Artwork and story by Leonard Pigg
The group cautiously exit the ship, seeing the interior of the invader’s vessel. The walls are high with streams of mercury moving across them and crossing each other. They are surrounded by cyborgs, all with weapons at the ready. The horde of cyborgs part in formation, creating a path for the group to walk toward a series of metal steps that have a green glow. On an elevated platform the size of a basketball court sits Vad Varo on a metal throne where the mercury tendrils connect. “When you lose, this will be your new home.” Varo says.
Paxton replies, “You’re going to need a new decorator, pal. Let me get you started!” With that said, Paxton whips out his laser pistol and opens fire at the light fixtures above the throne, causing it to fall on Varo. The ceiling gives way, in addition to the lights and Varo is buried in rubble. The debris begins to shift a moment later and the mercury tendrils reach out, tossing large chunks of metal at the group. Bilgamesh punches them away, while Barbarella and Paxton shoot theirs away. Koschei hides behind Bilgamesh, shooting over his shoulder at Varo as he rises from the pile.
Having sprouted six large tendrils that suspend him in the air, Vad Varo laughs. He hovers in the air, like a spider at the center of the web. The cyborgs rush up the steps towards the group, until Koschei drops a small metal cube. When it hits the steps, the cyborgs are magnetized in place and unable to move forward. Barbarella tosses a couple of grenades towards the frozen horde, blasting out the steps and destroying them. Paxton charges forward at Varo, guns blazing. Varo attempts to block the blasts with the tendrils, which get damaged in the process. Meanwhile, more tendrils come from his body to block the barrage. Bilgamesh leaps over the tendrils and kicks Varo in the head, causing his neck to snap back. The body goes limp, as the tendrils all focus their attack on Bilgamesh. They wrap around his waste and strike at him, as he blocks with his forearms. “Reboot in progress,” Varo’s lifeless body utters.
“Damn it!” Bilgamesh exclaims as he tears away the tendrils and lunges at the body, tearing Varo in half. The mercury splashes everywhere, like silver blood and Varo gives out a scream. The mercury oozes off the platform onto the landing below. A moment later, the battle ceases and the group gather themselves amid the silence.
“We won. Just like that, yeah?” Paxton says. He looks down at the remains of his old body and picks up the head, looking into the eyes.
Barbarella puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “It’s okay. This body you have now is much nicer.”
Bilgamesh gives out a warrior yell of victory, as Koschei claps his hands. “Excellent work, everyone! This was amazing. I am impressed.” Koschei says with a smile. Paxton bows , then tosses the head off the platform.
“Reboot complete,” Varo’s voice echoes through the ship. A moment later, Vad Varo leaps onto the platform with a ten feet tall body, composed entirely of the liquid metal. His head is still humanoid, but a helmet flows up from the metal to protect him. His fist morphs into a large hammer, which he uses to plow Bilgamesh into the wall. He then grabs Barbarella with the other hand. She begins shooting him with her laser, as she pulls him closer. Paxton fires his lasers, cutting through the metallic arm and frees her. As the arm hits the ground, it starts to crawl back toward the body. Koschei tosses another magnetic cube at the arm, causing it to freeze in place. He then says, “Kill us, then this ship and the entire planet will blow up. I’ve got my ship primed to detonate within the hour.” Vad Varo pauses a moment, as he regrows another limb from his mass, which makes him a little smaller.
“You wouldn’t dare!” Varo says. Bilgamesh leaps from the hole in the wall and starts punching Varo, knocking him back. He presses the attack and Varo begins to go on the defensive. The two break into a brawl so intense that it rocks the entire ship.
At that moment, Koschei takes out a silver wand from his jacket and uses it to scan the frozen arm. “Barbarella, I need you to keep firing at Varo while he fights Bill. Paxton, I’m going to need you to come here a moment. I know how we can stop him.”
Paxton sits next to Koschei and says, “What do you need me to do?”
Koschei scans the arm again and says, “I’m going to link our minds briefly and we can interface with Varo’s brain, while he’s focused on battle.” Koschei puts the wand back in his jacket, then places his hands on Paxton’s temples. The two are linked as Paxton reaches down and puts his hands on the severed metal arm.
A moment later, their minds are inside Varo’s. It is a landscape of alien languages, numbers and errant data streams. In the background, they see Varo slugging it out with Bilgamesh, as both combatants are getting bloody. Koschei goes over to the streams of data and runs his hands through it, wiggling his fingers. Paxton sees what he does and follows suit, rubbing out symbols and numbers from the various streams. As the information is disrupted, it fades away. Varo begins to stutter and stammer, as his functions are not working correctly. Internally, he appears and screams, “Nooo! Don’t do this!”
Paxton replies, “Free the people from your influence and leave this galaxy or you lose everything. You can’t win this.”
Externally, a bloodied and enraged Bilgamesh battles on. He strikes with all his might, as the metal form of Varo begins to lose cohesion.
“So be it!” Varo say and his metal body melts down again, turning brown. With just a humanoid head left, Bilgamesh picks it up and crushes it. With a flash of light, both Koschei and Paxton are suddenly forced from the mind of Varo. Both men scream in unison.
“Well, it looks like we won this time.” Paxton says. Koschei helps Paxton to his feet and the four look around the ship. “I’ve got mental control of the ship. With Varo disconnected, I’m in control. I’m going to land it near the Martian wilderness and the people left behind can live in it. I can sense their confusion and with the ship damaged as it is, it wouldn’t make the trip back to their world. From genetic scans that were in the network, I can tell the Bilgamites are compatible with Martians. They can intermingle.” Paxton says as his eyes glow. “I’m using the remaining mercury streams to refashion this ship as proper housing.”
As the ship lands, the remaining Bilgamites and Martians on board thank the heroes for freeing them from the collective control. Koschei pats Paxton on the shoulder and says, “Be careful.”
Paxton nods and says, “I’m shutting down the A.I. systems here after all the repairs are made. Looks like we just started a new colony here on Mars… or Barsoom to the locals. I’m also disconnecting myself from the system.” Paxton’s eyes glow briefly and then go back to normal.
Bilgamesh goes over to Koschei and says, “Thank you, my friend. I am glad to have a new purpose now.”
Barbarella says, “I’m sticking around to get my ship repaired and to help with relief work here. Care to lend a hand, Bilgamesh? We could use a big, strong man like you around.”
Bilgamesh smiles and says, “Perhaps I’ll stick around for a while. Koschei, care to join me?”
Koschei shrugs and says, “I’m not built for that sort of thing. I should probably be going.”
Bilgamesh grabs up Koschei in a bear hug and says, “When you are ready for another epic adventure with me, come back!” The two smile, as Koschei hugs back. Koschei goes to Barbarella and gives her a hug as well before leaving. He then starts to walk back to his ship. He sees Ulysses Paxton sitting by the ship with a smile. “Got room for a stowaway in there? It seemed so much bigger on the inside.”
Koschei smiles and says, “Oh Captain, my captain! I’ve always got room for a strapping young lad like yourself! Come on in, I don’t like to travel alone anymore.” The two enter Koschei’s purple ship and a moment later, the ship fades from sight as it slips into the time stream.