Space Quest:Exodus/Chapter 26
Chapter 26: Behold! The Forces of Evil(tm)!
"Meanwhile...as our insipid... er, *intrepid* heroes lay down for a good night's sleep (or reasonable facsimile thereof), sinister events begin to unfold on the other side of the galaxy..."
Ah'Choo the Vulgar awakens to the rhythmic sound of footsteps and the sensation of movement. As the grogginess wears off, she realizes that she is being held upright and dragged through a corridor by beings to either side of her. Her hands are shackled, and her eyes seem to be obstructed by a piece of cloth.
A loud *hiss* and the sound of whirring motors signals the opening of a door, and quite a large one from the sounds of it. The footsteps cease, and the captive Vulgar is brought to a stop.
A voice speaks, echoing slightly: "Remove the blindfold." The voice is calm and measured, though vaguely threatening.
Unseen hands remove the obstruction over Ah'Choo's eyes. As they adjust to the light, she sees that she is in what appears to be a huge stellar observatory. The circular chamber is easily the width of a football field, and the entire ceiling is made of a single, seamless transparent dome, through which the starfields are clearly visible.
Standing before her is a humanoid being, clad entirely in black armor and robes, his face hidden behind a black mask and hood. A red optic strip on the face of the mask glows dimly as the eyes behind it stare at the Vulgar with interest.
Guards stand in front of him to either side, dressed in black uniforms and wearing helmets with similar optic strips. Each guard holds a laser rifle, and stands at attention, absolutely motionless.
The cloaked figure glares down at Ah'Choo. "Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Ah... at least I finally received some rest. I don't suppose you have any caffeinated beverages?"
Ah'Choo sighs. "I figured as much."
"Don't worry, you won't be needing caffeine for much longer." The cloaked figure's "eye" begins to glow more brightly, and he leans forward slightly. "Now, before we proceed with the... uh..." He reaches up and scratches his head through the hood. "...proceedings, I've got some questions for you. First and foremost... where is the robot?"
"I'm afraid I do not know."
"Hmmph. Fine, what about your other friend?"
"I'm afraid I do not know his whereabouts either."
"Uh huh. Somehow, I don't believe you, but that doesn't really matter at this point."
Ah'Choo shrugs a bit, rather apathetically.
"Now... you obviously survived the attack on your ship. Just how did you manage to evade dozens of Sarien stormtroopers, prevent the destruction of your vessel, pilot that crippled heap to safety, AND manage to survive being stranded on some backwater trash heap?"
Ah'Choo ponders that for a moment, then offers, "I would say... equal helpings of stalling at banquets, grenade mishaps, fire suppression systems, security videos, droids with piloting skills, escape pods, transporters, corporate offices, and incompetent bounty hunters." She pauses briefly, then adds... "Oh, and 48 bottles of Labion-brewed root beer."
The cloaked figure stands there, dumbfounded. He tilts his head and raises his hand as though to speak, holds it there, lowers it again, stares at Ah'Choo, turns around, looks up, stares out the ceiling above for a while, then turns back around to look at Ah'Choo again.
"Okay, whatever. Look, the important thing here is that, as you might have guessed, the Sariens were working for me, and I am not the *least* bit happy about what you and your friends have managed to do to screw up what should have been a routine snatch-and-grab."
"If it is any consolation, I am not entirely happy about being involved in the 'screwing up' either."
"Yes, well... the fact remains that you're a witness, and that means I have to deal with you and your friends. Besides, information has recently surfaced that makes it even more important for me to find your accomplices ASAP. My agent knows you were there when the others took off from Junk. This is your last chance to tell me WHERE they were headed, before the choice is no longer yours."
"I am afraid that your... accomplice... tricked me into coming with him before I had the opportunity to hear of my companions' destination. Perhaps not the best of timing on your part, I would declare."
"..." The cloaked figure crosses his arms, then turns to stare out the dome again. After a minute or two, he turns back.
"...well, it doesn't matter. With my agents and those mercenary scum combing the galaxy for them, it won't be long before they're found."
"Perhaps... although MP is quite a formidable adversary. Your bounty hunters do not seem to be much of a match for him."
"Yes, I know. It seems I underestimated him... rather ironic, actually. But my agent can deal with him just as he dealed with you."
"I find that unlikely, but far be it for me to make your life any more unpleasant than I have already by stating so."
"Hmmph. Even if I can't track *him* down, it seems reasonable to assume that if he's playing hero, he'll come looking for *me* sooner or later. Either way works for me. In the meantime, we've got to get *you* ready."
"Is there any possible chance that before you do whatever unpleasant things you have in store for me, that you will enlighten me on just what in the Galaxy has been going on?"
