Sargasso. 0800 hours.
"So, it is in place?"
Miles adjusted the ice pack clamped over one eye.
"Yes'm. Released in the ice caves, just like you requested"
"The locals did not notice?"
"Who, the pirates? Pretty scraggly lot. Didn't see a thing" he chuckled as a thought struck him "Hey, maybe they'll take care of ya problem for ya!"
There was a soft laugh from the shadows.
"That is a good thought. But I personally hope they meet my pet first. It would be more…entertaining"
There was a pause. Then-
"What happened to your eye?"
"Damn thing whacked me wid its tail on the way out. It was real keen to get going!"
Miles chose his next words with care. There was every likelihood she would get annoyed by the suggestion, and when she got annoyed, she had a tendency to spread it around.
"Perhaps I should…send some a' my boys in with it? As insurance?"
"You doubt my plan?"
"No need to be like that, yours was a reasonable suggestion. But it will not be necessary"
"It would be overkill"
"But you only sent in one!"
Kreeli Comet 1000 hours.
"So, what do we do with him?" asked Jasmine.
Ratchet scratched an ear thoughtfully. Since they had left the Clock, Clank had not moved, and now Ratchet debated whether to wake him up and have a cranky robot on his hands or…
"I think we'll leave him. He needs his rest"
Jasmine grinned evilly.
"I have a pen in my storage compartment. Wanna draw on his face?"
"Oh come on! Don't tell me you were never tempted to do that!"
"I was, once" he said, closing Aphelion. "I don't know where he got those scorpions or how he got them in my mattress, but that is not a road I want to go down again"
"You're no fun!"
"No, I just don't want to spend another night in the emergency room with scorpion stings on my-"
"Alright, alright! Sheesh…"
Ratchet shivered in the freezing winds of Kreeli comet, casting a jealous look at Jasmine. Her armour had heating units built in, and now the snow around her steamed gently. She noticed his look.
"Here" she said, taking a coat out of her storage compartment. He pulled it on gratefully.
"Thanks. I wasn't expecting a trip here. I'd have brought my own otherwise"
Jasmine cracked her knuckles.
"Right! Which way, buddy?"
Ratchet opened his mouth to respond, then stopped and looked up as the sound of an engine echoed around the comet.
He watched, ears laid back, as a ship landed. It was green with a stylized 'Q' on the side. The door opened, and out stepped…
"Qwark" he muttered.
"Hey, Ratchet! Long time no see! Where's Clank?"
ratchet gritted his teeth.
"He's not feeling well. Real funny coincidence you finding us here, Qwark. What do you do, follow us?!"
Ratchet gave him a long, cool stare.
"OK, maybe a little"
Ratchet spotted Jasmine wandering over to see what was going on.
"Qwark, this is Jasmine Ca-"
"Well, hello there!"
Only Jasmines shock prevented Qwark from getting disembowelled as she suddenly found his hand around her waist, pulling her in close.
"You must be a parking ticket, cuz you got 'fine' written all over you!"
"If you don't let me go in three seconds there will be repercussions"
"Somebody better call heaven, there's an ang-"
She brought her knee up with surgical precision. Ratchets eyes watered in sympathy. Jasmine carefully stepped over Qwark, who was curled into a ball making a high pitched keening sound.
"Who is this moron?"
Ratchet surreptitiously shuffled out of her way.
"That's Captain Qwark. The..uh..former president of the Polaris galaxy"
"Huh. Never kicked a president in the nads before… he's not coming with us, is he?"
"I hope not"
Qwark staggered to his feet, carefully avoiding Jasmine. Some lessons need learning only once.
"So,what mission are you on?"
Jasmine shook her head, smiling an evil smile.
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you"
"Ratchet, please tell me she's kidding"
Jasmine gave the washed up superhero a calculating look.
"You know what? Screw it! He looks pretty tough, bring him along! If the worst happens, we can use him as a shield"
"Alright" he sighed "We need to head down that way if its the ice caves you're after. Watch your back, there are pirates around here"
"Aye-aye, cap'n!" She giggled.
They set off, Qwark struggling to keep up with the fast moving Lombaxes. Ratchet took the opportunity to give Jasmine the low-down on Qwark. It took some telling.
