No Other Way: Part Seven
The room was silent. Even Patsy had stopped crying.
“How long is the vent?” asked Allso quietly. His face had gone white.
“I’m not sure where the other control room is,” Drakav replied.
“It’s not a set-up, is it?” Allso said. Drakav shook his head. “The Station’s really heading towards Neopia.”
“It’s...” said Patsy, blinking and swallowing hard, “... it’s about... a hundred metres... give or take.” She coughed. “It’d take about... a minute... to crawl.” She stood up. “I’ll... just keep an eye on the communication system.”
Allso moved towards her.
“I’ll give you a...”
“You!” snapped Patsy, spinning to face him. “You stay away!”
The Mynci looked stunned, but stepped backwards.
Drakav looked at the display. 2:04. Just over three minutes for Jomoro to get into the other room.
“What if he doesn’t make it?”
Allso’s question remained unanswered. Drakav stared into the dark vents, his eyes streaming in the cloud of gas rising up. He couldn’t take it any more. With a whispered “Good luck” into the vent, he pulled the shaft back across, stopping the flow of purple vapour into the room. Then, he moved across to stand next to Patsy at the communication tube.
“How long’s he been in there?” Drakav asked.
“About a minute,” said Patsy. “He should be there by now.”
Drakav watched the numbers, flickering on the screen.
1:23... 1:22... 1:21...
“This is Alpha One,” said Patsy into the device. “Jomoro, do you copy? Are you there?”
“Jomoro,” said Patsy, urgently. “Jomoro, can you hear me? Have you made it there?”
There was a faint cough from the other end of the device.
“Jomoro!” said Patsy. “Are you there?”
More coughing – louder this time. And then there was the faint sound of footsteps from the other end, and then...
“You made it!” said Patsy.
“I’m here,” spluttered Jomoro.
“Patsy, give me the tube,” said Drakav, urgently, and the Tonu passed the device across. “Jomoro, can you hear me?”
“Good. Now, we don’t have much time. Is there a lever in the control room? A large one, to the side?”
“Yes, there is!” said Jomoro. “Next to... an escape pod.”
There was a short silence.
“No,” said Drakav. “Don’t do this. Pull the lever, and everything will be fine. The Station will return to normal functionality.”
Drakav suddenly found himself forced aside, pushed to the ground. Allso seized the device.
“Jomoro, don’t be a fool. This is your chance to go in a blaze of glory! To escape from the ruins of the Station, and take home the story of the heroics of Allso and yourself. Leave! Leave, and immortalise us!”
Patsy grabbed Allso, and pulled him away from the tube. Drakav scrabbled back to his feet, and returned to the device.
“Pull the lever!” urged Drakav. “Save the Station!”
“I know what I need to do,” said Jomoro. He pushed a button, and the system went dead.
“Jomoro!” shouted Drakav. “Don’t do this!”
“Good boy!” said Allso. “Who needs KMC when you’ve gone the way of a hero?”
“What have you done?” shrieked Patsy to Allso. “What have you done to us?”
0:04... 0:03... 0:02... 0:01...
BOTH ENGINES DEACTIVATED
Drakav sighed, heavily. It had been done. The Station had been fixed.
The communications line buzzed back to life.
“I did it,” said Jomoro from the other end. “I saved the Station.”
“Why?” shouted Allso, from the floor. “We could have been heroes! We could have been famous!”
“I will be famous,” said Jomoro. “You were wrong. There is another route to the top, to fame. There’s never no other way.”
Jomoro coughed, loudly.
“Besides,” he said, hoarsely, “that vent doesn’t seem to have agreed with me.”
There was a thud from the other side, the sound of something heavy hitting a metal floor. And then, from the other control room, there was silence.
“Jomoro,” said Drakav, down the line, but there was no reply. No sound from Jomoro.
One of the consoles beeped.
The door to the control room slid open.
* * *
Drakav sat nervously in one of the observation decks. Patsy was on one side of him, Allso on the other. None of them said anything.
From the room next door, a medic emerged – an Elephante in a white hat with a green cross on it. Drakav leapt to his feet.
“How is he?” he asked.
“He’s got a bad case of Neogitus,” said the Elephante. “He’s going to feel quite rough for a few days, but he’ll make a full recovery.”
Drakav sighed in relief.
“What happened?” asked the medic. “What did he do?”
Drakav smiled at her.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
One of the loudspeakers hissed into life.
