Out in the depths of space, a dark green wormhole opened briefly. A small red and brown ship exited the wormhole, re-entering normal space.
"So, it not just a world with weather," Trav said, inside the ship, "but a world of weather? Where the weather is actually alive?"
"Something like that," a projection of Inzami in the center console said, "this world's weather patterns are controlled by a highly-complex interconnected network of artificial intelligences. I have been told they take their jobs very seriously, so I would avoid any confrontations. You'll be looking for a woman named Hvpvdqia. She's currently employed in the Northern Pacific Region, in the Cold Front division. You'll need to contact Steve Harrison to get the coordinates to the dimensional gateway. She and the other weather intelligences are in an adjacent dimension, completely invisible and inaccessible by normal means. Their effects cause the weather in the primary dimension."
"It certainly sounds fascinating," Nati said, "although also according to this, their weather is nearly indistinguishable from the normal patterns that would be expected."
"Of course," Inzami said, "as I said, they do take their jobs very seriously. Anyways, good luck and see if you can find her!" Her projection faded off.
"It will be cool to see a new world," Kev said, "and two, if you count exploring the other dimension!"
"Agreed," Zhi said, "I've never been off Domatu before, and I'm told this world is rather similar in many ways."
Their ship traveled across space, and approached a bright blue dot. The dot came closer into view, as they could see it was a great blue planet, clouds encircling its atmosphere.
"Seeing planets from space never gets old," Kev said, "and this one does look as big as yours, Zhi, much larger than Era, for sure."
"Agreed," Zhi said, "and no less beautiful."
Shinako slowed the ship down, as they passed through a disperse layer of space debris, and entered the atmosphere below.
"Oh! That's right, I should call ahead," Shinako said, pressing a few buttons on her control panel. "They still use radio communication, but are advanced enough for spaceflight."
"Makes sense," Nati said, "so do we."
"Come in! Come in!" Shinako said into the control panel, "this is the Flying Squirrel, requesting landing vectors and permission."
"The 'Flying Squirrel'?" Trav said, "I didn't know this ship had a name."
"Oh, I just made it up," Shinako said, listening for a response.
"Hello? Who is this?" a man's voice on the other line said, "this is a secure military channel. If this is a prank call, I'll have you arrested."
"No, no," Shinako said, "this is Shinako, we are here on Inzami's orders."
"Oh! You're them," the voice said on the other line, getting much quieter, "land on runway 31, you have clearance."
"Cool!" Shinako said, "thanks!"
"And... would you mind dropping your cloak during the approach?" the man said, "so we can track you on radar. For safety."
"Sure!" Shinako said, disconnecting the call.
• • •
Their ship flew through a few ordinary-looking clouds and approached a small military base, fighter jets and helicopters parked along the tarmacs near the runway. Shinako deactivated her ship's cloak, and hovered towards runway 31. Flying only a few feet over the runway, the ship slowed down, and turned left onto a tarmac near the main building. Coming to a complete stop in midair, she deployed the landing gear and touched down gracefully on the concrete.
"I don't think that's how runways are supposed to work," Nati said.
"It's no fun if I don't show off a bit!" Shinako said, smiling. She opened the side hatch of the ship, as three men in military attire could be seen walking towards the ship.
The six of them departed off the ship, as the lead military man approached them, and stopped a few feet away.
He saluted, and said, "I'm Colonel James Briggs, welcome to Earth."
"Thanks!" Shinako said, saluting back.
Zhi took a small bow, as Kev, Trav and Nati tried their best to mirror the man's saluting gesture. Baster, who was sitting on Nati's head, raised a small sign, which said, 'Hi!'
"I'm assuming you're here to see Mr. Harrison?" the Colonel said, "he's just inside, as Inzami briefed us on your arrival a few hours ago."
"Thanks!" Shinako said, "let's go inside!"
"Also," the Colonel said, sounding a bit nervous, "I can't let you park your space-ship there, miss. This area is restricted for military use."
"No problem!" Shinako said, waving back at her ship, which closed its side hatch and promptly disappeared.
"Always freaks me out when they do that," one of the men behind the Colonel muttered under his breath.
