The Search For Cuteness: Part 2

When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

        Iiwi streaked towards headquarters. She had to make sure the guys were all right!

        She'd seen the…thing…streak out of the sky and slam into the building. Right now, she wasn't overly concerned about exactly *what* it was. And she certainly wasn't worried about the trinkets lining her office – it was, after all, far from where the object hit. But Ferdie and Bob had already been in the building – they liked to go in early, for some unfathomable reason – and as close to the coffee maker as that crash was, she prayed the Kiwi Detective Agency was still a trio.

        Drawing nearer, she spotted a blue blot through the hole in the wall. Good. Ferdie was alive. She folded her wings in close, diving to the windowsill – or, rather, where the sill used to be – and lighting there.

        Ferdie was, in his typical fashion, blank-facedly gawking at something.

        This time, however, what he was gawking at caused her to stare for an instant as well.


        “Ack! What happened to them?!?

        Ferdie snapped back to reality, tearing his attention from the diminutive kiwis before him to the source of the squawk behind him.

        “Ferdie! What happened to them?!?” Iiwi queried, “They look like somebody shrank 'em in the wash!”


        For their part, the Hooties remained relatively calm. The big blue bird had startled them, and the flutter of wings had nearly sent them streaking for safety, but the looks of recognition and surprise on the two beings' faces kept them where they were. These two obviously knew their doubles – the red one's comment told them that much – and so perhaps they could take them to them.

        “Excuse me,” Bob started, “But we're not who you think we are. Not exactly. You see, we're from another dimension-”

        Beak interrupted, cutting right to the chase. “We've come to ask Beak for help.”

        The red bird blinked at them for a moment – the blue one had gone back to staring blankly at them – then turned and shouted down the hallway.



        Bob opened his eyes slowly. Curse that Iiwi. He'd hardly just *started* his nap! Well, she could just wait. If it was all that important, she should've come in earlier. Noontime was naptime.

        “Hey, yellow boy! You've got a diminutive alien clone here that wants to talk to you!”

        *That* got his attention. Iiwi could lie much more creatively than that – which meant at least some of it was true…

        Out of everyone, Bob's reaction was perhaps the calmest. He opened the door, strode into the receiving area…

        …took in the mess and the ruined coffee-maker…

        …saw the knocked-in wall…

        …and then noticed the pair of foot-high kiwis standing in the middle of the room.

        “Hey, Bob! Nice of you to join us!” Iiwi called sarcastically, then indicated the aliens, “Meet Bob and Beak. They're Hooties, aliens from a parallel dimension – and they need our help!”

        Bob studied Bob the Hootie for a minute, then grinned. “I think I'll call him Mini-Me.”


        After an hour or two of explanations – minus forty minutes of searching for and retrieving Beak - Bob had drawn the detectives into his office to discuss their course of action. Claiming to have intercepted one of their transmissions, the Hooties had outlined their reasons for traveling to Earth. Their planet, a peaceful and isolated blue orb, was under attack by the Java Empire. The Hooties didn't know why the Empire wanted their planet, but they were helpless to stop them – the agents of the Empire were, like nearly everyone else, four times their size. Their armies fell before the Empire, and their largest warships were no larger than the fighters the Empire was so accustomed to swatting out of existence. Isolated as they were, the Hooties had no allies – though highly advanced, they limited their space travels to only what was extremely necessary – and even if they had, no one but the Jedi had ever made a successful stand against the Empire – which had responded by crushing every last Jedi it came across. The Beak of their world was no more a Jedi than Bob – but the Beak the detectives had befriended *was*, and thus the Hooties felt would be able to help them. And because several heads were better than one, Bob and the rest of the detectives were invited to help as well.

        Which was exactly what Bob wanted to do. The rest of the crew, on the other hand….

        “You're going to what?!?” Ferdie squawked.

        Bob just shrugged. “Look, they said they needed our help! Their planet's under attack by the Java Empire!”

