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Omega rising, p.11
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       Omega Rising, p.11

           Patrick Carman
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  “Help will arrive in under ten minutes,” Chris said. “Please don’t go yet.”

  Carly did some fast calculating work and nodded at Dash.

  “Okay, ten minutes,” Dash relayed to Chris. “Not a second more.”

  On the Cloud Leopard, Chris turned to STEAM 6000.

  “I need ten thousand ZRKs. Pronto.”

  The waiting was killing the Alpha crew, no one more than Gabriel.

  “This storm is only going to get worse. I say we go now.”

  Dash had been counting the minutes—seven so far—and he was starting to think the same thing. But he trusted Chris, and he knew they could use any help they could get. He was imagining the Cloud Cat being spun like it was inside a washing machine, breaking apart as they careened toward Aqua Gen.

  “She’s connected!” Carly shouted. “Piper is back online.”

  “Piper, do you read me?” Dash’s panicky voice filled the ship, but Piper didn’t answer.

  “Quiet,” Gabriel said. “I hear something.”

  They all listened as carefully as they could. At first, Dash heard only the distant sound of the storm raging below them in the clouds. But then he heard it too. They all did.

  “Is that a dog panting?” Carly asked. “Rocket? That you, boy?”

  Rocket barked several times.

  “It is Rocket!” Gabriel said. “At least we know the Alpha sub is in one piece.”

  “Piper, do you read me? Come in, Piper,” Dash tried again.

  There was no answer.

  “Rocket must have activated the communication feature on Piper’s wrist tech,” Carly said. “All he’d need to do is bump the right icon with his paw.”

  “Chris, what’s the status on this help you’re sending us?” Dash asked.

  “On the way. Any second now,” Chris said. “I’m programming from here.”

  “Programming what?” Gabriel asked.

  “The Alpha sub is only seven hundred feet from the surface,” Carly said. “At this rate, it will crest into the storm in about nine minutes.”

  Ten minutes had officially passed, and Dash was done waiting.

  “We’re going, Chris. We have to.”

  “Yes!” Gabriel said, engaging thrusters as he pointed the Cloud Cat toward the raging clouds below. He was so ready to roll.

  “Piper?” Gabriel tried once more. “Hold tight. If you can hear us, we’re coming to get you.”

  The Cloud Cat started its descent, slowly edging lower and lower, until Gabriel had them right at the edge of the swirling cloud bank. The wind ripped across the Cloud Cat, sending it bucking.

  “Are you sure you can do this, Gabriel?” Dash asked.

  “Nope. But I’m sure gonna try.”

  “Formation approaching,” Chris said. “You’ll know what to do.”

  “What’s he talking about?” Gabriel asked. He had his hands on the manual controls, ready to make a dive into the unknown. There was no way he was letting a computer do this one for him.

  “Six hundred feet,” Carly said as the Cloud Cat was buffeted hard on the right, tipping the vessel sideways.

  By the time Gabriel had the ship stabilized again, the help had arrived. Ten thousand ZRKs blew by them on both sides like a swarm of locusts. The noise blotted out the storm, a buzzing, whirling wall of sound as the ZRKs plunged into the clouds. Gabriel thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen in his life.

  “I love you, Chris!” Gabriel yelled, punching the throttle full tilt and heading into the storm. “Best alien ever!”

  “What are they doing?” Carly asked.

  As if in answer, the ZRKs spun into a formation that matched one of the large twisters. They were going right for the eye of the storm, creating a giant drill into the inner core of the spiral. Once they were inside, they pushed outward, opening the center to create a safe passage for the Cloud Cat to enter.

  “Whoa,” Dash said. “This is unbelievable.”

  As the ship entered the middle of the twister, the whole crew went slack-jawed at what they were seeing.

  “It’s like we’re going down the rabbit hole,” Carly said, a smile of wonder on her face. “It can’t be real.”

  But it was, and Gabriel was shooting toward the waters of Aqua Gen at top speed. The ZRKs spun in a wide circle all around them, corkscrewing a passage through the eye of the biggest storm any of them had ever been in.

  A crack of lightning fired through the center of the ZRKs, blowing dozens of them out of formation. The ship lurched to one side and began spinning.