"Follow me," the Colonel said, as the three of them walked towards the main complex.
They entered the beige main building, attracting more than a few stares from the other staff on-duty, Shinako making an effort to wave at as many of them as possible.
"Is she doing this on purpose?" Kev said.
"Most likely," Zhi said, "I've been told of this planet before. I think Shinako likes it, for some strange reason."
A few rooms later, they came upon a man sitting down at a desk, working in front of an old CRT computer screen. He looked relatively ordinary, probably in his 40's, with short black hair, and was wearing a button-up shirt with dark jeans.
"Mr. Harrison, they're here to see you," the Colonel said, "good luck."
The Colonel and the other two men then walked quickly out of the room, closing the door, and leaving the seven of them together, otherwise alone in the computer lab.
• • •
"You must be Shinako," Steve Harrison said, nervously extending a hand for a handshake, "a pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise!" Shinako said, shaking his hand vigorously. "These here are my friends Zhi, Kev, Trav, Nati, and Baster."
Zhi once again bowed, while Kev, Trav, and Nati gave him a small wave, unsure of how to shake hands with someone so much taller than them.
Baster raised another tiny sign, which said, 'Pleasure to meet you too!'
"So... what do you need to know?" Steve said.
"We're looking for someone by the name of hipidia, no wait," Shinako said.
"I believe it was Hvipvida?" Zhi said, sounding a bit confused.
"The name's impossibly difficult to pronounce, I'm not even going to try," Kev said.
'Hvpvdqia' a tiny sign held up by Baster said.
"What he said," Nati said, pointing at Baster on her head.
"Oh yeah," Steve said, "that makes sense. I would know who you're talking about even if you couldn't say her name. I barely can, after all. But yes, I know her. It all started a few years back. When I was exploring the crevasses of Antarctica. Back then I was studying the effect of climate change, looking for historical evidence of temperature cycles in the ice. It was a dangerous day, that day. The cold wind was blowing above, and we headed down into the icy glacier-"
"Ahem," Shinako said, coughing.
"Oh sorry," Steve said, "I guess you don't need my life story all at once. Anyways, I know her, but that whole area has been sealed off. They'll never let you through to the other side. And even if they did, the people over there... they're not like us, they're strange and think in ways unheard of before." Steve took a look at the group again, then said, "uh, not that you'd have any problems, of course."
"We're trying to recruit her for an interdimensional team of adventurers," Shinako said, "this is a priority-one class-A kind of task here!"
"But I can't knowingly subject you to the dangers of that place," Steve said, "I barely survived my own foray into the unknown."
"There's nothing we can't handle," Zhi said, "be it mystical or mundane, with the power of the Five Elements, no challenge is too great."
"Five elements?" Steve said, "if you're thinking of the classical elements, I thought there were only four."
"Only four?" Zhi said, taken aback, "no wonder this place looks so dry."
"I think we're in a desert," Nati said, "although I do remember reading this world has no magic, just like ours."
"No magic?" Zhi said, "that's a seriously messed-up energy balance you have going on here. You should try to correct that sometime soon, before it's too late."
"What?" Steve said, "we've gotten along just fine without all that nonsense. There's no such thing as 'magic' around here, and I'd like to keep it that way. Even the weather people are actually super-advanced machines, of a sort."
"I'm more concerned with the fact that you have only one, large, habitable planet," Nati said, "how could you even develop spaceflight?"
"Spaceflight did take a while, but we even have a stable space station," Steve said, starting to sound a bit frustrated, "so I don't think we're doing too
"Yes, but your gravity is a function of radius squared
, I'm not even sure how you could launch a plane out of the atmosphere," Nati said, "nevermind how your universe probably shouldn't exist due to stars being unstable."
"Wow, gravity is radius squared
?" Kev said, "that's so crazy! I should really read these world briefing intro booklets more carefully."
"How could the universe exist without that?" Steve said, sounding a bit exasperated, "it's one of the fundamental constants of physics!"
"Only one planet does sound super boring," Trav said, "how do you even have cities separated from each other enough? Not to mention what happens if you want to go to the beach?"
"We just take normal planes," Steve said, "and we use rockets for spaceflight, planes can't get up enough speed to reach escape velocity."
