Ratchet and Clank Future: The Homecoming - Chapter 14

Mukow part 1: Cry of the banshee

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Author: KiwiLombax15

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Day broke over the forests of Elysium. Sunlight flowed over the forests, gilding every leaf with warm gold. It shone through the temple windows, the only hint of the passing of time, and illuminating the central hall.
Where a fierce argument was raging.
"I will not leave them here!"
Jasmine was not in a good mood. Her bruises were still aching, the skin on her face felt uncomfortably tight where the nano-tech had knitted it back together, and now Drake was suggesting this!
"Listen, Jasmine, it makes perfect sense. Why bring the crystals into danger. If they are with us, there is no risk of them being damaged. They will be safe here, I promise you!"
Jasmine growled, but she could see the sense in what Drake was saying. The jump-gate equipment would be safer there, but was she sure she could trust someone who had kidnapped them? Drake seemed nice enough, but she kept getting the feeling he was keeping something from them…
Drake nodded.
"We have a room in the temple we aren't using at the moment. A few Yakunzu birds for added security and they'll be safe as houses, I promise. Tinulaba?"
A stocky purple Zenithi materialised.
"Yes, sir?"
"Please take the jump-gate equipment to the old store room near the eggery. Take some Yakunzu birds with you. Security is top priority"
"Yes, sir'
With extreme reluctance, Jasmine removed the crystals and transmitter from her manifestor and handed them over. The Zenithi wavered for a moment, then was gone. Drake noticed her flinch and patted her reassuringly with his wing.
"Don't worry, Jasmine. They will be safe. Come, we need to locate Ratchet. I think he's exploring the east wing. Clank, are you coming?"
The little robot was huddled against a pillar, sulking. He sighed and got to his feet. So this is what organics mean when they say they feel ill he thought, thoroughly miserable.
Jasmine shook her head sympathetically as they moved away.
"He really has a tough time here, doesn't he?"
"All the more reason to move quicker" said Drake "According to the book, the next crystal is in Mukow. We just have to find Ratchet…"
Who was currently spending an interesting half hour exploring the temple. Everything in the temple seemed purpose built to fascinate the ever curious Lombax, and the naturally friendly Zenithi were only too happy to show off their technology. It was…strange, built of wood and stone, yet clearly advanced, moving with a disquieting smoothness.
He was examining a set of complex scales, when a cry shot through the gold tinted air.
Next thing he knew, he was hauled off his feet, and caught in a crushing embrace.
"Ratchet, it's been years! How are you?"
He was let go, rubbing his aching ribs. He looked up, and nearly fainted.
"Angela? Angela Cross?"
The slim, blond Lombax smiled, blue eyes sparkling.
"I can't believe this! I haven't seen you since the proto-pet incident. What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question. I've been worried about you, Angela. Last I heard you'd disappeared under "mysterious circumstances" What happened?"
"It's kind of a long story…"
"That's OK. Lets hear it"
"Well, a few years back I received a message anonymously . It said that an old relative of mine had tracked me down and wanted to meet me in Polaris. I'd never met any other Lombaxes besides you, so of course I went. But when I got there…" She frowned. "It was a trap. I was lucky Tachyon's troops weren't very bright, but I still barely escaped with my life. I hijacked one of their fighter jets. Really gave them something to worry about!" Her triumphant smile fell off her face. "But I was still outnumbered. They shot me down over Jasindu. I thought that would be the end of it, but they still kept coming! I had no idea where I was, I was hurt, I was scared. I was pretty certain I was going to die. Next thing I knew, I was running right into this big Markazian. Literally! I nearly knocked him over. He heard the Drophyds coming after me and told me to follow him. What choice did I have? It was that or certain death. I don't remember the route we took, I was too scared to pay attention, really. We wound up on this clifftop with this huge robot. I thought it was going to crush us, but Max told the Kerchu operating it to hold off the Drophyds. I guess they must have known each other. He took this big helmety thing off a pedestal, told me to brace myself, then said "dimensionator, find a safe place!" Then this big portal opened up. Just in time, too. One of the Drophyds broke past the Kerchu and opened fire. I felt something hit my stomach, then I passed out. Woke up here a month later. Turns out I nearly died"
"Oh relax. I did say nearly. Anyway, it's my rescuer you should feel sorry for. He-" she broke off, looking past Ratchet's shoulder.
