WARNING! Some texts contains violence, novakid sexual harassment and strong language! I don't appreciate people doing this anywhere but in the text! Be a nice people! Also you should know some terms due to Novakid "biology". Brand - metal symbol on Novakid's face. I think everybody knows that it is their vital organ, like our heart or brain for example. Corona - Novakid's "hair". Nothing useful, only stylish purpose. "Passion Spark" - due to Bietol being somewhere near Pluto, i decided to add my own stuff. We all know that Novakid repopulates by mixing plasma. But does they have the "sex for pleasure" thing? By reading a ton of stuff and fantasizing even more, I decided they could. But plasmamixing couldn't be as pleasureful for them as swaping some charges on their brands. It's like straight brainfu-u-u... (You understood me!) but it looks more like a kiss. Color names - I used this picture: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/1b/37/ec/1b37ec6dd26e4368cf9db7558ea46a4f.gif ) Logic holes - this can happen to everyone of us, so you need to just tell me you found one and we will discuss it. Sometimes i just forgot to tell something, sometimes i just didn't thought something through. Your help will be remembered. "Spaking brands" - in all the time I spend in forum i didn't found any info on how Novakid shows their emotions, so I made my own way. Sorry Bietol! "Why the hell do they talk like that?!" - I tried my best to make a stereotypic Texas accent. Of course i did it wrond, but i hope it was at least not completely wrong. "Cinder drinks whiskey" - yes, he is a kid, BUT, he is Novakid, and due to their physiology, alchohol is nothing more than energy drink. To make Novakid being drunk you need to use something, that switches some charges in their brand. Battery acid does that, having a tiny metal parts in the liquid. Theese parts has a "jumpy charge" wich starts dancing around the brand, making the person drunk. The smaller the brand that gets the "jumpy charge" the more dangerous it's effect. "So, what is the Jack, Gazzi drinks?" - it's a special drink, made to cool down Novakid's brand and plasma. So technicaly it's like Machito or something like that, and that's why Gazzoline drinks it so much - to cool down a bit. Also special thanks to my redactor, Miss Alkane (http://community.playstarbound.com/members/miss-alkane.398452/), who agreed to help me improoving the text. She makes my texts much more senceful! Ultra thanks to Bietol (http://community.playstarbound.com/members/bietol.10704/) for being one of the people, who made the Novakid race. Okay, you've been warned, terms been told, credits given. Hope I didn't forgot anything and will not be banned (YOU BROKE THE RULES!)... Here we go. 1. Ol' Chrome's story of crooked brand (+18-21) The Green Lance was slowly going through an asteroid field, and some of the crew had decided to spend the spare time by themselves. Fiddle was playing his instrument at the bar, Solid and Gazzi were in the middle of a card game which rules were known only by the two them. Oila had taken Lil' Cinder to help her with the dishes, but after half of an hour the young Novakid got bored and decided to take a walk through the train. Oila wasn't happy about it and demanded him to at least bring her new spoons from the train's blacksmith. He did as she said. When the young Novakid entered the forge, he saw а familiar scene: a big, deep-red, bulky Novakid was mutely hammering white-hot piece of metal so hard that some sparks almost reached the exit of the room. His ugly, crooked, wavy brand was pulsating with each smite of his leaden hammer, and his corona-beard was flapping against his mighty chest. He was wearing a shirt that had once been white but now was covered with soot, a burgundy leather vest, red-brown pants, classic black high boots and black leather gloves in his hands. He almost of the Red Giant age, but had somehow stopped this aging process years ago. His name was Chrome, but everybody called him Ol' Crookbrand because of the form of his brand. Old Novakid looked like he hadn’t noticed the little guest entering his workroom, so Cinder thought he could silently take the spoons and leave without drawing the attention of the blacksmith, but once he made a step towards the pile of boxes in the corner, Chrome halted his work and asked: - What'd ya want from Ol' Crookbrand, Lil' Cindy? - His low humming voice was calm, but the kid noticed a note of annoyance in it. - Don' call me like that, old man! It's a wenchy name, - Offended by his words, Cinder threw a spark from his brand, - Ma told me to bring 'er the spoons she ordered from you. - Hah, sorry kid, yer Mom ain't goin to get 'em until I finish forgin' em, - Chrome exhaled a small cloud of soot; it looked like he had eaten something earlier. - So ya got a few options: ya can' sit 'ere, waitin' till I finish, or, my favorite, ya can go some'ere else, bothering somebody that ain’t me. - If Ma sees me going away, she's gonna force me do the dishes, so I better stay here. - The young Novakid shook his head. - Then ya better be quiet, so I can immagin' ya're not 'ere... - Oh, not gonna happen old man! It's your fault the spoons aren't ready, so you must pay for it. - If ya weren't a kid, I swear I would’ve kick'd ya out. - The blacksmith clenched his left fist. - But you can't, so deal with me asking you questions while you're working, - Cinder chaffed the old Novakid. - Fine! Just ask somethin' with a long answer, so I'll speak longer than ya! - Ol' Crookbrand resumed to his work. - Why are you a blacksmith? It's such a boring work, - Cinder asked. - First'of'all - I like what I’m doin'. Secondly - somebody needs to make yer darn spoons, - the red-almost-giant answered grumpily. - Why are you never leaving your forge? You don' even leave to get yourself some food. - I don' like attention. I don' like bein' watch'd. I don' like when anybody reminds me of my past! - Crookbrand's voice started boiling. - Why is your brand so ugly? Have you ever tried to fix it? - the curious kid asked. - I said I don' like when somebody reminds me of my past. Ask somthin' else! - The blacksmith smit the metal plate so hard it cracked in half. - Drang'it! See what ya did? Now I need to start over! - But I want to know about your brand. Always when I ask from others they get sad and won't answer me... - Cinder hang his head. - Ya don'... I can't... - old Novakid tensed, and his brand started pulsating, sparks dancing all over it. After a few moments he sighed a slag cloud and asked, - Do ya really wanna know my story? - Yes, oldman, I do. - Then remember it, so I won’t have to tell it twice... Cinder sat on the pile of boxes and prepared to listen to the Ol' Crookbrand's tale: - This all happen'd when I was youn'. Not youn' like ya; my age was as Fiddle's. I was livin' in a small town on a desert planet. The place was peaceful 'n quiet, but as every nice lil' town we had ourselves a sheriff... Her name was Sherry Bright and I swear to the stars she was the most beautiful girl I've ever seen in my life... Her brand was in the shape of a bird and she had a long ponytail corona and a body that was violin-shaped, shinin' light-blue so bright she could be mistaken as our planet's sun! I was happy just to see 'er walkin' near me, but when I tried to speak with 'er, my voice was crackin' so hard I couldn't speak! Oh, how lon' I was tryin' to tell 'er about my feelin's, but I always fail'd. I was just afraid she couldn' understand me, 'cause she was the law of our town and I was just a blacksmith. But one day chang'd my life forever... The outlaw gang, named Cassa'n'Boys came to our humble town. The moment they stepp’d on our land we weren't able to walk along the streets without fear. They were robbin', cripplin' and mockin' our people! We were terrified! Sherry tried to fight 'em, but what can one girl do against three highwaymen; 'ey just tie'd up her and brought to the main square to start the "show". First the leader, named Cassa, said: "C'mon babe, we're not monsters 'ere, we just wanna have some fun... 'f course you can help me bein' satisfied. If you give me a "passion spark" I'll think about lettin' you go... Maybe". That jerk forced 'er to touch his brand with hers, but the moment it happen'd he scream'd and almost fell to the ground by the charge she gave 'im. Furious, Cassa shot her in the knee and said: "I think you didn' understand, bitch. Now I am in charge 'ere and YOU're still alive 'cause I want! So be a good girl and show me how ya love the NEW LAW!" and he touch'd 'er brand again but she shock'd him as before. He shot 'er in the shoulder and call'd one of his henchman to brin' up "the argument"... It was 'er sister Sally, tied up and cryin' for help! Cassa point'd the gun to the girl's head and laugh'd, demandin' the same as before, promisin' to untie Sally after he gets it. Sherry agreed... I can still hear this screamin', while that mongrel was leachin' on my love. After a minute of this torture, when Sherry lost 'er energy to scream, he let 'er go. She fell to the ground, bleedin', weaken'd, exhaust'd. When Cassa untie'd Sally everybody believ'd everythin' was fine, but when she ran far enough that bastard shot that little girl in the head! She died almost instantly; exploded, like a little dyin' star... - Wait! Why didn't anybody try to stop 'em?! - Cinder was shocked. - We'all were afraid so much... Ya can't imagine how much I hate myself for standin' still near my anvil, when all this happen'd... But when he kill'd Sally, - Crookbrand tensed so much that his brand started to turn red-hot by all the charges sparkling on it, - When I saw Sherry lookin' at the crater 'er sister left... I grab'd my hammer and ran out. First smite was accurate enough so I crush'd the brand of one of Cassa's men. Then I took his pistol and kick'd 'im into the second one. The explosion stunned 'im good, so I just shot 'im in the face without any hesitation, killin' 'im like a vermin. But Cassa did managed to point his pistol at me. He said: "Ya did gud son, but I’m better. Drop it, boy." I did as he said. He continued: "yer heroic move will be remember'd by no one. I’m goin' to kill every single person 'ere, and yer sheriff is goin' to watch it. Now, prepare to meet 'em..." The moment Cassa was ready to shoot me, Sherry, who was lyin' nearby, kick'd 'im in the leg, so that scum lost ‘is balance and fell to the ground. Not wastin' any second I jump'd on 'im and grab'd his neck with one hand and his brand with another. I was so enrage'd I lost my ability to think and just tore this crud's brand out! Explosion threw me a few meters away. My body was cover'd with cracks and tears, but it was nothin' compared to the idea that came into my mind: "Is Sherry okay?!" Not carin' about my wounds I ran to her... She was lyin' there, almost dead. She ask'd me: "why did ya do this?" But I my cursed voice betray'd me once more and I just pick'd 'er up and ran like hell to our doctor, prayin' for 'er life. Seein' 'er conditon, medic said that there is no way we can help, even transfusion would just slow the process down... Lookin' the face of my dyin' love I finally managed to say: "I love ya Sherry... I've always love'd ya. Since the moment I met you I was always thinkin' about you! I’m sorry Sherry. I’m so sorry!"