Previously on Intention
Blueshift and Carlyle entered sector rage to mine rage ore for the ship. Yhotqlavia, the A.I. hopes to synthesize bosons and fermions from the ore to power the reality engines. On the psilestial object Yhotqlavia selected for the mission, they ran into trouble, and almost didn't make it out of what they initially thought was a cave. Then and there, Blueshift managed to manifest his intention in the psy to save Carlyle. And with it, he uncovered a clue to the whereabouts of the missing explorators.
Dean rubbed his temples. „Do you hear that? It’s like whispers in my mind…”
Donna put her hand on his shoulder. “I don’t hear it, Dean. I should amp up your normalizer. I don’t like this.”
“No! We keep them set to minimal! There are too many eyes on the Kirin, if they find us, we’ll be in hot water, and so will the Kirin.”
“It’s the angels,” Kaleb whispered. “I used to hear them talk sometimes. Now they are very loud. They speak into the Psy.”
“No one speaks into the Psy, Kaleb,” Donna explained. “We think into it. That’s why you hear me in your mind, not in your ears.”
Nathanael pressed his hands against his eyes. “Ugh, I can’t take the skipping. It’s like living in a dream but all the time. I’d rather face the Chimerians than keep the normalizer on minimum any longer! How did we even get here?”
Dean shook his head. “We keep them low until we strike. We were with Orsti and Klin… You said you were hungry…”
“Aye!” Orsti thought at them. She was at most a meter tall and of a bright blue color as opposed to Kiln’s purple hue. Other than a third eye and two extra thumbs, they were relatively anthropomorphic. “That’s why we’re here now! This place has great noodles!”
“I can’t metabolize Psy with my normalizer set this low!” Nathanael complained. “Plus, that’s my whole point! First we were at your place, now we’re here. What happened in between?!”
“We probably walked over,” Dean suggested.
“Very probably,” Donna agreed. “But with the normalizers at minimum, time is pretty unhinged for us. If we’re unlucky, we’ve passed the ship and the others by a few hundred years.”
“Don’t say that, Donna, you’re scaring me!” Kaleb distressed.
“Now, now, K, don’t take me too seriously, I’m sure the others are fine and coming for us. They’ll pick us up in no time. Until then we do what explorators do: We help the Kirin, alright?”
“You know,” Nathanael noted, “technically explorators explore, Donna.”
Dean wistfully looked at a bowl of very colorful noodles he could not hope to consume in his current state; then curled his hands up. “Well, these explorators help folks. These Kirin are innocents. They built this city, not the Chimerians. And those bastards are sacrificing the Kirin to the spawn to keep Belfry under their thumb.”
“They are?” Klin thought at them in alarm.
Donna patted him on the hand. “Don’t worry, Klin. You’ll be able to think clearly again once we ring the big bell. You’ll vibe the Chimerians right off the city into the deep Psy. Then, we’ll eat those noodles together!”
Orsti guiltily opened her mouth, noodles dropping back into her bowl. “Sorry!”
“No, no, it’s fine, you can eat some now. I was just trying to sound cool, jeez!”
Kaleb laughed. “You spit out your noodles! Bleeeh!” He mimicked Orsti’s face from a moment ago.
Nathanael punched his palm. “Alright, that’s it! We move now, before I throw up from these whacked out laws of Psy! The human body was not made to live in this upside-down, inside-out, left-side-right non-universe!”
Dean nodded. “Yes, we go to the Bell Tower now- oof!”
Nathanael threw up on the gasoline-spill-colored bricks.
All four of them, Orsti and Klin excluded, stood at the side of the Bell Tower, the outlandish city of Belry stretching out both below and above them, a three-dimensional megalopolis not bound by the restrictions of gravity. Or space-time in general for that matter, seeing how this was not space-time, but the Psy. Clusters of buildings, some of them infinitely tall, vanished and reappeared sporadically, forever existing beyond the concept of linear time. If it wasn’t for their normalizers, the explorators’ minds would be utterly incapable of handling the maelstrom of subjective temporality, and even now, with the suits running on minimum, the strain was excessive.
