Chapter Fifteen/The One-Day War
Jones followed just a pace behind and at Mortimer’s left elbow as they jogged through the hallways and upstairs, going where he led them. “Mort, we need to find a dragon egg, any ideas?”
“It doesn’t ring a bell, but I have been out of the loop for, what is it? Seven years?” Lilah cringed. “Did my brother actually steal a dragon egg? He must have wanted to… Oh dear.” Mortimer stopped in his tracks. “Oh, oh dear.”
Jones stopped, spun on her heel and hissed at him. “What?”
“The sounds we hear, I assume that we are under attack, yes?”
Jones nodded. “Yes. New Pieland, Merveilles and Verk combined forces.”
“And they used the high-crime of theft of a dragon egg as an excuse to do so?”
“You do know you walked into a trap, yes?”
“Y… I’m sorry, yes?”
Lilah leaned against a wall and stared at Mortimer’s bare feet. N’Gretty ground his teeth loudly and bounced, flexing his hands in and out of fists.
“Yes,” Jones repeated. “We’ve been keeping an eye on that weapon for some time now.”
Lilah looked up at Jones. “What weapon?”
“Eustace and our father, Cedric started working on it before I left. A particle beam weapon capable of rendering bio-organic matter into machine. A robot-making ray gun they were calling a ‘Confetti Cannon’. It was not…” he closed his eyes as the image of Sheng-Xi being killed flashed in his mind. “It was not fully functional when I was locked away. I assume Eustace has completed it by now and if he’s lured you here he intends to use it. Thousands of lives are at stake. We must find it and destroy it immediately.”
Lilah stomped her foot down. “That was something the Beciles were working on? Why didn’t you tell me!”
Jones grinned sheepishly. “Same reason you didn’t tell me about Mort, I guess. It was need-to-know and I was trying to protect you.”
“Georgia!” Lilah shouted and the older woman shushed her.
“You want to tell them they got company inside, too? Keep it down!”
Mortimer looked left and right. “I imagine there are few if any humanoid staff anymore..., mostly automatons, and it would seem (if the empty halls are any indication) that they are all on the battlefield, presently.”
“Your brother even pulled the guys guarding the prison, huh?”
“No, there weren’t any.” He pursed his lips in thought for a moment, noticed the half-dragon twitching with nervous energy to his right then switched gears. “So, we need to find a dragon egg, do we?”
N’Gretty punched his own palm. “Yes! Let’s go, already!”
Jones nodded. “You know where it might be?”
“If there is one, it would most likely be on display in the throne room with the other trophies.” Mortimer turned and jogged down the hall. “Come! The throne room is this way!”
When at last they neared the large steel doors to the throne room, the four stopped and hid behind a buttress to plan their next move. The sound of a man’s voice shouting commands and the din of dozens of metal soldiers moving about could be heard from within.
“What are we up against in there, Mort?”
“My brother, probably seated on the throne, which is also a command terminal, and by the sound of it a few dozen automatons.”
“Where’s the weapon?” Jones asked. “I’m gonna go on ahead and destroy it.”
“Georgia…” Lilah whispered, concerned, but her friend held up a hand as if to say, ‘you know I can do it, so relax’.
Mortimer pointed toward a staircase a dozen yards away. “I’m eighty-percent certain of where it is. Up there two flights, make a right, down the hall. On your right you’ll see it from the windows. At the end of the hall there’s a door to a balcony overlooking a launch pad. The last time I saw it, it was on the balcony. One can hit many invading targets from that vantage point.”
She nodded. “Here, take the Cricket,” she said, pulling a small firearm from her satchel. “Can you handle your brother?” Mortimer bowed his head slightly and said nothing. “Mort?” His complexion paled. “Oh crap, N’Gretty, this some sort of side effect of that snake oil you gave him?”
“Snake oil!” he exclaimed, offended. “No on both counts!”
Lilah gasped as Mortimer raised his head, his face was as white as paper and his eyes and lips were black. His scraggly reddish beard and long, matted hair gave what was otherwise a common sight in Kazooland a rather frightening aspect. His expression was placid and he smiled thinly.
Jones smirked. “I had heard a rumor that Mortimer Becile’s mother was a mime.”