... Then my wounds took over me. The last thin' I remember was the medic's gentle hands carryin' me away. All next week I spent in the hospital, lookin' at the ceilin'. When I came out, everybody was lookin' at me quite strangely; like they were happy to see me, but were disturb'd by my appearance... Then I finally realized that my brand was maim'd forever. I still don' know why my body kept its shape... After all this I just closed in to my forge and stop'd contactin' everybody until the day Solid came to me and offer'd a chance to go away, without becomin' an exile. I agreed. - The old Novakid exhaled a big cloud of soot. - I... I’m sorry, old man... - Cinder shyly approached giant blacksmith and hugged him. - I see, lil' one. I see... After a few minutes of silence Crookbrand decided to interrupt it. - Yer spoons are ready, kid. Ya should get 'em to yer mom, I think... - He caressed Cinder's corona. - You're right, Crookbrand, thank you, - The kid took the spoons and headed to the exit. - And Cinder, if ya wish, ya can c'mere any time. - I sure will. Bye oldman. - Bye, brightlin'. 2. Bad side of being loud (Proofread is in process) Cinder was really excited: this was the first day Ol' Crookbrand will leave his forge and go to the bar, and Cinder is going to be his companion in it! Since their conversation, durin wich Chrome decided to stop being a sealed sorrowbucket, they became a pretty good friends. Crookbrand even allowed him to help with heating up the forge. Young orange Novakid ran his hand through his short spiky corona and entered the blacksmith's room. Red-almost-giant was doing the same he always does, he was hammering something. This time it was a big metal plate Gazzi ordered from him to "armor'up som' engines", and by the way old Novakid was smiting this metal piece, he was doing it without even thinking, his hands was working by themselves. At first Chrome didn't noticed little guest, but after a few swings he looked up and made a satisfied short laugh. - So, 'ere ya are. As ya see Im in a bit'of a workin' moment, - he said. - Happy to see you oldman. How lon' it'll take of you to finish? - kid approached the blacksmith. - Not so lon', but ya better take a seat... Also, yesterday ya said ther'is som'body else on the train, besides the ones comin' to me orderin' stuff. - Oh, yeah, I remember. I wanted to tell you about the guys spending all day in the bar. You know Fiddle, right? - Cinder climbed up on the box and sat down. - Fiddle? This skinny boy with broken cross as a brand? - Yep. He says the human trader said him that on the Earth his symbol was a letter in ancient language and was called lambda... Wait, we're talkin' away from the bar. So, besides him there are two more folks almost living in the bar wagon! - So, who they're? - Crookbrand started bending the plate with his hands, straining to sparks. - First one is Nickel. He's a piano player, playing togheter with Fiddle. He's not talking much, but plays really good! - Okay, I think I've seen som'one lookin' like that. His brand looks square like yours, but without a top line and a thir vertical one in the center, right? - Chrome stopped bending the plate for the moment, to estimate the flexure. - Yes, he does. The second person is Nancy the barmaid... - Wait, ya're talkin' about that boxem girl with'a golden-heart brand? - old Novakid contentendly passed his hand over the metal plate. - Y-yes... How did you?... - Where'd ya think she gets the gold to color 'er pretty brand ev'ry week? - blacksmith laughed, - Im finish'd by the way. - I was always thinking she was born with it... - said young Novakid with disappointment in his voice. - Nagh, don' be sad, kid. She's absolutely natural in other ways. Shall'we'go? - big red Novakid pulled the chain, hanging from the ceiling and forge's fire started slowly fading away. - Okay, - Cinder jumped off the box and went along with the blacksmith to the exit. On the way to the bar they met Oila, who was really surprised by Chrome's will to go out from his forge, but there was nothing noticable other than that. When they approached the big wooden door, wich was the entrance to the bar, they both heared the voices behind it. One was belonging to Fiddle, the other one was Nancy's. They was rapidly disputing, but suddenly Nancy said loudly: "Okay! Fine! If the first man, entering this bar, orders a battery acid, I will kiss you! But I if this doesn't happens, you will be the one washing this place during the next week!" Before Cinder tried to open the door, Chrome stopped his hand and quietly asked: - What's the battery acid? - he said so soflty, Cinder barely heared it. - It's a drink they serve... Ma doesn't let me even look at it, saying im too small for it and i can die after drinking... - Cinder tried speaking as quiet as Crookbrand did. - Than I go first, git? I wanna check'is stuff out an' make the poor bastard happy. Giand red hand grabbed the doorhandle and opened it. Bar was a nice spacious room with green walls and stout wooden furniture. In the center of the room, between the tables, piano and a bar counter was a special area, reserved for dances and other important events. A barmaid was standing behind the counter. It was Nancy, big-breasted pink Novakid woman, with brand in form of a full golden heart. She was dressed in a red corset and skirt, decorated with black laces. Her corona was simmilar to a pink shining cloud, with two tails, one hanging on the right side of Nancy's face and the other one going up out of the back of her head. Next to her was sitting a tall and skinny cyan-colored Novakid with broken 'X" missing th top right line on his face. This person was Fiddle, his first name was actualy Brass, but everybody calls him by the last one, wich he got for his fiddleplaying skills and slender bodytype. He had a long straight corona going down to his shoulders making him look a bit gurly, but not too much to mistake him to an actual female. He was wearing a yellowed-white linen shirt, gray-asparagus colored classic vest, bistre classic pants and black pointed shoes. Both was silently staring at the giant red figure that just entered the room and was slowly coming closer. Awkward silence was interrupted by Cinder, who just suddenly appeared at the counter, sitting on one of the stools, inviting Ol' Crookbrand to sit nearby: - C'mon oldman, don' be a tortoise! - his square brand was almost glowing with impatience. Chrome hemmed and looked around, trying to find something bigger to sit on. He decided to take one of the chairs frome the table nearby and finally sat at the counter. - So... What brought you to our humble bar, Ol' Crookbrand? - Nancy asked him mistrustfully. - Yea, oldie, why are ye out 'ere? - Fiddle leaned on the counter. - I've suggested him to do so, - Cinder answered even before Chrome was ready to speak, - And i think we both want something to drink! - The kid's right. I've hear'd ya got som'thin' new, since the moment of my last visit... I think It's name's startin' on "b"... - red-almost-giant scratched his ugly deformed brand, pretending he is trying to remember. - Is it brandywine?... - Nancy asked timidly, while Fiddle was quietly chuckling. - Nope. Mine was made out'of two words... B... Bo... Bu... Bat... Hmmmmmmm... - Battery acid, oldman! You're so oblivious! - Cinder loudly interrupted him, - Give a glass of whiskey by the way... - Ah, yup. It's batt'ry acid. Get me one, Goldie, - Crookbrand looked into Nancy's face, she was stunned. Meanwhile Fiddle was all twitching, trying not to laugh. Seeing this, Nancy couldn't resist herself and slapped him upside the head, saying: - You knew this will happen! You told them to wait behind the door! - the barmaid was furious. - What? No! How'd ya think I did'dat? I was'ere all day! - Fiddle used his hand to brush back the corona, Nancy fuffled with her slap. - What're ya talkin' about, Nancy? I just want to try'out this drink, - Chrome said. Nancy hemmed, but took out some bottles and two glasses. First one she filled with whiskey and gave it to Cinder, the second one took her a few moments to prepare the drink, mixing and shaking the ingridients, but at the end of it, Ol' Crookbrand got a big glass, filled up with a strange green liquid. - Here you go, oldman. Hope you're happy with what you've done, - she turned her head to Fiddle and suddenly grabbed him by the collar, forcefully pulled him towads herself and touched his brands with hers, throwing some sparks between them. Crookbrand and Cinder looked at each other, while Fiddle bisfully fell at the counter. - But you're stil going to clean up the mess next week, Fiddle, - Nancy turned away and began wiping mixing cup. - Still worth's it! - Fiddle laid his head on the hand. -Well, since ya'll finish'd... - Ol' Crookbrand took the glass and gulped it down... 3. Hot head, poisonous voice and hard law. (+18-21) (Proofread is in process) At first, Crookbrand didn't noticed any effect of the drink, but after a few seconds a strange feeling started filling his head. He felt like his brand was so hot, it started melting, but at the same time his thoughts started being slow, tremelloid, like he the temperature around him was somwhere near -1000 degrees! This was one of the worst things ever happened to him in his entire long life. Old Novakid slowly leaned on the counter and ran his hand over the brand - it was as warm as always. Than he looked at Cinder, who's curious look was almost polishing his face, and tried to say: - Si... Cin... Cinder. Neverever drink'it. It's... Ugh! - Chrome grabbed his own brand, trying to stop the melting feeling. - Oh my! You okay, oldman? - orange Novakid jumped off his stool and grabbed blacksmith's other hand. - He'll'be fine! Im suroris'd he's still speakin'! - Fiddle dismissively waved his hand, he had to see a worse resault of drinking the battery acid, - Give'im an hour. This booze punch's quick'n'hard, but get'offa real fast. - I can get you some Neutralyte, big man. It will take off the jumpy charge, - Nancy stroked Chrome's shoulder. - Yes... Please... - Ol' Crookbrand nodded. - Oh, maim! I've never thought that battery acid makes one to feel that bad... - Cinder fearfully looked at the glass, once filled with dangerous brew, while Nancy was making his big friend another drink. - Look'at'the brightside. At'least he's still with'us! - Fiddle giggled. Suddenly the door has opened and an angry malachite Novakid girl entered the bar, loudly stomping the floor with her heavy black-brown workboots. She was so mad, her diamond-cross hybrid brand wasn't just sparking, it was glowing with heat. Her long wavy corona was chaotically sticking in different directions, although it usually was going straight down, with two strands hanging in front of her face. One strap of her dark-sepia overall workpants wasn't bottoned so everybody was able to see that her gray tanktop was rolled up almost to the chest. This girl was Gazzi, the train's mechanic, whose temper was so fervent, she was able to weld without any fuel for her tool. She sat down next to Ol' Crookbrand and furiously punched the counter. - I hate him so much! Nancy, I need tha bottle'o'jack, justright now! - her fist, covered with durable working glove, left a visible dent on the counter's wooden layer. - Oh my! What happened this time, dearie? - barmaid quickly gave Chrome his Neutralyte and took a dark-brown bottle from under the counter. - Solid