As excited as he’d been to muck about in the sewers, Turps had had to call for an apologetic rain check on visiting Nano’s Village, as he found himself unavoidably occupied with another engagement involving cardboard boxes, petrol, and fireworks. Kim wholeheartedly understood.
After a lot of fumbling around with schedules, cancellations, and so on, she was eventually able to secure a new team for the next build, and it was one that she thought could be a lot of fun. Simon would be returning, but this time with Hannah. Given this arrangement, Kim had it in mind that they could do a Monster Hunters special of sorts. When you think about it, Kim thought to herself, it makes sense: with as many armoured mobs as the village tended to get, a team of experienced monster slayers would be good to have in town.
At the end of her tour, Hannah looked around appraisingly. “You know, what this village needs is a pub.”
Struck with sudden enlightenment, Simon agreed. “ . . . Oh my God, yes!”
“Right? It’s not a proper village without a pub, is it? That could be my contribution.”
“Awww, I wish I’d thought of that!”
“You could be the supplier, Simon!” Kim cheerily suggested, “You’ve got that little cellar and brewery in your hobbit hole. You could expand it into a business.”
“Yeah!” Simon pointed his bearded chin skyward as his voice took on a dreamy quality. “We could call it: ‘Not Simon’s Piss’.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“. . . What?” Hannah choked.
“Or . . . ‘Not Honeypiss’? ‘Not Pissydew’.”
“I just want it made very clear that my cellar is not a piss dungeon.”
“. . . Well, look, as long as it doesn’t taste like piss, you can call it what you like,” Hannah reasoned.
Kim elected not to carry that particular line of discussion further. “So it’s decided, then? We’re building a pub?”
“Yeah, I think so,” said Hannah. She was still examining the village as she spoke, her eyes scanning every detail carefully. As they were stood in front of Kim’s house, she could see most of the little settlement with ease, aside from Simon and Duncan’s contributions, which were both further back in the woods.
“Where would you like to build it, then?” prompted Kim. “We could add it on to Duncan’s space port if you like, as a new section. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. That way, people waiting for their flight can have somewhere to get a drink and pass the time . . . ?”
Hannah wrinkled her nose. “Hmmm . . . I don’t know, I think that sort of takes away from adding to the aesthetic of the village itself. I think I’d prefer to build, like, a proper village pub, in the village itself.”
“By all means! Where would you like to set up shop, then? You can put it anywhere you like!”
“I’m thinking maybe beside that other wooden house over there,” said Hannah, peering across the garden in the middle of town towards the materials hut. “It’s sort of a central location; people can get to it from anywhere in town. I think that’s sort of an important feature for a pub. It’s a gathering place.”
“Well, you’re in luck, because that building over there is exactly where I need to take you next,” said Kim. “Follow me to the materials hut!”
“Is that a good idea, really?” Simon wondered as he and Hannah followed Kim across the nonexistent street. “Building a pub right next to where we keep all our building materials, tools, weapons . . . ? I’m just having these horrible visions of, like, the town drunk stumbling out of the pub and into the materials hut, and either throwing up in one of the chests, skewering himself on a sword or strapping on the jet pack and corkscrewing through the air until he smashes into the ground.”
“I dunno, I think it could be a good thing if the buildings were beside each other. Maybe even connected,” said Kim. “I’m kind of thinking in Shaun of the Dead terms here: you got a zombie problem – which we do here, by the way – so you can gather everyone at the pub and hole up there with all the food and a giant cache of weapons.” She turned from the door to the materials hut with an eager grin. “We could even make it sort of a Monster Hunters H.Q. for this server!”
“Oh, I like that,” said Hannah, “We could leave some space on the walls for trophies and maybe start collecting monster heads again.”
“Yeahhh!” Kim opened the door and stood aside to let her friends through. “Then, you know, anyone thinking of messing with this sleepy little village will know they’re dealing with professional badasses!”
She thought she’d get a flurry of other ideas or at least some sounds of agreement from her companions, but as she stepped into the hut she found both Simon and Hannah looking at the stairs, as three familiar sets of feet made their way down.
“ . . . The stuff upstairs is salvageable, but otherwise the whole building’s just got to come down,” Ross was saying as they made their descent.
“I think it could be added to the main structure,” argued Trottimus.
“Yeah, but we’d have to change the walls and everything anyway, so we might as well just tear it down and rebuild.”
“. . . Oh my god, it’s Hat Films!” Kim exclaimed, for lack of anything better to say in front of the cameras. “Err, hi, guys! I . . . thought you couldn’t make it for filming today? You were busy with Turps or something?”
“Yeah, my bad: that’s tomorrow, as it turns out,” said Trott. “Today, Turps is just kind of getting everything ready for us.”
“It’s gonna be fuckin’ beautiful,” Smiffy declared with aggressive ecstasy.
“Oh! Well, um . . . this is a little bit awkward. I’d already brought in Hannah and Simon for today’s build. But, err, I mean, you’re welcome to stay and do a build, too!” Her mind was already racing to compensate for the unexpected arrivals, and she quickly came to the conclusion that having two builds going at once might actually be kind of fun.
“About that,” said Trott. “Technically speaking, it’s us who get to decide whether you’re welcome to do a build or not.”
“What—what do you mean?” asked Kim, only just noticing a rather familiar-looking leather-bound document in Trott’s hand.
“Town’s under new management,” said Smiffy.