Lilah gaped. “You’re a half-mime?”
“Hey,” N’Gretty barked. “Being half just means you’re fifty percent better than everyone else.” Everyone stared at him. “What? It’s what my mother always told me!”
“But,” Lilah pouted. “Why didn’t you use your powers to get out of your cell?”
Mortimer pointed to his lips and with quick, fluid motions mimed ‘my brother killed all the living guards.’
Lilah shook her head, not understanding sign language and Jones winced. “Never mind. No time to explain. Lilah, you got your goober rounds and stuff?”
“And this,” she said and opened her pack slightly to reveal the stock of another non-lethal she had brought with her.
“The portal gun? Jesus, Lilah that’s hasn’t been tested enough yet!”
“I promise I’ll only use it if I have to. I believe in my work, Georgia.”
“I do too, kid, but be careful. Ok, so—” Jones was cut off as the sounds of a fight reached their ears. Her eyes darted around and they all saw that one of the doors to the throne room was open and one of their number was missing. “Where’s N’Gretty?” The noises of battle grew louder and she groaned. “New plan. Get in there. Secure the egg. Catch up with me. Go!”
Mortimer and Lilah nodded and ran through the doors as Jones dashed up the stairs.
Jones powered up the steps two at a time and when she reached the top of the first flight of stairs she encountered a group of a dozen or so Becile automatons. The skeletal, black machines billowed puffs of dark, oily smoke as they marched toward her and engaged short range weapons of various types from chainsaws to foot-long switchblades.
“Boy, you guys sure are cute,” Jones said as she drew a handgun and fired particle beam blasts at them. Her aim was good and she landed several head shots but only two robots seemed to be slightly put off balance by the fire. “Ok, I take that back! How about I waste some plasma on ya?” With quick movements, she holstered the small handgun and withdrew a brass gun that looked like the love child of a 57 magnum and a super-soaker. She squeezed off a shot that blazed with a white beam and disintegrated the chest of one of the robots, but as she loaded the next cartridge the rest of them were dangerously closer. Jones cursed, fired the next shot and rethought her plan. They weren’t very fast, but there were just too many of them to take out before they reached her. If she could just slow them down somehow, she thought, and grinned. Reloading the 57, she unhooked the coiled leather at her hip and let it fly. The whip wrapped around the neck of the closest robot and one quick tug brought him crashing down in front of several others that tripped over it. “Ha!” Jones cried and fired a shot at a pile of four robots, ashing them. The others stopped and took a few steps back. “Yeah, that’s right. I gotcha now, you coal-guzzling creeps.” She cracked the whip and they took another step back.
In the throne room, the scene that greeted Lilah and Mortimer was chaotic and alarming. N’Gretty spun as if dancing in melee combat with dozens of the same sort of battle robots that Jones faced upstairs. His claws ripped through their metal chassis easily, but he was still only one man. On a dais above him, standing in front of the throne, Eustace Becile glowered down on the scene. He wore a light suit of black and green armor and an impressively-horned helmet. He caught sight of his brother running toward him and his annoyed expression flashed to panic for a moment before he touched a button on the left side of the helmet. “Mortimer?” Eustace shouted.
“Cease and desist, Eustace!” Mortimer commanded. Lilah and N’Gretty cringed as his powerful, echoing voice reverberated in their bones.
Confident that his helmet was functioning and blocking Mortimer’s ability, Eustace laughed. “Too late! I don’t know how you are here, but it matters not! Let me show you my latest creation!” He pressed buttons on the right arm of the throne and a tall door on their right slid open. Black smoke poured from the opening and a monstrous, metallic cry sounded from inside. The few automatons remaining immediately ignored N’Gretty and turned on the humans. Eustace grinned and made a hasty exit through a concealed door just behind the throne.
N’Gretty growled at the robots to stop ignoring him. Mortimer gnashed his teeth. “My ability does not work against them and I don’t doubt Eustace is heading for the very weapon Miss Jones is after!”
“I think we have bigger problems...” Lilah gaped at the huge door as a giant dinosaur mecha stomped out into the throne room.
N’Gretty gawked up at the black robot with the razor-sharp spines and green, glowing eyes. He grinned to split his face. “Go get him!” he barked, “I’ve got this!”
