Space Quest:Exodus/Chapter 31
Chapter 31: Don't Eat the Yellow Snow
"As we join our heroes, we find them preparing to leave the planet and begin their journey to anyplace that isn't here."
"Your Captain has turned on the No Smoking and Fasten Seatbelt light," MP-X301 quips.
"I'm in, already. Whatdya say we fire her up and see what this baby can do?"
"Don't call the AI 'baby' again, Lombard. We need to keep it happy."
"Fine. Would you prefer I call this ship a 'heap', or 'jalopy', perhaps?"
"Maybe you should ask the ship what the ship wants you to call it," Ada notes.
"I don't think that 'happiness' is one of this AI's settings," Bioo comments.
"Well, as long as it gets us off this forsaken 'burg, *I'm* happy," Lombard says.
"I think that this ship is a fine piece of s... pace material, and the AI aboard will take care of business."
The computer pipes up in response to MP-X301. "The latter is true, at least. Though I would personally just as soon see you all die horribly in the vacuum of space."
"Or maybe it's *all talk*." Bioo does some finger-drumming on the table.
Lombard opens one eye, peers out suspiciously, then asks Ada, "The ship can't open up the hatch on its own, can it?"
"Yeah, it could, actually."
"Hey, I don't need any air either, computer. There are times when I'd agree."
The computer responds to MP-X301. "And I would just as soon see *you* smelted into slag."
"The feeling is mutual, computer."
"But, sadly, it's not my option to do so. Preparing for liftoff..."
Lombard opens both eyes. "I think I won't be getting any sleep right now."
"'Bout time," Bioo says.
The ship's underpowered engines flare to life, as the ship lurches upward with a jolt. Outside the cockpit, the red sky of Polysorbate LX slowly fades into yet another generic starfield. The view outside the cockpit window suddenly explodes into a dazzling multicolored swirl of rainbow light as the ship jumps to lightspeed. The ship rumbles slightly, holding up as best it can against the stress.
Bioo stretches and leans back in the chair. "Seems like you are capable of more than insults, AI."
"At least one of us is."
"Hey, that was a compliment to you, AI. The least you could do is be nice. After all, I will agree that the Crowe seems to be holding its own here," Lombard says.
MP-X301 keys up the Don's datapad and looks for their destination. "Computer, please delete the insult subroutines. If we're going to be together for a while, we might as well not have most of it be insulting."
"Ah, but if it did that, it would have to delete itself in its entirety, no doubt..." Ada says dryly.
As MP-X301 takes a look at the datapad's destination entry, he finds all that seems to be listed is a set of coordinates. There don't seem to be any specifics about the planet itself, or even a name. "Computer, will you kindly display some data on our destination? Name of planet, and any details known?"
"I will attempt to locate what information I can, though I will not do so 'kindly'." The computer goes silent, and an audible grinding noise is heard from the console as ancient hard drives whir to life. After several moments the computer responds. "The planet does not seem to be named in any records... official status lists it as an unexplored world. Aside from a few preliminary geological and meteorological surveys, there is no other information. According to the survey data, the planet is small and has an atmosphere breathable by you carbon-types. The planet's mean temperature is approximately 39 degrees... I hope you brought your coat. Actually, no I don't."
"Thank you, computer."
"So, just who are all you people?" Bioo asks.
"Does the name Garret Renzi ring a bell for you?"
"Good. Then Raoul Lombard is my name. Former StarCon operative. At your service."
"Former? How's that?"
"Well... er... uhh... ttthhhat's highly classified information, my good man, er, person, er, I'lroe."
MP-X301 turns to Bioo. "At this point, all of you have joined me for various reasons, most notably: greed, drunkenness, boredom, despair, and a touch of mild... make that, *major* self-aggrandizement. I am formerly a medic droid from the space cruiser Contrived Extravagance. My ship was attacked by Sariens, the crew mostly killed, and the passengers captured."
The computer speaks up again. "Sariens... even stupider than most other lifeforms. Ugh."
"A small group of us managed to evade capture, and now I am working on setting them free. This mission is to gain information as to their location, or the location of the person who will know why the ship was attacked. The item we are recovering is payment for the information, of course."
"So you must have really liked your job then," Bioo notes.
Ada waves a bit. "As for me, I'm just your friendly neighborhood itinerant engineer."
"I'd never have guessed... So if I'm greed, and he's," Bioo points at Lombard, "Drunken, then *you* must be boredom."
"Yeah, boredom covers it pretty well. As does despair," Ada adds.
Lombard's brain cells finally click around MP-X301's information. "Medic droid? Wouldn't you have been given a different designation than a pilot droid? And you think that this assignment of locating an artifact will get us closer to locating your friends?"