“Ladies, gentlemen and sentient beings, your attention please. You may have experienced a small amount of turbulence in the past hour or so. There were some minor technical faults in the engine. Rest assured that the technicians have checked everything thoroughly, and the Station is now in full working order again.”
The speaker went dead. Drakav closed his eyes, a smile beginning to creep across his face. Everything was done. Everything was fine.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Drakav opened his eyes again. Standing in front of him was a technician.
“Sir, I understand you were in the control room. Do you have any insight into what may have caused the problem?”
“It was Morlock,” said a voice from Drakav’s left. Drakav turned – it was Allso.
“You’ve put the entire Station at risk tonight,” said Drakav. “I suggest you stop spouting the Morlock line.”
“You never disproved it,” said Allso. “And it couldn’t have been any of the four of us in there. The memories would have shown.”
“The memories?” asked the technician.
“It’s a long story,” said Drakav.
“Ask him!” said Allso.
“Very well,” said Drakav. He briefly described the actions that he had seen Morlock performing, what seemed like an age ago. The technician nodded as the facts were relayed.
“Yes,” he said, when Drakav had finished. “That was standard practice, what Morlock did there. Exactly what he should have done to fix the Station. There’s no doubt that he was trying to fix the Station.”
“So it seems that nobody was at fault,” said Drakav. The technician nodded.
“It’s certainly possible,” he said. “The engine could well have disengaged itself, and the doors would have locked as a precaution. Thank you for your time, sir. It seems that this was nothing more than an accident.”
Drakav nodded, and the technician turned and left. Drakav walked across the observation deck, to the large window, looking out into space. Somewhere out there, Morlock would be drifting, in his escape pod.
Wherever he was, he had done his job. He had saved the Station.
But then, he had to. There was no other way.
Through the vast expanses of space floated a single Fuzzle. Lost and alone, the creature drifted, doing nothing, saying nothing, thinking nothing.
Or, at least, not consciously thinking anything. Tuning into the brain of the Fuzzle, shooting through the depths of space, came a mysterious signal from afar, and the unfortunate marooned creature suddenly found his brain filled with a succession of unfamiliar memories...
Morlock looked at the piece of paper in his hand. His pay slip.
“Are you sure this is right?” he asked his boss.
“Yes. Why? You want more money?” His boss laughed. “You chose the wrong job for that!”
Morlock looked at the figures. It wasn’t enough. He couldn’t pay the nurse’s bills with that pitiful sum.
“But, sir, I need more than this. You see, my mother, she’s...”
“I don’t care about your mother!” snapped his boss. “If you need money, why don’t you go work for Dr. Sloth or something? I’ve heard he pays well!” Chuckling loudly, his boss walked away from the despondent Techo.
* * *
“Your first mission,” said the general, “is important. So you need to be careful. Do you think you’ll be able to do this?”
“Yes, sir,” said Morlock. “Whatever Sloth wants, I will do it for him.”
“Good,” said the general. “And, in exchange, we will be sure to provide your mother with the finances for top-quality care.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“The Station is Dr. Sloth’s target.”
Morlock was taken aback.
“The... Virtupets Space Station?”
“The very same. Dr. Sloth feels that the Station has been overtly Neopianised, and needs to be removed. And you will do this.”
“But...” Morlock was taken aback. “But... you said there would be no loss of life!”
“And there won’t be,” said the general. “As you know, the Station contains two control rooms, one for each side of the thrusters.” Morlock nodded. “We need you to infiltrate the one on the side closest to Neopia, lock yourself in, and increase the power of that engine. The combined force will throw the Station out of orbit and into space. The emergency protocols will ensure that all Neopians are evacuated, and nobody will be hurt.”
“It’s risky, though.”
“Morlock, Dr. Sloth has already changed his plans once, to prevent the Station from crashing into Neopia, at your request. If you refuse, he will find somebody with... fewer concerns, shall we say? Do you understand?”
Morlock nodded. He understood.
“Good. Now, return to the Station. I have a meeting with Dr. Sloth to attend to.”
Morlock saluted, and turned. It was the work of a moment by the general to slip the Squippit into the pocket of the technician, before he too turned on his heels. He had an important prototype to show Dr. Sloth.
* * *
The shuttle landed in the bay, and Morlock stepped carefully out.
“Cutting it a bit fine, aren’t we?” snapped a voice. It was his boss, standing by the entrance to the port. “1:59 am? Your shift starts at 2.”
“I’m on time,” said Morlock.
“It’s not good enough,” said his boss. “You need to be early. Because of your late arrival, all that’s left to man tonight is the control room. A dull job, but somebody who’s late has to do it. Now, go! Before I end up fining you!”