Lilah tried to argue with him but Mortimer nodded and bolted for the secret door. The mecha roared and belched white flames quickly convincing Lilah to catch up to him. Mortimer slammed his fist against the flat, featureless doorway. “He’s locked it from within. We’ll have to go around. This way!” he cried and they jumped off the dais and charged toward the side door, opposite N’Gretty and his mechanized foe. Lilah stole a glance at him as she darted through the door, but what she saw didn’t immediately make sense. It seemed to her that N’Gretty was fairly larger than he had been moments before. She shook her head and chose to focus on following Mortimer, instead.
“We’ll have to take the route Miss Jones took,” he explained as they ran. “Eustace will beat us to the weapon.”
“But maybe Georgia beat him there!”
“We must hope.”
A few minutes earlier
Georgia Jones sprinted down the hall, having spotted the weapon just where Mortimer guessed it would still be on a large balcony overlooking the battle in progress. On the already blackened plains that stretched out from the tall castle walls Becile automatons and joint-forces robots battled for control of Asininia. More of Merveilles’ ships drew in from the east and New Pieland’s airships approached from the west. Gun turrets fired on them from the rocky cliffs on all sides. Ships went down and smoke filled the already heavily polluted air.
Jones scrambled through the arched doorway to the balcony and gawked at the Confetti Cannon. The balcony was not a large one, barely enough room for the massive armament it contained which resembled a heavy surface-to-air gun except that the barrel was short and the gunner’s seat was well-appointed with leather and precious metals. She leapt up into the seat and set about trying to dismantle it, but none of the controls were well-labeled and time was running out. “Ok,” she muttered to herself. “If I wanted to sabotage a bio-matter conversion ray quickly without blowing myself sky-high…?” She rubbed her gloved hands and had an epiphany. Quickly, Jones pulled the gloves and her jacket off as she leapt down from the seat. “Holy crap I hope this works,” she said, kissed the jacket and stuffed it and the gloves into the barrel. Just as she leapt up into the gunner’s seat again and figured out how to crane the barrel skyward, she heard footsteps pounding toward her. A particle beam narrowly missed her head as Eustace entered through the arched entryway.
“You get off my precious baby this instant,” he growled, holding his artificial arm out, showing her the aperture of the weapon in his palm and stepping cautiously toward her. Jones raised her hands and slowly dismounted.
“I was just checking it out, pretty damned impressive weapon you got there.”
“Isn’t it just,” Eustace quickly agreed. “Do you know that until this moment I have been the only one to ever sit in that seat?” he snapped, testily.
Jones chuckled. “Ya don’t say?”
“I do!” Eustace prepared to fire at her, but shouts and the echoing sound of more people racing toward them distracted him for an instant, long enough for Jones to lash out with her whip. It circled around his artificial arm, but it was too powerful for her to pull him off balance. Instead, he grasped the whip and engaged the hydraulic muscles, pulling her toward him. With his real arm he punched her square in the jaw, knocking her out. To add insult to injury, Eustace grasped her upper arm with his false one, picked her up and threw her over the rail. Jones landed a floor below on her side and lay motionless.
Mortimer pulled Lilah into a hidden doorway as soon as they saw Jones go down. “He’s seen us, we’ll have to go this way!” he shouted, having given up using his mime-half once it failed to stop his brother. Lilah’s heart was in her throat and she clutched her bag full of non-lethal weapons tightly as she followed. They emerged on the level below and to the right of the weapon. Jones’ prone form was around the curved bowl of the balcony to the left of the weapon.
“How do we get up there?’ Lilah asked.
“I don’t know, he’ll be waiting for us now.”
Lilah looked to the door they had emerged from, almost invisible in its closed position and she dove into her bag. “I know how.” She pulled a white, cylindrical object from the bag and slid her hand into its grip. “You go up and surprise Eustace. I’ll go find Georgia.”
“Delilah, this is far too dangerous…” his eyes were soft and pleading.
She frowned. “We have to stop him.”
He straightened up and took a deep breath before nodding in agreement. As Lilah paused to gather her courage, she took in the absurdity of Mortimer’s appearance, his long, matted hair, gnarly beard and tattered and filthy striped green pajamas in stark contrast to the conviction that now burned in his eyes. “I will,” he said.
