407 - Frontline With the Blot

By group consensus, the former Blockhead spaceship has been named “the Love Bug”. Space Bug insisted on it, and consensus was that it wasn’t worth fighting over.

While the Blockheads don’t eat solid food in any sense, the Park Tech engineers were able to build a fully equipped galley out of Re-4-Matters and the Blockhead robotic factory-factories, with Space Bug’s technical assistance.

Now, Keri watches as Jaycee prepares a meal in the galley. It’s sandwiches and smoothies - nothing special - but she’s caught on enough to how it works to customize it to some extent.

“Is this what you’re gonna be doing for this team?” Keri finally asks.

Jaycee doesn’t look up. Her voice is carefully neutral. “What, you don’t eat? Everyone else does.”

Keri doesn’t answer that question. She goes for another one. “Why did you come aboard?”

Jaycee turns to look at the other girl. Her voice is more polite than her eyes. “I’m responsible for Armiger’s training. I’m accustomed to keeping up with him, and I intend to do the same out here.”

Keri scowls. “Armiger can fight enemies that are bad news. I can fight even bigger things. Adam can fight. That Space Bug, well… he can pilot the ship. You make protein shakes for a Grail Knight. So do you think you’re gonna be out here, in the great unknown, and his destiny is gonna protect you?”

Jaycee draws herself up for this confrontation. “I’m done letting anyone tell me what to do, including destiny. Lady, I will go where I see fit, I will contribute in the ways I see are necessary, and I will take out anyone I see in my way.”

She points a finger at Keri’s face. “You got a problem with me being here? You waited a good long time to say anything. If this is just your nerves getting the better of you, go deal with it instead of taking it out on me.”

Both girls are startled when they hear Adam speak up. “Keri, is there a problem?”

Embarrassed, Keri backs down. Her pride won’t let her actually admit culpability. “I’m gonna have to protect everyone who doesn’t have powers out here,” she says. “I just want everyone to understand that.”

Jaycee thrusts a protein shake at Keri’s chest. “Well here. Drink up, then. Keep your strength up for li’l ol’ me.”

Keri takes the shake, and Jaycee turns away.

Unseen by anyone but Adam, the image of Somber stands off to the side, in the shadow of the hallway. “You see? I told you it would be informative to come hear this conversation.”

Back in his cabin, Adam is alone. He’s asked the Somber manifestation to withdraw, which it did. Privately, Adam isn’t sure how much he can trust that, but at least the feeling of privacy helps.

That’s why he’s both surprised and honestly a little annoyed when a sparkling humanoid outline appears at the center of the cabin.

What now…?

To his great surprise, it’s Jordan. Or rather, it’s Jordan’s grown-up presentation as Princess Peri, the dark superheroine.

Adam immediately suspects a trick, or a game, or something. He does not expect her to say what she says.

“Adam! I’m dreamin’. Mom an’ dad are doin’ okay. You got a letter from someone named uh, Leo an’ Aria Newman.”

Adam blinks. “Letter? What did it say?”

Peri puts her hands on her hips, and leans forward to glare at him. “I’m not gonna open someone else’s letters, silly. Read it yourself when you come home.”

He has no idea where to go with this information, or Jordan’s presence. “How… why are you here?” he manages.

This time he hears Somber’s voice. “The shard I gifted you is Antares Alpha-One. The one Jordan carries is from ten years in the future, from a curtailed timeline. Though she knows it as ‘Anty’, it is the same shard, and thus, the two of you have a connection.”

Adam directs his question inward. Did you do that to me deliberately?

“You’ve asked me to withdraw,” he hears Somber say, and then nothing.

Adam is really growing distrustful of Somber.

He returns his attention to Peri. “So uh, you’re dreaming and that means you’re here?”

Peri smiles and nods. “Yep! Guess so.”

“What happens when you wake up?”

“Guess I disappear?” Peri asks uncertainly. She glances around, taking in the cabin. “Hey, is this the spaceship? Can I look around?”

“Sure,” Adam smiles.

They find Keri reading a book, Space Bug playing some kind of alien game involving glowing levitating orbs, and William and Jaycee exercising, all in the open area.

All of them get up and look surprised.

“What’s Peri doing here?” William asks, having met her before.

Keri, mishearing the name, sits up and looks. Then she catches on to the newcomer. “Hey, who’s this?”

Adam gets in front of what he expects will be a lot of questions. “This is Jordan, my little sister. Somehow she got an evil Concordance shard and aged up while transformed, the same way I do. Right now she’s uh, kind of a projection here, because the shard she’s got is the same one Somber gave me.”

“That’s a lot to take in,” Keri confesses.

“Jurabo!” exults Space Bug, having won a victory at their game.

