With a steady eye and a steadier hand on the trigger of his Shock Blaster he stepped into the trickle of water that marked the beginning of the sewer. The stench somehow got worse. He breathed it in without hesitation, and with his nostrils desensitised carried on inside. The squelch of his boots in the water was all he could hear. His ears quivered in anticipation.
“Ratchet,” the robot strapped to his back said. His ears shook again.
“Not now, Clank.”
“I was only going to ask if you have enough ammunition. I don't think we'll find a Gadgetron vendor in this network.”
“I'm good,” he snapped.
“If I recall correctly we encountered a minimum of one hundred Amoeboids, not including their offspring once struck or the King Amoeboids. At an estimate I predict we need in excess of one thousand rounds in order to cleanse the network...”
Ratchet cut him off with a grunt.
“We'll be fine.”
He made his way deeper into the network, beyond sight of the exit. Still nothing seeped from between the pipes. His ears kept on flinching, but his hands didn't even twitch.
“Where is it?” he murmured to himself. Clank's eyes flashed.
“Approximately four hundred metres in a Northwesterly direction, according to my readings.”
“I was talking to myself, Clank.”
“I just need to concentrate,” he shook his head, “The sooner we investigate whatever this is the sooner we can get back to the Phoenix.” He cocked his weapon. “But I'm not moving too quickly down here.”
“You have traversed this network without harm before.”
“I know, but you never know when anything will jump out at you down here, and from what angle. I'm more worried about the Amoeboids than whatever's been detected.”
His foot splashed in the puddle, and an Amoeboid seeped into the pipe. Ratchet blasted it instantly. It split into two smaller beings, which he blasted into nothing with two precise shots. He wiped the slime from his sleeve before continuing.
“See what I mean? One false move and...”
Another Amoeboid appeared, screeching its intent. Ratchet blasted it away.
“...They're at you.”
“I still do not see what you have to fear, Ratchet. You are more than capable of overpowering groups of basic sewer life,” the gears in his body whirred, “Are you concerned about getting lost?”
“I ain't partial to it,” Ratchet replied, blasting another Amoeboid into smithereens. The Shock Blaster didn't reload instantly, but the signature click came out when Ratchet slapped the barrel. “It's happened one time too many.”
“But there is no need to fear. I calculated the co-ordinates of the entire network on our last visit and converted it into a map format. If you are in any doubt simply ask and I will steer us in the right direction.”
“Steer me to where this disturbance is, then.”
“Turn left at the second exit, right at the third exit, and then the first exit on your left.”
Ratchet followed the path, blasting the occasional Amoeboid as he went, but even as each one exploded into slime the sound of their shouting and squelching grew louder. He stopped and checked behind him, leading with the Blaster at all times, but he saw nothing. Unfazed, he kept walking. The sound grew louder still. Only then did it dawn on him.
“All the Amoeboids are going after whatever's down here.”
He broke into a run. A series of Amoeboids leapt out to meet him, but he blasted them before they could even get close, even when the gun jammed again and he was forced to smack it back to life. He rounded the final of Clank's instructed corners and skidded to a halt. Halfway down the pipe was a pyramid of Amoeboids, clambering over each other to try and get at whatever was shooting beams of fire at them. Without so much as a twitch of hesitation he raised the Shock Blaster, aimed, and fired.
The pyramid disintegrated in explosions of slime. Through the sights of the weapon he disintegrated each layer one by one, shot by shot, until the squawk of the Amoeboids was quieter than the hum of the Blaster's internal workings. He sheathed the weapon and calmly waited for the carnage to settle. For the first time he twitched when a purple reptile crawled out of the smoke.
Its claws were covered in slime from the Amoeboids it had killed, but its scales were torn with just as many scratches. It walked unsteadily towards him, pursued by an unharmed but clearly shaken dragonfly. Intrigued, Clank leapt down from Ratchet's back.
“Greetings,” he said cheerily. The reptile eyed him with a mixture of suspicion and nerves, which heightened when Ratchet drew the Shock Blaster again and aimed it at his face.
“What are you?” he gruffly said, curling his finger around the trigger. The reptile was as resilient as he was.
“What are you?” he spat back.
“I'm a guy with a Shock Blaster in my hand that could fry you like an egg if I pull this trigger another millimetre, now answer my question.”
The reptile bit its lip. “I'm a dragon.”
“And what planet are you from?”
“Planet. The name of the world you were born on, and its co-ordinates.”
“What are you talking about?”
Ratchet's finger tensed, but a knowing whirr of gears from beneath him held him back.
“What my friend means is where did you come from?” Clank said, “Where were you before you found yourself here?”
“I was in Aquaria Towers.”