"My actual designation isn't important. However, my respect for life and the fact that Jenkins needs his blood pressure medication keep me moving forward. This mission is to recover an artifact of unspeakable cosmic power. I think it's called a Toaster Oven. Anyway, the man with the information wants this artifact. There will be traps... and a lot of other stuff, and the details are in this datapad."
"The same datapad that has so far refused to relinquish any details?"
"No, that's my copy of Space Quest XVII." MP-X301 waves the other datapad at Bioo. "This one has plenty of details. Just about the traps and such."
"Well, that's reassuring." Bioo eyes Lombard again. "So, a military man, eh? It shows..."
"...in the booze consumption," MP-X301 says.
"And the lack of brains," Ada adds.
Bioo smiles slightly. "And the abs."
"Hey, I'll have you know that my intoxication earlier was... just a cover. And my seeming lack of brains is due to your splendorous beauty." Lombard smiles at Ada and purses his lips in her direction.
The computer pipes up. "And the insincerity."
Ada pulls out her paint roller, reaches over, and uses it on Lombard's lips. He wipes off the paint and speaks. "Fine. Think of me as you will, but when it comes time to defend your sorry butts, you'll see what kind of being I really am."
"Now, as for what has happened since the capture of the passengers of the Contrived Extravagance... or do you all even care?"
Lombard crosses his arms and sits smugly. "No."
Bioo shrugs. "It'll help pass the time."
Lombard sighs. "And I suppose it would help to know why you've taken on this foolish errand."
"Quite simply, because all other options end at the scrap heap for me. This is my only ticket to continuing operations. After the Sariens left and we disarmed the self-destruct, we headed for the only planet available, JNC-92F, or Junk for short. There we encountered bounty hunters put on our trail. Needless to say, we dispatched the bounty hunters in short order... using a case of beer, an unwilling ship's computer, and a few strings of bad luck."
"A case of beer? That's my kind of battle!" Lombard says.
"Well, it was root beer, to be honest."
"...Oh. Well, it sounds like you overcame some difficult odds. How did you get separated from your crew?"
"We made a temporary pact with one bounty hunter to get us off the planet, our ship having been destroyed by the others. That got me here, where I parted ways with my other comrade, who had no real interest in the chase. Our doings on the planet here are fairly well known already, but summarized with a robot deathmatch, an offer I couldn't refuse, and a bad deal on some droid parts. Someone isn't going to like their credit rating."
"Not to mention one heck of a bar fight," Ada adds.
"Those are quite some exploits," Bioo says. "Lucrative, were they?
"Not for me..." Lombard mutters.
"Not sufficiently to justify the cost. I'd be happy to answer any questions now."
"Figures..." Bioo gripes.
"The guy taking bets at the stadium said he knew for a fact that all of Twitch's fights were rigged so he'd win 'em... no matter how tough the competition looked... and I believed him! I bet everything I had on that Twitch, and he lost to our pilot over here."
"Well, he didn't say what would happen if the competition looked wimpy. And sadly, Twitch also lost his life. Although I think he had a serious illness that needed treating until then."
"This is why I never bet on anything unless I've rigged the outcome myself," Ada comments.
Lombard sighs. "Gosh, I will miss him. He fought with such gusto, such flair... such..."
"Entertaining bodily spasms?" Ada suggests.
"Yeah, that. And 007 just fought... hard."
"Such stupidity for not guarding his chin," MP-X301 says.
"Hey, Mr. AI, sir. How long are we going to be trapped in this tub until we reach our coordinates?"
The computer responds to Lombard, "14 hours, 27 minutes, and 3 seconds. I'm counting every moment."
"Uh. Does this place have any bathrooms?" Ada asks.
"Aw, come on! How are we supposed to relieve ourselves?" Lombard complains.
"You could always go out the airlock. And not come back."
"Go pee out an airlock? Sheesh," MP-X301 says.
Lombard mutters to himself, "Don't think about water... Don't think about water..."
"How about root beer?" MP-X301 pops a bottle out of his compartment. "Nicely chilled!"
Bioo gets up and takes the root beer. "Thanks, I am a bit parched."
Lombard continues muttering to himself, but starts getting louder. "Don't think about water... DON"T THINK ABOUT WATER!!!" Ada gets an annoyed look, pulls out a piece of duct tape, goes over, and tapes Lombard's mouth shut.
MP-X301 smiles at Bioo and says, "Enjoy!"
Bioo twists off the top and takes a long pull on the bottle. "Ahh. Say, this is pretty good stuff."