  “Hang on, you guys!” Gabriel shouted. “We’re almost through.”

  The formation continued to dissolve into chaos as the ZRKs fought the toughest part of the tempest. Some of them were holding, but many were firing around the center of the tube.

  “Time to really see what this thing can do,” Gabriel said calmly. He pressed a series of buttons, and the Cloud Cat hit a whole new speed.

  The ship blew past all the ZRKs, bumping them out of the way, and shot through the bottom of the clouds into open air.

  “Woooooo-hoooooooooo!” Gabriel yelled.

  The water was coming up fast, huge waves cresting at fifty feet or more.

  “Pull up!” Dash yelled, white-knuckling the armrests.

  Gabriel reeled back with all his weight, gripping the throttle with everything he had. The Cloud Cat touched down on the water, slid wildly, and gained air again. Dead ahead, a wall of water was rising into a wave big enough to swallow Godzilla whole. Gabriel banked a hard right, hitting the wave with the bottom of the ship and riding. The Cloud Cat leveled out, pushed forward by the wave, gaining even more speed.

  “We’re way off course,” Carly said. “She’s due north one-point-three miles.”

  “I see it,” Gabriel said, watching the Alpha sub GPS as it blinked on a screen in front of him. He completed a maneuver that required him to drive the ship straight up into the sky, turn and twist hard, and ram the throttle once more.

  The ship was pounded by gusts of wind that seemed to come from every direction, but she held as they cut the distance to Piper.

  Gabriel looked at the fuming sea and couldn’t imagine a tiny submarine riding those waves. It wouldn’t last very long.

  “Approaching GPS location,” Carly said. “She’s going to summit this sea any second now.”

  “I have the ZRKs back in formation,” Chris piped in from the Cloud Leopard. “We’ve lost twelve percent of them, but the escape route should hold when you’re ready.”

  Gabriel spotted the swarm of ZRKs on his radar. “I can get us there in no time. Come on, Piper!”

  Gabriel struggled to hold the Cloud Cat in position above the waves. Sideways rain pummeled the ship, and lightning cracked in white splinters all around them.

  “I can’t hold too much longer,” Gabriel said. “The Cloud Cat is going to break up down here if we stay more than another minute or two.”

  Like a bad omen, a lanky piece of the ship broke off and clattered across the windshield.

  “There goes our TV reception,” Gabriel clowned.

  Dash was laser-focused on the water, watching with the patience of a cat stalking a bird. The clouds were nearly black with rain, sending sheets of water across the Cloud Cat. It was hard to see anything but water, water, and more water.

  “There!” Carly yelled, pointing slightly to the left of where Dash had been looking.

  He shifted his gaze and saw it too. The Alpha sub had surfaced and was bouncing on the waves like a Ping-Pong ball.

  “Ready bay doors,” Dash said. He released seat locks and began moving toward the back of the ship.

  “You can’t go out there, Dash!” Carly shouted.

  But they all knew there was no other way to bring her back. No mechanical solution was going to do it. Someone had to go out there and get Piper.

  Dash careened back and forth inside the Cloud Cat, slamming into one wall and then another. When he reached the staging area,
he quickly harnessed up and tugged on the cable. He grabbed two more harnesses and slung them over a shoulder. He threw on a helmet and strapped it tight under his chin, setting the communication channel. And then he spoke in a voice that was full of resolve.

  “Open bay doors.”

  At the front of the ship, Gabriel looked at Carly. “Are we really doing this?”

  He followed the line of her stare and saw the Alpha sub catch air and slam back into the water.

  “Yeah, we’re doing this,” they both said at the same time.

  The bay doors opened, and a swirling rage of wind ravaged the inside of the Cloud Cat. Anything that wasn’t bolted down was thrust into the air and sucked out into the storm, including Dash Conroy.

  “Closing bay doors!” Gabriel said, and with a swooshing sound that deafened the ears, the world of Aqua Gen was sealed out.

  Carly controlled the cable and held Dash aloft, just above the water line. It was tricky business, like playing a video game, because the waves rolled up and down at different levels. Carly had to be very precise with her fingers on the screen to keep Dash from slamming into the sea.

