Chapter 26: Put to the Test
Only a week had passed since Ace was released from Zordoom Prison. Settling down into the Star-seeker really felt odd to him - even wrong at times.
He was given back the same room from the past. Although it was quite different to what he remembered.
There wasn’t too much for Ace to do yet, besides getting used to living there with them again... which still was uncomfortable at times, except when he was on his own inside his room. Most of the team members wouldn't talk to him, so he kept to himself in there, designing a new outfit and weapon-mods. He even had thoughts of trying to make the HL clone device accompanied with a visor, but he knew there wasn’t much reason to at the moment.
He was told by Kurt that he was to be 'tried' for rehabilitation on a planet within the Polaris Galaxy and if he succeeded, then he was free to stay with the Six Seekers. Ace didn't know what he had to do yet, but Kurt said it was bound to be a challenge - as it was something the authorities had trouble dealing with themselves for the past few months.
So Ace spent the past week preparing himself. Even though he still was unsure of the whole idea of being back with his old team, he didn't want to let them down again – like he had done so in the past.
Kurt and Bettilena piloted the Star-seeker near a small planet, on the outskirts of the Polaris galaxy. None of the team had ever been in this part of the galaxy, but this was the planet Kurt was instructed to take Ace for the rehabilitation mission.
“Ace, this is the planet you'll be tried for. The planet is named Graavinon, very few people visit this planet and for good reason, as you will soon see when you land there for yourself”
“Okay... so what is the mission?”
“This race will probably sound familiar to you – Amoeboids. The authorities want you to rid the planet of them before they begin to spread. The president of Polaris doesn’t want to end up with the same kind of problem Solana has with these creatures...”
“What, is that all? Doesn’t sound like much... They’re easy to get rid of”
“It may sound easy, but I wouldn’t underestimate these ones if I were you. But if you still have the same kind of skills you had as a hero, then I am sure this mission will be no problem for you...”
It sounded almost too easy to Ace. But he was prepared, already holding onto his Launcher. It had been a long time since it had been used. He gave it a few modifications; to see how they would work against the foes he may come across during his rehabilitation. He gave it the ability to use a wider range of mods.
He also finished designing a new outfit for himself out in the field. By modifying his boots, he added titanium-caps as well as rough iron ridges into the bottoms of the soles for better grip during running and climbing up steep surfaces. His trousers were also now made of a tough but yet flexible terraflux fibres; resistant to high temperatures, ice and other forms of gunfire; perfect for him being as he didn’t like to wear metal-based armour on his legs. He also had a pair of gloves for handling weapons and for added protection, which included iron knuckles to add a bit more punch to his fists in case he needed it.
And to top it off, he wore a more military-styled tank top, thickly protected with inner fibres - a form of protection against many forms of lasers, bullets and so on. His toned muscular form was even visible through the material but still offered a good amount of protection.
Ace was fond of his new outfit; yet incomplete but it felt very comfortable, possibly even better than a full body suit.
It didn’t cover as much as his body as the full suit did, but it was of much better quality and comfort.
He was led towards a spare space shuttle, to journey down to the surface of the planet.
The landing on the planet was unusually rough. He found it extremely difficult to control the ship for some reason, as if it was being pulled down by an unexplainable force.
He simply shuddered; believing it must be a problem with the ship instead so he prepared to hop out after landing on the surface of the planet.
… and quite shockingly, he fell flat on the ground, as soon as he emerged from the shuttle. Utterly shocked, he managed to lift himself up off the ground but found it somewhat difficult, as the gravitational force here was uncomfortably high. He felt as if be weighed several times his own weight; even his hair felt heavy, hanging straight down the front of his face as he tried to move it over to the side.
“Ugh gravity. a warning would have been nice...!”
“I’m sorry Ace... but this is the place we were informed to send you for the test. It contains a high gravitational force but we believed you'd be tough enough to handle it”
Ace sighed after Kurt replied into the headset he was wearing, already lifting himself from the sheer weight he was enduring but he managed to get himself onto his feet.
He looked all around and examined the scenery. The planet was rocky, moist and rather barren; devoid of much life upon first glance. He noticed a cluster of buildings in the distance though and slowly took his first few steps towards it... still finding it somewhat uncomfortable to walk through a high gravitational force.
He eased to walk by the rocky terrain, still struggling slightly with his much heavier build and keeping his hair at the side of his face so that he could see ahead. Even holding onto his Launcher was a bit of an issue, but he managed to nonetheless.
The rest of the team continued to watch him from the Star-Seeker. Kurt watched him closely to ensure that he was safe during the mission but he could notice that Ace was handling the higher gravity quite well for a start. But not everyone in the team shared the same opinion...