kick'd yer arse in yer'own game? - Fiddle asked skeptically. - I'll never forget this to him! That stupid starbranded yellowface lost to me! - Gazzi grabbed the bottle, snap-opened it with one finger and started drinking. - What'a tragedy... - Chrome sipped his Neutralyte. - You don' understand! I want'd'em to win! I insist'd to play tha strip poker, I even mixed tha cards to give'em tha winnin' combo! AND HE LOST!!! - Gazzi was yelling so loud, you could thought she wanted her opponent to hear her from the other end of the train. - Nobody wants'to win'against ye, deal with it, - Fiddle shrugged. - Ther's nobody man'enough on tha train! Why did'I ever agreed to'go?! Nobody notices tha woman inside me! - Gazzi covered her brand with both hands. - Caus' noone wants to spark the plank! - Fiddle laighed, but got slapped in the brand by Nancy. - There, there, shiny... This crude gawk is just too shortsighted to notice your shinig beauty... Here, drink some more, my heartwarm, - Nancy gently caressed Gazzi's head and gave her another bottle, keeping to run her hand through girl's corona, slowly making it less chaotic. - If ya wanna hear my opinion, Gazzoline, ya're really pretty lassie, Im just too old and rusty, - Ol' Crookbrand finished his drink and his head finally stopped "melting". - Also, what'did'ye expect'em to do with'ye? To suddenly jump'n'tie ye'down, than leach yer charge 'till ye loose yer mind? - Fiddle asked caustically. - 'Fcource... What?! You slender prick! - Gazzi threw the bottle into the fiddler's head. - Whoa'chippy! - cyan Novakid fell from his stool, trying to avoid the object. - Im gonna punch'u so hard, yar brand'll go outta yar ass! - malachite girl jumped off her stool before Nancy was able to stop her and prepared to rush her opponent down. - Silence'down, ya both! - Ol' Crookbrand stepped between two younger Novakids, - Fiddle, ya've never understood a single lady, so keep yar voice for singin'! Gazzoline, don' let this slaghead to provoke ya, ya're girl afterall! Now say ya both sorry 'n' stop fightin'. - 'Kay, 'kay! Im sorry, Gazzi, 'kay? - Fiddle slowly got up. - I'll never... - Gazzi tried to protest, but noticed how everybody's looking at her and hag her head, saying, - Im sorry... - Good. Now, Goldie, get me a glass'o'gin, pleace... - red-almost-giant returned to his chair. 4. The Devil went down to Georgia. (Contains the lyrics, look for music by yourself... Sorry. >_>) (Proofread is in process) After a few minutes, the silence started getting really oppressive, everybody was quieter than mouses, not wanting to make Ol' Crookbrand to leave his chair again. Cinder, who was silently sipping his whiskey, while Gazzi tried to beat Fiddle up, decided that he wants everybody to get happier... But what he could do in this situation? He looked at the fiddle wich was laying at the counted next to it's owner. A spark of idea jumped in his mind like a lightning! - Hey, Fiddle! - young orange Novakid patted Fiddle's left cubit. - Whatcha want, kid? - musician pessimistically looked to the boy's face. - Play us somethin'! You said you have a new one, - Cinder nodded at the Fiddle's fiddle. - Ye shure? - cyan Novakid was moving the tip of his finger around cup's the edge, - I ain't thinkin' everybody'll be okay with me pla... - Pleace? - young Novakid looked straight in the fiddler's face, not letting him to finish his sentence. - Why am'I ever complainin'? - slender Novakid ran the hand through his own corona, then grabbed the fiddle and it's bow, - Goldie, get'tis square to 'em piano, Im gonna need'an assistance! Nancy was surprised, but quickly took a big metal fork and gitted a nearby pipe with it a couple of times, thus giving a signal to the person, who was working in the brewing room upstairs. Ol' Crookbrand quizzically looked at Cinder, but young Novakid only rose his forefinger, telling his big red friend to watch and listen. While Fiddle's friend was going to the bar, the fiddler himself took a second to tune his instrument. When the door opened, a low growth yellow-green Novakid entered the bar. His whole appearance could be characterized with a single word "square", with massive hands and wide shoulders, strange quadratic corona and even his brand was Ш-shaped. This person was Nickel Long'Digit, the guy Cinder told Crookbrand about. Nickel silently went to his piano and sat down, then rose his hand, telling he is ready. - The song we'll slay for ye was narrated'to me by'tha human on'tha bazaar planet. I think ye'll like'it! Gimme start, Nick! - Fiddle rose his instrument. After a couple of finger snaps, the fiddler started playing, singing without any accent: The Devil went down to Georgia. He was lookin' for a soul to steal. He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind. He was willing to make a deal When he came across this young man sawin' on a fiddle and playin' it hot. And the Devil jumped upon a hickory stump and said "Boy, let me tell you what."At this words he jumped up onto the chair nearby, making Nancy's brand go yellow-hot. He crouched and hunched his back, appearing in a devil-like manner, playing long low notes. "I guess you didn't know it, but I'm a fiddle player, too. And if you'd care to take a dare I'll make a bet with you. Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the Devil his due. I'll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul 'cause I think I'm better than you."As he finished this couplet, fiddler jumped off the chair, standing up straight, trying to make himself appear in a heroic manner, playing quick medium notes. The boy said, "My name's Johnny, and it might be a sin, But I'll take your bet; and you're gonna regret 'cause I'm the best there's ever been."After this, Fiddle started dancing around the chair, playing a barrage of short high notes. Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard. 'Cause Hell's broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals it hard. And if you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold, But if you lose the devil gets your soul.Than he jumped onto the chair again, appearing as The Devil once again, playing low notes. The Devil opened up his case and he said, "I'll start this show." And fire flew from his fingertips as he rosined up his bow.At those words he moved the bow in front of his brand, throwing a small spark into it, thus making the strings to flare up for a moment, forcing a loud gasp out of his audience. And he pulled the bow across the strings and it made an evil hiss.Singing that, Fiddle forced his instrument to make a low nasty creaking. And a band of demons joined in and it sounded something like this.At this moment a yellow long-coroned Novakid with the brand in form of five-angled star kick opened the bar door and made a long slide in, playing a guitar on the bass notes, then Nickel joined in, accompanimenting them with the heavy flurry on his piano. They played a really long chorda, with a bit chaotic overflowing plays, but everybody was understanding, that this is a part of the show. When the Devil finished, Johnny said, "Well, you're pretty good ol' son, But sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it's done."Fiddle jumped off the chair again, appearing as a Johnny, who was going to outplay the Devil himself! He started playing a long joyful tune, singing: "Fire on the Mountain." Run, boys, run! The Devil's in the house of the rising sun; Chicken's in the bread pan picking out dough. Granny, does your dog bite? No, child, no.The fiddler was moving his bow so quick it was almost twitching, he is got so focused his brand started sparking and he was dancing so vigorously his corona was fluttering flag-like. The Devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat. And he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet. Johnny said, "Devil, just come on back if you ever wanna try again, I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best that's ever been."At this couplet other players, who was appearing as demons got completely silent, kneeling before the winner. Fiddle jumped up the chair again, but now appearing as not a the Devil, but as Johnny, who is got his prize. "Fire on the Mountain." Run, boys, run! The Devil's in the house of the rising sun; The chicken's in the bread pan picking out dough. Granny, will your dog bite? No, child, no.After this he finished with an enormous fiddle solo, in process of wich his brand got red-hot and was sparking like a lightning ball. The moment he stopped, a complete silenсe filled the bar, but only for a couple of seconds, the sound of handclaping filled the room! Even Gazzi was cheering the master-fiddler's show. Fiddle bowed. 5. The Monster's heir. (+18-21) When the ovations died down, Fiddle turned to the guitarist newcomer and asked: - What're ye doin'ere, Solid? Who's drivin'? - We've stopped a half of an hour ago! - the yellow Novakid answered. He was a bit shorter than Fiddle, but much taller than Nickel and his messy long corona somehow resembled Crookbrand's mane, but was much shorter. He was wearing a red-brown-black striped shirt with a long black coat on top of it. A wide leather belt was tightly clenching his waist, keeping the grey-blue pants on place. The feet filled a pair of perfectly fitting black highboots with a fire pattern stamped on the boot-top. His hands, covered with brown gloves, were holding a nice old acoustic guitar with some roses carved on it's front deck. Solid was the train driver, since he was the second person who was interested in it, the second one being Cinder's long lost father. The yellow Novakid continued his line, - I've heared Nancy tapping the pipes, so I understood that you're going to play something, but when I came to the door, you were already playing the song we agreed to play together. So I just waited for the moment I must join and... - Kay-kay, I got it, - Fiddle giggled, - Thanks fer joinin' us, yer' emergence really flare'd it up! - No, buddy, it was you who made this a real show! You just couldn't see the flash your strings made when you sparked them! - Solid pictured the flash, quickly spreading his hands. - Oh, com'on, 'tis but a... - Fiddle tried to say something, but Nickel loudly closed the deck that was covering the keys, and turned around, spreading his hands questioningly. - Yeah, sorry Nick, you did awesome too, - Solid laughed awkwardly. Nickel waved his hand, meaning that he was not offended. - Heya, chargeless coward, where'd ya stop our home this time? - Gazzi snapped her fingers to get Solid's attention. - Excuse me? - the yellow Novakid was shocked by the title the malachite girl gave him. - I said: "where'd ya stop our home this time?", yellow face! - Gazzi understood that Solid didn't know about her anger, unlike everybody else. - O...kay... Right now we're orbiting around a small forest planet with no locals on it, as the Green Box said, - the train driver scratched his brand, absently starting to stroke his guitar's front deck. - That's awesome! I will find the tallest tree and climb on top of it! - Cinder exclaimed. - No you don't, young man! - a female voice came from the door. An upset Novakid lady entered the bar, her hands crossed on her chest. This was Cinder's mother, Oila, who, seeing Solid grab his guitar, quietly followed him to the bar to watch the show. Her plasma was indigo-colored, filling