Praetorian Guard outpost. 0400 hours.
General Cross padded down dark corridors. Most of the Guards were asleep in the barracks by now, but he had been unable to rest, thoughts and fears swirling in his head. He quietly opened the door to the Exodus room and peeked in. At the back of the room a soft glow cut the darkness. He approached stealthily, then stopped and sighed. Ginger was slumped over the keyboard of her computer, glasses askew, snoring softly. General Cross gently shook her awake.
"nnnf, guh, wuh…General!" She sat up, grabbing for her glasses, but succeeding only in knocking over her half-finished coffee. "What are you doing down here this late?"
"I could ask you the same question. You're working too hard, Ginger" He said gently. "There's no shame in taking a day off. You've done all you can here, now it's just a matter of time"
She finally managed to get hold of her glasses.
"I know, I know, it's just…I can't stand-"
She nodded, ears drooping.
"I thought, if I could find some way of sending help through it would go faster"
General Cross smiled.
"That's a very noble thought, Ginger, but I'm sure Jasmines doing fine by herself"
The look on Gingers face indicated she was not sure at all.
General Cross looked at the screen.
"Where do you think she is now?"
She thought for a bit.
"Well, if the orbits are right, the closest planet with a crystal should be…"
"Jasindu?! Are you insane?"
Jasmine gave Ratchet an odd look.
"Yeah, Jasindu. It's the only known source of Tendrillite. Why, whats wrong?"
Ratchet gritted his teeth.
"No, no! The Kerchu!"
She gave him a blank look.
"Possibly the most irritable race in the whole galaxy. Agorians give these guys a wide berth"
"Ohh, those Kerchu!"
"You still have no idea what I'm talking about, right?"
"Look, all you need to know is they're nasty pieces of work that'll kill you soon as look at you"
Jasmine gave a snort of derision.
"Dude, you should see some of the things I've had to take on! Besides, it's not like we have much of a choice"
"She is right, Ratchet. If we want tendrillite, we have to go there, Kerchu or no Kerchu"
Ratchet shot Jasmine a glare.
"Fine, you win, we'll go. Just don't blame me if you get killed. Aphelion?"
"Warp drive to Jasindu. Let's get this over with…"
The ship shivered for a bit, hung motionless, then rocketed off at a stomach-churning speed. Jasmine shut her eyes, trying to block out the sight of the tunnel opening in warp-space. It was far too similar to the Jump-gate for her liking…
Ratchet shuddered inwardly as the ship approached Jasindu airspace.
"Aphelion, exit warp-space. Prepare for stealth mode" he steeled himself. "We're goin' in"
Aphelion landed softly, barely raising a cloud of dust. Priming his weapon, Ratchet carefully exited his ship, Clank locked securely into his harness. After a while Jasmine slid out, landed in a heap on the ground and threw up.
"Yeah, hyper-space travel can really take it out of you if you're not used to it" Ratchet said breezily.
"Normally, I'd advise resting for awhile, but we need to get moving. There could be Kerchu's around every corner"
Jasmine got shakily to her feet, cursing Ratchet, Aphelion, warp-drive and the universe in general. She brushed off the dust, then looked up. And stopped. And stared.
"Jasmine?" Ratchet turned around. "Are you OK?" She was gazing around her with an expression of rapt wonder. Ratchet really didn't blame her. It might have death everywhere, but Jasindu really was a beautiful planet. Plants grew everywhere, tall trees and creeping vines, with huge blooms that knocked you over with their scent.
"It's so beautiful…" she said, stroking a large blue flower.
"Haven't you seen flowers before?"
"No" she said softly. "Ice and stone. That's what I grew up with. That's all I've ever known"
"I'm sorry to pop your bubble but we need to move, Jasmine. I had Aphelion in stealth mode but the locals are bound to have noticed something"
She shook herself.
"Right, sorry. According to my sheet, Tendrillite's usually found near cliffs and mountains"
Ratchet motioned north-wards.
"There's some cliffs over this way. Follow me"
Jasmine took one last look around her, before disappearing into the forest.
Fleena struggled against her bonds, growling. The Kerchu was the youngest captain of the Military in years, and one of the highest trained. Nothing was able to stop her, which made her situation worse as one single opponent had overwhelmed her. A shadow fell across her.
