• Kiran Esvaran

Planet X-543 (Part 3)

Chapter 8: Pineleaf The Sailback Camodragon


“Maybe it could be underwater,” Specimen suggested, “we could search.”

Pineleaf looked down into the aquamarine waters. They were reasonably clear, she could barely see the seaweed covered bottom.

“I’ll check underwater around here,” said Pineleaf, walking closer to the edge of the rock, “but the area where the chip’s source could be is pretty wide.”

“Alright,” said Specimen, “yes it is wide, let’s move to the next rock if we find nothing underwater around here.”

Pineleaf closed her eyes. She leapt, spread out her wings, and dived underwater. A cold wet sensation hit her scales at once. She could see endless expanses of blue when she re-opened her eyes.

Something long and slender was swimming toward her. Was it friendly? What should she do if it wasn't?

Well, there’s land right behind me that I can escape to if there is a problem, Pineleaf thought.

The thing moved closer. It was an eel, like she’d seen in rivers. They weren't too threatening.

Well, maybe ocean eels are different, She considered.

“Hello,” the eel spoke. He was definitely talking to her. “I know you can’t talk underwater, but we’ve noticed that you and the other two camodragons have been looking for a mind control chip.”

How does he know? Pineleaf thought. Was he spying on them? Who’s we?

“Go back above water, and we can both talk,” the eel continued.

Pineleaf poked her head above the water.

“Hello,” She said. She would ask about how he knew all of that, but it seemed like he had something important to tell them.

Mottledsnout and Specimen noticed the eel.

“There’s an eel!” Mottledsnout said.

“He wants to talk to us,” Pineleaf explained, not telling them about how he knew pretty much everything about their mission.

“We've noticed you guys have been searching for a mind control chip likely coming from a secret research facility around here. In the ocean, a deadly chemical leak happened around a week ago and we have figured out that it also came from a secret lab in this area,” Darkness told them.

“How do you know?” both Mottledsnout and Specimen looked shocked.

“Uhhhhhh, well, we were…spying isn't the right word…observing. We were observing your conversation,” said Darkness.

“Sounds like spying,” said Specimen. “Though if two dangerous things both came from secret labs in the same area, it seems pretty likely they came from the same lab.”

“Agreed,” said Darkness. “That’s why we asked you guys for help. If we teamed up, it would probably make both of our missions more effective.”

“I think we should help each other,” said Pineleaf. “I agree with Darkness.”

“I agree too,” said Mottledsnout.

“Wait, what did you mean when you said ‘we’?” Specimen asked Darkness.

“Two others are working with me. I’ll get them,” said Darkness. He dove back into the depths of the ocean.

A few minutes later, he came back with an unusual looking creature and a shark that somehow looked…mechanical, as if he was artificial.

“This is Aquatic and this is Qwerty,” Darkness introduced the two other marine creatures. “This is Pineleaf, Mottledsnout, and Specimen.”

They greeted each other.

“The mind control chip you have,” Qwerty asked. “Can I scan it? It will let me know when I come near another one. It will help locate where it came from.”

“Sure,” said Pineleaf, holding out the dangerous gadget.

A translucent beam of green light reached out of Qwerty’s eyes and shone onto the mind control chip. After a few seconds, the beam of light retracted back into Qwerty’s eyes.

“Done,” said Qwerty.

Pineleaf put the mind control chip back into its pouch.

Pineleaf looked up at the sky. The light blue was fading into orange and purple, and the white crescent moon was beginning to show itself. Night was coming.

The group decided they would sleep inside a cave, sheltered from the threats of the outside world.

They began to search for a cavern partially underwater but also partially above water, so everyone had somewhere to sleep.

The group came across a small cave hidden by overgrown tangles of prickly bushes. It was a few meters above the water’s surface. Pineleaf peered in and saw a massive pool of water further into the cave.

A camera grew out of Qwerty’s back and extended upwards on a stick to look at the cave. The stick extended into the cave and reached into the pool of water. After he was done looking, the camera’s stick exited the cave and grew shorter and shorter then eventually disappeared into Qwerty’s back.