"Oh no, he's lost again"
A Markazian had wandered into the room, an expression of frightened bewilderment on his face. Something about him was familiar… Angela ran forward, gently turning him around.
"You were working in the south east wing, remember, John?"
"I-I was?"
"yes, John, in scale room six"
"Oh…Yes, yes of course. Thank you"
He walked off. Angela turned back to ratchet, nodding in his direction.
"He took a blow to the head somehow. Clipped by a bullet, maybe. I'm not sure. It was after I got hit. He doesn't know who he is or where he came from. Everyone calls him John Doe. I look after him. He gets confused sometimes" she said sadly.
Ratchet was silent for a moment. Then…
"His name is Max Apogee"
Angela's jaw dropped.
"He's and explorer and researcher in historical antiquities" Ratchet continued.
"You…you know him?"
"Not personally, but I know his daughter"
"He has a daughter?"
"Talwyn. We're good friends. She's been looking for him for years"
Angela lowered her ears sadly.
"Poor thing"
There was a moments silence, both lost in thought. Then…
"Well, enough of the blues. What have you been up to, Ratchet?"

Jasmine wound her way down crowded corridors, following Drakes distinctive emerald green scales. She cast a worried look over at Clank, trudging morosely behind her. The diminutive robots green glass eyes seemed cloudy and dull, as though Clank wasn't behind them any more. It was really starting to worry here.
"Hang in there, buddy" she said, trying to raise his spirits. "Not that long to go and you'll never have to set foot in here again!"
He nodded vaguely, eyes focused on nothing. Jasmine sighed, giving up for now. Up ahead she heard Ratchet's voice. She turned a corner and froze, shock stamped on her features. Another Lombax was leaning casually against the wall, a tall, golden female. Her and Ratchet were laughing, obviously sharing a joke. A sharp pang of jealousy flashed across her mind, made all the more unsettling because she wasn't sure why.
"Hey, Ratchet, who's this?" she said, trying to keep her voice cheerful.
Ratchet made introductions.
"Jasmine, this is Angela Cross. Angela, this is Corporal Jasmine Cain. Me and Angela saved the Bogon galaxy a few years back. Long story, I'll tell ya someday"
The two females eyed each other warily. Angela was , frankly, unimpressed. The black furred soldier facing her was small, scruffy and skinny, clad in battered armour. Her smile seemed friendly enough, but there was a hint of coldness in her sharp, purple eyes, and her handshake was bonecrushing.
"Charmed" Angela said, through gritted teeth.
Ratchet chattered on happily, blissfully unaware of the staring contest going on in front of him, Angela and Jasmine glaring daggers at each other. Drakes sharp eyes noted the girls locked gaze, however, and he coughed delicately.
"It is time to go, Ratchet. The next crystal is on Mukow, and we must get it before Kaos catches on to us"
Jasmine nodded, still not taking her eyes off Angela, fighting an irrational impulse to slap her.
"Sure thing, Drake" said Ratchet. "Just let me get my wrench. The other Zenithi don't like me carrying weapons in the temple"
He ran off. Angela's will finally broke under that intense violet stare. She looked down. There was a subtle relaxing in the tense atmosphere. Jasmines fixed smile became smug around the edges. Hah!
Drake broke the awkward silence.
"So, Angela, did you finish the Balance re-alignment in sector three?"
"As much as I could. It's getting harder these days"
"That is to be expected" Drake sighed. "Alas, we-"
"What happened to your tail?"
Angela looked affronted.
"Excuse me?"
"Your tail. Why haven't you got a tail?" asked Jasmine.
The blond Lombax laid her ears back.
"Childhood accident. I don't like to talk about it"
"No need to get huffy, I was just-"
Ratchet came running in, waving his wrench and averting any bloodshed.
"Found it! So are we going or what?"
Clank sighed with relief as Drake nodded.
"It is about time" he said. "The less I see of this-who is that?"
Max Apogee had re-entered the room.
"Forgot the pass-code" he muttered sheepishly.
Drake rolled his eyes
"Come on, John, you know this one. It's Chronos"
He left.
"Max" said ratchet quietly.
"I beg your pardon?"said Drake.
"Not John, Max. Max Apogee"
Clank blinked, surprise temporarily overtaking the cloudiness in his thoughts.