        “Bob, do you have any *proof* of that?” Ferdie countered. “Besides, isn't this Java Empire the thing Beak's been trying like heck to avoid for the past five years? If we agreed to help, we'd be putting his life in danger!”

        “Friend Ferdie, that is precisely why I must help them in the first place!” Beak interrupted, “The Java Empire will enslave them if I don't help them! And only one of the Empire's ships orbits their planet right now, so it is not entirely hopeless. We need only cut the ship's communications and destroy its records of the planet, then return it to a remote area of space. It shouldn't be that difficult.”

        “How can storming an imperial cruiser *not* be difficult?!?” Ferdie shouted. “Besides, you have absolutely *no* proof this isn't all a hoax!”

        “Besides,” Iiwi interrupted, “We don't have a ship. And we certainly can't go in theirs!”

        “What about that Intergalactic Kiwi Network thingie Newt was working on?” Bob wondered aloud, “We could use that!”

        This time it was Beak that shook his head. “No, I don't think it can handle trans-dimensional distances. Besides, it only works on one person at a time, and I'd need help on some things, so that won't work. Plus it still has tons of bugs in it – and I can't use my Magi abilities when I use it. I wouldn't want to leave something as important as this to chance – I've got to go there in person!”

        “In *what*?!?” Iiwi yelled. “We don't have a ship! And Ferdia's isn't in anywhere near working condition yet, even if we wanted to cram everyone into it!”

        The group thought about that for a moment.

        “Wait a minute! What about Ivan?” Ferdie started, “Doesn't he still have his ships?”

        “He should,” Iiwi allowed, “although I hear he's got one in pieces at a reverse-engineering facility somewhere…”

        “But he's still got one free?” Bob asked, secretly hoping the answer was negative. The thought of having to ask his arch nemesis for help was just disgusting. Moreover, it was demeaning. And Ivan would gloat. Oh, would Ivan gloat.

        “I think so. But we'd have to go ask,” Iiwi replied.

        “ 'We'?” Ferdie repeated, “Why don't you just ask him?”

        Iiwi glared at him, then unruffled her feathers and waved it off. “Because *I* don't want to owe him a favor. If *we* ask him, *we'll* owe him a favor, and odds are he'll ask a lot easier favor from us.”

        Beak was getting lost in the implied references, as usual, and cut the argument off. “So, it's off to Ivan's then? I'll go tell the Hooties.”


        Ferdia ruffled the mouseling's hair as she stood to leave. It had taken a few hours, but she'd finally talked Marie into taking a nap.

        Mercy General had called the precinct last night, they'd learned, because Marie didn't have any ID and wouldn't give the orderlies her last name. Her mother had been DOA at the scene, and in all the confusion following the terrorists' roust, no one was quite sure what morgue she'd been sent to – and thus no one could figure out who to call for Marie's medical history. Which wouldn't normally have been a big problem – except that at some point in the firefight, a bullet had grazed Marie's arm, and the hospital needed permission to sew the (relatively minor, and therefore not mandated by ER compulsive care) wound shut.

        Which Ferdia and the other cops couldn't technically give them. But, after a couple of hours' pleading, scheming, bullying, and outright lying to the medical staff, Ferdia'd dangled Marie's last name – which she'd obtained after a few minutes of calming chit-chat with the mouseling – in front of the pediatrician who'd been screaming for it all night, and he, in turn, talked – or, more accurately, screamed – a resident into sewing the still-bleeding wound shut. This had in turn infuriated the medical higher-ups, who threatened the resident with legal action and expulsion until Trevor and Casey returned from a phone call with the precinct to deliver some somber news: the kid had no known kin.

        *That* had shut the doctors up pretty quickly. Orphans were by definition wards of the state, but until they were remanded to state custody, self-appointed guardians and servants of the state could allow things like emergency-room stitches. Ferdia fell into both these categories, and bullied the now-quiet doctors into giving Marie her own room. By that time, the sun was rising, and Trevor and Casey relinquished the squad car's keys and caught taxis home. But the sedative the mouseling had gotten hours ago had worn off, and when she realized the night had not been a bad dream, the loss of her mother kicked in, and she'd started screaming again.