“This is the perfect cave to sleep in,” said Qwerty. “It has both land and water.”

“But how will me and Aquatic get into that pool of water?” Darkness pointed out.

“I looked closely at the pool of water and it turns out that there is an entrance to it from the sea and a second underwater tunnel as well.” Qwerty explained.

“Alright,” said Darkness. “I believe you. I’ll sleep here.”

The rest of the group unanimously agreed.

* * *

Pineleaf looked at the sky outside from inside the cave. Stars were cast across the black sky. Moonlight shimmered on the ocean waves, which gently lapped against the rocky cliffs. It was nighttime.

Pineleaf put her head softly on the hard stone. She shut her eyes. The world turned dark.

* * *

Sunlight began to fill Pineleaf’s eyes. She stretched her tail and wings, yawning. She stood up.

Mottledsnout and Specimen were still asleep. She went over to the pool of water to check on Darkness, Qwerty, and Aquatic.

All three of them were gone.


Chapter 9: Darkness The Moray Eel


Earlier that night…

Darkness felt shaking.

“Wake up, wake up!” a voice shouted.

“It’s the middle of the night,” Darkness sleepily groaned without checking who was trying to wake him.

The shaking persisted and the voice continued to try to wake him. Eventually, he gave in and opened his eyes.

Qwerty was swimming next to him. Aquatic was awake as well.

“What is it?” Darkness groaned, trying to keep his eyes from shutting again.

“I found something!” Qwerty said excitedly. That was the most emotion Darkness had ever seen the robot shark display. “I can show you, it’s down the tunnel that we didn't enter from.”

“What did you find, though?” Darkness asked. From what he could tell, Qwerty was acting super excitedly, but in his tone of voice there was a twinge of nervousness.

“It may be the location of both The Leak’s and the mind control chip’s creation.” Qwerty explained. “I detected a match of both matter from The Leak and the mind control chip nearby. There was also a higher abundance of predatory corals, which we know surround The Leak’s source.”

That caught Darkness’s attention. The Leak’s source! They had probably found it! The impulsiveness Darkness had been trying to suppress had come back.

“What are you waiting for!” Darkness exclaimed. “Let’s go and explore it!”

“Alright,” said Aquatic. “But what about the others?”

“It’s underwater,” Darkness said. “They probably wouldn't be able to reach it.”

“Let’s explore and then come back,” Qwerty suggested. “That would work. Maybe we could find a way to get the others there too.”

The three dove into the tunnel leading to what Qwerty thought was The Leak’s source. The tunnel was extremely narrow, so much so that the three creatures had to swim in a single-file line. The rugged stone roof brushed Darkness’s dorsal fin abrasively.

After around half an hour of swimming, aquamarine light began to shine brightly onto the walls of the tunnel. An exit.

The light got brighter and brighter until the tunnel opened up into a rocky coral reef.

Spiny corals of every color jutted out of the stony seabed as far as the eye could see. A small azure fish wandered around aimlessly and eventually came into contact with one of the corals. Tentacles burst out of the coral, enveloping the fish. In a flash, the tentacles disappeared.

Wouldn't want to get too close to one of those, Darkness thought.

“Okay,” said Qwerty. “The match of the mind control chip I detected is that way,” He swam into the never-ending forest of predatory corals.

“They'll hurt you!” Darkness exclaimed.

But Qwerty swam unharmed next to the deadly coral.

“It’s fine,” Qwerty said. “I can prevent them from detecting anyone within a certain radius. Stay close behind me.”

Darkness and Aquatic nervously followed Qwerty.

Even though Qwerty had said it was safe, Darkness still was wary of getting too close to the coral. He really didn't want to be swallowed up like that fish was.

Qwerty stopped swimming abruptly.

“My internal computer says that the mind control chip’s match is right around here, it’s probably in a cave somewhere.” Qwerty explained.

“A cave like that?” Aquatic pointed with his fin to a large crevice in the rocky seafloor. It looked like a gaping mouth that would devour anyone who got too close.