"So let me get this straight. He's this selfish, vain, egotistical moron who's tried to kill you on more than one occasions, follows you around and steals your thunder and you still let him hang out with you?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much it"
Ratchet watched Qwark slip arse over on the ice for the umpteenth time.
"Horrified fascination, mostly"
"Avast there, scallywags! Drop yar weapons or taste the wrath of Cap'n Slag!"
They stopped. And stared.
"Ay that's right! Cap'n Slag! Me an' my new body have a score ta settle wi' ye!"
They still stared.
"What are ye gawpin' at?"
All three burst into laughter.
Captain Slag's new body was a master piece. Shiny and rust free, it was light, strong and sleek. It was also female. Extremely so.
"Shut up! It was on sale!"
Ratchet could barely stand. He'd never seen anything so funny! He couldn't resist.
"Lookin' good, Slag!"
Jasmine joined in, nearly crying with laughter.
"Oh girlfriend, that is not your colour!"
By now the two Lombaxes had to lean on each other just to stay upright. In retrospect, Ratchet thought later, he should have expected Qwark to ruin the moment.
"Hey good looking, doing anything tonight?"
There was silence.
"That just crossed the line from funny to creepy" said Jasmine.
Still snickering inwardly, she surveyed the pirates. Slags pirates were a scruffy lot. There was a lot of rust and creaky joints. But they had a rough, tough demeanour, big guns and bigger swords. She shifted her weight in preparation for a fight.
"I don't want to fight you, Slag" said Ratchet. "But don't push your luck. Let us go past, and no-one needs to be hurt"
Captain Slag laughed.
"I don't think so, space-rat! I've waited years for-yes, Rusty Pete, what is it?"
Jasmine watched as a small, scrawny robot shuffled out of the crowd and whispered in Slags ear. The thoughtful expression creeping over Slags face worried her and she strained her ears forward, picking up the tail end of the conversation.
"-and whatever it is *hic* its taken seven pirates already! It might *hic* take them as well"
Slag nodded, and turned to Ratchet.
"You know, you're right!"
"I am?" Ratchet said, bamboozled.
"Aye, no-one needs to be hurt. Maybe its time to let by-gones be by-gones. If its the ice caves ye be after, there's a short cut that way" He motioned to his left.
"Let 'em through, lads!"
The pirates drew back, leaving a pathway for the three heroes to walk down. Jasmine didn't like this. Those pirates clearly knew something she didn't. They leered and snickered as the three walked past. She gripped her sword wrench tighter. The first pirate to so much as twitch regrets it…
Despite her suspicions, the pirates did not attack. Before they were out of earshot they heard Rusty Pete call out.
"So long *hic* Lombaxes! When ya get ta hell, tell 'em Rusty Pete *hic* sent ya!" This was followed by the sound of Captain Slag haranguing him.
"Pete ya moron! They weren't supposed to suspect a thing. remember?"
"Sorry, ma'am-I mean Cap'n!"
The voices faded. The fur on the back of Ratchets neck stood up. Years of facing the worst the galaxy could throw at him had given him good instincts for danger, and now they sent their warnings direct to his hind brain. Something is coming. Something bad. Be ready…. He checked his weapons. Ratchet had never gone down here, who knew what he might find? He had to admit, it didn't look good. The entrance to the cave gaped like an open maw, icicles dangling down like fangs. Qwark gave a little whimper, and Jasmine rolled her eyes. Wuss…
"Well, Jaz" said Ratchet. "Ladies first?"
"And some say chivalry is dead" she replied, with a bitter smile. She stepped forward, the others following. The cave swallowed them.
Cool green light filled the cave, shifting and flowing like water. It was beautiful, but Ratchet didn't notice. After weeks of living on Fastoon, a desert planet, the frigid temperature of the ice cave hit him hard. Compared to this, outside had been as warm as Pokitaru. He pulled the hood of his jacket over his head, grateful for what warmth it gave him.
"So" he said, teeth chattering "what are we looking for?"