Kaleb was making himself tall to rub Nathanael’s back. “There, there, Nathanael, it’ll be ok.”
“Let’s…” he coughed. “Let’s just get in and ring the damn bell!”
“Agreed,” Dean transmitted, feeling queasy himself and rubbing his tummy.
“This tower is locked up tight,” Donna thought into the group, biting her lip. “I’ll see what I can do.” She rummaged through her satchel, getting out some of her tools. Some were from the E-3, some were rather unusual implements and gauges. She pulled out a motivospectograph and ran it over a prominent plate on the side of the wall. “Oof, this tower is fortified with a melancholy-resentment alloy. It’s mad strong. Also explains why I keep feeling like it’s giving me the cold shoulder.”
Dean kicked the wall in front of him, almost losing his narrow footing. “Stop moping on my sister you dumb brick!”
Nathanael ran his gloved hand over the side of the tower. “Yeah, it feels… colder than cold, if you know what I mean. Kind of like that chick on Dreifal.”
“You’re never gonna shut up about her, are you?” Dean asked, rolling his eyes. “I wish Carlyle was here. She could totally vibe that wall.”
Kaleb lifted both his palms up against the wall. “Mhmmmmm, vibe!” he commanded. Nothing happened.
“Thanks for trying, K,” Donna transmitted without taking her eyes from the plate in front of her. She was now prodding it with a thin, blue-glowing rod. Trying to tease a reaction out of it. “But there is still no evidence humans can vibe the Psy.”
“Carlyle can do it!” Kaleb insisted. “I saw her!”
“Well,” Donna mind-said, uncomfortable, “that’s neither here nor there.”
“You know,” Nathanael noted, “with our normalizers set this low for this long, if ever one of us is going to transmit a vibe to the Psy, now is probably our time.”
Donna looked up from her work. “Don’t strain yourself, Nat, you’re gonna barf again.”
“How did I even barf the first time?!” he replied angrily, “I don’t remember when I ate something the last time!”
Dean patted him on the shoulder. “Chin up, explorator, just a bit longer and we’ll get those noodles.” He took his scarf off from around his shoulders and handed it to Nathanael. “Here, wipe your face, man. You got chunks on your chin. We gotta look cool when we ring that bell. Like heroes, you know?”
Nathanael turned to face him with surprise in his eyes: “For real, Dean? Your mom gave you that scarf.”
Dean shrugged his shoulders. “I got more back on E-3, and I’ll just throw this one in the washer when we are back on the ship. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“Thanks, man!” Nathanael transmitted and gave Dean a brotherly shoulder pad, reaching out his other hand for the scarf.
“Yeah, I am not sure how to get through this stuff,” Donna admitted. “It’s tough as nails.”
Just as Nathanael touched the scarf and Dean let go, they were blinded by a flash of light. A one meter disk of swirling, white energy expanded inside the tower wall right in front of them and they both flinched away from it so harshly that they pushed themselves off the ledge, arms flailing.
Between them, the scarf fell into the white disk, which swallowed it up as though it was a whirlpool in a draining sink.
Both Nathanael and Dean moved away from the tower sluggishly, drifting through the empty Psy between the buildings of Belfry.
“Crap! Nathanael, lock arms with me!” Dean told him. He held out his arm towards his friend, trying to reach him as they floated on, falling incredibly slowly. Due to their minimal normalization, they experienced very low gravity. Of course, gravity was merely a concept tethered to their perception of normality, here in the Psy, but concepts are not easily unraveled on the fly…
Nathanael spun around sluggishly, stretching his hand out as far as he could. He grunted. “Damnit, if I could just-” Suddenly his arm was locked with Dean’s, as if he had lost five seconds of memory. “Huh, I guess it doesn’t have to be crappy.” He looked around, glimpsing the oppressively colorful, cyclopean architecture around him; monuments to a realm so alien he couldn’t even wrap his mind around it all. “Ugh, Dean, I am getting space sick…”
“Come on, you didn’t even wipe yet! Plus there isn’t even any space you dingus!”
“Agoraphobic then, whatever! Crap, what is going to happen to us?”