“Perfect,” Qwerty said. He dashed into the cave, vanishing out of sight.

“What happened to exploring, then coming back?” Aquatic said.

“We have to go in after him,” Darkness said, with a hint of annoyance. He rushed in impulsively.

The entrance led to a dark stone tunnel filled with stalactites that looked eerily like fangs.

Suddenly, a hole in the floor of the tunnel opened up. A whirlpool formed, sending anything that got caught in it into the hole.

The rapid underwater tornado hit Darkness and he begun spinning round and round at light speed, getting closer to being sucked into the hole each second

All Darkness could see was white water and bubbles rotating around him. He couldn't fight the speeding currents of water. He just had to let the whirlpool send him into the hole.

The swirling rapid currents stopped and Darkness began to fall through a stone hole filled with air. It extended down into a vast darkness with no visible bottom.

He couldn't breathe. Wait no, that was just his mind thinking that he couldn't breathe. He could breathe! How could he possibly breathe in air? Was this related to him beginning to grow legs?

What if the chemicals from The Leak are turning me into a land creature? he wondered. If this was true, would he eventually lose his ability to breathe underwater? What would his new life on land be like?

There was water at the bottom of the hole, which was now visible. He landed in the water.

Suddenly, Darkness felt very sleepy. His eyelids were like metal weights. He shut his eyes and his consciousness slipped away.

* * *

Darkness opened his eyes. He was underwater in a glass tank with nothing inside other than a loudspeaker at the top. Outside of his tank, there was nothing but plain white walls forming an empty room.

“Greetings, Darkness. You will soon be visited by some of our members. In the meantime, I will be here to contain you. I am an artificial intelligence named Bill,” a voice coming from the loudspeaker above spoke.

Our members? What does he mean? Was The Leak created by an organization?

“Hello, Bill,” Darkness said nervously.

After around half an hour, one of the white walls surrounding his tank had retreated into the floor, displaying a black hallway with luminous blue hexagons lined on its walls.

Two menacing insect-like creatures twice Darkness’s size scuttled in exact unison up to his tank. They had razor-sharp mandibles that looked as if they could slice through bone.

Suddenly, the roof on Darkness’s tank automatically lifted up.

Could I manage to escape? Darkness thought. Aquatic and Qwerty were probably also trapped, could

“Greetings Darkness,” the two insect-like creatures said simultaneously. The two creatures did the exact same thing as each other. Were their actions linked somehow?

Are they being mind controlled? Darkness wondered. They likely could have mind-control chips inside them. But more importantly, who was controlling them? Was it the mind-control chip itself?

“Thanks to Qwerty, we have captured both you and the rest of your group. There is no hope of escaping. You have a choice: join us or vanish,” the two creatures said. “Choose wisely.”

Thanks to Qwerty? Darkness was horrified. Was Qwerty working with these creatures? Did he lure the group into their clutches? It all made sense now that Darkness thought about it. Qwerty was persistent about doing certain things that got the group closer to the enemy.

“What happens if I j-join you?” Darkness stammered. It was brave of him to ask that question.

“You become an extension of us. You join our network of beings we can use. We are just one mind, with many bodies,” the two creatures explained. “We must spread everywhere until everyone is either gone, or part of us.”

I have three options, thought Darkness. ‘Vanish’, become controlled by that ‘one mind’ they were talking about, or…try to escape and find the others.

The third one sounded the best by far. But if he messed up, he would have to face one of the first two options.

3…2…1.

He leapt out of his tank and landed on the ground. He dashed into the hallway as the two creatures began to chase him.

They were gaining on him fast. Darkness turned a corner and saw 2 more of those insect creatures block his only escape. He was trapped. The creatures took a step closer. He had no other choice but to close his eyes and hope for the best.


Chapter 10: Pineleaf The Sailback Camodragon


Pineleaf looked at the ground made up of hexagonal tiles far below her. She was inside an impenetrable glass cage with Mottledsnout and Specimen suspended far above the floor.

After trying to search for Darkness, Aquatic, and Qwerty, they ended up being captured by the creator of the mind control chip.

