|If you've already read this, or if you feel like reading more, chapters 1-7 are all available here. "Lost Agent: Newcomer"
The Minute-Maker drew closer to the space-station. Inside, Tom paced about with silent anticipation, while Timeno comfortably leaned back in the driver’s seat. The ship’s auto-pilot propelled them toward their destination, a large structure which loomed ahead, weightless in the void of space. Its starlit glint showed it clearly wasn’t natural. Of course, the sign was a bit of a giveaway too.
“Hey, what’s that up ahead? Is that your group’s secret headquarters?” Tom asked.
“That is a lame space station where people stop to get their ships refueled or repaired; basically a big floating gas station. It’s also where the Lost Hawk has been a sitting duck for three full days. I’d hardly call it a secret headquarters.”
The boy looked closer at some symbols on the sign. “O364, huh? What’s that about?”
“It’s just the station’s identification number. Now, how about you do me a favor and save some questions for the captain, hmm?” Timeno rested his feet atop the dashboard and closed his eyes.
“Fine…” Tom said disappointedly. With nothing better to do he just sat back and stared blankly at the structure. Back when he first got off Titinan, he’d been bouncing off the walls with excitement. Since then, he began to learn one of the inevitable truths about space travel; it gets old, fast.
After gazing out at the stars for a couple minutes Tom glanced over at Timeno, who had fallen asleep at the wheel. He inspected the wheel embedded into the dashboard and carefully picked it up. Strange there’s nothing connected to it, he noted. He tilted it around but the ship remained on course.
Timeno opened his eyes, instantly jumping at the sight of the wheel in the boy’s hands. “What’re you doing?!”
“I was just…”
“Give me the wheel!”
“Alright, take it,” Tom said, letting go without hesitation. “It was still on auto pilot anyway.”
“Oh… sorry,” Timeno said, returning the wheel to the dashboard. A moment later, the ship hovered to a gentle stop on the station floor. Outside, they heard the sound of the entrance as it closed shut. “Here’s our stop kid.” He stepped into the back room and returned with Autumn’s unconscious body slumped over his shoulder. “Let’s get this over with,” he said as the side hatch lowered to the floor outside.
Stepping out into the brightly lit, blank-white interior of the station was almost like stepping out of reality. A huge ship against the far wall was about the only thing standing out against the blankness.
Tom noticed a figure approaching from its direction. “Hey, who’s that?”
Strangely, the figure didn’t appear to be physically moving, as if something were carrying him. The man stopped a few meters away, and walked up. He had dark skin and wore a uniform engraved with the same shooting star as on Autumn’s emblem. He looked to be in his late fifties, yet something about him told the boy he was even older than he seemed.
“Hey there, Captain,” Timeno greeted. “Sorry we’re late.”
“No need to apologize. I’m just relieved to see you’re all ba-” the captain caught himself at the sight of the body over Timeno’s shoulder. “Autumn? Is she alright?”
“We don’t really know. She’s been unconscious since we left.”
“In that case, let’s get her aboard. Come.” He began walking in the direction of the ship, but stopped on one of the large floor tiles after a few steps.
“Man, is that whole ship yours? It’s huge!” Tom exclaimed.
“Well, I’ve seen bigger in my years, but she’s home.”
The captain waited for the two of them to join him, and tapped his foot near one of the tile’s corners. The section of floor beneath instantly whisked them off in the direction of the ship.
A moment later, it slowed to a halt just a stone's throw from the underbelly of the ship. Tom wavered, disoriented from the experience.
“Wow, that was awful quick,” he remarked, returning his attention to the Lost Hawk. “So, how do we get in? Teleportation?”
“Of course not, Tom”, Timeno stated, adjusting Autumn’s weight on his shoulder. “The whole teleportation thing is pure science-fiction hogwash, believe me.”
“Really? How then?”
A hole slid open in the underside of the Lost Hawk, shining an off-green beam of light on the floor. Tom took one look and backed up a couple steps.
“What’s wrong boy? Never used a transfer beam before?” the captain asked, nudging him forward a little. “Don’t worry, it’s completely harmless.”
