“Jert Zylan vs. The Cytard II”

Jert Zylan vs. The Cytard (Part 2)

Illustration by Mongol

Jert plunged through the hatch, smashed down hard on the airlock floor. Bloomf! Seconds later Ensign Dan came through too, crunched right on top of him. They thrashed about in a big slime-slippery smash pile; legs hooped through arms, faces red and purple. Above them, outside in the fields of Sackjawit bluegrass, the Cytard lay belly up. Dazed, not dead.

Dazed himself, pancaked to the floor, Jert watched dreamily as little birds of brain fireworks chirped circles around his topsy-turvey view of the room. Then they got bored and flew up and out the airlock door, and that’s when Jert realized Dan was still on top of him. Gruntingly, slimily, Jert dug his way out from under Dan, got to his feet. Right off the bat about a gallon of brainblood fuel-injected his head and turned his knees to rubber plungers. He wobbled back and forth, reached out to steady himself on the wall nearby. “Computer!” He said into cheap, plastic intercom box right there by his hand, and as he spoke he made sure to hold his breath, to avoid getting a whiff of the flakey cave-gunk that coated his clothes. “Status report.”

A computer voice with a faint, faint Long Island accent came out through the speakers, “Welcome back Jert Zylan. All systems nominal, calibrated and synchronized per specifications. The ship will self-destruct as scheduled—15 seconds to detonation.”

Jert’s jaw fell slack. He snapped a look at Dan. “It’s Lahluu! She been pressing buttons! Quick!” Side-by-side they bolted from the room and, for a moment, got stuck in the door.

*    *    *

Jert and Dan burst through the hatchway into the cramped, cluttered control room. A hanging laundry-line of Ensign Dan’s pants and underwear and t-shirts formed a wall of damp garments, partitioning the room slantwise. On one side of this wall stood the ship’s washer and drier and hot water heater, dented and old and all crammed tight in the corner. On the other side: the main computer console and monitor, behind which sat the cyborg C15, slumped and inert, dream-drool syruping into his lap. The place smelled of grainy laundry detergent and wet fabric and maybe mold. Two rectangular lighting panels up high on the walls gave the room a dank yellow/green glow.

The ship’s computer said, “7 seconds to detonation.”

Jert made a beeline for the computers. In his haste he stepped solidly on the tail of an orange tabby cat named Ston, who’d been napping dead center in the middle of the floor. Said cat blasted o’er the room in one arcing squeal and disappeared down the cramped corridor.

“5 seconds to detonation,” said the computer.

“Don’t run so fast,” barked an oddly unflustered Dan, “You almost killed the cat!”

As Jert charged through the wall of laundry its hanging stringline caught on the hook of his neck and chin—it screeched down flappingly from its plastic rollers, the damp clothes ker-splatting all over everything: the chairs and the computers, the rusty dumbbells on the floor, the rowing-machine. A wide pair of Ensign Dan’s khaki shorts plumped down like two separate capes around sleeping-C15’s shoulders.

Jert, his head an inferno of popping brainbeats, found the blinky, buttony auxiliary console—his only chance—under a wet pile of his own v-neck t-shirts at the far corner of the room. He flung the shirts over his shoulder in bunches and clumps. One of them scooped down over Ensign Dan’s head.

Facing the auxiliary console as if it were his own personal evil genius, Jert knew damn well that his and Dan’s and Lahluu’s and C15’s and Ston’s lives all hung in the balance. It was his big moment to step up and be the closer he’d always half-believed he could be. But, with exactly two seconds to go before the ship exploded, he quickly found out he was the type of man that totally buckled under pressure. Like butter in a shaft of sunlight his mind melted, lost its edge. No, he wasn’t much of a closer at all! In his panic, the auxiliary-console transformed before his eyes into some kind of cockamamie alien contraption. And so, naturally, he resorted to punching the hell out of the thing and screaming. The metal casing of the panel dented and dented more. By sheer luck one of his wild, desperate punches connected with the big circular button marked “Sequence Cancel.”

“Destruct sequence cancelled,” said the computer.

Jert let himself melt like silk to the floor. He breathed deep and slow and waited for his heartbeat to return to its default murmur. Caressing his throbbing fist, a proud grin on his lips, he thought: A lesser man would have cracked for sure.

Ensign Dan trundled over to Jert, extended a hand. Jert didn’t take it. Didn’t see it. Nurturing a weird, preternatural calm, he said to the floor: “Where’s the kid? Where’s Lahluu?”

“I don’t know.”

“We said ‘don’t press any buttons,’” said Jert softly. “Did we say that or did we not?”

“We did.”

When Jert spoke again, his words came slow and with great care because he wanted to get all the facts straight, to make sure he deserved to be as angry as he was about to be. He said, “She had paper. We gave her all that white paper and colored pencils.”

“I know.”

“I even drew her a ninja attack she was supposed to color. Two ninjas fighting a triceratops. And there was a third ninja already spiked in the horns. The living ninjas had nunchuks.”

“I saw it.”

“It came out so good I even debated not giving it to her,” said Jert, full of pride. “I thought maybe I’d go ahead and hang it in the bathroom as is.” Finally he looked up from the floor, gave Dan a serene, saintly grin, “But I gave it to her anyway, Ensign Dan.”

“I bet she didn’t color it,” snapped Dan. “I bet it’s all crinkly and folded up too. Or, real fast, she colored the ninjas blue or something stupid.”

Jert went quiet again for about ten seconds. Then, with calm determination, with unblinking eyes, he said in the tone of a contractor finally getting around to the estimate: “Well, hell, I’d say there’s only one thing to do in this particular scenario, Ensign Dan. Just one thing, when it comes right down to it.” For a moment he looked away, off into space, and then finally he nodded to himself, confident in his decision. He said, “Uh huh, we’re going to take her outside and feed her to the Cytard.”

_____

To catch up on Jert’s adventures, check out part 1.

Or, for more sci-fi monster action, check this story out.

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