“More specifically, our management,” said Ross.
“Whuh—no, it isn’t!” Kim sputtered. “This is my village! Nano’s Village! Referring to NanoSounds! Me!”
“Yeah, we’ll be changing the name,” said Trott. With a bit of a cringe, he added, “’Nano’s Village’ just doesn’t really say ‘progress’, you know?”
“I like Hatburg,” said Ross.
“Hatropolis. Go big or go home,” said Smiffy.
“You can’t rename my village!”
“No,” agreed Smiffy, “but we can rename ours.”
“It isn’t yours! It was never yours! Look, guys, I know you’re all about buying and selling property on the main server, but this is my server, my village, my property.” Holding her head high, she then intoned, “And I shall kindly ask you to remove yourselves from said property this very minute, Sirs!”
Ross nodded. “And we will kindly deny that request.”
“‘Coz I’ve got a document right here that says it’s rightfully our property.” Trott tossed the little booklet down on the floor, and Kim cautiously picked it up. Flipping it open to the first page, she could plainly see the words Lovely Enchanted Village and surrounding world. Owner: Hat Corp.
“Since when?!” she squeaked.
“Since always,” said Trott. “Remember? I was the one who gave you the idea to turn this place into a collaborative building project. The moment you switched it over from a Single-player world to a Multiplayer world, it became my intellectual property.”
“And, by extension, the property of Hat Corp,” added Smiffy.
“ . . . I don’t . . . I don’t think that’s how copyright law works.” Kim wasn’t certain of this, but she was pretty sure.
Smiffy shrugged. “It does in our world. Which is this one.”
“As this server’s reigning dictators, we’ll ask you three to clear out of our village now, thank you,” said Ross, batting Kim back towards the door with a lazy swing of his arm.
Trott and Smiffy did likewise to Simon and Hannah.
“Hey!” protested Simon.
“Ohh, no sir. I’m not havin’ this.” Hannah slapped Smiffy back. After stumbling backward a moment, he quickly drew a diamond sword.
“You wanna try that again?” he asked through his teeth. In spite of the menace in his voice, though, there was still a touch of fear in his eyes as he pointed the blade at Hannah’s throat. This was only natural: under normal circumstances, anyone with even the tiniest shred of a self-preservation instinct knew better than to mess with Hannah.
Fortunately for him, however, his apparent gamble that Hannah – being new to the server – would be unarmed, worked out in his favour. Though she glowered dangerously at him, she remained motionless, for the moment.
Kim, however, did not. She drew her own sword and with a quick swipe was able to knock Trott out of Simon’s way. “Quick, Simon! Run upstairs and grab some armour and swords!” She quickly pointed her sword in Ross’ direction to keep him from going after him, but oddly, neither Ross, nor Trott, nor Smiffy seemed particularly bothered as Simon rushed up the staircase. Actually, they all looked vaguely amused. Bare seconds later, Kim heard why.
“Uhh . . . I don’t mean to alarm you, Kim, but your second floor appears to be mostly empty,” Simon called down.
As Kim pulled her eyes away from the staircase, she noticed that the Hats were now suited up in her armour collection. Trott was wearing her spare jetpack. All three were armed with one of the weapons she’d made, and all three looked very smug.
“You guys, that’s not fair! It took me ages to build all that by myself. Put it back!”
“All tools found on Hat Corp property become the property of Hat Corp,” Trott explained. “Your contribution is appreciated. Please leave now.” Before Kim could object further, Trott began bashing her with his sword. She swung back, but found herself quickly outnumbered as Ross and Smiffy joined in. The world turned red before she blacked out completely, awakening disoriented in her bedroom across town.
“Aw, no!” she groaned, realizing this meant that what little armour and weaponry she’d been carrying before – along with the deed Trott had tossed to her earlier – was all now in Hat Films’ possession, too. She rushed down the stairs and back outside just in time to see Simon and Hannah being herded out the door of the materials hut at knifepoint. They both sprinted in her direction as soon as they saw her, and, once reunited a safe distance back, all three turned back to glare at the Hats, who smiled back at them. Well, Ross smiled, anyway. It was often difficult to tell whether Smiffy was smiling or baring his teeth, and Trott’s tusks tended to leave him looking just sort of perpetually unimpressed.
“Why are you doing this?!” Kim called to them.
“Well, because you’re wearing my aunt, for one,” Trott replied.
Kim’s eyes went wide as she remembered she was still wearing the walrus hat. “ . . . Oh, God,” she mumbled before quickly removing the offending headgear.
“But mostly, just because we can!” Smiffy added, and with that said, the three of them turned their backs on the three unarmed Monster Hunters, returning their attention to the appraisal of her hut.
“Simon, did you find anything up there?” Kim asked her Dwarven friend.
“Er, I found a chisel,” said Simon, showing it to her. “Not sure how well it’d stand up to a diamond sword . . . ?”
“Forget it, look, the materials hut isn’t the only place we can get suited up to deal with these trolls. There’s still the smeltery tower, and there’s no way they could have already emptied that out if their inventories are filled up with the stuff from the materials hut. Come with me!” She dashed for the smeltery tower with her friends right behind her. Just as she was approaching the door, however, it suddenly opened, and someone else stepped out.
“Sjin?!” Kim skidded to a halt just before running into him. “When did you—no, forget it, we haven’t got time for that right now. Listen, Hat Films are trying to take over the village! Come on, come suit up with us! We’re going to take back this land from the usurpers!” She made a vengeful fist, which Sjin regarded with a sort of blithe detachment.
