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Pirates Round Robin

Chapter 9

By Carson Maynard

"The crystals like you," said Thella. "Your heart is pure. And they know there's danger and you are noble and will help."

"Thats a big assumption," Chris said with little enthusiasm. How could he not help these wonderful crystals who were evidently sentient and capable of love, which he had already guessed.

"How do you know all this?" Mel wondered.

"Because I am their Mother."

Thella's statement took the whole party by surprise.

"Is not look like big shiny bright-go-bang-with-hot-light crystal," Grinker observed. "Is look like pretend-move hominid."

"Do you mean to say that you gave birth to these crystals?!" Chris gaped.

"That isss...ssstrange..." wheezed Ssele.

Thella shook her head. "Not biologically. I was appointed to be their protector."

"Hang on a minute," Mel said. "If you already knew all about them, why did you run those tests on our crystal? You must have known what would happen."

"No, I didn't," said Thella. "I believe the knowledge was locked away... why, I don't know. The blasts caused me to remember...my destiny, my service." She looked around her at the glimmering crystal cavern, her eyes twinkling with deep love. Mel reflected that she had never seen Thella like this.

"You seem so happy," she smiled, putting a hand on Thella's arm.

"I am," said Thella. "I did not know how much I had missed them all until I remembered them."

"Well, I don't like it," frowned Wonton.

"Me neither. It's creepy," echoed Ellington. "It's too coincidental, like we've been led here, yeah?"

"The crystals wanted us here," Chris told the two Pakhars, indicating the brilliant twinned crystal in his palm.

"Maybe," Ellington grumbled. "But it feels like something else to me."

The disturbing quiet of the planet was disrupted by a peal of thunder.

It was grumbling. It had been tracking the unprotected travellers, trying to decide which of Its eighty-five million ways of killing them would be the most satisfying, when they suddenly disappeared out of Its reach. They had gone into the crystal cavern, certainly. That was one of the few places on the planet that lay out of Its domain...or so It wanted them to think for the moment, anyway.

Until It chose to reveal Itself, It was barred from doing anything to them.

Oh, but there was still the new vessel. That would give It something with which to amuse Itself while It waited...

Glitz laughed at the gun. Of course it came out suavely; everything he did sounded suave. He could usually talk his way out of anything, although he was just the tiniest bit worried that this might not be one of those times.

"Look, do you really have to do this now?" he asked, eyes flickering nervously over to where the alien pirate's henchman was standing. The gun was aimed right at his heart, and even the classy armor he'd borrowed from a drunken trader several worlds back didn't look as though it would stop a focused laser blast. "Don't forget, there's still the crystal cave to be plundered. You're that type of bloke, ain't you? Pillaging? Thieving? All great fun, innit?" He smiled hopefully.

"Pillaging, thieving, yes. Killing, even more so. Get on with it."

"Yes, Captain." The henchman pulled the trigger, and the tip of the gun glowed a bright green.

Then the ship tilted alarmingly, causing the entire superstructure to groan, Glitz to go flying across the bridge and the just-fired laser beam to incinerate one of the control stations.

As flames burst out of the panel, the pirate leader pulled himself upright again with one claw. "What caused that?!" He pointed his gun at his security officer. "Answer me now, or you die!"

The officer, sweating gigantic droplets, quickly started tapping away at his panel. "I don't know!" he finally said. "Half the monitors outside have been smashed, and even if they hadn't been, so many of the controls were fused in the crashlanding that -" Then he had to stop talking, because his head exploded.

The leader swivelled and caught sight of Glitz, who had huddled up on the ground after his spine impacted with one of the workstations. "Get up," he sneered. "I'm sending you outside on surveillance. If you die, it's no loss. You, too," he said, indicating the henchman.

"But, Captain Zziotel..."

Zziotel pointed his gun at the henchman. "I am not a happy person right now," he glowered.

"Yes, Captain Zziotel. I'm going right now, Captain." The henchman yanked Glitz off the floor and, ignoring the man's yelps of pain, marched to the ship's airlock.

Poisonous-looking pink mist wafted in through the airlock the moment that the henchman opened it.

"'Ere, we're not going out in that, are we?" Glitz asked, appalled. He began hacking for effect. "I can't breathe that!"

"I do not care," replied the henchman, who shoved Glitz out and then followed.

Glitz kept on hacking for several minutes, but then decided that it was getting to be a nuisance, so he declared himself miraculously able to breathe again. At this point he realized that he hadn't actually been paying attention to where they had been going.

"You don't happen to know in which direction your lovely vessel lies, do you?" he inquired.

"It is..." The henchman paused, and looked around him. The pink mist was obscuring everything outside of a ten-foot radius. "In that direction," he decided, waving a claw about behind him. His mandibles snapped irritatedly.

"Well, we'd better get back there, hadn't we? We're supposed to find out what's gone wrong with it, in case you've forgotten."

There was a pause. Glitz tried to think of how to tell the henchman that he really didn't fancy having Captain Zziotel bite off his limbs one by one as a punishment for failure, but finally the man spoke. "I have not forgotten," drawled the henchman. "But we must go this way." He continued walking away from where the ship was supposed to be.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Glitz asked, as the henchman was swallowed up in the pink mist. Glitz grimaced to himself. "That one's gone a bit funny. But then, they're all a bit funny..." He shrugged. "Suppose I should find the ship again, lest that captain have my head for breakfast." He glanced around him. "That way, I think. I hope. Well, a little walk never hurt anyone." He struck out in the chosen direction.