“Hey, I’m not afraid or anything. Still; Timeno, why don’t you go first seeing how you’ve got your hands full?”
“I’ll go, you big baby. Just don’t lag behind; some of us are in a hurry.” Timeno confidently strolled forward and stood in the light. He began to rise, and seconds later he was in the ship. “Alright, next!” he called down.
The captain gave him a reassuring nod. After a moment’s hesitation Tom stepped forward, and shut his eyes. The beam silently lifted him off the ground, and a moment later all three of them were inside. The captain closed the opening in the floor, and tapped Tom on the shoulder, seeing he had yet to open his eyes.
“Ahem. We’re inside.”
“Seriously?” He took a took a moment to check out the small chamber. A string of neon looped around the low ceiling's edges, giving off a dim, blue aura. “Man, I didn’t even know I’d moved. So, this is what it looks like on the inside?”
“Well this is just a room built for transfer in and out of the ship. To reach Autumn’s quarters we’ll need to cross through the docking bay,” he said leading them into an wide corridor-like chamber.
Upon entering the room, Tom was struck by its sheer expansiveness. Despite the dim internal illumination, streaks of white light poured in through the ship’s windows, making the path easier to see. Along the sides of the central pathway, the chamber was lined with dozens of small one-man ships. “Hey, do all those things really work?”
“This way,” the captain said before stepping through a door at the chamber’s end. Not far down the connected hallway they came to a split. Instead of choosing a direction, he stopped and didn’t move.
“What are you waiting for?” Timeno asked impatiently.
The captain didn’t reply, but seconds later the answer presented itself. The wall slid open revealing a small cylindrical elevator. “I normally don’t let members use this, but considering the circumstances I decided to make an exception.” He set its course for level 3, and they were off. “Just don’t tell everybody where it is when you meet em okay?”
“Um, Captain…” Tom asked, trailing off.
“The name’s Blokett. Go on.”
“How did you do that?”
“The wall; it just opened by itself.”
“Oh, that trick… Mina always knows, somehow.”
“Sorry. I was just referring to my first officer - assistant. She controls a lot of the minor mechanical functions built into the ship. She’s probably watching us right now.”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. She only spies on the ones she likes,” Timeno added dramatically.
“Hey, quit teasing the boy,” Blokett responded. “Besides, she might hear you.” A bulb over the doors lit up and the elevator came to a halt. When the doors opened, they emerged into another similar hall. Tom looked from side to side.
Tom looked from side to side. “Wait, this is a different floor, right?”
“Certainly. Autumn’s room is just down here.” Following the hall as it curved to the left, they passed a series of doors along the interior wall while the captain counted them. “The hallways aren’t exactly very defining, but you get used to it after a while.” He stopped in front of a door much like the others, save for the worn piece of sketch paper taped to its surface. Written on it were the letters E. C.
“Wait, is this Autumn’s room?”
“Yep,” Timeno said abruptly and squeezed inside.
Inside, the overhead lights were already on. In the corner, a bed rested with a small desk hovering at its side, and across the room, a TV screen took up nearly a third of the wall’s surface. Timeno readily set Autumn down on the bed with a groan. “Phew; I’ve definitely had my fill with heavy loads today.”
Tom shuffled through a pile of paper lying out on her desk. “Hey captain, did Autumn draw all these?” Tom asked, shuffling through a pile of paper lying out on her desk. The pictures varied from twigs to clouds, to just about any natural stuff he could think of. “Man, these are cool.”
“Yes, she’s certainly a talented little girl. Anyway, I’d better give Mina a call.
A sharp ringing sound came from the direction of the room’s screen, followed by another, and another.
Tom jumped. “Agh! Did I ask something I wasn’t supposed to?!”
“Easy, Tom. We’ve got an incoming call, that’s all,” Blokett said and found the remote lying at the foot of the bed. With the click of a button, the noise ended, and the image of a woman in a white lab coat appeared. She had long, thick, graying brunet hair. The thin glasses she wore only partially masked her eyes which shone a similar hue.
“Ah, Mina. I was just about to call you.”
“What do you need?” she asked in a firm tone.
“We need some med L.A.Bs for room 313.”