“Donna will get us, just don’t yak again.”
They drifted for a while longer, arms interlocked, towers and skyscrapers slowly spinning by them as they sank down ever so slowly, as though through water. Then, something bonked Dean on the head. He reached out and got a firm grasp of Kaleb’s rope, a wrench tied to its end. The little tyke carried the dang rope everywhere as though it was a blanket, bless him. And he had a good idea from which satchel the wrench had originated. He held on to it and pulled in enough rope to swing it around Nathanael and himself. Once he felt secure enough, he tugged on it hard, and it tightened as Donna pulled the two of them back in.
“Phew,” she transmitted, giving them a hand back onto the ledge. “You two gave me a scare there.”
“We? Forget about that! What the heck was that thing?” Nathanael mentally exclaimed.
“You, uh, still got a little something…” Donna pointed less than discretely at her chin.
“Oh come on!” Nathanael exclaimed, frustrated. “And now I don’t even have the damn scarf!” He wiped the ‘leftovers’ from his face with the sleeve of his suit.
Donna gave him a thumbs up. “Alright. I have no idea what that white swirly was, but I have good news!”
“What’s the sitch, sis?” Dean asked.
She pointed to where he and Nathanael had fallen of the ledge. “It cut right through the wall. We got ourselves a nice and clean entry point.”
“Now that’s worth a scarf!” Dean proclaimed. He shimmied towards the new entrance and peered into the tower. “Well, that’s pretty empty. Is the bell up or down?”
“Up,” Donna replied.
“Of course we can’t just float down…” Nathanael complained. “How do we handle this?”
Dean looked up through the hole. “Hmm, I think I do see something up there. I say we try wall-jumping. With gravity this weak it should work.”
Nathanael held up his fist: “Videogame style!”
Dean bumped it.
“Can one of you pick up K?” Donna asked.
“No!” Kaleb protested, “I’m an exlorpator too!”
“Explorator,” she corrected him.
“I can wall jump! I can jump really good!”
Dean lifted the rope he still had slung over his shoulders. “Alright, Kaleb, you can jump, but I’ll tie you to me, ok? If you slip, I got you.”
“Great, now all we have to do is- OOF!” Dean punched the hardened melancholy-resentment wall. He got the distinct feeling that it was exuding some really biting vitriol in his direction for that. “You giving me snark, wall?! I’ll kick you good!”
They had time-leapt again. Apparently all four of them had made it through the inside of the tower to the top. The bell was in front of them. It was about eight meters tall and three meters wide. “How are we going to ring this thing?” Nathanael asked.
Donna knocked against it with her knuckles. “Hmm, it looks like gold. I wander what emotion of Psy it is wrought from. Let me use the motivospectograph on it.”
Kaleb held on to the rim and tried to get inside the bell. “There is no thingy in here. The thingy you pull,” he added.
Donna nodded while liberating the motivospectograph from her satchel. “Yeah, with a bell this large there is probably a hammer. But maybe the Chimerians have taken it somewhere else to make it more difficult to ring the bell…”
“If I shoot my Chimerian psiblaster at it with like a real low setting, do you think it’ll ring the bell or melt it?” Dean asked, pulling the large rifle from his back to inspect it. He had liberated this beauty from a weapons locker that had been a sort-of spa before the Chimerians had wrested the city away from the Kirin.
Donna tried to angle the device just right for it to pick up on the compacted psimetal’s oscillation. “Your blaster uses a series circuit of awe and cynicism crystals, it’s mad effective at burning a variety of Psy configurations. Give me a minute and I can tell you more.”
“Just spit-balling here,” he apologized.
“I say we ramp up the normalizers to one hundred percent and punch the bell together,” Nathanael suggested, curling up his fist.
Dean gave him a shoulder bump. “Look at you, not barfing it up anymore!”
“I think I am getting used to the leaps! That and my tank is empty. Mostly the tank thing. I really want those normalizers back up…”
“Gotcha, man,” Dean replied. “Soon.” He looked down what was essentially a long shaft inside the tower. “Really soon, I’m afraid. We have company.”