"Come on out," Mel laughed. "It's all right!"

Cyndar quivered. "But is big bad noise! Not want to come out. Is signify large grumbly slimy creepy grey grumbly things with large mouths and larger stomachs!"

"Nothing's going to eat you, Cyndar, I promise. It's only thunder." She gave him a reassuring smile.

Cyndar briefly formed an eye-analogue that stared at her doubtfully, then it faded away to be replaced by a megaphone. "NOOOO!" blared the megaphone.

The crystal in Chris' hand was thrumming again, its color nearly onyx black. "Something's wrong," he said.

Thella looked out the mouth of the cave. "It," she said.

"Huh?" Chris cocked his head at her. "It what?"

"It bad?" quivered Cyndar.

"It slobber?" asked Grinker.

"It delicious?" grinned Wonton.

"It make goo-goo noises?" laughed Ellington.

Thella shot them a look that silenced their giggles immediately. "It's out there, waiting...It probably brought us here."

"Well, I won't pretend to understand, but isn't that a good thing?" asked Mel. "We wouldn't have found the cave otherwise."

Thella shivered. "I don't think It's a good thing. Not at all. I can feel It in my mind."

Chris had been silent for a few moments, but now he spoke. "There's something I don't get," he said. "This crystal is one of the most wonderful things I've ever seen. Why would it have its home on one of the deadliest planets in the universe? Or so they say."

"Perhaps they don't want just anyone finding them," Mel suggested. "With all the raving lunatics out there, it's a wise precaution."

"But it doesn't feel like her...this whole place, it doesn't feel like someplace she'd be." As if in response, the crystal's thrum deepened. Chris tightened his hand around it. "And why hasn't she already joined with the others? I mean, I assume we're here to return her."

"You're right," said Thella. "She is not meant to be here. None of us are."

All around them, the sparkling crystals embedded in the cave wall flushed a bright pink.

"Oh, look!" enthused Mel. "It's beautiful!" The crystals began to brighten and dim in time with one another, causing alternating light and shadows to flare across the faces of the spectators.

The crystal in Chris' hand suddenly made a screeching noise. Mel and Wonton turned just in time to see one end of it seemingly ignite, throwing Chris all the way to, and clear of, the cave entrance. He landed hard, but Glitz' borrowed armor seemed to take the brunt of the impact.

"What...?" Mel started.

One of the crystals launched itself from the wall, spearing right into Mel's cascading red curls. She gasped, nearly jumping out of her skin with shock.

"I think we need to leave!" Thella boomed, grabbing Mel and Wonton and dragging them to the cave entrance. Grinker and the other Pakhar loped along behind, as Cyndar wailed about being scared. Finally the cowering Sloathe dashed out of hir hiding place.

More crystals began flying through the air. One glanced off Thella's leg, another knocked Ellington's little hat off.

Thella, limping, suddenly found that she was dragging a dead weight. She glanced to her right. Wonton had stopped, his jaw hanging open and the tip of a pink crystal poking out of his chest. Slowly he toppled forward, and Thella could see the sharp implement buried in his back. More crystals whistled through the air behind them.

"Quickly!" she yelled, and the remaining five dashed for the cave entrance. The cave started to rumble, and whole crystal clusters detached from the ceiling and walls to crash into the ground or the rocky soil just behind their feet. Massive amounts of soil were being thrown into the air, swirling around their faces.

"We're almost there!" Mel encouraged the others. "We can do it!" Then, to her great alarm, she heard a piercing scream - and this time, it wasn't from her own vocal cords...

Glitz had been wandering for several minutes, and he still hadn't found the ship. He sighed, and turned around again to survey the area.

The henchman was standing right behind him, a leer fixed on his face.

"Cor! You gave me a fright," said Glitz, who was trying to regularize his breathing. "Have you found the ship yet?"

"I found something better," smiled the henchman. Glitz peered at him more closely - his scales looked strange, as though they had been buffed. There was some swelling around one of his eyes, and his left mandible was cracked.

"Are you feeling all right?" Glitz asked, not that he really cared. Still, it was important to keep the friendship of those who wielded the guns. "You look like you've been all the way to the Npote Nebula and back."

Behind the henchman, Glitz could see something poking out of the ground. It looked like...well, a root or tendril. It appeared to be growing, which Glitz thought was rather strange. Then he spotted another one slightly further away, and another...

Glitz looked around him. Tendrils were emerging from the ground in every direction. Some were actually rather tall, and those were beginning to wave from side to side in an eerily calming fashion.

"What are those? Friends of yours?" Glitz joked, then stopped laughing when he realized the henchman wasn't following suit. "They are friends of yours?"

"Yes," breathed the henchman. Then he fell apart.

"Aaaah!" screeched Glitz, as he watched the henchman's head bounce off his femur and go rolling through the minefield of tendrils. "That's disgusting!"

Something brushed against his leg. Glitz jumped, and turned to see that one of the tendrils had prodded him. In fact, now that they were gaining some decent height, most of them had bent to face him.

Another tendril began wrapping around his waist. "Watch it!" he cried, and tried to tug the thing away. "Ow!" The brief touch had made welts raise up on his skin. "Like a giant nettle!" Glitz wriggled a bit and managed to disentangle himself, but only temporarily. The tendril lunged at him, snagging him firmly in its grasp.

More tendrils were gently brushing against the backs of his legs, his shoulders, and even his neck, which only made more welts raise up. Glitz yelped in pain.

It was very pleased. The fun was just starting!

Part 10

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