“Why would I want to do that?” he asked pleasantly.
The question startled Kim. “Well, because . . . if they have their way, they could rip up your entire chilli farm and replace it with, like, a giant walrus statue or something!”
“Aww, I don’t think they would,” said Sjin.
“What makes you so sure?”
“Well, for starters, I’m the one who told them how to get on to this server.” Sjin carried on smiling amiably as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his dungarees. “And besides, they told me they could use someone with police experience. Particularly magic policing experience.” In spite of the sweetness of his voice and everpresent smile, his gaze became steely and predatory. Kim stumbled back a couple of steps, falling against Hannah for a moment.
“Y—you’re working with them!” In spite of all their history, Kim was genuinely shocked. “You’re actually working with those thugs! Sjin, how could you?! This isn’t the main server! We’re supposed to be friends here!”
“It’s only business, Kim,” Sjin assured her. “No hard feelings.”
“Speak for yourself!” She charged forward, slapping Sjin out of the way of the door. Before she could step inside, though, she heard him say,
“I should tell you there’s really not all that much left in there that’d be of any use to you. Anything I didn’t take for myself, I melted down.”
She paused a moment, then turned back to him. “You what?”
“Well, I heard the Monster Hunters would be in town, and thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t want that band of ruffians having access to an arsenal like that.’ Someone could get hurt, after all.”
“You’re gonna get hurt in a minute!” Kim growled, raising her fist to him again. In seconds, though, a hard, white shell built itself up around him, and before she could blink twice, she was looking up at her own reflection in the smooth, white surface of the helmet covering all but his eyes and a bit of his moustache.
“That’s my power armour!”
“I think you mean it’s Hat Films’ power armour,” Sjin corrected, his voice tinny and somehow all the more menacing through the speakers of the suit. “And, by virtue of my current status as their chief of security, that makes it my power armour.”
“Well, joke’s on you, buddy,” said Kim with a sneer, “That power armour doesn’t even work.”
“Maybe not, but it’s still more armour than you’ve got.” As demonstration, he punched her, and the force of it sent her flying a few feet backward. She heard two more hard smacks, after which Hannah and Simon joined her in the grass.
“Hey, come on, what’s wrong with you?” said Simon as the three of them pulled themselves back onto their feet. “Why you gotta be such a jerk to Kim all the time, huh?”
“Honestly, most of the time, it’s nothing personal. It’s just because she happens to find herself on the wrong side of my plans,” he replied. “But also, because she’s tiny and it’s fun.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll get yours,” said Hannah. “That power suit can’t protect you for long if I have anything to say about it.”
“Ooh, whatcha gonna do, Hannah? Hex me with your witchy powers?”
“Yeah! I might just!” she shot back. With her chin jutted out in Sjin’s direction and a very self-satisfied smirk, she reached into her pocket, only to freeze a moment later. Then, in a voice that grew gradually quieter, she continued, “Or I . . . might not . . . because I don’t actually have any of my magical gear.” With a sheepish grin, she added, “Because this is the wrong server.”
“And believe you me, sister, if this were the other server you’d be in quite a bit of trouble for pulling any of that kind of nonsense on a Magic Policeman. Which reminds me,” he turned his gaze back on Kim. “I hear tell that this here server’s a cheat-free zone, and yet someone cheated in a little something to transform her biomes. That puts you in trouble with the Cheat Police, as well.”
“This isn’t even your jurisdiction!!” Kim flailed.
“It is now, and if you don’t get your fluxy little taint out of here within the next three minutes, I’m afraid I’ll have to cuff you and lock the three of you up in Simon’s former piss dungeon.” He sounded far more excited about the prospect than he ought to have been.
“IT’S NOT A PISS DUNGEON!” Simon predictably protested.
“Look, forget it. We’re leaving, all right?” Kim cast a final, wounded look at Sjin. “I can’t believe you betrayed me again. For Hat Films of all people!”
“Well, you know what they say, Kim:” said Sjin. “The frenemy of my frenemy is . . . probably perfectly trustworthy.”
“That’s not what they say,” she hissed before whirling around and stalking out into the forest in the biggest huff she could muster.
Once they were out of earshot, Kim could feel Hannah’s hand on her shoulder as she asked, “Kim, you’re not really giving up, are you?”
She looked back at her village, with its gardens and its lovely pink trees, and every house she’d built brick by brick.
“No,” she said, tearing herself away from the idyllic vision that had once been her village to look again at her friends. “No I am not. They may have us outmanned and outgunned, but by God, we will not take this lying down! I built up every tool and machine in this village with my own two hands, and if I have to I’ll do it all again just so we can take them out—ow!!” She leaped into the air as an arrow planted itself deep in her left thigh. Turning, she could see Sjin and the Hats peering at them from behind the materials hut. Smiffy had his bow out, with another arrow drawn and ready to fire.
“Oi,” called Sjin, “we see you loiterin’ around, plotting and conspiring like a bunch of ne’er-do-wells!”
“Just remember, this whole world is our domain now,” said Trott. “Anything you dig up or craft belongs to us!”