“It’s her, isn’t it”, she said while shifting her gaze in the girl’s direction as if able to see through from the other side. “I figured. I’ll get right on it.” Without saying anything else, the screen went blank.
“What’s an L.A.B?” Tom asked, no doubt confused by the abrupt conversation.
“Well, L.A.Bs, are little robots designed…”
“Yes, I know, Timeno. They’re designed to help in various ways around the ship. I requested some to collect data on Autumn’s condition. Now that we’ve dropped her off, we should probably move along.”
“Don’t worry, Tom. She’ll be well taken care of,” he assured before stepping out of the room. Tom reluctantly followed, and they continued down the hall.
Tom stopped at one of the small windows lining the corridor’s outer wall. With the lighting inside the way it was, looking out at the station floor seemed almost blinding. He blinked and turned away. “Where are we headed, just out of curiosity?”
“The bridge. It’s up on level 5.” Just ahead, a door slid open, and a girl in a grey t-shirt and faded blue jeans stepped into the hall. She had a towel wrapped around the top of her head like a turban. She rushed over. “Blokett, I was starting to wonder when you’d get back,” she spoke, raising her hand in a playful salute.
“Well, Timeno did arrive a little late. We’re all here now though,” he said, glancing back at Tom, who had positioned himself behind Timeno. “Sue, this is Tom,” he explained, nudging the boy out from the big guy’s shadow.
“Hey,” he greeted in a faint voice. Up close, Tom noticed her belt appeared to be covered with fur.
“Yeah, hi there. You didn’t run into the Bug-Brain in the last few minutes, did you?” she asked, her attention back on Blokett.
“No, I can’t say we have.”
Tom heard a growing hum, and ducked in surprise as a trio of small, floating contraptions sped around them. “What in the world?!”
“Easy, Tom. Those were just the bots I sent for.”
Sue watched with concern as they disappeared through a door behind them. “I - notice Liz isn’t with you.”
“We dropped her off in her room. She’s a bit… under the weather.”
“Liz?” Tom asked.
“Autumn,” he clarified. “We don’t know what’s wrong yet. Sorry.”
“No sweat," she answered disappointedly. "It’s your party, captain.” She turned away, and stopped just in the opening of her door. “Oh, and see you around, newbie,” she added just as it slid shut behind her.
“Shall we?” Blokett asked, gesturing toward a nearby stairwell.
“Liz,” Tom repeated to himself. He followed them inside, and began the climb up the spiraling stairs. He stopped part way up, seeing Timeno still waiting at the bottom.
“Hey, what about him?”
“He’ll be fine. We can wait for him at the top.” Tom remained puzzled, but followed nonetheless.
“Are you two up there yet?”
“Yes, Timeno. You can turn it on,” he answered once they’d made it up. A loud click echoed from below, and the stairs started moving.
“Wha… It’s an escalator?”
“When it needs to be. Come on; he’ll be with us in a moment.” He showed the newcomer to the bridge through an entrance just across the hall.
The circular room was sparsely furnished, with a huge screen spread along the opposite wall, and the space-ship equivalent of a dashboard lining much of its borders. In the middle of it all stood the captain’s chair which, to his surprise, was already occupied. A small green, alien looking kid in a half-hearted cowboy outfit swiveled around, slow in realizing their entry. “Jim, what are you doing up here?!”
He sprung to his feet, nearly letting his cowboy hat slip off. “Who, me?”
“Yes you. And where is J2.0. He was supposed to keep you from leaving your room.”
“But it’s so boring down there. Jack never lets me do anything but read books or watch old space-travel documentaries.” Timeno squeezed through the door, along with a lone L.A.B. It hovered over to Jim and shot out a rope which glowed a light blue. It quickly cuffed itself in a loop around the boy’s wrist. “Sheesh, right on cue.”
“Better luck next time,” Timeno remarked before resting himself on a cushioned bench protruding from a wall.
“Well, I suppose some introductions are in order,” Blokett stated. “Tom, this is-”
“Kidd, Jimmy the Kidd,” the green boy asserted emphatically.
“O-okay... Is this Jack?” Tom asked while stepping to take a closer look at the leash the bot had attached to him.
