CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO BACK TO REALITY

FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … The scanner whistled noisily as Freaka-chu and The Martian Manhunter made their way cautiously along a snowy path lined with trees. ‘I hate the Narnia model,’ Freaka-chu cursed again. ‘You can never find anything.’ ‘You can’t exactly find things that easily in your RETARDIS,’ Manhunter added. Freaka-chu looked up at him sternly. ‘Perhaps not,’ he huffed. ‘But at least mine isn’t full of snow!’ Freaka-chu kicked a snow drift and wrapped more of his scarf around his neck. ‘Martians don’t feel the cold,’ Manhunter smiled wryly. ‘Neither do Video Lords,’ Freaka-chu retorted. ‘I just don’t want my scarf covered in snow.’ * The beaches of Bloodmyst Isle ran red with blood that day, but as the last of Buster’s forces were slain, the Allucian army stood in triumph. They set about collecting casualties and counting the glorious dead as the door to the tower was burned through by a robotic, gender-confused dog’s blowtorch to reveal the freed prisoners, the invasion force and, to their eternal thankfulness, Red himself who was still out cold on Guy Garner’s energy stretcher. ‘Thank god that’s over,’ Jeebus said, hugging Waldo as the assault team passed by, making their way to the galleons. ‘You coming back to The Mercury Rooms with us?’ Elion questioned as they went by, Jazz meandered over to join them. ‘We’ll be here for a while,’ Will-ko said. ‘Quite a lot of our side died.’ ‘That makes me a saaaaaad Panda,’ Beakedbard said mournfully. ‘Jazz did not die,’ Jazz said, examining himself for wounds. ‘Therefore it is not an issue.’ ‘Yeah, but there are seriously a lot of Allucians who did,’ Asawin added. ‘Don’t be so horrible.’ ‘Jazz is not being mean,’ Jazz replied airily. ‘They are just insignificant.’ ‘How compassionate of you,’ Will-ko said with a sour look as he stalked off to help deal with the injured. ‘Jazz says this calls for a celebration drink and a celebration browse through Jazz’s new porn collection … and a celebration wank! Who’s with Jazz?’ ‘I’ll have that drink,’ Jason said wearily. ‘You can … you can deal with the rest yourself.’ ‘We’re going to take Red to the infirmary, make sure he’s alright,’ Aries said with a voice of concern. ‘He’s alive, but he’s not waking up, we need to find out what’s wrong with him.’ ‘I’ll come with you,’ Danny nodded. ‘I’m coming,’ Elion said. ‘Somebody should let the Administrators know that we were successful.’ ‘Me and Waldo will supervise things here,’ Jeebus said forcefully. ‘We’ll be sure to compile a list of the dead so family members can be notified.’ ‘Best not to mention The Mercury Rooms’ involvement in the deaths,’ Gmac chimed in. ‘Y’know, so nobody tries to sue us or something.’ ‘Good point,’ Vash nodded. ‘I’m still head of PR. I’ll take care of it.’ ‘Let’s get outta here,’ L96A1 said with a tut as he wiped some blood covered sand from between his toes. ‘I want a stiff drink an’ a bath.’ ‘I want to go sleep for a week,’ Beakedbard said, lighting up a joint. ‘I want to rape something!’ McKellion cried as Totoro opened a portal back to the Mercury Rooms.