"I suppose that makes sense," Nati said, "although the manner of combustion and necessary energy density seems suspect."
"I'm more concerned with how huge this computer is!" Shinako said, hitting her hand on the CRT monitor. "You have space-stations, but computers bigger than bricks! How am I supposed to fit this in my pocket?"
"It's not actually the whole computer, it's just a monitor," Steve said, "and great, now it's out of alignment, I have to de-gauss it." He pressed a button on the front of the monitor which made the picture wobble back and forth for a moment.
"CRT?" Zhi said, "I've never heard of such a thing. It looks like a Qi-powered display to me, although more detailed than any I've ever seen."
"Wait. If that's just the monitor..." Shinako said, "then that only reinforces my argument further
"Alright fine!" Steve said, throwing his arms up in the air. "I'll tell you the coordinates. Just don't say I didn't warn you!"
• • •
The six of them re-entered Shinako's ship, left the military base (and Steve Harrison) behind, and were now back in the air, flying across the sky to the south.
"I agree with you, Nati," Trav said, "this place is pretty strange. It's like a huge Era, but with miniature climates from all the other planets all smooshed together."
"Yeah, feels like someone was too lazy to make any more planets," Kev said, "and said something like, 'Nah, one planet is enough, we'll give it some weird weather for variety.'"
"Truly the gods are as mysterious as they are diverse in creation," Zhi said, looking out the window, watching the landscape of deserts and cities pass below them.
Past the desert they traveled across a great expanse of ocean, until it too gave way to a huge continent of ice and snow. It was nearly flat in appearance, save for a few mountains in the distance.
"We're approaching the coordinates now," Shinako said, as she brought the ship down.
They landed next to a metal dome, snow piled over it from years of neglect.
"Great, more ice and snow," Trav said, "I was promised beach planets!" He shook his fist into the air, as if to curse the snowy landscape.
"Sorry Trav," Nati said, "maybe it'll be warmer on the other side?"
"All you have to do is be prepared," Kev said, touching his summoning bracelet, as he was suddenly clothed in a large winter parka.
"I wish I'd thought of that," Nati said, looking slightly impressed.
The six of them stepped off the ship out the side hatch, Nati and Trav having grabbed some warmer coats from the back. Zhi, Shinako, and Baster appeared totally comfortable outside despite the cold wind. Shinako motioned to Zhi, who kicked a door open in the metal dome, and the group stepped inside.
Within the dome, they found a metal stairway leading down into the glacier. Following this staircase, Kev lightning the way with an orange light from the P5, they came upon another door. Zhi went to kick this door open as well, until Nati reminded him that she could unlock doors with Baster. And unlike the one above, which had become wedged shut due to the snow and ice, this one looked to be simply locked. Zhi stepped aside and with Nati waving her hand over the lock the door creaked open. Within they found a small room, built out of an odd dark-blue metal. It had a variety of blank control panels along the walls, with two seats in front, both facing a screen ahead, which looked to be turned off.
"Strange," Shinako said, "it almost looks like a spaceship bridge."
"Or a control center," Kev said.
"How do we activate it?" Nati said.
"This technology is beyond my knowledge," Zhi said, looking the room over.
"Maybe if we press things randomly?" Trav said, placing his hand on a control panel. Disappointingly, nothing appeared to happen. "Dang."
"There must be some notes left behind," Nati said, "after all, Steve was able to travel to the other side before."
"Good idea!" Shinako said, as the group looked around the icy room.
Near the entrance door, Shinako found an old notebook covered in a bit of ice. Breathing on it to melt the ice off and dry its pages, she opened it up and began reading.
"It says to activate the observation station, place the control rod into the center port," Shinako said.
"What control rod?" Kev said, looking around.
Zhi walked out of the room, and found a medium-size blue metal pole, stuck in the ice. Yanking it out, he walked back inside, and said, "maybe this is it?"
"Worth a shot," Nati said.
Zhi placed the pole in a triangular port in between the two chairs. "Nothing happened."
"Let's see... it says to then turn it 30 degrees clockwise," Shinako said, reading from the notebook.