a nice feminine body with a curly corona long enough to cover her back down to the waist. Her brand had a very strange ಠ-shape, resembling an eye with a thick grumpy eyebrow above it. She was wearing a long violet dress with pink lace all over it, and green shoes which were invisible due to the dress's length. A nice pink ribbon was resting in her corona. She marched up to the counter, looking straight into her son's face. - But mom! - the young orange Novakid looked at his mother with disappointment. - Yar Mom's right, ya can fall off and than only stars'll know if ya'll survive, - Ol' Crookbrand put his hand on the kid's shoulder and stroked it a bit, - Who am I goin' to talk with if ya die? - Oh-kay... Gues you're right, sorry, - the boy hung his head. - Thank you Chrome, - Oila nodded, showing her appreciation. - Sure thin' Sunshine, - then the red-almost-giant turned to Solid and asked, - How soon ya plannin' to land? - Soon enough, you want to join? - the yellow driver answered. - Yep. Time's goin', so I better start movin' too, - the old Novakid approached the window and looked outside, thinking about all the things he missed, sitting in his forge for all those years. Suddenly he noticed a space shuttle rapidly nearing the planet's surface and exclaimed, - There's a ship droppin'! - What? - Solid quickly looked into the window and, seeing that Ol' Crookbrand was right, he broke into a run to the opposite side of the train, yelling, - Prepare your stuff everybody, this is going to be a saving mission, today! - Wait fo'me, yellow simpleton! - Gazzi grabbed yet another bottle of jack and followed the driver, knowing that he could need her assistance. - Oh my! We're going to save somebody! - Cinder was almost shining with happiness. - If I was ya, I wouldn' be so glad 'bout it, kid, - Chrome scratched his ugly brand and turned away from the window, - I'm goin' to grab my stuff... Fin'ly my scattergun'll see the light. - You'll take a weapon with you? - the boy was surprised. - Who knows what's waitin' on'at planet? - the red almost-giant trudged toward the forge wagon. Cinder looked around in search of his mother, but she was talking to Fiddle, so the boy decided to follow his huge red friend. When he caught up with Chrome, he asked: - Can I get a gun, oldman? - Nnnope, - Crookbrand shook his head. - But why?! - the young Novakid asked. - Ya're too youn' for it, - the blacksmith shrugged, - Yar hand's not stron' enough to wield even a small revolver... 'Specially a short barrel. It'll break yar hand in'a single shot. - Auuuuuuuugh... - Cinder pouted, disappointed. The rest of the way they both were silent, minding their own things. Cinder was thinking about how much he wanted to become adult, to be able to wield a weapon to protect his friends, and to show everybody his miraculously learned sharpshooting skills. But Crookbrand's mind was more grim than that. He imagined the shuttle a burning wreck, where nobody could survive, and his little friend looking at all this with complete shock and fear. He started to feel a close connection to the boy, an obligation to make the kid's life happier than Crookbrand's own had been. Chrome was hoping to become the father Cinder had never had. The two Novakid entered the forge room and the blacksmith started digging into the boxes he had there. He opened them one by one, and after a while finally found what he was looking for, a short lever-action shotgun with a thick barrel and shortened butt. The old Novakid gently caressed it with his black-gloved left hand, than took aim at the nearest box to see if he could still shoot straight wielding it with one hand. - Whoa... It's huge! - Cinder looked at the size of the weapon, then at his own hands, then back at the shotgun. - One hundred percent my size of'a gun, - the giant Novakid hemmed, then spun the shotgun around his forefinger and finally hid it in the holster tucked under his working vest. - But if ya try firin' it, ya'll fly a few meters. - But I want to have a way to defend myself! - the young Novakid sadly looked into Crookbrand's face. - Ya have the greatest way to do so! Rememb'r ya're small'r, so ya can juke an'one ya want, - the red almost-giant ruffled up the kid's corona. - Yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaah... That definitely will help YOU if I want to help... - C'mon, I think the others're waitin', - Chrome patted his little friend's back and marched out from the forge, the boy following him. When our friends came to the first wagon, everybody was waiting there, preparing their stuff. Fiddle put on his brown poncho and hid pistol holsters under it. Gazzi took her welding kit and a toolbox, and put on her black jacket and a short brown cape that covered her right arm. She also had a rifle hanging on a leather belt behind her. But not everybody was going out. Nancy, Nickel and Oila decided to wait at the train in case some survivors escaped from the wreck and suddenly found the train. Oila also had Cinder put on his brown jacket, just in case. When everybody was ready, Solid grabbed his black ten-gallon hat and opened the doors. A warm wind met our small group of saviors as they stepped town to the planet's surface, covered with maroon grass and trees. - Last time I saw them, they were landing over there. - Solid pointed to the north. - Wait, ya said "landin'"? - Crookbrand asked. - Yes... But maybe they need our help! You saw the speed they were going down... - Yeah-yeah, got'it. - The old Novakid wasn't sure if there was a problem or he was just paranoid because of his long life between the four walls of his forge, so he decided to rely on Solid's knowledge. He was a formal leader, after all. The group started in the direction the driver had pointed them. After a while, when the train had disappeared from sight behind the red wall of branches, the Novakid heard a strange hissy giggling coming out of the depths of the forest. - Ya hear'at, right? - Ol' Crookbrand glanced around nervously. - Relax, 'tis but'an ugly bird sin'in'! - said Fiddle dismissively, - Ye just di'n' hear how Agarans speak. - If ya say'so... - the old Novakid exhaled a slag cloud. - Oh, c'mon! Don' slag 'round, ya've got a girl 'ere! - Gazzi yelled crossly. - Oh... 'Scuse me, - red-almost-giant scratched his brand nervously, - I just got'into myself. Suddenly a tight rope wrapped around Fiddle's left ankle and pulled him four meters up in the air, leaving him hanging upside-down. Everybody stopped, but the undergrowth under Solid's feet collapsed and he fell into a hidden pit. And finally, a stasis trap was launched at Gazzi, freezing her inside a small blue energy bubble. Before Cinder and Crookbrand managed to do anything, a giant grey-furred Apex, with massive forearms and thick shins, dropped on the blacksmith from the nearest tree's crown, pinning him to the ground. The young orange Novakid screamed with fright as a pair of grey hands covered with red leaves grabbed him from behind, preventing him from moving. It was a Floran woman, with an ugly scar across the visible part of her face, the rest hidden by a red bandana. She said: - Fawuna ssssaid thisssss will work, and thissssss worked perfectly. - Aho, bot if oi din't press this one down, yor plan would be smoshed, loike a gloss costle! - The Apex's voice was a hoarse growl. - I don' care 'bout yar chat! - The red almost-giant tried to throw the grunting monkey off of him. - Oi, roight! - The Apex was hunchbacked, only two and a half meters tall, so the three-meter-tall blacksmith's strength was a bit more than he could handle with his weight. He jumped off and swung onto the nearest branch, - So whotcho gonna du? - Smash'er head like'a teapot! - Chrome rushed in Fawuna's direction, but a sudden bang came out of the forest and a bullet pierced his right shoulder, stopping him in his tracks. - You think I will just let you do this? - came an arrogant male Novakid voice from the woods, followed shortly after by its owner. The old blacksmith gasped, seeing the Novakid, who was almost a copy of Solid, but colored in red, with an upside-down star-shaped brand. He wore a brown ten-gallon hat with a cow-horned shield on its belt, a matching long coat and pants, a black shirt under the coat, and a pair of highboots with the same pattern as Solid's own. He was aiming a large revolver at Chrome. - Ya... Ya can't... Ya can't be alive! I kill'd ya with my own hands! - Crookbrand was shocked, not noticing the small flow of plasma venting out of his shoulder. - Oh! Let me introduce myself! My name is Cassa... - the outlaw Novakid bowed, - ... the Junior. Looks like I've finally found the one who killed my beloved daddy. - Belov'd? He was'a monster! This son'of'a'slag kill'd so many good folk ya can't even imagin'! - Oh, believe me, I can. He killed my mother in front of my eyes... - Cassa hung his head, then suddenly started laughing, - Ha-ha! This was the best day in my entire life! - Ya're crazy... Ya was livin' in the town this bastard came'from? - Of course! And after I heard that you killed my father, I decided to start killing every single one of our kind, untill I finally meet you and avenge my father's death! So, do you have any dying wish? - Cassa aimed straight into Crookbrand's face. - Leave 'em alone, it's just between ya'n'me! - the old Novakid glanced at Cinder. - Seriously? Well... Fine, I will let them go, - the light-red Novakid hemmed, - But you will have to fight for it. Jebishe, beat him up! - Roight! - The Apex, who'd been hanging on the tree all this time, jumped right onto the Crookbrand's back and punched the blacksmith in the head. - Vermin! - the red almost-giant tried to shake the monkeyman off, but got yet another punch in the head. Jebishe suddenly jumped up and dive-kicked Crookbrand in the back, making him fall to the ground, then landed on his back, trying to pin the giant Novakid in place. - Ah... Too bad you can't even fight for your friend's life... - Cassa aimed at Cinder's head, - Looks like I have to... Ol' Crookbrand hung his head, feeling the weight of the grief and failure. Suddenly the ugly brand on Chrome's face heated to a glow, sparking like uncovered wire! He felt the boiling rage coming out of his core and the small plasma leak on his shoulder started whistling, as the steam was coming out of the crack. The blacksmith roared like the Green Lance's main engine and grabbed Jebishe's hand. The monkeyman grunted and tried to free his hand, but the blacksmith's mighty right hand was trained to never let go of whatever it grabbed. Crookbrand swung the Apex around, getting to his feet at the same time, then he grabbed his enemy's neck with his other hand and started punching him in the stomach with his now empty right fist. Jebishe was completely stunned by the speed of his opponent's moves; he couldn't even protect himself. After another few punches, Crookbrand struck the bandit with a mighty punch to the face, leaving his unconscious body to fall on the ground. The blacksmith won this battle. - Bravo! You are the winner, - Cassa hemmed, - Fawuna, let him go and walk away a few meters... - Oh yesssssss... - the Floran woman released the boy and dashed away. Cinder was still crippled with fear, unable to move, glancing at the bandits. - Run, boy, run! - Cassa laughed, aiming his gun at the kid's face, but a bullet suddenly struck his right shoulder. Fiddle, who had been silently hanging on the rope all this time, had shot blindly in the direction of the enemy's voice. The shot wasn't quite accurate, but it gave Crookbrand, whose was brand glowing with hatred, enough time to get close to the bandit. - YA DARN VARMINT!!! - the blacksmith grabbed Cassa's injured right arm, - YA'RE A WORSE BASTARD THAN YAR DAD!!! At this words he clenched his hand on Cassa's shoulder and headbutted him, making their brands clang like a hammer and anvil, then started pulling the bandit's right arm. - AAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaagh!!!! What are you...? GYAAAAAAAAARH!!! - the light-red Novakid screamed in pain as his whole arm was detached from his body. - LET! - Crookbrand headbutted Cassa's face once more, - THIS! - he headbutted him again, - BE! - and again, - A! LESS'N! - and again, and again, - FOR YA!!! - the final headbutt broke off the middle-right angle of Cassa's brand, making sure he will never grow a new arm, - TO NEV'R TOUCH A SINGL' FOLK!!! After this, the blacksmith threw the bandit into the nearest tree, making a loud crunch, and looked around for the Floran woman. She was gone, as was the unconscious Apex. Seeing that, he trudged to Cinder, slowly cooling down. He hugged the boy, who was still paralyzed with fear, and caressed his corona. - Everythin' is finish'd... Ya're safe. Now, please, help me to get the others free. After everybody was freed, the group decided to leave the crippled Cassa venting out alone. They returned to the train, where they were greeted by their friends and some energy drinks. They had many things to discuss. 