From what Pineleaf could tell, the creator of the mind control chip was one mind shared between many bodies. That mind had planned Pineleaf and the rest of the group’s every move.

“What do you think they'll do to us?” Mottledsnout asked. They had been trapped in the cage for around a day.

“Make us join that network of minds they were talking about,” Specimen suggested.

“How could we avoid that?” Mottledsnout asked.

“It’s inevitable,” Specimen said. “We have no way to escape.”

What if, Pineleaf had two ideas. They were ridiculous, and they would require certain things to happen a certain way. She suppressed the ideas.

“But if we don't escape…” Mottledsnout said sadly.

“The world will be taken over,” Specimen sighed.

“Wait,” Pineleaf interrupted.

“What?” The other two asked hopelessly.

“What if,” Pineleaf said. “Darkness or one of the others could manage to save us, but that would require one of them being able to get free, being able to make it up to the cage, and being able to unlock it.” It sounded even more unlikely when Pineleaf said it out loud.

“Or,” Pineleaf continued. “We could try to trick one of the insect creatures into letting us out,” That idea sounded even crazier.

“Usually I’m the one thinking of crazy ideas,” said Mottledsnout.

“Wait, that just might work,” Specimen thought. “Though a lot of conditions would have to be just right,”

Suddenly, the cage opened. Three of the insect creatures arrived.

“Hello,” they said in unison. “We have a deal for you,”

Before the three camodragons could respond, the insect creatures each grabbed one camodragon and began to fly. They flew towards a hallway made up of glowing red hexagonal tiles.

After a few minutes of flying, the insect creatures reached an entrance sealed by lasers and a massive metal door. A beam of translucent red light abruptly shot out of the door. The beam inspected all three insect creatures.

After a while, the beam switched to a dark shade of green. The door began to retract upwards.

The insect creatures flew into the open door.

Behind the door was a large room, filled with menacing-looking robots of all sorts, and more mind-control chips like the one Pineleaf had stored in a pouch.

And then, in the center of the room there was Darkness, lying helplessly on the floor, surrounded by insect creatures even more intimidating than the ones carrying the three camodragons. However, he was still breathing.

How long has he been out of the water? He looks completely dry. How is he still alive? Pineleaf wondered.

The three insect creatures carrying the camodragons descended slightly, then dropped the camodragons.

A spike of pain hit Pineleaf’s scales when she hit the ground.

“You have all been told about the deal,” the insect creatures said. “The deal is that we will free you if you become part of us. It’s simple.”

“No, we won’t,” Darkness protested.

“Well, Aquatic is already part of us,” they continued. One of their eyes flickered green, which opened a compartment in the wall. A tank on wheels rolled out of the compartment. Inside the tank was the unmistakable appearance of Aquatic.

“If he’s part of you, why not put him to use? Why is he just stuck in a compartment in the wall?” Darkness continued to challenge the insect creatures, whereas Pineleaf was too scared to move.

“We need to run tests on newly joined members, to check many factors,” the insect creatures explained.

“Join us,” Aquatic said. “And we will free you.”

“Well, we’re here to stop your plan. What’s next, after The Leak and the mind control chips?” Darkness asked incredibly bravely.

“We have much more in store for the world,” said Aquatic. “Everything that has happened recently is part of our plan, and the same will be true for the future.”

“So are you saying-” Darkness was cut off.

“That we planned all of your actions from the Leak onwards?” Aquatic interrupted. “Exactly.”

“Join us and you all will be a part of the plan, a survivor of The Apocalypse. It’s coming very soon.” Aquatic said.

“I won’t,” Darkness protested.

“Fine, we’ll find another use for you,” Aquatic responded. “The rest of you though, get ready to become extensions of our mind.

There was no hope. Pineleaf and the others had no way to escape. They were forced to accept their fate: joining the very enemy they were trying to stop.

Without warning, the insects grabbed the three camodragons and took them to get mind-controlled.


Chapter 11: Darkness The Moray Eel


Darkness was trapped alone in an inescapable cage. The rest of the group was either being taken to get mind-controlled or was already mind controlled. Hope was long gone.