  “You got this, Carly,” Gabriel said.

  A bead of sweat rolled down Carly’s nose, but she didn’t bother wiping it away.

  “Moving in,” Gabriel said, desperately trying to stay as smooth as possible in the buffeting wind.

  “I see the sub!” Dash yelled, and then he realized he wouldn’t be able to remove the Energy Glass that served as the sub’s windows. “You guys, I’m not going to be able to get her out. The Energy Glass!”

  Gabriel quickly called Chris.

  “I have another job for your ZRK army. You ready, Chris?”

  “Ready to deploy on your order.”

  Gabriel explained the problem, and in fifteen seconds, a dozen ZRKs raced across the water.

  “Come on, Piper,” Carly said out loud. She’d lost the rhythm of the sea and dunked Dash below the water line a few feet from the Alpha sub.

  When he resurfaced, Dash saw Rocket in the sub, and the golden retriever began to bark excitedly. Then a wave bounced the watercraft up into the air, and it landed again with a crash, righting itself on the water. The dog’s head popped up right next to Piper, who wasn’t moving.

  “Good boy, Rocket!” Dash yelled, though he knew the dog couldn’t hear him.

  Rocket nuzzled in close to Piper. He really was the best dog in the universe.

  Dash saw the ZRKs coming in fast and heard Chris’s voice in his helmet. “On your count. ZRKs ready.”

  Dash had to time it just right. He watched the line of waves rolling toward the sub and waited until just the perfect moment.

  “Three, two, one, release ZRKs!”

  The ZRKs moved in lightning fast, surrounding the Energy Glass. Tiny arms emerged, and light that looked like welding sparks encircled the top half of the Alpha sub. Dash shielded his eyes, and when he looked again, the ZRKs had removed the Energy Glass. They flew off in formation as Dash dangled precariously on the long line of cable.

  “Bring me in fast!” Dash yelled. “There’s not much time before the next wave rises up and sinks the sub.”

  Carly was already moving Dash the few extra feet he needed. A gust of wind suddenly knocked the Cloud Cat sideways, and Dash swung on the line like the pendulum on a grandfather clock.

  “Lower!” Dash commanded.

  “What did he say?” Carly asked. The communication system was failing.

  “We’ve gotta get him lower,” Gabriel said.

  Carly dropped Dash fast, about five feet from the sub, submerging him once more and stopping his swinging in the process. When he erupted out of the water, Dash grabbed hold of the Alpha sub. He clung to its slick metal as the storm raged on, climbing up and staring down into the opening.

  The sub was already taking on water as Rocket barked.

  “Come on, boy, you first,” Dash said, holding out one of the two harnesses. But the dog wouldn’t budge. He wasn’t moving from Piper’s side until she was safely out of danger.

  Dash reached in and unstrapped Piper’s shoulder belts. A wave began to rise up behind Dash, ominous and dark.

  “Dash, hurry!” Carly said.

  Dash finished strapping Piper into a harness and attached her to the cable. He looked up. There would be no time to harness Rocket.

  “You ready to go now?” Dash asked.

  Rocket barked, and as the shadow of a wave came down over the top of them all, he jumped into Dash’s arms. Rocket was a big dog, but Dash hugged him and held on as the Cloud Cat ascended into the sky. The very top of the wave washed over Dash, Piper, and Rocket, momentarily submerging them. The Alpha sub turned over, filled with water, and began its long journey to the bottom of the AquaGen sea. When the Alpha team emerged into the pocket of open air between the water below and the swirling, stormy sky above, Dash barely had a hold of Rocket. The dog shivered and laid his head on Dash’s shoulder. And then Dash had one of the best moments of his entire life.

  Piper woke up.

  When the bay doors closed, Gabriel flew into action with more purpose than ever before. He knew he was a great pilot. Even as a kid playing video games, he knew he had skills. But never in his life had he carried such important cargo through such a perilous journey. His bravado vanished. There was no place for that now. One of his friends was in trouble, and he had to get her home safely.

  He heard enough of the chatter going on around him to know it was serious, but it was only background noise.

  “She was awake when I was out there,” Dash said. “She opened her eyes and smiled at me. She coughed up some water.”

