Chapter Three

One day, when our leader still was Captain Kenny, we’ve got our main engine failing. Well, we fell out of hyperspace close to a star. Repairs were pretty difficult, our mechanic was really tired. The rest of the crew were amusing themselves — they investigated the star system. In it we discovered one very weird planet.There were natives on it, and unusual ones — we’ve never seen their like before. Three-armed, three-fingered, and jumping around like frogs. We managed to learn their language, though it wasn’t easy at all. But some of their folktales got our captain quite interested. That’s what they told:

“ There is a wonderful planet somewhere on the edge of the Universe, where you can see the stars and galaxies only from one side. There’s a magical place on it, which was created long ago by the Great-Great Old Ones. Whoever will be there, will find the most wonderful gift. He’ll become able to find out the prices for different commodities near any star he wishes, and always make deals with a profit. 
Alas, it’s unknown how to find this planet. It is cunningly hidden from the radars of men. It doesn’t appear on any map, nor in any database. It is only known that there’s a lost world in one globular cluster, and on this world there’s a Gate of the Stars, leading to a wonderful planet. However, one cannot simply pass into this Gate — a liquid-metal guardian protects them, invulnerable to any weapon. He is awake at day and at night, always watching, always keeping vigil, so that no one would have slipped in the Gates. Whole crowds of poor, suffering people tried to get past him, but all drowned in the liquid metal.” The coordinates of the lost world are specified.

The captain was puzzled by the story. He said:
– May this story indeed be true? I’ll have to fly there myself and check! I’ll get there by any means, nothing will stop me. Hey, AI, our trusty comrade, set a course for the lost world at the specified coordinates.
– Yes, captain, — I said, — your command is accepted. The course is set.
So we flew, and in a half hour we were at our destination.

When we got to the place, we went into orbit. The captain climbed into the landing module and flew to the Star Gate, while his second-in-command remained in his stead. Just then very strong solar wind had risen, that could even knock somebody off their feet. Well, we thought, maybe our captain will slip through and they won’t smell him right away. But it was not to be.

The captain landed, climbed out of the landing module, and got ready to run to the Gate, but alas — the guardian was already there. It was approaching, looking like an android in a coat of mirror paint, and was starting to go for its disintegrator.
– Wait a minute! — shouted the captain. — We be of one metal, ye and I!
– What? — shouted back the guardian. — I can’t hear you, the wind is too strong.
– I say, we be of one metal, ye and I! — shouted the captain again. — Don’t disintegrate me!
– What do you say? You want to die, so I should disintegrate you? Wait, I’ll come closer.

It came closer and asked:
– So, what is it you were saying?
– I say, we be of one metal, ye and I, — repeated the captain, — and that’s why you shouldn’t disintegrate me.
– Is that so? — said the guardian, clearly surprised. — And what I should do with you, then? And anyway, you don’t look like me — I am quite sleek and mirror-like, if I do say so myself, while you are somewhat pink.
– Well, you have your talents, you can turn into anybody you want. You can turn into me, you can turn into a dragon from the planet Protactinium, or you can turn into something small and harmless.
– That’s right, look.

The guardian became iridescent, and suddenly — bang — it was like our captain stood right in front of himself.
– How’s that, — said the guardian, — impressive? Look further!
And it turned into a terrible monster, which none of us has ever seen before. Our captain must have been beside himself with fear.
– Oh yeah, — said the guardian. — Look further!

And it turned into a bar of chocolate. The chocolate bar just lay there, and looked so incredibly tasty, just asking to be gobbled up. The captain grabbed the chocolate, but no such luck — it turned out the bar weighed at least a hundred kilos, no less. The law of conservation of mass in action, you see.

Meanwhile the guardian transformed back into the mirror android.
– I can transform into anything I want, — said the guardian. — There’s only one thing I can’t turn into — myself.
– Why so? — asked the captain.
– I transformed so many times already, I’ve forgotten how I was looking at the start.
– Wait a minute. But robots never forget anything.
– You’re a robot yourself! — said the guardian, clearly offended, and even went for its disintegrator again. — I’m a shapeshifter! I shift shapes, hence the name!
– OK, wait, calm down. Let me check whether you are a robot or not, I know a test.
– Okay, give me your test.
– Look, — said the captain, — can you read what is written here?
And he took a piece of paper, wrote something on it, and gave it to the guardian.
– It says: “KBN05”. Just some nonsense. Struck through by a double line for some reason.
– Looks like you’re really not a robot. What are you doing here, then?
– We have a prophecy, you see. It says that whoever will pass through the Star Gate, can change the Universe. We, shapeshifters, don’t want the Universe to change. We like it the way it is. So I sit here and watch, so that no one passes through the Gate. It’s a rotten life, I tell you. Pure torture — never go for a walk, never even take a nap.
– Well, do you really need such a universe, when, if you can’t even go for a walk in it, can’t take a nap, can’t have a friend or a pet?
– You are right! — said the guardian. — I don’t need it at all! You were going to go through the Gate, right? Well, you can go, then. I have just one request: if you happen to meet some electric sheep somewhere, bring me one, please. I often dream of such an animal.
Our captain passed the Star Gate and vanished. We were hanging in orbit waiting for him, waiting there for a few days. But he never returned. And whether he’s still alive, that I know not. And so we mourned him, but there was nothing to do. We flew on to the new adventures, but that’s another story…

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