“I’m dreamin’ right now!” Peri announces cheerfully. “So if I disappear on ya, I’m not tryin’ to be rude or anything.”

“Jordan, are you… actually here? Or is this just some kinda… illusion?” Keri is still puzzling through the ramifications.

Jordan, who has known at least something of Keri and her role in her brother’s life, flexes. “Come on. Arm wrestle me!”

Keri grins, puts her book down, and hops up to accept the challenge.

Adam, sensing the possibility of collateral damage, conjures a solid table on which they can engage in their contest. If either girl exerts too much strength by accident, there’d be little left of their ship.

The two sit across from each other, Keri grinning fiercely, Peri smiling brightly. They grip each other by the hand, and when Jaycee calls for a start, the exertion begins.

Both girls ramp up cautiously. With superhuman strength, neither wants to risk hurting the other or breaking anything. But as they each perceive the other’s limits, they intensify.

Keri wins after several seconds of probing and exertion. But she’s rubbing her arm and grinning. “This is serious. Even if she’s a projection or something, there’s real power there.”

She rubs her hands together eagerly. “And while your current costume is definitely something, there’s things I can do with it…”

Jordan, meanwhile, is flexing her own arm and smiling. “You’re really strong, Keri!”

Adam has a thought. “Hey, Jordan, while we’re on our way, do you wanna take a tour of the ship?”

He looks over at Space Bug. “Hey, how long until we reach our destination?”

Space Bug checks a nearby terminal and announces, “We have been at position for the last 25 Earth minutes.”

Adam boggles. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

The alien bug stares at the glowing globes nearby. “Jurabo,” they reply, pointing to the game implements as though this explains everything.

The team rush to the front of the ship.

Outside of the screen, they see the system they set out for. The system has been visited by the Blockheads in the past, and Adam is now retracing that path.

What they see are Blot war vessels, clustered around a fast-moving planetoid in a tight orbit around the system’s star.

Space Bug tunes in the Park Tech ansible, which crackles to life. “Halcyon Heroes League, we request you return to our system and assist us again… We are under attack… Life support is failing… Halcyon Heroes League, we request you return to our system…”

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“What do we do?” Peri asks uncertainly. “Thassa lotta bad guys.”

“We take 'em down,” Keri declares, punching a palm with a fist. “Anyone who can’t keep up can stay behind.”

“I’ll look into that planetoid,” Armiger says.

Adam nods. “Jordan - Peri - while you’re here, please watch over the Love Bug, okay? Don’t let anything get through.”

The girl thinks, frowns, but finally nods. “You can count on me, Adam!”

Adam and Keri nod to each other. In a flash, Adam teleports the pair of them out into space, and together they fly toward the Blot fleet.

“In the name of honor, in the name of justice, I declare these lands under my protection!” shouts Armiger, as Excalibur flashes into his hands. And with his vow binding him to the planetoid and its people, he teleports away, for the land and the king are one.

Peri teleports to just outside the Love Bug, and takes up station on the hull, just above the cockpit. Space Bug and Jaycee look up and see her smiling and waving.

Jaycee waves cheerfully back, and turns to Space Bug. “Just tell me where the guns are on this thing, and show me how to fire them.”

In flight, Keri is explaining her tactics to Adam.

“We plow right through 'em. It’s like pulling a fish apart,” she says, eyes straight ahead.

“You did this a lot?” Adam asks.

Keri doesn’t answer.

But she doesn’t get a chance to demonstrate, either. Well before either fighter is close enough to launch an attack, they can see a visible change in the Blot ships. They shrink, and harden, and descend toward the planetoid at high speed.

“What are they doing?” Keri asks in bafflement, mostly to herself.

The ships descend and land like giant mushrooms, planted on the planetoid itself. Keri changes direction, and Adam follows.

“Shit, shit shit shit shit,” Keri mutters. “If we smash through 'em like they are, they’d crush the habitat, and the people inside.”

While the warriors ponder, the Blot make their next move. Thousands of winged drones emerge from the armored towers, and make a beeline for the entrance to a cave system - what must be the way into where the planetoid’s inhabitants are living.

“Fine,” Keri mumbles, and changes direction to intercept. Adam follows.

Armiger finds himself in a living place. There’s soil, flowing water, and growing life everywhere. Unlike Earth’s greens, the life here is colored every hue of the rainbow.

Most notably, he can see what are recognizably people. They look to be willowy beings made of tree bark, with “feet” rooted in the soil of the place.

“My name is Armiger,” he says uncertainly. “I’m here to help. What do you need?”

Through the sword’s magic, he feels his message will be received. But how will people here respond?

One of the tree-beings positions its “head” in a nearby waterfall. Depressions in the water form the illusion of a human face. Modulation of the flow provide sound, and articulate speech in a high, soft voice.

“Armiger. Are you one of the Halcyon Heroes League?”