"Oh, don't worry. You're about to have your eyes opened, in more ways than one."
From somewhere behind Ah'Choo, a guard looking exactly like the others steps forward and hands a datapad to his leader. The cloaked figure reads it, then looks up at Ah'Choo again.
"Well, now, this is interesting... I've just received word through one of my contacts regarding your friends. It seems that one of the crime bosses on Polysorbate LX is inquiring about the bounty I posted on a certain Sarien, and is ready to discuss terms. Looks like the poor bastard waltzed right in the front door trying to claim a bounty of his own. Heh heh... maybe this will be easier than I thought."
"Grozit. What is it with bounty hunters and a general lack of intelligence?"
"Well, now that THAT's taken care of, it's time to show you some of our unique brand of... hospitality." He motions to the guards. "Take her to the holding cells, and be quick about it. The sooner we finish, the better."
Ah'Choo sighs. "This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays."
As the guards drag Ah'Choo out of sight, the cloaked figure turns and walks to the far end of the observation dome. He stands there motionless, staring out into the infinite void, and begins to mutter to himself. "Two down..."
He presses his hand against the glass. "...two to go."
After a moment, he whirls around and marches towards the exit. "Man, I love Thursdays."
MP-X301 sits, watching the interior of the warehouse while he charges up, while Ada sleeps fitfully. As she slumbers, she experiences a strange dream, wherein she finds herself being chased through the dilapidated corridors of a deserted spaceship by a strange zombie wearing a captain's hat and bell-bottomed pants. Just as he closes in, however...
MP-X301 finally receives a full charge, engages his hoverlifts for a quick look outside, then wakes Ada.
"Ah, good morning, Ada!"
"Gah! Oh, hi, 007."
"I hope you rested well..." MP-X301 looks outside. "The smog is hard out this morning."
"I've... had better." Ada stretches a bit and winces. "Not only does my back hurt, but I had the creepiest dream. Anyhoo." She picks up the tux jacket that served as her makeshift pillow, shakes off the dust and stray hairs, and hands it back to MP-X301.
"Dream? According to the Galactic Omnipedia of Mental Well-Being, dreams can be an important source of information within your subconscious." MP-X301 accepts the jacket back and puts it away.
"My mental well-being is best served by not knowing what sort of freaky stuff my subconscious can dig up, as far as I'm concerned. But thanks anyway."
Ada tucks some stray blond hairs back into her ponytail, then re-dons her hat and goggles. MP-X301 notes this without any particular interest. It's just another day... and his companion really seems to have a thing for goggles.
Ada picks up her gear and notes, "Well, you may not need to eat, but I could use some breakfast, maybe, unless you have somewhere more pressing to go at the moment."
MP-X301 shakes his head. "Not until this afternoon. Lead the way, Ada!"
"Let's try the pizza place. I could use a couple slices of broccoli pizza, maybe."
"Very healthy." MP-X301 nods approvingly, and Ada grins slightly.
With a growl in her stomach and a song in her heart, Ada sets forth leading MP-X301 to the pizza restaurant they saw last night. As they step outside the warehouse they notice that the cityscape looks almost *exactly* the same as it did when they went to sleep - if it weren't for a slightly-brighter haze through the smog above, they'd swear no time had passed at all.
Before long, they find themselves outside the pizzeria. A cartoony drawing of a purple alien holding a slice of pizza and grinning ridiculously says, "We're Open!"
"Yippee," Ada says, a bit sardonically.
Below that, a smaller sign reads, "Sorry, no Gork's foot topping - supply shortage".
"Gork's Foot topping... very low vitamin content. Mainly because Gorks have such bad diets," MP-X301 comments.
Ada shakes her head slightly, and they both head in.
The interior of the pizza joint is decorated in a horrifying red-and-yellow checkerboard design pattern; seemingly every surface sports the visually-assaulting color scheme. A half-dozen or so scattered freestanding tables (with accompanying chairs) occupy the floor, while a horizontal counter in the back separates the dining floor from the kitchen. Behind the counter stands a young Andromedan who looks like he's in the running for the 47th annual "Most Facial Acne" award. Aside from the multitude of red splotches that mottle his otherwise pale skin, his face sports buck teeth and a pair of coke-bottle horn-rim glasses, so thick that his eyes cannot be seen behind them. His trademark Andromedan Mohawk hangs limply to the side, presumably having absorbed too much grease to stand upright.
As Ada and MP-X301 enter the restaurant, the clerk greets them in a voice suffering the constant squeaky octave shifts typical of adolescent teenagers. "Welcome to Pizzaface Pizza, how may I help you?"
