After Eun clicked the gearshift into MUSHROOM, the Bite Mobile had transformed into a fungus-headed mecha. Peter and Eun were now inside a saucer-shaped cockpit lined with sci-fi crags and mechanical jags. (The style was similar to OG Star Wars.) Below the cockpit, the “stem” of the mushroom tapered into a v-shaped torso, which sported gun-arms and multi-jointed thruster-legs.
As cool as that was, it didn’t hold a candle to where they were going.
“Oh FUUUUUUUUCCCKKK!!!” Peter screamed.
Colorless tines shone at the edges of their windshield, prickling in and out of the center of their view. A second later, they were speeding through a tunnel made of brilliant rainbow whorls.
“CLOSE YOUR EYES. I WILL OUTFIT YOUR PSYCHES WITH A NEURO-KINETIC FILTER. IT WILL DULL THE INFORMATION OUTSIDE THE CRAFT, AND CONSEQUENTLY, PRESERVE YOUR SANITY.”
Peter and Eun closed their eyes and felt the slight swish of wind on their skin; the Bite Mobile was doing something in front of their faces.
“GO AHEAD AND LOOK.”
“Whoa…” Peter whispered. A lime green, holographic visor was floating in front of his face. A tiny stream of symbols ran down the left edge of his vision. He looked at Eun; she was equipped with a matching visor.
“So cool!” She grinned. Her voice turned curious. “If we didn’t have these, then—”
“YOU WOULD BECOME UNDONE,” the Bite Mobile intoned. “WE ARE TRAVELING AT THE SPEED OF UNEXPRESSED INTENTION. THE CAUSAL DISTORTION IS FAR TOO MUCH FOR YOUR LINEAR PERCEPTION.”
“ ‘Linear perception,’ ” Peter murmured. He stared out the multi-windowed cockpit, watching a currents of icons pass them by. “You’ve filtered the environment into a human-friendly narrative, hewing to the bounds of time and space.” He studied the center of their greatly expanded dashboard; it had doubled in size, and was now almost entirely made of light. Bitefighter was still projected onto his personal holopad. The six-inch rascal gave Peter a double-thumbs up, along with an extra-toothy grin.
“THAT IS CORRECT.”
“Dissona,” Eun reminded. “Gotta stop her.” She glanced at Bitefighter. “Weapons?”
BF pointed right, at a pull-down grip hanging from the Bite Mobile’s ceiling. She reached up, grasped it, and yanked it toward her. Ker-CLANK. Her seat began lowering down, into the mech’s torso. Peter’s chair began moving right and settled in the center of the upper-deck cockpit. He was now in control of the ship’s piloting functions, while Eun was in control of a reconfigured gunner’s pod. Two haptic sheaths (they looked like mechanized gauntlets that went up to the elbows) were mounted in front of her. When she stuck her hands inside the gauntlets, the backs of their knuckles lit with cool blue light.
“DYADIC ORDNANCE IS ARMED AND READY.”
Light-woven targeting reticles appeared before her visor, one for each eye. They narrowed into tic-lined circles, tracking Dissona as she banked and flitted through the extradimensional aether. Eun pressed the triggers in her holographic grips, causing the mech’s arms to chatter and blaze.
The Pain Lord looked back over her shoulder—her features had morphed into a reptilian simile of her human face—and responded with loud, shrieking laughter. Nearby thought-forms screamed in pain; her unholy mirth was tearing them to shreds. It was also vaporizing Eun’s ordnance.
“Peter! My rounds are falling short!”
Peter clenched his teeth, watching as a long string of sentential logic fell apart and disappeared. “Keep trying.”
“Goes without saying.” Eun fired again. This time, solidified music—rainbow spirals of concentrated hues—shot from her barrels. They too, fell apart in Dee’s hell-charged wake.
Dee accelerated. Phantom duplicates trailed behind her, leaving a chain of demonic shadow-copies. The weaponized music hit her doppelgangers, blasting them apart into smoke-trail fragments.
“She’s diverting my rounds with quixotic chaff!” Eun kept firing. “I can’t hit her!”
“Fuck,” Peter hissed. “Gotta be something we can—”
BF waved his arms. He got down on one knee and started writing on his whiteboard.
“Huh?” Peter’s eyes darted to Bitefighter, then back to the windshield “What are you—”
He held up his whiteboard. Drink the Fuckrising and Eject from the ship! Fight Dissona Mind to Mind!
“What?” Peter sputtered. “Are you crazy?”