Doing as instructed, Zhi turned the pole clockwise until it clicked, and the panels in the room suddenly sprang to life. Tiny unreadable blue text filled the screens on the walls, as the center monitor displayed an aerial view of a hurricane.
"Cool!" Trav said, "but what does any of this mean?"
Shinako closed the book and walked over to a screen, squinting at it. "Huh. The universal translation system doesn't appear to work for whatever strange language this is in."
"Maybe because it's some kind of computer code?" Nati said, "it might even be encrypted." Any luck, Baster?
It is incomprehensible even to my magic,
"That makes sense," Kev said, "I guess they didn't want people to understand their super-complex artificial weather system too
"That's not very helpful, though," Zhi said, "other than this pole, there seems to be no visible controls."
Opening the book again, Shinako said, "hmm... not much that's very helpful in here either. Says they were unable to decipher the code as well. Given that they're on practically stone-age computers, that's not surprising. Oh! It does say they figured out how to make a portal to the other side appear, that's how they found Steve."
"How so?" Kev said, walking over to her.
"They said if you tap on the main screen," Shinako said, "then a portal will be generated to that location on the surface above. No mention of how to pick a different destination or change the view, however."
"That looks like a terrible storm," Nati said, looking at the main view of a large hurricane.
"Certainly fiercer than any on Domatu," Zhi said, "it's even spinning. Somehow."
"Ah, no worries," Shinako said, "my ship can handle just about anything! Let's give it a shot, then we can come back here by returning to the same location on the other side."
"The portal doesn't close?" Nati said.
"According to this, not until someone closes it here," Shinako said, "which seems rather unlikely since we're in out in the middle of practically nowhere."
"It's the only plan we have," Kev said, "so no reason not to try?"
"Inzami could always bail us out in a true emergency," Shinako said, waving her hand, "although I'd try to prevent that from being necessary." She cringed a bit, having clearly done this before.
"Let's pick a location as far away from the storm as possible," Nati said, touching the main screen on one of its corners.
A blue flashing dot appeared at that location, but the view did not change.
"Looks good to me," Trav said, "let's go!"
The six of them headed back up the stairs, closing and locking the door behind them for good measure, until they reached the surface. Zhi then forced the door of the dome closed, and covered it with more snow and ice with a few motions.
"That should keep anyone out of there," Zhi said.
In front of them, a few hundred feet in the distance, a blue translucent portal could be seen. It had the texture of still water, a near-perfect reflection of the snowy surface, with just enough distortion to tell that it was there. They all entered Shinako's ship, and it took off, hovering slowly over the ground. Shinako piloted it through this portal, vanishing from the normal dimension of Earth.
• • •
The other side greeted them with driving rain and intense wind. The ship shook from the incredible force, as they found themselves in a gray cloudy sky. Panels lit up red and orange, as Shinako attempted to steer the ship straight in the chaotic weather.
"I thought you said this ship could handle anything," Kev said, holding on as they tumbled around.
"Almost anything!" Shinako said, struggling to control the ship, "the wind out there is nearly a thousand miles per hour! I didn't buy the 'Intense Atmospheres' optional package!"
"Either way, we should try to land and get our bearings!" Zhi said, over the sound of a few alarms.
"Is that something in the clouds?" Trav said, looking out the window at a large, dark object approaching them.
"Another ship out in this mess?" Shinako said, as the dark shape became alarmingly closer.
"We're headed straight for it!" Nati said, as Baster held onto her hair.
"Brace for impact!" Shinako said, unsuccessful in her attempts to turn, their ship at the mercy of the weather.
They impacted the hull of this dark ship, crashing through gray panels into a large room, perhaps a docking bay, although no other craft could be seen within. A few of the gray panels skidded to a stop on the dark gray floor, one of them flickering as if it was merely a hologram. A forcefield came up behind them, blocking the driving rain and wind outside.
"That was my worst landing in..." Shinako said, thinking, "a while. Probably best to leave it at that."
"Should we see if there's anyone else here?" Trav said, "and maybe apologize for crashing into their ship?"
"Good idea," Nati said.
Shinako opened the side hatch of the ship, as Zhi, Trav, Kev, and Nati with Baster walked out onto the gray floor.