Ada comments to MP-X301, "My old math teacher would love this place. He used to say that the best kind of pizza was one you could see your face in." She then addresses the clerk. "Do you happen to have a couple of slices of broccoli pizza ready?"
"Uh... uh..." The teen gets a vacant look for a while, then seems to snap back to reality. "Oh yeah, I think there's some left over from breakfast. You can have it, if you want it."
"All right, two slices of broccoli pizza and a small root beer, please, then."
As Ada orders her meal, MP-X301 looks about the place with a bit of trepidation. Was that man about to have a coronary? The overweight man in the corner, one of the few people still in the restaurant at this time of day, looks over at MP-X301 with an expression that makes him wonder whether the man is annoyed by the staring or contemplating how he might taste. MP-X301 returns his attention to the clerk.
"Uh... uh... UH... oh yeah, right." The clerk reaches below the counter and produces three pizza boxes, along with a bottle of soda. "Uh... we were just going to throw this out anyway, so... uh... you can have it, I guess. I'll have to charge you 3 Bz for the root beer, though."
Ada shrugs and hands over 3 Bz, and the clerk hands her the boxes and bottle. "Uh... UH... oh, uh, thank you for eating at Pizzaface."
Ada takes the boxes and bottle, then says "Shall we?" to MP-X301 while nodding at one of the garish tables. She then tosses a "Thanks!" over her shoulder at the clerk.
"Indeed, verily." MP-X301 takes a seat at one of the tables. Ada joins him at the table and opens one of the pizza boxes and the bottle of root beer. The box contains a nearly-whole cheese-and-broccoli-topped pizza, with only a single slice missing. It's still mildly warm.
"Not bad." Ada digs in, eats half the pizza, and downs the bottle of root beer.
MP-X301 idly makes passing remarks about the facility, the pizza, the quality thereof, and the unusual nature of the pictures on the walls.
Ada idly agrees with the passing remarks, aside from commenting that she tries to avoid looking at the pictures on the walls for the sake of aesthetic sanity.
MP-X301 idly notes that the aesthetic sanity has currently been bent into pretzel shapes and dipped in chocolate.
Ada idly looks at the pictures out of curiosity, then scolds MP-X301 for making her scar her sanity again.
MP-X301 idly discovers that being scolded by Ada is like being scolded by his weird aunt, the toaster oven.
The pictures decorating the walls of the pizzeria are so incredibly tasteless that mere mention of the subjects they depict might drive a man to madness. For the sake of our story-reading audience, they will not be described here. That one with the kitten *is* kind of cute, though.
MP-X301 idly wonders who is doing what with that kitten, and why the shadow of a man with a butcher knife is in the background, waiting.
Ada idly finishes her breakfast and ponders what to do with the leftovers.
MP-X301 idly examines the leftovers and concludes that storage is, indeed, an issue, and the lack of a working portable refrigeration unit is truly regrettable.
Ada idly shrugs, sets the leftovers on the table the overweight man is sitting at, and suggests that her and MP-X301 leave the shop and go elsewhere.
MP-X301 idly agrees, and Ada idly leads MP-X301 outside.
The overweight diner looks at the boxes, looks at Ada and MP-X301 as they walk away, then looks at the boxes again. Then, with a shrug, he flips open one of the boxes and begins shoveling pizza into his mouth.
MP-X301 idly wonders aloud where they might waste the rest of the morning as he follows Ada outside.
"We could always try to go to the bar early, I suppose. Not a heck of a lot do around here... that's legal, anyway."
"Yes, field-stripping and reassembling robots on the city streets probably breaks several ordinances." MP-X301 starts to float off in the direction of the bar, then suddenly notices the largish building back yonder. "What's that monstrosity of a building?"
"Meh. Some sorta sports stadium. The folks go and watch and bet on fights of some sort."
"I wouldn't know. Not my cup of tea, really."
"Maybe there'll be some buckazoids under the seats of the stadium... Come on, we can take a short detour."
"All right... but don't say I didn't warn you."
As they approach the stadium, a thunderous metallic crash echoes from somewhere within, followed shortly by the sound of a stadium's worth of fans cheering and/or booing.
"Noisy. Nukem Dukem Robots, maybe?"
The stadium boasts no doors; rather, a corridor leads into the building from outside. Just inside the entrance, a series of waist-high automated turnstiles block the passage, each with a coin slot next to it. A sign on the wall reads - "ADMISSION - 20 Bz". Below this, a small yellow paper flyer has been taped to the wall - "PROSPECTIVE FIGHTERS! Want to throw your hat into the ring? Inquire around back, and ask for Louie."