"So that is why he seemed familiar. Him and Talwyn look very much alike! She will be pleased to hear this"
"I'm not telling her" Ratchet said softly.
"What? But he is her father!"
"Talwyns our friend, right?"
"Yes, of course"
"Then what's she done to us, that we should hurt her like this? Can you imagine what that would do to her? "Hey Talwyn, this amnesiac, confused stranger is your father. Happy reunion!" No, it's kinder to her this way"
Clank sighed.
"You are right. Still, I cannot help but feel sorry for her, she has been searching for so long…"
Jasmine interrupted.
"Who's Talwyn?"
"Friend of mine" Ratchet said absently. "Come on, we don't have a lot of time"
They set off, Clank throwing backwards glances at Max Apogee, who was shuffling away, the protective Angela following in his wake like a parent. He shook his head. Poor Talwyn. Perhaps it is better she will never know…
A few minutes later, early morning sunlight shone off Aphelion as she roared away.

Sargasso 0800 hours. Estimated time to reality failure: 5 days.
Kaos carefully leafed through a battered copy of Rare and Unique crystals of Polaris. She had finally tracked one down, but it was old, half the pages falling out as she turned them. It had cost the life of the old bibliophile who owned the book collection, but it was proving to be worth every drop of blood. She could hardly suppress a snicker. The few Blargs not under her complete control thought she had used 'powers' to know what book to find. Hah! Simple logic and deduction had sufficed. Though finding it had been less easy. She read on for a bit, then smiled a thin smile, pressing the button for the intercom.
"Miles, prep the transport, will you? Destination Mukow. Oh, and bring my new pet with you. I want to give it a proper field trial"
She gave a mirthless chuckle.
This should put the cat among the pigeons. Lets see them get out of this one…

Mukow. 0900 hours.
Jasmine wiped her forehead.
"She's gonna be a scorcher today!"
Even this early in the morning, Mukow was warm, promising to be a glorious summer day. Ratchet liked Mukow. It had a pleasant climate, friendly locals, and since the Imperial fight festival had closed, few real dangers. He smiled. This part of the mission was going to be a piece of cake…
Jasmine tapped her scanner in a peeved fashion, willing it to locate the crystal. No luck.
"I'm picking up traces, but that's just it. Traces. Nothing we can use. We could be here awhile"
Ratchet had to agree with her. The flatlands of Mukow stretched from horizon to horizon, miles from civilization.
"It's going to be a needle-in-the-haystack type job, certainly" said Drake, adjusting his grip on Ratchets shoulder. His sharp yellow eyes scanned the horizon, searching for any threat. There was no telling what Kaos was capable of.
Ratchet winced slightly.
"Hey, I don't mind you sitting there, but watch the claws, will ya?"
Drake relaxed his talons.
"Sorry, I'm a little nervous, that's all. Kaos is a very cunning individual. I'm sure she has plans"
"Do not worry, Drake" said Clank. "We are professionals"
Clank was feeling in a very good mood, now he was free of the timeless temple. It felt good to be back in the timeflow again. How the others could stand it he would never-
"Ratchet, we have trouble!" he said.
The lombax spun around.
Clank pointed.
"I saw Blargs just over that hill"
The wind shifted, blowing the sour smell of Blargs towards them. Ratchet could see one ducking out of sight.
"Hey look" Jasmine snickered. "They're running away! Guess our reputation precedes us!"
Drake spread his wings, launching himself skyward. He could see them clearly now, watching the tiny group and talking into communicators, though he couldn't hear what about. He fluttered to the ground.
"They're either scouts for a larger force, or the galaxies most moronic spies" he said. "Honestly, you think they'd at least make an effort to keep hidden-"
A scream split the warm air. It was terrifying, calling to mind ancestral memories of predator, prey, and deadly fangs in the night. It was hunger and malice given voice in one long ululation. It seemed to be everywhere. Ratchet looked around wildly, then noticed Jasmine. She wasn't looking behind her. She was looking up, face slack with terror. He made to run. And steel bands clamped around his chest.
He was aware of Jasmines cry, and Clank falling off him, but only dimly. Most of his attention was focused on the monstrosity holding him. It looked like an Ishkhan. It had the same wedge shaped head and tiny ears, but it was built for flight, born aloft on great, leathery wings. Unlike its ground dwelling cousin, it lacked armour, skin a dull grey, shading to yellowy-white on the underbelly. It focused its evil yellow eyes on Ratchet and screamed again, increasing its grip. The breath rasped in his throat, life flashing before his eyes.