        But she was asleep now. Exhausted, Ferdia stumbled out of the room, groggily retracing her steps back to the floor's waiting lounge. Squeaks had stuck around all night, not about to abandon his partner, on duty or off. He was slumped in one of the beaten armchairs lining the lounge, asleep.

        Ferdia yawned. Sleep sounded good right now. Collapsing in the armchair next to Squeaks', she curled into a comfortable position and drifted into unconsciousness.


        Laughter pealed through the hall, echoing as the sound waves bounced off the walls and vaulted ceiling, compounding the volume until it sounded as if not one, but a dozen voices were laughing at him. And a few more were snickering.

        Bob scowled, clenching his fists and suppressing a growl. Ferdie stood with his arms crossed, tapping his foot impatiently, and Beak gazed about the great hall curiously. Iiwi ignored the scene entirely and simply stood, preening her feathers and admiring the new bits of stolen / expertly forged artwork that lined the adjoining chamber.

        Across from them, Ivan was on the floor, laughing maniacally. Or laughing hysterically. Or just rolling on the floor laughing his head off. Whatever. Behind him, the sign holder gripped his sign tightly, using it to keep from doubling over in laughter. Even Lita was snickering.

        Bob's growl became audible as the yellow kiwi tensed and prepared to lunge at the gray-feathered villain. To his credit, Ivan sat up, breathing deeply and slowly bringing himself under control. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he stood and brushed himself off, regaining some of his usual refined manner.

        “Whew! That was a good one, Bob. 'Borrow my ship.' Ha! So,” he continued, the hint of a chuckle still in his voice, “What'd you *really* want?”

        If he'd had teeth, he'd've ground them together in frustration. As it was, Bob spoke through a clenched beak. “I said, we need to borrow your ship.”

        “Come on, now, *I'm* being serious, Bob,” Ivan chided, “Why can't you?”

        Bob snarled, leaping for Ivan's throat. He regretted the move almost immediately, as the sign holder darted in front of his boss and swung his sign like a huge bat, smacking Bob to the other end of the room.


         “Thanks, kid,” Ivan said, patting the young kiwi on the head and striding up to the rest of the group as they watched Bob slowly sit up and rub the welt on his head. “Look…Iiwi, you guys aren't seriously here to borrow one of my fighters, are you?”

        Iiwi sighed. “Yes, we are.”


        “Because we need one.”

        Ivan shook his head. “Not good enough, Redbird. Details?”

        Iiwi heaved a frustrated sigh. “Look, there's these two aliens that say they need Bob and Beak and whoever else we wanna snag to help them defeat their enemy. Problem is, they're only a foot tall, so we can't go in their ship. And somebody wrecked mine, if you remember,” she finished, glaring over at Ferdie, who cringed.

        Ivan assumed a thoughtful pose. “Hmmm…”

        “You…you could come with us, if you want….”

        “Ha! Nothing doing, Redbird! I've had *quite* enough of space travel! All the same…what do *these* aliens look like?”

        Ferdie sighed, unzipping his backpack. The Hooties peered out warily.

        “It's the Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi!” Bob's Hootie exclaimed.

        “You guys still have yours?” Beak's Hootie inquired.

        Fortunately, Ivan didn't hear them. He was too busy staring at them. “Cool,” he finally managed.

        “So, can we borrow the ship?” Beak asked hopefully.

        “We can pay you,” his Hootie added, “Name your price.”

        Ivan considered that. “Do I have a double on your world?”

        “Sort of,” Bob's Hootie supplied.

        Ivan's beak broke into a wide grin. “Great. Have him bronzed and sent back.”

        “WHAT?!?” Bob yelped.

        “Ivan!” Ferdie choked, “That's inappropriate and you know it!”

        The villain's grin faded. “You're right. *Anybody* can render a decent likeness in bronze. It'd be better to encase him in Lucite. That'd capture every little detail and preserve it exactly.”