“If you’re plotting any kind of arms race, missy, don’t you even bother. We will hunt you down!” To punctuate his point, Sjin pulled out his own bow and fired at the three Monster Hunters, who dodged out of the way. The arrow narrowly missed Hannah’s head as it instead sunk into a nearby tree trunk. In a panic, the three of them ran in random, swirling and zig-zagging patterns, finding themselves pursued by the server’s newest colonists. Every so often they’d be hit by one of the many arrows being fired at them, and behind them they could hear Ross cackling, “Eat shit! Eat shit! EAT THE SHIT!!”
Their blind run eventually led them past Duncan’s space port, and as Kim scampered around the back corner of the building, over her own screams and those of her friends as well as the jeering of their pursuers, she just barely caught someone else’s startled exclamation off to her right.
“Oh my God! Kim?!”
Looking back over her shoulder caused her to skid into a sharp backward turn. She ran back in the direction of the voice and breathlessly flattened herself against the wall of the space port. “Duncan?!”
“You’re a pin cushion! What’s going on?”
“No time for questions! Just give me a pickaxe! Now!”
She saw Hannah whiz by her, and managed to catch her by the wrist and yank her back against the wall with her as a baffled Duncan handed her his pick. Hannah yelped initially, but seeing that it was Kim, adapted immediately enough that she was able to catch Simon by the arm before he could pass them by.
“OH, JESUS, NO—oh, it’s just you. Hello!” Simon greeted everyone as Kim finished bashing a person-sized hole in the back wall of the machine room.
“Get in here, quickly!” she barked, diving in past a patch of cables. “Never mind the machines!”
“Well . . . mind them a little,” Duncan advised as he followed everyone else through. As soon as he was in, Kim patched up the hole she’d made. Just in time: she could see Sjin and Smiffy just passing the wall they’d been hiding around as she sealed the wall back up. They stood – or rather crouched – motionless with their ears to the wall, listening as four sets of feet charged around the corner.
“Where’d they go?!” they could hear Trott ask as the Hat Corp group briefly paused almost exactly where they’d all been standing seconds ago.
“Bloody blind corner, innit?” spat Smiffy. “Check ‘round past the forcefield, and in the woods! Split up!”
The charge thundered past. They could still hear Smiffy and Trott rounding the other side of the building, and out somewhere towards the woods they could hear Ross uttering garbled, shit-related threats, but all of their voices grew steadily fainter with distance.
“They won’t be gone long: they’ll start searching the building soon as they realize we couldn’t possibly have cleared that much distance,” Hannah murmured to her companions.
“Then we’ll fucking dig a hole,” said Simon, hoisting up the pickaxe Kim had discarded and digging his way into the ground.
“Uuhm, if it helps, I think I might have a better solution?” said Duncan.
The Monster Hunters all looked up at him, only just remembering he was there.
“Come with me if you want to live! I guess . . . maybe.” Duncan edged his way to the machine room’s only door, and opened it out into the interior of the space port. He cautiously peered around the door to check for any intruders before signalling to the others that all was clear.
“How do we know we can trust you?” Kim hissed, even as she led the others closer to him. “What are you even doing here, being all suspicious with your space port and your mad science while Sjin and Hat Films are busy taking over the server, huh? How do I know you’re not working for them, too?”
“I guess you don’t, really,” shrugged Duncan, “I’d popped in way earlier to work on a thing. I noticed everyone else signing on but figured it was just part of your plans for today. I kinda wanted to just keep working quietly in the background. Didn’t realize there was a war starting. But whatever; c’mon, hurry!” He flattened himself against the wall behind the door, peeked around the next corner, then made a dash for the shuttle bay. Not knowing what else to do (other than Simon, who was muttering something about it being simpler to just dig a hole), the Monster Hunters followed, sticking close to the wall so they could hide behind the alcoves if one of the Hats happened by the forcefield. It didn’t take long for them to be distracted out of stealth mode, however, when they saw what was parked in front of them.
“Duncan . . . what is that?!”
“You like it?” Duncan beamed at her from beside the shuttlecraft. No longer merely a sculpture of a space craft made from blocks of metal and glass, the space craft parked in the shuttle bay was a comparatively elegant construct with a full interior, lighting inside and out, and what looked to be real thrusters.
“You . . . actually turned it into a real space ship?!”
“It’s very experimental,” Duncan informed her with a somewhat nervous chuckle. “I hope you don’t mind I had KirinDave help me install a small mod on your server for it. It works with Galacticraft but isn’t technically part of it . . . .”
Throwing her hands in the air in frustration, Kim growled, “Why is everyone treating my server like their own personal playground?!”
“It seats four,” said Duncan, gesturing at the cockpit and trying his best to look as earnest and helpful as possible.
“They’re in here!!” came Smiffy’s sudden shout from further inside the space port.
“. . . Oh, bums,” groaned Hannah.
“Uhh . . . you’re all gonna need space gear. I’ve only got two sets on me.” Duncan tossed all the necessary gear for one person on the ground before strapping on his own set. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a couple other sets?”
“Um . . . . ” Duncan trailed off into another helpless little chuckle.
Kim could see Trott and Smiffy rounding the corner into the shuttle bay. “Fuck it!” she shrieked.
Giving NanoSounds 4 Oxygen Tank
Giving NanoSounds 2 Oxygen Gear
Giving NanoSounds 2 Oxygen Mask
She tossed the equipment to Simon and Hannah. “Grab this and get in! Quick!”
Hannah and Simon scooped up the gear and threw themselves into the shuttle just as Smiffy and Trottimus caught up with them.
