Behind the Forbidden Door: Part Five
Tishka frowned. She was a gentle creature and the idea of
killing anyone- even Sloth- bothered her as much as it did Flingon. After a moment
of silent thought, she asked, "Isn't there a way to disable his shuttlecraft harmlessly,
for at least long enough for us to get the word out?"
Flingon looked thoughtful. "We could take out
his weapons, and his communication system, and possibly his engines. But it
would be difficult. I was trained to be a hacker, not an assault pilot."
Tishka was really beginning to appreciate the
unquenchable optimism Lerox seemed to have for this whole thing. Without missing
a beat the little Grundo grinned and said, "We weren't trained to be warriors.
Our dad was a great Battledomer, but my mom wanted me to be an accountant."
Lerox made a face. "And if that wasn't bad enough, she wanted Tishka to be a
fashion model. The latest trends in Usukis."
Tishka grimaced and Flingon laughed. "Believe
me, either of those is better than being one of Sloth's." His laughter faded
to a smile, and shaking his head he said quietly, "I'm so glad Lerox stuck his
head into that room- you two are the best thing that's happened to me for a
long time. I was at my wits' end until now, and I have no idea how to thank
you for getting me out of that web. I didn't think anyone would dream of helping
me. Your parents must be very proud of both of you."
Tishka fidgeted awkwardly. "Well, actually...
they don't know. We didn't tell them anything about what we've been doing- for
all they know, we're playing Splat-a-Sloth on the Space Station right now."
Lerox glanced out the window toward the shuttle
that was rising ominously out of the darkness of the Haunted Woods. "If we die
now," he murmured, "they'll never know what happened to us." Raising his voice,
he added, "So let's go whip some behind!"
Sloth's eyes narrowed as he glared at the CTV.
It was moving slowly toward him, as if Flingon intended to put up a fight but
wasn't quite sure of himself. A cruel smile crossed the evil tyrant's ugly face.
"You really think you can challenge me, don't you?" he asked softly. "You will
know otherwise when your pitiful vessel crashes burning around you." Sloth's
smile widened. He could almost hear the terrified screams of those two young
brats who had so brazenly defied him, and see the panic on his former servant's
face. "Brahn!" he snapped, and the green Draik at the controls almost jumped
out of his scales.
"Yes, sir?" he replied, trying to appear calm
and competent. Sloth was a terror to all of his slaves, and only the toughest
of them remained calm when they had to be near him when he was furious.
Sloth studied Brahn hard for a moment. There
were three kinds of servants under him: those who enjoyed their work and wouldn't
give it up for anything; those like Flingon, who served him out of fear and
would rather be elsewhere; and others like Konar and Rorn who didn't seem to
care either way. For an instant Sloth wondered what- if anything- was going
on behind their expressionless eyes; then he put it out of his mind. "Power
up our weapons. It's time to eliminate this insolent little hindrance to our
Brahn nodded quickly. "Yes sir!"
Sloth frowned, and started going over his mental
list. Brahn was obviously afraid of him- he liked that. But Flingon had been
frightened too, and all he had needed to encourage him to defect was an indication
that one or two Neopians might accept him onto their side. What if others started
thinking, 'If Flingon can, why can't I?' Boloro, for example- he had
always been a little defiant- he might decide to be his own master.
'"Why can't I?" I'll give them why can't!'
Tishka instinctively ducked as a searing bolt
of red-hot energy blazed toward the tiny CTV, and was profoundly shocked when
she opened her eyes a moment later and found herself unharmed. Glancing to her
left, she saw Flingon staring straight ahead, his narrowed eyes fixed on the
enemy shuttle and his pale countenance grim. The young Acara's heart thudded
violently in her narrow chest. 'We just got shot at!' she thought wildly.
'We're all going to die!' An image of her parents shimmered into focus
before her mind's eye, and Tishka winced. If she died now, they would be taken
by surprise, along with the rest of Neopia.
"WAH-HOO!" Tishka whirled around, wild-eyed,
to stare incredulously at her whooping brother. His eyes were bright with excitement,
as if he were playing a mere video game.
'What have I gotten him into?' Tishka
thought miserably. At that moment the small vessel lurched violently as Flingon
performed another last-instant dodge, and Tishka put everything she had into
fighting the urge to scream.
'It's only a matter of time,' Sloth thought
happily. He could almost see the impact crater the downed CTV would leave.
'Any second now you will see- and feel- what happens to those who defy me.'
That last mental phrase turned his thoughts to the Space Faerie, and his
cheerful mood dimmed. Now there was an enemy to be reckoned with. He had underestimated
her once- he did not intend to do it again. This time he was sure that his preparations
were complete. 'We'll see how she manages when she's trapped in a forcefield
bubble, and bombarded by ten heavily-armed ships! But that can wait until after
playtime.' Sloth's twisted smile returned. Turning to Brahn, he ordered,
"Fire at will. I want you to give them everything we've got."