“Yeah, J2.0 just seemed kinda lame, you know?”
“Ahem… so, what’s next on the agenda, Captain?” Timeno asked, somewhat irked by the Kidd’s statement.
“Ah, well I suppose I’ll escort the boy back to his quarters,” the Captain said, holding the doorway as Jimmy trudged out into the hall followed by his little handler. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” The door closed behind him, leaving Timeno and the newcomer to wait.
Tom half sat, half fell into a nearby chair. “Man, this has been a crazy day. I mean, I feel like I’m on star trek or something.”
“You know… the science fiction show? I thought you were from earth.”
“I never really watched much TV. It was a waste of time.”
“Oh,” Tom said, an awkward quiet setting in as he waited. With a kick, he thrust his chair along the edge of the room, stopping in front of a small monitor. “So, what's with the dreary lighting in here?”
"Reserve power. The ship is missing something important, if you recall."
“Yeah. So, when did you plan on breaking the news to him?”
“About what, the core? I’ll let the old Bloke in on the details soon enough, don’t you worry,” he said with a chuckle.
“Hey, what’s going on in that big head of yours?”
“Plenty, as always. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait and see just like everyone else.”
“Oh, come on.” Tom spun around in his chair for a moment, before leaning on the armrest with his head balanced on his palm. He waited.
“Oh, and by the way…” Timeno added. “…that’s Autumn’s chair.”
When he heard the doors slide open Tom stiffened up against the back of the seat. The captain strolled in and took a deep breath.
“How was the struggle?” Timeno asked.
“Jimmy wasn’t a problem,“ he answered, taking a seat in his personal chair. “Pretty nice place here, hey Tom?”
Tom’s eyes glanced back and forth nervously. “Yeah. Uh, is it alright for me to be sitting here?”
“Certainly. Sit wherever you like.”
“Well, now that that’s cleared up, let’s check the computer, shall we?” Timeno interrupted. “Scoot over would you, partner.”
“Oh,” the boy answered with a trickle of embarrassment as he moved his seat to the side.
“Watch this.” Timeno carefully sat down in front of the monitor. “Com, activate.”
A grey rectangular box popped up in the middle of the screen, and a small line segment began stretching across the bottom. “Activating,” a familiar voice projected.
“Hey, that sounds like that assistant lady who called you through the TV,” Tom remarked.
“Activating,” the computer repeated. The line rippled in sync with the sound.
“It is her, her voice at least. It’s programmed to sound like her.”
“How long is she gonna keep saying that?”
“Well, the ship’s only running on emergency power so it probably will take at least a few minutes to load.”
“Ooorrr we could just use the quick activation command,” Timeno added before addressing the monitor. “Com, wake up!”
“Sorry, sir,” it responded. Seconds later the box stretched to occupy the majority of the screen’s surface. “Present identification.” Timeno flattened the palm of his right hand across the box, as a series of lights danced underneath for a brief moment. “Timeno, is it? Fine. What’s the password?”
He hesitated. “Right… Captain?”
“You don’t know?!” Tom asked in disbelief.
“Well, Autumn’s the one who usually handles this stuff. I forgot."
Blokett put a hand over his face. “Patience.”
“What, you won’t tell me?”
“No. Patience! It’s the password.”
“Oh,” he said with a weak chuckle. “Com, patience.”
The box was quickly replaced by a well-lit page with Lost Agents in fancy lettering at the top. “Welcome,” the voice greeted. “What would you like to do?”
“Com, new messages.”
The computer grew silent. “…You have no messages.”
“Well, so much for that.”
“Relax, Tom,” the captain said. “Com, master call.”
A tiny load time later, the backside of Mina’s chair appeared on-screen. She was watching an image of Jimmy’s quarters.
Blokett cleared his throat. “So, he made a run for it yet?”
She swiveled in her seat, turning her attention to them. “Ah, Captain. I was just-”
“Yes, we know. What about Autumn? Do you have anything to report?”
“No, I’m still waiting on the results. Sorry, Sir.” She paused. “Oh, but I did receive confirmation that Timeno’s vessel is now docked on board. I just sent down some L.A.B’s to make repairs.”