“Where d’ya think you’re going, huh?!” Smiffy had his bow pointed at Duncan and Kim, daring them to make a move.
“The fuck is this?” Trott wondered, distracted by the shuttlecraft.
From inside the shuttle came a loud and distinctly Dwarven battle cry, and out dove Simon and Hannah again, catching Smiffy and Trott off guard. With only their bare fists, they battered the walrus and the green man with a flurry of strikes so rapid that at first, neither one of them could get in a retaliating hit. Startled as he’d been at first, Smiffy accidentally flung his bow across the floor, and it took him a minute or two to recover his senses enough to pull out his sword. Trott was able to cope slightly faster, and managed to knock Simon back with his own sword, doing enough damage that Simon hesitated to go after him a second time.
Fortunately, the two of them had bought Kim and Duncan enough time to pile into the shuttle.
“We’re in, guys! Fall back!!” Kim called to them from the cockpit. She could see, just outside the forcefield, that Ross and Sjin had returned from the woods – likely summoned back either by Smiffy’s shout earlier, or by the server-wide announcement that Kim had cheated in space gear.
Hannah and Simon leaped back into the shuttle and locked the door behind them. They could hear Trott and Smiffy bashing the side of the craft from outside, attempting to either break in or break the whole thing down. As they put on their oxygen gear, they could hear Sjin broadcast his voice over all local intercoms through the suit:
“Naughty naughty, Kim. You are officially in violation of the law. Duncan Jones – if that is your real name – if you don’t open up your shuttle and surrender now, you will be charged with aiding and abetting known criminals.”
“ . . . Nah, that’s cool,” said Duncan as he powered up the thrusters. Pulling a remote out of his pocket, he pointed it at the forcefield and pushed its singular red button. The forcefield slowly disintegrated, which gave Sjin and Ross enough time to climb up into the bay alongside Smiffy and Trott, and join them in battering the little craft.
“Err, Duncan?” said Hannah, “Does this little craft break when you hit it enough?”
“ . . . Yep,” said Duncan, hurriedly powering up the systems and preparing for takeoff.
“About how long would you say we have?” she asked. “ . . . With four men pounding on it?”
“Ohh, I’d say about six more hits and we’re sunk,” said Duncan as two more swords smashed against the hull. “Hold on to something: might be a bit of a bumpy ride.”
Much like in a car, there were pedals beneath the dashboard. Duncan floored one of them.
They heard the whine of thrusters being pushed too hard too fast, and with a bone-rattling jolt, they blasted up from the floor and smacked against the bay ceiling.
“Sorry,” said Duncan sheepishly as he righted the craft and manoeuvred it out of the shuttle bay and into open air. Once they’d cleared the building, Kim, Hannah and Simon looked back through the rear windows, where they could see Sjin and the Hats pointlessly chasing after them, still waving their swords. The spacecraft smashed through a few trees and took some branches with them as it made its way up into the sky, but shortly after that, all was clear blue.
“Oh, my God!” exhaled Kim, watching the village shrink away beneath them. “That was so close . . . .” She turned to Duncan. “But, I mean . . . where are we going, exactly?”
“Well,” said Duncan, “It was nagging at me. It just seemed weird to have a space port there without actually having anywhere to go from it.” Their speed was increasing as they climbed through the atmosphere, and the sky was beginning to grow dark around them as they reached its upper limits. “So I figured, why not build an actual space station? Make it, like, an extension of Nano’s Village. I figured if you liked it, you could expand the building options into orbit around the planet. And if you didn’t like it, I’d just keep it quiet and play around with it off-camera whenever I got the time.”
With a warm, charmed smile, Kim said, “Aww, Duncan! That’s so . . . . ” She paused as she spotted something in the distance, growing larger by the second. It looked like . . . a rather large cobblestone block, honestly. “Er. Thoughtful?”
Not much else was said until the shuttle flew in through an entryway clearly designed to match the one they’d left behind on Earth. Once they were parked, Duncan turned around in his seat to address everyone on board. “’Kay, make sure your oxygen gear’s all on properly: I haven’t got a forcefield or anything set up yet, so the life support systems aren’t ready to go yet. You’ll be stepping out into a vacuum.”
Everyone double-checked their gear, and once they’d all nodded to Duncan, he opened the shuttle hatch.
The little crew piled out of their shuttle and into the space station. The wall behind them featured the entrance through which they’d just flown, gaping out into the void of space. Anyone turning to look back at it could see a corner of the Earth far below them, just off to the lower left-hand side of the archway. It was the only wall currently featuring any material that wasn’t simple cobblestone.
Along the opposite wall, just in front of the craft, was an array of machines and computers. Some of them didn’t look to be fully operational yet, but some glowed with at least the beginnings of life. There was also a small airlock door just off to the left, leading to parts currently unknown.
“Is this it, then?” asked Simon.
“Well, there’s a really tiny reactor in the next room, but yeah, this is basically it,” said Duncan.
Simon refined his question. “This is the space station? Just a stone cube in space?”
“You like it?” This time, Duncan asked it with a hint of a playful smirk.
“ . . . It is a little bit shit,” Simon admitted as politely as possible.
“I spent most of today building the shuttle and getting machinery and materials shipped up,” Duncan explained. “So we’ve got this here just as kind of a placeholder. You guys can help me make it cool, if you want to. We got the time, I think. It’ll take them a while to get the stuff together to build a rocket or anything. We’re safe for now.”