Jasmine looked over at Qwark, who had taken the lead. She wasn't sure she trusted him with this yet. Best to keep it confidential…
"Well" she said, voice low "its not a crystal as such. We're looking for ice"
"Keep your voice down! Its not just any ice. Its permanent ice. Water that's been frozen at such low temperature and at such deep pressure, it wouldn't melt if you held a blowtorch to it"
"Most scientists don't really understand perma-ice. It breaks the laws of thermo-dynamics, then kicks it when its down! It's supposed to stop the Jump-gate overheating. We need to go deeper into the comet"
"It's pretty cold"
"It will get colder"
Ratchet gave her a concerned look. Since they had entered the cave, she had changed. She was tense and nervous, not the open, friendly joker he had met. Of course…he shivered, the atmosphere in this place would put anyone on edge. There was a nasty smell here too.
As they progressed further, Ratchet found himself increasingly grateful for Qwark's presence. Over the years, the stalactites of ice had grown down into frozen waterfalls that blocked the maze of tunnels, and required a firm blow from Qwark to break them. The deeper they went, the colder, their breath practically crystallizing in the air. The oppressive atmosphere got stronger too. Ratchet sniffed. That funny scent that permeated the caves had grown as well. It reeked in there…
Jasmine shattered the silence.
"Say, Qwark, there's something that's been bugging me. Ratchet said you used to be the President, how come you're not any more?"
There was a muffled snigger from Ratchet. Qwark carefully ignored it.
"Well, being President was pretty awesome, but it just can't compare with the noble calling of the hero. Saving lives, helping old ladies across the street, rescuing cats from trees…" he sighed. "There's nothing like it"
She looked over at Ratchet.
"House-keeper or secretary?" she whispered.
"If I remember correctly, secretary"
He smiled, remembering that happy day spent glued to the holo-vid, laughing himself sick. Good times, good times…
Jasmine gasped as a piece of icicle broke off behind them, the tiny click echoing around the cave. Qwark spotted this,
"What's up with you? You're pretty jumpy, lady!"
"Its…I…" her next words sent an involuntary shiver down Ratchets spine.
"I think there's something in here with us"
"Like what, a monster?"
"Um…" she looked at the floor.
Qwark laughed and turned to face them.
"I know for a fact that the only danger on Kreeli comet are those piratey fellas. Now, I know its pretty creepy in here, but lets not let our imaginations run away from us, OK? There are no monsters on Kreeli-"
He stopped. Ratchet and Jasmine were no longer looking at him. They were looking behind him. He turned and, true to his nature, screamed like a little girl and fled towards the cave entrance. Ratchet didn't blame him. It was taking all his will power not to follow him.
A creature was easing its way through the tight cave. A wedge-shaped head swung from side to side, searching for prey. Saliva dangled in ropes from a tooth filled maw. It lacked hind legs, its body tapering off to a serpentine tail tipped with a bone spur, but its front legs more than made up for this deficit. They rippled with muscle and ended in three, six inch long talons on each paw. Tendrils on each elbow writhed and swayed, seeking the tell tale movements in the air currents that meant prey.The thing was plated in black, scaly armour, what little flesh that remained uncovered a loathsome grey. It was enormous, nearly fifty feet long and as thick around as a tree trunk. Tiny, cat-like ears perched incongruously on its head twitched as it picked up the faint sound of Qwark's flight. It swung its head towards them, and Ratchet gagged. A foul stench hit like a wave. It was the reek of graveyards, of decay and despair. He couldn't breath, could barely think…
Its yellow eyes focused on them, as it tried to mobilize its tiny mind into a decision. Ratchet heard a faint whimper from Jasmine and risked a glance in her direction. Her face was frozen in a rictus of terror, tail tucked firmly between her legs. Ratchets mind raced. This creature was death on two legs. One wrong move could be fatal.
"Jasmine" he murmured, keeping his voice low. "Get your weapon ready. On my signal-" He never finished. As he spoke, he had been slowly backing away, and his foot knocked against a shard of ice. The click and rattle echoed around the cave, and goaded the monster into action.
It roared, and gathered itself for a leap. They were too close to the comets centre to back out now, so only one option presented itself to Ratchet. He grabbed hold of the unresponsive Jasmine, kicked on his hover-boots and, just as the monster launched itself at them, shot towards it. His plan worked perfectly. The thing flew over his head, missing him by mere inches. It landed with a force that shook the caves, howling with rage as it scrabbled to bring its huge bulk around in the narrow tunnel. Ratchet pushed his hover-boots to the limit. Jasmine was still frozen with fear, her weight slowing him down. He heard crashes behind him as the beast tore at the ice walls restraining it. There wasn't much time…
"Jasmine! Snap out of it!"
