offer. Surrender your last breath and I will promise your brother will be well protected.”
In all of the years Rick had known Salinar, not once had she ever offered to protect someone. Shape-shifters were notorious for their narcissistic need of self-preservation. The only reason she would make such a promise was to mock Rick (which wasn’t entirely out of the question) or because Salinar and Jaden were connected, and without him, she wouldn’t be able to control the Osteris. There was only one way he could test the theory. He didn’t like the idea, but without knowing which Jaden was the real deal, it had to be done. As sweat dripped from his brow, Rick turned the energy acceleration to the lowest setting and burned a hole in the upper arm of the Jaden sitting handcuffed in the kitchen. The body didn’t even flinch.
The other Jaden, though, screamed with the pitch of a defense whistle. Rick got his chance to end it all when he heard the gun hit the floor. He immediately stood and wasted no time firing off as many rounds as he could. Salinar dodged every last one, seemingly capable of anticipating each of the shots before they happened, and leapt through the window. Viable option #2!
Rick bolted to the window. By the time he got there, Salinar had disappeared among the trash. He thought about following her down, but with all of the shifting options at her disposal, she was a ghost, and Rick had more pressing issues to attend to. He slid his thumb along the edge of his weapons handle, shutting the electrical rings down, and holstered the weapon. After taking one last survey of the alley (and glancing up toward the roof for good measure), he sprinted back to Jaden, who was now slumped across the floor. Blood oozed from the wound on his arm. Rick figured he had only a few minutes to patch it up before Jaden died from too much blood loss, so he pulled the sash that indicated his status as a Galaxy Gifted off his belt and tied it as tightly as he could around the wound. That should give Rick a few extra minutes to tear the house apart for anything that he might be able to use to stop the bleeding. Thanks to Salinar (at least he hoped), he found a small sewing kit tucked away in a cabinet stored in the bedroom closet. It took Rick a half a dozen attempts to slide the piece of thread through the eye of the needle until he realized the kit came with a needle threader, which made the whole thing stupid easy. He then hustled back to the kitchen and sutured Jaden’s arm. When complete, he bit the thread off and opened every drawer in the kitchen to find a lighter or some sort of grill igniter to cauterize the wound. All he found was a vile of superglue.
He doused the wound with nearly the entire bottle, retied the sash around Jaden’s arm and then pulled him into a sitting position. “Jaden,” he said loudly, slapping him across the cheek when he didn’t respond. He was still breathing, so he was alive, just not conscious. It was going to take time — time Rick did not have — to come to. But he couldn’t leave him here, not with Salinar still out there.
“Come on, little brother,” Rick said as he threw Jaden’s arm around his neck and lifted him to his feet — which was a lot harder than he expected. “God, dude. Time to lay off the sweets, or hit the gym, or something.” He dragged him from the apartment and sat him against the wall as he waited for the elevator. He thought about using the stairs to be more discreet, but there was no way he was going to carry this dead weight down three flights of stairs and still remain vigilant in case Salinar returned. When the elevator doors opened, Rick pulled Jaden inside and waited until the display read first floor to lift him back to his feet. Because it was still early in the morning, the apartment complex lobby was empty. Getting through one set of doors with a lifeless body dangling all over you was hard enough; getting through two was tortuous. But it all pared in comparison to a hobo trying to flag down a cab while balancing a passed-out drunk guy on his feet. What cabbie wouldn’t want to pick them up?
After a few minutes of failure — and several disgusted, or bewildered gazes by the early birds heading for their rise-and-shine juice (and some night shift workers on their way home) — Rick had had enough. He dropped Jaden to the ground and stepped out into the street, slinging his weapon at an oncoming cab and lighting it up. Except for a bit of smoke that filled the interior, no other damage was done. But it forced the driver to stop and crawl out, coughing dramatically for fresh air. A light smirk lingered on Rick’s lips as he holstered his weapon. He then slid Jaden into the back seat and walked to the driver’s door.