"Here, kitty kitty kitty!" There was a grating laugh. The tall Blargian bounty hunter aimed a kick at her helpless ribs and chuckled, sending a gust of stale breath washing over her. She snapped out an insult in the guttural Kerchu language.
"Now, now, sweetheart, no need to be like that.This is just temporary" he said, motioning at the destruction around them. The remainder of the bandit fleet had regrouped and now waged war on the Kerchu city. There had been no warning. It was a massacre. She switched to the galactic all-tongue.
"Why do you do this?"
"It's not my fault, honey. I got orders, see? Gotta follow orders, you know how it is"
"We have done nothing! Let me go! I demand to speak to your leader!"
The Blarg scowled, and raised his boot for another kick.
A raider was running up to him.
"This better be good, man"
"We detected the ship you told us to look for! It went into stealth mode but I'm pretty sure it landed on Jasindu. You want me and my boys to take 'em?"
"Yeah, you do that. Hmmm, reckon I may just come with ya"
He swaggered off. Fleena huddled on the cobbles, head reeling. Few people went near Jasindu, so it could be days before this attack went noticed. They were helpless. Only one option presented itself, and it was not one she liked. It went against her training, her upbringing and her instincts, but on the other hand, as the old ones said, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"
Neck muscles screaming in protest, she lowered her head and began tearing at her bonds with her sharp incisors.
Jasmine snarled in anger as she tore at the vine that had tripped her and tangled her ankle. It might be beautiful, but the jungle was rapidly getting on her nerves. There seemed to be nothing there that didn't bite, scratch, sting or all three together. This was the fourth time she'd wound up eating dirt since they'd started walking.
"Do not worry Jasmine" Clank said. "We should be there shortly"
"We damn well better" she said softly.
Ratchets ears perked up.
"What was that?"
"So, what exactly does Tendrillite look like?" Ratchet said.
"It's..well it's vaguely green, kind of yay big" she held her hands about 2 inches apart "and sorta hexagonal"
Ratchet gave her a Look.
"You'll know it when you see it, trust me"
They stepped into a clearing, blinking in the light. A stony cliff rose up above them.
Clank detached himself from his harness and wandered over to it.
"How are we supposed to climb that?"
"You won't need to. I got this one covered"
She crouched low on the ground, bracing herself.
The hoverwings unfolded. shooting her up like a rocket. Ratchet was impressed. Unlike his wild ride, Jasmine handled the wings like she'd been born with them, effortlessly moving in all directions, scanning the rock face with a beam from her wrist communicator.
"Any luck?" he called out.
"None!" It was hard to hear her voice from the dizzying height she had flown to. "The whole cliff is empty!"
"That's OK! I know where there's…" He froze. There was a crashing noise in the jungle, getting steadily nearer.
She landed quickly, twisting her wrench to unsheathe her swords. The bushes were rustling now. Ratchet tensed…and a young, bone tired Kerchu stumbled out of the jungle. Jasmine was no expert on Kerchu, but even she could tell this one was in a bad way. Blood and sweat matted her orange fur and her eyes were hazy and unfocused. She looked so pathetic even Ratchet lowered his weapon. Clank cautiously approached her.
"Miss, are you all right?"
She looked up.
"You are the ones they hunt for" she said, in halting galactic all- tongue. "You are in terrible danger" She attempted to rise to her feet and staggered forward. They ran to catch her before she fell. Jasmine scooped up a hand full of water from a nearby stream and gently splashed it over the Kerchus head.
Ratchet carefully leant her against a tree.
"Who's hunting us?"
"The Blarg. They attack the city" She began to weep softly. "My family…"
"I don't get it" Ratchet said quietly to Jasmine. "Why the Kerchu? People try to avoid them. Attacking them is like kicking a bees nest. It's bound to backfire"
"We had no warning" the Kerchu covered her face with her hands. "They struck like, like…I do not know the word. Fire from the sky?"
"Thank you. We do not know why they attacked us. The one in charge said he had orders, but he did not say who by"
Jasmine thought for a minute, then steered Ratchet away quietly.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"What, that crazy lady ordered this?"
