The rail corridor ended in a gaping hole through the ship. Crystalline shards danced through the void. A massive crystal column spun above them, bouncing off the upper decks.
“A wormhole, teleport or phase collision?” Polo VII hypothesized.
“The Crystalline Collective and Mechan Empire have come to war from time to time,” Kyton said, “So this might not have been an accident. Still, it’s hard to say if this is what led to the ship’s doom.”
“This may not be the only breach. This may be what’s left of a much larger ship; or the remains of a fleet,” Achilles said. He was foremost a warrior, a guardian, but he enjoyed researching the galaxy’s vessels, seafaring and spacefaring alike. And he had taken it upon himself to learn/self-program to pilot a few of the ships in Kyton’s personal fleet.
Kyton might have been more suspicious, but he was focused on reaching the passenger. It was as if the ship had burned her importance into his dark, shriveled heart, and he wouldn’t rest until he found her, whoever and whatever she was.
But he and his team had to be careful. The shards ranged from slivers that might fit under a fingernail, to multifaceted rocks three times the size of Ajax, and if they moved too quickly or recklessly a sharp edge might sever a limb or shard dust might clog their rotational joints. So Polo VII led the way and marked a path and sent the program for his dance through the crystal field to his team to reproduce it, every twist, bob and weave. Achilles had the most trouble having to carry Ajax, and they sent a few of the shards spinning off in wild directions, but they made it across with only minor damage.
“We’ve strayed so far from our planned rendezvous point, I don’t see how we will make it back in time,” Belch said as they moved into a gothic styled chamber.
“I know I haven’t been a font of optimism with your boys,” Kyton said, “and it’s a little late to start now, but if not faith, what about a little trust in your Master?”
“Sorry, Master, it’s not you Belch doubts. It’s our circumstance. If this ship has a standard Mechan Dreadnought drive, even if it’s inert, its core could contain superdense stellar material, that if cracked or catalyzed, could implode, swallowing this whole asteroid field and perhaps the neighboring star.”
“Very good, Achilles. You’d make a fine starship captain or, better yet, an executive officer. I’m glad you have our backs,” Kyton said, waving him and the rest of the robots to enter the next chamber. “But what lies within the next chamber, exceeds my wildest expectations for this little excursion.”
The chamber resembled a great gothic cathedral, replete with columns and arches and statues of Mechan “Saints.” It was in ruins, with several of the statues and columns broken and felled. Remains of Crystalline warriors littered the ground. At the far end of the room a fallen Mechan, an Alpha Commander, perhaps the captain of the ship, sat, cradling a human-sized body. One of its fingers was pressed against the body’s chest, cables spilling out from the Alpha’s fingertip, connecting to the small body’s chest and face and head like umbilicals.
“It’s sustaining the passenger,” Polo VII said, “using its remaining lifeforce to keep it alive.”
“Is it, is she still alive?” Achilles asked, marveling at the scene.
Kyton floated to the small body’s side. He looked into its porcelain face. “A girl. She is but a girl,” Kyton whispered, and reached out to try to make contact.
Her eyes opened.
“Alive!” Kyton said.
The ship shook and listed.
“Master, we are out of time,” Polo VII said.
Kyton nodded and ripped the umbilicals from the girl’s space suit and pulled her out of the arms of the ancient Alpha Mechan.
The Alpha’s head toppled over, narrowly missing Kyton and the girl.
“Go, go, go!” Polo said, as Belch threw himself between the team and the crumbling Alpha.
“Belch!” Achilles called out.
“Get out! Get out of here!” Belch cried, pinned under the massive chassis of the Alpha.
Kyton looked back at Sir Toby Belch.
“Get him out of here, Achilles!”
Achilles hesitated, but then knocked falling debris away from Kyton and the passenger. “The gravity is increasing, if we wait much longer, we won’t be able to move!” He heard Polo VII say. “Then find us a way, Polo! Clear us a path!”
Achilles’ plea sent Polo VII into action as if he was a robot possessed, blasting his way through the rear of the cathedral and its antechambers and back into a rail corridor that led to a tertiary docking bay. They filed into a Mechan shuttle and Kyton used one of his power orbs to activate it long enough to get it and them out of the docking bay. Polo VII stood on the gangplank as the shuttle lifted off.
“Get clear, Master. I have to go back into the bowels of the ship, and find a way to direct it into the neighboring star before it implodes. Or, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to access its hyperdrive and send it far, far away.”
Lucky? Kyton thought. When did I program that idea into Polo VIIs neural net?
Polo VII stepped off the gangplank and he shot of back into the Dreadnought, balling up to become a smaller target for debris.
It was the last time Kyton would see Polo VII.
They were able to break away from the gravity well of the Dreadnought when the shuttle’s systems went dark.
“Do you have another orb, Master?” Achilles said, “If we don’t get the gravity drive back online, we’ll just drift back to the Dreadnought.”