"This is the most boring interior I've ever seen," Kev said, "it's all dark gray, the floor, walls, ceiling, everything."
"And the only light seems to be coming from outside," Nati said, motioning to the large hole they had made in the ship's hull.
"This room is also totally empty," Trav said, "how rich do you have to be to have a huge ship with empty rooms?"
"I wonder what material this is," Zhi said, tapping the floor, "it doesn't look like metal."
Sounds of footsteps could be heard approaching, as a rectangular section of a wall opened up sideways, revealing three people, two men and a woman. They all held small rectangular devices in their hands, and wore uniforms in dark gray and yellow. Their skin was as white as clouds, and they all had similar short, dark-gray hair, the color of thunderstorms.
"What are you doing here?" the first man said.
"This is a restricted area!" the woman said.
"Can't you see we're in the middle of a storm?" the second man said.
"Apologies for the intrusion," Zhi said, bowing slightly. "Our ship ran off course in this storm, and we impacted your ship."
"We're looking for a person named," Nati said.
'Hvpvdqia' a tiny sign from Baster said, as Nati pointed to him.
"Do you know her?" Nati said.
"Yeah, they said she was in the Pacific Region," Kev said, "maybe Cold Front department or something?"
"Sounds right to me," Trav said, nodding his head in agreement.
"The Cold Front Division?" the woman said, sounding surprised.
"They are our mortal enemies!" the second man said.
"We are representatives of the Tropical Wave Alliance," the first man said, "you are clearly intruding!"
The three of them raised their rectangular devices and aimed for the group. Kev instinctively took out his P5 and projected a wall of orange energy in front of them. The three people fired yellow energy beams from their devices, each one impacting the wall and stopping.
"We should get out of here!" Kev said, holding the wall in place.
"Agreed!" Zhi said, motioning his foot forward towards a wrecked wall panel, which did not move. "Odd. It's definitely not metal."
Another rectangular section opened up on the opposite wall, and four more similar-looking people walked through it. They also held up rectangular devices, and fired towards Shinako's ship, but were blocked by another wall from Kev.
"Little help here guys?" Kev said.
"Start the ship! Start the ship!" Trav said, running back towards Shinako's ship.
Zhi motioned an uppercut, also changing nothing in the room. "Not earth either?" he said, looking confused.
"Wait! I get it!" Nati said, "Tropical Wave Alliance? These people are
the weather. It's water, Zhi!"
"Water?" Zhi said, "now that's ridiculous." He waved his right hand forward as one of the panels lifted off the floor. "Well. That's the strangest-looking water I've ever seen."
Zhi then motioned both his fists downward, as the floor underneath the weather-people turned to tiny droplets, and they promptly fell below.
"Alright. That works," Kev said, shutting off the orange energy walls.
The five of them headed back into Shinako's ship, and Shinako closed the hatch, hovering the ship off the ground.
"Next stop, anywhere but here," Shinako said, "hold onto your seats!"
She hit the accelerator, as the ship punched through the forcefield, and headed back out into the stormy sky. She flew around haphazardly for a few minutes, leaving the large ship in the distance, with no sign of pursuit.
• • •
Up ahead, the sky cleared, to reveal a blue and clear path forward. They coasted over the sea below, until they approached a vast continent.
"These sensors say that landmass matches a 'North America'," Nati said, looking at a control readout, "although I don't see any cities, roads, or even signs of development."
"There are some flashes of light," Trav said, looking down at the ground.
A thin gridwork of energy pulses could be seen across the landscape, more concentrated where the cities should have been.
"Fascinating," Zhi said, "perhaps these lights are echoes of the human civilization on the other side, much as their weather is an echo of this dimension's activity."
They continued flying over a mostly-clear landscape, great rivers and mountains below. They saw a few clouds, but steered clear of them, especially since the ship's sensors indicated many had other ships within.
"I've never seen this many ships in the atmosphere of one planet," Shinako said, "and they're all in clouds too, like they're making them."
Continuing north, they came upon a vast expanse of ocean, the waves glittering below. Up ahead the sensors indicated a large concentration of ships, arranged in a line from north to south.
