PATCHES THE IMMORTAL: PART TWO
As Patches lay dying, her life did not flash before her eyes. It swam.
As the last, dim spark of light faded from her shattered body, Patches remembered the first time she swam. In her first year on planet Earth, Patches had grown from a tiny, trembling kitten to an agile young huntress. The sunlight gleamed in the luster of her soft white fur between the blotches of coffee and chocolate colors in her calico coat. She had grown large enough to take down a bird from time to time. Anything smaller than her on the ground was child’s play.
But lately, the birds had found less fatal places to eat besides her hunting ground. So, she began scouting small human encampments. She smelled meat. Patches had no idea her forest, the same one she had crawled to from the wreckage so long ago, bordered on a State Park. But, she knew meat when she smelled it. Campers always brought food.
The scent of dogs nearby held Patches low to the ground, and still. The group of humans under her watchful eyes today had all kinds of food. An aromatic feast called to her. Scanning the campsite, she found all the humans gathered at a small fire a few meters past the far side of a picnic table. Between Patches and the picnic table stood only a couple meters of flat, grass-covered ground. It looked like an easy run, but for a moment she would be in plain sight and unprotected. She could make it.
She lifted her belly only slightly from the ground, quickly wiggled her hindquarters three times, and shot into the clearing. One meter. Clear. Two meters. Jump! Onto the top of the picnic table she jumped, landed, and skidded to a stop. So many scents! A plate of raw chicken marinated in lemon and garlic. Stale beer in an open can drew tiny gnats and flies. Patches snapped up an entire package of beef jerky in her teeth and turned to face the forest again.
At the sound of her skidding on the tabletop, a large dog perked up his ears. Past the humans at their fire, his head shot up from a clump of bushes. His eyes grew wide when the calico cat on the picnic table came into focus. He barked the instant Patches leapt off the table.
Patches hit the ground running. The dog bolted past the humans. Patches had a good lead. One meter. Clear. Two meters. Clear! Into the forest she ran as fast as her legs could carry her.
But the hound kept on running, too. Patches heard two more barking voices join the fray. The startled sounds the humans made drifted quickly into the distance, but the barks grew closer with every meter.
If Patches had stopped to think, she would have died. But she did not think. She ran. She ran like hell. And then, she almost ran out of forest. Directly in her path stood a tree. It had grown at an angle, like a ramp, twenty meters into the air. The tip of its main trunk extended out and over an enormous river running perpendicular to Patches’ path. Patches could turn either left or right and follow the river. Or, she could stay full speed ahead.
As Patches’ front paws fell to meet the trunk of this questionable escape route, teeth gripped her left back leg and yanked her into the air. Bash! Her head struck the ground as a tooth scraped the bone in her leg. Her claws sunk into something soft and the dog opened his mouth to howl. His two companions had closed in to just a couple of meters.
Thick bulbs of blood welled up from the lacerations in Patches’ leg. As she regained her footing, a sudden gush of adrenaline poured into her system. She felt nothing but keenly alert. The dog lunged at her again as her world came into sharp focus. In one jump, she scooped up the bag of stolen beef jerky in her mouth and hit the tree trunk running.
By the time the dog had turned around, she was meters up the trunk already. Like a white and cocoa blur, she ran until there was no tree left to run. Then, she leapt into the air.
The river looked up at her from twenty meters down and foamed. It watched her paws kick wildly as if she tried to fly, and it laughed. She hung like a cloud for the smallest part of a second. Then, the river swallowed her up.
It bashed her into a rock. Patches kicked out wildly towards what she hoped was the surface. She gasped a breath of air before plunging down again. She held her breath until white stars begin to explode before her closed eyes. For a second or two, before she lost consciousness, she calmly watched this imaginary light show floating with a strange detachment.
Then, the river spat her up. Patches found herself in the midst of a wide but calm stretch of the river, far around the bend, out of earshot from the dogs. Only seconds could have passed, but the river had sped her far, far away. And to her surprise, the bag of beef jerky popped up right beside her on the water. She snapped it up and paddled towards the shore.
Once out of the cold water, the pain in her leg began to howl. Limping, she dragged the bag of meat to a small cavern of roots and dirt by the shore. She held the plastic bag down with one paw and ripped it apart with her teeth.
Water. She knew it could kill her. It also carried her away to safety, like some magic power. Patches thought of other things she feared. She wondered if everything scary had some kind of magic power, too. She had learned to thrive on land. She had dared water and come out on top. What else could one cat possibly conquer on this planet?
Patches lifted her head, peering into the boundless blue sky above her.
As the gravity of the Ghost Moon pulled in The Queen Anne’s Revenge, Meteor Mags kicked free from her seat. “Hang tight, Tarzi,” she shouted from across the cabin where she landed. “You don’t want to slam into something when free fall is over.”