        Ferdie couldn't come up with a rejoinder for that one. He just stood there, pointing, mouth opening and closing like a landed fish until Bob walked up to him and smacked him out of it.

        “Y'know,” Bob's Hootie muttered, “You're every bit as evil as I remember our version of you being.”

        Ivan just rolled his eyes. Heroes. “Fine, do-gooders, tell ya what. You can borrow the ship. But-” he continued over the cheering, “I expect it returned with its cargo hold absolutely *crammed* with assorted goodies, and any ships you take come back to me. *And* you all owe me a favor. And that's just if the ship isn't damaged.”

        “Why don't you just have us sign over our souls while we're at it,” Ferdie muttered under his breath.

        “Because I only deal in things I can profit from in *this* lifetime, bird,” Ivan replied flippantly. “Now, follow me, I'll take you to the hangar.”

        “We need to get our ship first,” the Hooties pointed out, “so we'll just meet you in orbit.”

        With that, they left. Ivan watched after them for a few moments. “Hope nobody steps on them,” he snickered, then motioned to the rest of the group. “Right this way, detectives.”


        “You want me to what?” Ferdia asked, pressing the phone's receiver closer to her ear and motioning to Squeaks to quiet Marie down.

        “Come with us,” Ferdie repeated. “The Hooties think we could use all the help we can get, and I figure that means you two.”

        Ferdia glanced over to Squeaks and Marie, who were currently hovering over Ma Birdie. “Look, bro, I can't. - No, I'm serious. The Chief's just stopped yelling at me for that last 'extended absence' space-faring escapade of ours, he's sore about the phone bills from New York, and he's trying not to even think about the terrorist thing last night. Drake's somewhere in the city – yes, we ran into him yesterday – so we have to watch him, and I seem to have acquired a side-kick.”

        “The mouse kid from the attack? Couldn't you just leave her at the station? Casey and Trevor could-”

         “We got thrown out of there hours ago. Marie decided she didn't like Vernon, so she locked him in a crowded holding cell. The EMS team got a real kick outta that, lemme tell you…”

        Ferdie wasn't about to give up that easily, though. He rattled off a dozen other child-care options.

        “No, no, I tried that. Yeah, that too. And that, yes,” Ferdia paused, listening as her brother suggested letting Ma take care of the mouseling. “Yeah, we thought so too – Bink could use a playmate. We're at Ma's now. No, I don't know what she thinks of the idea….I don't know! Look, when we walked in and she saw Marie, she got this weird look on her face and then fainted….It is *NOT* funny!”

        “Sure it is,” Ferdie laughed, “But you're sure you won't come? I mean, once she wakes up and you explain things to her, Ma'll be fine with Marie.”

        “Yes, but the Chief will kill me if I disappear without notice again! Sorry, bro, I'm just gonna have to sit this one out. You guys have our number at the precinct – you can always call if you really need us. I'm sure you'll do fine - you guys can take care of yourselves! Bye!”


        Ferdie blinked, staring at his cell phone in disbelief. Do fine? Against a huge enemy starship and invasion army? By themselves?

        Who did she think *she* was kidding?!?

        Oh well. They'd just call if they needed her help. Beak's plan did make things seem rather simple, after all….


        “She's not coming?!?” Bob squawked, jaw dropping in disbelief, “But she always comes! We need her! And Squeaks!”

        “You rely on those two entirely too much, you know,” Ivan chided them, striding onto the bridge of his ship. “You'll never learn to fend for yourselves if you keep bringing them along as your own private army.”

        “Who asked you?” Bob growled, grumbling over to one of the seats on the bridge. “And what are you doing here, anyway? I thought you said you weren't coming with us.”

        “I'm not,” Ivan replied, scanning the room, “I just wanted to get a better idea of what condition this ship's in now, so I'll know just *how* badly you've messed her up later.”

        “Will I be accompanying them as their pilot, Sir?” Lita chimed in, looking up from her control panel.