"Uh oh," Shinako said, "looks like a picket line."
"Can you graph out the ships' locations with barometric pressure and temperature?" Nati said.
"Of course," Shinako said, pressing a few buttons on her controls, and producing a holographic map in the center console.
"Exactly as I thought," Nati said, "those ships are aligned along an axis where the temperature is warmer on our side, and the temperature is colder on their side, with the pressure decreasing as you approach. It's a cold front
"How do you know so much about the weather?" Kev said, "and always beat me on world research before these missions, too?"
"I studied my whole past life," Nati said, "one does
tend to learn a few things."
"But how do you have the time?" Kev said.
"To learn everything there is to know," Nati said, pulling a book out of nowhere, "you must first learn to learn.
" She threw the book at Kev, and said, "read that in an hour, then get back to me."
"One hour?" Kev said, looking at the thick textbook on weather phenomena, "this thing is huge!"
Trav giggled a bit under his breath at Kev's reaction.
'Good luck!' a tiny sign from Baster said.
"Then learn to read faster,
" Nati said.
"Not to interrupt this exchange," Zhi said, "but do you expect we will find our mysterious lady in this cold front, then?"
"If not," Nati said, "then at least they should be allies, and hopefully not shoot at us."
"Sounds like a plan," Trav said, "I have my armor ready, but would obviously rather not fight them."
"Agreed!" Shinako said, "it's generally a good idea to not make enemies of the people we're trying to recruit!"
• • •
They approached the line of billowing white and gray clouds ahead, rain and wind gusting over the ocean.
"All the ships are in that line of storms, of course," Shinako said, sounding a bit miffed. "I guess we can just fly in and see what's going on?"
She took the ship in towards the line of storms, hovering over the puffy white cloud-tops.
"Those clouds look pretty amazing from up here," Trav said, looking down.
The ship hovered lower, approaching the cloud tops, as dark silhouettes could be seen inside the clouds. The weather-ships were in many shapes and sizes, most rather blocky in appearance, and all aligned perpendicular to this front. Approaching the center of the front, they could see bright bolts of energy being discharged between the two lines of ships, blue on the far side, and white for the nearest side.
Noticing the small red and brown intruder, both sides of weather-ships suddenly began firing energy bolts at Shinako's ship as well, unsure of if it was friend or foe.
"They're shooting at us?" Shinako said, pulling the ship up quickly to dodge the energy blasts. "I thought they'd be allies!"
"I thought so too!" Nati said, holding on to her seat. "Unless... there's more than one side."
"Oh! You mean like the cold ships are battling the warm ships?" Kev said.
"Something like that," Nati said, "try hailing them and telling them we're on their side!"
Shinako pressed a button on the control panel, and said, "we're looking for someone in the Cold Front Division, could you please stop shooting at us?"
A lightning bolt passed by the ship, as smaller fighter-style ships approached them and began firing at them as well.
"Sorry about that!" a voice on the other side said, "we didn't know you were allies."
The blue side of the cloud-ships stopped firing at them, while the white energy blasts and fighters continued to attack.
"Move closer to the friendly side!" Nati said.
Shinako maneuvered closer to the line of ships that had ceased fire, as the white fighters were repelled by blue energy blasts and scattered lightning.
"Whew," Shinako said, then speaking into the communicator again, "is there a place we can dock, or if you know where a Hividia is?"
"Of course!" said the voice on the other side, "you can dock at the flagship."
"Must be that one," Kev said.
He pointed to the largest ship of the line, a huge, semicircular crescent, parked within one of the tallest, anvil-shaped thunderclouds. Shinako flew in close, approaching carefully, until on one side a rectangular section opened up, revealing a docking bay.
• • •
Shinako carefully landed their ship in the large, dark gray docking bay. Surrounding them were a few smaller fighter-style ships, their swept-back wings and sharp points implying speed and maneuverability. Opening the side hatch, the six of them stepped out onto the gray floor, and were approached by two weather-people, a man and a woman. Each was similar in appearance to the weather-people in the hurricane before, and wore dark-gray uniforms nearly-identical in form as well, except with dark blue stripes instead of yellow.