"I wouldn't put it past her"
Ratchet went to talk with the Kerchu, but froze as the sound of breaking branches echoed around the clearing. There was a thin cry of fear behind them.
"They have found us! I have no weapons!"
Ratchet tossed her his combustor.
"By the way, didn't catch your name"
"Well, Fleena, ready to kick butt?"
She managed a smile.
"I believe so"
Ratchet barely had time to raise his weapon before Blargs poured out of the jungle. He swung his wrench, stunning the forerunner. Behind him, Fleena screamed a battle cry and charged, gun blazing. But it was Jasmine who stole the show. Her attackers started out grinning at the temerity of the petite young woman attacking them, then passed through various stages of confusion, doubt, worry and gibbering terror. The fight was over in mere moments. Jasmine sheathed her swords and shook her head.
"Hmmmp. Sloppy, disorganized. No training at all.I coulda taken 'em with my eyes shut"
Ratchet noticed one of the more conscious Blargs trying to crawl away and hauled him up by his shirt collar.
"Who ordered this?" he snarled. The Blargs eyes darted about in his head, looking for a way out.
"I'm gonna ask this only one more time, who ordered this?"
Clank suddenly had an idea.
"Oh no. It's going to be that business on Pokitaru all over again. eh, Jasmine?"
"What? Oh!" she quickly caught on. "Oh dear. Did they ever get that guy down off the flagpole?"
Clank chuckled "Most of him"
"OK, OK I'll talk! Just don't hurt me!"
"You're going to tell the truth?" Ratchet said.
"Yes, yes, I promise!"
"Cuz if you don't, its the flagpole!"
"No! No! Not the flagpole! Not the flagpole! W-We were told to attack by-"
Ratchet looked up, the whimpering Blarg slipping from his grasp. Behind him, Jasmine began to growl softly. A tall, muscular Blarg leaned casually against a tree. Ratchet had seen enough of the universe to recognise a killer when he saw one, and this guy definitely fit the bill. Everything from his huge sharp knife to his scarred, leering face said that this was a guy who could kill you without a twinge of conscience.
"Evening ladies and gentleman, names Miles. You would be…?"
Jasmine snarled and brandished her swords.
"None a' your business, Scarface!"
"Swords? Ain't that a bit primitive for a lombax?"
"Come a little closer and I'll show you how 'primitive' I can be!"
"Easy, Jasmine. Don't make this worse" Ratchet said quietly.
"Nah, that's OK, fur ball. I don't sweat a little attitude, so long as people know who's in charge around here. Now, I got a proposition for ya. My boss is feelin' kinda nice today, so she sez, if you quit whatever mission you're on and stay outta the way, she may let ya live. All ya gotta do is back off. Whaddaya think?"
Jasmine told him what she thought. In great detail.
"…So, in conclusion, that's where you can stick your offer"
She looked around at the ring of stunned faces.
"What? He asked for my opinion, he got it!"
Miles's face contorted in anger.
"Y'all just sighed your death warrant!" he roared.
"I wouldn't, buster" Ratchet said softly. "Unless you want to take your teeth home in a sack"
Miles drew his knife, only to freeze as his communicator beeped.
"sir? You're needed in Kerchu city ASAP"
He thought for a bit.
"Hmmm, guess you lot are gonna have to wait. Don't you go anywhere"
Then he dropped a smoke bomb, disappearing into the forest.
Fleena broke the silence that followed.
"What does 'ASAP' mean?"
"'As soon as possible'" said Jasmine absently. She was watching the spot Miles had vanished from with a thoughtful expression.
"This is gonna makes things interesting, eh?" she said.
Ratchet nodded, adrenaline still crackling in his veins.
"We should keep moving" said Clank "They could have bandits out searching for us"
Fleena gave Ratchet back his weapon.
"Follow me. I know the way out"
They set off, walking in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
Ratchet was the first to speak up.
"One thing I don't get is… how come your helping us, Fleena? All the Kerchus I've ever met tried to turn me into char-grilled lombax, why not you?"
"…How much do you know about the great war, exactly?"
Ratchet thought for a moment.
"Just that the Cragmites and Lombaxes fought for ages, then the lombaxes banished them"
"Did you know that the Cragmites enslaved us? That we were treated like less then scum? The lombaxes had not challenged them yet. We were alone.
