Chapter 50: Torn Asunder
Minutes earlier, 426 had been struggling to keep his grip on one of the steel pipes that lined the corridor. Gritting his teeth, he tried to pull himself forward, only to feel the tearing of metal against his claws as he was dragged back.
“Resistance is futile,” cautioned Two of Seven as he gripped 426’s foot, attempting to simultaneously tear him from the wall and convince him to let go since holding on was useless anyway. Suffice to say, the drone’s arguments did not sway 426 in the slightest, and all the experiment did was grip the pipe tighter, if indeed that was at all possible.
At that moment, the faint sounds of plasma explosions floated across the corridor; 426 knew that meant that Pleakley had been successful in blowing at least some stuff up. To what extent, he could not be sure, but it definitely didn’t sound like a lot, and since the drones had not dropped what they were doing and left, so to speak, he surmised it was nowhere near enough damage for them to really care.
Looking back, he noticed that three of the drones that had been stalking him were now working at consoles in the cell; evidently they’d determined that two would be enough to capture him now that he was in their grasp.
Or something like that.
The second of the two had grabbed his other leg and was now helping its partner to try and pull 426 off of the wall. All he could do was cling on to that metal pipe, even as he felt his claws slowly splitting in two. He’d just have to grit his teeth and bear it.
Briefly, 426 wondered why they didn’t just sedate him or something. They probably had the technology (426 reflected to himself that those arms of theirs were more multipurpose than a swiss army knife); why they didn’t use it was completely beyond the poor experiment.
As he finished these thoughts, he realised for the second time in an hour that his legs were no longer being supported by anything, and with a loud and painful clang, his knees hit the floor.
Immediately, one of the drones who had dropped him lifted him back up by the shoulders. Spidery pipes shot out of the drone’s hand; 426 saw that they had been thinking along similar lines as he had. He quickly shut his eyes, waiting for the (no doubt painful) process of unconsciousness to commence.
When it didn’t come, he opened his eyes slightly. The drone, having retracted the tubule-thingies, had turned its attention towards, for reasons 426 couldn’t possibly fathom, the steel wall that made up the other end of Jumba’s cell.
He peeked behind him. The other drones had all stopped working their consoles - in fact, they’d stopped doing anything, really – and all were now looking in the same direction.
What was so interesting about the wall of Jumba’s cell?
Perhaps something had disturbed them? Perhaps they’d heard something. Or maybe something a little more telepathic was going on. A warning?
Then he heard it – a loud rumbling sound, as if a hundred thousand bombs had gone off in the distance.
Had Pleakley actually succeeded?
426 mused to himself that it might have worked a little too well – if he’d had blown up life support… well, he could survive, but it’d be uncomfortable.
And then, all of suddenly, it felt as if the world had disappeared beneath his feet.
Wave after wave surged through the ground. Perhaps in surprise, the done released 426 and tried to brace itself – the next moment, 426 saw it stuck on its back with one of its legs severed, its arms waving wildly and its claw attachment clicking without rest. He himself was being bounced up and down like a beach ball, each bump causing his side to ache painfully.
What had Pleakley done?
Eventually, the rumblings subsided. 426 picked himself up and surveyed the area – apart from the malfunctioning drone before him, there was no sign of the others. Perhaps they had managed to vacate the area?
His ears pricked. Something wasn’t right.
He strained his hearing, trying to pick up what he had noticed. Try as he might, all he could hear was static.
Although, now that he thought of it, the static didn’t quite sound like static. It had a more fluid feeling, as opposed to static’s sharp roughness. It almost sounded like gas escaping a not-quite airtight chamber…
And then, a sinking feeling welled up in his belly as he realised what the sound was.
“OK, 426, it’s not as bad as it sounds,” he told himself. “The wall’s strong, I’m sure it can hold its integrity…”
He glanced at the wall in question. It now had a large crease across it, as if it had been some giant’s paper airplane in a previous life.
“… that’s just… a flesh wound! Yeah, it’ll buff right ou…”
And then, the wall creaked. The sinking feeling was now joined by the feeling of having swallowed a bowling ball.
“OK, gotta get to the wall, gotta hold on to something,” he muttered to himself.
The only thing was his feet didn’t move. 426 groaned.
“C’mon, feet, don’t fail me now!”
The wall creaked again, and his legs snapped out of their immobilisation; rushing towards the wall as fast as his feet could carry him, he gripped the metal pipe and braced himself.