Eustace was caught by surprise as a shot grazed his shoulder from below. He fired a blast from his palm at the woman streaking across the lower level but missed. She changed weapons, dropping the cricket and using the free right hand to hold up her left and fired just to his right. The feint worked. Eustace fired a few times, but missed the moving target again. “You’re too late anyway!” he crowed and mounted the Confetti Cannon. He adjusted the barrel so that it pointed at the airships. “Once I’ve taken out these insignificant flies, I shall take this show on the road to New Pieland! Then what we have always wanted will be ours!” As he leaned forward to adjust a setting, he caught a glimpse of something moving in the reflective surface of one of the dials and only just avoided having his helmet ripped off. “Mortimer!” Eustace bellowed, swinging his artificial arm at his brother, who caught it and held his ground. “How many times do I have to destroy you? Alright, one last time, but this is it!”
“Enough, Eustace!” he growled back. His face white once more, though his plan to remove the helmet that impeded his ability backfired. “Let it go!”
Eustace laughed as he fought his brother. “You pompous ass! You let it go! This! Is! Mine!”
Below them, Lilah succeeded in reaching Jones and carefully checked to see if she had been badly injured. There was a sizable lump on her forehead and her left arm was bent in a familiar way. “Georgia! Georgia, wake up!” Lilah cried, keeping one eye on the fight above her. A way to rouse her friend very quickly and effectively came to mind so she stood up, took the woman’s hand in hers, put her heel in her armpit and pulled her arm in toward her body.
“Yeeeeeeeeeow!” Jones cursed several times, blinking back tears as her shoulder was reset. “Lilah, what the…?” Quickly she grasped the situation and jumped to her feet, rubbing the shoulder and looked to the weapon above them.
Eustace was climbing back into the seat of the cannon. Mortimer’s hand could be seen protruding from the rails of the balcony. “Oh crap, is Mort up there? We gotta get him clear!”
“Clear of what?”
Eustace flipped switches and engaged levers and the cannon began to hum ominously. Jones made a sign with her hands rather than give her plan away. She mouthed one word: ‘Boom!’ and Lilah pulled the portal gun back out. “I still hate him, Georgia,” she said quickly. “But I just can’t let him die.” She shot an entrance against the curved wall next to her and took a few steps into Eustace’s line of sight in order to fire the exit. It stuck against the wall a few feet off the ground to the right of the archway. Eustace saw the shot, but not knowing the nature of the gun assumed it was a miss and cackled as he sighted an airship full of soldiers. Jones and Lilah jumped down onto the balcony, raced to Mortimer’s body, each took an arm and hauled him back through to the first floor just as the cannon started to whine.
“What’s happening?” Eustace shouted. He saw the meters pin as the process was balled up in the barrel, obstructed by Jones’ jacket and gloves. The leather transmuted into machine parts and caused the beam to back up on itself. “My baby!” he cried as it exploded underneath him. As shower of glittering metal bits and sparks rained down around the three heroes who huddled as close to the wall as they could, protected from the larger bits of gun, well-appointed gunner’s seat, and obliterated human.
The cacophony of guns and explosions echoed around them as the battle continued not far from the castle walls. Mortimer came to just in time to see the fallout and gaped along with the women at the scene for a moment. He sighed and caught Lilah’s eye and wanted nothing more in that instant than to take her up into his arms and squeeze her but over her shoulder a few yards away he caught sight of half of his late brother. Mortimer was the first one on his feet. He limped a little and stopped a few feet from him, balled his fists and heaved a sigh. “I must return to the throne. From there I can stop this senselessness.”
Jones dusted herself, held her wounded left arm with her right and made a face. “I’ll stay here and…” She made a gesture with her chin toward Eustace’s remains. “Lilah, you go with him. I’ll be ok here.”
Mortimer glanced over and saw her shudder. “Ok,” she said, not making eye-contact and pulled a disabling gun from her bag. “I’ll help N’Gretty.” They nodded to each other and split up.
Jones sat back down and flipped open her kantan. “This is Georgia Jones, the WMD has been disabled. Repeat…”