We rebelled. The Cragmites were driven out, and we closed the planet to visitors. We had lost our trust of others, you see. That is why we attack those who come here. All we want is to be alone"
"That is quite understandable" said Clank. "I…what was that?"
"What was what?" said Jasmine.
"I thought I saw something. Kind of like a lizard"
Fleena gave a dismissive shrug.
"There are many lizards here. Some are poisonous, be careful"
"I don't know. It seemed…odd"
"'odd'? The jungles playing tricks on your eyes, dude-"
They were knocked off their feet by the shock wave. Jasmine was the first to react, leaping to her feet. Behind her, Ratchet staggered upright, shaking his head to dispel the ringing in his ears.
"Are you OK?" she said.
"I said, are you OK?"
"Never mind. Fleena, how about you?"
"I am fine. No lasting…damage…" Her voice trailed off.
Clank gave her a concerned look.
"Fleena, are you alright?"
"FIRE!" she shrieked.
Jasmine looked up. Sure enough, black smoke rose above the trees.
"They must have been dropping incendiary bombs!" She said. Already the wind brought the scent of smoke towards her.
Ratchet checked Clank was securely strapped into his harness.
"We gotta get moving. Forest fires are faster then they look. Fleena, which way is out?"
They set off at breakneck speed. Once again, Jasmine cursed the thick jungle. The abundance of vines and creepers meant that hover boots and hover wings were useless. Looking at the grim expression on Ratchets face, she could tell he was thinking along the same lines. The fire was spreading. Already the air was hazy with smoke, burning her lungs as she breathed it in. Fleena suddenly banked right, disappearing into the shrubs.
"I have a plan! Follow me!"
Eyes streaming from the harsh smoke, Jasmine squinted ahead, then laid her ears back as she saw Fleena's plan.
"Ratchet! She's heading right for a cliff!"
Ratchet smelled salt, and understood.
"The ocean! Its our only hope!" He grabbed her wrist, readying himself for a jump.
"But i can't swiiiiiiimmmmmm!"
Waves gently lapped at a hidden cove. Seabirds called and the wind gently ruffled the dune grasses. All was still and peaceful.
Ratchet broke the surface, gasping for breath, closely followed by Jasmine and Fleena.
They staggered ashore. Ratchet slumped down with a sigh.
"Huh, I didn't know you could be both frozen and scorched at the same time"
Clank emptied sea water out of his chest compartment.
"We are fortunate, Ratchet. We are alive and uninjured. Things could have been much worse"
"Yeah, good point" He became aware of stony silence from Jasmine's direction. Jasmines ears were laid flat against her skull, her tail twitching. Ratchet swallowed. You didn't need to know many lombaxes to know she was p***ed.
He tried to break the ice.
"Hey look on the bright side, we're alive, aren't we?"
"And according to my map, we're close to some cliffs. We can find Tendrillite!"
Ratchet gave up.
"Are you just going to sit there and glare at me all day?"
"No. I plan to throw in the occasional scowl or grimace. If you're lucky, I might even glower"
Ratchet rolled his eyes.
"Look, I'm sorry, but that fire was spreading too fast! I had no choice!"
"Tendrillite?" said Fleena.
Jasmine swore inwardly. This could get complicated…
"Why do you want that? It is just a sparkly stone"
"Um… we're…rock hounds" Jasmine said, inventing desperately.
"You know, people who collect rocks"
"In full battle armor?"
Jasmine looked down at her breastplate.
Fleena gave her an odd look.
"Right. Well you will not find any here. Most of the cliffs have been emptied by rock collectors. Most of Jasindus tendrillite is-"
"-in Kerchu city" she said.
Ratchet shouldered his wrench.
"Then that's where we're headed"
Fleena shot to her feet.
"The city is filled with bandits! We could not stop them, how can you? It is suicide!"
Clank gave the Kerchu a reassuring smile.