She blinked, fighting the terror that clouded her mind. There was a triumphant hiss behind them as the creature tore itself free and took off after them. She looked around desperately.
She pointed up. Quite some distance up the wall was one of the many tunnels honey-combing the comet.
She activated her wings, sending them up in the air just as the creature caught up with them. Hope rose in Ratchets chest, only to die as they smacked into clear, unyielding ice. The tunnel mouth had frozen over years before, and the two Lombaxes had flown into it like a pigeon into a window.
"No…" Jasmine moaned. "no no no no no…"
Ratchet began hacking desperately at the ice with his wrench, trying not to look down at the thing below them. It was leaping up, getting closer each time. Cracks were spreading slowly across the ice. Too slowly. He battered as hard as he could, Jasmine whimpering softly in his ear. A mechanical voice sounded.
warning. Wing power levels at 45 percent capacity.
A tiny hole cracked open. The beast below nearly took Ratchets tail.
Wing power levels at 34 percent capacity.
"It's the hovering!" Jasmine moaned. "It's draining the power faster then the power cells can recharge!"
Wing power levels at 27 percent
Ratchet gathered his strength for one final blow. Beneath him, the monster readied itself for a leap. Ratchet raised his wrench, brought it down, and prayed…
The blow shattered the ice wall, raining shards of ice onto the creature as it leaped. Ratchet pushed Jasmine through, narrowly avoiding the claws that would have torn him apart had he been a minute slower. The brute hit the floor with a thud, hissing poisonously. Ratchet knew they had to get going, and quick. The creatures struggles to reach them had gouged claw holds in the ice. It would come after them soon. He hauled the terrified Lombax to her feet and practically dragged her down the tunnel. It sloped gently, leading deep into the heart of the comet. Only when the monsters growls had faded into the distance did he dare stop for breath. It would have a hard tome locating them here. Meanwhile, he had more pressing issues to deal with.
She had slumped against the wall, eyes staring blankly ahead.
"Jasmine? Are you OK?"
"I'm peachy-keen, dipstick! Of course I'm not OK!"
He knelt down next to her.
"Whats the matter?"
"I…I wasn't expecting to see one of those here"
"You've seen that thing before? What is it?"
"Its called an Ishkhan. And it shouldn't be here!"
She turned to Ratchet, tears streaking down her face and freezing in the cold air.
"Those…abominations exist only in the Lombax dimension. They're our biggest fear. To open your front door to find one of those facing you…very few survive Ishkhan attacks"
"I'm not surprised. That thing looked lethal! I don't blame Qwark for getting out of there"
"His cowardice saved his life. Ishkhan's are always hungry, and there's a lot of meat on him"
Ratchet could see her fear went deeper than that. There was pain behind those eyes…
"There's more to this, isn't there? What aren't you telling me?"
There was a pause. Then…
"I…never knew my dad. He was killed during Tachyons invasion while Mama was pregnant with me. Growing up, she was all I had. She was more a friend than a parent. We were very close. Then…one day…when I was eight, we were playing cards and…and we noticed this horrible smell. I didn't know what it was but I guess Mama must have heard the stories, because she…she got really scared. She picked up her wrench. This one" she held up her wrench. "Its a family heirloom. They don't make ones like this anymore" she was quiet, gazing down at her wrench. It hurt Ratchets heart to see her like this. "She pushed me into a closet, told me to stay quiet and shut me in. I heard this roar, and the sound of the door crashing open. I was still only a kit. I was curious. I wanted to see what was going on. I peeked out…" she closed her eyes, fighting against the tears. "I've spent the rest of my life regretting that. Ishkhan kills aren't tidy. I…I must have made a noise because it stopped…feeding and looked over at me. It came over and ripped the closet door off. We just…looked at each other for a while. I think I surprised it. It was only a little one, probably a teenager. I think that's why I survived. They get more dangerous as they grow. I leaped out just before it tried to attack" her fingers brushed the scar on her muzzle. "I wasn't fast enough, though. I saw Mama's wrench. She'd unsheathed it and I thought, maybe I could scare it off. I could barely pick it up. I was always small for my age. It was coming back at me, and somehow I managed to swing it. I got lucky and missed the armour"
She gave a wry grin.