6. Silent agreement. The Green Lance was slowly drifting between planets, not going to the surface. The fuel level had gotten pretty low, so they needed to look for an Erchius Station. Originaly, the Green Lance was running on a uranus-oil mix, but after visiting the Bazaar, Gazzi modified the engine to be able to use the much cheaper and more efficient liquid erchius as fuel. It had been almost three days since the Novakid group had left the mutilated Cassa dying on the forest planet. Today, Chrome was planning to work in the forge all day, since Gazzi was going to upgrade the thrusters, so Cinder decided to keep him company, sitting on top of a wooden crate and chatting about random stuff. -...And that's why you must never joke about Avians and macaw birds, - finished the Novakid boy. - Ev'rybody's a critic, - Ol' Crookbrand chuckled, heating up a large metal plate inside the forge furnace. - Also, as I heard, their folk are divided in groups... slaves, soldiers, craftsman, etc. So if you are born into one of the groups, you will never be able to change it! Imagine how dull that is, oldman! - Dull'nough. If I'd've 'bin forc'd to work a job I didn' like, I would've abandon'd my folk! - the blacksmith put the plate on the anvil and took the hammer, then started smiting the piece of metal to shape it to the needed form. - Yeah... I can't imagine you working anywhere else but in here. You're the molten core of this place! - the kid nodded in agreement. Suddenly both Novakid heard the tapping in the pipes - it was coming from the first wagon. - I'll check out what's happening, - Cinder jumped off his crate and marched to the front part of the train. In the head wagon he met Solid, Gazzi, Oila and Fiddle, who were in the middle of a discussion. The boy asked what they were talking about and Solid answered: - I want us to land on the nearest moon and just drain some erchius from it, but Gazzi says that she will kick me out of the train if I do so. - No, I said I'll kick yar arse off'of'the driver'seat than drive'us to the near'st station! - the malachite mechanic clenched her gloved fist and showed it to the driver. - Don' be rude Gazzi! Solid's right, we'll just git'some fuel fo' free, 'n'fast, - Fiddle objected. - Aha, then we'll just'get smash'd by'a meteor fer'free! - Gazzi's diamond-cross hybrid brand started sparking. - Gazzoline, calm down! Nothing is going to happen to us. Do you hear me? - Oila took Gazzi's hand and stroked it a bit, trying to get the girl's attention, - Everything will be alright. - Ya think'so, Oi? - the mechanic-girl turned toward Cinder's mother. - Yes, I do think so. Now calm down and let the driver get to his place. - Fine... But! Ya'll promis'me, that we'll leave if a meteoriteshower happ'ns! - Gazzi said, slowly cooling down. - Of course we will leave, now go to the bar and get yourself some jack. You are overheating, - Oila gently caressed the malachite girl's corona. Gazzi nodded and went away. Fiddle decided to follow her shortly after, leaving only two and a half Novakid in the first wagon. - What does the Green Box say? - Oila asked Solid with anxiety. - It says the moon is full of erchius and has a small farming dome on its surface, so maybe we'll even get welcomed when we land there, - Solid glanced at the piece of paper the Green Box spat out. ("before he met with others." - I'd leave this out, it doesn't seem to make sense or be necessary.) - A farming dome? What's that? - Cinder tried to look at the paper Solid was holding, even though he couldn't read. - You will see for yourself when we land, - the driver ruffled up the kid's corona and left for the driving room, leaving Cinder and his mom alone. Oila gently took her son's hand and led him the opposite direction, to the kitchen wagon, saying: - Come, boy, we have some food to be cooked. I will give you Chrome's portion, so you can take it to him. After some time the train started nearing the grey surface of the nearest moon. It was a lifeless badlands, except for a lone dome in the middle of it all: glass with thick metal supporting beams, connected to a giant circle on the very top. There was a whole small world inside of it, with trees, crop fields and a few wooden houses. The Green Lance landed so well that the door was right up next to the metal corridor which was the entrance to the dome. Our Novakid friends decided to all leave the train, so after everybody was out, Solid locked the door with a big metal key which he then gave to Ol' Crookbrand. When they approached the door it immediately opened, inviting the Novakid to come in. They waited until the corridor was filled with air, then the inner door opened and... - Howdy, star'kinsman! What 'as 'rought ya 'ere? - a flax-colored Novakid farmer showed up right in front of Solid's face, almost touching the driver's brand with his own, 3-shaped one. There was a whole Novakid family behind him: a tall dark-tea-green bulky guy, wearing nothing more than leaf-green overall pants and a wide-brimmed straw hat; dark-salmon twin girls with athletic but feminine bodies; and a real red giant, whose body was so close to spherical form that it seemed if he fell to the ground, he would just roll, like a barrel. They all seemed very open, and the crew felt a warm connection to them almost instantly. - Name's Solid, we are the crew of the Green Lance, the space train! - said the driver as he was hugged by the excited flaxen farmer. - Gret'to metcha, Sol'd! Me name's Hairy, 'nd we're tha loc'l farm'rs! - "Hairy" was speaking so fast, the Novakid were hardly able to understand him. - Whoa, Hairy, you are talking really fast, can you take it slower?... - Solid patted the farmer's back. - He can't. He's always like that, - said the bulky Novakid, scratching his Э-shaped brand. He had almost no corona apart from the big beard he had, - Also he's Harry. And I'm Macbuck. This is Pops, - he pointed his massive hand to the red giant. Pops had a 8 as a brand, a giant stereotypical corona-mane, and was wearing a white shirt, a pair of baggy black pants with suspenders, and a pair of square-nosed boots. - Mcbuck dun' be'so dul'! - exclaimed Harry, who had jumped away from the train driver so everybody could see him. He was wearing a dull-yellow checkered shirt with some of the buttons missing, dark brown trousers with a hole on the right knee, and a pair of black highboots. He had a short mohawk corona. - Lemme 'ntroduce tha twins! Dis one's Allie... - Hai... - the dark-salmon Novakid girl with an e-shaped brand waved her hand flirtingly. -...'Nd dis one's Ellie! - Haiiii... - the other girl, with an ё-shaped brand, waved her hand even more flirtingly. Both girls wore red checkered shirts, blue jean shorts and had the same ponytail corona style, the only differences between them being their brands and the fact that Allie wore shoes and Ellie wore highboots. - Okay, looks like it is our turn to introduce everyone... - Solid said, then pointed to the Blacksmith, - This is Ol' Crookbrand. - Hello cousins, - Chrome bowed a bit. - This is Fiddle, - Solid pointed to the fiddler. - Hay, - the cyan Novakid waved at the twin girls. - This... - My name's Gazzi! - said the malachite mechanic, not letting her formal leader finish. - Yes. And this is Nickel... The yellow-green pianist silently nodded, and got a nod from Pops in return. - This lady's name is Nancy, but she likes if you call her Goldie... Nancy made a graceful curtsy, her golden brand shining. - And finaly this is Oila and her son Cinder. - We're happy to meet you, - said the indigo-colored woman, bowing a bit. - Yeah! - said Cinder, following his mother's example. - You will not be offended if we drain some erchius out of your planet? - asked Solid after everybody was introduced. - We're breedin' snuggets, we don'need'it! Also, c'mon'in, I'll show'ya 'errythin'! - Harry grabbed the driver's hand, ready to begin the tour, but the star-branded Novakid stopped him. - We will look at your place, but we really need some fuel for our train. - Solid turned around, facing the crew. - Gazzi, you and Crookbrand will drill the well and fill our fuel tank. Oila, Cinder, and I will follow Harry. The rest of you just be friendly and try to help our hosts as much as you can. Everybody agreed. The malachite mechanic and red-almost-giant had gone outside through the corridor, so as Nancy followed them to get some drinks from her bar, Fiddle approached the twins, and Nickel just stood silently, looking at Pops. - Okay Harry, let's go, also, can Macbuck go with us? Just in case, - said the yellow train driver. - Yup, - the bulky farmer nodded. - 'Kay, let's start, - the flax-colored farmer excitedly jogged toward the houses. The others followed him. - What is your business here on the moon? - Oila asked curiously. - We're breedin' snuggets! - Harry exclaimed, going through the pearlpea bushes. - What is this, "snuggets"? - Cinder asked curiously. - Small critters, so'puffy ya cun us'em as yar pillow! - the flax-colored farmer giggled, - I'll show'em later. - But where do you get the resources? - Oila questioned. - We're trading crops and snuggets, - Macbuck joined the discussion, then added, - A caravan lands here every week. - What crops do you specialize in? - Solid asked. - Bolbub,Curntcron,Dioda,Wheat,Puspum,'n sum'Peelpees, - Harry pattered. - Boltbulb, Currentcrown, Diodia, Wheat, Pussplum and some Pearlpeas, - translated the bulky Novakid, seeng the incomprehension on our heroes' faces. Then he pointed out a small wooden house - Here's the snugget sleeping place. The house was swarmed with creatures, who resembled small varicoloured clouds with tiny jumpy legs and a neckless body. It was obvious that the snuggets had a similar origin to