Almighty Z woke up, still entangled in Jake’s arms, to something poking her side. Opening her eyes, she pushed ZIP (the one poking her) away and said, “Knock it off.”
He stopped. Jake rubbed his eyes. “What’s going on?”
Z shrugged. “What do you want, ZIP?”
“We’ve detected an enemy ship flying in our direction. I suggest yellow alert and immediate relocation to Command Central,” ZIP reported.
“How much of a threat is this ship?” Jake asked.
ZIP regarded him coolly. “It’s not a battleship, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“What kind of a ship is it then?” Jake asked, the tone his voice a little harder than before. Z narrowed her eyes, watching them both intently.
“One that’s not going to be doing any damage,” ZIP said firmly. He turned to Z. “I suggest yellow alert and immediate relocation to Command Central.”
“I understand,” she said. “Jake, you know your own way to Command Central, right?” He nodded. “Good, go, I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, hesitant to leave. “You’ll be safe?”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, Dad, I’m with ZIP, who I need to talk to for a minute. I will be right there,” she said.
He nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Z waited a couple seconds before she started talking. She spent these seconds staring ZIP down with her arms crossed.
He squirmed, knowing what was coming.
“What is your problem?” she finally burst out.
ZIP blinked. “I am unsure as to what you are referring to, Almighty Z.”
“I am referring to Jake,” she said pointedly. “What is your problem with Jake?”
“I am concerned you are getting too close to him,” ZIP said.
Z stood up. “Too close. Too close? Too close for what, exactly?”
“I don’t mean to offend you,” ZIP said. “But based on your past-”
Z made a small noise in the back of her throat, but didn’t say anything.
“-but based on your past with personal relationships of the same nature, I advise you take caution and remain objective,” ZIP finished.
“Fine,” Almighty Z said. “But let me make one thing clear. Regardless of your views on whatever ‘personal relationship’ you think we have, as Head of Security, he is your superior and you will treat him with respect. That’s an order.”
“Yes, Almighty Z,” ZIP said, bowing.
She gave him one last glare before leaving the room with him to go to Command Central. While they walked, Z had ZIP explain everything relevant that he knew about the ship, which mostly was just that it wasn’t Tealian, but it did have “THE GREAT ALLIANCE” printed on the side, it didn’t appear to be heavily armed, and could probably carry up to four people. Overall, not too threatening.
“So...they’re probably here to chat?” Z said, confused as to why would they show up at her planet without backup. “Or are there invisible ships we aren’t seeing?”
ZIP shrugged. “It’s possible they see no threat as they do not yet know that you’ve escaped.”
Almighty Z opened the shortcut. “That could be.” ZIP jumped into the drone chute and Z slid down the pole. They landed at the same time, both on their feet.
“They’re really close,” Jake said, gesturing to the viewscreen, where he’d put a visual of the ship.
“Let them land,” Almighty Z ordered.
“What? Why?” Jake asked. “That could be a death wish.”
“I wouldn’t suggest that,” ZIP said.
“Good thing you guys aren’t in charge, then,” Almighty Z said, heading over towards a door on the left side of the room. “Do it and get some drones in here to monitor. I want to know exactly who and where the people in that ship are at all times. Jake, ZIP, you’re both with me.” She opened the door and started up the spiral staircase behind it, which spit them out of a hidden door in the wall directly to the left of the Queen’s throne room, guarded by two ZORG who bowed when they saw Almighty Z.
“Jake, go in there. You two guards, tell anyone who wants to get in to wait. Keep them out of there at all costs until you get the okay from ZIP, who’s coming with me.” Orders given, she set off down the hall, through the grand entryway, up the staircase and so forth until she got to her room.
While ZIP stood outside, Almighty Z changed clothes quickly into a loose black dress that pooled at her feet with sleeves that looked like wings when she held her arms out. Then, she swiped on some dark makeup, pinned up her curls, clipped on a rose necklace and matching earrings, slipped into her boots, and was off again, holding her skirt up so she wouldn’t trip.
She and ZIP took a shortcut and went down another spiral staircase and through a door that led directly into the throne room. She crossed the room and sat down in her throne, looking powerful and poised with Jake standing on her left and ZIP on her right.
“Wow, that was fast,” Jake commented, looking at his watch. “You were only gone seven minutes.”
She looked at him and smiled. “I’ve done better, actually. My record is three and a half. I want to get it down to three oh two.”
He nodded, obviously amused. “Well, you look nice. So, why are we here, anyway?”
“Thank you. And because it’s probably Creep and maybe some others coming to check on their little protegés, and once they see they don’t exist anymore and see we’ve escaped they’re going to know to find me here. Oh, and they’re probably pretty ticked about the whole weapons facility explosion, so that might have tipped them off,” Z said. She was obviously enjoying this.
“I see,” Jake said.
“ZIP, who and where are they?” Z asked.
“Intruders identified as ‘Josh the Great’ and ‘Greta the Great’. They appear to be heading towards the castle, one hundred feet from the main entrance,” ZIP reported.
“Ah, so they’ve probably noticed that their drone perimeter is gone. All drones in the castle, but not ZIP or guards outside this room, disappear and leave them alone unless they try to plug you into anything, point any device at you, or otherwise try to compromise your position and or current software,” Z ordered.
“Orders relayed,” ZIP said. “Intruders seem to be trying to access the dungeons with the passcodes they set themselves.”