“I told you Kurt, he wouldn't be able to handle it. He's not the stuff heroes are made of any more you know...”
“Jake, just give him a chance to prove himself. I believe he has changed since his gladiator days and he isn’t doing badly so far”
“If he was so skilled, he wouldn't be struggling like a 130 year old verpardi as he walked...”
I'd like to see YOU try coming down here; your scrawny frame will be flat as a pancake in seconds...
Ace thought to himself, frowning at the same time but speeding up his pace as he walked through the terrain.
Jake then gave off a yawn.
“Come on... even Captain Qwark could handle it better than that...”
“Don't compare ME to ass-chin!”
Ace hastily snapped back. Rather annoyed at being compared with the likes of a double-crossing, middle-aged washed out superhero. He was beginning to become rather irritated by Jake's insults, though he still tried his best not to lash back at him, let it be verbal.
“Alright Jake that's enough! Just let him focus and turn your transmitter off...”
Jake left the radio contact, much to Ace's relief.
He was now able to concentrate more easily on his pacing towards the distant buildings, which weren’t too far from where he was now. The surroundings here were even more damp and murky in appearance; the perfect kind of habitat for the amoeboid creatures. Moss and lichen covered much of the buildings here, and Ace knew he was close to his intended target, holding up his launcher readily.
He had become more used to the heavier build; he guessed that the gravity here was around 3 times higher than normal, seeing as he felt like he was carrying at least twice his own weight - a lot more than any of the armours he had ever worn.
“Ace, once you enter that building we can’t see you visually but we can still keep in radio contact. How are you feeling so far?”
“I am fine... still feeling a bit heavy though, but I'm getting used to it”
“That's good. Just give us a buzz if you need our assistance”
Kurt's signal cut off from the headset Ace wore, as he was approaching the front of the building. He was prepared for anything that may lurk within...
Attempting to open the door, he was quite surprised when the door itself swung open on its own after a simple nudge; expecting it to be locked or utterly difficult to pry open.
Ace's loud footsteps coming from his metallic boots brought attention to the vile creatures in no time. He could already hear and smell their all too familiar slimy, slithering forms inside the dark, cold building. He could even hear their maniacal laugher, echoing throughout the vents and hallways.
Ace quickly turned to look up at the ceiling as he could already hear them coming. Green slime oozed out from the vent in the ceiling and he rapidly started to fire at it
Was all he heard as each creature was vaporized by his laser shots. Amoeboids didn't say much - or even speak at all - so their vocabulary was limited. The gravity was still heavy in here; even swaying his launcher to shoot from different directions was tough. But he was doing well so far in exterminating the menacing creatures, as each one slithered towards him from ahead and above.
Green translucent slime splattered each time he managed to blast a large amoeboid, almost as tall as himself. The larger amoeboids were more troublesome than the smaller ones, as each time he destroyed a large one, it split into two, before finally becoming nothing but a spatter of slime on the ground.
He lost count on how many he eliminated so far but he was getting close to the centre of the building, and becoming more exhausted from the heaviness that slowed his pace down.
Finally making his way into a wide open hall-like room, he stopped to take a breath, finding it more serene and settled in this part of the building.
He couldn’t hear any amoeboid in here, so he sat down against a wall, taking a much needed break from the work as he started to feel a bit more relaxed.
“Man. This better be the last of them... sure sucks being on this planet”
“So dis is the wise-guy?”
Ace turned his head at the sound of the accented remark - and he was quite baffled with what he saw... standing at the hallway ahead of him.
“You been interfering with ma' business”
Ace said, raising an eyebrow.
“Never ask me about my business.”
Ace was quite gobsmacked. A large king amoeboid stood there at the hallway with several smaller ones at his side, but that wasn’t what baffled him the most. This Amoeboid could speak in sentences; it also had a cigar in its mouth, a futuristic styled Tommy-gun and a stereotypical looking top-hat on its head.
“What the... I thought the Amoeboid Mafia was just a galactic myth!”
“I'm the boss of the family. Wrong or not wrong, I never really wanted that”
Ace shifted his eyes.
“Look, why don’t you just shut your hideous trap. You're all going to be dead in a few minutes anyway so-”
“Tonight you be sleeping with the drophyds, in a pair of concrete boots”
Ace was blank at the idea of the amoeboids sentence but he had to react and dash to the right as the large Amoeboid started firing at Ace with its machine-gun.
