Hey friends and fictional folk! I finally managed to get a chapter done before the night before. I feel like this one is a bit rougher around the edges than most chapters, but these are all rough drafts. The editing comes after I’ve uploaded them all. Anyway, hope you all enjoy!
“I should have known thisss was all jusst a trap?” Natalie growled, furious that she had been so wrapped up in the thrill of discovery that she had forgotten who sent them here.
“Please,” Ahuizotl scoffed. “If I wanted to lay a trap for you, I would have sent you somewhere that I could actually ambush you.”
“Ssso what is thisss? Bragging rightsss?”
“Or were you perhaps unable to access this place on your own?” Mr. Ross asked.
“A little bit of column A, none of column B,” Ahuizotl said. “It was easy to find this place, though I haven’t gone past the hallway you’re standing in.”
“Too ssscared?” Natalie said, a smirk coming unbidden to her face.
Ahuizotl scoffed. “Hardly. I just didn’t feel like exploring. All I needed to see was this to know it was perfect for what I wanted to do.”
“And that is?”
Was she finally going to get an answer for why this girl had been hounding her every step and slither? Ahuizotl had been the first hybrid she’d ever fought and seemed to be holding a personal grudge against her. She had nearly killed Sam by stealing his shard. She had said big things were happening. What did she know and what was her goal?
Ahuizotl met her eyes. The fanged smirk on her face grew into a manic smile.
“To surpass you,” she snarled.
Natalie was so stunned that she almost didn’t realize that Ahuizotl was charging. She sped down the hall, a blur of brown fur, flashing claws, and bared fangs.
Shaking off her surprise, Natalie hissed a challenge and sprang forward. She had only partially transformed her legs to prevent them from turning into a full tail and ripping her pants. As she had hoped, this had a secondary effect. The same fast-twitch muscles that allowed her to punch at blinding speeds were now in her legs as well. This launched her like a bullet down the hallway.
She swung for Ahuizotl’s head and Ahuizotl aimed a slash at her face. Natalie caught the claw but Ahuizotl caught the punch. They were now locked in a pushing match, each holding the strike of the other and shoving back and forth. Their snarling faces inches apart.
“Sssurpasss me?” Natalie hissed. “I thought you ssaid thiss was bigger than a bunch of teenagerss fighting each other.”
“It is,” Ahuizotl growled. “This is about taking back everything you stole from me. And once I do, I’ll be the hero! I’ll be the one to uncover the mystery of the shards! I’ll be the one who saves the city and then the world! Everything you have will be mine! As it rightfully should be!”
Rage boiled from somewhere deep within Natalie’s soul. She had wanted answers. She had wanted closure. She had wanted to understand what was going on. But all that she got were more questions, more confusion, and more enemies. Everyone and everything seemed to be out to kill or manipulate her and tear her further away from the life she wanted to return to.
She was losing ground. Ahuizotl’s claws and padded feet had a better grip on the ground than her hastily found tennis shoes. She was slowly starting to slide on the slick metal floor.
“Shoot her!” she heard Daniel shout.
“I can’t,” Mr. Ross said. “There’s no clear shot around Natalie.”
No clear shot?
That was impossible. Natalie was tall for her age but Ahuizotl easily dwarfed her.
Except…she didn’t anymore. Natalie was no longer looking up at her brown-furred opponent. Instead, she was now at eye level. And those eyes were starting to look afraid.
Ahuizotl tried to pull away, but Natalie was ready. She tightened her grip on their claw and swung them up overhead before slamming them into the floor. Readying a punch, she cried out as the claws from Ahuizotl’s other hand sank into her wrist and she released her grip. Flipping off her back and onto all fours, Ahuizotl launched herself at Natalie. They went tumbling back toward the bridge of the ship, tearing at each other with tooth and claw, until at last Natalie managed to throw Ahuizotl off her. The hybrid easily spun in mid-air and landed on her feet.
Natalie hissed, baring her two long fangs and flaring the hood that had sprouted from her neck. Ahuizotl answered with a chittering snarl, hackles raised and eyes filled with fury.
Natalie coiled her tail like a spring. Ahuizotl tensed her hind legs.
Once more, they charged each other.
Daniel stared in awe as Natalie and Ahuizotl fought. They moved almost too fast to follow, flying from one side of the bridge to the other with powerful leaps. Claws sliced the air and fists slammed into walls, the metal ringing like a bell. They fought with a ferocity that was as graceful as it was savage.
He wanted to help, but he didn’t dare get closer. It was more likely he’d be ripped to shreds before he could so much as speak. The bridge had become a realm of chaos. Especially with Natalie’s constant transforming. One moment she was a familiar green with a long tail instead of legs. Then she had a dozen arms covered in spiky, red scale. Then she had neither arms nor legs and resembled a cobra the size of a horse.
“We need to get out of here,” he breathed. The best way they could help Natalie was by getting out of her way.
“I agree,” Mr. Ross said, glancing down the hall away from the fight. “But we have no way to reach the elevator and the other door is closed.”
As if it had heard him, the other end of the hall slid open. The space beyond was dark save for the dim illumination of the floor lights. Only faint shadows of a branching hallway were visible beyond.
Daniel shared a look with Mr. Ross They glanced back at the melee being fought on the bridge. Then bolted for the door.
Scrambling through the portal, they found themselves with another decision to make. The corridor in front of them split into two identical paths. Daniel could see nothing to distinguish the left way from the right. No doors, no windows. Nothing.