Nathanael looked down. “Ah, crap! Chimerians!”
The unpleasant creatures were scampering up the walls on six slender legs, each one looking as though it was made out of grey paper. Their heads looked like little sphere bells, only head-sized, with the slits being their hideous mouths, containing many slender fingers lined up like teeth and moving sickeningly. When they chittered and screamed, the sound, of course, was projected directly into the explorators’ minds. There was no air and thus no sound in the Psy. All their exchanges had been mental. It was like that in this bizarre universe.
“Ugh, I hate those uggos!” Donna complained. “Kaleb, come out of the bell, we are going to hit it with something in a second. Guys, this bell is pure joy. It’s amazing the Kirin were able to mine so much of the stuff. But your blaster’s awe might set it off, but the cynicism will eat right through the metal. Fork it over and I’ll try to unplug or bypass the cynicism crystals, Dean.”
“Hmm, I hate to give her away, especially with a bunch of Chimerians closing in… But the Kirin come first. Catch, sis!” He tossed the psiblaster over to Donna, who caught it carefully.
“This may take a moment,” she noted.
“You heard her!” Dean nodded to Nathanael. “Time to pummel some monsters!”
“Hey, I’ll take Chimerians over the spawn any day of the week,” Nathanael replied. “But about those normalizers…”
“Damn straight, my man, now we turn them up to max… is what I would say, but this damn shaft has no proper levels or handholds, we’d drop like stones.”
Nathanael pushed himself off the wall and landed on the opposing one, going down on his knees. “Oh, watch me!” He moved his hand to the panel on his suit’s left forearm and swiped the finger from one side to the other.
Dean could hear him breathe in audibly in his mind.
Stretching his legs back out, Nathanael used his momentum to push himself forward, downward. But he didn’t fall. Instead, he sprinted along the wall as if it was down rather than the bottom of the shaft. “Oh yeahhhh!” he yelled. “Gonna mess up some finger-mugs!”
“How is he doing that?!” Dean asked Donna.
“Can’t telepath. Working on crystals,” she thought back at him.
“Well, I’ll take the floaty way then. Without my normalizer way up, I could use some real matter though…”
“Ugh!” Donna sounded in frustration. “Just grab my wrench from my satchel, and don’t bump me.” She had pried open a side-panel on the Chimerian psiblaster, inspecting its insides with the utmost concentration.
As Dean pushed himself to her side, carefully rummaging through her satchel, Kaleb emerged from within the bell, pulling something out of his hoodie’s pouch. He was wearing the wide, white thing over his suit, because he insisted on it being much more snuggly. And for the pouch of course. Just as Dean laid his fingers on the heavy wrench Donna had used more than once to clobber the spawn and Psy beasts and whatnot, the little boy wound up his arm and tossed something purple towards the Chimerians. Shortly after Nathanael tackled one of them to pieces with his heavy, normalized frame, shattering the concentrated Psy they were made from with his destructive real matter body, the purple projectile hit another one, rendering it inert as its whole body turned purple. Its claws let go of the wall and it just limply drifted down the shaft.
“Holy crap, Kaleb, was that a psicrystal?! Where did you get that?” Dean exclaimed, his eyes widening in shock.
“I picked it up when we were on purple world. I like shiny stones!” Kaleb replied defiantly and rummaged through his pouch for another one.
Dean grit his teeth. “Well don’t cut yourself on one, they are for real dangerous. Carlyle will kick me somewhere it hurts if she sees a scratch on you…”
He pushed himself off the bell with as much force as he could muster, propelling himself towards the oncoming Chimerians. “Hope you like wrench, you ugly bastards! Because Dean’s got wrench!”
With Nathanael tearing through the monstrosities and occasional purple projectiles incapacitating the odd one, there wasn’t much for Dean to do once he was in range though. He bonked the head off of one of them, watching it ricochet off the walls, but that seemed to be the last of them. Or so he thought… “Crap, crap, crap!”
A gray wave of Chimerians suddenly erupted from the lower reaches of the tower, dozens of them at once, perhaps more than a hundred even. Even Nathanael thought better of it and turned around, scooping up Dean on the way back up to the bell. Before that, however, Dean managed to grab something that had caught his eye: a blinking panel on one of the dead Chimerian’s paper-like extremity.
