Discover more from William Shunn’s Main Wish Null
Root: Part IV, Chapter 15
Hasta escapes to the nightmarish Gameplain, where she joins her friends in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save their world from annihilation.
For more on this project, please see “This Year a Serial Takes Root.”
Hasta saw the halt gesture coming, but she was faster. Her finger jab hit home, flipping Donald out of the green space. He reappeared in his room, arms flung wide, frozen in the act of stumbling backward. His blue goggles were back in place.
She hurried to the front of the green space and put out her hand. An invisible barrier kept her from crossing into Donald’s room, where he was falling in such slow motion that she could barely tell he was moving at all.
This was only an image, probably coming to her in real time. Her clock speed here would be much higher than his out there.
She turned, looking for another way out of the green space. Nothing.
She felt herself panicking. Did she even have a world to go back to? If she couldn’t find an exit by the time Donald was done falling, would she spend the rest of forever like an animal in a cage, poked and prodded until she gave up the secrets of her existence?
Would she ever see Ivan again?
Thinking of him and his stats windows, she pointing her arm at the greenness and crooked her finger. Maybe she could find some useful information.
A black window popped up:
LOCATION: CONFERENCE SPACE F28B2-6DA2E PRESENT: HASTA VEERAMACHANENI DO YOU WISH TO EXIT? YES NO
“You’re kidding me,” Hasta said, punching her finger through the word YES all the way to the knuckle. “It’s that easy?”
For a moment, Hasta saw the four heads of Mount Rushmore suspended in mist before her. The mist closed, and when it faded again Hasta found herself standing on the platform of a high marble altar, fifty by fifty feet square. Beside her on a chest-high bier fashioned from golden snakes lay a blue, four-armed man. He had to be twenty feet tall. An intricately patterned dhoti of crimson and saffron draped him from waist to feet. Garlands of flowers encircled his neck, and upon his brow rested a diamond crown adorned with a single peacock feather.
“Lord Vishnu,” she breathed, watching his closed eyes dart about and his head turn from side to side. The sounds of pitched battle rose from below. “All is well,” she whispered. “Sleep, Lord, sleep.”
She turned from the bier. An army of clamoring, slavering monsters thronged the plain below on every side. She hadn’t gotten the chance to ask Donald about the Gameplain, but now that she’d met him it no longer surprised her how poorly these monsters fit with Hindu mythology.
Far beyond them, those eight great pillars ringed the horizon. One of those pillars, according to Ivan, had swallowed up hanuman69 when the daemon cast him out of LaVell.
She heard screams from below. She crept to the edge of the altar and peered down. On a lower tier she saw Juan with his axe singlehandedly holding off the hordes attempting to scale the altar. Exhausted and bleeding, he looked like he could barely lift his axe, yet still he swept it about, sending monsters flying amidst multicolored gouts of blood.
She unslung her crossbow and fired at the besiegers. Juan looked up as the bolts rained down. She waved. He nodded his blood-stained face and went back to work with renewed vigor.
Hasta made a fast circuit of the altar, reloading and firing as she went. She found Frida defending the next face, Kylie and LaVell on the one after that, and finally Ivan alone with his longsword on the last. Volleys of arrows clattered around her as she bent over the edge of the altar.
“Ivan!” she hissed. “Ivan!”
He looked up, almost immediately taking an arrow through the meat of the thigh. Blood and grime streaked his face. “Unh!” he grunted. “Ace, you’re back! What—?”
A boar-headed monster, seeing its opportunity, clambered up the backs of its fellow soldiers, swinging its spiky chain mace at the back of Ivan’s head. Without thinking, Hasta slammed her open palm toward it. The monster, together with a dozen or more of its nearest compatriots, froze in place. In singles and pairs they toppled off the side of the altar.
Hasta seized Ivan with a fist gesture and hauled him up to the top of the altar. She set him down next to her in an untidy heap. He scooted backward toward Vishnu’s bier, putting pressure on his leg above the arrow.
“Hasta, what are you doing?” he gasped.
“Bringing everyone up,” she said, heading over to Kylie and LaVell’s side of the altar. “We have a job to do.”
Hasta halted attacking monsters on every side, each gesture of her hands freezing more and more of them dead in their tracks, though others clambered over their toppled bodies to fill in the gaps. Once she’d brought all five of her amazed friends up, she pointed to Vishnu tossing in his sleep.