"Caught it quite a doozy" the smile fell off her face.
"After that, it must have decided I wasn't worth it, because it turned around and walked out"
She buried her head in her arms, voice choked with tears.
"I was alone. In the dark and cold, with…what was left of Mama next to me. I didn't get found till morning"
Ratchet couldn't think of anything to say.
She got to her feet, wiping her eyes.
"The orphanage I wound up in was OK. A little crowded though. I wasn't the only one to lose my family to an Ishkhan. That's why I fought so hard on the trial by combat. I never wanted to see one of those things again. Here-"
She took something out of the manifestor on her breast plate.
"I found this when I was fifteen. Gives you an idea of why I wanted to leave, doesn't it?"
It was a fragment of Ishkhan jaw, similar to that of a shark. Razor sharp fangs gleamed in the dim green half-light. He reached out to touch it and…
"Sorry, I was gonna warn you, those things can cut through stone"
Ratchet looked down at his fingers. The fangs had cut right through the leather of his glove like it wasn't there.
"I took it with me as a reminder of what I leave behind. If I succeed in this mission, no Lombax will be killed by an Ishkhan ever again. Or at least, that's what I thought…"
"Well…look on the bright side"
"What bright side?"
"We're close to the center aren't we?"
She managed a wan smile.
"Good point. We need to get moving anyway. Ishkhans are relentless. It will come after us"
They set off. The tunnel twisted and turned, a maze of ice. On at least three occasions they found themselves back where they started, until Jasmine had the bright idea of slashing at the walls with her blades to show where they'd been. It was colder too, the temperature dropping like a stone as they got deeper. For Ratchet, the cold was like being punched, over and over. Even Jasmines heating units were finding it hard going. But the worst problem was the acoustics. Sound echoed in strange ways here. Sometimes the growls of the Ishkhan were distant and quiet, other times it seemed to be right next to them. The tunnel went deeper, getting darker and colder. Ratchet looked down. Frost was sending creeping tendrils along his clothing and fur. The ice on his tail tuft jingled as he moved.
"I think we're here"
Ratchet stopped. The tunnel opened out, into an enormous cavern. Ice had frozen into strange shapes, almost seeming to move. Cold fog filled the room at knee height, swirling as the two Lombaxes moved forwards. Ratchet spotted a likely candidate of perma-ice. He reached out-
She shouted her warning too late. Ratchets hand closed around the shard of ice, and a split second later he jerked back, screaming. The shard of ice went skittering across the floor.
"That ice is at absolute zero" said Jasmine. "You're lucky your hand didn't snap off at the wrist"
He pulled off his glove. In the center of his palm was a pale patch of fur-less skin. His whole hand was numb. Jasmine gave it a careful examination.
"That fur will never grow back, man. Next time I give you a warning, try doing this crazy thing called listening to it!"
She took a pair of tongs and a small box out of her manifestor. Keeping well back, she carefully transferred the perma-ice to the box.
"Wanna see something, heh, cool?" she said, a spark of the old Jasmine showing. She tapped the tongs against the wall. They shattered into steel shards.
"Whoa" breathed Ratchet. He had been lucky…
Jasmine snapped the box shut, frost forming on the outside. She picked it up, jiggling it from hand to hand.
She quickly placed it in her manifestor.
"Got it! Two down, five to go!"
"Just one problem" Ratchet said. The roar of the Ishkhan filtered through he caves.
Jasmine ears drooped.
Ratchet took out one of his weapons. Jasmine gave a awed whistle.
"What is that?"
"The Negotiator. I'd like to see anything try and stand up to this!"
She grinned back.
Ratchet removed the safety. He had no idea where that…thing was. Best to be prepared…
They cautiously stepped out into the corridor. Nothing. Following Jasmines marks on the walls, they moved up out of the comets center. Jasmine had her blades drawn, twitching at every sound. Every echoed hiss of the Ishkhan seemed to be right behind her.
"This is nuts, Ratchet! There's no way of telling where it is! I mean, for all I know it could be-"
"-right behind you" said Ratchet, his voice flat with terror.
She turned slowly, almost unwillingly.
The Ishkhan towered over them. Ratchet could see that the only reason he still drew breath was due to the creatures surprise on seeing them.
Ratchet hefted the Negotiator.