  Dash had strapped her in next to him, scrunching in close on the captain’s chair. Her legs were so thin she barely took up any room at all. Carly was rubbing Piper’s arms. Dash was holding her hands.

  “She’s hypothermic,” Carly said. “The heating system must have shut down when she was making the extraction. We need to get her back to the Cloud Leopard. STEAM and Chris will know what to do.”

  Dash looked again at Rocket, who was covered in fur. He’d been able to stand the cold longer than Piper. “You saved her, Rocket. You kept her warm.”

  The Cloud Cat lurched to one side and back again.

  “Entering the hive,” Gabriel said. “Hold on.”

  They followed the ZRKs back into the cone of the storm.

  Dash, Carly, and Gabriel took one last look at the world of Aqua Gen. They hadn’t come away with the element they needed, but the mission didn’t feel like a failure somehow.

  It was a rocky ride up into the clouds, but they’d done it once before and knowing what to expect made it easier. Before they knew it, the Cloud Cat burst into the atmosphere above the clouds. The wind died and the ship quieted to a whisper.

  “Clear of the hive,” Gabriel said. “Sixteen minutes to rendezvous with Cloud Leopard.”

  “You sound almost like a commander,” Carly said.

  Gabriel smiled.

  Rocket laid his wet head on Piper’s legs and stared up into her eyes.

  “It’s okay, boy. She just needs a little more time,” Dash said. But he was no doctor. The doctor was Piper. He’d trained as her backup, but he didn’t really know what was going on or when she would come to. He felt paralyzed. Maybe that look, above the raging sea, was the last time Dash would see her eyes open.

  No one spoke for the next few minutes as the Cloud Cat moved quietly upward. They exited the atmosphere of Aqua Gen and entered space, the vastness of the stars laid out before them. But none of that mattered. For the Voyagers, the whole universe was wrapped up in their teammate and friend.

  Suddenly, Rocket’s head popped up, and if a dog had ever smiled, this one did.

  “I’m cold.”

  Dash turned toward Carly, somehow thinking she had said the words. But Carly was staring at Piper. When Dash looked too, Piper was staring right at him.

  “We’re almost home,” Dash said. He co
uldn’t believe it when a tear rolled down his cheek. Piper wiped it away with a half-frozen finger.

  “I was afraid I’d lost all of you,” she said.

  Gabriel put the Cloud Cat on autopilot, something he usually couldn’t stand doing. He knelt in front of the captain’s chair with Rocket and pet his wet fur. “We were afraid we’d lost you too.”

  The entire Alpha team moved in and touched heads. No one spoke—they didn’t have to. They knew how they felt about each other. They were a family.

  “I didn’t get the element,” Piper said. “I’m sorry. I tried.”

  “Don’t think about that,” Dash said.

  “Anna got it,” Piper said. “So at least one of the teams has the element we need.”

  Piper didn’t say anything more about what had happened at the bottom of the Aqua Gen sea. Instead, she leaned forward and gently put her hand on Rocket’s head. “Good boy.”

  A few seconds later, STEAM 6000’s voice filled the cabin of the Cloud Cat. “Docking in thirty seconds.”

  Before the ship pulled in, they looked down once more at Aqua Gen. Only a small part of the surface was covered in clouds. The rest was blue and green.

  “It looks so peaceful from a distance,” Carly said.

  “Don’t let it fool you,” Piper said. “She’s got spunk.”

  They laughed as the bay doors closed.

  They weren’t back on Earth, and maybe they never would be. But more than ever before, they were home.


  Piper was in bed when the call came in. Only an hour had passed, and she was feeling much better, but the crew wasn’t going to let her get back to work without some rest. Rocket was all dried off, lying beside her.

  “We got a connection with Commander Phillips,” Dash said. He carried a tablet with him.

  Shawn’s face appeared on the monitor. He looked tired.

  “Hello, Piper. Dash told me all about your big adventure. I’m glad you’re all right.”

  “Thank you, sir. I didn’t get the element. Sorry about that.”

  Shawn looked uncomfortable for a moment. He paused before saying, “For once, I’m happy there are two ships up there. I’m sure something can be worked out in the end.”

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