He looked around for anybody who would take him up on the offer. ‘I’m suddenly very aware that we’re only wearing boxers,’ Steffman said worriedly to the others who had been imprisoned. ‘Don’t worry,’ McKellion said, putting an arm around Steffman and L96A1 as the portal closed behind them ‘We can soon do something about that.’ * ‘FOR THE LAST TIME!’ Freaka-chu shouted at the talking Beaver who had been following them. ‘I don’t care about witches or sons of Adam! We’re busy!’ ‘Garr, then suit yo’self!’ The cockney mammal tutted as it wandered back into the undergrowth. ‘Did I mention how much I hate the Narnia series?’ Freaka-chu grumbled. ‘Talking animals blabbing at you while you’re trying to work! None of them realize they’re all holograms.’ ‘Fascinating,’ Manhunter replied with a roll of his eyes as they came to the edge of the forest and looked out onto a large expanse of open planes intersected by a raging river. Beyond the plains lay hills, beyond the plains lay mountains and atop the tallest mountain lay a giant palace carved into the glacier. … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … The scanner pipped. ‘Tenner says he’s in the big impressive castle,’ Martian Manhunter clucked. ‘I’d be utterly offended if he weren’t,’ Freaka-chu shrugged as they looked at the distance from the forest to the palace. ‘You’re going to fly us, right?’ Freaka-chu said. ‘You were thinking of walking?’ Manhunter replied quickly. ‘No Chris,’ Freaka-chu sighed. ‘I’ve seen how ridiculously large these Narnia models are. You don’t think I brought you along for your winning personality did you?’ ‘I thought it was because you found me unbelievably attractive,’ The Martian retorted with a chuckle. ‘Just get to flying,’ Freaka-chu frowned back. * ‘Get some rest guys,’ Jason said to the others as they were escorted into the Infirmary by Aries. ‘You should think about maybe taking your own advice,’ Elion replied as he aided Guy Garner in positioning Red on one of the many beds. ‘There,’ Guy nodded, nursing his ring finger. ‘He was starting to get heavy.’ ‘Where are we sticking this guy?’ Skelifish asked, gesturing to the still unconscious Craic Pipe that he and Danny were carrying. ‘Just put him over there,’ Aries said as she took a medical kit out of a nearby cabinet. ‘Leave them with me. I’ll see to it.’ ‘I’ll stay,’ Danny added. ‘Give Red a bit of company.’ ‘I-too-shall-remain,’ K-Y beeped. ‘I-am-fully-trained-in-medical-areas.’ ‘Right well, that’s two people too many to start with,’ Aries said, shaking her head. ‘The rest of you need to give us some peace and quiet.’ ‘Alright,’ Elion nodded. ‘Me and Jason will go inform the Administrators about what has happened.’ ‘Cool,’ Ron nodded as the three of them exited the sickbay. ‘I’m going to head home, get something to eat. I’ll probably be back later.’ With a short wave, Ron disappeared up the Index Section towards the Exit Portal. ‘You sure you don’t want to head home yourself?’ Elion said, looking Jason up and down who was still wearing only his filthy boxer shorts. ‘Or perhaps even put some more clothes on?’ ‘Later,’ Jason said. ‘I overheard the Manager say a few things that the Administrators need to hear right away.’

‘What are we waiting for then?’ Elion asked inquisitively as he scanned the skies above the Mercury Rooms. ‘Why on Earth is the Command Centre so much further away than usual?’ ‘Fink and the others probably parked it up,’ Jason huffed as they began to walk through the Index. ‘Probably Sod’s Law’s final trick of the day just to make us walk that little bit more.’ * ‘ALRIGHT, NIGEL!’ Freaka-chu shouted as he and Manhunter phased through the icy doors of the palace. ‘Show yourself! We know you’re in here!’ The entrance hall was vast. Huge stalactites and stalagmites of pure ice hung from the ceiling and grew up from the floor respectively. Ice statues of each of the Manager’s past Degenerations lined the grand stairway that went up so high that the top wasn’t actually visible from the ground floor. … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO …The scanner screeched even louder. ‘Upstairs,’ Freaka-chu said directing Manhunter who hauled the irate Video Lord as fast as he could up the almost endless stairs. ‘Keep a look out,’ Freaka-chu said as they flew. ‘His molecules will still be fluctuating, he’s powerful enough to be able to change his form at will until his body fully adjusts. He could be disguised as anything in here. So be on your guard.’ ‘Oh, they’ve never been sharper, believe me,’ Manhunter said shakily, giving the ice statues a wide birth as they flew higher up the stairs. * ‘THIS NEWS IS BOTH EXCELLENT AND GRAVE TO HEAR,’ Vatex said. ‘WE SHALL DECLARE THIS DAY AN OFFICIAL HOLIDAY AND EACH YEAR, WE SHALL PAY HOMMAGE IN REMEBRANCE OF THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES. YOU CAN BE ASSURED THEIR FRIENDS AND FAMILIES HAVE OUR DEEPEST CONDOLENCES.’ ‘HOW’S RED?’ Krizzo questioned. ‘He’s resting in the infirmary,’ Jason said. ‘But, Administrators I have dire news to report to you about the Manager’s plans. Buster was merely a diversion. It was all an elaborate rouse to mask his true plan.’ PLINK-PLONK. The message alert flared on the wall. ‘IGNORE IT,’ Fink said. ‘THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT.’ ‘It is!’ Jason said. ‘The Manager told us his plan, gloating about it, he said …’ ‘YOU GUYS!’ The door to the Command Centre had opened and Red stumbled through covered in sweat. Panting, he collapsed against one of the sofas in the lounge section, a pained expression on his face. ‘Red!’ Elion said, flummoxed, helping his fellow Moderator to steady himself. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘THE DOG!’ Red cried, gasping for air. ‘THAT ROBOT DOG! IT JUST WENT MAD! I WOKE UP AND IT WAS SHOOTING EVERYTHING! I THINK IT KILLED ARIES AND DANNY!’ ‘We’ll handle it!’ Beakedbard said, as he and Jason ran towards the door, both of them taking up Zap-Guns from the rack on the wall.’ ‘ARE YOU ALRIGHT RED?’ Fink questioned, the image in the centre pillar growing larger. PLINK-PLONK. The message alert flared again. ‘I … I think so,’ Red replied, holding his chest and looking up into Elion’s face with an expression of disbelief. ‘Yes … I … I think I’ll be alright.’ * … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO … FILLOO …