"Do not worry. We have done this before"
Clank looked around from his vantage point on Ratchet's back. The wonders of Jasindu never ceased to amaze him, even if it was filled with danger. The sun left dappled patches of light on the forest floor, and the air was filled with the song of birds that had escaped the devastation. The wind had blown the fire away from this section of the jungle, and now Ratchet and Fleena moved through it like ghosts. Above them, Jasmine flew point, hover-wings flashing blue in the sun. The plan was simple: Jasmine would locate a possible weak spot in the Blarg defenses, then, once any guards had been dealt with, they would slip through the city towards the Military Barracks, where Miles had set up his camp. Once there, they would stop him by any means necessary. Fleena had promised them a piece of tendrillite in return. It was a simple plan, but a dangerous one.
Hovering on the thermals, Jasmine could see Blarg patrols everywhere. She winched at the devastation the fire had caused. For someone used to desolation, to cold ice and sharp, black rocks, seeing such beauty destroyed was no less then sacrilege. Lines of refugees streamed away from the ruined city, being mercilessly hunted. Every instinct in her body told her to help them, but she knew she had to remain objective. A steely resolve gripped her. Miles was going to swing.
Her sharp, violet eyes scanned the city. Gotcha.
She carefully shifted her weight, dropping from the sky like a stone, the signal she had found a point of entry. She landed softly as a cat, just as Ratchet and Fleena materialized out of the jungle.
"Where are we headed?" said Ratchet.
"The water treatment plant at the west of the city is pretty lightly guarded" Jasmine replied. "It's not that far either"
She lead the way, nervously watching the sky. The sun was slipping below the horizon, and she had no intention of fighting in the dark. Following the river quickly lead them to the plant. A small group of Blarg were scattered around the, lounging against trees and talking loudly. Ratchet shook his head in disbelief. No one had formed a watch, the weapons were dirty and rusty and discipline was sorely lacking. How this rabble had crushed the cities defenses was a mystery to him. Jasmine echoed his sentiments.
"Look at them" she said softly. "If they were in my unit the General would have torn them a new one by now"
Ratchet took the safety off his weapon.
"I've met this type before, Jasmine. These are the kind of person who, if they improved themselves beyond recognition, might, just might, qualify as the scum of the universe"
"Got any plans to take 'em out?" said Jasmine.
"That depends. Got any smoke grenades?"
Night fell. Warm air covered the forest like a blanket. Unidentified insects clicked and whistled in the bushes. Many of the Blargs began to droop, lulled by the soft song of the wind in the trees… until three smoke grenades sailed out of the darkness. Thick white smoke billowed up, blinding them, panicking them. Something came roaring out off the trees, three misty shapes that seemed to appear and disappear like magic in the shifting smoke. The Blarg were confused, scared and dis-orientated. They had no chance. It was over in seconds. Ratchet looked around at the unconscious Blargs.
"We gotta get moving. There's no telling when they'll wake up"
Jasmine shouldered her wrench. She hadn't even bothered to unsheathe her blades. They were only for honorable combat, and those dregs were anything but honorable.
"Which way to the barracks?" she said.
Fleena motioned to a section of factory wall, knocked flat by the bombardment.
They stepped inside. Beyond the hole was a room packed to bursting with machinery. At the other end of the room, a door hung off its hinges. They moved forward, the silence only punctuated by the occasional muffled swear as shin met metal in the pitch dark room. They finally stepped out into the street. Ratchet was struck by how silent it was. Last time he had come by this way, Kerchu city had been full of noise. Admittedly it was mostly "There he goes! Get him!" But it was noise all the same. Now…nothing. No, not nothing. Ratchets ears swiveled as faint sounds filtered through the buildings.
"Blarg patrol. Three of them. About ten meters away to our right"
Jasmine gave him an approving glance.
"Nicely done. I didn't even notice them!"
She raised her wrench.
"We gonna take 'em out?"
Fleena gripped her wrist tightly.
"Sound moves well in cities. Others will hear us, come running. We must move silent, like smoke"
They ducked into the shadows, just as the patrol rounded the corner. Ratchet held his breath and prayed that the light from their torches would not reflect off Clank's burnished metal. His prayers were answered. The patrol moved on. Ratchet frowned to himself as they crept through the city. He wasn't certain he liked this way of moving. Usually his method of attack was, well, an attack. You knew where you were with a frontal assault. Usually you were in deep ca-ca but it was simple. bullets didn't creep up on you. But this, this was different. His mind was playing tricks on him. Every shadow seemed to be a Blarg poised to attack, every puff of wind the breathing of a hidden assailant. His trigger finger itched. He needed action, dammit!