Please, he thought, please can we skip the 8th grade school dance?…

Jasmine groaned in terror. She recognised the thing making off with Ratchet. All Lombaxes did. It was a banshee. Not as invulnerable as Ishkhans due to the lack of armour, but just as deadly. What was is doing here? She quickly derailed that train of thought, scrabbling on the ground for the gun Ratchet had dropped and tossing it to Clank.
"How good a shot are you?"
"I can hold my own in a fight if necassary"
"Good. Brace yourself"
She grabbed hold of him and shot up into the sky, hoverwings whirring. A flash of green in her peripheral vision told her that Drake wasn't far behind.
"Aim for the wing membrane. We need to bring it down carefully. If we just shoot it in the head it might drop him"
Clank nodded and squeezed off a round. There was an unholy shriek as the shot pierced a wing, tearing a large hole. Already the banshee seemed lower in flight. He fired several times in quick succession, learning the hard way that banshees were smarter than ishkhans as it executed a perfect barrel roll out of the way.
The flatlands flew past them, stone outcrops jutting out of the earth as the ground got less grassy and more stony. As it passed one, the banshee lashed out with its bone tipped tail, sending debris flying. Jasmine was nearly swatted from the sky as a huge boulder fell past her mere inches from her face. Smaller rocks peppered her, blinding her with dust and throwing off Clanks aim. He was having an effect though. Little by little, the banshee was losing ground as Clank's shots tore through its wings. But it was too slow. Ratchet's cries were getting weaker under the banshees relentless grip, and it still kept going, despite it's wings resembling swiss cheese.
"It's not working!" Jasmine yelled, swerving around a stone spire. "It won't go down!"
"Don't worry!" Drake called over the rushing wind. "I have a plan!"
He sped forward, straining his wings to the limit, panting for breath. It seemed to take an eternity to catch up, but he finally reached the banshee. Ratchet was semi-concious now, eyelids fluttering as he drifted in and out of wakefulness. The banshee rolled a baleful yellow eye in Drakes direction and let off another chilling shriek, snapping viciously at him. Sunlight glittered off deadly fangs as Drake cheated death by inches. He chose his target, gained height…and dropped, talons flashing.
The banshee roared in pain as the little Zenithi's talons slashed at the banshees face, blinding it in one eye. Drake flew in again, this time aiming for the banshees soft throat.
Jasmine was very impressed. He looked like a sneeze could knock him over, yet the valiant little creature had charged into the fray with no hesitation. His small teeth and claws weren't doing much, but they were distracting the beast, allowing Clank to pound away at the creatures wings. It was dropping height rapidly. Jasmine increased speed, ignoring the protesting whine from her hover-wings, face grim. She hoped she wasn't too late…
Through the red hot haze of pain, Ratchet was aware of a drop in speed. The monster carrying him loosened its grip slightly, allowing life-giving oxygen into his lungs. Head clearing, he spotted the reason why. The banshees wings looked like intricate lace, filled with dozens of holes. One eye was closed, weeping blood, and numerous scratches and bites showed up on its throat. Drake flew along next to it, harassing it constantly. Transferring the half crushed Lombax to one paw, it landed. A short word, but one that contained a lot of incident. Trying to land with one paw, it ploughed up a huge swath of grass and stone, sending gravel flying. Ratchet yelled in pain as the jolting set red-hot streaks of pain along his abused ribs.
It finally ground to a halt, tail lashing in fury. For a moment, it let Ratchet go. Scarcely able to believe his luck, he bolted. For about a metre. The banshees huge, heavy talons knocked him flat, pinning him to the ground. Hissing like a steam kettle, it raised the other paw, readying for the final blow. Ratchet closed his eyes in preparation for the end…and the was a sound like someone punching a slab of meat. He cautiously opened one eye. The creature was frozen, remaining eye glazing over. It gave a final hiss before slumping, one of Jasmines wrench blades buried in the base of its skull. Jasmine stood on a hill top, arm still raised from her throw, face stony.
"Sorry that took so long" she said, heading down towards him. "I had to get close enough for a good throw"
She and Clank tugged him out from under the dead monsters claws with some difficulty.
"W-what was that thing?" said Ratchet, swaying slightly.
