And this is a serial story, which means it began here, and continued to part two here and today is part THREE.
So if you want to read from the beginning, go here. But if you're feeling lucky, buy a Powerball ticket. It's up to $151,000,000!
PART THREE BEGINS NOW. (Great, now I want some Quisp.)
They had barely left Earth's atmosphere, weren't even outside the Moon's orbit, when trouble began. The pilot, distracted by having to plot around a Moon that was suddenly joined by hundreds of similar satellites and several rings, did not see it coming, but it would have been hard to miss.
The helicopter, engines roaring, rotors soaking up energy from the sun... suns... that were baking the Earth... Earths Seal Team i was leaving behind, suddenly shook and dove to the right, with the side door behind some team members crumpling in. It all happened silently; the helicopter was not set up with atmosphere.
"What was that?" someone said over the radio. Jimmy Earwig goggled to hypervision and looked around him, saw something coming towards the front windshield from the side. It looked like some kind of rod, or spear, but had protrusions...
"Evade!" he yelled. The pilot never had a chance, though, and the weapon burst the side of the helicopter open, neatly slicing it and peeling into the pilot himself, who, as Jimmy watched, absorbed the force of the blow and fell into two halves.
He was already up and out of his seat barking orders. The copilot moved forward, looking around, goggles on Omnivision to feed a 360-degree globular view of his surroundings directly into his frontal cortex. He couldn't do that for long without burning out the synapses; processing all that information took a lot but they didn't have time, either.
Other members of the team had already taken up defensive stations and were secured against the hull. Jimmy told the Attack Squad to move out on his signal, doing so with hand gestures in case their radios were tapped.
1 -- he held up a finger.
2-- two fingers.
The helicopter was ripped open and Jimmy gaped. Holes appeared as though the metal was being melted, large black bars streaming out from some source further back. The slabs, or stripes, or whatever they were, were about two feet long and whatever they touched disintegrated. The Attack Squad spread out immediately, jet blasters carrying them away from the immediate threat, leaving Defense to try to hold the now-porous hull of the helicopter together.
Jimmy shot off to his right and up, an arcing maneuver designed to get him outside of anyone's immediate range of fire. From his shoulder guns he laid out a covering fire of stealth pellets invisible to the naked eye but designed to explode, creating hot shrapnel that would divert heat-seekers and serve as a cover and deflector to light-based weapons. He scanned his face screen for an identification of the attackers but all he saw were numbers peeling across the screen in a crazy array, like watching programming code turned into confetti.
An explosion behind him drew his attention and he saw satellites blowing up, sending sharp fragments in all directions. The battle unfolded soundlessly, as Seal Team i executed a basic attack front and prepared to get orders from Jimmy, who suddenly understood as his display began showing this:
And then went back to the number-jumble.
"Fire! Straight ahead! Use blasters!" he gave the order, and jetted a few meters away from where he'd been when he'd talked. From his forearm holsters three small tubes popped out and he squeezed his fists, pressing the palm-firing buttons over and over, gratified as lasers spread out in an intricate array. From around him the same kind of thing happened from 10 other sources, and the grid of laser fire cut into the field of plus-sign looking things that Jimmy had seen.
Some of the plus-signs exploded as they were hit. The rest continued flying at Seal Team i and its helicopter. One went directly at the Rookie -- the kid that had joined the team only 100 years ago and was still thought of as a newbie -- and as Jimmy watched, Rookie took the plus-sign, +, directly in the chest. It hit him, and Rookie shuddered and then doubled in size before exploding into bits.
They needed to retreat. He saw that now. He ordered a defensive wall, and it was being erected, the + weapons coming into it and smashing holes through it, careening off the phasers that had already been set up.
Behind him, he saw with a flicker of his vision screen, the helicopter was in shreds, less a helicopter than a piece of mangled metal. The defensive squad had nothing to defend and he ordered them to fall back. To where? He wondered.
On his visi-screen, the number jumble appeared again.
Too many, he thought.
The phaser-wall was helping. He and his men executed a simple maneuver, getting close enough to cover each other but far enough that no one weapon would likely take them out. Jimmy began thinking about which satellites might be in orbit near them. Several of them could be modified, quickly, to get the team out of this area. He'd already thumbed for a remote-rocket blast. They would have to hold on 10, maybe 20 minutes.
The plus-sign things were grinding out, exhausted, against the phaser shields. The men kept radio silence, so he didn't know if they knew yet what he understood, that this was just the first wave.
A trickle of words in the left hand side of his screen. One of the men, Rodney, was using text?
No, he thought, and as he did, as the text came in, he read:
i can see thm out thr bynd the...
but he saw this:
An x shaped thing streaking across the sky directly at Rodney.
Rodney you fool, Jimmy thought. Texts use numbers in place of letters
The x hit Rodney square on, and Rodney in front of his teammates suddenly began to replicate himself, becoming 2 then 4 then 8 then 16 then 32 and before long, Rodney was gone, having become infinite.
Jimmy's homing signal was beeping. They would have to hold out. A rocket would be here in ... he refused to even think numbers.
Because numbers were what they were facing. Out there, in the dark, the jumble of numbers on his screen was not code gone wrong. It was living, breathing (?) numbers, come to life, abstract thoughts made real.
Jimmy had known they'd have to run the numbers, but he hadn't known they'd literally be at sixes and sevens before they got out of Earth's orbit. And yet here they were.
Rodney's ill-timed text had allowed the numbers to home in on them, and the multiplications were able to pierce the shields easily. The team executed evasive maneuvers, jet packs blasting back and out at full throttle, chewing up fuel, but Jimmy knew if they couldn't hold out for... a few more minutes... it would not matter. He frantically fired off his shoulder bazooka, sending timed-charge missiles out, hoping to take out groups of numbers off in the distance.
He ran into something, and his progress stopped. His viewscreen showed behind him a group of numbers, each about 10 feet tall, each wiry and black and seemingly made out of pliable steel. They held no visible weapons, and had no visible features. They did not need to. Jimmy was surrounded by numbers.
"Math was never my strong suit," he said to himself.
A 7 grabbed him, somehow, and two 4s pointed themselves at him. A quick flash to Omnivision showed the same thing happening to the rest of Seal Team i. The Math Battle had lasted only minutes. Half the team appeared to be missing, although without counting Jimmy couldn't be sure, and he wasn't going to give these numbers the damn pleasure of counting in their presence.
As he watched, one of the men, it would be Sandy, managed to get a grenade off his belt, thumb the firing pin, but before the explosion happened, Sandy was hit over the head with something that looked like an L with a small triangle on it, repeatedly, and Jimmy watched as Sandy got smaller and smaller, until he nearly disappeared. The grenade, too, shrank, and the explosion was simply a flash of light.
Bands of energy were placed on either side of him. Brackets, Jimmy thought. I'm being set...up.
A large 8 shouldered through, somehow able to move in airless, gravityless space, without jetpack or visible means of propulsion. It leaned its upper half forward, the inner-space of it seeming almost like a face that wasn't there. When the top of the 8 touched Jimmy's helmet, he heard it speak:
-- 5 is going to love this-- it told him.
And then the brackets were charged up and Jimmy blacked out.
Go to Part Four here.