They moved on, slipping from shadow to shadow. Clank couldn't help but be impressed by the way Jasmine moved. If he didn't see the occasional glint of moonlight on her armor she would be invisible. She trod as softly as moonbeams, a subtle shifting shadow.
Finally, they reached the barracks. A bonfire had been set up, splintering the darkness into flickering scraps of light and dark. And, piled in glittering green heaps around the fire was…
"Tendrillite" Fleena breathed.
There was at least six piles of the light green crystals, each around waist high. Ratchet was mystified. They tore down the city for a truckload of rocks? sheesh, talk about over kill!
The tall, bulky shape of Miles loomed out of the night, the wind blowing the distinct Blarg smell towards them. Ratchet wrinkled his nose. It wasn't just the sour Blarg odor that made this guy so objectionable. The reek of cruel, mindless death clung to him.
More Blargs appeared, carrying sledgehammers. These were worlds away from the the scruffy rabble they had encountered earlier. They were bigger, sleeker and more disciplined. Miles nodded to them.
"Go to it, men"
As one, they turned, and brought the hammers crashing down on the piles. It was all Jasmine could do not to cry out. Watching the hopes of the Lombaxes being pulverized was more than she could stomach. She glanced at the others. They nodded as one.
The bandits froze, hammers in mid-swing. Ratchet stepped out of the dark, closely followed by the others.
"Well, well, well. I was wondering when you'd show up"
"This ends now, Miles!" Ratchet said. "I'm giving you one chance. Leave now by your own power, or leave in a sack. It's your choice"
Miles took in the scene. Two scrawny Lombaxes, a tiny robot and a Kerchu nearly dead on her feet with exhaustion.
He burst into laughter. Behind him, his crew dutifully joined in.
"ooh, I'm so scared! I'm shakin' in my boots!" He gave a derisive snort. "Keep dreaming, shorty"
"So be it. Jasmine, phase 2"
She stepped up next to him, wrench gripped tightly.
"OK garlic-breath, here's the deal: You, me, single combat. Winner stays, loser leaves. That easy enough to understand or would you like me to slow down for you?"
"You? Ha! What can a woman possibly do to me?"
"Famous last words, mister"
One of the raiders sidled up to his leader and whispered in his ear. Mile's expression changed from gloating to thoughtful.
"Nah, don't do that. This could be interesting. Tell the boys to form a circle. She wanted single combat, she got it!"
The raiders pulled back, leaving Miles and Jasmine isolated in a steadily expanding circle. Ratchet and the others stealthily checked hidden weapons. If anything went wrong they were Jasmines only hope. Jasmine scraped a line in the dust with her wrench.
"Come on then. Or are you scared?"
Miles roared, stung by her jibe. He snatched a hammer from the hands of a nearby Blarg and charged, howling like a wolf. He swung the hammer, sending it crashing down on Jasmine. Or rather, where Jasmine had been.
Reacting with the speed of thought, she rolled out of the way, the sledge hammer thudding harmlessly on the ground. She turned, lashing out with her wrench. Miles slumped as it struck the side of his head. Jasmine gave a contemptuous snort.
"Typical. All talk, no-"
Her words were cut short as the less-unconscious-than-he-appeared Blarg grabbed her ankle, throwing her as hard as he could into the side of a building. All the air left her body in a rush. Fire seemed to spread along her ribs, and it was all she could do to draw breath. Through blurry vision she saw Miles charging at her, hammer raised. If he lands that blow, she thought muzzily, I'm gonna get laminated to the bedrock. With a groan of effort, she rolled out of the way just as the hammer blow pulverized the cobblestone where Jasmines head had been a second ago. She flinched as stone fragments showered her face. Jasmine staggered to her feet. From his vantage point in the crowd, Ratchet winced. Jasmine was swaying, clutching at her ribs, eyes unfocused. Around him the Blarg raiders jeered. Compared to the Blargs, many of whom topped six feet, she looked like a child, lost, scared and alone…
Miles laughed and swaggered towards her. She didn't look up.
"See that, boys? In the ring all of two minutes and already she can barely stand up! Guess that taught her a little lesson!"
