Tenth and last. A little longer than usual but I needed to wrap up all ends.

The cold white beam of Pestle's heart burned up through the open Round Door, just as it had done when the Sirrip died. Muskie licked his lips. "Okay," he said, "who's going first?" But he said it to nobody, because everybody else had already stepped through.

Or, rather, rolled through. It was a matter of kneeling by the edge of the door, reaching one's entire body and arms through the hole (while squeezing one's eyes shut against the blinding light), grabbing handles on the far side, and rolling through. The disorientation associated with changing apparent gravity fields was cancelled by the body roll, and standing up in the new environment seemed perfectly normal. Swami pressed a closure switch and the door segments hissed closed before the sphere separated.

The interior of Pestle's main body was hollow. It was a massive void in space, so large that it was difficult for the eye to properly scale what it was seeing. We were standing on a hill of the same fine-grained rocky material that made up Pestle's exterior. No, not a hill – a long moraine that extended in a perfect line and stretched up at the edges. It was the inside of the groove – a narrow waist in Pestle's cigar shape that gave us a commanding view of the interior.

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Pestle (9)

Mar. 31st, 2011 12:14 am
Ninth part. A hair late. I blame the DDOS attack.

I woke up shouting something in a strange language. I got hold of my brain. Slippery devil.

"How long have I been out?" I asked. My mouth was dry and my shoulder hurt like a bastard.

"Around eight hours," Lopez answered. They had made me comfortable on some kind of a palette. My vacuum suit was missing. There was a great big black blob on my injured shoulder.

"What the hell is that?" I growled, trying to focus my eyes on the greasy stuff. Lopez sucked on his teeth.

"That was Swami's idea," said Lopez unhappily. "He took some of that black tentacle shit and wrapped you in it. He said it was an ideal immobilizer and burn protector. He did something to it so it wouldn't spawn or squeeze you or whatever. Creeps the shit out of me, dude."

"Swami needs to save his mad science shit for the dead bodies," I said. Still, despite the pain, the rest of me seemed active and mobile. I sat up gingerly and stretched. The palette was made out of bloody vacuum suits. Wonderful.

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Pestle (8)

Mar. 29th, 2011 11:35 pm
Part Eight. Fighty fighty.

The breeze of the sphere decompressing became a strong wind, and then a typhoon. I reached a leg out of my side corridor and hooked it in the nearest ladder rung to stabilize myself. Lopez jerked past me, caught up in the wind; I grabbed him by the handle on his jetpack and hung on for dear life.

"We need to lay down a field of fire straight down the corridor!" I shouted into my comm.

"Why?" asked Gray Gretchen from somewhere back behind me. "We can't see anything!"

"This is our last chance to catch them unawares!" I shouted. "They can't delay coming inside because the sphere is going to roll over them! They're coming through now!" Practicing what I preached, I pulled my blaster rifle, steaded it on Lopez's shoulder, and started shooting down the hall.

"Hey! Cut it out!" shrieked Lopez, possibly upset at the amount of muzzle flash going on inches from his facemask. Nevertheless, to the credit of my Weasard engineer, he managed to pull his own blaster pistol and added to my field of fire. Streaks of orange shot down the hall from behind us as well, indicating Gray Gretchen had seen the sense of my suggestion, and a sustained white beam as thick as my arm lanced along the corridor as well.

"Wow," marveled Lopez, "Hoggrid has a maser. How did he get that into his encounter suit? And where's the power coming from?" Dammit, Lopez, I thought to myself; if curiosity doesn't kill you then I'm likely to.

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Pestle (7)

Mar. 28th, 2011 10:59 pm
Seventh Part. Getting there.

"So let me get this straight," Muskie said slowly. "McMillan is out there, cloaked, with a force of unknown size and strength. And you just told a lie that's likely to bring him down on us."

Swami blinked several times, thinking through the accuracy of Muskie's statements. "Yes," he said finally.

"And you also made false statements to our teammates, which will lure them to us, and possibly they will run into McMillan unwarned," added Gray Gretchen.

"Not so," replied Swami. "Before we parted I bollixed their comm receivers. When they receive a predetermined key at the front of a comm message, such as the one I just sent, the message will be written over with static, and their comms will send back a message indicating communications failure. None of our friends are going to come, and McMillan won't have any reason to find this suspicious."

"This implies," Lopez said, "that you had all this planned in advance."

"Somewhat so," Swami admitted. "But the key to success is preparedness. There are a variety of contingencies that I have set up should a number of events transpire."

"Events like us betraying you, you mean?" sneered Muskie.

Swami shrugged. "Lots of possible events. Including, I suppose, intra-convoy hostilities."

"McMillan's listening bugs," I said, snapping my fingers. "You didn't get rid of them. You took them over and listened in on all of us."

Swami smiled. "Trust yet verify," he said, quoting one of the ancient American orators. "The nice thing about using McMillan's gear was that there was nothing to trace it back to me."

Swami turned serious. "But, honestly now; I wouldn't be telling any of you any of this unless I were going to kill you, or unless I was taking you into my confidence. Clearly nobody is killing anybody…"

"YET," said Hoggrid.