“We need to move him,” Hasta told them, nauseated and swaying on her feet. She picked one of the distant pillars at random and pointed. “Over there.”
“You’re a superuser,” Ivan said in awe, consulting a window she couldn’t see. “How did that happen?”
“I’ll explain later.” A fresh volley of arrows sailed toward them, and they all threw themselves flat on the altar. “I hope. But this giant blue god, I’m pretty sure, is our world, and he’s not exactly safe here.”
Three arrows bounced off Vishnu’s hip. The god’s hand idly brushed the spot.
“I think those pillars out there may be conduits to other networks,” Hasta said. “We’ve got to get him there, and we can’t let him wake up.”
“How?” Juan asked.
“Flip me,” Hasta said. “All five of you.”
“I’ve never even tried that,” LaVell protested, his face slack with fear.
“How do we know that’ll even work here?” said Ivan.
A blue octopus-headed creature hauled itself over the edge of the altar on three meaty tentacles. Hasta jabbed her finger toward it, and it vanished without a sound.
“Okay then,” Ivan said.
“Frida, give me a comm window.” Hasta took the black square from her, then stood up. “Okay, quick, everyone! On three. And, um, aim toward the base of that pillar.”
Frida, Ivan, Juan, Kylie, and LaVell lined up shoulder to shoulder. On the count of three, they flipped her.
Hasta felt a queasy instant of inversion.
Then she was falling, but she only dropped five or six feet before hitting the marble tiles. She hopped up quickly, clutching the comm window. The stragglers of the monster army milled less than a hundred yards from her. Far in the distance she could make out Vishnu’s altar. She turned.
The pillar they’d aimed toward still looked as distant as it had from the start. Hasta choked down a sob.
“Frida,” she said into the comm window.
“Here,” Frida responded.
“I want you to come through first to help me hold the window up. Tell the others to not even try to push Vishnu through the window. Instead, have them walk it down the length of his bed, you know, like a magician sliding a hoop down someone’s body.”
“Got it,” said Frida.
Some of the monsters in those last ranks had turned and caught sight of her. “And hurry!”
The window expanded to seven or eight feet square, and Frida slipped through while Hasta held one edge. Together they kept the window upright as, inch by inch, Vishnu and the top three quarters of his bier slid through onto the marble plain. As the other four kids came through, Hasta busied herself halting the monsters headed their way.
“How do you all feel?” she asked. Herself, she felt like collapsing. “Do you think you can do that again?”
“We may not have a choice,” Ivan said. “Look!”
A small constellation of bright specks were swooping toward them from the direction of the pillar.
“Not again,” Hasta said, raising her palm toward the soaring daemons. Her limbs felt like lead. “Ivan, stand with me. The other four of you, watch our backs.”
Everyone fell into position without question or complaint. Hasta raised a circled hand to her eye.
A formation of daemons jumped into focus. In the lead flew Axil, brilliant and naked, on wings of polished steel. Axil held her arms out in a sign of peace.
“Ivan, hold fire,” said Hasta.
He was scoping the daemons too. “Roger.”
A few moments later, the flight of winged daemons—ten altogether, in varying metallic colors—alighted on the plain before them. Vishnu on his bier stirred and fluttered his eyes. Hasta moved to him, reached a hand up, and laid it on the god’s cool brow. He settled back into sleep.
“Your plan is a sound one, Hasta Veeramachaneni,” said Axil, striding toward them. “Let us carry on from here. We’ll find a secure resting place for him.”
“How did you know where to find us?” Hasta asked.
“Kray,” Axil said, gesturing toward the tenth daemon, who lowered his eyes. Hasta recognized him as Lamm’s partner, but did not see Lamm himself. “We all sensed your translation, but it was he who deduced that it occurred on this plane.”
Hasta stepped back as, reverently, the daemons encircled Vishnu’s bier. Each one hooked a taloned hand through the golden metalwork, five to a side. At Axil’s signal, the great pairs of wings flapped and the bier rose delicately into the air.
The wind of their departure stirred Hasta’s hair. She looked back. Even the distant monsters had stopped their clamoring and turned to watch the god borne away.
Ivan put his arm around Hasta’s shoulder, and she leaned gratefully against him. Her tears turned the bright daemons to shimmering gems in the sky. They dwindled and fused into one brilliant diamond, which then was gone.
“I think I’m going to sleep for a week,” Hasta said, and swept all her friends into a hug. √
END OF PART IV
To be concluded…