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Chapter XXXVIII

Part One

 

 

            Twin beams of light trailed through the hazy drab green sky, grazing the midday horizon.  The faded beams could easily have been dismissed as a meteor shower; unimpressive or obtrusive.  Only the most observant eye, if there was one, would see them continue their streak across the sky and to the ground. 

            Had anyone being paying attention, the landing would’ve attracted more attention than their entrance.  The ground lit up in a blinding flash that illuminated the entire block.  From that light the bodies of Colonel Courageous and Major Tom were made flesh and bone again. 

 

            Colonel Courageous immediately fell to his knees and started to dry heave.  The Slingshot was not kind to him.  It had been years since he had experience it, yet he never forgot the feeling.  No one would.  His body was pulled apart one molecule at a time and shot across space at light speed, all while remaining conscious.  His mind continued to think while he felt nothing and everything all at once.  It felt like waking death. 

            The one time he tried to put the feeling into words the only things he could equate it to was that he felt like god, and he was dying. 

 

            “Colonel, we must move.” called the alien by his side.  Major Tom scanned the area with his eyes, looking to see if they had been spotted by any of the Cyksiks.  They didn’t expect their arrival to go unnoticed, but they weren’t expecting to be found out right away either.  Luckily, they were alone – for now.    

            Major Tom read the alien symbols – alien to the Colonel – on the wall and turned to his left.  He made no motion for the Colonel to follow him and only called back to him over his shoulder.  

            “This way.” 

            The Colonel pulled himself together as best he could and followed his friend.  He had no idea how Tom could endure a journey like that and be ready to act.  Well, almost. 

            Neither being had made it through the trip unaffected.  While Colonel Courageous was suffering from the space travel equivalent of carsickness, Major Tom was equally impaired.  The molecular disperesment and reintegration of his physical being wrecked havoc with the cosmic energy that powered his suit, raygun, and jetpack.  It would be fifteen minutes, if not more, before the energy would realign itself and give him the means to protect himself. 

 

            Colonel Courageous followed Major Tom down the alley and to the right.  There he saw a large tunnel made out of an iridescent metal he had never seen before.  He studied the walls as they ventured down into the belly of the oddly made cavern.  Symbols making up the alien language had been etched into the metal, yet it was smooth to the touch.  He tried to make out the words, and at times he thought he could almost understand it, but it was too foreign. 

            The Colonel had to remind himself he was on an alien world; and here, he was the alien.  On this world, everything around him would be something he had never seen before.  Everything except for the Cycksiks. 

            “What is this place?” he asked Tom. 

            Major Tom didn’t answer right away.  He continued moving forward, heading for a dull turquoise glow that emanated from deep within.  The light pulsated lazily as if it were straining to live.    

            “Tom?” the Colonel called. 

            “It’s the exhaust port of a reactor drive on an interstellar transport.  Nebula class, according to the design.” 

            Tom moved at a normal pace, while the Colonel was more cautious.  His stomach was still doing flips, and the thought of flying made him gag.  It would fade before long, but while it was there, he felt vulnerable. 

            For the Colonel, more than most heroes, his power and invulnerability meant he hardly ever suffered any serious injuries.  He was immune to most diseases, viruses, and bacteria.  He hadn’t caught a cold or had the flu since his abilities developed decades earlier.  The after effects of the Slingshot was the closest he would ever come to experiencing what most people went through during the cold and flu season.  Even then, it would only last for ten or fifteen minutes before passing, and he would be back to full strength. 

 

            “A reactor?” the Colonel questioned. 

            “Quiet!” Tom snapped in a hushed tone.  “We may not be alone.”   

            “What?” the Colonel said stunned, speaking louder than he had intended.  “But, we’re in a reactor shaft.” 

            The Colonel paused for a moment, and then stopped altogether. 

            “Hold on, why are we in a reactor shaft?  What about the radiation?” 

            “The drive is no longer active.” Major Tom responded with a note of aggravation in his voice.  He had very little patience and detested questions.  For some reason his arrogant nature was direct at Colonel Courageous more than anyone else. 

“The ship’s drive doesn’t have enough energy to power anything, but it still gives off heat… and low levels of radiation.  Not enough to hurt the Cycksiks.”  After a beat he tossed the last comment almost as an afterthought.  “Or, someone like you.” 

“That still doesn’t explain why we’re here.”

Major Tom stopped walking and turned to give the Colonel his full attention.  “The Cycksiks aren’t ectothermic in nature, but they crave heat.  They use it to energize themselves.” 