“Let them through security, but have at least three invisible drones on them at all times,” Z ordered. “That should take a while. In the meantime, Jake, you’re dismissed or whatever if you want to be, just be back in fifteen minutes. It’ll be at least that long until they get back up here. Take a drone if you like.” He nodded and left the room.
“ZIP, get the sky to reflect the current time of day, but make it overcast with dark stormclouds. And, just in case I feel like embellishing, I want lightning if I tap this finger,” she tapped her index finger, “thunder if I tap this finger,” she tapped her middle finger, “and rain if I tap this finger,” she tapped her ring finger. “Vary the intensity based on how many times I tap, more taps meaning more intense. Got it?”
“Got it,” ZIP answered as the sky behind the tall windows on the wall behind Z showed the sky rolling with thick clouds, which brightened the throne room up with dismal grey light.
“Perfect,” said Almighty Z, as Jake walked back into the room in a fresh black t-shirt, black pants, and black sneakers. His short hair also looked slightly damp, and there was the gun that ZIP had had before slung across his back.
“What’s perfect?” Jake asked, taking his place next to Z.
She considered a few things she could say but vetoed most of them. “Fun stuff,” she said, making lighting flash and the air around them vibrate with thunder.
“Cool,” he said. “While I was out I heard someone screaming, so I think they might be on their way.”
“ZIP?” Z asked.
“Confirmed. They appear to be heading in our direction.”
“Oh, good,” Almighty Z said, straightening her back and smoothing out her skirt. “This is going to be fun.”
They only had to wait about thirty seconds before the double doors opposite Z swung open and hit the wall with a thud. Creep and Greta came storming through, their angry footsteps echoing off the stone brick walls. When they saw the Queen seated at her throne, and Jake and ZIP at her side, both stone-faced, they stopped. Greta’s mouth hung open, a piece of blue hair stuck to her lip. Creep’s eyes widened.
“Damn it,” Greta said. “We hoped you were dead.”
Almighty Z appraised her coldly. “Sorry to disappoint,” she said.
“But...but...you were...” Creep spluttered.
“Locked up?” Z supplied helpfully. “That obviously didn’t last too long. Oh, and those drones you corrupted? Threw them into my inferno. And those drones you kidnapped? Blew them up too, took your new weapon tech with it, and probably that one guy...what was his name?” she paused, pretending to think. “Night. Yes, Night. He’s most likely dead.” She gave a short laugh, ended by a deadly look and a flash of lightning. The corner of Jake’s mouth twitched in amused appreciation.
A flicker of fear crossed Greta’s face, but she hid it quickly, sighed, and crossed her arms. “So,” she said, “Entertain us. How’d you do it? Outsmart your own army, turned against you.”
“Easy,” Almighty Z said. “Remember that one time you tried to kill me by blowing up my best robot?”
Creep’s jaw tightened and Greta rolled her eyes. Z took this as a yes.
“Well, his dying wish, if you will, was to keep me safe, so right before he exploded and I, as you can see, did not, he trained up this masterpiece,” she gestured to ZIP, who tilted his head and waved, earning glares from Creep and Greta and another amused mouth-twitch from Jake. “And he opened the cell door, dropped all your hijacked drones into the inferno, reprogrammed and retrained all the others, et cetera, while I blew up your stupid boyfriend,” she said, looking at Greta.
“You screwed up, twisted, evil little-” She started storming towards Almighty Z, fists clenched.
Jake pointed his gun at her, clicking the safety off. Almighty Z stood up and snapped. As thunder rumbled, drones appeared lining the aisle on either side of visitors, and another row blocked Greta’s path. She stopped, gave Z a scathing look, and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Almighty Z gestured to the drones now only separating Creep and Z. “Go make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid,” she ordered them. They bowed and disappeared.
“Look, Z,” Josh said, the use of the nickname making her expression instantly turn to (figurative) stone. “Come on, the ‘stupid boyfriend’ was a little harsh.”
“Oh, because you’re the expert on boyfriends,” Z shot back, taking a few steps forward. “As I recall, you don’t even seem to know the definition.” Her hand twitched and rain began to dump down on the castle violently, more as if a huge wave had just crashed down on top of them than individual drops.
Behind her, Jake’s expression clouded over with confusion. ZIP looked disapproving.
“Ouch,” Josh said, smirking. “That one really hurt, Z.” The tension in the space between them was nearly palpable as anger twisted inside her.
“Don’t call me that,” she spat, disgust and hatred laced in every syllable. “Ever.”
“Why not?” Josh asked, feigning hurt. “You used to let me all the time...Don’t you remember? Back when-”
“-That’s ENOUGH,” she yelled, voice cutting through the air like a knife as she turned her back to him. “Throw him back in his old cell. Don’t let him try anything,” she ordered, voice low, eyes closed. Then, she just stood there, dangerously silent. The rain relented to a steady drone of white noise, accompanied by the occasional rumble of thunder or flash of light.
Jake watched her, expecting her to move. She didn’t.
“Z?” he asked, concerned. Her eyes flew open at the name, but her expression softened when she saw Jake in front of her.
“I’m fine,” she said. She was obviously a seething mess of rage, not okay.
“What was that all about?” he asked gently, cautiously.
She shook her head and sighed. “Can I explain it all to you later? Please?” An edge in her voice.
“Sure. Do you want to be alone?” Jake asked, quiet.
“No,” she said, quieter.
“Come on, then,” he said, quietest. She allowed him to put his arm around her waist and lead her out of the throne room.