She leaped to the side. The Ishkhan turned to chase after her, only to stop as Ratchet called out.
He sighted carefully.
"Hasta la vista!"
He fired, the recoil knocking him on his butt. The missile struck home, obscuring the creature in fire and steam.
Jasmine staggered to her feet.
"Hasta la vista? Dude, that is so cliche!" she said.
"Oh come on! You think of something cool to say in a…few..seconds…"
Jasmine looked behind her. The cloud of mist was slowly dispersing, and instead of the charred lump of flesh she'd been expecting…
"Oh my god.."
The Ishkhan was untouched, only a few streaks of soot showing. It blinked a few times, then hissed. It was hungry, it was confused. And it was very annoyed.
It swiped at Ratchet, flicking a terrified Jasmine aside with a contemptuous sweep of its tail. Even with Ratchets lightning fast reflexes, the creature still ripped the front of his coat, missing skin by mere millimeters. He desperately fired off another Negotiator round. It had the same effect as before. Nothing.
It loomed over him, foul scent overwhelming Ratchet's senses.
She got up, wiping at the blood running from her nose. Anger filled her, overwhelmed her. She stopped thinking, and let the rage take her.
Ratchet had to admit, he was impressed. Jasmine had struck the creature like lightning, slashing at it with her swords. The blades were Trillium, sharper then razors. Even the creatures tough, scaly skin was having trouble shaking off the blows. He got to his feet, then froze as horror filled him. In her rage she was oblivious to her surroundings, and the Ishkhan's bone-tipped tail was rising behind her, sharp point quivering as it prepared to strike.
She ignored him, focused only on the task at hand. His thoughts moved like lightning. He needed to distract it long enough for her to notice the danger. The beginning of an idea glimmered. He reached into the shrinking compartment on his belt, and removed his constructo-bomb glove.
He had modified it with a concussive blast. Perfect for the job at hand.
He sighted carefully, and threw with all his might. The bomb rose, glinting softly, and Ratchet started counting under his breath. The bomb bounced off the Ishkhan's head, bounced into the air and, just as Ratchet reached three, exploded. The shock wave drove the beast back a few paces, and knocked Jasmine from her perch. She hit the ground and lay winded, gasping for breath. Ratchet hauled her to her feet, scooping up her wrench blades and thrusting them into her hands.
"We need to get moving!"
Behind them, the Ishkhan shook its head, growling softly. It heard pattering feet and looked up, hissing in fury as it saw its dinner trying to escape. Ratchet made the mistake of looking behind him. He whimpered and sped up, dragging the still-winded Jasmine along with him. Seeing a creature like an Ishkhan bearing down on him was not a pleasant sight. Jasmine's mind raced. Fighting was out of the question. She could barely breath from her fall, and while the Ishkhan had taken the brunt of the shock-wave, enough had reached her to slow down her reaction time, not a good thing when facing off against what was basically hell on legs. She reached into her manifestor, and pulled out what to Ratchet looked like a bunch of nails welded together so that however they were thrown, at least one would point up. She scattered them behind her, and a few seconds later was rewarded by a shriek as the Ishkhan blundered into them.
"What was that?" panted Ratchet as he put on a burst of speed. That thing sounded angry.
"Caltraps" she said. "They'll only slow it down, they won't stop it!"
Sure enough, the Ishkhan was on their tail again, leaving a trail of black ichor from its wounded feet. They needed to stop it…
Then Ratchet turned a corner, and inspiration struck. Over the years, two thick columns of ice had grown in the tunnel on either side. They were tall, and thick and more importantly, strong. He stopped, and took up station behind one.
"Ratchet, what are you doing?" Jasmine said, looking back nervously at the tunnel. She could hear the creature catching up.
"We need to trap it! If we break these at the base, they should stop it from coming after us long enough for us to get back to Aphelion"
She nodded, and stood behind the other pillar, blades drawn. Ratchet narrowed his eyes in concentration, waiting for the right moment.