Ratchet snorted dismissively. “I don't know that place.”
“Is it nearby?”
“I don't know. All I know is we were out on the surface looking for gems, we went out further than we should have, got sucked into some vortex and all of a sudden we're here.”
Ratchet steadied his aim, but again Clank stopped him.
“This Aquaria Towers, is it underwater?”
“Hmm,” he looked up, “Ratchet, I suspect he may be telling the truth.”
“This planet, Aquatos, is water-based and largely unexplored, but has been detected as harbouring life of some kind. Aquaria Towers may be one of the settlements here. I do not think our friend here is looking to cause a disturbance, he is simply lost.”
“Yeah, but you'll get a disturbance if you don't get that gun away from me.”
The dragon's jaws opened, a flash of fire igniting at the back of his throat. Ratchet tightened the trigger until the innards hummed from charging a bullet.
“Please, this is all a misunderstanding,” Clank said, and the dragonfly buzzed urgently in the dragon's ear. After a drawn-out staring contest both reluctantly withdrew their weapons.
“Fine,” Ratchet said, holstering the Blaster. He reached out again, this time aiming an accusing finger. “What's your name, dragon?”
“Well, Spyro, you're clear to go, but stay out of trouble. You would have been killed if it wasn't for me, and believe me, there's a lot worse out there.” He sneered, “Almost getting killed by an Amoeboid. Seriously. Come on, Clank, this was a waste of time.”
Wordlessly Clank jumped back into his harness. Ratchet walked away, and not long after the splash of feet echoed from behind him.
“Is he following us?”
“No, he's going in the other direction.”
Ratchet laughed. “That kid is so stubborn.”
Clank's eyes narrowed. “Perhaps we ought to have told him the way out of the sewer.”
“Ah, he'll find it eventually. Assuming he's got through the Amoeboids.”
“I hope he'll be okay.”
Ratchet laughed again. “Didn't you hear him? He's gonna blast his way through all those slimeballs without a scratch. Once they've given back his arms after they've ripped them off.”
An alarm in Ratchet's pocket started ringing. He reached inside and pulled out a portable monitor. With a flick of his glove he switched it on, revealing the face of Sasha.
“Hey Ratchet, how's things going?”
“Good. Found the disturbance. It was just some dumb reptile calling itself a 'dragon', whatever that is, claiming it was lost and almost getting itself killed by Amoeboids. It doesn't seem to be dangerous, but it's sulky enough to lash out so we'd best remember it.”
Sasha responded with a confused look.
“I know, what the hell is a dragon?” Ratchet said, but Sasha's confusion only deepened.
“Weird...” she said.
“You say you've dealt with the disturbance, but it's still showing up on the scanner. Clank, did you log the creature?”
“Then what is it?”
Ratchet rolled his eyes. “Where is it? I'll go look.”
“You're pretty close to it. Go to the end of the corridor and turn left.”
Ratchet did as instructed. He saw only empty pipe.
“Keep going...wait, no. Turn right, sorry. 180 degrees.”
With a splash of his boots Ratchet turned on the spot, and flinched for only the second time. Further down the pipeline was a wall of slime, so large it blocked out the light from behind it, glaring contemptuously at him. It bulged against the pipes, and they creaked agonisingly as it moved down the sewer towards him. Ratchet stared at it, mouth agape. This wasn't a King Amoeboid. This was a God.
Ratchet shoved the screen into his pocket and drew the Shock Blaster. He aimed it steadily at the Amoeboid's face and pulled the trigger. It clicked harmlessly.
“No, not now!” he whined. He slapped the barrel and fired again. A shot arced out of the gun and hit the Amoeboid square in the face, but it didn't faze its progress for more than a second. Now it was within ten metres of him. He fired again, slowing it down only a little more, and fired once more, only to be met by another click.
“Come on!” he growled. He slapped the barrel, but there was no reloading click. He hit it again, and again, and finally the jam yielded.
Hastily he aimed it back at the Amoeboid, but his arm dropped when he saw it looming over him. It roared and swung an arm. He felt its breeze against his tail as he leapt out of its reach and ran. The screech of pipes followed him down the sewer, and to his alarm it grew louder with each step. Frantically he pointed the Blaster backwards and fired, and while it screamed the pipe's groans didn't slow.
He skidded around a corner, turned, and fired again as the Amoeboid rounded the bend. Its face warped slightly as the shot caught it, but it carried on with the same energy as before. Creeping exhaustion spurring him on, Ratchet spun and fired again. The gun clicked harmlessly. He cursed and hit it, then hit it again, all the while still running and drifting closer and closer to the pipe's edge until his magneboots clamped onto the rusted metal.