“I’m not,” Armiger confesses. “But I’m a hero from Earth, like them.”

A shudder takes hold of the complex, briefly disrupting the water - and almost uprooting half of the population.

“We are in peril from the Blot,” the tree-woman explains. “We are unable to leave this place because of our roots. We cannot flee them, alas.”

Armiger nods. “Alright. Well my friends are outside fighting them now. If any get through, I’m your last line of defense. Can you show me where they’d come in? Oh, and what’s your name?”

Through some kind of hydrokinetic manipulation, she lifts water from the waterfall, and wraps it around herself like a dress, with water flowing from the top of her head to maintain her face and voice. The water recycles itself at the “hem” of the dress, flowing back upward to repeat the cycle.

“Platana,” the tree-woman says, and smiles. “The entrance to the cavern is this way.”

Jaycee eyes Peri, still outside the ship. She’s seen Concord’s aged-up form, but she also knew Adam Amari from years back. And if this is his little sister…

Space Bug isn’t much better. The creature seems to do whatever pleases it in the moment, and might just decide to run from this battle if things go slightly sour.

Jaycee realizes she’s going to need to give orders.

“Get in there,” she directs Space Bug. “We gotta help Keri and Adam.”

“Roger dodger codger!” the insect-alien acknowledges, and begins operating the esoteric controls of the Love Bug.

“Peri, keep a strong shield in front of the ship,” she directs. “Just hold onto it, as long as you can. We’re going to plow through the bad guys. Okay?”

“I can do that!” Peri acknowledges.

Jaycee comes back to an unanswered question. “Hey. Bug. Guns.”

Space Bug chirps up. “Lightning directors that way,” it indicates with a spare arm. “Big blasty-wasty, big nasty, fun fun fun!”

Jaycee spots a section of the controls that have been adapted for human use, and breathes a sigh of relief. “Okay. They fire backward?”

“Affirmative, confirmed, verified,” Space Bug enthuses.

“Right.” Jaycee straps herself into the station, and takes hold of the gun controls. “Ramming speed.”

Keri goes first, with all the pent-up aggression she developed in her last adventure in space.

She smashes into and through the flying drones, sending them tumbling backward. The masses of them explode outward, colliding with others, forming a chain reaction that knocks whole squads of the things out of the sky.

Adam discharges blasts of energy at wide angles, concussing the drones in similar fashion. But much of his attention is given to his emotional senses.

The first thing he feels is the Blot group-mind. While individual drones do speak with each other, the guiding intelligence of the Blot is distributed across the entire mass. None of these things are individuals, so he doesn’t mind going in at full force.

The second thing is the feelings he’s getting from Keri. There’s an ugliness to her aggression. There’s hate, and anger, and it’s not directed at the Blot for the most part.

He wants to say something, reach out, talk to her about it. But now isn’t the time.

The winged drones split into two groups. The first continue their journey toward the entrance to the habitat, where the huddled tree-people hide underground. The second are turning their attention to the Love Bug and the two flying heroes.

Behind him, Adam can see Peri focusing all of her attention on her own barrier. Space Bug is driving the ship through the hordes, and the drones are, well, splatting on the barrier like bugs on a car’s windshield.

As the Love Bug flies through the massed drones, Adam watches as lightning bolts spark from the hull, jumping backwards. The bolts chain through dozens of drones at a time, and their charred remnants drift down to the planetoid below.

But there’s so many.

Adam is going to need a lot more energy.

He hears Somber’s voice in his head, courtesy of the second Shard.

There is some, right before you.

Armiger finds the cavern entrance. It’s broad, many meters wide and quite a few high.

It takes him a moment to analyze the tactical situation. It takes another for him to hurl Excalibur into the rocky ceiling high above, and will the sword to act.

Much of the cavern comes down in rubble. The sword flashes back into his hand.

Platana is startled. “Do you want to trap us inside?” she asks.

Armiger points at the narrow hole his cave-in has left behind. “A good fortress has one weak point. The enemy must come there, and the defenders will be ready. A horde could come through there, and I can’t stop them. But one man can guard this much.”

As if in answer to his challenge, a buzzing noise is heard. Armiger gestures for the tree-folk to get back, and readies the sword.

It’s one man against an army.

Numbers will not save him. His friends outside will not help him. All he has to carry the day is his conviction. It must be enough.

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The Blot’s armored mushroom-ships have a new tactic. Orifices open in the rigid carapace, and white-hot beams of energy lance out. The Blot’s drones don’t even get out of the way, and they too evaporate as the towers attempt to strike the Love Bug in flight.

Peri’s shields take the first direct hit. “That was really serious, yoo guys!” she calls. “I dunno if I can handle mucha that.”

