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Omega rising, p.10
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       Omega Rising, p.10

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “It’s Pollen Slither,” Piper said, an unexpected smile on her face. “We must be getting close to the source.”

  A much bigger fish, the size of a school bus, moved slowly past in the distance. It was opening its mouth, eating something that glowed with a soft neon light.

  “They’re like jellyfish,” Piper said as they came upon a group of the same creatures. They moved in slow motion, their translucent bodies filling and emptying with water. Each one radiated soft purple-and-blue light, moving silently as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Rocket barked, and Piper refocused on the giant fish in the distant light. Something bigger still loomed out of the darkness, quick and efficient, slamming its teeth down hard. It shook the great fish back and forth as the Alpha sub came closer and Piper named it for what it was.

  “Predator Z,” she whispered.

  The beast looked directly at the Alpha sub with angry eyes. It didn’t let go of its prey as the sub came closer.

  Piper instinctively killed the headlight. But the purple-and-blue glow from the jellyfish-like creatures radiated into the blackness of the sea and she could see the outline of the great predator as it demolished its prey. Gabriel had programmed the sub to avoid things that were really big. It knew its destination and plotted a new course around the Predator Z, silently slipping by through safer waters.

  Piper kept an eye on the massive creature on the radar, and when they were safely past, she reached her hand out toward the touch screen. But she didn’t turn the light back on. Not yet. In the distance, she could see another light, its beam cutting across the water like a V turned on its side.

  “What kind of creature is this one?” Piper asked out loud. Whatever it was, it hadn’t been covered in training. Nothing they studied had the power to cast such a bright light this far underwater. She crept closer, hoping the Predator Z had moved on in search of food somewhere else in the deep sea.

  “What do you think it is, Rocket?” Piper asked.

  Rocket whimpered curiously, and Piper reached forward and scratched behind his ear. She checked the mapping system and saw how close they were to their destination, where she should be able to find pure Pollen Slither. And that’s when it hit her. She was looking at a side view of another submarine with its light on.

  She had come upon the Omega crew.

  Anna and her team had beaten Piper to the element, but she didn’t care. Piper had never been so happy in her whole life. She didn’t mind that they were the competition, because she was no longer alone in one of the loneliest places in the universe.

  The Omega submarine wasn’t moving. The farthest edge of its beam of light was pointed at a wall of jagged rocks. A long tube was attached to the sub, extending out into the water like a tentacle, its far end stuck in a crevice of the rocks.

  “They’re already extracting Pollen Slither,” Piper realized.

  Piper activated her MTB and let it search for their frequency. She couldn’t reach the surface from fifteen thousand feet underwater, but she should be able to connect with the Omega crew a hundred yards away.

  “Omega, do you read me?” Piper said. “Are you there?”

  There was a moment of silence that seemed to last forever, but then Piper heard a voice she knew all too well.

  “Well, if it isn’t the Alpha team,” Anna Turner said. “We were wondering when you might show up.”

  “I’m so glad you’re down here with me!” Piper said. She laughed she was so happy. “It’s pretty crazy, right?”

  “Sure, I guess,” Anna said.

  “Anna,” Ravi said.

  “Hey, Ravi!” Piper said happily.

  “There’s something approaching,” Ravi said. “It’s big.”

  “I just passed a Predator Z,” Piper said with alarm. “This isn’t good.”

  “Why didn’t you say so?” Anna asked.

  “Ravi, turn your light off!” Piper instructed.

  “Don’t tell my navigation officer what to do,” Anna shot back.

  “It’s not a sea creature,” Ravi said, concern growing in his voice. “It’s something else.”

  The Omega sub’s V-shaped beam of light grew larger as it went farther out into the water. At the end of the light, the front of the biggest fish Piper had ever seen appeared. It was lined with an open mouth full of teeth.

  “Let’s get out of here!” Piper yelled.

  But the Omega ship didn’t move.

  “The extraction is almost complete,” Anna said. “Don’t cut it yet.”

  Piper couldn’t believe Anna’s resolve to get an element for the Source.