Bullets flew all over the place, as the large slime-creature had trouble holding the gun steadily to aim at the verpardi. Ace hid behind a row of seats in the hallway and aimed his own launcher towards the king Amoeboid, returning fire and managing to land a successful hit on the wretched creature. He had to watch his back however, as smaller amoeboids were crawling up near him from behind, which he in turn fired at vigorously.
All this effort was starting to put a big strain on his body, but he wasn't close to giving in. He stood up to get a better aim at the king amoeboid and he successfully blasted its head; forcing the top-hat to blast off its head into pieces – which Ace grinned at amusedly.
The king amoeboid was not pleased.
It growled and called for more of its minions, and Ace could already see them coming now – and there were well over one-hundred in here.
He realized now he didn’t have enough fire-power on him, as his power units were running a bit low from the other amoeboids he shot earlier. So he either had the option to turn back and retrieve more, or risk his life by fighting on. He took time to think on what he should do; his body was becoming tired from being out in the high gravitational atmosphere though and he knew he had his limits - at least until he saw something on the ceiling of the building. It suddenly reminded him of the amoeboids main weakness, giving him an idea.
He waited for the mass of slime to come closer to him before standing up, revealing himself to the blobs. The king amoeboid was busy reloading his Tommy-gun, so Ace looked up at the ceiling and fired with his lava-mod capsule intact. Flames burst from the energy shots and immediately, the water sprinkler system was activated.
The water sprinkled down onto the amoeboids in front of Ace and they wailed, quickly dissolving into a liquid form, completely altering their shape and turning them to nothing but a puddle of green water.
Most of the amoeboids were thoughtless and didn’t notice the danger; all except for their big leader of course. Ace stood there in the centre of the room, firing at any survivors who came close and ignored the ones who came into contact with the water spraying down over them. After shooting a few more, he decided to ignore the smaller ones and chase after their leader, whom was currently set on getting away.
Ace was feeling a lot more exhausted now but he wouldn’t stop until the menace was rid of, once and for all. He paced down the passage to catch up with him but he had to run for cover as it turned around and started firing with its machine-gun again. A few of the bullets even struck Ace this time.
This angered Ace and he threw himself to the side doorway, to avoid any further gunfire firing forwards him. Most of the bullets hit his vest or missed but a few did hurt and sting his arm, but it wasn’t serious. He was more worn down by gravity than anything else.
After the gunfire stopped, he was already busy charging up his HL Launcher – to return the favour.
With all his might he stood up and aimed his launcher around the corner, blasting at the king amoeboid. He watched as a large portion of its body was blasted to smithereens with ease. He knew this was his final chance to finish the menace off so he walked up closer to fire again and again until finally, the king amoeboid was reduced to ash and splotches of green on the walls and floor.
Ace finished it off with a huge sigh of relief.
He was back at the Star-Seeker now, resting after such an eventful day. His legs ached slightly from spending that amount of time on the planet’s surface walking and jumping about, but it wasn’t too bad. It somehow, felt like a decent all-body workout.
Definitely don’t need to exercise for the rest of the day...
“I just wanted to congratulate you again for the effort, Ace. None of us would have been able to handle a mission like that, even Aster”
“No problem. It wasn’t as hard as expected, for a heavy planet. But the Mafia thing was a bit... bizarre at first”
“Heh yeah, I can imagine it was. But you did a good job and now Polaris is free of the widespread amoeboid threat. You sure did a far better job than Captain Qwark did on Rilgar all those years ago...”
Kurt told Ace, and Ace couldn’t help but smirk slightly at that comment. He thought about his success of today though; completing the rehabilitation mission.
“So... what happens now?” Ace asked Kurt.
“Well as I said earlier, if you succeeded... you're free to stay with us. The Polaris Police have been informed of your success and they have stuck to their word”
“Uh right... but not everybody wants me to stick around, do they? I can feel that Jake and Jenna don’t like my presence...”
“Yes I know. I think they need a bit more time to adjust and see that you're not the same as what you were at DreadZone. Aster has been wary too I’ll admit, but he was impressed with what you did today”
Ace fell deep into thought again, once Kurt left his room. He was feeling a lot more comfortable now after his success today; he was grateful for what Kurt had done for him so far but he still felt as if he didn’t deserve the kindness – which lingered alongside him as he thought about it.
Jake and Jenna would continue to avoid and shun him if they were in the same room; which only made him feel uncomfortable again in their presence.
When will they ever see that I am not... like that anymore? They will probably hate me forever, no matter what I do.
He began to wonder if he should just save up for a spaceship of his own sometime in the future, and live alone out there in the cosmos. Away from the prying eye of the public, away from the hateful glares of those he cares about.