Keri is still plowing through drones. “This is a waste of time,” she growls. “Adam, let’s push the towers over - away from the cave entrance. That should be safe, right?”

“I guess,” Adam says, uncertain. “Can we carve through that armor instead?”

Keri shrugs, and like a lightning bolt, streaks at the nearest tower. Even with her prodigious power, she bounces off, as the biomechanical carapace reinforces itself at her point of impact.

“We need some way to cut into that,” she reports. “Who’s got a chef’s knife?”

Peri pipes up. “I gotta Continuum Sword, from the future!”

Concord grins. “I’ve got one too, taken from a future version of the Void agent.”

Armiger sounds off. “And I’ve got Excalibur!”

The others can hear Jaycee’s annoyance over the radio. “Does nobody fight with weapons from, like, today?”

“We need something big,” Keri emphasizes. “Come on, let’s topple these guys.”

Armiger cuts in. “That might bring down more of the cavern. If you’re going to do that, can we get Adam down here to reinforce it?”

“I dunno if I can do it by myself,” Keri admits after a long moment.

Adam thinks back to Somber’s voice. He can feel the indecision, the self-loathing, radiating off Keri. She wants to just knock everything over, people be damned. But she isn’t, and her indecision is tearing her apart too, because people are in danger–

This level of emotional detail is much higher than he’s used to receiving.

Again, he hears Somber’s voice in his mind. “There are things you need to know about her.”

Angrily, Adam pushes the voice away.

“Sensors indicating a big undertaking!” shouts Space Bug. “Behold! An alien starship!”

Overhead, the crew can see a ship warping in. They’ve never seen anything like it before. But they recognize the figure flying out of it as Transcendent. And as he beelines for one of the towers, they realize he’s got the same idea as Keri did - just knock the damn thing down.

Adam realizes what he has to do. He grabs hold of Keri, and teleports her and himself into the caverns, homing in on Armiger as a target.

“Space Bug, get out of the way!” he shouts. “That’s an order!”

“I don’t take orders!” Space Bug squeals in answer. “Dodging out of Get because it’s the most expedient thing to do!”

Without quite understanding what he’s doing, Adam reaches out for the pool of negative feelings inside Keri. He feels the fear of the tree-people in the cavern, and gathers it up as well. He takes those emotions, and crystallizes them into the hardest barrier he knows how to make.

He feels the rush of shame from Keri as she realizes what he’s doing, and realizes that her awful attitude is open to his inspection. But he doesn’t have time for that.

The world shatters. Above and beyond the barrier, Adam can see the stone of the cavern roof fragment, pulverized by the impact of the Blot’s towers.

In the Love Bug, high above the planet, Jaycee, Peri, and Space Bug can see the assault itself. More figures have emerged from the craft, and gathered up huge amounts of stone from the surface of the planetoid. They coalesced it around the hero Golem. Then one of them shot him like an enormous missile at another Blot craft. It fell, revealing the roots it had been extending into the bedrock of the planetoid - and that fall does more damage to the cavern.

“Attention HHL, there are people down here, subterranean,” Jaycee calls urgently over the comm system. “Please be careful.”

Whether the HHL’s members hear the warning or not, the punishing assault continues.

At the cavern entrance, Armiger is too busy fighting off the waves of drones still carrying out their assault. He guards the only way in. With blinding speed, his swordsmanship pierces and cuts, pins drones to the ground, removes their wings or bisects them entirely. The magic of Excalibur guards him from the falling rocks around him, though his Blot adversaries are not so lucky. But eventually the entire cavern entrance collapses, and he’s forced to retreat back to where Adam and Keri are standing.

Platana follows. “Our home will be destroyed,” she whimpers in despair.

“This is how it was,” Keri whispers, almost to herself, though Adam is close enough to catch it. “They just stopped caring…”

The fear, the anger, the self-loathing - power flows unchecked into Adam, and from him into the protective barrier.

“Bad news, gang,” Jaycee mutters. “Remember all those Blot ships that were here when we got here? There’s like twice as many new ones, just warping in.”

The Blot ships are still beaming. One narrowly misses the HHL’s alien ship. Another strikes the Love Bug. They hear Peri’s “eee–” and nothing more.

“Adam,” Jaycee reports tensely. “We-- we may have just lost Jordan–”

Adam panics, and as he does, the barrier holding the cavern together weakens.

But he hears Somber’s voice again. “Feel for your connection with her,” it urges.

He does - and he recognizes what happened.

“She woke up. She’s no longer projecting herself here via dreams,” he reports. “But she’s safe back on Earth.”

“I wouldn’t endanger your sister, Adam,” Somber murmurs in his ear. “She is the safest of all of you. That is part of my gift to you.”

“That means we have no shield up here,” Jaycee concludes.

Above them, the HHL is systematically destroying the Blot. But the reinforcements may be too much for even them.