Ratchet exchanged glances with Fleena and Clank. Time for plan B…
But before they could so much as move, Jasmines head snapped up, eyes bright and sharp.
Her hand shot out, grabbing Miles's wrist. Her other hand grabbed his shirt, and she spun, executing a perfect judo throw. He landed in a crumpled, swearing heap. Ratchet grinned and let go of his weapon. Should have seen that one coming… he thought. Movement caught his eye. Miles was already getting up. The fuming Blarg barely made it to his feet before Jasmine struck like a ballistic missile, sending him flying. Within moments the the circle was a maelstrom as each fighter rained blows on their opponent, rolling and kicking in the dust.
Despite the size difference, the fight was in no way uneven, Jasmines speed and agility giving her two blows for Miles's one. But he had one major advantage: strength. Slowly but surely, Jasmine was being worn down. A moments inattention was all it took.
She barely had time to blink before she found herself pinned, his hands around her neck. She struggled as hard as she could, but the battle had taken its toll. Her throat was on fire, she had to do something or die.
Through the mist rising in front of her eyes, an idea glimmered.
She desperately racked her brain, trying to think in the face of oxygen deprivation. Where was it, where was it? Ah, that's right!
She drove her hand up, striking hard at the spot where neck met shoulders. Miles froze, eyes staring blankly into space, then slumped, unconscious. It was over.
Silence fell over the watching Blargs. None of them had ever seen him lose so much as a thumb-wrestling contest, yet a small, skinny female had beaten him, not by luck, but by vastly superior skill.
She stalked out of the ring, the massed ranks of Blargs parting in front of her, falling over each other in their attempts to get away. She leaned casually against a piece of fallen masonry.
"Take it away, Ratchet"
He turned to the stunned Blargs.
"Alright, you lot! She won, fair and square! Leave now, or answer to me!"
He raised his wrench and growled. The assembled Blargs took one look at the murderous gleam in his eye and fled, carrying their unconscious leader with them.
Tears of joy streaked down Fleena's cheeks.
"You did it! I must tell my people…"
Her face fell.
"But, you must leave first. I will try to tell them what you did, but it is, how you say, instinctive, for us to attack strangers. Here-"
She stooped and picked up a glittering shard of Tendrillite.
"You have earned this"
Jasmine accepted it gratefully, stowing it in her storage compartment.
"I can't thank you enough. I can't say what its for yet, but without this, we're hosed!"
"Perhaps one day I will find out what it is for. Perhaps, one day, you can come back"
"I hope so, too"
Clank tugged Ratchets jeans.
"Ratchet, my sensors are picking up Kerchu returning. We should leave"
Fleena gave one last wave, before disappearing into the night.
Jasmine cracked her knuckles.
"One down, six to go!"
"Yeah, and something tells me finding the others is gonna be even tougher"
Sargasso. four hours later.
Miles knelt on the cold floor of the throne room. He harbored no false hopes as to his fate. The price of failure was high. A horribly familiar voice echoed out of the shadows. Miles could dimly see a form, lounging on a pile of cushions.
"Yet again, another failure. Your predecessor promised me results, and so far I have had none. You know what that entails…"
Miles braced himself.
"…and yet, I shall not kill you"
He looked up.
"They are obviously more of a threat than I thought. You obeyed your orders well, and show great promise as my right-hand man. Tell me, what would you do with them if you were in my place?"
"Drop a nuke on their asses!"
There was a soft chuckle.
"I see we're going to get along like a house on fire. There may be no survivors. A good plan, but there is more than one way to crack a nut then by dropping a mountain on it. I have a more…entertaining idea. Be at the loading dock in half an hour with a transport vehicle. The Trillium-lined one, for preference. This cargo is…quite dangerous"
Miles scuttled off, dizzy with relief.
The shadowy form got to its feet, removing the key from around her neck as she did so. She opened a door hidden behind a curtain and padded down a dank corridor. It sloped downwards, going down into the bowels of the earth. Finally, she reached a door. Steel barred and padlocked, everything about this door said "don't even think about it!" Black heart thudding with excitement, she unlocked it.
"Hello baby. Mama's missed you!"
And, from deep in the darkness, came the clink of a chain.