Chapter 56: Reunion
Experiment 426 was tired.
He was tired of walking. He was tired of the pain. He was tired of the pinging noise, which were now hurting his eardrums, although he suspected that was more a problem with his ear than the fact it was loud. He was also physically exhausted, and it was all his brain could do to keep awake.
But he had to keep going. For Jumba, for his sister, and for Little Girl.
It was at the moment that this thought floated through his brain that he realised that the noise was hurting his ears less, and consequently, was getting softer. Wearily, he stumbled backwards, until he reached the point where his ears hurt the most, and then scanned the wall for signs of Qweltian technology..
It wasn’t long until he spotted the beacon that Jumba had left behind – a single red light slowly flashing on and off with each beep. Reaching up with his numb left hand, he pressed the light; once he had done so, the beacon fell silent, and the light shone no more.
Finally, some peace.
Silently cursing the pain that continued to throb through his arm, he walked onwards through the corridors beyond the beacon, sarcastically admiring the sameness of it all, until finally he came to an intersection.
Crud, thought 426.
It was bound to happen, noted the female voice in 426’s head, since Jumba and the others are probably far ahead; it wasn’t like you’d just run into them.
426 decided that the best way to respond to this would be to not respond at all.
A noise. His ears perked, and he listened closely.
There were footsteps in the distance.
The clanging of shoes on metal was faint, but definitely there. And the sounds were coming through mainly his right ear, indicating that they had most likely taken the corresponding passage.
Well, at least if they aren’t Jumba and the others, they’re probably going to be non-Borg and thus semi-friendly, since their footsteps are irregular, unlike that of the drones, the voice pointed out (rather unnecessarily too, as 426 had been thinking the same thing).
He guessed that settled the matter, and so he continued down the right-hand corridor, hoping that whatever it was, it was either Jumba or something that wasn’t going to eat him for dessert.
It was all Jumba could think to do. He had to put as much distance between him and where they knew he was as possible. Only then could he think.
The two experiments ran beside him, unquestioning and silent. Jumba supposed that they were only running beside him because they’d no way out otherwise, and that they thought him callous and cold.
He certainly didn’t mean it. He wanted to take the best path, one where no-one was hurt and everyone was smiling at the end, but he knew sometimes some risks had to be taken for the long run to turn out all right. He didn’t see how the ending he envisioned could ever happen now, but he had to keep it as close to that as possible.
And despite his desire, there had been too many risks. Was he being careless?
In all honesty, Jumba never considered himself truly evil, but he really had no other word to describe himself. Reckless, perhaps? He’d heard of a role-playing game where characxers could be ‘chaotic-good’ as well as ‘chaotic-evil’, so he supposed he could use that term. It was the chaos he was attracted to, the lack of order in an otherwise balanced universe.
But despite his appeals, he would never intentionally put someone in harm’s way, and he’d do his best to save someone he cared about. That’s what separated him from the other scientists, the ones that were ‘chaotic-evil’, some of which he’d had the upmost displeasure of working with earlier in his career, and ones he would eventually give evidence against in return for a significantly reduced sentence.
Lilo sighed in her sleep. She must hate him now most of all. She was counting on him, but he’d given her pain. It may have been necessary, but Jumba felt it would be completely justified if she hated him. Even if he came to fulfil her expectations, he’d still let her down.
Something caught Jumba’s eye. One of the Borg’s core tenants may have been no imagination whatsoever, resulting in a general lack of variety in decor, but he was completely sure that he’d seen the collection of strewn wires and rubbery pipes that were dangling in a bundle from the roof above before, and now that he thought about it, the layout of the corridor did seem a little familiar…
Right. He was now somewhat sure that they were now only a few corridors removed from where they met the crew of the Serenity. And they had some method of getting on the ship, so maybe they could-
A clanking noise along one of the side-corridors abruptly pulled Jumba from his thoughts; this was quickly followed by a very high-pitched yelp of pain.
“Jumba?” An antenna and half an eye peeked around the corner of the intersection lying at the end of the passage..
And before Jumba could register, Pleakley had rushed up to him and was now squeezing him about as tightly as if he was Winnie-the-Pooh and Pleakley was Christopher Robin.
“It’s you! And the experiments!”
Much to their individual chagrin, he then proceeded to pick up both 419 and 626, almost squashed them into a hug, and put them down again. Jumba noted with amusement that Stitch was looking somewhat dazed, while 419 was just standing there, her glasses somewhat askew.
“And… you’ve got Lilo! And you’re alive! And not mindless zombies!”