“I don’t know the right thing to do here,” Adam admits. “What are our options, guys?”

“Leave,” opines Space Bug, without a moment’s hesitation.

“I dunno how we could fight back,” Jaycee admits in defeat.

Adam looks at the cavern.

The stone walls and ceiling have been ground into rich, fertile soil underfoot. The tree-peoples’ roots dive deep into it, drawing up nutrients. The ever-present waterfalls come from reserves of water embedded in the stone, formed when this solar system accreted from cosmic debris. The unexplained hydrokinesis of the tree-people themselves has sculpted the water into a flowing garden.

There is so much beauty here. Adam can’t abandon it.

Among the Concordance, only the senior Coordinators wielded two or more Shards.

Right now, the Halcyon Heroes League is on the planetoid’s surface. They were his home city’s biggest good guys. And they’re just wrecking everything.

He remembers what Somber said, about it mattering more how you use power.

He has power. Some of it comes from what he’s always thought of as “darkness”. But right now, it’s fear keeping the cavern intact.

“Tau. Antares Alpha-One,” he calls to his twin shards.

Acknowledging, Adam Amari.

“I want you two to create two interlocking barriers. One will provide protection against incoming attacks. The other will provide structural integrity.”


“The entire cavern system.”

He feels a sickening thunk flow through his body, as the raw energy surges. He sees Armiger falter, too, and knows somehow that his vow - the binding between king and land - is hurting him, as Adam tears apart the planetoid. But it must be done.

“What are you doing, Adam?” Jaycee cries out. Even from the ship, she can tell that William Eddison is in pain.

Adam has only one answer for that. “What I have to.”

Slowly, a bubble that dwarfs the Love Bug, and even the massive Blot spaceship-towers, drifts away from the planetoid, leaving behind a gaping wound in its surface.

Platana and her fellows gawk, as cracks in the barrier allow them to see outer space around them.

“Your fellows in the Halcyon Heroes League,” the tree-woman ventures. “Will you help them?”

“They are beyond saving,” Keri mutters darkly.

“You mean… they are doomed to fall here?” Platana asks, aghast.

“Oh no, they’ll probably win that fight. But that’s not what I meant.” Keri doesn’t clarify any further.

With a supreme effort of will, Adam pushes the bubble into faster-than-light travel. The Love Bug follows. They leave behind the Blot, a fractured homeworld, and a war.

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The cavern system, safe in its bubble, emerges into orbit around a pair of young red suns. There are planets here, but the system is dominated by a tremendous asteroid belt.

Jaycee has been taking care of Armiger back on the ship. Now, as he wakes up, Adam realizes it may be his own time to sleep. It’s been hours upon hours since the bubble took flight. He’s been able to ignore it through the need to concentrate on holding the system together, balancing two flows of energy against each other, but the need to do so is gone - they’ve arrived somewhere.

He’s overestimated himself. Even with two shards and the mixed emotions of a community to work with, he’s at his limit. The bubble may not hold before he can find a place to safely set down.

Keri can see his distress, but can’t help him, and her inability clearly gnaws at her.

Planata and her people, likewise, are distraught at the pain their saviors are experiencing. But they are equally helpless.

Adam isn’t sure what to make of it when he hears William call over comms. “Adam, Excalibur and I can hold it together for awhile. The land and the king are one - I’ll manage it. So get some rest.”

The swordsman still sounds weak, but can Adam really say no?

As Armiger flashes into position at the center of the cavern, and thrusts Excalibur into the soil as an anchoring point, Adam feels his consciousness flee.

He finds himself sitting at the dinner table, in his home. His mother, his father, and Jordan are all staring at him, their food forgotten for the moment.

He looks down. In all respects, it’s him, just ordinary ol’ Adam Amari, 15 years old. He’s dressed like he would after a day at school.

He recognizes what’s going on. He’s on Earth, dreaming and projecting through the shared Shard.

“Mom, dad, uh, hi?” he says uncertainly, and waves.

His parents immediately get up, rush over, and throw their arms around him in a big hug. He’s peppered with questions - “what are you doing here?” “is everything okay?” “are you home now?” - and can only wait until they die down before trying to explain.

“I’m… dreaming,” he says finally. “I’m kinda here, but kinda not. When I wake up, I’ll be back in space. I’m not sure when that will happen.”

His parents look at each other, and to Jordan in recognition, and Adam has a sudden flash of insight and pride. His sister told them what was happening to her, rather than keep it to herself. Good for her.

A random thought comes to him. “Jordan said I got a letter?”

His mother fetches it and presents it. It’s a note, talking about the birth of Leo and Aria’s child, Fez. There’s even a USB thumb drive, with photos, and Adam dutifully shares them with his curious parents and sister.