Kim, meanwhile, was browsing through the computer. “Duncan, there’s a lot of stuff in here!”
“Not really,” shrugged Duncan. “It’s only a couple of hard drives.”
“That’s still a lot! You didn’t cheat anything in, did you?”
“Bit hypocritical for you to be asking me that now, isn’t it?” Duncan teased.
“That was an emergency situation! It doesn’t count! I wouldn’t have had to cheat anything in if we weren’t being bullied by those idiots back there!”
“Nah, it’s fine. I got all of it legit, I promise. I built a couple of quarries and let them run for a bit while I got some basic stuff crafted using what you already had. Then once everything from the quarries came in, I was able to get into more complex stuff.”
Hannah was sceptical. “You did all that in one day?!”
“ . . . A few days,” Duncan admitted, “I’ve kind of been secretly working on this for a while.”
By this point, Kim was squinting at Duncan. “I don’t know about you, Duncan Jones,” she said. “You’re awfully shifty sometimes.”
“Yeah, but I build cool things,” he justified.
“ . . . Awfully shifty,” said Kim.
“I can scrap the whole thing if you want me to.”
“No, no. I’ll accept your shiftiness for now, because it supplies me with the kind of riches that will win me back my village. Let’s get to work. We have an arsenal to build.”
* * *
It ended up taking quite a bit longer to hear from the usurpers than anyone on the space station had initially suspected. In the meantime, they’d been able to make a lot of progress. Duncan got the shuttle bay forcefield up and running, and with Simon’s help was able to get the life support systems going, too, which allowed them to power down their oxygen gear to save for emergencies. Hannah and Kim focused on building up a cache of weapons and armour. They’d started off putting together diamond sets (Duncan had apparently found a lot of diamonds with his quarrying, if indeed he was telling the truth and hadn’t simply cheated things in while nobody was looking), but once everyone was suited up and armed, they began working on more sophisticated projects. Kim worked on re-making a suit of power armour to match the one stolen by Sjin, while Hannah focused on building some rocket launchers.
“I’m thinking maybe we should put out a call for help, too,” Kim confided to Hannah as they worked. “Try to outnumber them. I mean, I’m sure there are people who’ll be willing to help us. Like, what about Rythian? He hates Sjin, after all.”
“Yeah, but he hates Duncan, too,” Hannah reminded her. “It’d be a little bit awkward.”
“Oh, right.” Kim frowned. “Lewis?”
“He’s with Turps.”
“Damn. What about Nilesy?”
“I talked to him earlier: he said he’s performing brain surgery today.” When Kim furrowed her brow in profound confusion and slight concern, Hannah added, “I don’t know, either.”
“I guess it’s fine as it is,” Kim sighed. “Four versus four. It’s fair. I just, you know . . . I don’t want fair. I want to crush them.”
“I know you do,” said Hannah with an empathetic smile. “That’s what these are for!” She hefted her bazooka up off the crafting table and gave it an affectionate pat. “That’s two done: about all we can afford, I think. And I was only able to make two rockets with what we’ve got available, so . . . one for each launcher: that’s about it, unfortunately.”
“That’s fine. It’s two more than they’ve got,” said Kim. “The power suit’s just about done, too. As done as I know how to get it, anyway. It’ll at least stand up to Sjin’s suit: I wasn’t able to add any actual modules to that one, either.”
“Yeah, should do the trick,” said Hannah with an approving nod.
An alert chime sounded on one of the machines in front of them.
“Oh, shit,” muttered Hannah. Raising her voice in order to be heard in the next room, she hollered, “We’re being hailed!”
A few seconds later, Duncan popped his head through the door. “But we’re not ready!” he complained. “We’re still working on the command centre! Nothing’s hooked up yet! We don’t even have life support running in there.”
The chime persisted. Kim sighed and hovered her finger over the answer button. “We had more time than we thought we would, at least. Opening channel!”
A monitor in front of her lit up as soon as she pressed the button, and right at the centre of the screen was Trott’s face.
“We’re gonna reach you in about a minute,” Trott informed her, skipping over any greetings or other formalities. “Might want to prepare for boarding.”
“Just try it! We have our forcefield up!”
“Yeah, we can see that,” said Trott. “But, uhh, it’s only covering the actual door. You have bare cobblestone right behind it.”
“And we have picks,” added Smiffy, poking his head into view of the camera.
Panic clenched tightly around her heart, and she turned to Duncan. “Why don’t we have shields around the entire station??”
“That was going to be run from the command centre!” he replied with a roll of his eyes. “Which we haven’t finished yet.”
“Look, just work on expanding the forcefield that’s already there!” she ordered.
“That’ll throw off oxygen containment,” he said.
“I don’t care! Let’s just strap on our oxygen masks and do it!”
“Still here,” Trott intoned with a little wave. “Closing in on your, uhm, space hovel now.”
“This is unlawful invasion!” Kim barked back. “You have absolutely no power here!”
“We own the whole server,” said Trott.
“No,” Kim shot back, perhaps a little more childishly than she’d intended, “actually, you don’t. Read your deed again: it says you own the village and the world surrounding it. We’re not on the world: we’re in orbit of the world, which doesn’t fall under your claimed territory!” She lifted her nose in the air and smiled smugly, basking in her own cleverness.
Her declaration seemed to have effect, as all of Trott’s words appeared, at least momentarily, to get caught in his throat. He turned to who she presumed was the other Hats off screen, and could be seen pressing the ‘Mute’ button before mumbling something to his companions. Shortly thereafter, the screen went blank.