"Follow us this way," the woman said, motioning towards a rectangular opening in the wall.
"The Captain is ready to see you," the man said.
They followed along through dimly-lit corridors, each with seemingly no windows, doors, or other decorations. These corridors had no visible source of light, as if the walls themselves glowed softly.
"Are all these interiors this drab?" Trav said, "how do you work in a ship like this?"
"It is practical," the weather-woman said.
"No need to make anything else," the weather-man said.
"I see," Nati said, sounding a bit suspicious, but also amazed at their apparent lack of boredom.
They continued along, until they reached what appeared to be a dead-end. However, the wall in front of them opened up, to reveal the bridge of this weather-ship. Walking inside, they could see a variety of similar-looking weather-people sitting down on chairs near holographic control panels, analyzing readouts and pressing controls, all displaying unreadable tiny text and graphics. At the center of the room stood a man, who was wearing a circular hat, and looking ahead at a great screen in the front of the room. This screen displayed the battle outside, the energy fire, lightning, and fighters dogfighting across this display.
"Welcome to the Crescent Nimbus!" the central man said, turning around, "I am the Captain, Qhidhjqtka."
"A pleasure to meet you..." Shinako said, unsure of how to replicate the strange unpronounceable sounds of his name. "Captain."
"Is the person we are looking for here?" Nati said, also feeling less-than-confident at saying Hvpvdqia's name.
"Yes, she's right behind you!" the Captain said.
From one of the stations, a tall woman stood up. She was almost six feet tall, and much like the other weather-people had skin as white as a cloud, and short wavy dark-gray hair, the color of thunderstorms. Somewhat more uniquely, she also wore tiny silver earrings each in the shape of a lightning bolt. Her uniform also looked a bit less formal, the stripes on her shirt a sky-blue, although the rest of her shirt and pants were colored the same dark gray of the others.
"Hi! I'm Hvpvdqia!" she said, "a pleasure to meet you all! I heard you were looking for me?"
"Yes! We have been looking for you!" Shinako said, "we wanted to offer you the chance to join our interdimensional team of adventurers!" Shinako motioned to the others.
"Sure!" Hvpvdqia said, smiling, "sound like fun!"
"You do realize this means you will join us to travel across the multiverse," Zhi said, "leaving behind all that you know, for as long as we are out?"
"Fine by me!" Hvpvdqia said.
"You don't have any requests?" Kev said, "or anything you need help with? Problems to solve?"
"Nope!" Hvpvdqia said.
"Well, that's surprisingly straightforward," Nati said.
"I can handle easy," Trav said, "getting here was enough of an adventure."
"As I always say, best to never look a demon in the mouth," Shinako said, "as it might breathe fire on you."
"Not sure what that has to do with this situation," Nati said, giving Shinako a look of confusion.
"Beats me!" Shinako said, "but it's still solid advice."
Zhi merely shook his head at this comment. Then, turning to Hvpvdqia, he said, "an honor to have you on our team, and welcome aboard. Are there any preparations you need to do before departing?"
"Nope!" Hvpvdqia said, "I'm ready to go now."
"I guess now is as good of a time as any," Kev said, shrugging his shoulders. No use sticking around these dull ships anyways,
• • •
Back in the docking bay, the six of them boarded Shinako's ship. Hvpvdqia waved goodbye at a few of the other weather-people, before boarding as well. Shinako closed the hatch and took off out of the docking bay, flying out of the clouds and into the clear sky above.
"Are you sure you're comfortable there?" Zhi said to Hvpvdqia, who was standing up in the cramped cabin, her hair almost touching the ceiling.
"Yep!" Hvpvdqia said, "I'm fine!"
"I still think we should get a larger ship," Zhi said, "this was already rather cramped when I joined."
"We can get a new ship when we have the new team ready, alright?" Shinako said.
Their ship flew across the sky, over ocean and land alike, heading back towards the portal that had brought them to this strange weather dimension. They once again approached the powerful storm below, the swirling clouds a reminder of the chaos before.
"Now, how to get back safely?" Shinako said, thinking out loud, "since the portal still appears to be inside that huge storm."
