The Joneses #20

Gotta Serve Somebody

Wolf walked with Holly through the strange ecologies of Cheryl’s manufactured world. They came to what looked like a forest edge with a babbling creek running through it. Odd birds hopped about pecking at the grubs that burrowed through the underbrush. A thing resembling a rabbit snuffled among the fallen leaves. A bird landed next to it. The rabbit reared up on its hind legs and sunk its fangs into the bird and dragged it into its hutch.
“That’s what I’d expect from a world created by Ellers,” Wolf said, watching the rabbit eat the bird.
He waited for a reaction from Holly. She was quiet. She walked a step or two behind Wolf with her arms folded, looking at her feet. Wolf began to hum tuneless noises.
“Is this a ‘we need to talk’ moment,” Holly said, breaking her silence.
“That’s your mother’s department. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m not the one to be giving responsibility lectures or whatever I’m supposed to be doing as a parent right now.”
“Is that what you are?”
“I don’t know. What am I supposed to do? I was never parent material before I entered the program and wasn’t supposed to even be able to be one after. I’m winging this here. Your mother is too. All we ever knew how to do was hunt people for money and then we had a kid we weren’t supposed to be able to have.”
“I know. I was an accident. You’ve both been clear about that since I could cogitate.”
“Not sure what that last word means, but, okay, you were an accident, but we’re both happy it happened. It’s just that when it happened everyone freaked out and the next thing you know deaths are being faked, we’re changing our names, hiding in an asteroid around Saturn and we’re shooting people to support our family.”
“Part of the solution was to lock me away?”
“It was fine when you were a kid, you didn’t know any different, but one day we turn around and you’re a teenager who wants a life of her own, it felt like we didn’t even have time to prepare for that.”
“It was half a century.”
“They grow up so fast.”
Holly glared at Wolf.
“Hey look, it’s not like you ever voiced your opinion on it,” Wolf said.
“It true I didn’t know the difference. Not until we had to fight the Demiurge.”
“Then you got your taste. Don’t think I don’t get it. What your mother and me are a little upset about is, you say nothing, you just mope around for a year, then run off with one of the only bounties that ever got away. I mean, it’s not like you fucked my wife, but it’s in the ballpark.”
“Ugh, dad. You couldn’t think of a better analogy?”
“No. It’s right in that neighborhood,” Wolf waved his hands around.
“I’m sorry it was Lovelace, she just happened to be the one who opened the door.”
“I get it. I would’ve done the same impulsive shit when I was your age...53. I’m proud really.”
“Yeah, got a bug up your ass and jumped headlong into what you saw as a solution without worrying about the risks,” Wolf faked clearing a tear, “Just like your old man.”
“Oh God,” Holly’s eyes widened, “That does seem like something you’d do.”
“Hasn’t killed me yet.”
“It's the first time I’ve done something without calculating the odds. It was this overwhelming urge, like I wanted something more than I knew I did and odds be damned I went for it. I didn’t have a thought in my head I just did it.”
“Preaching to the choir.”
“Thanks for understanding and not reading me the riot act.”
“Thanks for giving me something to rub in your old lady’s face.”
“That our only child turned out much more like me than her.”
“I’m a genetic average of the both of you.”
“Your mother is going to be a little more difficult. Her feelings are hurt, whereas I don’t have any. But, I can prime the pump for you if you want me to.”
“That’s not another gross innuendo is it?”
“No, dirty minded child, I’ll tell her what we talked about.”
A deer came bounding out of the woods and stood before them. It opened its mouth.
“Band meeting,” Cheryl’s voice came out, “Engelbert’s here.”

Wolf and Holly entered Cheryl’s lab. Ray and Cheryl were talking. Luna was leaning against the wall watching them enter, her arms folded, and Lovelace was slumped in a chair, her feet on a workbench and bouncing a ball against the floor and off the wall, catching it on the ricochet.
“I just dropped the cloak,” Cheryl said, “He’ll be here as soon as he waddles his mechanical ass off his ship.”
“Okay, kid,” Lovelace said to Holly as she stood, “You’re with me.”
Luna gritted her teeth.
“Lacey,” Cheryl said, gesturing her over with her head.
She whispered in Lovelace’s ear. She nodded
“You too, mama,” Lovelace said to Luna, “We’re on Team Two.”