Outside of his cage there was nothing but shadows. He could faintly see the corners of an empty room.

“Hello,” he heard a voice from outside his cage whisper.

“Hello?” He quietly responded.

“I’m here to free you,” the voice said. “I’m Unknown, by the way.”

Was this real? Was Darkness dreaming? He slapped himself with his tail. This was very real. It however seemed like a miracle.

“I’m Darkness,” Darkness introduced himself.

“I know who you are,” Unknown replied.

The cage suddenly opened.

“How did you do that?” Darkness asked with extreme curiosity.

“The cage has a technology that makes it so only members of the mind and their creations can open it, and I’m one of their experiments,” Unknown explained. “Anyway, I know what’s happened to your friends, and I know that you guys are trying to stop the mind. I think I know how to do that.”

Darkness had many other questions but he put them aside. “How?”

“While the mind consists of many organisms and technological devices, there is a central mind, which if destroyed, will free all other members of the mind.” Unknown said.

“Do you know where and what is the central mind?” Darkness questioned.

“I’m pretty sure it’s another one of those insect creatures,” Unknown replied. “It's probably in the center of the laboratory, which is super heavily guarded. Fortunately, all the robots will let me in because they have the same security system as the cage you were in. But if there are any members of the mind, that's what I’m worried about.”

* * *

The two creatures had bypassed many of the security robots. It was almost too easy. What if…

“Unknown, could we be walking into a trap?” Darkness said. “What if, the mind made it so easy to bypass the security on purpose so it could lure us into something?”

“Let’s see what happens first,” Unknown said. “But we’ll be extra cautious,”

They bypassed all the rest of the security until…they were at the center.

The doors opened once again, to a dark room filled with enormous, looming bug statues, the faint glow of a computer screen, and a chair with an insect creature sitting on it.

The chair began to slowly and creakily swivel around.

“I’ve been expecting you both to come,” growled the insect creature on the chair. It stood up, moving in a robotic manner. “My runaway experiment and someone who I’ve been trying to get to join us for so long.”

Out of its back, two smaller insect creatures emerged. All three charged at Darkness and Unknown.

Darkness leapt out of the way while Unknown jumped at one of the smaller insect creatures, baring his teeth.

The smaller insect creatures shot out laser beams at both creatures. Darkness dodged it, but one hit Unknown’s leg.

“Owwwww,” said Unknown, “I’ll be fine.”

“Wait, Unknown,” Darkness said, “The smaller insect creatures shoot laser beams. This means that they are robots. We can figure out how to disable them.”

Unknown nodded. They each leapt at one of the smaller insect creatures. They both tried to shake Darkness and Unknown off vigorously, but they both persisted to search for a way to disable them.

“Great. Now I have to send in the backup,” said the bigger insect creature/central brain. Suddenly, several compartments in the wall opened up. Insect creatures twice the size of the central brain charged in unison toward Darkness and Unknown. They were done for.

“Focus on the central brain,” Unknown said. “When destroyed, all the others will shut down.”

They both leapt at the central brain, searching for a way to shut it down. All the other insect creatures rushed towards them.

The central brain has no defenses by itself. It relies on others to protect it. Darkness realized.

The other insect creatures’ eyes gradually transitioned to red, getting brighter by the second. They were charging up for another laser blast.

“Dodge the blast at the last second,” Darkness whispered. “Then it will damage the central brain.”

When the lasers came, the two leapt out of the way. The moving beams of light hit the central brain. It exploded in a shower of crackling electricity and multicolored light. The insect creatures all stopped moving.

The world was safe from the mind now. No more events like The Leak would happen.

“Feels good to have saved the world, doesn't it?” Darkness asked.

“Agreed,” Unknown replied. “Now let's go check if your friends are free,”


Epilogue


Far out in space, a triangular space base floated around aimlessly.

“Our workers on X-543 have failed,” a voice from inside sighed.

“What do you suggest we do about it?” another asked.

“If we can’t conquer the universe, let's move to Plan B: destroy it.”


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