Chapter 48: 426's Story
A half-hour earlier, and a few hundred meters away, Experiment 426 suddenly stopped.
“OK, according to this,” he said, gesturing at 419’s PADD, “Jumba’s cell should be right below us.”
“Good, good… Could you help me with one of these?” 419 was attempting to lift a large, smooth cube-shaped object from the floor.
“K, gotchya,” he said, and with one large tug, he’d pulled it up and out of its little pit.
“There he is!” whispered 419, and sure enough, Jumba was sitting below them, arms strapped to the wall. His lab coat, formerly clean and straight, had taken on a dishevelled character, rough and bumpy. His ears were drooping and his eyes were centred on his hands, which now appeared paler than when they’d last seen him.
426 put the cube down on top of another cube and joined 419 in staring down at Jumba’s dishevelled image.
“Ooh, he doesn’t exactly look the best,” he muttered as he squinted down the hole. “How’d he get those singe marks on his coat? That was his favourite coat, too.”
“Can’t you s…”
426’s face fell with realisation.
“Oh, I’m sorry about… I forgot you didn’t have hypersensitive retina. Sorry.”
“Nah, it’s OK!” 419 beamed.
An awkward silence fell between them.
“So… do you think we could get him out?” 426 asked.
“Nah, not on our own… see, over there? There’s two guards. We’d need 626 or something.”
“Well, then,” said 426 vibrantly, pausing to crack his knuckles in what he’d obviously thought was a dramatic tone. “Sounds like a distraction is in order!”
And before 419 could say any different, he was off.
A few corridors along, if one were to look at the ceiling, one might be surprised to see a small green head poking out of nowhere.
I say “surprised” since it was rather rare to see heads poking out of ceilings, and thus most people would find it peculiar – unless, for example, they had hired an electrician to wire their house, or they were one of the many worshipers of the cult whose divine being was only known as “Ceiling Cat”. Nether-the-less, and luckily for Experiment 426, no-one had the particular desire to look above them at that particular moment.
This corridor had two Borg drones in it, and both of them had their head in their work, tapping away at odd control panels – thick cylindrical columns lined with green circular markings. 426 could only assume whatever they were doing was long, boring, tedious and not worth his time.
Wasn’t there another opening closer to the cell?
He backtracked along the narrow vents above the corridors, all the while trying to remember exactly where the opening had been. Briefly consulting the PADD, he’d concluded that he had been heading down the wrong vent. Grumbling, he awkwardly turned himself around, squishing both his head and one of his legs along the ceiling as he did.
Why can’t they make these stupid things wider?
Crossing an intersection with another vent, he noticed another thing that bugged him – everything looked the same. Sure, there were the random pipes and bits and pieces, but looking at the forest instead of the trees, the overall décor was repetitive and boring. Couldn’t they do something a little different? Maybe have a blue-coloured section or something?
Then again, he reasoned with himself, seeing as they were cybernetic zombies, perhaps they weren’t capable of original thought.
Suddenly, he became aware that, at that very moment, his hands had not made contact with anything solid.
Realising he was falling, the experiment pushed against one side with his feet and quickly grabbed on to the ledge of the other side of the opening, digging his claws deeply into the hard metallic surface of the vent.
He slowly pulled himself up, thanking whatever deities experiments believed in that he had not fallen. Although, being an experiment, he’d probably survive, he couldn’t imagine falling that far a distance without breaking at least a bone or two, and he’d rather much avoid that kind of pain. On top of that, he’d be a sitting duck for anything that came along and decided to do some target practice.
But even worse, if he had fell, 426 was sure that he’d never hear the end of it from his sister. After all, it was him who warned her about paying attention in the first place! The more 426 thought of this, the more 419’s ringing laughter filled his ears; 426 tried to scrunch them up to stop the noise.
Right, he thought, hanging around here won’t solve anything.
And so, with one final tug, he pulled himself up and onto the floor of the vent. He decided to rest for a few brief seconds, in order to regain his composure; having done so, he then turned around and, making sure his back claws were securely dug in to the floor of the vent, swung his head down the opening to take a look at the scene below.
The hallway was deserted. Two terminals were situated at either end; beside each was a glowing green pyramid… thing.
Now, in 426’s admittedly limited experience, glowing green objects were usually important, either being storage devices or power sources of some kind. With this in mind, 426 took the laser scalpel that he had borrowed from 419, pointed it at one of the pyramid things, and pressed the button.
After a few seconds of being hit by the beam, it exploded with a satisfying crackle. 426 then destroyed the other green pyramid thing, and the consoles beside them for good measure; each of them showered sparks and belched smoke on their respective disintegrations.
And after taking the time to admire his destructive handiwork, he swung himself back up into the shaft and started making his way back to his waiting sister.
“Hey, did it work?” 426 asked 419 as he approached the opening she was staring down.
“Brilliantly! Both guards left the cell, and I dare say are going to clean up the mess you caused… what exactly did you do?”
“Oh, you know,” shrugged 426 smiling sheepishly. “Destroyed some glowing things here, blew up a console there… just your average mayhem and madness…”
“Ah, yes, what you do best.” 419 smiled. “So I guess we’re going?”
“OK.” 419 stepped up to the hole apprehensively.
“One moment, aren’t you forgetting something?” 419 held out her laser scalpel.
“Oh, thanks!” She took it from him and eyed the floor below the nervously. “Well, here goes.”
“Here goes, indeed,” echoed 426.
“Three, two, one… Geronimo!” She held her nose and, feet first, dived through the hole.
Making sure she had landed safely, 426 prepared to jump himself. Closing his eyes, he stepped towards the opening.
Suddenly, his abdomen slammed into cold metal, his head hovering above the hole - he had tripped on something. Angrily looking back, he saw that one of his back paws had caught on a pipe of some kind; he tried to pull it but it wouldn’t budge.
He sighed. Must the universe be against him?
Rolling over and sitting up, he carefully unwound the piping from his leg, careful not to puncture it with his sharp claws – after all, he had no idea what was in those pipes and he had a feeling he didn’t want to know. Tedious as the work was, he resisted the urge to just slash the tubes in half and be done with it.
Finally, he had untangled the last loop. Feeling elated to be free of the whatever-pipe, he promptly jumped down the hole to the floor below.
A moment later, he wished he had looked first.
Five of the alien cyborgs surrounded him. He looked around, but 419 and Jumba were nowhere in sight.
“Oh, hi!” said 426, waving innocently. Curse that whatever-pipe! They’re probably here looking for Jumba.
One of the drones spoke.
“Two of Seven, primary adjunct of Unimatrix 723. You will come with us.”
“Not likely,” muttered 426. He was not going to let them take him.
But little did the young experiment know that following the drone’s directions was, in fact probably the best course of action.
Because, although he did not know it, right then, that spot was not a very good place to be.