  “It’s not worth the risk, Anna!” Piper said. “Just go!”

  Piper looked closer as the fish came into view, and she began to realize something.

  This wasn’t a fish at all.

  It was a submarine.

  The pirates of Aqua Gen had found them.

  “We have it!” Anna yelled. “Go! Go! Go!”

  The tube came free from the rocks, leaving a trail of pure Pollen Slither, twisting and turning in the water. The neon blue lava slowly leaked out of the crevice where the tube had been connected.

  The pirate ship was bearing down on Omega’s tiny sub, pushing it closer to a wall of stone. Piper hadn’t realized it before, but she saw now that they’d reached the bottom of the sea. The pirate ship was forcing them into a row of sharp rocks.

  Piper turned on her headlight.

  “Turn your light off!” she yelled. “I’ll distract them!”

  The Omega sub’s light cut out, and when it was gone, Piper shot straight toward the pirate’s sub. She swooped in as close as she dared, arcing up at the last second.

  That should get their attention, she thought.

  And it did. But the pirate ship was much faster than Piper thought possible. The sub turned to follow her almost immediately and headed straight for her.

  “We’re heading to the surface,” Anna radioed. “You should do the same. These AquaGens are making me nervous.”

  “These aren’t AquaGens!” Piper said, frantic.

  “Whatever they are, get out,” Anna said. “We have the element. Move!”

  “I’m right behind you,” Piper replied, but she couldn’t see the Omega sub anywhere as she raced to escape the pirates. The pirate sub had lights of its own. Piper looked back and saw that it was bearing on her fast. The rows of teeth lit up in white, and two more thin beams of light shot toward her.

  “I can’t outrun it!” Piper shouted.

  She took one more look back and braced herself. “Hold on, Rocket!”

  The pirate sub slammed into her from behind, sending her end over end through the open water. When she recovered control, she had no idea which way was up or down.

  “Get out of there, Piper!” Ravi said.

  “I’m hit!” Piper yelled.

  “We’re coming back for you!” Ravi answered.

  “No, it’s okay,” Piper said. “This is about saving the whole world, not one person. Get that Pollen Slither to the surface before it’s too late!”

  The Alpha team only had one sub that could do this, and there was a good chance Piper’s had just been damaged. It was safe to assume Omega only had one too. If they both failed, the whole mission would fail.

  “You have to go,” Piper said. “That cargo you’re carrying is the most important thing in the universe right now. I’m okay—I’m right behind you….”

  But Piper felt the pirate ship slam into her again, this time from above. She heard the gut-wrenching sound of her headlight smashing into pieces.

  Piper turned the Alpha sub and headed straight for the rocks where the Omega team had retrieved the Pollen Slither. She sped as fast as the sub would carry her, but the pirate ship was much faster. It crashed again and again into the back of her sub, sending her sideways and upside down as she approached the lowest point on Aqua Gen. When they were but a hundred feet from impact, the pirate ship veered up sharply.

  But Piper
was tumbling end over end, out of control and heading for the jagged edges of stone in her path. Alarms sounded, lights flashed, and Piper could no longer control the sub.

  “This isn’t looking good, Rocket!” Piper yelled.

  The ship’s audio alert system came on.

  “Prepare for impact in three, two, one—”

  The Alpha sub smashed into rocks, and steam began pouring into the cockpit. The flashing lights stopped, and the control pad shut down. The sub rolled down the side of the rock wall and rested on the bottom of the sea.

  Piper checked herself over—nothing broken, just some bumps and bruises—and then looked out around her. The pirate ship was gone and so were the Omegas.

  “Rocket, you okay, boy?” Piper asked.

  Rocket whimpered and turned to her. He’d finally had enough adventure for one day.

  The systems slowly came back online, though only partly, and Piper did an oxygen check.

  She wanted to take a deep breath, to feel her lungs fill. But she didn’t. Every breath counted when you only had oxygen for a kid and a dog to last an hour.

  Piper unclipped from her seat and leaned forward, doing the same for Rocket. He leapt over the seat and landed in the small space next to Piper’s chair. He laid his head on her lap.