No sooner had he done this, the wall ripped open.
At that moment, 426 felt an incredible force thrust against his body, as if some giant invisible hand was trying to push him far away. He closed his eyes and focused all his attention on maintaining his grip on to the metal pipe before him, despite the fact that he was being buffeted around like a flag in a hurricane. It was all he could do to hang on to the pipe.
With a roar, the entirety of the wall that five drones had been staring at minutes before tore itself asunder, leaving in its place a gaping hole, rasping at everything and everyone in the room. Opening his eyes for a brief moment, 426 watched with horror as the malfunctioning drone was swept up past him and, still forever clicking its claw, fell into the depths of the void that existed behind him, in the space where he daren’t look, least he loose his concentration.
It was almost, thought 426, as if it were some kind of monster, attempting to suck stuff into its mouth for its evening meal, not caring what it ate as long as it was something,
As he felt his claws slipping through the cracks he’d made earlier in the pipes, he almost willed them to continue to hold on. If he let go, he will have failed everyone he’d ever cared about. He’d have failed Jumba, his creator. He’d have failed 419, his sister. He’d have failed Little Girl.
But he couldn’t hold on for much longer.
He almost saw it happen in slow motion – the edge of his claw chipped, and then fell through the tear in the pipe. It sped away from him at what seemed to be faster than the fastest spaceship.
His final hopes were gone, and darkness rushed around him as he fell through the night.
“Are you sure?”
“Am positive.” Jumba nodded his head. “There is far too much debris interfering with radar. I could not be telling one way or other if 426 is making it.”
Awkward silence fell at the conclusion of this sentence. Jumba hated awkward silences. They gnawed at you, begging to be acknowledged, but no-one wanted to do it.
He’d have said some terrible things about him before. He wished he could take those words back, now more than ever.
“Don’t worry, am positive he made it.” He beamed, all four eyes blinking one after another. “He may be failure of experiment, but inside beats – er, how you say - heart of lion. He is as any other experiment I would be proud to call my own is.”
More awkward silence. Jumba had hoped he could get 419 to say something, but she was silent.
He’d probably misspoken again.
At that moment, Jumba felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see Stitch pointing down the passage, towards the depths of the ship.
Jumba nodded slowly.
“626 is right. We should be rescuing Little Girl – it’s what he would want us to do.” He pushed himself slowly to his feet. “If he is still having communicator, he will have received message and he’ll know where to find us. If not…”
He pulled a translucent blue disc from his communicator and pressed it against the wall.
“This beacon transmits a high-pitched frequency that only experiments can be hearing.”
Almost on cue, Stitch’s ears twitched.
“See, 626 can be hearing it now!” He smiled, relieved – the last thing he needed right now was a malfunctioning probe.
“I can’t hear it,” stated 419 matter-of-factly, scrunching her nose.
“Yes, I thought so,” Jumba replied. “Because of genetic inhibitors, your hearing is only slightly above average – however, 426 has no such inhibitors, so he should be able to pick it up fine. That’s the best we can be doing for him for now.”
He paused for a moment. He had just thought of something that might just work.
“Er, Pleakley, try and run some scans on the ship to detect where 426 is, OK?”
“I’ll try,” said Pleakley through the communicator. “I mean, the shields are partially down, which means I can run scans through the ship, but the debris field is messing with the sensors.”
Just as Jumba had feared. He sighed.
“Let me know if you are finding anything. Jumba, out.”
He pressed the screen, which, with a final beep, switched off, and placed it in his shirt pocket.
“Right, then, we should be heading off. 419?”
419 nodded, with a slight smile on her face. Jumba hoped that this meant she was now speaking to them.
He hoped he had given her enough hope to continue. The two experiments had been practically inseparable from the moment they’d met, and he knew how much they meant to each other.
But most of all, he hoped his little experiment was safe and sound. He hadn’t lost a single experiment thus far – not to the council, not to age or illness, not from weapons fire, and certainly not as a result of explosive decompression.
More than that, he knew every experiment – their number and function, and each of their personalities. He had poured his very life into the experiment project, so losing even one to the depths of space… well, just the thought was terrifying.
Then again, he’d thought there wasn’t any hope of escaping. He was wrong about that. Perhaps hope was the enabler. Perhaps they’d escaped because the others had hoped they would.
Perhaps amazing things could be done when you believed they could.