        “Nah. Iiwi can do that herself, and you have to finish up your fixed-wing flight training and certification, or I can't let you teach my test pilots how to fly these things. The feds are watching that airfield much too closely of late…”

        Lita shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry about that. But I still don't see what their problem is. They were the ones violating our airspace, after all, and those little planes were just so *tempting*….”

        “Tempting or not, violating our airspace or not, standard operating procedure with those guys does *not* include shadowboxing them into a panic!”

        He gave the screens a final glance, then turned to leave. He wasn't too thrilled with loaning the ship out. True, it wasn't his Scarlet Tanager, and Iiwi was certainly skilled enough to fly it without damaging it – but even so…

        Ah well. If they damaged it, they'd pay for it. If they didn't bring him back treasures, he'd just send them a sizeable bill. And as long as he ignored the fact that he was lending out one of his most valued possessions to his arch nemesis – to fly on a rather dangerous mission, no less – he supposed he'd be fine.

        Of course, he could accompany them – he could even take the other ship, just to be safe – and make sure nothing went wrong. But he'd had enough of space, and, quite frankly, wasn't about to go after them on some ridiculous do-good quest.


        Drake paused as the startled shouts rang out, turning and following the alarmed gestures of the more observant locals. A small saucer cut through the sky, climbing above the skyline as it sped away from the city. As it distanced itself from the ground, it was joined by a noticeably larger ship – one of Galaxia's pirate fighters, he realized – before the two sped out of sight.

        Now, what were they up to?


        “Okay, now,” Bob the Hootie began, “we're sending you the coordinates of our world. You should be able to reach it in a few days' time at Warp 8, but we can get there in only a few moments if we open a translocator channel.”

        “A what?” Bob wondered.

        “It's how our race prefers to travel,” Beak's Hootie explained. “We use a device that folds time, like a wormhole, but does so at specific frequencies, so we can control precisely how far we go – we can even cross dimensions! Now, in case this doesn't work, set out to the coordinates as fast as you can – but if it does work, be prepared for sudden acceleration.”

        “Yes, translocation involves *much* higher speeds than warp technology,” Bob's Hootie added.

        “So it'll be just a bit slower than my sister drives,” Ferdie muttered. Bob nodded in agreement.

        Beak, however, was actually paying attention. “That would mean communications between our ships will be impossible,” he surmised. The Hooties nodded. “Okay, send us whatever information on this ship you have, and we'll start planning the attack while we're enroute.”

        “Roger that. Information sent. Beginning translocator channel entry.” Beak's Hootie told them.

        “Oh, great,” Ferdie whimpered, watching as the stars on-screen started lengthening and rotating.

        Iiwi watched the screen as well, a line from one of the group's favored sci-fi flicks flitting into mind. “Buckle up, men! We're gonna skip right past Light Speed and Ridiculous Speed and go straight to Ludicrous Speed!”

        Gulping at her comment, Bob tightened his seat restraints. An instant later, the ship lurched forward, accelerating so fast it flattened the four detectives against their seats, which creaked in protest as both the fighter and the tiny saucer sped across folded space-time.


        Inside their fighter, Bob, Beak, Iiwi, and Ferdie gradually adjusted to the speed of the translocator's warp channel.

        “Oy. 'Ludicrous Speed' is right, Iiwi,” Ferdie grumbled.

        “Agreed,” Beak nodded. “Now, we need a plan.”

         “I thought we had a plan. Disable their communications, wipe their computer's memory banks, and tow them to neutral space,” Bob remembered.

        “That's an objective. What we need is a strategy. A way of *doing* that stuff.” Iiwi thought for a minute. “In theory, since this ship is a pirate fighter, it should have jamming capabilities. I don't know where they are, but once we find them, we should be able to use them to disable their communications system.”

        “What about their computers?” Bob asked. “I didn't bring any magnets, and they're bound to be password-protected.”

        “And encrypted,” Ferdie added. “And unless the Hooties have decoded that, we won't have much luck getting into it. Unless you can do that, Beak?”

        “Sorry,” Beak shook his head. “My abilities don't work like that. If we could find a systems operator, however, we could have them delete the ship's data. That I can do.”