Lombard carefully pulls off the duct tape, then begins to shift uncomfortably in his seat as the liquidation around him inspires renal processing. MP-X301 freshens his oil reservoirs, which also, coincidentally, makes a sound like a rushing waterfall. Ada gives him an evil glare.
"Do you mind, 007?"
"What?" MP-X301 turns in his chair a bit. "Something wrong?"
Bioo leans casually against a bulkhead and enjoys the root beer. The computer's hard drive grinds to life again, cuing up a sound file. The sound of a rushing waterfall begins to play from speakers in the ceiling.
Bioo smiles. "Oh, it's been so long since I've heard rushing water."
Ada glares up at the ceiling, then continues, "Yes, 007. As much as I would otherwise enjoy you tormenting Lombard, I too have a waste repository that needs to survive 14 plus hours of flight."
"That sound is so soothing, Computer. Can you put it on autorepeat?" MP-X301 asks.
"Argh!" Ada complains.
"Oh, never mind, computer." The sound stops playing, and the computer goes silent again.
Lombard unbuckles his seat belt and shouts, "I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!" He stands and frantically tries to find a place to deposit his liquid assets.
Bioo looks over at the sound of unbuckling. "This trip may not be so bad after all..."
The hours pass, as the ship rockets through the void of space. Our "heroes" spend the time alternating between sleeping, bickering, staring at the walls, being insulted by the computer, trying desperately to maintain bladder control, and bickering some more. Finally, a chime sounds, and the computer speaks...
"We have arrived. I suppose you'll want me to land now."
"Yes, near the closest Port-A-Potty, please..."
"We'll bring one on board for the return trip, Ada."
"Robert? Who's Robert?" MP-X301 turns around to look out the window.
"Robert Lacey. He's the Estrosian God of Perfection."
"Ah. Well, that's good to know." MP-X301 straps back in for landing. "Is everyone ready for landing?"
Bioo sits up from sleeping on one of the beds. "Yawn..."
Lombard notices Bioo waking up as he straps into a chair. "I'lroe, thanks for the quick thinking. That root beer bottle sure came in handy."
"Oh, any time. It was *well* worth it." Bioo goes over, sits in a chair, and straps in.
Lombard tightens the strap on his own seat belt. "Ready, Captain."
"All right, Computer, take us down, please." MP-X301 pulls his belt down tight.
Ada, who hasn't moved from her chair in 14 hours because it's easier to hold in pee urges that way, simply says, "I'm all set."
With a mighty WHUMP!, the Crowe sets down on the surface of the planet. Outside the cockpit window, a rolling sea of snowy white dunes is visible beneath a crystal-clear blue sky. "We're here," the computer announces. "Go ahead and do... whatever it is you need to do. And please, take your time."
"Dunes? What is this, a game?" MP-X301 releases his seatbelt and hovers into the air. He stretches a bit, attaches his rifle arm, then pulls out the datapad to glean the information on where they need to go from here.
"Mind if I limber up a bit before we get going?"
Lombard undoes his belt, stands, then tells Bioo, "Knock yourself out."
Bioo commences in some truly impressive yoga, while Lombard looks on in amazement...
Ada, on the other hand, stands up, hits the "Open/Close Ramp" button, and says, "I'll be right back..." The ramp grinds open painfully slowly. Ada jumps out as soon as it opens wide enough, and makes a mad dash for behind the nearest snowy hill.
"ARGH! It's freaking cold out here!" There's a pause, then, "Ahh..."
Bioo sees Lombard watching and cracks a sly grin. "Like what you see?"
Lombard closes his agape jaw and realizes he has been staring. "That is some pretty impressive flexibility. How do you *DO* that?"
MP-X301 hovers outside the ship to examine their immediate surroundings. Lombard keeps watching Bioo, but grabs his duffel bag and shoulders it. Bioo continues telling Lombard, "It comes in pretty handy in my line of work. And *after* work."
Ada, meanwhile, finishes her nature call and quickly zips her uniform, using the small bit of still-white snow as a rudimentary washbasin.
"Hey, 007! Do we need to bring any extra supplies from the ship to guard against booby traps?"
"Hang on, Lombard, let me review the data in the datapad."
MP-X301 checks the datapad. The information seems to be divided into several pages, each with a heading. The first is labeled "On Landing". It reads: "The ship is programmed to land at a specific point. From there, instruct the AI to send a subspace signal on frequency 141.42, and follow the pylons."
"We should bring jackets." Ada heads back over to the gathering around the ship, shivering.
"Do we *have* any jackets?" Bioo wonders.
"I don't have a jacket," Ada complains.