  “It’s okay, Rocket. We’re going to figure this out. I promise.”

  —

  “I’m getting a signal,” Gabriel said excitedly. “It’s coming in fast, about four thousand feet underwater.”

  “It’s got to be Piper!” Carly said as she turned her chair and looked out the window of the Cloud Cat.

  “I’ll send out a signal and see if I can make contact,” Dash said. He approached a communication console. “Cloud Cat to Piper, do you read me?”

  There was no answer, so Dash changed frequencies and tried again. “Piper, do you read me?”

  Another pause, and then a voice filled the Cloud Cat. It was not the voice they were hoping to hear.

  “You’ve reached the Omega team,” Anna Turner said. “We’re coming up now.”

  “Ask them if they saw Piper,” Gabriel said.

  “We can’t reach Piper,” Dash said. “We’re pretty sure she’s below five thousand feet, so she’s out of range. Did you see her down there? Is she with you?”

  “She’s not with us,” Anna said. “But we did encounter the Alpha sub at the extraction point.”

  This seemed like good news. “So she’s doing the extraction and coming up after you?”

  Silence. Anna didn’t respond.

  “Anna?” Dash said. “Is she okay?”

  Anna finally returned, her voice as defensive as ever.

  “She was when we left, but we ran into some complications. We couldn’t stay down there any longer.”

  Ravi broke in: “Piper saved our bacon, big-time. And that’s the truth.”

  “What happened?” Gabriel asked. He stood up like he was ready to fight. “You better not have left Piper down there in trouble or there’s going to be some trouble.”

  “She’s the one who told us to leave,” Anna said. “Ravi’s right. We encountered some kind of submarine down there, a big one. And it was not happy about seeing us in its territory.”

  “Pirates,” Dash spat. “You left Piper down there with pirates?”

  “It was her call, Dash,” Anna said. “She knew the same thing I do: the element is what matters most. Without it, the Earth is doomed and we never get home. It’s a good thing we got there first.”

  “You better keep your distance, Captain Jerk Face!” Gabriel yelled.

  But Dash looked thoughtful. “No, maybe she’s right, you guys,” he said. He pulled the silver ring out of his pocket and looked at it. A good captain did what they had to do. They saw the bigger picture. “Maybe Piper was right too. She understands this mission is bigger than we are. The entire human race is at stake.”

  “What was going on when you left, Anna?” Carly asked. “Why didn’t she follow you out?”

  “She started to,” Ravi broke in. “But then I think she stayed down there. Maybe she’s doing her own extraction now. Either that or she’s hiding.”

  Dash shook his head. He wasn’t going to assume Piper was safe. “I need a favor from you, Anna,” he said. “Will you let us take your sub back out? We need to go after our teammate.”

  Anna didn’t answer for a long time.

  “I would if I could,” she finally said, and she sounded sincere. “But it needs recharging or it would never make the whole trip down and back. That takes a minimum of two hours.”

  “She’s right,” Ravi said. “How long has Piper been down there?”

  Dash checked his MTB.

  “Well, we got back to our ship fifty-six minutes ago. But we haven’t been able to reach her for longer than that.”

  “Then I’d guess she’s probably got less than an hour of oxygen left,” Anna said. “Sorry, Dash. I really am.”

  “Yeah right!” Gabriel shot back. “If you hadn’t done that crazy stunt yesterday that got us all captured we wouldn’t be in this mess. If Piper dies, it’s on you, Anna Turner.”

  “Uh, you guys,” Carly said.

  “This is awful,” Ravi said. “There has to be something we can do. Maybe we should go back down quickly—”

  “There’s not enough of a charge in our sub,” Anna snapped. “You know that, Ravi. We’d never make it back.”

  “You guys?” Carly said again.

  “We’re about to crest the surface,” Ravi said, barely above a whisper. “There’s gotta be a way….”

  “You guys!” Carly shouted.

  Dash and Gabriel turned to Carly and everyone on the Omega team stayed quiet.