He was beginning to wonder if they should just flip a coin when the wall where the two halls met split open. The two plates of metal swung apart to reveal the first brightly lit room they had seen in this place. The space inside had a dozen screens covering one wall and a tall counter covered with buttons in front of them. Much of the light in the room seemed to be coming from those screens, which each shone with a different color but were all scrolling long lines of symbols that Daniel had never seen. Everything was built to the same large scale as the bridge.
Seeing no other option, they ran inside.
Daniel’s heart sank as the doors swung shut behind them. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to follow random doors opening on an alien spaceship. They still had no idea whether the builders of this thing had been friendly or not. At least they would be safe from the hybrid battle in here. Hopefully.
He yelped as a powerful voice echoed through the room in a language definitely didn’t sound human. Both he and Mr. Ross flinched when wide beam of light shone down on them. The computers beeped several times in rapid succession and the lights shut off.
That voice again. But now he could understand it.
“Language Analyzed,” it continued, filling the room with its resonance. “Vocabulary Updated For Human Organism Language English. Welcome Humans. Please Do Not Attempt To Leave This Room Until Rampaging Bioweapons Have Been Subdued.”
Daniel jaw fell open in awe as his mind tried to process the fact that the ship had apparently scanned his and Mr. Ross’s brain and learned from that learned to speak English. All within the span of ten seconds. He was still wrestling with the complexities of such a system when Mr. Ross stepped toward the wall of screens.
“Who are you?” his teacher asked. He sounded as amazed as Daniel felt.
“I Am The Constructed Intelligence Assigned To Maintaining This Vessels Functionality,” the computer responded. Schematics of the ship appeared on several of the screens as it spoke. “In Your Language, My Name Would Read As ‘Computational Overseer Of Onboard Technical Systems.’”
Daniel blinked. “Your name is COOTS?”
The computer beeped. “Nickname Detected. Nickname Integrated Into Response Codes. I Will Now Answer To The Name COOTS As Per Your Designation.”
That hadn’t been what he had meant to do, but Daniel decided not to point that out. It probably wasn’t a good idea to change your mind too much around an artificial intelligence that could control an entire spaceship on its own and still functioned perfectly after several thousand years on sleep mode.
“Who built you?” Mr. Ross continued. He had shifted into his serious mode. Daniel couldn’t help but be put a little on edge whenever his usually calm professor transformed into someone much more intense and driven. Was this what he had been like as an agent of Omphalos?
“Clarification Required,” COOTS said.
Mr. Ross looked momentarily taken aback. He squared his shoulders and cleared his throat.
“What species built this ship which you inhabit?” he asked. “You refer to us as humans, which indicates that your original builders were not. As does the scale of this vessel and the furniture we found on the bridge.”
The schematics of the ship vanished and were replaced by…Daniel wasn’t sure what.
The pictures were of two different kinds of creatures. That much he was certain of. One of the creatures was long and slender. It stood on four legs and scales covered its entire body from head to paddle-shaped tail. Its face looked almost like those he had seen on depictions of Chinese dragons—a fanged snout with a wild mane crowning the skull and two long whiskers snaking from the upper lip.
The other creature was more humanoid, at least as far as being bipedal. In fact, that, and the spindly pair of arms on its torso, were probably the only features that could be called humanoid. If anything, it looked more like a giant falcon with a slightly straighter posture and an elongated skull with flowing plumage. Their tiny arms were tucked beneath a pair of massive wings.
Based on the size chart that popped up, the dragon-looking creatures were easily the size of Clydesdale horses and the falcon-looking beings toward a good foot or so above the average human. Assuming that was an average human in the size chart.
“My Creation,” COOTS began, “And The Creation Of This Vessel Was Part Of A Collaborative Effort Between Two Species That Had Reached An Interstellar Level Of Technology. They Refer To Themselves As The MISHIBIZHEW And The KGR’DA.”
Daniel ran a hand through his hair and let out a long breath. He had been confident in this place being extraterrestrial in origin, but to have it proven correct was something else. Not only had the computer just confirmed that aliens were real, but it had revealed that two separate species had sailed the stars while humans were still figuring out how to write. It was his wildest daydreams come true. Real, tangible proof of extraterrestrial life. He might have squealed with joy if he weren’t so shellshocked from escaping Natalie’s fight with Ahuizotl.
“What is the purpose of this craft?” Mr. Ross asked, seemingly unfazed by the sudden revelation of alien civilizations.
“This Vessel Is Designed As A Fully Amphibious Exploratory Transport. It Employs A Full Array Of Elemental Manipulation Cores To Propel Itself Through Any Environment And A Fusion Reactor To Traverse Areas Of Near Or Total Vacuum.”
“Does any environment include underground?”
Something clicked in Daniel’s head and his heart skipped a beat.
“Wait,” he said. “COOTS, you mentioned subduing ‘rampaging bioweapons’ earlier. Can you elaborate on that?”
“Affirmative. The Bioweapons Currently Engaged In Combat Within This Vessel Must Be Subdued Before They Bring Harm To This Ship, Themselves, And All Other Organisms Within This Vessel.”
Daniel swallowed. He didn’t like the sound of that, and he was afraid what COOTS might say to his next question. But he had to ask. For Natalie’s sake.
“How exactly would you subdue them?” he asked.
The screens lit up with pictures and schematics of a dozen different types of drones. Each one looked like it carried enough firepower to kill an elephant. Daniel’s heart sank all the way into his shoes.
“Given The Severe Instability Of Both Bioweapons,” COOTS said, “It Is Recommended That Lethal Force Be Used To Eliminate The Threat They Pose To This Vessel.”