When they arrived, Dean hectically transmitted: “Donna, you better hurry up on that psiblaster, we are about to have all the company!”
“Yes, damnit!” she replied, slamming the cover back onto the blaster. “Here, you’ve actually shot the thing before.” She tossed it over to Dean, who caught it thankfully.
“Alright, time for the Kirin to show us how it’s done!” He flicked the priming trigger on the psiblaster and waited a full five-count for it to charge. Then, he pulled the main trigger and blasted the bell. Concentrated, sky-blue awe shot out of the nozzle and struck the bell with significant force, caving the metal in ever so slightly before forcing it to vibrate with overpowering might.
The sound that they could hear only in their minds, that every being within Belfry could hear within their minds, was no sound, but a concentrated emotion in the guise of the audible. The emotion of joy.
All four of them burst into mirthful laughter as they felt a powerful warmth fill them up from the inside. The Chimerians, on the other hand, let out pained mind screeches.
Frenzied by the ringing of the bell, they rushed towards the explorators at top speed, clawing their way up the walls on papery legs. But as they closed in, someone suddenly barred their way: A three meter tall anthropomorphic creature of pink color with eight arms had appeared out of nowhere. It held several of them out towards the Chimerians and fired some sort of pinkish ray at them, disintegrating them instantly.
Dean looked at the others, still grinning with the resounding joy of the bell clinging to his mind. “Is it a Kirin? Or something else?”
“Certainly looks nicer than the Chimerians…” Donna noted, also glowing.
Nathanael seemed more resistant to the heavy grip of overwhelming joy. “You said something like that about the proto-leviathan in sector longing, and that thing almost longed us to death.”
The creature turned around, and its features looked strangely familiar to the group. “It’s me!” it transmitted joyfully, “Orstiklin!”
“Orsti, Klin! You were actually one being?!” Donna asked pleasantly surprised.
“Yes! The silence of the bell split us apart.”
“That’s great!” Dean exclaimed. “I’m… so… happy… for… urgh! Blasted joy! We don’t have time for this! Try to resist the vibe field!”
“Aww, but I like this, it makes me feel nice,” Kaleb protested.
“What’s happening, Dean?” Donna asked, a hint of worry shining through her exuberant expression.
Dean lifted the panel he had pried of the dead Chimerian. “I’ll tell you what’s happening! The damn Chimerian I iced called for spawn reinforcements! Here, take a look at this and tell me if its call got through, Donna!”
Her smile cracked and worry leaked out as she grew paler. “Of course they had to involve the damn swarm!” She snatched the panel out of his extended hand and fiddled around with the screen. “It got through alright… I think they only reached one small troop ship. We’re looking at maybe five, maybe ten spawn…”
“Oh no!” Orstiklin exclaimed woefully. “We cannot fight the swarm. This is how the Chimerians took over last time…”
“Dealing with the spawn…” Nathanael transmitted disgustedly. “Leave those glorified squids to us explorators. You go and take back your city!”
“With pleasure!” In a purple flash, Orstiklin had vanished.
“I like the combined form,” Nathanael noted. “Looks good on them.” Then, after a brief pause: “How screwed are we?”
“Well, I don’t think I can reset Dean’s blaster before the spawn is here, and even though the spawn can’t handle real matter either, they’ll get into our heads before we reach them up close. So… Not great,” Donna admitted.
“Well, we need a plan. I think Kaleb got a bunch of remorse crystals. Would hitting them at range with those work?” Dean asked.
Donna thought about it for a moment. “It just might slow them down long enough to reach them. But it’s a gamble.”
“I’m open to suggestions…”
Nathanael punched his palm in frustration. “Well, after that stunt Orstiklin pulled, we won’t collect any blasters from the Chimerians that dropped here. We could throw the wrench at them though.”
Donna looked him dead in the eye: “No one. And let me repeat myself to be absolutely clear: No one throws my wrench, got it, Nat?”