the Novakid, because their bodies were just shells filled with plasma. But the big difference was the fact that each snugget had a face with a muzzle, two tiny eyes, and a twitchy nose. Some of the creatures were sleeping inside the house, but most of them were running around in the paddock, playing in the straw and having fun in the most creative ways. - Awwwww, they're so cute! - Cinder approached the fence and a small army of snuggets almost materialized in front of him, huffing and sniffing the unknown guest. - They're also kinda dum'! Ya cun ki'k one'of'em 'nd he'll just com'back to'ya, - the flax-colored farmer giggled again, - Ya'can cuddl'em if ya wan'to. Cinder leaned over the fence and carefully stroked one of the puffy creatures. Its shell was soft and warm, leaving a strange, but enjoyable, feeling on the hand that touched it. - Nice'one isn'it? - Harry looked up at the sky and added, - Looks'like 'tis time fer dinn'r. Follw'me! The farmer Novakid led his friends to another house. Upon entering it, our friends saw Fiddle flirting with the twins on the couch, and a little further to the left Nickel and Pops sitting at the same table and silently looking into each other's faces. - ...If ye wanna see'me playin', I can brin'up my fiddle, ladies, - the cyan Novakid was talking softly, almost cooing. - You're such an artist... - said Allie, who was sitting on the fiddler's left. - ...I would love to hear your music! - added Ellie, sitting on the right. - Bah! Have some shame, there is a child around! - Oila yelled indignantly, putting her arms akimbo. - Ma, I'm no child! Stop calling me that! - Cinder pouted. - But you're too young, boyo, - Macbuck remarked, - Your Ma is right. Stop being sluts, you twins. - Oh, bulkhead... - said Allie. - ...You never let us have any fun! - added Ellie. Both the twins and Fiddle became silent and Oila whispered to the bulky Novakid: - "Are you calling your sisters sluts?!" - Nope. They just sometimes act like it, - answered the dark-tea-green farmer, not even trying to lower his voice. - But'ya're rude sonovabich! - Harry chuckled, then turned to Pops and asked, - Is'the dinn'r re'dy? Pops gave a silent thumbs-up, not even turning his head. - Than' let's sta't! - the flax-colored farmer marched to the kitchen, leaving the others to take the seats. Soon, Nancy showed up with a box filled with bottles of beverages Nickel had brewed in the room above the bar. She had managed to take some drinks before Ol' Crookbrand locked the train for a second time. There were three bottles of jack, four moonshine ones, and five unmarked bottles. Nancy placed the box on the table and exclaimed: - Why don' we have some fun, huh, sunshines? - the barmaid's heart-shaped brand was slightly shining with excitement. - What is it? - Macbuck asked, without showing any emotions. - I bet you a kiss, you've never drunk anything like this... - the busty Novakid woman gave the farmer a bottle of moonshine. The bulky Novakid took the bottle and opened it, looked inside, waited a second, and finally started drinking. Everybody else watched him silently, not daring to say a single word. Finally the bottle was finished and Macbuck slowly put it on the table and exhaled a thick slag cloud. Then he said: - You are right. I never drank anything like that. Give me some more please, Goldie. - Nu-uh! The kiss comes first... - Nancy said playfully and moved her face closer to Macbuck's, preparing for the kiss. - I... Uh... You said... - the bulky Novakid's rough attitude suddenly melted away, leaving him shyly looking in Nancy's face, - You sure about this? Everybody is watching. - Ye two, kiss already! - Fiddle yelled from the other side of the table. - Fine! - Macbuck woke from his place and gently wrapped his arm around Nancy's waist, softly pulling her closer, then slowly touched his Э-shaped brand to her golden full-heart-shaped one and threw some gentle sparks between them, slightly cradling the barmaid's head with his right hand. It lasted just for a couple of seconds, but after it, Nancy looked like it had lasted much, much longer. Her brand was almost melting with happiness. Suddenly they all heard a loud clapping from the left. It was Nickel and Pops, who had just finished their silent "chat" and saw the bulky Novakid showing his gentle nature. The moment was ruined by Harry, who marched inside carrying a huge wooden tray with many served plates on it. He almost threw it on the table, drawing everybody's attention, so Macbuck hurried back to his seat and acted like nothing had happened. Plates was served with various crop dishes and some strange metal jars with valves. Harry grabbed one of them and pushed it under his 3-shaped brand, then opened the valve, and the jar quickly emptied itself into him. After this, he put the jar back onto the tray and said: - Tis'is Snugget Juice. Lik'a milk, but'much'betta! Git'som! - he threw one of the jars to Solid, - First to'tha mouth, than to'tha valv'. - O...kay... - the yellow driver slowly pushed the valve under his brand, then opened the valve, emptying the jar, gulping down all it contained. He slowly put the jar back on the tray as his brand started shining with pleasure; he liked this treat. At that note, the dinner began. It lasted for almost an hour. Everybody was joking, discussing the Green Lance's flying routes, a snugget's life cycle, ways to play music and only stars know what else. Suddenly Fiddle, who had drunk all of one of the unmarked bottles, jumped up and suggested: - Why don'we organize a friendly compettition? It'll be drang'of'a'fun! - Yea! Why not?! - Harry jumped up too and put his left arm around the fiddler's shoulder, - Yer strong'st one 'gainst ours! - Uh... Chrome is out right now, so I don't think this is the best idea... - Oila tried to reason with the drunk Novakid. - Nagh, r'lax! Tis'll fer be fun! - said the cyan Novakid, who was getting more and more drunk and whose brand started heating. - He's completely drunk away, better agree with him. Also, what's the worst that can happen? - Solid slid his cyan friend a bottle of jack, to cool his brand down. - But I have two questions: who will fight with who, and the main one "How?"... - Armwrestle. We do it sometimes to see who gets tired first, - said Macbuck, who was discreetly holding hands with Nancy. - Last we'did'it, I clearly' beat'ya! - added the flax-colored farmer, but after a slap upside the head he quickly shut up. - Also, our strongest always was and will be our Pops. Show them, Pops! - the bulky Novakid nodded to the silent red giant. The elder Novakid woke up from his chair and put his hands forward, preparing for something. At that moment, the twin girls left their seats and hung onto their father's hands. The red giant slowly and steadily raised his hands in the air, lifting the girls above the floor without any straining, then he carefully put them down again. - Are you sure we have someone who can... - before Solid finished, a massive, yet a bit short yellow-green hand was laid on his shoulder. Nickel just hemmed and nodded at the table, inviting his giant opponent to take a seat, then they both sat down and grabbed each other's right hand, waiting for the signal. - Get ready! - said Macbuck. - Get set! - said Solid. - Gooooooooo'yehaw! - yelled Harry before anybody could say anything, thus starting the wrestle. Both Novakid strained, trying to press their opponent's arm to the table. Surprisingly, Nickel wasn't overwhelmed by Pops' strength, but was almost calmly keeping his hand in place. This fight was not to see who was stronger, but who had the most stamina. After one minute, their hands hadn't moved a bit, like there was no confrontation between two forces pushing opposite directions, but what was invisible there was obvious in their faces; both Novakid's brands were sparking and shining with heat like the wolfram wire inside a lightbulb, lighting up the room. And, of course, both "families" were cheering for their respective candidates. - C'mon, Nick, show'em tha long digit! - Fiddle yelled. - Push'em'down Pops! Yar'best! - Harry screamed. - Nickel, brighty, do your best please... - said Nancy. - Pops! Pops! Pops! - Macbuck chanted. Suddenly, both competitors looked at each other's face and... released their hands, making everybody gasp at the sudden draw. Nickel shook Pops' hand and they each took one bottle of jack, to cool down. - But... - Fiddle started. - ...why? - Harry finished the question. Both the red giant and the pianist just bumped their fists as an answer, meaning the deep friendship they got into. At that moment, the main door opened and two figures showed up in the doorway. Gazzi and Ol' Crookbrand had returned. It was time for our friends to leave, so they quickly said their goodbyes and went back to the ship. For a little something more than just knowledge of having friends here, Harry almost forcefully gave them one of their snuggets, called Sniffysnout, and gave the crew a month's stock of pearlpeas to feed the puffy cloud of plasma. So the crew of the Green Lance got a new, soft and loving member. 7. Digit'ex'machina. (+18-21) - Sniffsnout. Sniffsnout! - In the fourth wagon, Cinder was looking for the snugget Harry had given the crew before they left. - Where are you, Sniffsnout? He heard a soft huffing coming out of the room on the first floor, but couldn't tell where the critter had gone. He put his hand into his pants' pocket and grabbed some pearlpeas, then took them out and shook his hand, making a rustling noise to attract the naughty creature. It definitely worked, because the small plasma creature immediately appeared from underneath the nearest armchair and approached the young Novakid, chuffing like a small locomotive. It started jumping around the young pet owner, begging for the treat he held in his orange hand. - There you are, little vagabond! - the boy threw some pearlpeas to the snugget, - Why don't you ever follow me when I want you to? - 'Cause he'sn't tame'd, - the big red figure of Ol' Crookbrand entered the wagon, stooping to fit through the doorway, - Ya need'to treat'im right b'fore he'll start listenin' to yar commands. - What do you mean by that? - the kid asked. - Get me some'peas, I'll show ya, - the red-almost-giant took some pearlpeas and kneeled, - Sniffsnout, com'ere, boy. He shook his hand to attract the creature, and petted the snugget when it approached, then he started hand-feeding the critter, softly stroking its puffy little body. - 'Atta boy, - Chrome said. - So... What's the idea?... - Cinder asked with confusion. - Be nice to'im 'nd soon he'll be yar lap'dog. Just'be nice 'nd wait, - the old Novakid chuckled. - That's lame... - the young Novakid pouted. The blacksmith got up from his knees and shrugged, then went back to the forge wagon. Sniffsnout decided to follow him, huffing like a little engine, leaving the boy alone. - Fine! I'll find something else to do! - said Cinder resentfully and went in the opposite direction, to the bar wagon. The bar itself was empty: Fiddle was suffering from a hangover after the farmer's greeting, so he was lying on the couch nearby the door, nursing a bottle of jack; Nickel was brewing in the room above the bar; and Nancy was having a tea party with Gazzi in the second room above. The boy waved to the fiddler: - Hey, Fiddle! - Hey!... Ough... Im feelin' like my'brand's