Kyton was out of orbs. It took three to activate, fuel and communicate with the shuttle. The only orb he had left was the Mechan Life Potential that the lion had placed into his care. The shuttle was a Mechan, and a dead one, its soul or brain long-deteriorated. If Kyton placed the un-designed gel orb into the shuttle’s central processor, it could repair the damage, or, more likely, the Mechan could live again, but in an eternal state of madness. And Kyton didn’t have the greatest track record tinkering with other races’ tech.
“I am Horatio, Major Domo of the Workshop of Kyton, Gremlin First Class. Identify yourself, Mechan Vessel. Or I shall be forced to defend this domain.” Horatio’s voice came through the comm. Horatio had to repeat himself before Kyton realized he wasn’t imagining it.
“Horatio, it’s us! Thank Heavens! Please do not open fire!” Kyton called into his comm.
“Oh, Master, it is good to know you are all still functioning.”
“We have taken losses. Belch and Polo VII,” Kyton replied, his voice cracking. “But we have taken on a… refugee. Please initiate a tractor beam and tow us in.”
There was a terrible turbulence as Horatio’s space tug Countess Rousillon drew them to safety. Kyton feared they might not make it after all, but he watched the Dreadnought twist into a sever angle, almost perpendicular to the asteroid field, then begin to collapse in on itself, and finally manifest a wormhole, tumbling inside it and away. Near as Kyton could tell, towards the nearest star.
“Good job, Polo VII. Good job,” Kyton whispered.
“Welcome to the world Marco Polo VIII. I think, if I ever see you again, I might call you Marc-8. Hmm, or not, we shall see,” Kyton said, standing back from his latest creation, an amalgam of his own engineering and what he had gleened from retro-engineering the Mechan shuttle. The pair of them stood in a circle of tools, parts and wiring about fifty-five feet in diameter.
“Why am I here, Master?”
“Oh, ah, yes, you have quite the mission ahead of you. You are to accompany our good, if slightly mentally unstable, zombie Mechan friend, Un Daedalus back to the Mechan Homeworld, should it still exist.”
“For what purpose, Master?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Kyton said, sitting on his command chair atop his spider crane, he wheeled about his workshop proper until he came to a small vault. He unlocked multiple tumblers until the door opened with a whisper and he drew out a gel orb the size of a baseball. “This, this is a Mechan Life Potential. It was given to me by the Matrix Guardian Zedbo unformed. I knew it was quite near its expiration date, so I took it upon myself to design its higher structures. I am but a humble tinkerer, and know very little about Mechan soulology, so I simply did my best. I do hope this Potential finds an adequate host and can be accepted into Mechan society. It has traversed quite a difficult road already. I hope the Snow Flake Makers find some value in what I tried to accomplish.”
Kyton placed the orb in a metal housing and placed that inside a cargo compartment within Polo VIIIs chest, just below his own engine core.
“I will protect it with my life and vow to carry it safely to our destination,” Polo VIII said and saluted.
“Wonderful. And do look out for Un Daedalus. He can be—unpredictable.”
Kyton escorted Polo VIII to the Workshop’s main docking bay where Un-Daedalus waited, pacing and cursing the stars for grounding him for so long. In the shuttle’s robot form, it appeared to be a giant black metallic gorilla. Kyton had to wonder if gorillas had ever walked upon a Mechan planet.
“You need not wait any longer, Un Dee.”
“Good! You have tried my patience for too long, Demon!”
“Ah, that’s Minor Demon to you.”
“Bah. When I return, I shall bring the entire might of the Mechan Race upon your mote of a planetoid!”
“If you must. It will take an age to prepare all that tea and cakes.”
“What is tea and cakes?”
Kyton pulled out a pocketwatch. “Now who is wasting time? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were the one that was stalling, Mechan. Perhaps you’re afraid to fly again? Especially in deep space? I assure you the hyperdrive upgrades are fully operational. You will make it home in one piece.”
“But which piece?” Un Daedalus muttered. “I am not afraid.”
“Then, by all means, lead the way,” Polo VIII said, and bowed to his new companion.
“Don’t slow me down, robot,” Un Daedalus said.
“I will endeavor to do my best to keep up,” Polo VIII replied.
Un Daedalus leaped into the air, transformed into his shuttle form and blasted into the asteroid field and beyond.
Polo VIII waved to Kyton and transformed into a sleek black triangular rocket and followed Un Daedalus.
Kyton may have whispered Godspeed, turned, and sunk back into his workshop.
He of course noticed the girl watching from one of the towers, likely wondering why she wasn’t going with them, back to Mecha.
Because, my dear, sweet, girl, Kyton thought, with resolve, my Miranda to my Prospero, as I’ve taken to calling you, you aren’t going with them because you were being delivered from Mecha. To where? It makes no difference to me. You are safe here. And I have vowed to keep you safe until the end of time.
Which, by my calculations, he thought, looking at his dizzingly complex watchface, is about ten years from now.