Hannah was next to Duncan over by the forcefield, peering down towards the planet. “They’re closing in, but it looks like . . . yeah, they’re slowing to a stop now. Or whatever the equivalent is in orbit. They’re not getting any closer, is what I’m trying to say.”
“Those copycats,” said Duncan as he fiddled with the forcefield generator. “They made a shuttle just like ours.” On thinking about it for a second, he shrugged and added, “I guess it’s more practical than sending up four rockets, though. Anyway, make sure you’ve got your oxygen ready: I’m about to adjust the shield.”
For a tense couple of minutes, nothing much else happened, other than Duncan swearing at the forcefield generator as, instead of doing what they wanted it to do, it just formed a lot of glitchy shapes projecting out from the docking bay. While Duncan tried to adjust the currently L-shaped field that was bending out into space, Kim noticed the hailing signal light flashing again. She patched the audio through to everybody’s oxygen helmets, then re-opened the channel.
This time, as the viewing monitor came to life once more, it was Sjin’s face she was looking at.
“The deed isn’t important,” he informed her, apparently on Hat Films’ behalf. She could see the three of them huddled over what she presumed was the deed in the background.
“They’ve started getting closer again!” Hannah announced from beside the docking bay entrance. “Come on, Duncan!!”
“I’m trying!!” Duncan wailed.
“Kim ‘NanoSounds’ Richards, under the authority of the Cheat Police and by the power vested in me by the rightful owners of this server, I’m arresting you on eight counts of cheating in items intended to give a decided edge in a PvP situation, eight counts of cheating in items intended for self-protection on a no-cheat Survival server, one count of theft, one count of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of resisting arrest, one count of loitering, one count of jaywalking—”
“I saw you do it!”
“The village doesn’t even have a road!”
“The road is implied! Seventeen counts of sassing off to an officer of the law—”
“Oh, come on!”
“Make that eighteen counts! But, just because I’m feeling charitable, I’ll also add for you and everyone else on board one count of being unlawfully sexy.”
Simon’s voice piped up over the channel. “Awww, ee-hee-hee-hee! Oh, you.”
“Honestly, I’d arrest myself on the same, but thankfully I’m above the law. The rest of you will have your charges and rights read to you once we’ve arrived. Please lower your shield . . . thing . . . and prepare to be boarded.”
“No!” Kim glared fire at the screen. “I will not sacrifice this station. I've made too many compromises already. Too many retreats. You blow me up with TNT, and I fall back. Hat Films appropriates entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here!”
Though Kim was unaware of it, looking at her, Sjin, Duncan and Hannah could see the purple, flux-tainted parts of her skin begin to glow, increasing in brightness as her voice increased in volume.
“This far! No further!” The channel hissed and crackled with static, and Kim’s voice, booming now, became oddly distorted. It sounded almost as though she were howling simultaneously with two voices, “And I will make you PAY for what you've done!”
“. . . Kim?” Hannah whimpered.
“Uhh, Kim?” Simon added. “You okay over there?”
Kim ignored the voices of her friends. She just kept staring Sjin down, and it looked like it was working: he was trembling a little. In the background, the Hats were all staring at the screen, too, and she could faintly hear Smiffy utter, “Holy shit.”
When Sjin finally did find his voice, he stammered, “Y-you’ve made this Magic Police business, too, now. Don’t think you c-can scare me off with your fluxy powers! You’re a danger to yourself and to others, and you must be contained! Prepare to be boarded!”
The screen went blank. Kim whirled around to look at Duncan. “Where are those shields?!” she demanded, still in her double-voice, although her skin seemed to be slowly dimming back down.
“It’s not working!!” Duncan cried, at this point just bashing the machine with his fist. “I hate these things! Why do I use them?! . . . Well, other than because they’re really cool when they do work . . . .”
“Guys,” Simon intoned over their helmet intercoms. “I’ve got some basic systems up and running in the command room! No shields yet, but we’ve got oxygen!”
“Fuck it, then.” Duncan gave the machine one more bat and popped it into his pocket. The fragmented shield that had been running promptly vanished. “We’ll take this into the command room. I wanna make sure the reactor’s protected.” He ran over to the computer and pulled out the hard drives, stuffing both of them in his pocket as well.
Hannah crept cautiously over to Kim’s side while Duncan took care of the machinery, and as the Hats’ shuttle closed in on the door, Kim was gazing almost blankly at it.
“Kim? We have to go into the other room now, okay? Are you all right?” Gingerly, she shook her.
Kim’s gaze sluggishly shifted to Hannah. “What?” she asked, faintly.
The shuttle was halfway through the archway. Hannah glanced over her shoulder and swore. “Fuck! Kim, we really don’t have time for this right now. Let’s go!” Wasting no time, she shoved Kim towards the airlock at the back of the room.
This seemed to snap Kim out of her trance. “Ow! Hey, ow! QUIT IT—Oh. Oh, shit!” The shuttle had landed and was skidding towards them, and so she and Hannah sprinted for the airlock door. Kim made it through into the command room, almost knocking into Duncan as she did so. She heard Hannah groan, “Oh, no . . .” and looked back to see that Sjin and Hat Films were already popping out of the craft and heading in their direction. Hannah was still in the airlock itself, between the two sets of doors.