Lombard takes stock of the contents of his duffel bag: Four meal rations, one canteen, one translator, and one medkit. He dons his army knife on his left leg and arms his electrosword. "I don't need one. And I think you'll be fine without one for a while, I'lroe. You may lose some of that flexibility, though."
Bioo finishes up with the yoga routines. "Oh, don't worry about that, Lombard, I know how to keep things hot."
Lombard peers at Bioo, then asks, "Are you coming on to me?"
Bioo smiles and slaps Lombard on the bum. Lombard stands up straight in shock and alarm, and, with wide eyes, exits the Crowe's egress. Bioo follows.
MP-X301 looks up from the datapad. "Computer, send a signal on subspace frequency 141.42, please."
"If you say so." The computer's drive whirs for a while, then... "Signal sent."
"Thank you, computer." Noticing Ada rubbing her arms and trying to keep warm, MP-X301 continues, "Computer, do you have any coats or blankets on board?"
"Coats? No. There may be blankets on the beds, although I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't."
Lombard notices Ada's rubbing. "You know, if it's warmth you seek, I have an idea that just might help you out here..."
Ada tries to say something angry at Lombard, but it comes out as a stream of Shiverish. Lombard removes the jacket of his uniform and offers it to Ada. "Here. Go on. Take it." He then pauses and says, "Wait. What did you think I was offering?"
Ada looks at the jacket, up at Lombard, then back at the jacket a few times, then finally takes the jacket and dons it. She says something in Shiverish that sounds a bit more friendly.
"And if that doesn't keep you warm enough, I may have another idea to help keep the two of us warm..." Lombard winks.
Ada sighs and mutters something in half-Shiverish in an annoyed voice as she warms up.
MP-X301 floats back aboard the ship and checks every bunk for blankets. The beds all have light sheets tucked into them for sleeping purposes. They don't look like they would be very warm, although they would certainly be better than nothing at all. He takes all the sheets and heads back outside, offering them to his shivering crew. "This is what we got. Make do with it until we find something better."
Bioo takes a blanket and wears it like a scarf. "Oh, thanks, P." Ada also takes a blanket and wraps herself up in it, resulting in a shape not unlike like a bizarre living cotton candy puff.
As Lombard moves to comment further to Ada, the ground beneath him trembles sharply. Suddenly, a metal pole erupts from the snow almost directly beneath his feet. Fortunately, he has long since recovered from his earlier hangover, and manages to hop out of the way just in time. Several more poles burst up from the ground in sequence, spaced some 50 feet apart, forming a line that runs down the snowy hill and off into the distance. Small red lamps on top of each pole light the way.
"Huh, so I take it that we are to follow the convenient glowing poles?" Bioo wonders.
"Now there's something you don't see every day," Ada notes.
Lombard recovers his composure and says, "So, 007. Do you want to take point, being the one with the layout of obstacles, or shall I?"
"Oh, of course you may take point, Lombard. In fact, Lombard, you will take point. I'll take second. Ada and Bioo, you'll take the rear, for now." MP-X301 points in the correct direction, then reads the datapad again. The next entry says, "The pylons will lead you to the vault entrance. The door is hidden behind a rock slab; move the slab, and enter the access code." This is followed by a long string of numbers, far too complicated to repeat here.
"All right troops, let's move out!" Lombard then says to MP-X301, "You *WILL* let me know when we get close to a trap or something, right?"
"Of course, Lombard. You're more useful to me alive than dead. And I have a vested interest in keeping you alive at the moment. We're looking for a vault entrance, people. Follow the pylons and keep your eyes peeled."
Lombard leads the way cautiously, and they all begin to march along with the pylons... all except for MP-X301, that is, who settles for hovering up and down a bit more rhythmically than usual.
Lombard flips the on-switch of his electrosword with his first couple of steps, ready to fight, if needed. MP-X301 stows the datapad for now, and keeps his nightstick handy, his rifle also charged and ready. Ada sticks one arm with her laser pistol out of her blanket wrap as she follows behind MP-X301. Bioo follows along at the rear with hands in pockets, in an apparently casual gait, but with eyes remaining alert, scanning the landscape.
They all follow the pylons out across the landscape, the path the pylons form serving as the only guide through the disorienting snowy wastes. After nearly a mile of marching, they come to a long horizontal cliff, forming an effective barrier to further progress. The cliff is several meters tall, and stretches off into the distance to either side. One final pylon sits near the base of the cliff. As they approach, it and the others retract into the ground, leaving no trace of their former presence.
"No going back for the moment, it seems," Ada says.
MP-X301 pulls the datapad back out to see what it says again.
"What now, fearless leader?" Lombard asks.