“Eco…”

           “Cold-blooded.  The exception is that their bodies absorb the heat and convert it into bio-electricity.  Some use it for – what’s your term – “recreational” purposes.” 

The Colonel’s brow furrowed.  “They use it to get high?’ 

“Some do.  Now, quiet.  If there are any down here, with my power unit rebooting, we’re in no position to fight them.  Unless you think your regurgitating on them might have some effect?” 

Tom turned with his last statement and continued down the tunnel.  The Colonel was going to return his quip, but thought it best to change the subject. 

 

            “How do you know so much about this ship?” 

            “Let’s just say I spent several years as a member of its crew.” Tom said.  It was clear by his tone that his memories of that time weren’t pleasant ones. 

            “This ship?”

            “No.” Tom’s voice perked up a bit.  “That ship was destroyed shortly after I left its service.”    

            “Fair enough.” The Colonel said, trying to keep the dialogue open.  “So, can you tell me why there’s a spaceship buried in the ground?” 

            Tom took another long exasperated breath before talking. 

            “The Cycksiks are scavengers, Colonel.  They don’t create, they conquer and consume everything they can find.  They used this ship as an energy source until it was exhausted and then moved on.  Just as they will to your world.”

   

            The two walked a few feet more until the smooth walls of the exhaust port changed into something that looked like the tumbler on a clothes dryer. 

 

            “We can stop here.” Tom said.  The Colonel looked around; taking notice of small circular ports that perforated the walls, floor and ceiling for several yards. 

            “What’s this?” he questioned his alien comrade. 

            “The closest thing I can liken them to are plasma exhaust surplus extractors.  Since the ship is powered by a radioactive core, any energy produced from it has the potential to emit high levels of radiation as well.  These ports siphon that from the energy exhausts and reprocess it into something less harmful.  Was that small enough for you, Colonel?” 

            “Radioactive waste recycling.  Got it.” 

            “I guess it was.”   

            “Ok, I’ve had enough of this!”  Colonel Courageous spat.  He was in Major Tom’s face in a snap.  The sudden rush of wind blew across the tops of the ports making them whistle. 

            “I don’t know what your problem is, Tomaskarian, but we’re going to settle this right now!”  The Colonel’s face was only a inch away from Tom’s.  He was still feeling a bit queasy, but it wasn’t enough hinder him in any way.  Major Tom, on the other hand, was still without the energy necessary to power his weapons, yet the alien stood in full defiance. 

            “I may not be the smartest man on Earth, but I’m far from the dumbest either.  Just because I solve most of my problems with brute strength doesn’t mean that’s all I use.  Even a fist fight requires some degree of strategy and tactics.  I’m no idiot, Tom, and I’m sick of you treating me like one.” 

            The two locked eyes and held them in complete silence for a moment so long that would make anyone watching uncomfortable.  Neither man moved nor spoke, they simply stared at each other, waiting for the other man to either speak or back down. 

            “Well?  What do you have to say?” 

            Major Tom remained silent. 

            “What is it about me that intimidates you so much?” 

            Silence. 

            Colonel Courageous backed away, gliding a hair’s width above the floor.  The left side of his mouth curled up into a delightful sneer. 

            “It was the comment I made back on Earth wasn’t it?  You’ve been even more hostile towards me since our talk.  You think treating me like dirt is going to change who you are?  It won’t.” 

            “You don’t know who I am.” Tom said, finally breaking his silence.  “I am no more a part of your world then you are of this one.  Living amongst humans isn’t going to make me one.” 

            “I didn’t call you human, I called you a hero.  You can deny it all you want, but that doesn’t change the truth.” 

            “That’s your problem, Gary.” Major Tom said the Colonel’s name with such animosity that he started to wonder if he really hated him.  “You think that one good deed can wipe away years of misdeeds.  How misguided are you to be the champion of your world.” 

            “No, that’s where you’re wrong.  I don’t think that it can erase everything, but that one good deed is a start.  You are the only person that can determine when your hands are clean.  I don’t know your past, Tom.  All I know is your present.  You don’t want to call yourself a hero, fine, I won’t either.  Let me remind you, though, that a man is defined by his actions, not what others call him.”

 

            Colonel Courageous turned and started walking back the way he came in. 

            “Now, if you’ll excuse me.  I’m feeling better.  I think I’ll do some reconnaissance, see how close we are to our objective and what the opposition looks like.  We only have forty seven minutes left.” 

 

            The Colonel shot out the exhaust port like a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun.  Once again Major Tom was left to study the words he had said. 

 

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