BF expressed an adorably tiny, frustrated growl, then wrote another message on his board: It’s the only way! You were born for this, Peter! Designed for it!
Their environment shifted. Bat-winged demons with question marks for heads were flying by, swiping at the Bite Mobile with three-taloned claws. Peter jerked the wheel—left-right left-right—to evade their strikes.
“Peter!” Eun shouted. “There’s too many!” The Bite Mobile’s weapon-arms worked in ultra-fast flickers, blasting apart gargoyles helter skelter.
Peter cast a frantic glance down at Bitefighter. “What do you mean, I was ‘designed’ for this? Are you saying that—”
The little guy gave him a steady look (despite his cartoonish appearance, he managed to convey a shitload of gravitas) and wrote on his board. The new message read: Before you were born, you agreed to be here. You agreed to stop her.
“The fuck I did!” Peter spat. “I didn’t agree to jack fucking shit!”
You don’t remember because you chose not to.
“The fuck are you talking about? Why wouldn’t I—”
It’s more fun this way! Just accept it!
Peter searched the air with his gaze. “I…I…”
An ancient glimmer of timeless amusement—one of the truest things he’d ever felt—flashed through his mind. Bitefighter was telling the stone-cold truth. Peter could feel it in the depths of his soul.
“Okay.” His voice steadied. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
BF gave him a double-thumbs up. And, of course, a big-ass grin.
“Retract belt,” Peter declared. “Prepare to eject.” His belt went back into its sheath. Click-click-click.
“Peter!” Eun looked up at the cockpit. “What are you doing???”
Peter rummaged in his pocket, grasped the Fuckrising, and held the green-glowing vial up before his eyes.
The Bite Mobile boomed, “I WILL LINK YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS WITH MY PILOTING FUNCTIONS. DO NOT WORRY, EUN YIN—YOU WILL BE FULLY ABLE TO STEER AND FIGHT AT THE SAME TIME. DUE TO YOUR CAUSAL CIRCUITRY, YOU ARE UNIQUELY SUITED FOR THIS PARTICULAR TASK.”
Eun’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “I’m designed to pilot a psychedelic vehicle? Is that what you’re saying?”
“YOU ARE DESIGNED TO BECOME WHATEVER IS NEEDED UNDER ANY SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES.”
“But I haven’t trained for this! I haven’t—”
“THAT IS OF NO CONSEQUENCE. YOU WERE BORN FOR THIS, EUN, JUST AS PETER WAS BORN TO INGEST THE FUCKRISING AND FACE DISSONA BY HIMSELF.”
“Say what?” Eun gasped.
“HE SHALL DRINK THE FUCKRISING AND EJECT FROM THE CRAFT. HE WILL. HE MUST.”
For a long moment Eun was silent. Vivid light reflected off her pupils.
“Eun,” Peter prompted gently.
She gazed at the holographic square of light that served as their video-link.
He met her eyes and took a breath. “Remember in Star Wars, when Luke’s making his Death Star run? Ben Kenobi tells him to—”
“Use the Force. To let go.” Eun rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Peter—everyone’s seen it. ‘Trust your feelings.’ ”
“Well I need you to do it. Right here, right now.”
The speakers played the score from the climactic moment he’d just referenced. Eun cracked a smile; she couldn’t help it.
All along I’ve been trying to guide Peter. Keep him from doing something stupid. But now, he’s guiding me.
“Yeah, okay.” Her resistance fell away. “Bitefighter, jack my psyche into your mainframe.”
Peter uncorked the Fuckrising and gulped its contents.
A storm of emotions arose on Eun’s face. She’d protected Peter from his own stupidity his entire life, but now…now she had to let him go. “Peter…” The angst carried through across their video-link.
“I know, Eun—I know.” Peter gave her a rueful grin.
The top of the cockpit hinged open. A rush of synesthetic feeling swept over Peter; the outer environment wasn’t just comprised of wind and atmosphere, but emotion and sentiment as well. His mind was buffeted by random urges and nonsensical impulses. But even though he was nudged and tugged, pushed and pulled, he tightened his focus and kept himself steady. Dissona was out there. He needed to stop her.
“Good luck, Peter. Whatever happens…it’s been an honor.”
Peter was touched. His voice almost cracked. “Same, Eun—same.” Then his eyes steeled over. “Launch me.”
“AS YOU WISH.”
Peter blasted out from the mushroom-shaped craft, flying through the aether at the speed of thought.