The creature paused mid-chew. Grease from the giant slug dripped from its chin – but it took no note as a glistening line of hot fat snaked down the alabaster skin of its chest. The scent of something sweet carried across the space where he and his brethren ate. Its nostrils flared as it sniffed… it’s black unblinking eyes suddenly taking notice of a shelf high above the door to the sacred place.
A hiss that sounded more serpentine than mammalian issued from deep within in it’s throat. The others sat as motionless as any classical statuary, focusing their attention; watching as their brother slowly shuffled to the space between the two white pillars leading to the holy place. The creature craned it’s neck… staring at the ledge high upon the wall for a moment before it began to climb.
The scent of surface dwellers was strong! It followed the scent… his brethren watched intently as he scaled the wall. He crawled passed the barrier; entering the Forbidden Zone. For the first time in his long wretched existence he did not stop. An insatiable hunger drove him. The desire for living, warm-blooded flesh. His brethren began to rise… following him. Many hesitated though none failed to pass through the gates. They looked at one another with a new understanding. There would be no consequences to transcending into realms once believed off-limits.
“What took you so long?” Malus hissed impatiently. “I told you to distract Dejah Thoris and then follow me.”
“The distraction took longer than I expected.” Kaylee smirked.
Malus and Kaylee were at the agreed meeting place near the base of the central staircase of Dejah Thoris’s aethership. “You were right about one thing.” Malus conceded nodding at a door across the room. “The space over there seems to be full of engineering components.”
Malus led Kaylee across the room to the small door he had discovered. The chamber inside was tiny – no larger than a small walk-in closet. Kaylee shook off her lingering smirk as she focussed on the tangle of wires and hoses that riddled the walls of the small cramped chamber.
“The cavorite’ll be mounted on the outside of the ship.” Kaylee explained. “But here is how she controls it.”
“What makes you so sure we can disable the cavorite from in here?” Malus asked.
“First off, we can’t disable the cavorite, That ain’t possible. Cavorite don’t have no on-off switch.” replied Kaylee. “But the only reason we ain’t shootin’ up through the streets of Clockhaven’s ‘cause Dejah’s usin’ some sorta generated field to contain it. If we can disable the controls for the containment field in just the right way she won’t be able to turn it off and this ship ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“At least not until she fixes our damage.” said Malus.
“Right. But by then we’ll hopefully have gotten outside and pulled out the cavorite for Emerson.” Kaylee glanced back toward the central staircase. “It sounds like quite a lotta fuss goin’ on up there.”
“Perhaps they discovered you are missing.”
“It doesn’t sound like an alarm.” Kaylee shrugged. “Just commotion s’all.”
Kaylee turned back to the tiny engineering room and squinted. “Dammit Malus, I can’t hardly see nothin’ in here.”
“It is unfortunate there doesn’t appear to be a light source – at least none I can detect.”
“That’s a friggin’ problem!” Kaylee cursed as she reached for a handful of wires. “I don’t feel like pullin’ on anything until I know what they do.” She let out a huff of exasperation. “And to figure that out I need to be able to see! What I’m lookin’ for is three wires tied together. Two will control the polarity of the cavorite but the third, the thickest is what controls the containment field.”
Malus pursed his lips a moment. “I’ll head back up a few levels and see if I can find a light of some sort.”
Kaylee looked at Malus a moment. It would be a huge risk to go back up there and they both knew it.
“I’ll wait here and see what I can figure out in the meantime.” Kaylee said. “Be careful.”
“Joseph!” greeted Dejah Thoris with little effort to control her annoyance as Dr. Joseph climbed into her ship followed closely by Junie, Petharic and a complement of ten hideous Dunsany orderlies. “I was not expecting you until the morning.”
“Morning?” Joseph smiled, choosing to ignore the young princess’s impertinence. “What is morning in a world of perpetual darkness?”
“That is not really the point. You are early and I am not prepared to welcome you.” Dejah eyed Junie and Petharic suspiciously. “And you bring surface dwellers. I am of a mind to toss them in the cell with the other two.”
“Other two!” Junie looked up suddenly alert to any further clues Dejah might offer regarding the rest of the Gangplankers. But the red princess chose to ignore Junie’s interrogative interjection. Junie pursed her lips and was about to speak up when Petharic, with a slight shake of his head, placed a calming hand upon her arm. Junie let out a breath as she glanced around the ship, focussing on the large central staircase when something caught her eye.
Joseph took a step further into the room. For an older man he was still remarkably fit. His thick silver hair was tied back and his eyes sparkled. He exuded a sense of charm that was far more regal than that of the young alien princess.
Joseph towered over the diminutive Dejah Thoris, who stood her ground despite Joseph’s imposing presence. “If you want the key to guarantee your army’s survival here on earth then I think you will make an accommodation.” Joseph said, his smile never wavering.
“It is ready?” Dejah sounded excited. “And it works?”
“Indeed, I tested it on a surface dwelling urchin last week without the unpleasant transformation. Unfortunately he managed to run off or I would make him a gift to your highness as well as the serum. I know how fond you are of the young ones.”
“I believe I am past my extraterrestrial indulgences. I had two rather unappreciative pets run-off on me earlier. We are still searching the ship for them – hence my unpreparedness for your early arrival.”
“I need to use your water closet!” Junie’s shouted out unexpectedly, turning all heads suddenly to her.
“What?” Dejah furrowed her brow. “You need to relieve yourself?”
“Yes!” Junie maintained the princess’s stare for a moment before suddenly beginning to dance around as if on the verge of an accident.
“There is a lavatory one level down.” Dejah said, frowning at Junie’s display. She then turned to one of her royal guards. “Accompany her.” she said in her native language. “And make sure she returns directly here when she is done.”
The copper-toned guard stepped forward and motioned Junie to descend the stairs. Upon reaching the next level down, the guard indicated the door through which Junie might find the lavatory. Junie slipped inside while the guard remained outside the door.
“Martin.” Junie whispered once the door had closed behind her.
“Over here.” Malus said, stepping from the shadows.
“Me noggins all busted.” Gilhooly said rubbing his head. “What appened?”
“I didn’t see nothing Gilly.” said Johnny Dawkins. “You was in front of me then you suddenly wasn’t no more.”
“I think you bumped your head when you fell.” suggested Emerson evasively as he and Lapis helped Gil to his feet.
“Come closer to the door.” said Lapis, “Let me inspect the wound.”
The two men and two boys made their way to the door of the cell about ten feet from the wall. The light from the great chamber was brighter by the door, allowing Lapis to determine the severity of the gash in Gilhooly’s head. “I believe it is not too serious.” said Lapis after a few moments of inspection. “You will have a nasty bump for a few days.”
Johnny started to laugh. “Hey Gilly, Brudder Lappy said you have a nasty bum!” causing both boys to dissolve in fits of giggles.
Lapis did not look amused. “Child you belong in school.”
Johnny might have responded to Laps’s offer of schooling in typical urchin fashion – but he never got the chance. For just then one of the horrid subterranean creatures jumped to the floor from the hole high in the wall. It emitted a most foul hiss as it slowly started to advance upon the two men and two boys.
“Stay close!’ warned Lapis. “We out number it and should be able to fend it off.”
No sooner had he spoken those words than another dropped to the floor; followed by a third and a fourth. Within moments they were surrounded by nearly a dozen of the vile, blood-thirsty monstrosities.