  “I’m getting a signal from Piper’s GPS,” Carly said.

  She looked at Dash.

  “She’s on the move.”

  “Piper, come in, Piper!” Gabriel said frantically.

  “She’s still moving, well within communication range now,” Carly said. “About three thousand feet below the surface.”

  “Cloud Cat to Piper,” Gabriel tried again. “Do you read me?”

  Still no answer.

  “It’s getting really rough down here again,” Ravi said. “Another storm surge is moving in. Looks worse than the last one.”

  The Omega sub was bobbing on the surface of the Aqua Gen sea, but Gabriel couldn’t see it from his vantage point. The sky below them was swirling with new energy as thunderbolts lit up the darkening clouds. And there was something else: miniature twisters seemed to be forming inside the cloud cover.

  “Siena is coming down, I can see her now,” Ravi reported.

  “Drop the cables, Siena,” Anna ordered. “There’s no time to reload the sub. We need to get off this planet. Now!”

  “We’re abandoning our vessel!” Ravi yelled. The Alpha crew could hear the wind and the rain surrounding the Omega team. “Siena’s taking us up on cables.”

  Dash and Gabriel exchanged a look. They needed help, and it was obvious that the Omega team was ditching them. Time to call STEAM. Dash opened a line to the mother ship. “Cloud Cat to Cloud Leopard, do you read me?” Dash asked. “Come in, Cloud Leopard.”

  “I’m here. How is the extraction going?” It was Chris, unexpectedly answering the call. “I trust it was smooth and you encountered no one, as planned?”

  Gabriel couldn’t believe how wrong Chris was. “So, STEAM hasn’t briefed you on the events of the day?” he asked, incredulous.

  “I’m still in the engine room,” Chris said. “I’ve just completed a twenty-one-hour modification on the slogger. I must say, it was taxing even for me. I had forgotten how temperamental these robots are. My own fault I suppose. I invented them. But you see—”

  “Listen, Chris?” Gabriel broke in. “We don’t have time for a blow-by-blow right at the moment. It’s a little complicated down here.”

  Chris could hear the stress in Gabriel’s voice. “Tell me what you need.”
r />   “Were you ever in a really bad storm down here? We’re just above the cloud line, and the formations are like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

  “Swirling cones with hollow openings? Lots of them?”

  “Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s like gnarly twisters as far as the eye can see. And we need to go back down there.”

  “I have seen this before,” Chris said, sprinting toward the navigation deck. “Under no circumstances are you to get any closer to the surface of Aqua Gen until this storm passes. The odds of survival in the Cloud Cat are—”

  “Nine-hundred-seventy-three to one,” STEAM’s voice broke in.

  “Nine—” Chris started, but Gabriel cut him off.

  “We heard.”

  “Dash, unless there is a very important reason to do this, I highly advise against it,” Chris said.

  Dash looked at his crew. He couldn’t make this decision for them. “Do we go?”

  “Of course we do,” Carly said without hesitation.

  “Why are you even asking?” Gabriel said. “If there’s even a chance she’s okay, we’re going. I was made for flying in this kind of storm. Bring it on.”

  Dash nodded. They were the Alpha team, and one of their own was in trouble. Nothing would stop them from trying to save her.

  The cone-shaped clouds below were swirling angrily like water down a drain. It was a storm like nothing any of them had seen before. But their friend was down there, and that meant everything.

  “Let’s bring her home.”

  Dash’s order was all Gabriel needed to hear. “Better buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. This is going to be a bumpy ride.”

  “Wait!” Chris yelled.

  Chris never yelled. It was a big deal.

  “I’m sorry, Chris,” Dash said as he secured himself into the captain’s chair. “Piper is down there alone. We have to go.”

  “I understand,” Chris said, his cool monotone returning. “Just wait long enough for me to send some help.”

  “Help?” Gabriel asked.

  “She’s a thousand feet from the surface, Dash,” Carly said. “And she’s got maybe twenty minutes of oxygen left. I’m not sure what it’s like down there, but if it’s anything like these clouds, we need to hurry.”

 
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