“That’s something,” Timeno added enthusiastically.
Blokett lifted his hat to scratch his head. “Thanks for the update. When you do get the results, come see me. I’ll be on the bridge.”
“See you then,” she said, turning her back to the camera again. The image flickered away.
Blokett leaned back in his chair. “Timeno, take Tom down to level 2, will you.”
“Actually, there’s something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you. It’s about the core.”
Sue wandered through the door. She was still wearing the same get up as earlier, but without a towel over her head. Tom jumped when he saw her. In its absence, a pair of large, cat-like ears protruded from her dark hair. She brushed away a strand of bleached-magenta highlights hanging over her eyes. “What?!” she exclaimed, noting Tom’s stare. “Am I intruding?”
After an awkward few seconds, Timeno hopped from his seat. “Nope, it’s no intrusion. Perfect timing in fact. Me and the big cheese here were just looking for someone to accompany Tom here down to level two, weren’t we, Captain?”
“…I suppose. Sue, if it’s not too much trouble could you escort the boy downstairs?”
“Wh-whatever you say, captain.” She took a step back and stood in the doorway. “Well, let’s get on with it then.”
Tom avoided eye contact, but nodded followed into the hall. “Now, let’s talk, shall we?” he heard Blokett say to Timeno as the door closed behind him.
They walked along, and Tom took a closer look at the ‘furry belt’ Sue was wearing. As she neared the stairwell he said, “Um, this is kinda awkward, but I was wondering-“
“If it’s about the ears, don’t ask. They’re just like that.”
“Actually, I was gonna ask about the belt. It is a belt, right?”
It wasn’t until they were riding down the escalator that she answered. “Yes.”
“It kinda looks like-“
“Just drop it,” she said demandingly.
He looked down at his feet with a trickle of embarrassment. “Sorry.”
After stepping out of the stairwell on level two, Sue lead him through the doors straight across the hall. Inside was a spacious, circular chamber. “Well, here we are. Level two, otherwise known as the lounge, the commons, and the cafeteria.”
Tom looked to his right, and couldn’t help but notice what looked like a buffet line running along the far wall. He felt his stomach grumble. Numerous LABs busily rushed about behind the counter, apparently working to prepare food. The rest of the room seemed surprisingly empty. There was a couch set up in an area to the left along with a few other padded chairs, but that was about it.
Sue noticed what looked to be antennas sticking up from the other side of the couch. “Bug Brain,” Sue muttered.
She backed for the door. “I think I’ll wait outside. Excuse me.” Before he could say anything, she was gone.
Tom turned his attention to the alleged bug making itself at home on the sofa. He slowly stepped forward, contemplating what to say.
“Hey, uh… you on the couch.”
One of the antennas twitched. “Are you talking to me?” their owner asked dramatically.
“Uh, yeah. You are the only one here, right?”
“If I’m the only one here, then where are you?”
“Huh?” Tom circled around the piece of furniture and was relieved to see the so-called bug brain was not a monster insect. He essentially looked like a regular guy in his mid-teens apart from his buggy appendages, and the green hair.
“I’m just joking around kiddo. You gonna stand there all orbit or what?”
He had a pair of bulky sunglasses covering his eyes, and was currently picking through the pages of a book.
“You must be the newbie. The name’s Ben Wright” he said, flipping a page. “You’ll come up with something else though. Everyone does.”
“Ben sounds fine to me. Mine’s Tom.” Tom glanced at the pile of books next to him. “Hey, that’s a hefty load you’ve got there. What’re you reading?”
“Hmm? Oh, just some story about some kid living on some dry planet. Technically, I’m supposed to be studying, so shh.” He set what he’d been reading on the pile of books and stood up. “Enough about this stuff. How about we grab you a bite to eat?”
He led Tom into the supposedly barren portion of the room, and pointed out one of many groupings of circular marks on the floor. He held his hand out over them and said, “Table please.” They slid open, and out raised a table and collection of seats.
“I’ll be back in a second,” he said, walking toward the counter.
Tom sat down and watched as Ben conversed with one of the L.A.Bs over the counter. He couldn’t really see what the bots were doing on the other side. What could they be making back there, he wondered, his thoughts blurred from hunger?