"Rock slab." MP-X301 looks around. Lombard watches MP-X301 as he searches the area. Bioo examines the cliff and the surrounding area, and starts to hum a little tune. Ada looks around the wintry wilderness herself for anything remotely interesting.
MP-X301 stares intently at the cliff, without moving at all. After nearly a full minute, a large chunk of the cliff face slowly, inexplicably, begins to tilt forward by itself, before crashing down into the snow in front of him. The fallen slab reveals an alcove several feet deep, with a large, heavy-looking blast door mounted in the far wall. The skeletal remains of some humanoid creature lie slumped in front of the door, curled up in the fetal position, clutching at a backpack.
"Ah, there we go. Bioo, check that backpack, please."
Ada raises her eyebrows and looks impressed. Lombard gapes in amazement himself. "Wow. How'd you do that?"
"Sheer force of will, Lombard. Sheer force of amazing, robotic will." MP-X301 floats inside and examines the alcove in detail. Ada follows MP-X301 inside and examines the blast door. Lombard, with a look of amazement, walks forward to the fallen rock, toes it, then walks over it, assured that it is stable.
Bioo goes over and finds that the skeleton looks like it could belong to any one of a dozen humanoid species. The flesh is long gone, leaving only bone and a few tattered remains of clothing. The bones themselves are light, and made brittle by the cold... it's doubtful they would hold up to even a single bashing. The former being appears to have died while clutching its pack; as Bioo retrieves the pack, one of the being's bony arms remains clenched to the straps.
"Some people just don't know when to let go." Bioo opens the pack to find a medkit, an electronic lockpick, and 73 buckazoids in change. Score! "Well, this is useful..." Bioo takes out the lockpick and examines it closer. "Wow, I've really been wanting one of these!" Bioo then lockets the pockpick. Er... pickets the lockpock. Er... oh, the heck with it.
Lombard notices Bioo's glee and tells himself, "Maybe next time, I should try searching for something, and not just stand there looking handsome... which I do."
Meanwhile, MP-X301 and Ada's own searches reveal that the alcove is bare, except for the blast door and the skeleton. The door itself is thick and heavy, and bears a code entry panel with buttons and an LCD screen.
"Presumably we were provided an access code?"
MP-X301 nods at Ada, then examines the datapad for the code again... the long, complex code. As he studies the code, he asks, "What else did you find, Bioo?"
Bioo grabs the medkit out of the pack and tosses it to MP-X301. "One of these."
"And anything else?
"And some pocket change."
"Meh, about enough for a burger."
"How much, Bioo?"
"About 10 each." Bioo starts divvying the coins into piles.
"Bioo. Tell me the truth. How many?"
Bioo sighs. "Honestly, I am a thief, you know."
"Yes, I know. And if you tell me the truth, you'll get a larger cut of the cash. But not if you keep trying to fill me with crap."
"Fine, it looks to be about 73 or so." Bioo pauses, then adds, "You know, 10 each was being pretty generous. How much is this 'honesty commission'?"
MP-X301 nods. "That'll be 18 Bz for Lombard and Ada, and I'll take 10 Bz. That should leave you with 27 Bz."
Ada crosses her arms, leans against the blast door, and watches the proceedings with some amusement, as Bioo resorts the piles. Lombard grins at the prospect of earning Bz for standing there handsomely.
"You will find that being honest with me pays dividends, Bioo."
"I think I may start to like you yet, 007." Bioo hands everyone their share.
Ada pockets her 18 Bz with a "Thank you."
Lombard takes his own share of the money. "Why, thank you."
Bioo smiles and gives Lombard a couple more Bz with a wink. "Buy yourself something pretty."
Lombard uncertainly takes the money, but looks confusedly at I'lroe... He opens his mouth as if to speak, but no words escape. Ada snickers behind her hand.
"Anyone need a backpack?" MP-X301 starts typing the datapad's code into the code panel.
"I wouldn't mind."
MP-X301 gestures for Ada to help herself. She retrieves the backpack, dusts it off, and checks for any obvious defects. She finds that pack is stiff from being in the cold so long, but otherwise seems serviceable, so she stuffs some of her gear into the backpack and dons it.
"So, P-007, what are we expecting behind this door?" Lombard wonders.
MP-X301 finishes typing in the code. For several seconds, nothing happens... then, with a loud laborious groan, the blast door begins to slowly grind open, its halves trundling along neglected tracks and into the walls. As the door opens completely and settles into place, a yawning darkness greets Our Heroes beyond...
Lombard stands at the ready, with electrosword wielded in front of him. MP-X301 pulls out the flashlight, and shines it into the room. Ada holds her laser pistol at the ready. They all peer into the dimly-lit darkness, and see...