Lovelace led Holly and Luna down a series of corridors that led to the hangar bay. Inside was a ship the size of a small moon. It looked like it was cobbled together over centuries, appearing like a spacefaring, shanty, fishing village that never stopped growing.
“What is that?” Holly asked.
“Engelbert’s ship,” Lovelace said, “Our job is to get into his computer systems. Cher found evidence that Engelbert was contacted from outside the galaxy and that it may have been approaching anomalies. We have to figure that out.”
“What am I here for?” Luna asked.
“We’re probably going to have to do a lot of fighting. You fight, so you’re on my team. And you could do with a mommy/daughter activity, or whatever the hell she said.”
“What does she think that will accomplish? I am supposed to feel better about kidnapping my daughter because she schedules us a therapy session?”
“I don’t know, Jones, I’m a seraph, the consequences of human breeding are none of my business.”
Luna drew her pistol and gestured for Lovelace to lead the way.

They boarded the ship but were met with no resistance. It seemed empty, not even a security robot came to greet them.
“So far so good?” Holly asked.
“Weird is what it is,” Lovelace replied, “Nobody even watching the door.”
She placed her hand on a panel and fountains of violet energy sprung out from her hands in arcs and threaded their way into the wall.
“There’s nobody here,” Lovelace said after a moment, “The ship's empty. He came alone.”
“He had a crew when he offered us the bounty,” Luna said, “Where did they go.”
Lovelace bowed her head and closed her eyes like she was listening.
“Fired,” she said.
“The whole crew. They all left in lifeboats before he got here,” she opened her eyes and looked at Holly, “I got this. Why don’t you and your mom have some family drama time?”
Lovelace dematerialized.

Lovelace floated through a landscape of evolving forms and images, scattered over everything she could see.
“It’s a mess in here,” she thought, “I would take a century to defrag this.”
She flew along scanning the morphing shapes pulsing around her. Some shapes were connected to each other by thin, blue strands. Other shapes were bound together by thick, blue tethers. She placed her finger against one of the blue strands. She closed her eyes. After a moment she shook her head and grimaced.
“There’s no structure to anything. How is anybody supposed to find anything in here?”
She ran each of her fingers along handfuls of the blue cords, like she was combing her hands through long hair. Her face moved between concentration and disbelief. She combed through more and more desperate fistfuls, becoming the average of annoyed and frantic. She stopped and pulled up a wad of the glowing blue roots. She pressed her finger into them. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped.

“I talked to dad,” Holly said to Luna, “He’s not mad.”
“I’m not either,” Luna replied.
“You’re not?”
“I’m hurt. You’re my daughter and you didn’t feel like you could talk to me about something bothering you and then you run off with a criminal.”
“I didn’t plan it. I just saw an opportunity and jumped.”
“You sat on your feelings for a year, grousing. Ever since we got back from the past. Why didn’t you say something before you got to the point where you needed to jump out of any open window you could find?”
“I thought you would just tell me it was ‘for my own good’. I didn’t want to hear that again. I didn’t want to be dismissed again. I don’t want to leave you and dad, I like what I do, but I need other things.”
“I know. It’s easy to forget how old you really are. At least it was Ellers on the other end of the invitation and not someone like Yalda. It was reckless. You scared me.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m happy you’re safe. You, your father, and I can talk about how to handle this in a way that makes everyone happy.”
A cloud of criss-crossing violet and blue strands flew from the wall and stopped and floated behind them. It materialized into Lovelace.
“We need to warn the others,” she said, running from the ship.

“Hey, it’s you,” Wolf said, to Engelbert as he clanged toward them, “Sorry we had to punt the bounty, but you know, plans change. Situations change.”
“I calculated your betrayal Joneses,” Englebert said.
“Wouldn’t I have to have been on your side first, before I could betray you?”
“The Professor has a limited vocabulary,” Cheryl said.
“Humph,” Engelbert waddled forward, “Your barbs have become drearily predictable, Ellers.”
“Your attempts to kill me have become predictable.”
“I admit, my earlier attempts were driven by ego, this time, however, is driven by purpose.”
“Which is?” Ray asked.
“Divine, Director, divine purpose.”
“That’s never a problem,” Wolf drew his pistol.
“Put away your toy, Jones, it’s quite useless against me. I’ve been charged by the masters to clear the way for their arrival.”
“Those clouds approaching the galaxy? Are they your masters?” Cheryl asked.
“They are not clouds, they are beings beyond your feeble comprehension.”
“And by ‘clear the way’ I assume that’s supervillain talk for kill us?” Wolf asked.
“Congratulations, Jones, you’re the second smartest person in the room,” Engelbert said.
“I’m first,” Cheryl blurted, “Too late, called dibs.”
“Jest if you like. You are powerless before the Old Ones.”
“That why do they need a broken down machine like you to clear us out of the way?” Ray asked.
“It’s to be my final act in this life,” Engelbert hit a switch on his carriage and low hum increased in pitch.
“It’s a suicide mission,” Wolf said.
“Oh right, he’s a religious nut now,” Cheryl said, “I forgot about the ‘divine’ part.”