cracking... - the cyan Novakid stroked the lambda-symbol on his face, - Did'ja remember tha name'of tha guy who punch'd me? - It was an unmarked bottle, man, - the young Novakid walked up to the slender guy and patted his shoulder, - Why did you even drink that? You're an abstainer! - Boy, 'tis all b'cause of women! If I'see one, I just lose control! - Fiddle chuckled, but then moaned and started rubbing his brand with his hand, - Listen'up, kid, I'm outta jack. Can ye go up'n'call Goldie? - Sure thing. Do you want anything else? - asked the boy, who was already going up the stairs. - Slap Gazzi's'butt fer me! - the fiddler laughed, then moaned again. - Yeah, like I wanna die... - Cinder mumbled, so the cyan Novakid couldn't hear him. Anfter getting to the second floor, the boy knocked on the wooden door with a big golden heart on it. Nancy's soft voice gave him permission to come in. The boy entered a small, yet cozy room with very-light-pink wallpaper, red drapes decorating the walls, and a pair of armchairs with a table nearby. This was Nancy's private chatroom, which she used for purposes the boy couldn't imagine, but he definitely knew: something interesting happens here, besides teaparties. Anyway, he told the barmaid that Fiddle wanted to se her, and said that the fiddler asked him to slap Gazzi's butt. Both the pink barmaid and malachite mechanic thanked him for telling them and went to the lower floor with the boy following them. - Ah, 'ere ya're! - yelled the mechanic girl as she grabbed the fiddler by the vest, pulling him off the couch, - Ya darn perverted freak! - Gazzi, what're ye...? Cinder, did'ja really slap 'er?! - asked the terrified fiddler. - Nope, just told her you asked me to, - the young Novakid giggled. - My brand's up'ere! - Gazzi turned Fiddle's head to face her, - Ya want'd my attention? Ya got'it! Ya'll help me with upgradin' the coolin' system! - Wha... Welp, that ain't that bad... - the cyan Novakid began. - No'jack for ya! - the malachite girl interrupted him, dragging the tall guy toward the first wagon, - See ya tomorrow Nancy! - Bye, Gazzoline... Try not to break him. He is the best fiddler we have! - the gold-branded Novakid woman turned to Cinder, - Also, I want you to ask Solid if he planned to visit the Bazaar... Nickel is brewing hard, so soon we will need to sell some of our beverages, - she ruffled up the kid's corona. - Will do! - the boy nodded and followed Gazzi, knowing that the driver was always in the first wagon. Upon entering the machine wagon he saw the malachite mechanic scolding the tall fiddler, but he ignored both of them and went straight to the driving room. It was a big room, filled with strange mechanisms, engines and boilers. The walls were covered with pipes, valves, and metal plating under them. The boy went forward untill he saw the familiar yellow figure sitting on the driving chair. Cinder approached the driver and said: - Sup, Solid! What's new? - Oh, hey, kid! I'm driving us forward, as always, - the yellow driver chuckled. - Nancy said we need to get to the Bazaar to sell some drinks we have, - the boy leaned against the wall. - Well, the funny part is, we're already heading in its direction... Wait, what's this blinking light?... - Solid tapped a small red lightbulb on the control pannel. Suddenly Gazzi ran into the room, yelling: - LAND US! LAND US! LAND US!!! WE'VE BROKE THE COOLIN' SYSTEM!!! - What?! Dang'it! Everyone, grab something! - the driver kicked one of the levers and his hands started dancing around the control panel. The engine roared like a beast as the train changed direction and started heading for the surface of the dusty desert planet nearby. Everything started twitching and rattling as the gravity changed. After a minute, the giant space train started slowing down, and after another minute it carefully landed on the sandy surface. - Now... Who... Did... This?! - Solid angrily asked, looking at the huge hole in the main cauldron's front wall. Gazzi pointed at Fiddle as he pointed at her... then they realized what they were doing. - Don' look'at me! Ye told me to'use yer weldin' torch! - yelled the cyan fiddler. - 'T was ya, weak'hand, who burnt the'hole! - screamed the malachite girl. - It's the fault of both of you! Never weld the WORKING stuff before it STOPS! - the driver facepalmed, - What will we do now? How much time do you need to repair THIS? - I've got good news and bad news. The good news - I can repair'is inna moment. The bad news... I've got nothin' to repair with, - Gazzi hung her head, - We used all'of our metal on upgradin'. - Great! Just gre-at! - Solid snarled, - Gather everyone. We have to look for some metal... Wait, what's that sound? There was a strange screeching sound outside, like some creature was shrilling. Everybody looked through the windows and gasped: a group of strange-looking hunchbacked humans was marching toward the train. Nobody knew what they wanted, but the appearance of the locals was terrifying: their torn clothes hardly resembled the USCM security uniform, their fingernails had grown so long that they were practically claws, and their wide-open mouths were missing at least half of the teeth. - Ya think they're... - Gazzi tried to ask. - I think nothing, but I'm definitely not going out there to meet them! - said the yellow driver, seeing the group of "humans" starting to surround the first wagon. - But what should we do? We need to go out! - Cinder asked nervously. - As I said, gather the others, we need to form a scavenging group, - Solid said. After everybody was informed, they met at the first wagon to choose the ones who would go out to deal with the locals. The debate was short: Ol' Crookbrand was the first person who decided to go, then Gazzi, who said she wanted to atone for breaking the cooling cauldron, the last person was Nickel, who just stepped forward, but everybody understood his will. - Fine. Grab your weapons and we will open the door... - Solid said, but his words were drowned out by a sudden clanking sound as the locals tried to open the door! Fortunately, they didn't manage that. So Chrome took his shortened shotgun out of the holster under his vest and reloaded it, Gazzi put on her black jacket with the short brown cape on the right side and grabbed a rifle, and Nickel took a pair of magnum revolvers. They also took some extra ammo, a box of Gazzi's tools, and a welding torch, planning to finish this quickly. - Alright, let's do this! - Solid opened the door and the scavenging party left the train. Immediately after the train door closed, they were surrounded by the "humans", who all tried to grab the Novakid. The hunches on their backs turned out to be giant bugs with their heads buried in the humans' necks. This was a parasite infection! Chrome grabbed one of the bugs and ripped it off the human it was attached to, while the other two Novakid started shooting at the bugs. Once the bug was detached, the human hung dead in the blacksmith's hands, showing that there was no way to save the parasited humans for now. Suddenly they heard a loud honk, and a giant truck drove by, honking again as it drifted into a turn and came to a stop near the group. But the parasited people didn't pay any attention to the truck and continued massing around the Novakid. So the truck's back door opened and the moustached human sitting inside yelled: - What you doing? Come here! - He whipped out a pistol and started shooting at the parasited people. Ol' Crookbrand grabbed his friends and rushed through the parasited mass to the truck, then helped them inside. The door was too small for him to get through, so he had to climb on the truck's top. The truck's engine roared and the giant car sped off, leaving the train behind. - What you, shining people? - the moustached man asked Gazzi, when they'd left the parasited mass behind. - We're just'a group'of space-travelers, 'nd our train's cooler got brok'n, - the malachite mechanic said. - Travelers, huh? Welcome to your new home! You'll never leave this planet, - said the human. - But why? What's happen'd'ere? - Gazzi was shocked. - This USCM penal colony, all ships here broken. You never leave here without a mechanic. - the moustached man was grumpy. He was a light-skinned human with light-grey eyes, a long black moustache going down to his chest and same-black chupryna-forelock on his shaved head. He was wearing a shabby USCM prison shirt, baggy dark-red pants and a pair of sharp-toed black highboots. He had a strange durasteel sword with a slightly curved blade in a sheath on his waist, and a USCM security pistol in his right hand. - I'm a mechanic! The only'thin' we need's metal, - Gazzi said. The moustached man's face brightened, but then became grumpy again and he said: - You can't leave, they won't let you go... - Who're "they"? - Survivors. Once they get you, you never see sunlight... By the way, my name's Taras, but everybody calls me Otaman. Yours? - Taras extended his hand for a handshake. - I'm Gazzi, - the malachite girl shook the man's hand. - And you? - the human directed his hand to the light-green pianist. - His name's Nickel, he's the pianist, - Gazzi said as the silent Novakid shook the human's hand, - The'one on top's Ol' Crookbrand, the blacksmith. - Which species you belong to? I never saw anyone like you, - Taras asked, curious. - Oh, I dunno... We just'call ourselves the'folk, but some'people call us the Novakid, - Gazzi scratched her brand, then asked, - Wait, where are we going? - To a place where Survivors will never find you. We're going to my cave... - the human turned around, tapped the metal fence on the wall, and yelled through it, - Петро, додай газу будь-ласка! (Petro, speed up, please!) - But how'id you get 'ere? - Gazzi asked the moustached man. - You want hear my story? Why? - Taras was surprised. - Just'to know ya better, - the malachite girl shrugged. - Well... Okay. I tell you, - the human nodded and began his speech. He turned out to be an ancestral Cossak from Earth, whose sense of adventure drew him to the stars, where he met a group of Cossaks like himself, but they were a band of space pirates. He realised it too late, so the USCM arrested him along with the pirate crew and sent him here to work in the mines. The mines were completely ordinary for a penal colony, but one day the mines were swarmed with giant bugs, who were able to control the people by biting in their neural system. The bugs spread quickly and soon took out all the guards, mainly because a group of prisoners was cunning enough to draw the bugs' attention to the security posts. Soon the planet was swarmed with parasited people, who were attempting to capture the uninfected ones and turn them into one of them. The Survivors were a large group of prisoners, who broke the ships and killed all the mechanics to prevent the parasites from leaving for other planets, as they said. But everybody knew that the Survivors' leader just wanted to claim this planet as his own territory. Taras didn't want to be part of his small empire, so he was banished into the badlands with some of his friends. Now they had simply been trying to survive, until they saw a giant locomotive landing in the desert and decided to inspect it. - So we found you surrounded. Also, you have a big ship for crew of three folk, - Taras hemmed. - Our friends 're 'nside. They're waitin' for'us