“Good. Now, we divvy up the remorse crystals as well as these,” she produced a handful of cynicism crystals; the ones she had removed from the blaster.
“But then my blaster won’t work properly after!” Dean protested.
“Not a top priority right now, brother. We can think about replacement crystals later. Now we throw everything we have at the spawn.”
“Except your wrench,” Nathanael noted.
“Except my wrench.”
“Damnit!” Dean exclaimed. They suddenly stood back on the ledge by the hole the white whirl had created: their point of ingress. “Stupid time leaps! It’s like a punch in the gut!”
“You should have turned your normalizers back up,” Nathanael noted. “We actually just climbed back down here. It’s really weird, you guys were talking too for some of it. Don’t you remember it at all?”
Donna rubbed her temples. “It’s weird. Now that you mention it I do a little. Perception is whack here…”
“Turn your suits back up,” Nathanael urged them. “Let’s face them at our best!”
The four nodded at each other and swiped their suits’ normalizer settings from minimum to one hundred percent. Instantly they felt what they perceived to be gravity, and the passage of time no longer seemed murky and jumpy to them, but clear cut and present.
“Oh man, that is a lot better,” Dean sighed. “Do we have eyes on the spawn ship?”
Several hundred meters away, the multi-colored Psy around Belfry folded in on itself, compacting into a three-dimensional whirlpool cascading in on itself, and out of it unfolded a ship the size of a small bus. It was covered in hideously asymmetrical antennae to better absorb and interact with the Psy, and it headed right for them.
“Ready the crystals!” Donna commanded.
They all lifted their throwing arms, holding their left-over ammunition in their other hands for reloading. This was it!
The side of the ship opened and a dark blob erupted from it.
“I don’t like this part…” Kaleb transmitted, moving closer to Donna for shelter.
“It’ll be ok, K… Just throw the stones at the bad eyes, ok?”
The bad eyes appeared. Yellow, round orbs glowing in the artificial darkness that consumed the Psy as it passed through it. They chucked their crystals at them as best they could. But there were only four of them, and at least six pairs of eyes.
They hit three, and those eyes went dark. Some of the darkness dispersed where the spawn had been hit, and writhing masses of tentacles revealed themselves. They were tinted in purple and light-red hues from the psicrystals that had cut into their forms. Temporarily overwhelmed with the forced vibes, they were not sending out their stuff. But at least half of the spawn remained.
“Grr! Keep throwing!” Nathanael called out to them. He dialed his normalizer back to minimum and pushed himself off the wall, hurtling towards the spawn.
“Nathanael!” Dean called out.
But it was too late. Halfway there, Nathanael slowed down. There was a brief moment where he eerily floated in place and everything seemed terribly still. Then he turned around as though rotating on a stick. His face was expressionless and had turned from its beautiful brown tone to a sickly gray, as though he had drowned days ago. His usually lively brown eyes had turned up into his skull and showed only their veiny whites now. His gloves and boots flew off his hands and feet, but instead of revealing them, they gave way to a cloudy stream of black stuff, much like the shroud of the spawn. He opened his mouth and a pale glow shone up from the depths of his bowels.
“Damn psions!” Dean roared with his mind, “If Blueball was here, he’d axe them into sashimi!”
The spawn ship seemed to go into psifold again for a moment as its aft section caved in. Then, the explorators realized that instead a second ship psifolded in, so close to the spawn ship that it ripped the ugly monstrosity in half, taking out the three paralyzed spawn with it.
“It’s the E-3!” Donna exclaimed excitedly.
“Yay!” Kaleb chimed in, hopping up and down on the ledge.
The Ramp of the E-3 slowly folded out of the underside of the magnificent spaceship of the explorators. Its silvery hull reflected the many hues of the Psy around Belfry, and the ring of its mighty reality engines were spinning perpetually around its obround, streamlined bow.
Two figures stood on the extending ramp, stoically. One was wearing Dean’s shawl around their shoulder, the other stood by their side, holding up what looked like an electric fan to make the shawl blow in the wind. The shawl-wearer lifted an all too familiar tomahawk: “Did someone say… axe?”