‘WHERE ARE YOU!’ Freaka-chu shouted as they reached the top of the grand stairway and found themselves on a landing with eight separate ice corridors leading off in all directions. ‘THERE’S NO POINT IN HIDING, NIGEL!’ ‘Which way?’ Manhunter queried, looking over Freaka-chu’s shoulder. ‘Down here!’ Freaka-chu snarled, stalking off down a corridor that veered away the right. The dim light faded and soon they were walking through darkness. Freaka-chu produced a head-torch from one of his pockets and started to run again. Time was running out, and soon the Manager would be at full power again, if it had not happened already. * ‘You think the Manager somehow reprogrammed K-Y?’ Beakedbard panted as the doors to the elevator opened and the pair hit the ground running, sprinting down the Main Index towards the infirmary. ‘Does it matter?’ Jason said angrily, slamming a cartridge into his Zap-Gun. ‘If that thing has hurt Aries or Danny, it dies no matter what the reason.’ ‘Agreed,’ Beakedbard replied, panting. ‘OH WHY IS THE COMMAND CENTRE PARKED SO FAR AWAY FROM EVERYTHING ELSE?’ * ‘HERE!’ Freaka-chu growled with malice as they reached a door. ‘LOCKED!’ He hissed as he tried the handle. ‘PHASE US THROUGH!’ ‘On it,’ Manhunter said and walked right into the door with a crack. ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!’ Freaka-chu shouted. ‘I … I can’t phase through,’ Manhunter replied, placing a hand against the door. ‘There’s something blocking me.’ ‘The Manager,’ Freaka-chu sneered, his lip curling. ‘He must be regaining power. Let’s see just how strong he is,’ Freaka-chu fished around in his pockets. ‘There hasn’t been a lock invented that can stand up to my Bionic Screwdriver.’ ‘Well, let’s hurry it up then,’ Manhunter said anxiously. ‘If what you’re saying is true, he’s getting stronger with every second.’ ‘Well aware of that,’ Freaka-chu sang back bitterly as the lock gave a click. ‘AH-HA!’ He cried and wrenched open the door of the tiny room and burst his way inside. There was a stunned silence as Manhunter looked around the door into the room. ‘Oh my god,’ Freaka-chu breathed. * ‘WHERE IS IT?!’ Jason shouted as he kicked open the doorway of the Infirmary and stormed his way inside. Aries gave a cry of alarm and held her chest tightly. ‘There you are,’ she gulped. ‘Did you find him?’ ‘What?’ Jason grimaced as he spotted K-Y on the other side of the room. ‘Stand back Aries, I’ll deal with this metal bastard!’ ‘WHAT?’ BlondeAries exclaimed, batting their guns away. ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Well …’ Beakedbard replied, confused. ‘Red told us that-’ ‘RED?’ Aries cut him off. ‘You found him then.’ ‘He’s in the Command Centre,’ Jason said, scratching his head. ‘He told us K-Y had gone mental and was killing everybody.’ ‘He said WHAT?’ Aries said, flummoxed. ‘Red forced his way out of here as soon as he woke up and went running of like a bloomin’ drongo screaming about getting to the Administrators.’ ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’ Jason said quietly. ‘Where’s Danny?’ ‘He went off after Red,’ Aries held up her hands. ‘I tried to stop him but he was too fast for even K-Y’s stun beam.’

‘Affirmative,’ K-Y blipped, his ears twitching. * With a quivering hand, Freaka-chu took a step backwards towards the door. ‘No,’ he said with a break in his voice. ‘That’s not possible.’ ‘How did … What did?’ Manhunter couldn’t form a sentence. ‘That’s … not … possible,’ Freaka-chu said even louder as though it would suddenly make things not true. * ‘What the HELL is going on?’ Beakedbard exclaimed as he, Jason, Aries and K-Y exited the infirmary into the main index and looked up at the Command Centre. ‘I have no idea,’ Aries said with a shake of her head. But whatever it is you guys had better go figure it-’ BlondeAries never finished her sentence. As the four of them bickered amongst themselves, a giant flash erupted in the sky before them. A gigantic explosion echoed out as the Command Centre exploded in a giant fireball. * Freaka-chu took another step forward and dragged his hands through his hair. ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m so sorry … Red.’

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