Chapter 10

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"So," shouted Max, over the increasingly loud rumble, "can your capsule take out a battle-tank?"

"Yeah sure, no problem," replied EJ.  "It could take out a hundred battletanks.  It eats battletanks for brunch.  Its nickname is cap-the-battletank-slayer-sule.  It laughs in the face of megaton-yield plasma cannons.  It scoffs at anti-matter missiles.  It positively drools at the prospect of laying the spank down on battle-tanks, fusion-forged armour and all.  Chunk of muffin."

"Seriously?"

EJ beamed proudly at him.  "No of course not, you amusingly dense barista.  That was my first attempt at sarcasm."

Max had by nature always been a fairly placid individual.  Very few things made him angry.  Being cut off in traffic, having his parking spot taken, waiting for hours on hold—he generally accepted these little indignities of everyday life with good grace.  His friends all agreed that it was very annoying.  He did tend to get bothered if served a coffee that was the wrong temperature, but only a little bothered.

In fact, just about the only thing that had ever gotten Max genuinely furious wasn't even really a thing—it was a person.  This person was his big brother, George.  Somehow, with uncanny and unerring accuracy, George knew exactly how to push Max's buttons.  Whether it was holding him down and dripping saliva onto his face (the secret to a really good flow of saliva, George admitted later in life, was to think about roast chicken) or putting him into the bin and then forgetting to get him back out again, his brother had been the master at wakening the rage that was usually buried so deeply in Max's psyche.

So enraged had Max become at times that he could remember seeing red.  Not figuratively, but actually.  A red mist would descend upon him and he would launch himself at his only brother, intent upon wreaking an incoherent, mindless, blood-soaked revenge.  George would generally laugh, pick him up by the ankles and put him back in the bin again.

Max could still distinctly remember that red mist, even though he hadn't seen it for years.  Until now.

Oblivious to Max's internal turmoil, EJ continued to smile happily.  "So, how did I do?"

"Well," shouted Cam, thoughtfully (which was quite an achievement), "you probably laid it on a little thick.  Sarcasm is generally best used—"

"Cameron!" interrupted Mel.  "You may be the love of my life, but don't think that will stop me permanently maiming you if you say one more word about the correct use of sarcasm!"  She turned on EJ.  "And you!  You stupid, stupid...hologram!  You got us into this mess, how the hell are you going to get us out of it?"

"I'm not," bellowed EJ over the ever increasing noise.  "I am just a hologram—a nobody.  You guys are the ones with the actual bodies.  And, if you'll just give me the chance, I can significantly increase those bodies' kick-arsability."

As the already deafening noise ratcheted up another notch, the group was suddenly bathed in dazzling light.  And then, abruptly, the noise stopped.  The light swept away from them, shone briefly on their stolen spaceship and then winked out, leaving them in darkness and silence.

Or at least relative darkness and silence.  The pearlescent moonlight still provided enough illumination to reveal, parked in mid-air above the paddock, a large cube, some twenty metres or so in diameter.  A featureless grey cube, emitting a low humming sound, across which waves of lights periodically shimmered.

"Bugger," muttered EJ.  "It wasn't the earthquake."

Cora stared up at the apparition, suspended above them in apparent defiance of anything gravity might have to say on the matter.  "What is that thing?"

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