“Duncan, the shields!?” Kim prompted, poking his back repeatedly in her panic.
“I haven’t even set the machine down yet, Kim!”
“God dammit, Duncan!”
“It’s okay, I got this,” Hannah assured them. Standing in the outer doorway, she turned fully towards the Hat Films team and pulled her rocket launcher out of her pocket.
Sjin, encased in his power suit once more, raised a hand to stop her. “Hannah ‘Lomadia’ Rutherford, lower your weapon and stand down before you find yourself in far deeper trouble than you’re already in.”
“Shut up, Sjin,” Hannah spat.
“Yeah, shut up, Sjin,” Ross strongly advised out of one side of his mouth. “She’s got a fucking bazooka.”
“Doesn’t bother me any,” Sjin calmly informed his comrades. Raising his voice a little over their now-shared communication channel, he added, “By the way, thanks again, Kim, for building me this lovely power suit. While my fellows here worked on building the space craft, I had some time to add a few modules . . . .” A shimmering green shield encased him like a glass egg shell.
“Damn you, Sjin!!” Kim growled.
“Won’t protect your friends,” said Hannah, before creepily lisping, “Hiii, Thmiffy.”
Smiffy shrunk backward a little.
“This is for pointing that sword at me like a little bitch earlier, Smiffy,” she continued. Then, sing-songing “Byyyyyyye!”, she pulled the trigger.
The rocket smashed into him, and he was killed instantly. His inventory exploded in all directions . . . as did a full corner of the shuttle bay.
“Fuck!” Ross swore, as he’d been near the blast. “I’m on half a heart!!”
Sjin and Trott charged forward, and Hannah slipped back through the second doorway to join the rest of the team.
“This door locks, right?” she asked as it closed behind her. “Please tell me it locks—YES!” She keyed in the command, and the door sealed.
But on the other side of the door, they could hear more explosions. The door was holding, but the wall around it didn’t look to be faring very well.
“Oh, no!” whimpered Kim. “Sjin must have been able to add some kind of blaster to the suit, too! DUNCAN, THE FUCKING SHIELDS, NOW, PLEASE!”
“Almost there!” Duncan announced as the cobblestone around the airlock door began to crumble.
“I’m coming for you, Kim!” Sjin taunted. Another blast took down the wall to the right of the door, and she could see Sjin and Trott’s faces clearly through the gaping hole.
Sjin raised his arm again, and just as a plasma ball was building up in his palm, up went the forcefield.
For the briefest second, there was nothing but silence. Kim was the one to break it.
“HAH! Take that, Sjin! Eat it, Trott! Just try to get at us now, losers!” For good measure, she stuck her tongue out at them.
“What?” Kim hadn’t turned around yet: she was too busy enjoying the look of puzzlement on Sjin and Trott’s faces.
“I did it again . . . .” Duncan’s voice was coated in shame.
“Did . . . did what again?”
Sjin and Trottimus burst out laughing.
“Oh my God! Way to go, Monster ‘Unt-ers,” Sjin mocked through uncontrollable giggles.
“That’s beautiful. Well done.” Trott was slow-clapping.
Kim looked around. The Shield encompassed all three of the Monster Hunters and Duncan . . . and that was about it. Though it also enclosed its own generator, it was trapped in a separate section of the forcefield. Duncan was doing his best to find some way to reach it, but there didn’t seem to be any opening. He couldn’t access the control panel in order to put the shield down. They were trapped.
“I’m sorry, Kim!!”
“Looks like I don’t even need to take the four of you in,” chuckled Sjin. “I can just leave you here in the prison of your own making.”
“Don’t worry,” said Trott. “I’ll make a few trips up every now and then to make sure the reactor’s keeping it powered. And maybe feed you. If I remember.”
“Byyyyyyyye!” sing-songed Sjin as the two of them headed back to their space craft with Ross to rejoin Smiffy on the surface of the planet.
As she watched their ship take off through the hole in the wall, Kim watched her shot at taking back her village shrink away with it. Even if the four of them killed themselves to respawn back on the planet, all the stuff they’d built up would stay on the station. They’d be right back at square one.
“Is this it, then?” Simon asked, sadly. “Have we just lost?”
Kim shook her head. “ . . . No. Don’t worry. I always had an ultimate Plan B. Just . . . join me on the other server in two minutes, okay?”
* * *
“Simon, hit play,” said Hannah.
“I got this,” said Simon as he started the jukebox playing. Flight of the Valkyries blasted through the speakers as the three of them put on protective eyewear, and Kim pulled the lever to launch the nuke out of Panda Labs’ missile bay.
“Quick! Through the portal!” Duncan called over the roar of the missile blasting off as he shot his portal gun at the mound of dirt beside him. The three Monster Hunters slid through Duncan’s portal, coming through the other side a fair distance from the Hat Corp H.Q. In the distance, they could just barely make out the creepy obsidian hut that served as the entrance to Hat Films’ deed shop and underground lair. And minutes later, even that was no longer a possibility: all that was left was a smoking crater, oozing with irradiated goo.
The four of them high-fived.
“I think we can call this another job well done by the Monster Hunters . . . and Duncan,” Hannah declared. “We should take some debris as a trophy.”
“In a bit,” said Kim. “First, though? One more bomb for their sign. Then we move on to Sjin’s farm.”
 Blatant Terminator reference.
 Blatant Star Trek: First Contact reference.
 Continuation of blatant Star Trek: First Contact reference.