Chapter 8

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The baristas exited their stolen spaceship, to find that the night remained calm, with the half-moon that sailed serenely overhead alone but for the stars.

Max scanned the sky for any telltale trails of fire.  "Maybe they didn't notice the distress signal."

"Oh, they'll have noticed," replied Ethlukjamson.  "I've deactivated the distress beacon and sent out an 'everything's cool, false alarm' message, but it won't do any good.  The Narguwullians may be box-of-hammers dumb but the Rigellians certainly aren't.  They were probably already suspicious about our joyriding and the distress call will be the clincher.  We're going to have company and we're going to have it soon.

"So, gather round baristas.  It's decision time.  It's not within my mission protocols to force you into being weaponised—Flixl didn't want that.  An unwilling hero is no hero at all.  But the time has come to choose.  What's it gonna be?  Who wants to buy a ticket for the train to awesome?  Who wants to be all they can be—times about a million?"

"But we still don't even know what that means!" exclaimed Max.  "You keep going on about weaponising us, but not about what that involves.  What will happen to us, how will we change, can it be reversed, will any bits fall off, etcetera, etcetera?  Kinda stuff we need to know."

"Plus, you said something about the the final version of the weaponisation system not even being tested yet," said Cora.  "Is it safe?"

"Oh, yeah," said Ethlukjamson.  "Totally safe.  Just because some of the early trials didn't go so well, it doesn't mean the final version will make anyone explode."

"Explode?" shouted the four baristas, in unison.

"Calm down, people.  I said it won't make you explode.  Try to keep up.  Now, who's ready?"

Mel spoke through gritted teeth.  "If it's not going to make us explode, you horrid little hologram, why did you mention exploding at all?"

"Did I mention exploding?  How silly of me, forget I said it.  Now, if you'll all gather round the capsule—"

Max folded his arms.  "We're not gathering around anything until you tell us what went wrong with the earlier versions."

The hologram sighed.  "OK, OK, so one of the first human specimens tested might have kind of suffered from rapid disassembly.  A bit."

"Rapid disassembly?" queried Cam.  "Just how rapid are we talking?  Do you mean exploded?"

"Well, if you're going to be pedantic about it, then I s'pose you could call it exploding.  But that was only an early trial.  The next few hardly exploded at all and the last couple not even a little bit.  They only kind of went a bit nuts.  And then their brains melted."

"Their brains melted?" breathed Cora, her eyes wide.  "And what happened then?"

"Well, they fell down.  You know, no motor-function to speak of.  Or any function, really."  Ethlukjamson seemed to realise he was losing his audience.  "But look, these were trials, people—that's what trials are for.  You know, to iron out the bugs and squash the kinks.  The final version ran flawlessly in the simulations, Flixl just didn't get time to do a real world test."  He smiled winningly at them.  "Until now."

Max shook his head wearily.  "Well, since you put it like that, how can we possibly refuse?"

Ethlukjamson's eyes widened in surprise.  "Really?  'Cause it kind of felt like the old sales pitch was letting me down.  I actually thought you guys might be going to say no."

"Of course we're going to say no, you artificial moron!" shouted Mel.  "Max was being sarcastic—you know sarcasm?  Maybe look it up while you're downloading dictionary.com."

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