"Steady, steady, wait for it…"
The thud of heavy footfalls got closer. Jasmine blinked nervous sweat out of her eyes. Well she thought, look on the bright side, if this fails we won't notice. There won't be time to notice before it- She shut that line of thought off quickly. The Ishkhan was nearly there…
"NOW!" Ratchet yelled, firing his Negotiator at the base of the pillar in front of him. Jasmine slashed at hers desperately, the Trillium blades cutting through the ice like warm butter. With a creak, the ice columns began to totter, then fall. Too slowly. Ratchet pushed desperately, straining to bring it down before the Ishkhan arrived. With a groan of tortured ice, the two pillars crashed down, plugging the cave like a cork in a bottle. Behind it they could hear splintering sounds as the Ishkhan hacked at the stone hard ice. Jasmines legs gave out, and she sagged down against the barrier.
"That…was too close"
Ratchet gently pulled her up.
"We should get moving. There's no telling how long its gonna take before it breaks through"
They set off down the tunnel, leaving the growls of the Ishkhan behind.
Jasmine rubbed a bruise on her arm and winced.
"I am knackered" she said, ears drooping. "Just want to sleep…"
He caught her before she fell.
"We can relax on Aphelion. Right now, I want to put as much distance between us and that…thing as possible"
"I wonder how it got here?" she murmured, voice slurred with exhaustion.
"We'll figure it out later. Cone on, we're nearly out"
Ahead he could see daylight. He had never seen anything so welcoming.
"Did you hear that?"
Jasmines head drooped forward.
"Sounded like-" he swallowed, icy terror flooding his veins. "Breaking ice"
There was silence. From deep in the cave, they heard the shatter of ice, the thunder of footfalls, and the panting of breath. They looked at each other.
Jasmine willed her flagging limbs into a gallop. Her breath rasped in her throat. Behind them, the Ishkhan was gaining. Those little scurrying creatures had hurt it, and now those little scurrying creatures were going to pay.
They burst out of the cavern. Ratchet looked over at the exhausted Jasmine, and without a word, picked her up and fired his hover-boots. The Ishkhan shrieked as the light outside burnt its eyes, but it didn't stop. Nothing short of a precision nuclear strike would have stopped it now. Ratchet could see pirates in the distance, scattering at the site of the creature charging in their direction. He could distantly hear Slag shouting.
"Wait for me! Didn't your Mother ever tell you ladies first?"
But it wasn't interested in them. It's sights were firmly locked on the lombaxes who had angered it…
Clank woke up, blinking slightly. He felt great. His thought processes were sharp and fast as lightning. He noticed where he was and smiled. Obviously Ratchet hadn't wanted to wake him up. He opened Aphelion and hopped out, wondering if he could spot them. He looked out over Kreeli comet. He couldn't see them anywhere. No pirates either. That was odd. He was about to step back inside, when he caught motion at the edge of his optic sensors. Ah, there they were. Ratchet was hover-booting along the path, carrying Jasmine with him. That was strange. Then he saw what was after them, and his eyes widened. A river of black death was flowing after them, a two legged creature, covered in black plates and howling like a demon.
What on earth is that thing? Aphelion asked behind him.
"I…do not know, but you should be ready to fly at once. Their life could depend on it"
There was the rumble of Aphelions engines firing up. The two lombaxes were nearly there. Clank could see the expression of raw terror on Ratchets face, and it chilled him to his core. Ratchet reached Aphelion and practically threw Jasmine inside, scrambling desperately for Aphelions controls.
"Go, Aphelion! Hurry!"
I cannot move, Ratchet. Something is holding me back.
Ratchet's heart sank. He had a feeling he knew what it was. Sure enough, the Ishkhan was holding on to the back of Aphelion, sinking its claws in deep.
"Not good!" he moaned. "Not good not good not good!"
Do not worry Ratchet Aphelion said. I have this under control.
Ratchet watched as the turbo lever moved under its own steam. The Ishkhan wailed as the roar of fire washed over its face, letting go and sinking back to the ground to lick its wounds. Ratchet leaned back in his seat with a sigh.
"Aphelion, take us up, would ya?"
She complied, taking them into outer space.
"Ratchet, are you alright? What was that thing?"
Ratchet looked over in the back seat. Jasmine was curled up, dead to the world. Occasionally she would twitch and moan as nightmares played across her mind.
"Something that shouldn't be here"
He took the controls, face grim. Nothing was adding up! The attack on Jasindu, the clock, and now this. He remembered that terrible voice before the attack from the Blarg fleet. Suspicion flared. Was she somehow connected to all this? How?
He had a nasty feeling he would find out soon.