        Bob searched the map onscreen, pointing when he found what he was looking for. “There! The main engineering bay! That's where the Hooties said the access panels were!”

        “Great. Put those relative coordinates in as transporter locations,” Iiwi said, looking up from her own terminal, “I'm looking into how our jammers work. We'll have to get – and stay – pretty close to their ship to effectively jam them, and we'll be out-of-touch with the Hooties, but we'll be able to jam them for about five to fifteen minutes.”

        “Five minutes?!?” Ferdie yelped. “That's it?!?”

        Iiwi shrugged. “Look, this is a pirate ship. It's designed to jam a disabled ship until the pirates have safely escaped, but since jammers take a lot of energy to run, she can only jam for up to 15 minutes at a time – about as long as it would take to subdue and raid a cargo ship.”

        “But we're talking about a battle cruiser, Iiwi!”

        “I can't help that! The settings are what they are. I can tweak them a little, but I have to compensate for the cruiser's dimensions. We're lucky we can even effectively jam a ship that size – the designers were smart enough to realize they'd want a system that could also give them enough time to get away from any pursuers that found them. You remember how big the Ducks' ship was, right? They do border patrol, so it would pay to be able to jam them long enough to put some distance between you and them, right? I'll see if I can route more power in from somewhere. Another system, maybe. One we won't be using.”

        “So we're looking at a time frame of fifteen minutes,” Bob mused.

        “Maximum,” Iiwi reminded them. “Better plan for ten. Five would be best, but you should be able to work easier with ten.”

        “I wonder if this ship is even strong enough to tow theirs away from the planet,” Beak wondered, “We'll need to take them far enough that they won't be able to find their way back to the Hooties' planet, but keep them a safe distance from space controlled by the Empire. We can't have others showing up to rescue them, after all.”

        “It'd be easier just to shoot it down and collect the escape pods.”


        “What? It was only a suggestion! Consider it Plan D, okay? For 'Desperate',” she suggested, “As a method of last resort, it would get them job done.”

        “We'll have to hope it doesn't come to that,” Beak stated.


        An hour later, the ships slid out of the translocation channel, coming to a halt behind a small moon.

        “The planet over there is ours,” Bob's Hootie pointed out, indicating the blue orb the moon circled. Orbiting the small planet, however, was a rather large warship.

        “Have you come up with a plan?” Beak's Hootie asked.

        “Yes,” Beak replied, laying out the basics for them.

        Bob's Hootie listened carefully, nodding appreciatively. “That should work. We don't think they've sent out any communiqués to the Java Empire, so as long as they can't find their way back, no one should be able to find us!”


        Bob, Beak, and Ferdie ran down the corridor at full tilt, dodging energy blasts as they desperately searched for an exit. Behind them, soldiers shouted orders and loosed volley after volley of energy bolts at the intruders.

        Bob shook his communicator, trying to get it to register a signal. That was one thing they had failed to plan for – as long as Iiwi kept the fighter's jammers up and running, they couldn't contact her! He yelped as a stray shot clipped his tail. Things weren't going well at all! Where had they gone wrong?

        When they'd first beamed onto the ship, Iiwi had put them right in the engineering bay – which had, fortunately, been nearly empty. They'd snagged an engineer and Beak had gotten him to delete all information regarding the Hooties' world and its relative location, and – at Ferdie's suggestion – had him program the ship to depart for a random set of coordinates.

        That's when their luck turned. The computer compared the coordinates to their current location, ran a check on where the command had been issued – in Engineering, not the Bridge – and promptly informed the captain that someone was messing with the computer systems. The alarms this set off startled their engineer out of Beak's mind manipulation, and he'd had just enough time to trigger another alarm before the trio had knocked him out.

        By then, of course, it had been too late to find another engineer and finish the work – and with her systems still fully functional, there was no way their little fighter could possibly tow the destroyer by force – so they had set off the self-destruct sequence on the engines. And then run right into the security team sent to investigate the alarms.