Patches’ body lifted off the ground like a specter. Mags scooped her up. “Take Patches and get ready to bring her to me.”
“Got her.” Tarzi held Patches close as Mags kicked off again, crossing the length of the cabin. She brought her arms together over her head in a diving posture. Tarzi watched her fly to the armory in the back. “What the hell do you mean we hit them with the GravGens, anyway?”
The walls of the ship had rails and handholds placed in strategic places for getting around in zero gravity environments. They never got used when the GravGens were running. Mags gripped one tightly in her left hand at the door to her armory.
She pulled open a panel on the wall with her right hand. Without any power running to the electronic entry, Mags accessed her armory with a manual combination lock. She quickly spun the wheel of the lock first one way and then the other. “They took out our weapons power, so I got more power. And the only place to get it was the GravGens. How do you think they generate the gravitational field on the ship so we’re not always upside down or floating around?” Mags ran the combination through the first ten prime numbers in the repeating decimal of pi.
“I barely know how an electric car works, auntie!”
“Well, when I spliced those cables, we hit them with all the charge in our batteries plus all the gravity waves the damn things could generate in one pulse. We’re lucky we’re not in the middle of a black…” The Queen Anne’s Revenge suddenly began to accelerate. “Damn it, we’re going into this upside down! Get ready to bring me Patches.”
Mags pulled open the armory door. She pushed herself away from the wall towards the back of the armory. Mid-flight, the increasing acceleration slammed her into back wall. She slid down the wall towards the inverted ceiling. “Oof! Now or never, Tarzi!” Steadying herself with another handhold, Mags flipped three latches and yanked open a panel on the wall.
“Here we come!” Tarzi cradled Patches’ limp body in his arms as he bolted across the ceiling at his feet. “Let me grab on here,” he said, standing next to Mags. Then his eyes grew wide. “Mags, where did you get that?”
“Fuckin’ nice, isn’t it?” From the open compartment on the wall, Mags slid out a large chamber on a rack. The chamber looked much like an iron lung.
“There’s only twelve people in the system who can afford a stasis unit.” Tarzi had read about them but never seen one in person.
“That’s why I didn’t pay for it, LOL! Now help me get her in there before we catch fire.” The stasis unit was a cylinder, with half of it opening on a set of hinges on the longest axis. Mags pulled it open by a handle.
“Catch… what? That’s the plan?”
Taking Patches from Tarzi, Mags strapped her in place inside the stasis unit as gently as she could. She stood with her back to Tarzi as she explained. “I have an emergency backup, but we’re going to have to unsplice those wires, hook up the GravGens and the power right, and give it about five minutes to charge.”
“And we’ve got time to do all that before we turn into a blazing fireball?”
“If not, then we’ll die like dogs. With blood on our teeth and hate in our eyes.”
Tarzi stared at her for a moment. “Auntie… did I ever tell you how much I admire your sensitive way of saying things?”
Mags’ hands tensed their grip on the chamber for a second, and then she chuckled. “STFU, you idiot.” She sniffed and wiped a tear from her eye. It fell from her glove and dropped to the ceiling at her feet.
Tarzi put his hand on her shoulder. “I read these units can keep someone on the edge of death for as long as five years. If there’s anything we can do for her…”
Mags crossed one arm in front of her and brought her hand up to rest on Tarzi’s. “I’m sorry, dear, but I haven’t had time to charge this one since I… well, picked it up off a mean old geezer who won’t be needing it.” Mags closed the unit and began flipping latches into place all down its length. “She’s got more like five hours.” Mags pressed a button, and the chamber, running on its own battery, came to life with a low hum.
“There,” she said. “Now, let’s see if we can get out of this without dying.”
As Mags and Tarzi began rewiring her impromptu gravity laser, the crew of the slaver command ship had its talons full as well.
“Seal off the damage!” ordered Commander Cragg. The blast had spared him and the officers on deck, but had decimated the ship. It turned them head over heels again and again.
Major Karn called out, “Commander, it’s more than a third of the ship.” He struggled to read the numbers on the screen before him as the ship hurtled away from the Ghost Moon end over end. “Safety airlocks engaged, but we have failures in sector… sector…”
“Nevermind! Do we have engine power?” asked Cragg.
“We have backup power to essential life support! Engine control may have been knocked out by that blast. Trying to get them online, sir!”
Cragg hissed and seethed. “Curses!” He dug his talons into his seat. Though his ship spun out of control, he knew he would survive. If they could seal off the damaged wreckage, the vacuum of space would extinguish the fires. Another ship would come to find them. But, Cragg also knew the High Council would not take the loss of his command ship lightly.
“Damn you, Meteor. Damn you to hell.”