“Heh, well, you are knowing me, little one-eyed one,” Jumba said. “But would not have worked if not for evil genius experiments.”
Stitch, recovered from his daze, nodded somewhat proudly.
“But also, should be careful not to be waking up Little Girl.”
“Oh, sorry,” whispered Pleakley.
419 had also regained her proper mental state, and was now wearing a somewhat puzzled look.
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh, right. I came to tell you guys that I’ve found a way off the ship. The Serenity has this… er, beaming transporting thingy…”
“Like the Borg?” Jumba asked.
“Er, yes, like the Borg. Anyway, we’ve got to be at a specific set of co-ordinates no later than… I think, about an hour from now. I think I have it on this – transcorder or something…”
At this point, Pleakley pulled out a device that looked somewhat like a bulkier version of Jumba’s communicator.
“I think it’s called a tricorder,” observed 419.
“How do you suppose that?”
“It’s written on the back.”
Pleakley turned the tricoder over and, sure enough, there was, heading a list of technical specifications, the words “Mark-III General-Use Tricorder (LCARS)”.
Jumba nodded. “Thank you, Pleakley.”
Pleakley nodded in recognition.
“Now, if you would be so kind as to be leading us th-
“What about 426?”
Jumba turned to stare at 419. In all the excitement, he’d almost forgotten.
Maybe the experiments were right – he was getting careless.
What could they do about him? The ship was kilometres in length, hardly scannable and swarming with Borg. A search in the best of situations would take months, never mind the situation they were in now.
“Pleakley, have your scans picked up anything?”
Pleakley gestured to Jumba’s communicator, which he handed to him, and entered in a few symbols. “Um, hang on, the link’s establishing…”
Jumba tapped his foot for a few seconds as he watched Pleakley fiddle around with the communicator’s keypad.
“Ah, got it! Um…”
He looked down at his feet.
“Sorry. Nothing’s been picked up.”
419 nodded slowly, eyes lingering on the communicator.
“N-no, that’s- that’s fine. W-we c-could probably f-find him in the n-next…”
She trailed off, and her gaze shifted to her own feet.
Jumba looked from 419 to the communicator, and then back.
There was nothing else to it. He’d made too many promises already, promises he’d failed to keep. The line must be drawn here – this far, and no further.
“I’ll do it,” he muttered.
“You take Little Girl.” He lifted Lilo, and placed her on Pleakley’s shoulder; Pleakley wobbled backwards a bit, but managed to keep his balance. “Get to the rendezvous point. If I am not being back by the appointed time, please. leave without me.”
But Pleakley shook his head.
“Jumba, you can’t just-”
“Oh, come now, Jumba, listen to your friend. I don’t really think that will be necessary.”
The few remaining hairs left on Jumba’s head stood up as the words echoed down the hallway. It was a voice with a natural coldness to it, almost mechanical in feel, but it flowed like silk - or quicksilver, or melted titanium being poured into a mould. The others wore puzzled expressions on their faces, but Jumba recognised that voice instantly.
He had, of course, been the one who designed it.
The group had all turned their heads instinctively, back towards the way they came, to see who it was - but something was amiss. While the Borg vessel wasn’t exactly the most well-lit place in the universe, the passageway they had just been running down now seemed far darker than it had been before. In fact, where before they had been able to see to the end of the corridor, now the area not ten meters ahead and onwards was completely dark.
But one thing was definitely visible – one red laser beam shone out of the darkness, originating at a point Jumba estimated to be about four feet from the ground.
Stitch’s eye level.
The laser started to flicker over the group, almost as if it was scanning them, or seeking something out.
“Quickly,” whispered Jumba, “place Little Girl out of sight.”
Pleakley appeared slightly confused, but did as he was told, scampering to lay Lilo on the top of a nearby metallic cube of some design, and then returning to where he had been.
It was getting closer now, and the light from nearby power conduits illuminated the creature’s silhouette 419 squinted – probably attempting to compensate for her poor low-light sight – but Stitch gasped, and Pleakley turned to look at Jumba.
“That isn’t what I think it is… is it?”
Jumba nodded. He was quite sure he was thinking the same thing as Pleakley.
And as the small group looked on, the figure stepped forward into the light, the darkness unravelling from its fpurple fur as if a viel had suddenly been thrown off.
And what was unmistakingly the figure of the six-hundred and twenty-eighth of Jumba’s genetic experiments stood before them.
“Hello Wendy Pleakley, Experiment 419, and 626. And especially to you, Jumba Jookiba.”
Experiment 628 smirked as he surveyed the faces of everyone present.
“I’ve been expecting all of you.”