"I can try to control the water around the ship," Zhi said, "although I doubt that will be of much help."
"Well, what about our newcomer?" Nati said, "if you've been helping to create the weather, maybe you would know how to get around this storm?"
"I don't think we can get around it," Hvpvdqia said, "not if we want to get inside it."
"Do you know anything about the Tropical Wave Alliance?" Kev said, "maybe you could get them to let us through?"
"They're mortal enemies of us," Hvpvdqia said, "I don't think I can help with that."
"Maybe you can help Zhi control the weather?" Trav said.
"Oh sure, I could help with that!" Hvpvdqia said.
"Perfect," Nati said, "let's see what you two can do."
Shinako brought the ship in closer to the storm, as the wind gusted violently around them. Zhi motioned forward with his hands, deflecting some of the rain away from the ship. Hvpvdqia struck a pose too, generating an eddy of wind around the ship, lessing the wind dramatically.
"It's working!" Shinako said, able to control the ship in the lesser, although still somewhat intense storm.
In the distance ahead was a blue portal, in exactly the same spot as their entry point. However, two small weather-fighters approached them from behind at great speed.
"Oops!" Hvpvdqia said, "they probably don't like me modifying the weather here!"
"Keep it up, it looks like we're close!" Kev said.
The weather-fighters fired yellow beams of energy at their ship, Shinako dodging them in the air, while Zhi struggled to maintain concentration. A lightning bolt struck above them, narrowly missing their ship.
"Hold on!" Shinako said, as they slipped through the portal, disappearing from the weather dimension.
• • •
On the other side they slammed into the ice and snow, kicking up a miniature blizzard. Zhi and Hvpvdqia motioned towards the flurry, allowing the snow to settle on the ground once more, and revealing the familiar blue sky of Earth.
"No sign of pursuit so far," Nati said.
"Will they try to follow us?" Trav said.
"Nope!" Hvpvdqia said, "they can't enter this dimension unless specifically invited. It would be against their jobs, after all."
"Perfect," Kev said, "then let's get out of here."
Shinako, Zhi, and Nati with Baster left the ship, and re-entered the icy room from before, deactivating the portal and observation station, and returning everything as much as possible to its original state. Back on the surface, Zhi covered the closed dome with snow, leaving nearly no evidence they had ever been here.
They re-entered the ship, and closing the hatch, took off into the sky, soaring out of the atmosphere and into space.
"Wow!" Hvpvdqia said, looking out the windows, "I've never been in space before!"
"It looks pretty amazing, doesn't it?" Zhi said.
"Absolutely!" Hvpvdqia said.
The blue marble behind them disappeared into nothing more than a dot against the stars, as they continued out of the solar system.
A white projection of Inzami appeared on the center console, and said, "I take it the mission was a success?"
"Yep!" Shinako said, "we've got her and are ready for our next assignment."
"Wonderful!" Inzami said, "I knew you could find her."
Hvpvdqia waved at the projection of Inzami, as Inzami waved back.
"If anything," Nati said, "it was rather straightforward, as we really didn't have to fight anyone."
"We did get shot at a lot," Trav said, "including lightning and energy bolts, but that was about it."
"Apologies for that, but glad it wasn't too hard," Inzami said, "and I do have to warn you that your next mission may be somewhat more difficult, as it's a world of darkness."
"How so?" Kev said, "like there's demons and evil spirits?"
"Not quite," Inzami said, "it is a world of darkness because there is no sun anymore. Their world was transported into a pocket dimension, by an unknown power possibly even equaling my own."
"How could that work?" Nati said, "wouldn't they all freeze to death?"
"The pocket dimension maintains an average temperature for each location during the different seasons," Inzami said, "so people do manage to survive, although the weather is somewhat more muted, because there are no day / night cycles. I will send along the world briefing for you all to review. Rest up, and good luck!" Her projection disappeared from the console.
"Sounds interesting," Zhi said, "and it also sounds like a world where weather manipulation might be quite useful."
"Happy to help!" Hvpvdqia said, as they flew through space, approaching the wormhole to return and rest up for their next adventure.
• • •
Our adventurers will return in...
The Ekozet Connection: The Mountain