A few long minutes later Ben returned to the table. He set down the tray and Tom rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Fries, a cheeseburger, and a fruit punch were the last things he expected to see. “Seriously?” he asked. Ben nodded.
Tom grabbed the burger and dug in without hesitation. After he finished scarfing it all down he let out a relieved sigh. “Man. Where’d you get this stuff?”
“From Pluto, Lemon Head. I ordered it right in front of you.”
“Sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“It’s alright; I can take a joke, Bug Brain.
“I gather you’ve met Sue.”
“Yeah…” He said resting his chin between his knuckles.
“Let me guess. You asked her about her ears, right?”
“Her tail. She didn’t take it very well.”
“Don’t worry about it. Sue’s just bummed out since the collector core stopped working. She’s the ship’s pilot, you know.”
The door opened. “Hey Bug-Brain, newbie,” Sue called, scooting to the side and standing against the wall. “Hang out time’s over. They’re coming.”
Ben answered. “Whatever you say dear.”
The door slid open and Blokett came in, followed by Timeno and Jimmy. The captain and Timeno headed for where Tom was sitting, while the Kidd shot for the couch. Tom started to wonder whether or not Mina was with them. As the group got closer, he sighted what looked like a miniature UFO floating over the Captain’s right shoulder.
“Yo, Mr. B. How’s it hangin’?” Ben greeted.
“I’m hanging just fine, thank you. What about you, Tom. I’m sorry for the wait.”
Tom watched the door. “Is Mini with you?”
“Right here.” The dome atop the floating object lifted up, and there stood Mina, all five inches of her.
“And that’s First Officer to you, boy,” she scolded, closing the dome back up. “Lost Agents, attention!” her voice blasted from the intercom. “I have- your captain has an announcement to make. Quiet!” The room fell silent.
“Thank you for that, Mina,” Blokett said, though his expression showed a hint of irritation. “I brought you all together so that I could make it clear where things stand. First off, I know you’ve all been anxious to get flying again.”
“Damn right,” Sue muttered.
“Well, the arrival of the new core we’ve been waiting for has run into a snag, I’m afraid. According to Timeno’s report, it must still be somewhere on Titinan. But, if what Timeno tells me is accurate, we may still have a chance to salvage the old one. Naturally, he volunteered.”
“It’ll work, believe me. That core’ll be sparking with life when I’m done with it.”
“Second, we have a new member with us today. You’ve all met Tom, correct?” There was an assortment of yeahs from around the room. “Good,” he said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a shooting star emblem. “Tom, this is for you.”
“Just like that? Does that mean I’m a Lost Agent?”
Blokett looked around the room. “Any objections?” He waited.
Tom looked up to see Timeno give him a nod. He reached for it but stopped short. “Captain?”
“This is all nice and whatnot, but what about Autumn? Did you guys figure out what’s wrong?”
Blokett let out a tired sight. “Mina did give me a rundown of the test results…”
Tom noticed Sue tense up. “How is she?” he asked.
“Well, it’s a bit difficult to explain, but her body seems to be going through certain changes.”
“Changes?” Tom asked. “You mean like she’s transforming?”
“I’ll do my best,” she said, finding a connection to the intercom again. “Now, according to my research, her vital signs are all normal. Peculiarly, a good percentage of her cells are starting to show properties normally only associated with plant-life.”
“You mean she’s turning into a plant?”
“Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. As I mentioned before, the condition has yet to show any harmful effects on her body’s ability to function. I don’t know how, but she seems to be adapting along with it. It could take years for the transition to be complete.”
Tom and Sue exchanged an uneasy glance.
“But the important thing is Autumn’s okay… She’s just going through some changes, so I suggest you go easy on her when she wakes up.”
“And when will that be?” Sue asked.
An awkward silence rippled around the room. “I wish I knew.” He tipped his hat, and raised a nearby table. “In the meantime, consider yourselves dismissed.”
Timeno gave his cane a twirl and headed for the door. “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve got some work to do.” he said before struggling through the opening.
Tom looked back to the captain. “Do you really think he can do it?”
He shook his head. “Here’s hoping.”