It’s after dinner, with everyone in the living room watching television, that his father broaches the subject.

“Adam, what’s going on up there? Why is this so important to you?”

He thinks he has an answer.

“You remember when I first got the Concordance Shard? There was aliens that captured me, and I had to fight them off? Well, they mighta gotten some other Concordance Shards too. Or people, along with them. I’m trying to figure out what happened there.”

He turns to his dad. “When you do cop stuff, dad, isn’t there any time when you’re not sure what the department, or your bosses, or whoever, is really doing? Like, are you ever suspicious?”

Nassir Amari’s eyes tighten. “There are always corrupt cops,” he admits. “Some of them are just on the take. They look the other way when a crime is committed, in exchange for some of the profits. Other times, they’re actually committing crimes themselves. Stealing drugs from evidence to resell. Running protection rackets. And it’s not just beat cops. You can have corruption at any level.”

He looks his son in the eyes. “It’s a hard thing to work with Internal Affairs to investigate this kind of thing. And it’s a harder thing to just strike out on your own and do it. Police officers are the ones who are supposed to keep the peace by enforcing the law. Nobody likes a dirty cop, but they don’t like a traitor even more, and too many cops see internal investigations as a betrayal.”

Adam has one more question. “But the cops can be investigated from outside, right? Like, whoever appointed the cops or pays them has the right to investigate them?”

Nassir nods, and smiles. “Sure. And if you’re talking about the Concordance, I’d look into who appointed them to be the universe’s guardians. Maybe you can get some answers out of those people.”

Adam has never thought about this. And he is not at all confident that they were appointed by anyone.

Adam wakes up on the ship.

To his surprise, Space Bug is watching him. The little alien clicks and clacks, tilting its head this way and that, and its limbs twitch in agitation from time to time.

“I was dreaming of home,” Adam manages to say, in a barely audible voice. “But I was really there.”

“You dream of home too, yes, good,” Space Bug declares.

“Do you?” Adam asks, in surprise.

“Dream of your home? Never, impossible, definitely not,” the alien announces, sounding surprised that Adam would ask such a ridiculous question. “Come. We are pursued.”

In the cockpit, he finds Jaycee and Keri.

“Is William…?” he starts to ask.

“Platana and the tree people are tending to him,” Jaycee explains, with an undercurrent of anger he doesn’t understand. “There’s a Blot mushroom-ship closing on us.”

She indicates the long-range display, and Adam can see what she means.

“I don’t think anyone has the juice to move us any further for awhile,” he explains lamely.

“Then we’ll fight,” Keri says. Her earlier defiance is gone, Adam notes. There’s a resignation to her. She doesn’t look at him, either, even as he watches her face in profile.

“Then we fight,” Adam says with a smile.

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Peri materializes, to Adam’s surprise, as he and Keri are getting ready to fly over to the Blot spaceship.

“Adam! I fell asleep!” his sister exclaims excitedly.

Adam can’t help but smile. “I guess you did.”

Somber’s promise about Jordan’s safety comes back to him, and he’s heartened by it. It’s freedom from having to worry about her. “Hey, Jordan, want to come fight the Blot with us? They haven’t detected us yet, so we’re launching a surprise attack.”

“Sure!” the girl enthuses. “I love surprises!”

The three exit out the airlock and begin flying.

As they go, Adam feels fear welling up. He’s low on power, and his use of the Antares Alpha-One Shard means Jordan will be too. He’s not sure how Keri is doing, but she’s been pretty volatile.

He asks a question. “Why did you change your name to ‘La Cordera’? The Lamb?”

Keri startles, and Adam can feel guilt coming from her. But she answers.

“The lion will lie down with the lamb. It’s Biblical. You know, lions are hunters. But they can be man-eaters too. It’s… like, it’s a sign of strength, and pride, but also ferocity. And I think… I think I went too far down that path, when I was in space before.”

She smiles back uncertainly at Adam. “The lamb is gentle. I want to try being that. I just don’t have any idea of how to do it.”

“You’re really nice, though, Keri,” protests Jordan.

“When I’m around you two, sure, maybe. Under pressure, though…” Keri shrugs. “I don’t wanna turn into what the HHL’s turned into. People with power, just doing whatever they feel like. Being nice to people who are nice to me.”

“You’re in luck,” Adam smiles. “No need to be nice to the Blot.”

Keri grins and slams a fist into her palm.

The three heroes hover nearby, hiding in the shadow of one of the smaller asteroids, and plan their attack.

“How do we get in?” Peri asks.

Keri shakes her head. “They’ll harden up the minute we reveal ourselves. We could try rushing them, I guess?”

Adam tries to remember how the last fight went. “If they harden up, that means they can’t launch any of their drones, right? Like, to attack the tree peoples’ bubble?”