"A banshee. So called cuz when you hear the scream, you're dead. Don't bother looking behind you, it'll already be overhead. We have got to find out how she's doing this"
She turned and walked away, clambering up onto the dead banshee so she could get her wrench back. A flutter of wings behind him informed Ratchet that Drake had landed.
"This isn't good for our side, is it?"
Drake consulted the golden disc by his side.
"On one hand, yes, bringing that creature here had shifted the Balance in favour of Kaos, but on the other hand, we have killed it, moving the Balance back our way. I'd say it it all evens out. Still, if she can bring these through, who knows what else? We will take a break for now, however. You've been through a lot. Some time to recover would be in your best interest"
He slumped gratefully, treated to a very entertaining few minutes as Jasmine attempted to retrieve her wrench blade, lodged deep in the banshees skull. It finally came free with a sucking noise, sending her tumbling to the ground. Glaring at Ratchet and wordlessly daring him to laugh, she wiped her blade clean and twisted the two halves together, leaving her with one long wrench again.
"we taking a break are we?" she said, sitting down next to Ratchet and Clank.
"You lot are. I'm going to do some reconnaissance. Those Blarg we saw earlier may have tracked us. You stay here, I'll report back later with any findings"
"Hang on"
Jasmine unclipped the scanner from her gauntlet, casting around until she found a long enough piece of grass. A few deft knots later she had a crude necklace, which she slipped over Drakes head.
"If that beeps, come let me know"
She turned to Ratchet and took a bottle of nano-tech solution out of her storage compartment, soaking a scrap of cloth in it.
"Right, this'll sting"
"Warned ya"
Drake slipped away, camouflaged in the long green grass. Every sense strained to the limit as he scanned for danger. As he went further, the landscape changed., becoming less grassy and more rocky. It was far from barren, however. Soft moss and heather grew underclaw, and the air was full of the squeaks and chirps of hidden fauna. In the dense tapestry of sound, however, was a noise that didn't quite fit. The soft, distinctive 'whu-ump' of displaced air. Drakes keen nose picked up the unmistakable warm, spicy scent of a Zenithi, barely noticeable. He quickly identified it.
"Aeon, your involvement with this mission ended when you and your team brought them in. Why are you not at your post of Rykan V?"
The blue-green Zenithi stepped out from behind a rock.
"I apologize, lord, but I need to talk to you. Something weighs heavy on my mind"
"What is your concern?"
Aeon paused for a moment, clearly unwilling to say what was on his mind. Finally, he blurted out:
"I think you are making a mistake, lord"
Like all Guardians before him, Drake encouraged freedom of thought and expression among his subjects. Blind obedience led to rigidness of thought, not a good thing considering the complex and delicate nature of their missions. Drake nodded to himself, pleased to see the tradition upheld.
"Why is that?"
"They are Lombaxes, lord! Brash, impulsive, hot-headed-"
"Brave, noble and loyal. Trust me, Aeon. I know what I am doing"
"But we haven't even heard of a plan yet! What are you going to do?"
"We must restore the Lombaxes and replace the Balance. This should buy us time and weaken Kaos. After that, well, we shall have to see"
Aeon reeled in shock.
"You mean you're-you're going to wing it?"
"Well, look at what careful planning gets us. Every century we have to do the bloody thing all over again. Perhaps it is time for a change in tactics"
"You risk all for some wild idea? Are we not still feeling the repercussions from your last mistake?"
He'd gone too far. Aeon mostly saw Drake as a vague green presence, leaving the temple only on mission. On the rare occasions he saw him, Drake was gentle and soft-spoken, with a perpetual good natured expression on his serpentine face. Now those warm yellow eyes blazed with volcanic fury as Drake hissed in rage, tail lashing in the dust, fangs bared.
"You dare? I am the leader, Aeon. Or have you forgotten that? I make the decisions, I give the orders, and you follow them! I don't mind feedback and reinterpretation, but the final word is still mine! Return to Rykan V at once before I court-martial you for desertion of your post! That is an order!"
Aeon made the submission pose of the Zenithi, wings flat on the ground and head twisted, exposing the neck.
"I hear and obey, lord"
He vanished.
Drake breathed deeply, struggling with his emotions. Painful memories welled up. He tried to suppress them, but Zenithi are cursed with an eidetic memory. He couldn't forget if he tried. Sighing softly, he continued with his scouting.

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