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Pestle (6)

Mar. 26th, 2011 11:50 pm
Part 6. I suspect 4 more parts.

We were in position. We were ready. The sphere rolled around.

Hoggrid didn't need a vacuum suit. He also apparently didn't need limbs. Hoggrid seemed capable of forming whatever limbs he needed and extruding them out of his encounter suit. Two powerful metal arms thrust out of his front face and inserted themselves through the gap in the square hatch of the sphere that we had successfully opened minutes earlier. The arms then rapidly spread apart from each other. Servos whined in Hoggrid's suit and the gap in the doors opened by several meters. Bright sunlight flooded into the landing platform inside the door for the first time in thousands of years.

Something inhabited the back wall of the chamber, which was easily a hundred feet on a side. It might have been a blob of black oil, or it might have been a plant, or it might have been a nest of very large black snakes. It was big, and it was moving, and it had Lopez in its clutches. My Weasard engineer was wrapped in the coils of the thing; only his facemask was visible. He was clearly making an effort not to move at all. As the doors opened, the limbs of the black exotic began to uncoil and snake towards us.

"It's photosensitive," Swami announced, floating behind the rest of the formation. "Hitting it with a really bright light might be an interesting idea."

"Don't mind if I do," said Muskie. He was carrying a two million candlepower spot that was usually used for foiling jailbreaks on prison planets. He turned the thing on and flooded the landing bay with the equivalent of full daylight on Mercury. The black thing quivered. The photosensors on Lopez's facemask went completely dark.

Gray Gretchen jetted into the bay. She was wearing a Europan battlesuit; it had been made for counterterrorism deep in the dark oceans of that Jovian moon, but as it was sometimes used on the surface of that low-atmosphere place, it turned out to be fairly functional in hard space as well. Among its tricks was amplifying one's strength. Gray Gretchen pulsed herself to stand on the inside of the room's bulkhead and found that she could stand reasonably well under the false gravity. She unlimbered a broadsword taller than she was.

I followed her onto the other side of the door. I gave the reciprocating sword a single revv.

"Hello, dirtbag," I said. "You seem to have a hold of my weasel." Gray Gretchen rolled her single eye.

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Pestle (5)

Mar. 26th, 2011 12:25 am
Fifth part. I think I know where it's going now.

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Pestle (4)

Mar. 24th, 2011 10:34 pm
Part Four. I think something's starting to click! no, wait; that's just a hissing cockroach. Still have no idea where I'm going.

"Lopez," I barked, "Damage report."

"Huh?" said Lopez, popping his head up out of the ventilation duct where he was working. "What's wrong with you? I just told you what's broke and what's not."

"I always wanted to say that," I confessed sheepishly.

"You're the worst captain ever," Lopez accused. "Look, we can limp around if we need to, but otherwise we're stuck here for awhile. Stay out of my way while I get some of our main engines going again. Should take, I dunno, twenty hours?"

"You have ten," I commanded.

Lopez favored me with a withering look. "Would you just make yourself useful or something?" he complained. "Go see if Swami's figured out where Hot Henry has gotten himself. I'll bet you anything he's ripping us off right now." Lopez disappeared down the duct again. A moment later a flickering blue radiance filled the engineering hold as my Weasard engineer resumed welding.

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Pestle (3)

Mar. 24th, 2011 12:00 am
Third part. Still faking it. Don't judge me. DON'T YOU JUDGE.

The Swami had magicked up a nice schematic of Pestle. We were all gathered in the common room of _Abalone_ to review what we knew, or thought we knew.

"All right," said the Swami, "first a word on what happened to the Gob."

"He was Gobbled?" asked Hot Henry.

"He's Gob to meet his Maker?" suggested Layla.

"PERHAPS HE DIED," observed Hoggrid over the comm. Betellians don’t understand humor.

"He did die, Hoggrid," replied Swami. "An aperture on the spinward end opened and a beam of high-energy particles cooked him for around five seconds. We're not quite sure how high of an energy level, but temperature drop-off analysis suggests that the _Gob-Smacked_ hull hit six thousand degrees K."

Mincey whistled. "It's like the sun opened its mouth and rimmed him out," he grunted. Stay classy, Mincey.

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Pestle (2)

Mar. 22nd, 2011 05:57 pm
The Second Part. Still don't know where I'm going with this.

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Pestle (1)

Mar. 21st, 2011 11:22 pm
Here's the game. One: start writing without knowing where this is going. Two: write at least two thousand words. Three: after two thousand words, look for a place to wrap the chapter. Four: continue every day until it's done.

They opened up the Wasp-Waist – that slender bridge of stars that linked the center of the galactic cluster to the B-Arm – and that meant a land grab. Everybody and their dog packed up their vacc suit and their dog's vacc suit, strapped a warp engine onto anything that could hold half an atmosphere of pressure, and made for the unexplored territories. Natch, law enforcement had to go too, since there was considerable opportunity for lawlessness in those unsettled expanses of stars where no human being had ever set foot. The net effect was that the central mass of the galactic cluster was temporarily rendered considerably understaffed in the naughtiness-prevention department.

Small wonder that me and the rest of the Swami's gang should engage in a harmless bit of grave-robbing.

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