Morlock made a slightly larger show of striding off in an exuberant manner than was strictly speaking necessary. But his boss didn’t seem to notice, and, as soon as he was out of sight, he rushed quickly in the direction of the control room. Just before the room, though, he stopped, and took a few quick, deep breaths. He’d need the help.
Entering the control room, he could see four other technicians working hard. One looked up as he entered.
“Late today, were you, Morlock?” he said, cheerfully.
“No... time...” panted Morlock. “Emergency... in the... other control room.”
“There’s nobody in that one, though,” said one of the other technicians. “They’re off-shift...”
“You need... to go. Now!” said Morlock, and, this time, the urgency in his voice came across.
“Right,” said one. “Morlock, you stay here. We’ll go and investigate. Keep the communication channel clean!”
“Will do,” said Morlock, and the four rushed out of the room. Morlock was alone. Exactly what he needed. He felt something crawling up his arm, and he brushed it off casually. Nothing was going to distract him now.
Carefully, he approached the control panel, and waited. In his head, he counted to ten. That would give the technicians enough time to be safely out of the way. Then, he pushed a button.
He smiled. It had begun.
And then the alarm sounded. This he had not expected.
He groaned. Of course – the new system! He’d skipped over the details when they’d come round earlier, but he remembered one section. ‘In the event of a lockdown, the security system will hold control room doors open for four minutes, and an alarm will sound to warn other technicians that the lockdown is occurring.’
The communication system buzzed.
“Alpha Two, this is Alpha One. Who initiated a lockdown?”
Morlock thought quickly.
“The system. There’s a low flux level in your room, Alpha Two. You’ll need to boost it.”
“Are you sure? It takes a while to check. Do we have the time?”
“Do it, Alpha Two. That’s an order!”
“Very well, Alpha One. Alpha Two out.”
Morlock put the system down. The flux levels would take more than four minutes to check. He’d be fine.
Now for the next stage in the operation. He moved across to the engine lever. All he had to do was pull it, and the thrusters would increase as necessary. He pulled the lever.
A message flashed up.
THRUSTERS ARE UNABLE TO INCREASE UNTIL MANUAL LOCKDOWN IS COMPLETE
He cursed, and pushed the lever again.
THRUSTERS ARE UNABLE TO INCREASE UNTIL MANUAL LOCKDOWN IS COMPLETE
“No,” he said. “No!” Angrily, he kicked the lever. It slid backwards.
He stared at the message. That was bad.
“No, no, no!” he muttered to himself. “That’s the wrong way!”
He heaved at the lever, trying desperately to force it back the other way, to reengage the thrusters. It wasn’t moving. He pulled harder. Still no give.
He pulled harder. The lever snapped.
Everything had gone wrong.
The alarm blared in his ears as Morlock frantically tried to reattach the lever that had broken off. But to no avail. There was no fixing this. There was no escape.
Frantically, he reached for the communications device between him and the technicians in the other control room. They were his only hope now. But, as he reached to try and engage the system, his eye caught one of the displays, and he stopped. His heart pounded frantically as he scanned the monitor that had lit up and was flashing at him.
WARNING – ENGINES IN TERMINAL FAILURE. CRASH IMMINENT
PROJECTED LANDING LOCATION: KRAWK ISLAND (SOUTH)
Morlock’s hand flew to his mouth. The words reverberated in his head. ‘Krawk Island (South)’. It was even worse than he had feared. He had to stop it. Now, more than ever, the Station needed to restart.
He reached for the communications device.
“Alpha Two, this is Alpha One. Do you read me?”
Carefully, he put the tube to his ear. He could hear nothing but faint hissing from the engines. He moved it back to his mouth.
“Alpha Two, we have an emergency situation in Alpha One. Repeat, there is an emergency. You need to...”
“Stop right there!” A voice came from behind him, and Morlock turned. “That’s enough.”
And it was. Morlock looked into the eyes of the pet who had just entered the room, and he knew that it was all over. That there was nothing he could do to save the Station now.
The Station would crash into Neopia. There was no other way.
* * *
From his shuttle, Morlock watched as the Station returned to its normal orbit. He smiled. He could barely see Neopia from where he was, but he knew that somewhere, down there, his mother was lying in bed, safe and well looked after. And that was all he could hope for. After all, he’d done it all for her.
The pod drifted through space. Someday, in the not-too-distant future, a rescue ship from Dr. Sloth would arrive, and the spy would be returned home.
But not yet. There was still some way to go yet.