Keri reflects, and finally nods. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Adam hums. “I got an idea,” he says after a moment, and calls over comms. “Hey, Space Bug. Can you attack the Blot mushroom ship?”

“But they have not detected us, scanned us, pinpointed our location,” the bug protests. “Why would you give away our position? Why not sell it at a premium, at the least?”

“Just fire at them, then dodge behind some asteroids,” Adam says sternly. “We’ll do the rest.”

“This is foolishness, Adam Amari,” the bug says over the radio. “But I am excited to see where it goes so I will comply with your plan!”

From a distance, the trio can see the Love Bug fire its lightning discharger, then engage its engines to start moving. As expected, the mushroom ship begins deploying its armor.

“Okay, get closer,” Adam says, and starts flying. The others are behind him.

“They should return fire…” He watches the surface of the ship. “You remember? There’s an orifice that opens?”

“Yeah?” Keri sounds confused.

Adam grins. “When they fire at the Love Bug, we fly in through that gap.”

Sure enough, a firing port widens in the armor. The raving beam of energy discharges. In its wake, and before the gap closes, the three dart inside.

Keri punches through the interior lining, and the trio are inside the Blot ship.

“Now what?” Peri asks.

Adam isn’t sure he likes everything Somber is trying to teach him. But there’s one lesson that he’s been taking to heart. Pay attention to what your enemy is doing, and why.

The Blot invaded Earth. They’ve done awful things to other people. Adam isn’t really interested in forgiving them. But right now, he decides that it’s worth understanding them.

“Keri, Jordan, keep us safe from any drones,” he says, and closes his eyes.

Somber was able to do more than access feelings. The mysterious figure could wield telepathy, diving deep into Adam’s subconscious. That “Epiphanic Enigma” attack constructed a whole made-up world for Adam to dwell in.

The individual components of the Blot transmit orders to each other. That has to be thought of some kind. The individual drones probably just receive orders. So something here is giving them. And why did the ship come here? That, too, has to be directed by a thought.

Adam casts his mind into the great fungal mass around him. He seeks these thoughts, and their source.




There - he feels it. A node, or growth, or organ? He’s not sure how the Blot physiology works, exactly. But he can lead the others to it.

“Come on!” he shouts.

Just in time, drones emerge from the passages around them. Adam and Jordan summon their Continuum Swords to hand.

“Just like chopping mushrooms in the kitchen,” Adam assures his little sister. Keri, meanwhile, plows into the massed ranks of the drones.

With flashing blades and whirlwind fists, the trio fight their way into the depths of the ship.

At times, Adam wants to just give up. He wonders what it would be like to be Jordan right now - able to just wake up in his bed, back at home, not here any more. It’s hard. His muscles burn with the effort. His mind whirls with the need to focus, here in the middle of an alien starship, somewhere out in deep space. And he does feel bad involving Jordan in any kind of fighting, whether or not she’s physically safe or a projection or whatever. The experience itself will still affect her.

Keri is by far the strongest, or at least the least depleted, and Adam is grateful she’s picking up most of the slack. And when they break through, he’s immensely relieved.

The place Adam is looking for is a giant space, with a big fleshy node like a white grape strung up at the center. There’s webs and ropy squamous things and all kinds of living stuff attaching it to the walls.

“That’s the node that’s receiving thoughts from the rest of the Blot,” Adam says. “If we cut it off, it won’t kill the drones here, but it’ll confuse 'em until it regenerates.”

That’s all Keri needs to hear. She launches herself at the telepathic receiver node immediately, while Adam and Jordan attend to the drones behind them.

The moment the node is severed, the trio can sense a change. The drones are still fighting, but acting on impulse. Adam tells Jordan to withdraw, and the two of them fly up and out of range. Sure enough, the drones have enough instinct to defend themselves. But without that radiation of thought to give them larger orders, there’s no malice to them, and they return to their duties once they’re not under attack from Earth’s heroes.

“One exit, coming up,” Keri offers. She flies ahead, punching through layer after layer of fungal superstructure. With Adam and Jordan behind her, she leads the way back into space, and rockets away from the directionless Blot ship toward where the Love Bug is hiding.

Back aboard the ship, Adam briefs the others on what he found. He’s also in contact with Platana, as the representative of her people.

“They just arrived in the system and had started looking for the tree colony. I don’t think they found it. So you folks might be able to take up space in a hollow asteroid here, and be safe.”

Platana sounds amiable enough. “As long as we are safe from the Blot, one system is as good as another to us.”

“I think you will be.” Adam isn’t sure how he feels about revealing this, because he’s not sure how he feels about it. But – people deserve to know.

“You see, I felt something else. The train of thoughts coming from that Blot ship. They’re here hunting you because of us. Because of me. The Blot coming back to your system just as we got there wasn’t an accident.”