The shift in weight sent him flying with a yelp of despair. He splashed into the stream and choked on a mouthful of fetid water, but the pain vanished when he felt the shadow of the Amoeboid loom over him. He lunged for his gun and fired, but again it clicked harmlessly and sewer water dribbled out of its barrel. His ears dropped. No amount of slapping would solve that.
The Amoeboid raised its humongous hand. Ratchet launched himself backwards, but not far enough to escape the Amoeboids shadow. On a whim he aimed and fired one last shot. The Shock Blaster didn't even click. The Amoeboid screamed, and Ratchet's ears wilted to the side of his face. Against his back he could feel the alarmed whirr of Clank's gears. There wasn't even going to be time to say goodbye to him. Calmly he swallowed down the lurking emotion, and braced himself for the worst.
The Amoeboid's scream reached a crescendo, and then went higher. Its outstretched arm locked solid above its body. Ratchet frowned in confusion, but then a telltale jet of fire blistered the Amoeboid's head. It howled in agony, which was silenced as something burst through its stomach. The Amoeboid deflated into a heap of lifeless slime, and the bullet that had passed through it shook off its coat of goo to reveal its purple glaze.
Spyro shot him a look of pure triumph, and for a moment Ratchet wished the Amoeboid had struck him.
“Almost getting killed by an Amoeboid,” the dragon sneered, “Seriously.”
Ratchet dragged himself up off the floor, taking care not to make eye contact with the dragon.
“What's your name, fuzzball?”
“Ratchet,” he mumbled as quietly as he could.
“Well Ratchet, you're clear to go, but stay out of trouble. You would have been killed if it wasn't for me, and believe me, there's a lot worse out there.”
Even Clank couldn't resist a snigger. Ratchet tried his best to raise his ears erect, but they remained humbly at his side.
“Perhaps now would be a good time to express your gratitude and offer to show him the way out,” Clank suggested. As always it came in his relaxed tone, but he sensed the real intent behind it.
“Thanks,” he muttered. He waved his arm weakly, “C'mon. Exit's this way.”
The splash of claws followed him like a fast-approaching assassin. He didn't dare look back at him lest he see another smug grin. He kept looking arrow-straight ahead, marching to an unbreakable rhythm down the pipe and out of the sewer system.
“Exit's that way,” he said, feebly gesturing to an airlock, “If you want to go back in the water. I'm going to the surface...”
For the third time Ratchet twitched. He looked at Spyro, and his ears pricked up again. His look oozed confidence, as always, but he was nowhere near as triumphant as he was expecting. With that face he looked almost welcoming.
“Huh?” he said, stunned.
“You thanked me for helping you, so I ought to thank you for helping me. You're right, we were in a tight spot.”
“So you said you're going to the surface. What's up there?”
“Nothing much, I'm just returning to my ship so I can head back to the Phoenix.”
“It's a huge spaceship...”
Spyro's eyes lit up. “Spaceship?”
“Yeah. You never seen one before?”
Ratchet curled his lips thoughtfully. “Want to fly in one?”
Spyro looked at him amazed. “You have a spaceship?”
“Only a small one, but we can squeeze you in somewhere.”
“Are you really offering me a flight in a spaceship? No trick?”
“No trick,” he shuffled his feet, “Think of it as me apologising for being a jerk earlier.”
Spyro smirked, but not maliciously. “Apology accepted.”
Ratchet led them into the sub to take them to the surface. He sat at the controls and set it into emotion, watching with intrigue Spyro's awe at the technology.
“You aren't familiar with this stuff, aren't you?”
“No. We have nothing like this where I come from.”
“Well you're about to have your mind blown.”
He was cut off by an alarm in his pocket. Shrugging, he fished out the screen and flicked it on.
“What's up, Sasha?”
“Ratchet, the radar's clear. Thanks for sorting that out.”
“Yeah...” she said uneasily, “I'm sorry to drop this on you, but I've got a report of Tyhrranoids mounting an assault on Metropolis. The Rangers have been dispatched, but I need you to go and support them. Can you do that?”
“Not a problem. We're on it.”
“Thanks. Take care.”
The screen turned off. Ratchet pocketed it and looked Spyro dead in the eye.
“Slight change of plan,” he said, “We'll be going in my spaceship not to the Phoenix but to fight some more alien creatures on another planet. You seem to know your way around a fight, so are you up for that,” he smiled deviously, “Or do you draw the line at unarmed sewer life?”
Spyro grinned, “I'll go, but only to stop you from killing yourself.”
Ratchet extended an arm. At first he wasn't sure why, but his doubt was quashed when Spyro shook it.
“Ready to go?” he smiled.
Spyro smiled back. “Always.”