        None of the detectives had thought to bring phasers with them, of course, which made battling the security team difficult. Until Beak pulled out his lightsaber, of course. Then things just went to hell.

        Beak had disarmed the team quickly – and literally, in some cases (to which Ferdie responded by baptizing the floor with his breakfast) – but the troopers had recognized the weapon and called for backup. With the self-destruct timer ticking away, the trio had opted for a strategic withdrawal – only to find themselves unable to raise Iiwi, as they were inside the very target she was jamming.

        The troopers' backup had arrived not long after that, cutting the team's panic session short as the trio bolted for relative safety. Which was, at the moment, defined as any direction pointing away from the people with guns.

        Ahead of him, Beak sliced through a locked door, ducking inside. Bob and Ferdie followed suit, watching as Beak then called several heavy security doors down over the entrance.

         “What now?” Ferdie panted, looking around the small room, “There's no way out of this room!”

        “Yeah, and they're not gonna be fooled into thinking we just kept on running ahead,” Bob added, “Not with those security doors down!”

        “Maybe not,” Beak allowed, “But they won't be able to get through them for a while, so we can just wait until we can contact Miss Iiwi again, and she'll beam us to safety.”

        “Beak! We started the self-destruct sequence! What if it runs out first?” Bob yelled. “We did tell Iiwi to keep the jammers going as long as she could – what if she's found some way to extend their operations? We'll be flamen-gebursted!”

        “I have faith in Miss Iiwi. I believe she will discover the self-destruct sequence and beam us back before it is too late.”

        “And if she doesn't?” Ferdie countered. “What then?”

        Beak blinked, as if that possibility hadn't occurred to him. He shifted his weight nervously. “Well….I'm certain there's always the possibility that the ship's officers can stop the self-destruct sequence…”

        Bob considered the intelligence of the crew members they'd encountered so far. “We're all gonna die!” he wailed.


        Inside the fighter, however, the destroyer's self-destruct countdown did not go unnoticed.

        “Blowing it up, huh?” Iiwi grinned. “I should let you guys stew a bit longer, after all the trouble you gave me over that idea – but, why take chances? It's hard to be the conquering hero if you've let the ones who do all the work get blown up, after all.”

        She keyed in a few commands, isolating the trio's location inside the destroyer, then activated the transporter beam. The jamming console squawked in protest as the transporter leached some of its power supply, but continued blocking the bigger ship's communications systems nonetheless.

        The bright lights of transporter beams flashed behind her, and she guided the fighter a little further away from the destroyer – which had broken orbit a few moments ago, when it started to respond to its new coordinates – before turning to face her friends, grinning mischievously. “Hey, guys. Having fun?”

        “What took you so long?!?” Bob squawked, flinching as the destroyer rocked with first one explosion, then an ever-increasing cascade of fiery bursts. It finally exploded in one final, glorious burst, which sent a shockwave and shrapnel hurtling in their direction.

Iiwi killed the jammers – they were no longer necessary – and cranked up the shields. The little fighter bobbed when the shockwave hit it, but its shields protected them from its effects as well as the shrapnel. She scanned the wreckage for escape pods, but, finding none, turned back to her friends.

        Ferdie shrugged. “Oops. Guess we won't be hearing from then again, eh?”

        “Hope the Hooties aren't mad at us for all the damage, though. Some of those fragments might make it through the atmosphere,” Beak said.

        They needn't have worried. The Hooties were ecstatic at the destruction of the Java ship, and spent no small amount of time saying so.

        “You must come to the surface!” Bob's Hootie exclaimed. “We will throw you a Victor's Celebration!”

        “Yes,” Beak's Hootie added, “We will celebrate our triumph over the evil Java Empire!”


        As the ships descended to the surface to a hero's welcome, however, a marker bouy light-years away received and forwarded a message to the Java Empire.

        Upon recognizing Beak as a Magi, the destroyer's commander had immediately sent out an emergency signal, detailing their attackers and location. And while the message did no one aboard the lost destroyer any good, it did reach the Empire.

        And when it did, reinforcements were immediately dispatched.


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