Flingon's eyes widened as a shining volley of
missiles and laser beams exploded from Sloth's shuttlecraft. There was no longer
any logic involved; the sideways lurch and the wild spin which somehow evaded
the barrage were purely luck and reflexes. Flingon risked a brief sideways glance.
Lerox was grinning widely, either not understanding the danger or simply trusting
Flingon to outmaneuver Sloth's trained pilot, but Tishka's jaw was tight and
she looked like she was going to cry. The sight lit a fire in Flingon's heart.
His paws were trembling, his heart was pounding and he was nearly crushed by
an overwhelming sense of impending doom, but he could not let these children
down. Guiding the CTV with a skill and steadiness he had not known he possessed,
the suddenly determined Aisha fed a little more power to the engines, abruptly
accelerating straight toward Sloth's shuttle.
Brahn's eyes were wild with panic. "He's going
to ram us!" he cried.
Sloth could almost see it- his power, his brilliance,
going down in flames.
Tishka glanced out the window, and immediately
ducked again and screamed. Even Lerox was beginning to look frightened.
Flingon's face lifted slightly in a grim smile.
This moment had been building up in him for a very long time. Sloth's vessel
was getting nearer... it filled his entire vision...
WHOOSH! Suddenly jerking back on the controls,
Flingon sent the CTV catapulting straight up, allowing Sloth's shuttle to pass
harmlessly underneath. But Flingon wasn't finished yet. Continuing to arc upward,
and then upside down, he waited for that one instant in the course of the loop
when the nose of the CTV was aimed where Sloth's shuttle was about to be, and
then he opened fire.
Sloth sagged with relief, then smiled smugly.
It looked like he had just won a good old-fashioned game of 'chicken'. "Brahn,"
he called, "where is that coward now? He might be trying to-"
BOOM! Sloth went sprawling and Brahn was nearly
tossed from his seat as the shuttle bucked under a sudden volley of missiles.
Sloth snarled with rage as he scrambled to his feet, and through the ringing
in his ears he heard Brahn report, "Initiating evasive maneuvers, Sir."
Flingon allowed himself a smile of satisfaction
as smoke billowed from the hole he had punched in the shuttle's sleek metallic
body, then twisted the CTV 180 degrees so that it was right side-up and pulled
it out of the loop. Glancing to the right, he saw Tishka peer upward with an
expression of disbelief on her young face, and then break into a smile and giggle,
apparently giddy with relief. Lerox stared fixedly ahead for a long moment,
and Flingon was just about to ask if he was all right when his face took on
a look of astonished joy and he suddenly burst out, "That was SO cool!"
The Aisha techie laughed despite the situation,
tapped a few controls and put the small vessel through a hot-dog roll, just
to amuse Lerox. Tishka grinned at him, and for the first time in quite a while,
Flingon really felt that things were going his way.
"Good grief, they're right on top of us!" Brahn
exclaimed in horror as he stared at the icon on his viewscreen. In the back
of the shuttle, Kendi fidgeted, Boloro glared and Tando looked uneasily upward
as if trying to pierce the shuttle roof with his eyes.
Sloth hated this kind of helpless situation
more than anything else on Neopia or beyond. 'I'm in check from one of my
own pawns, and I don't even know how to play chess!' he thought miserably.
With steady and confident movements, Flingon
guided the CTV a little closer to Sloth's ship. He had already taken out their
weapons, which took a load off his mind. He enjoyed playing chess, and right
now he had the same feeling he usually got when his opponents' players were
mostly gone, and he had only to corner the king. A few buttons later, a second
volley rocked the fleeing shuttlecraft, and the three friends watched with delight
as Sloth's vessel hit the ground and skidded to a stop, ploughing a long furrow
in the dirt.
"AAAAGGGHHH!" Sloth screamed with rage, punching
the wall with all the strength in his body and regretting it bitterly. Kendi
made a comical effort to squeeze his large body farther into a corner, Tando
and Boloro stiffened, and Brahn sat as still as he possibly could. Glaring out
the window, Sloth saw Flingon's vessel set down, a little bumpily, but not too
bad for someone who rarely flew any kind of ship. The thought that he should
have made Flingon a pilot flitted through Sloth's mind, then he dashed it to
the ground. All he really wanted to make Flingon was a useless pile of sludge.
Reaching under his seat, Sloth was pleased to find that whoever had readied
this vessel had known enough to send his ray gun along. Cranking the weapon
to full power and bouncing it slightly in his hand, Sloth stalked over to the
door and kicked at it when it didn't open immediately. He whirled around, ready
to snarl at Brahn, but the trembling Draik was already working on the problem.
A few seconds later the door slid open and Sloth leaped out... and instantly
found himself face-to-face with a very angry-looking Flingon.
To be continued...