to get'some metal'to weld, so we're in kinda'a hurry'ere, - Gazzi scratched her brand with slight confusion. - Oh, that explains size. So you want to quickly get the metal and get away... - the human pondered, then said, - We can help you, if you help us. - Really? I was waitin' for'ya to say'that! - Gazzi's brand shone a bit. - If you repair one of our ships, we give you all our metal, - Taras pinched the tip of his moustache. - Easy work! - Gazzi laughed and extended her hand, - So, it's a deal? - Domovilisya, - the Cossak nodded and shook the girl's gloved hand. At this moment the truck stopped and the driver called through the fence: - Ми приїхали! Можете розвантажуватися. (We're at the place! You can go out now.) - Спасибі Петро, (Thank you Petro) - Taras said, then turned to the Novakid and added, opening the door, - Our stop, we can go out. - Okay, - Gazzi jumped out of the car. The truck stopped inside the big sandstone cave. No, it wasn't big, it was huge! The entrance was blocked by the massive hangar door, but there was plenty of light from the floodlights hanging all around. But the most interesting part of the place was a hammer-like spaceship with no thrusters on it. It wasn't as big as the Green Lance, but it had enough space for each crew member to have their own personal room without using the kitchen for those goals. Gazzi remembered that one of the humans on the Bazaar planet had called it Kestrel: a rather silly name for the giant flying hammer. The malachite girl turned her head to Taras and asked: - Is'that yar ship? - Tak, - Cossak nodded. - I'm n't sure if'I can fix'it, but maybe... Rework? - she shrugged with hidden embarrassment. - Rework? - the human raised his eyebrows. - Trus'er... She's great at it, - Ol' Crookbrand climbed off the truck's top, - Also, can ya tell me yar story? - Hmmmm... Okay, I let her rework my ship, - Taras nodded, - About my story... Well, looks like I tell it again. The Cossak started the story from the beginning again while the others were leaving the truck. There were two other humans in that car: both had a long forelock, like Taras', but one was moustacheless and the other had a short moustache that barely covered his upper lip. None of the Novakid really paid any attention to their appearance, though. When Taras finished his story again, everybody was still standing around, awaiting further instructions. - Okay, you, folk, start reworking this ship. I, Petro, and Ostap need to prepare defenses, - he took a smoking pipe out of his pants and started filling it with strange dried leaves which were definetely not tobaco. - Defenses? For what? - Chrome asked, scratching his own brand. - For who. Survivors knows you here, and they want you to work for them, - the Cossak ignited the leaves and inhaled the green smoke they made, then exhaled a small smoke ring and added, - Maybe some of you could help us. Hearing this, Nickel made a step forward, taking out his magnum revolvers, and nodded, showing that he was ready for action. - Tak. What about you, Red Bogatyr? - the human inhaled the smoke again. - I'll fight only in'a dire situation. Gazzi'll need some help too. - Tak... - Taras exhaled the smoke cloud, - Then, now we start. Everybody moved to their positions. The malachite mechanic and the blacksmith went to the ship, where the scrap-metal was lying. The Cossaks and the yellow-green pianist started preparing the doors for the assault. Ostap turned on the truck's music player, filling the cave with music: a sad rock ballad about heroes in a war. It seemed fitting to their situation. After fifteen minutes, the barricades were ready. Ostap and Petro hid behind them while Taras retrieved a hoverbike he'd hidden behind a pile of rocks and said to Nickel: - Sit behind and shoot. I show you Cossak's dzhigitovka, - he helped the short Novakid get into the rear seat, adding, - We fight for time, remember - and don't die, silent dwarf. Just after he said that, there was a loud explosion behind the hangar door. The Survivors had found the entrance! After some time another, even more powerful explosion broke through the door and a group of humans, armed with pipes, armatures and other scrap, rushed inside the cave. - Hi-yah! - Taras took out his sword and drove his hoverbike into the group of Survivors, screaming, - Гей, хто тут хоче шашки отаманською?! (Hey, who wants the otaman's shashka?!) One of the survivors tried to hit the Cossak with a rusty pipe, but Taras swung his sword lightning-quick and sliced open the enemy's head like it was a watermelon. He added some gas and drove over another human, who was first knocked down, then squashed by the hoverdrive. At the same time, Nickel spread his hands and started firing the revolvers, piercing the bodies of the wild people. - Підходьте, сучки! Отамана на всіх вистачить! Отримай! (Come on, bitches! Otaman is enough for everyone! Get some!) - Taras yelled and decapitated yet another Survivor, whose blood splattered over the hoverbike. At this moment, Ostap and Petro yelled a loud battlecry and opened fire with the stationary machinegun and a flamethrower, forcing the Survivors to fight the crazed rider and his gunslinging passenger, who were practically massacring the wild humans. Suddenly a loud human voice sounded from the entrance: - Fall back! - the harsh, deep male voice was spread through the loudspeakers so that everyone on the battlefield could hear it. The Survivors rushed back, completely forgetting about the fight, running over the dead bodies and leaving the hoverbiker alone among the dead, - Otaman, lay your weapons down! - It's you again? Come out and face me, Chino! - Taras yelled to the invisible enemy leader. - As you wish! - a tall muscular human with tanned skin, wearing nothing but torn pants, came out of the Survivors mass and stood in front of it, crossing his arms over his bare torso. - You might be interested in surrendering, you damn ruskie! - I from Ukraine, you shit-color simpleton! And I never surrender to anyone! - Taras shouted angrily. - Then I'll have to break your tradition, asshole! I've got a hostage today! - a tall, glowing cyan figure was brought out from the mass of wild people. Nickel strained and clenched his hands around the handles of his revolvers, knowing that this figure was his old friend Fiddle, who somehow got into enemy hands. - "I see your friend, but I don't know how to help right now, sorry. We need time" - Taras whispered to the yellow-green Novakid, then yelled back to Chino, - What you want? - Only one thing: give me back the ship you're trying to fix! - the tanned man pointed to the giant hammer-like shuttle. - You broke its thrusters, it can't be fixed without good mechanic! - the Cossak dismissed. - I know you have one! Our shiny friend told me! - Chino showed the middle finger. Suddenly a loud screech came from behind the Survivors' lines and the wild people began humming. - "It's our chance... We only need time." - Taras said and yelled back to the Survivors' leader, - You got into bad situation, churcka, you better let this guy go, then return to your castle of corpses and wait until your death! - Nonsense! You will surrender your weapons and give this ship back to me! - Chino got much angrier, - Or I will parasite him right here! - You bluffing! - laughed Taras thoughtlessly. - NO I'M NOT!!! Bring it here!!! - the man yelled. Just a second after he did, two wild men brought up a cage made of bones with a giant parasite bug inside. - I'LL SHOW YOU!!! - Whoa, wait! - the Cossak raised his hand, but he was too late. The cage opened and the giant insect jumped up on Fiddle's back, biting into the back of his neck, but... suddenly it screeched and fell to the ground with its head burned like a coal. The bugs could control animals and other beings made of flesh, but not a Novakid, who was basically a mineral shell, filled with burning gas compressed to plasma! So after biting Fiddle's neck, the bug was scorched to death, leaving the cyan Novakid with pinching pain between his shoulders. - WHAT?! - both Taras and Chino gasped. Nickel had waited long enough. He pushed the Cossak in the back, almost saying "GAS UP", so the hoverbike started moving. Then he raised his pistol and shot a quick bullet through the Survivors' leader's head, making it explode like a balloon. Then he grabbed Fiddle by the vest, pulling him onto the vehicle, before anyone could process what happened. After this was done, the loud screeching started again and a scream of panic came from the rear of the Survivors, making them start charging toward the hoverbike. Taras came back to his senses and quickly spun the hoverbike around, shouting to Ostap and Petro: - Біжіть на корабель, хлопці! (Run to the ship, guys!) It was pure chaos - the terrified mass of wild humans was trembling and waving like an ocean, with our heroes going through it like a wave-cutting boat; the pain, screams, and screeching; the sudden sound of the ship engine turning on; everything was mixed in the cacophony of panic. However, all the Cossaks and both Novakid managed to get into the ship before the panicking mass could reach it, and the docking door was shut and locked from the inside. The humans exhaled with relief. - Guess whaaaaat? - Gazzi said, - I fix'd the'thrusters! Without'even reworkin'em! - Good! I'm piloting! - Taras leaped off the hoverbike and ran to the piloting room. - Huh? Fiddle, what'ta slag're you doin'ere? - Gazzi looked at the fiddler with confusion. - Too lon' to explain. Just'bandage my neck'please! - whined the cyan Novakid with a small plasma-venting hole between his shoulders... After a half hour the human ship landed near the Green Lance. The Cossaks helped our friends to clear the parasited humans around it, while Gazzi welded the hole in the main cooling cauldron. Taras was sitting on his hoverbike, smoking his pipe, when Gazzi approached him and asked: - So, where ya gonna go after'is? - she pinched the tip of one of her corona's curls. - Traveling. Hunting for bounty. There not much of options for me, as runaway "pirate" and prisoner, - the Cossak exhaled a smoke ring, then blew a cloud through it. - I'just thought ya'could go with'us. At least to'the Bazaar planet... - They have USCM security? - Nope! - Then I follow you there, - Taras nodded and turned his hoverbike on, - I hope you have radio? - What's radio? - Gazzi asked with curiosity. The Cossak facepalmed, realizing the true level of her engineering skills. Due to the forum bugs, I have to create the other posts, to keep the stories safe. Go here Go here Art section: From my redactor, Miss Alkane, a portrait of Gazzoline Spark (Gazzi): And Brass Fiddle (Fiddle): And Cinder! Oh, maim, im getting a lot of art today: Nickel joins the party! Crossfang drew an epic pixel art of the one of the main characters of this story! Ol' Chrome Crookbrand! Another art by Crossfang! Who is this mysterious guy? Soon you will know. Thanks to Cathar for the awesome picture of "not-so-old" Crookbrand! Looks awesome! The same Cathar, different character! Even though the brand is not exact same shape, I really like hiw he've done my request! Meet the another picture of Gazzi! Finally! Finally I got the portrait of Nancy Gold! Thanks to Kaiachi for this one. Also I made a mod suggestion, to make the Green Lance into the game. All the information about it is HERE.