“I’m gonna need your cab,” he said and was squealing the tires before the cabbie knew what was happening. Rick only looked back once during the drive through the city — which was starting to clog up with morning commuters — and that was to check on Jaden after he gurgled in his sleep. He thought he might have woke up for a minute, but it might have simply been a reflex, or response to a dream. Either way, Jaden remained passed out for the remainder of the ride that took them to Citywalk Park, where Salinar had been shot only hours earlier. Rick didn’t bother to get out, choosing instead to use the jogging paths as a road following the river down to where the wooded hiking trails began. At that point, he tore off into the brush, heading around the hills to a secluded system of caves, where he finally had to park the car. It was still a couple mile hike to where he hid his ship, but the cab wouldn’t have made it over the rocky floors that made up the majority of the cavern.
He pulled Jaden from the cab and sat him down on a ledge just inside the mouth of the cave. He then pulled a pair of lenses from the inside pocket of his coat and placed them against his eyes. The moment they touched his skin, a jelly-like substance formed around his eye sockets, gluing the lenses in place, allowing Rick to see in the dark as if it were daylight.
“This would be so much easier if you were awake,” Rick said before pulling Jaden up once again and lurching through the caves. It probably took him quadruple the time it would have taken him had he not had to deal with Jaden plus two, but he got to his ship with only a few minor scrapes and bruises — mostly on Jaden.
As soon as Rick got within a hundred feet of the ship, the ramp hissed smoke from the outer pressurization nodules and lowered down to invite him inside. Rick quickly tapped the center of his glasses to remove the glue from his skin and once aboard the ship — which was more of a shuttlecraft if you were to ask anyone who grew up on Star Trek — he dropped Jaden onto a round cushion that immediately extended outward to fit the length of his body and then curled up just a bit at the edges to keep him from rolling off. The rest of the main living area consisted of nothing more than a few amenities, for sleeping, eating and disposing of waste. To the right was the smaller, but still roomy cockpit area, which housed the weapons bay as well as four passenger seats.
Before going to the cockpit to switch on the communications system, Rick raised the ramp and activated the lock to guarantee no others could access the ship.
Can’t be too cautious; you never know who might be following you.
After a short warming up period, part of the shield that protected the main window extended out in front of Rick. With a few keystrokes, the back of the screen lit up and the shadow’s visage appeared just in front of the screen as if Rick was watching a 3D television.
Rick. What is your status?
“I’ve found Salinar, but she has the Osteris.”
Where is she now?
“I’m not sure. The Osteris is somehow shielding me from seeing her.”
The shadow was silent. He examined Rick’s features and then said, Return home so that we may devise a plan for her capture.
“We have one other problem. In order to activate the Osteris, it has to be linked to the subject who gifted it to Salinar with love.”
I am aware.
“Well, Sir,” Rick said a bit apprehensively, “that subject is my brother.”
Again the shadow was silent.
“Is there any way to break the link?”
The only way is to destroy the subject.
Rick was afraid of that. He nodded. “Can we do the same by destroying the master?”
It is possible, but much harder to accomplish.
“What would that do to the subject, if we were successful?”
Come home, the shadow said and vanished from the screen.
“God damn it,” Rick yelled and slouched back in his seat. He rubbed his mouth as he looked over his younger brother. He hated when the shadows were elusive and opaque as hell, but regardless of what might happen to him, it was pointless to worry about it until they could figure out how to stop Salinar.
“You’ll be okay, little brother,” he whispered and turned to fire up the engines.
Nothing happened. Curious, he ran a few diagnostics. All systems were green, so he tried again.
“What the…?” he mused. He ran through every diagnostic again, some more than once, and nearly pulled his hair out when everything pointed to perfect functionality. He rested his hands on the console and took a moment to calm his demeanor, reflecting on any possible reason the engines wouldn’t ignite. A minute later, it finally occurred to him.
“Ah, hell,” he said with sickening disappointment.
Why won’t the engines start?
Be as creative as you can, as outrageous as you want, and as detailed as possible. The best answer will determine where the story goes next.
Post your answers to Facebook, Twitter (using #WriteANovelWithMe and @phoenixmoirai) or in the comments section below by 5 p.m. PST on Thursday, January 15, 2015. You can give as many different answers as you want. The top 5 will be posted on Friday.
I can’t wait to see where your imaginations soar.