The Queen Anne’s Revenge began to burn. “Do you have it reconnected?” asked Mags.
The ship’s angle had turned. They hurtled through the upper atmosphere of the Ghost Moon on their side. “I think so!” Tarzi smacked his head into a panel. “GAH! This would be hard enough right side up!”
Mags reviewed Tarzi’s attempt to reconnect the power cables in the GravGens. “Looks good! I got the main power lines and weapons spliced back together.” Mags grunted with exertion as she slammed the levers back in place. She wiped the back of her glove across her forehead. “Damn, it’s hot. Get back in your seat!”
Tarzi scrambled for his seat. He jumped as it jutted out at a 45-degree angle from above him.
“Let me help you.” Mags got under Tarzi and pushed him up towards the seat. Out the front window of The Queen Anne’s Revenge, a white hot fireball blazed as the outer hull screamed through the stratosphere.
“Strapped in!” Tarzi held down a hand to Mags. She took it and steadied herself as she climbed up into her seat.
Mags whispered. “Either that backup battery completes a charge cycle or we cook alive, dear. Let’s hope it’s not the…”
KZZZT. KZZZZT. The ship’s radio crackled.
“What the…” Tarzi turned the volume dial. “We must be picking up something on the passive antenna. Listen!”
Mags shielded her eyes from the blinding flare of fire outside as the acceleration pushed them back into their seats.
“Four minutes! Hang on!”
KZZZT. KZZZZZT. Through the static came a voice. “final record of my li…. ..ab …is machine can heal… all manner of… it can end… KZZZT.”
“What’s it saying?” asked Mags. “There can’t be anybody down there. Who is that?”
KZZZT. The radio buzzed. “…al record of my life…”
“No, listen,” said Tarzi. “It’s like a looped message. He just said that.”
KZZZZZT. “…this machine can heal … anners of sickness and disease…. KZZT.”
“Did you hear that Tarzi? It’s about some medical machine! Maybe there is a hospital on the surface with some equipment that still works. We have to check it out.”
“Based on someone’s ten thousand year-old voice mail? Jesus, auntie, talk about a long shot.”
Mags grabbed a handful of Tarzi’s shirt at his shoulder. “By the time we pull out of this and get anywhere, that stasis unit is going to run out of time! We have to do anything we can to save Patches! We have to!”
“Okay, okay! Just let me… OW!” Tarzi pulled back his hand from the console. “We’re burning up in here Mags. I can’t even touch anything!”
“Give me your shirt. Do it!”
Tarzi peeled off his shirt and thrust it at Mags. She wrapped it around the main control wheel. “There! At least when the engines kick back on, I won’t cook my hands like a steak. Hang on, Patches.”
The Queen Anne’s Revenge carved a blazing trail through the moon’s sky. Had anyone been alive to see it, they might have made a wish on it like a shooting star. But, no one at all lived on the Ghost Moon – not even the owner of the distant voice crackling over the radio again and again, repeating its litany about some strange machine.
Tarzi felt an elephant standing on his ribs and organs. The skin on his face pulled into an involuntary grimace. I am going to die, he thought, I am going to die. He fought to close his eyelids against the inferno raging mere meters from his face. The acceleration only intensified, pulling his eyes wide open. He stared against his will into the heart of a sun. His pupils ached from constricting against the glare. The speed whipped the tears from his eyes. He screamed back into the face of hell.
KACHUNK! The LED’s on the control panel blinked on, then off, then back on. The computerized systems whirred as they began booting up. Tarzi only heard the sound of his scream. He stopped, but the scream kept going. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” He looked out the corner of his eye. Mags’ grey eyes behind her sunglasses stared involuntarily ahead. Her lips stretched back from her teeth in a terrible snarl, the side of her face caked with blood and streaked with tears. And then, he realized she was laughing.
Pulling herself forward by her grip on the control wheel, Mags leaned towards the control panel. She let go with her right hand, flinging it at the lever to bring the ship’s engines up to full power. The engines roared to life.
Tarzi screamed again as Mags poured on the power and accelerated into their descent. She knew she could never brake in time, so she steered into it. Mags wrestled the controls to level out the ship as Tarzi felt himself crushed even further into his seat. The Queen Anne’s Revenge began to settle into a smooth curve. It slowly pulled up, up, up from its nightmarish descent. Tarzi saw white lights exploding in a black sea before his eyes and knew he was losing consciousness.
The next thing he knew, Mags was shaking him gently. “Tarzi. Tarzi. Wake up. Wake up.” Mags snapped her fingers in front of his face.
Tarzi swatted her hand away. “Ugh. Are we dead yet? I certainly hope so.”
“No,” Mags laughed, “but you are never going to believe what I found down here. Come have a look.”
END PART TWO