“There is someone named Somber. They sent a message to the Blot, giving them your location. So I think once we leave, that won’t be a problem any more.”

Jaycee, Armiger, and Keri all had experience with Somber from their first experience. Now they stare at Adam, unsure themselves of what to think.

Only Jordan seems to have a solid idea of what’s going on. “So Somber’s the big bad guy!” she announces.

“That could be,” Adam says with a smile. “It’s just one more person I need to get some answers from, I guess.”

There’s an asteroid with a niche big enough to accommodate the tree-folk’s home. With what’s left of their power, Adam and Jordan cooperate with Armiger to move the bubbled cavern system into the niche, then cover it with rubble from the asteroid system as concealment.

All the while, they keep an eye on the Blot ship for signs of movement or hostility. Without its thought-receiver, though, it’s as motionless as any other mushroom.

Adam asks Platana about the original purpose of their mission, once things have settled down.

“There’s these aliens, called the Blockheads. Did they ever come to your system? Did you ever notice them?” he asks.

“We have no high technology, and no way to sense things beyond our space,” the tree-woman confesses. “We did not witness any such beings, unfortunately.”

“That’s okay.” If Adam is disappointed, he’s still more gratified that he was able to help these people. “If you do see them, though, will you let us know? You have one of the ansibles from Earth. We’ll hear it if you use it to call.”

“We will call if we need.” Platana smiles, through the flowing water that makes up her face. “And perhaps call anyway, as a sign of friendship.”

“I think we would all like that,” Adam says, sparing a glance at Jaycee, whose face says otherwise.

The Love Bug keeps watch until the Blot ship leaves the system. Presumably its receiver node has regenerated, and it’s received fresh orders from the Blot’s hive mind.

Only then does Adam dare to try and make a connection with Somber, via the Antares Alpha-One shard the enigmatic agent gifted him.

Somber’s image flashes into existence inside the ship. Adam stands before him, while the others encircle him, watching curiously.

“You sent the Blot to attack Platana’s people,” Adam says levelly.

“I did. Knowing you would be there soon,” Somber admits.


The alien’s eyes flicker in Keri’s direction, then back to Adam. “She knows. It is the question she has not yet asked you.”

Keri gulps, and speaks. “Adam, why isn’t the Concordance helping these people? If the Blot is such a widespread problem, where are they? Why aren’t they doing anything about it?”

Somber spreads their arms wide. “I know of only one thing that makes the Concordance act. Challenges to their authority. Such challenges as those presented by their rivals. Those that empowered Princess Peri, for example. The Void’s cultists are but one of many such groups.”

Adam thinks for a moment. “That’s why you wanted me to use negative energy,” he says after a moment. “That’s why you were harvesting it from Earth. So you could make it look like the Concordance’s enemies were here.”

“And they would send an agent, or better yet, empower one of the oppressed people the Blot has tormented. You are correct, Adam.” Somber nods in recognition.

“Maybe they tried already,” Adam counters. “The Blockheads tried to attack me. They attacked the Rainbow Warriors on Earth too. And Earth has two Shards unaccounted for. This Blockhead ship that we’re in came to this system. What if the Concordance did send a shard, and the Blockheads intercepted it somehow?”

It’s gratifying to Adam to see this catch Somber off guard. “Then I encourage you to continue your search for answers, Adam,” they say at last.

“Not just answers.” Adam draws himself up, drawing on his conviction to say a difficult thing. “I don’t like how you’re going about this. It feels like you’re willing to let people get hurt just go achieve your goals. Sacrifices are part of being a hero. But you can’t sacrifice someone else who doesn’t wanna be sacrificed. There’s gotta be a better way.”

“I’m listening,” Somber says patiently.

Adam frowns. After several seconds, he admits the truth. “I don’t know what that is, not yet. But, y’know, I’m only fifteen. If you’ve been at this longer, an’ know all about what’s going on, maybe you do know a better way and just don’t want to do it. So I’m going to keep being cautious.”

“Caution, wisdom, and knowing one’s limits are all lessons I wish to teach. I find this very encouraging.” Somber smiles, and vanishes.

“Where to now?” Keri asks, at last.

Adam thinks. “We keep chasing the mystery of the Blockheads,” he announces. “What they want with Concordance Shards. And if they really are intercepting them, maybe how they know where to go.”

“So we keep going to systems where the Blockheads have been?” Armiger asks.

Adam shakes his head. “People who don’t know about the Concordance can’t tell us much, I think,” he concludes. “So instead of going to where they were, we’re going to where they will be. Places where their authority is being threatened.”

He smiles at his friends and family. “We’re gonna go find the enemies of the Concordance.”

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And that’s our encounter with the Blot, and Platana’s people. How did that work out for people?